It's interesting as I read these blog posts. A lot of people are saying things like, "I don't really watch the news," or "at first, I didn't really pay attention to the crisis." I had a much different experience personally, working for a campus restaurant that sees the bare minimum of visitors during the summer months. When you don't have a whole lot to do but read the newspaper and talk with your fellow employees, a catastrophe like this can easily erupt into a full blown retrospective among fellow college students. And the ultimate conclusion of our discussions, which lasted into the school year along with the media blitz, was this: Hurricane Katrina was a horrible tragedy, and its aftermath made us all somewhat embarrassed to be Americans.
The reactions of my co-workers were somewhat varied. Many shared their own personal hurricane experiences, including one guy that lived through Hurricane Andrew, but most agreed that the devastation left by Katrina was the worst they'd ever seen. I don't have a hurricane experience myself, or even much more than a bad thunderstorm experience, but I learned enough from the news and my co-workers that in the path of a hurricane is about the worst place you can be. The odds are stacked against you just surviving the storm, and without immediate relief every hour that passes makes it that much more difficult to survive. Even the most grizzled of my co-workers were visibly shaken by the photos in the paper, of children lying in sewage and entire families marooned on their roof holding signs pleading for relief. I remember hearing some gasps when someone got a copy of the New York Times and held up a photo of people passing a dead body lying on the side of the road.
Some expressed their distrust of President Bush's handling of the disaster, with many of my African-American co-workers openly discussing the possibility that he intentionally waited to send FEMA and respond to the disaster (especially after the Kanye West incident). It was interesting for me to hear these discussions because until that day I hadn't really thought of anyone I worked with as 'black' or 'white' because it hadn't really mattered. We all wore the same uniforms, were students at the same university, and all had the similar troubles of making good grades and scrounging up enough money to pay for rent. Hurricane Katrina single-handedly changed this arrangement, cluing in to me at least the magnitude of what had occurred.
Out of everything we discussed, which included things like 'what we would do if we were there? and 'wonders of whether or not the city would ever be the same' and even a few distasteful 'I hope I can still get drunk at Mardi Gras' remarks, to me the most important thing was this: this landmark event was enough to get a bunch of college kids to sustain a discussion about something besides sports or drinking for an extended period of time, without forcing them. We talked about things that we would never usually talk about, especially in a post-9/11 world: How could devastation like this happen in such a modern country? Was America's system of government broken? Aren't American lives supposed to be free of this type of misery?
Watching ?When the Levees Broke' was only a potent reminder of that interesting summer past. I just hope the spirit of what occurred in that campus restaurant hasn't completely died out like it has elsewhere in America.