Mardi Gras parades begin Feb. 10 in New Orleans. The Big Easy will party and dance across the country’s TV screens. That is the New Orleans the corporate elite and the multi-billion-dollar tourist industry want us to focus on.
But today, as African American History Month opens, New Orleans has another story to tell the nation. This city, a world-renowned vital center of African American history and culture, which figures so large in the story of our nation, continues to reel under the criminal neglect of George W. Bush and his administration, a full year and half after Katrina struck.
Thousands of New Orleanians, mostly African American, are still in forced exile, while their neighborhoods back home remain storm-devastated ghost towns. Public housing units sit padlocked while Bush’s Department of Housing and Urban Development goes to court to keep people from reclaiming their apartments.
We watched in horror as Katrina swept ashore in August 2005. We saw heroic rescues by first-responders and ordinary folks, then we saw the inhumane nightmare at the convention center and Superdome. And we witnessed a ceaseless effort to criminalize New Orleans residents, in particular African Americans. Unsubstantiated stories of looting and mayhem were just the opening gun in a continuing drive to convince the rest of the country that working-class New Orleans residents don’t deserve to return to their homes or receive extraordinary assistance from the federal government. Outside of Monday Night Football’s gaudy broadcast from the Superdome, it seems as if every media story about New Orleans leads with murder or local corruption.
Bush did not even see fit to mention New Orleans in his State of the Union address last month.
It would befit African American History Month for Congress to take decisive action to make sure this legendary American city is rebuilt for the benefit of its people. Congress can expel the Bechtel and Halliburton privateers and roll out a massive federally funded reconstruction program. It can put architects, engineers, bricklayers and nurses to work, with union cards, and bring the real New Orleans back to life.