“I remember when Bull Conner and the rest of them put the dogs and the hoses on the students at the Easter marches,” recalled University of Baltimore law professor Richard “Dickie” Bourne when I interviewed him last year. “There was a dining room where we could go down and get short order things and when people were studying late, they would watch TV. It was not a fancy TV set, just a small black and white. We went down to watch the news and pick up a sandwich. And watching the students, predominately privileged, White students sitting there looking at this TV screen and they were transfixed at this image. It was the most extraordinary kind of emotional thing. It is rare that you see a crowd so moved and so horrified at such an event. This was not like something that happened in Bosnia, we know that horrors occur; this was not like the camps in Germany. But this was happening in our own backyard and I think that Americans had been able to blind themselves to it, they weren’t aware of it. You could say that the myopia was deliberate. But whatever it was, suddenly it was in their face that, in their country, this kind of shit was going on, and they were overburdened with guilt.”
The shock of seeing non-violent Black students being beaten in Birmingham for non-violent action resembles the shock of Americans today who see thousands of poor, majority Black, New Orleans residents waiting days for help that keeps promising to arrive. The only crime of most of these residents: not having the means to leave or not having anywhere to go. The horrific images of those at the Superdome and the Convention Center (and now at the Louis Armstrong airport) are not the New Orleans that America envisioned before this hurricane. Jazz music, big mansions, and Mardi Gras were synonymous with this famous city. Like the Easter marches of Birmingham, Americans now see the regard that our “leaders” truly have for Black people in the South. Millions of Americans of all political persuasions are horrified at the very slow response of the federal government, so it would seem that no would feel like partying after seeing the aftermath of Katrina. Well, a few did.
On Tuesday, the day after Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, George W. Bush was photographed playing a guitar in San Diego, California. Didn’t seem too bothered.
On Thursday, Condoleezza Rice was at the luxury shoe store Ferragamo in New York where, the poor thing, she was being harassed! The vile harasser, a woman who dared to ask what in the hell the United States Secretary of State was doing shopping for shoes when thousands were suffering in the south, was escorted out of the store by security at Rice’s prompting. How dare that woman talk about such depressing stuff to our Secretary of State? Didn’t this woman know that Rice was in great spirits from seeing Spamalot on Broadway the day before?
While Condi has Spamalot, Marie Antoinette had a farmhouse in a small mock village that she had built to entertain herself. At times, Antoinette wanted to escape from the arduous life of the aristocracy: lavish spending on jeweled wigs, gambling, and gowns for herself and her rich clique. She would amuse herself for hours by playacting the role of a peasant in her fake farmhouse while real French peasants were starving outside the palace gates. There are no reports to my knowledge of Antoinette ever ejecting anyone from “Le Hameau de la Reine,” though the work of milking the perfumed goats brought into the luxuriously furnished farmhouse was done by servants.
Antoinette was not a bright woman, shoving her wealth in the faces of those who hungered because food was scarce. Of course stupidity is not foreign to the elites of then or now. The Bush Administration’s jester, FEMA’s Michael Brown, was probably not only appointed to his position because he was the roommate of Bush’s campaign manager, but Bush probably felt an instant kinship with this fellow idiot (Brown says that the residents of New Orleans “bear some of the responsibility” for not getting out of New Orleans) when he met him. They have so much in common: Brown was fired from the International Arabian Horse Association for incompetence and Bush, a former board member of the Carlyle Group, was told by the board not to come back.
The brazen decadence and stupidity of the Bush Administration and others in the federal government in the face of such poverty and dire disaster is going to make it easier for Americans to hold these people accountable and to conclude that the chief at the top of this rotten heap, George W. Bush, must go.
Brandy Baker is a writer living in Baltimore. She was a contributor to CounterPunch’s book, Dime’s Worth of Difference: Beyond the Lesser of Two Evils. She is also a contributor to Plastic Sugar Press’s upcoming book: Yellow Fever: Searching for Meaning in Supporting the Troops.
* The Real Heroes and
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