Wednesday, November 09, 2005

This is real, and a step toward justice

I keep having conversations with people about how "surreal" everything is right now. On so many levels, it's true: we're running a free integrative medicine clinic out of a mosque; we set up other clinics in churches and parking lots and baseball diamonds; military police patrol the streets in Humvees; people have dinner in fancy restaurants like nothing ever happened. There are so many day spas open uptown! Huge parts of the 7th Ward still don't have power. My block is still lined with drowned cars and upside-down refrigerators. I spent a large part of this afternoon lugging huge vessels of water to my house so we could flush toilets; a house in my parents' neighborhood has a sign out front that says, "Cox! When can we get our cable back?" The animal resuce people are still out in full force. I really wonder what they do all day.

But I'm not sure about the word "surreal." On some level it seems like too much luxury for us to declare that ultimately this is anything but real.

Today I gave a ride to a man who had been walking all day. He walked from the Greyhound station all the way to his house in the Lower 9th ward; he looked at his house for 20 minutes, couldn't take it anymore, and walked back. Water had gotten up to the roof. The military had kicked in his front door and everything was all over the place. So many people talk about how it's one thing to come to the knowledge from far away that you've lost everything; to see it before your eyes is another thing entirely. He won't come back, he says. He will get a job in Baker, Louisiana (right outside Baton Rouge); his wife and 12-year-old daughter are in Texas, where they will stay so his daughter can finish out the school year. He only wishes he could be with them at the end of a long day. His daughter is growing up too fast.

Yesterday we went to the March on Gretna, which was organized in protest of the time during the hurricane when hundreds of weary African-American people tried to cross the Mississippi River Bridge to safety and were turned away by armed police with guard dogs. The police shot at the people and sent them back to New Orleans, which was flooding, and which had no food or water or electricity or medical care. People had to go back to the Convention Center, where they made orderly stacks of bodies in corners and on sidewalks as the people died.

Over 100 people crossed the bridge yesterday, but still I felt surrounded by ghosts. I have never been more conscious of the people who weren't there: all these families scattered to the winds, picking up new lives in Texas and Wyoming and Ohio. It seemed fitting to me that the most beautiful aspects of this march were the drivers in the opposing lanes of traffic: a driver of an 18-wheeler who couldn't stop honking, who kept yelling over and over, "I feel y'all, man! I just feel y'all!" The backs of pickup trucks full of work crews, shouting and cheering, their fists up in the air.



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