September 6, 2005: Perhaps the only city dwellers who can't imagine experiencing
the societal breakdown of New Orleans post Katrina are those
who live in urban nabes as valuable as some in say, Manhattan.
Where if Wall Street or 5th Avenue were threatened by looters,
gun toting paratroopers would drift downward like dandelion fluff
in May. But residents of myriad other cities, particularly ones
called "post-industrial" must surely suspect that given a similar
scenario, rule of thug would replace rule of law just as quickly,
the buses, water and food would be just as slow in coming,
and pols would shovel the bull just as high as they have re New Orleans.
Many politicians, from municipal levels on up, now seem to
view residents of working poor neighborhoods as expendable. Or
at best, as the census numbers required to qualify for the state
and federal funding most taxpayers believe revitalizes such
neighborhoods. But which instead jacks corporate offices, hotels
and luxo housing far from those nabes and supports a vast edifice
of public corruption. One which robs citizens of their political
voice. Sure, money has always talked. But once upon a time so did
political and social responsibility. Even the legendarily corrupt
felt compelled to provide basic services such as public safety.
But that was then. This is the now of pols whose careers are
buoyed by hitherto inconceivable amounts of public spending and
the political contributions of those who want a helping.
A less soggy, slow motion Katrina has been at work in numerous
cities for decades. See Camden, New Jersey. Or Trenton, Paterson
and Newark. See Springfield, Massachusetts. Or various urban
centers in Connecticut and a slew in upstate New York. Among the
millions of victims of the ubiquitous Katrina were the Dawson
family in Baltimore, Maryland. In 2002 all seven Dawson family
members were burned to death in their beds by a drug dealer
angered by Mrs. Angela Dawson's frequent complaints to the police
about the deals being cut on her corner. Drug thugs threatened
the Dawsons for months. Yet putting a 24/7 police presence at
the Dawson home, or having the National Guard patrol the war-zone
neighborhood where they lived was apparently out of the question.
(As such measures usually are, no matter how strongly and often
citizens request them.) Local cops advised the Dawsons to get
out of town-- but they refused to evacuate and instead
The Dawsons' fate was extreme. Even in terms of Katrina. Not
everyone died in New Orleans. The majority were forced to live
sans the protection of civilization as represented by government.
The most hopeful and inspiring stories coming out of New Orleans
are of small groups of citizens organizing to care for and
protect one another. Demonstrating the decent impulse and
understanding of mutual benefit that leads human beings to create
governments in the first place. Under life threatening
circumstances, these little clusters of "average" people acted
with the humane purpose and directness much of our political
class now seems unable or unwilling to muster. Here's hoping
the example provided by the good people of New Orleans will
prove a veritable mustard seed.
Carola Von Hoffmannstahl-Solomonoff
"IMAGINE What's the possibility of living in a community where:
16) Walking down Morris [Street] Dana, or Knox gives you a
feeling of pride and safety instead of shame and fear."
From a list of 20 "imagines" from a 09/25/02 leaflet announcing
a meeting of the Park South Neighborhood Association in Albany,
New York, with an agenda provided by the Park South Walk & Watch
"Yeah there is Heaven right here on earth"
Freddie "Boom-Boom" Cannon, Way Down Yonder in New Orleans, 1960
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