New Orleans: I'm Not Celebrating
by Greg PalastThis week, to commemorate the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, The Palast Investigative Fund is offering my film, Big Easy to Big Empty: The Untold Story of the Drowning of New Orleans as a FREE
This is the story you’re not supposed to know. Get it, and pass on the link.
Screw the celebration. New Orleans hasn’t “come back.” That is, there are still the Bourbon Street bars serving “Hurricanes” to sloshed tourists and Mardi Gras when white Americans can catch trinkets from floats floating over the ghosts of the drowned.
New Orleans is back to 79% of its pre-flood population. Why am I not cheering? Because the original residents—that is, the majority of the pre-flood Black residents—are still wandering in America’s cruel economic desert.
And the pols of Louisiana love it. Louisiana had a Democratic governor. The purge of the voter rolls by flood has changed that forever.
Watch my film and meet Stephen Smith, who couldn’t swim, but floated on a mattress from rooftop to rooftop to save the lives of his neighbors. Smith brought them to a bridge over the rising waters. They waited for four days without food or water, as helicopters buzzed overhead. Undoubtedly, one was President Bush’s copter, heading to his self-congratulatory press conference.
Stephen saved a grandpa and his family. Almost. The grandfather gave his water bottle to his grandkids. Then the old man died of dehydration. Waiting.
Stephen returned to New Orleans, to kick around the rubble that was his home. He was bussed off to Texas—and now an immigrant has his job at the Marriott in the French Quarter. He was desperately trying to connect with his children, bussed to another state.
There are heroes in my film. In July 2005, Professor Ivor van Heerden of the Louisiana State University Hurricane center warned on British TV: “In one month, this city could be under water.” In one month, it was. For warning of the future – in fact, for calling the White House before the storm to warn them, van Heerden was fired.
He was fired because Chevron Corporation was deeply unhappy that Dr. Van Heerden fingered the culprit in the city’s drowning. It wasn’t Katrina, he explained, Katrina turned 35 miles east of the city. It was the oil industry—the killer drillers who, with greedy abandon, chopped and slashed away dozens of miles of Nature’s protective barrier of bayous which once kept the Gulf from entering the city.
And there’s Malik Rahim (pictured above), the African-American community leader, who seized and rebuilt housing over the objection of New Orleans’ landlords. He looked over the Lafitte Homes and other choice property that developers had long coveted. He told me, “They just wanted them poor niggers out of there.”
And they got what they wanted. New Orleans without the New Orleanians.
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Download Big Easy to Big Empty for FREE, or get the DVD with extras including my interview with Amy Goodman.
Greg Palast is the author of the New York Times bestseller Billionaires & Ballot Bandits which includes a 48-page comic by Ted Rall, Palast's other bestsellers are The Best Democracy Money Can Buy, Armed Madhouse and the highly acclaimed Vultures' Picnic
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