a citizen’s journal by Thomas Nephew

"If you want to know what Miami’s going to look like 100 years from now…

Posted by Thomas Nephew on August 24th, 2007

…go to New Orleans today.” That’s Mike Tidwell (Bayou Farewell, The Ravaging Tide), speaking on a typically excellent Bill Moyers Journal:

MIKE TIDWELL: What gives me optimism in the face of this overwhelming challenge, and, you know, Katrina really is a curtain-raiser. If you want to know what Miami’s going to look like 100 years from now, go to New Orleans today. Below sea level, behind levees, battered by huge storms– if we don’t stop global warming. This climate crisis is here now. The Great Lakes are dropping in water levels. Texas has got too much rain. The Carolina’s too little. Hurricanes are getting– it’s here now. It’s not a my kinda sort of a maybe thing in the future that computer modeling says is coming. It’s already deeply here.

So, the fact that it’s here, that this giant climate system with all the momentum built in it toward warming, it’s already unpacking its bags. What could possibly give us the optimism and hope that we can now respond at this late stage, strongly and fiercely enough to hold it in check? And the thing that I come back to is, when we decide to change, we tend to change explosively. You know, look at the great changes in World War II and all these things that have happened in the 20th Century. I believe that this issue of climate change and sustainable– sustainability, which also implies questions of human rights, and fairness. When this light bulb finally goes on, and it’s going on.

You know, I think Katrina opened the door, Al Gore walked through it. And the zeitgeist changes a lot more. But once we finally really get serious, we’re going to change really fast.

Tidwell was joined by Melissa Harris-Lacewell. While at the University of Chicago, she co-authored the “2005 Racial Attitudes and the Katrina Disaster Study.”

BILL MOYERS: What have you learned, the two of you, about politics, American politics from the Katrina disaster?

MELISSA HARRIS-LACEWELL: Well, I often say that Hurricane Katrina and it’s political aftermath is the 2006 win of the democrats in the mid-term elections. And it–


MELISSA HARRIS-LACEWELL: I know it seems odd.


MELISSA HARRIS-LACEWELL: Because it’s not as though Katrina is at all even talked about in the 2006 elections. But you’ll remember that from September 11th, 2001 until August 28th of 2005, one was unpatriotic if you criticized the Bush administration or really any of the actions taken by our government. So, the Democratic Party and much of the American media was quite timid in terms of its critique of the administration.

But what Katrina and the bungling of Katrina does is it provides a wedge that opens the door. And the criticisms start to flow from CNN, from– and then from the Democratic Party. Now, the sad and scary thing is that all of these issues, urbanism, race, class, environmentalism which were the true core issues that made Katrina possible get lost. Because what the Democratic Party makes the choice to do is to use that wedge as an opportunity to critique Iraq. Not that it’s– I mean, it’s fine, right? But they use that. And so then Iraq becomes the story of the 2006 elections.

BILL MOYERS: At the expense of Katrina?

MELISSA HARRIS-LACEWELL: At the expense of Katrina. And all the lessons that Katrina had the capacity to teach us about domestic politics.

I think there’s a lot to that, and I’ve also argued that Katrina was the key turning point for Bush’s political fortunes. It’s sad to see how little the Democratic leadership has done with the opportunity; it suggests they haven’t understood much of anything about the last six years.

There was — and maybe there still is — an opportunity for tying it all together. I’m no political consulting whiz, but it might be something like for real security at home, against vainglorious and selfish politics abroad, for a sustainable future, against circling the wagons and living life under siege, for recommitting to the values of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights and the people of the United States, against sliding towards a national security and surveillance state run by and for corporations and political elites.

And for impeaching Bush and Cheney for their crimes and their neglect of their duties to the Constitution and the people of the United States, and against spending any more time finding excuses not to.

Anyhow, more excerpts at Recording Katrina — or just go watch the whole thing.

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