Reflections on Katrina

by Stephanie Casher on January 21, 2006

For those that don’t know, my day job is Program Manager of the Center for Cultural Studies at UCSC. Today we hosted our major winter conference Reflections on Katrina: Place, Persistence and the Lives of Cities. I wasn’t required to be “on duty” today, but because the topic interests me, I headed over there bright and early and spent the bulk of my day listening to the presentations. There was provocative discussion, intense imagery (courtesy of the near-constant stream of Katrina slides and a lunchtime photo exhibition), and I walked away from the whole experience totally overstimulated. Of course. Cause I’m Steph.

Two of the panelists were actually from New Orleans, so they were able to provide a insiders perspective and analysis that you’re just not going to get from the mainstream news media. A media that seems to have forgotten Katrina even happened, its horrors removed from our TV screens, and in turn wiped from public memory as we re-focus on our own self-interests and more trivial matters. But the aftermath of Katrina is still very real to many people, people whose lives will forever be changed. And you know what? Shit is still hella f*cked up down there. The reconstruction efforts have only just begun, but what is being reconstructed? For whom? How will race and class politics shape the efforts to rebuild? And how can communities, displaced and destroyed, come back together and set down roots in soggy soil?

Those geographically removed from the Gulf Coast region have what I believe is the privilege of not having to deal with the aftermath of Katrina, with economic and environmental consequences that will prove even more devastating and far-reaching than the hurricane itself. We watched it unfold on our TVs, safe in the comfort of our air-conditioned homes… We felt outrage and sadness, our hearts broke for those suffering, but it passed. Maybe we donated some money to the relief efforts, but most likely, we didn’t. Cause it happened to them. Over there. Someone else in a land far, far away. Why is it people only stand up and pay attention when something is directly affecting them? And why are flashes of compassion so fleeting?

There is so much we can learn, as a nation and as human beings, from this terrible tragedy, but I fear Katrina and the issues it brought to the forefront are suffering from a case of ‘out of sight, out of mind’. Have we forgotten? Or is a change gonna come?

Well I guess the mission of the conference has been accomplished – I am reflecting on Katrina. On all people across the globe that are suffering.

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