Thursday, September 14, 2006

Katrina Spoke for the World

It's hard being the Saccharinist -- there's just so much upsetting news in the world, sometimes I just feel like taking a break from acknowledging it but then, once again, something so propels my sense of response that I log back onto Blogger and make it a record for the world to see. The latest thing to so move me has been this documentary by Spike Lee -- "When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Parts" -- a "film document" as Spike calls it, of the reality of Hurricane Katrina.

For those of you who wonder about the decency of the US government, about its humanitarian motivations, its capacity for "spreading democracy" as Mistah Bush has extolled for so long now, just watch this documentary, sit back and wonder about history, about power, about politics and try to figure out why the public of the world remains so silent in the face of incredible injustice. And then, take a breath and realize there's one thing you can always rely on with the public: when things get horrible, they'll finally speak up.

If you don't know about Hurricane Katrina, just know this: it took 5 days after the worst-ever humanitarian disaster in the American South for the federal government and its leader George W. Bush to initiate a response effort including the delivery of such basic necessities as water, food, and medical and hygienic supplies. You heard that right: for 5 long days at least 100,000 American citizens on American soil were stranded helpless, thirsty, hungry and in dire need of medical assistance from their most democratic of governments.

The gist of this documentary and in fact the feeling much of the world got from watching the events unfold a year ago is that if this is what the United States does to its own people, what in God's name (because that's whose name is invoked by this religious government when it proclaims its sanctity and its glory) must they do to other people -- Iraqis, Afghanis, Somalis, Bosnians, Vietnamese, Koreans....the long list is a trail of blood spilling through the annals of time for everyone to see.

If this is what Americans do to Americans, what in hell must they do to anyone else?

From watching the images and interviews of this documentary which was made in the immediate aftermath of Katrina, one gets a real sense of abandonment and mistrust from the victims and observers of this disaster -- black and white. The documentary features a number of intelligent observers of race relations in the US, including the eminent Michael Eric Dyson who has been one of those rare academics who do not shy from being vocal about sensitive issues that may pigeonhole them as unpatriotic by extremists in the US.

Al Sharpton has also made (a first-ever?) respectable presentation in the film. I've never been a big fan of His Reverandship, but ever since he got rid of that ridiculous bouffant, he's started to make more sense (or at least look like it) and what he said is a simple, straightforward account of how people on the ground must have been feeling during those floating-on-water days: “George Bush and Michael Brown are talking politics: they didn’t have information, they were waiting on reports. They could have done what we did: go right there, talk to the people! Activate the National Guard! Activate the military! Oh I forgot, they were in Iraq. Making democracy free for those abroad, while those at home had nothing.”

When the federal government finally did move in to resolve the crisis, they acted in the only way they apparently know how: with aggression. They threatened the people with their weapons and even, according to this documentary, may have shot a few of them. But there is one statement in this documentary that is so complex and yet so simple that I will repeat it here for your analysis -- it's a statement made by a black woman in Louisiana, New Orleans City Council Member Cynthia Hedge-Morrell, and it's all the more powerful for having been made by one of the most ill-treated segments of world society today:

“The feeling that residents had about the National Guard and the State Police and the visiting police that they were in an armed, occupied city – I can’t help but believe that that’s the same way they treated people in any city that we go in and invade. You know, Kosovo or wherever, I don’t know. I guess maybe that’s the way the Iraqis feel sometimes.”

Spike Lee is a revolutionary filmmaker in the United States because he is motivated by the politics of human rights in his filmmaking. No other major American filmmaker can attest to this -- not even Oliver Stone whose idea of political filmmaking is giving rise to theory, rather than commenting on practice. If you like this documentary, also check out 4 Little Girls, his doc about the Birmingham church bomb that killed 4 little girls, one of whom was apparently a classmate of that neo-con self-hating African-American Condosleazea Vice.

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