Wednesday, August 29, 2007

2 Years Later

As you must know today is the 2nd anniversary of Katrina making landfall. I don't remember exactly where I was but I think I was trying to track down my visa so I could actually go and fly to Italy two days later. I think it was one of those things where I heard there was a hurricane, but there have always been hurricanes, so I didn't really care. I only learned about how terrible it was a few days later sitting in my room in a convent in Italy and reading the horrific news on the Internet. It was such a tragedy and it was so disheartening to see our government fail at the most basic and important thing a government must do; protect its citizens. Instead in those images, with black faces behind wires, America looked like a 3rd world nation. I got into a lot of very heated transatlantic IM arguments with conservative friends. But even then I agreed with Kanye:
video

When I got back to school, in the spring of 2006, I had the opportunity to take a documentary studies class where we would go down to New Orleans and help the recovery and also document the workers who had gone down to New Orleans to help, what drew them, what kept them going, and try to tell their stories. On our way there, and I know it sounds like a cliche but pictures really don't do the damage justice. It is hard to convey the extent when neighborhoods were just washed away, or the emotional destruction of seeing someone's life in moldy piles still inside their homes, 6 months after the fact.Along with a UNC partner we were assigned to an amazing organization in St. Bernard's Parish called Project H.O.P.E. (Helping Other People in Everyway.) It was created and founded and fully run by college aged kids (some of the best people I have met in my life) who just saw the devastation wanted to make a difference and so came down and started to do anything they could to help making a place where volunteers would come and stay for however long as they felt the needed to, where residents could get supplies, where the H.O.P.E. workers would try to gut their houses and prevent the spread of black mold , while also trying to advocate politically for the return of New Orleans and also help and empower those community partners to do the same.
One thing I will never forget is during our first day there when we were waiting for our rental cars we saw a group of high school students tired and dirty but so excited and motivated who had just spent a week or so cleaning and helping the recovery as well as they could. Our last day there when we as a group when we were going through the security checkpoint in the airport, dirty, stinking, tired and disgusting on the other side of the glass a similar sized group was just getting off a plane carrying their back packs and nalgenes and evidently coming to help the recovery efforts as best as they could. It was quite heartening to watch that the young people were taking it upon themselves to try to help especially in a place that the government had neglected. And the hope that they all had no matter how hopeless or hard the struggle may seem.
Even before I had actually gone down there myself the issues of class and privilege race and environmental justice were so strong and evident and they still are evident of what I consider among the most shameful in our nation's history. 2 years later and nothing has changed. This is the website our class created and though it is over a year old some of the same issues are still right there though people may want to forget or move on.
Here is the documentary that Kelly and I made based on our experiences with Project H.O.P.E. It's probably the thing that I'm most proud of every doing. All the voices you hear* are of those workers who cared enough to come down, as well as some of the stories of neighborhood residents. Though these interviews were conducted, now almost 18 months ago, if you've paid attention to any news you'll see that most of the same issues/concerns/problems have not been resolved. And here's the Project H.O.P.E. website if you're so moved to get involved.

*Though the first track was actually recorded inside a house we were gutting in an attempt to capture that atmosphere.

Gutting Intro (mp3)
The Project H.O.P.E. Project (zip)

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