Tuesday, August 31, 2010

But I Kept Silent

A few months before the 2008 elections, I was standing in line at my credit union. CNN was on the TV but the volume was off but all we could see was Obama. I stifled my disgust, but the man who was in front of me in line, who was also black, began telling me about how after he was done there he was planning to go campaigning. I smiled at him while he went on with his story. I knew what he was thinking. Then he ended his speech with "you know we gotta stick together". I looked at him and wanted to say, "what do you mean 'we' and what makes you think I'm supporting Obama?" But I kept silent.

I was in the elevator at work one day when another woman got on, a white woman. She looked at my satin floral dress and string of pearls and complemented me. I thanked her. Then she added, "you look like Michelle Obama." I froze and pursed my lips but managed to stretch out to a half smile. I wanted to tell her "excuse me, but I was wearing pearls, Gap, Banana Republic, classic sweaters and pencil skirts LONG before the campaign stylists slapped it on her to make her look more accessible. And do I really look like I have a sinister 'I'm going to eat your young' look on my face?" But I kept silent.

After the inauguration my office was all atwitter about the new BLACK president we had. Praising every inch of him as if he lost a digit of a finger it'd have been worshipped as a holy relic. I wanted to scream "HE'S A SOCIALIST! And what do you really KNOW about him anyway? He is NOT all that! Michelle is NOT pretty! He will RUIN us!" But I put on my iPod, and kept silent.

I happened to be walking past the office of a higher up and caught wind of a conversation about the health care debate. I overheard two people, who I'd hoped would have been more mature and objective about things, especially considering that they were both former military, speaking about how the white Republicans just wanted to keep blacks from getting anything. I wanted to yell into the office "you know, I'm REALLY disappointed in you all! Boy, if only you really knew about me and what I believe! Would you still have that to say to me? Would you try to find a reason to fire me? Would you too think I was a traitor to my race?" But I kept silent.

Oftentimes I ask myself, why do I have to keep silent? I thought we were supposed to be more open to discourse now? I want to shout at the top of my lungs and be as loud and in your face as so many on the left. But then I remember, sometimes it's better to speak softly, or not at all, and carry a big stick. I remind myself that people that far gone will be disinclined to hear the words I say anyway, so I should be more about action to bring about change. Since I still have to live in this world, avoid potential violence, and keep my job (Lord knows I can't afford to lose that right now!), it's probably best that I do remain silent. But make no mistake about it, I will make my sentiments known through my actions. I will be a part of the silent resistance. I will deal with the temporary inconvenience of having to hold my tongue, so that maybe one day, my son, and others in the future, won't be forced into silence.

Monday, August 30, 2010

My (Brief) Infatuation with Barack Obama

My first encounter with Barack Obama was via Obama Girl. Someone had shown me the YouTube video of her professing her incredible crush on him. I thought the whole thing was cute. I thought he was handsome. He reminded me of a pharaoh with his looks. I admit I was a bit taken. But I wondered, who exactly IS this man?

At first listen, I thought, maybe he was the right man to bring us forward. He was something new, something fresh. But something just wasn't right. My mother always told me I was too trusting, too willing to give people the benefit of the doubt even though they ought not have it. Even when Michelle Antoinette (oops!) Michelle Obama said that for the first time in her adult life she was proud to be an American and I was willing to look a bit past it, my mother said "f*** her".

My mother was always a good judge of character. But I digress.

The more the media (snicker) delved into Obama's background, the more there were gaping holes in the story. The pieces never quite fit. They never came together. I began thinking in terms of my job. If I were reviewing his background investigation for eligibility for employment, would he make the grade? Hate to say, but the answer was "No".

What's more is that the more I listened to him on the campaign trail the more I had a visceral reaction. Every time I he spoke I because anxious, and not in a good way. The kind of anxious I got when being in my ex-boyfriend's presence. Mind you, my ex boyfriend was a sociopath. Call it female intuition, but I felt like I was being fleeced, lied to. I felt like if I fell for this man I'd be in SERIOUS trouble.

I remembered everything I'd learned from speech and debate club and interpersonal communications class. I listened to his words, what he said and how he said it. I observed the imagery he used.

Remember this?

It reminded me of the song from Blues Traveler "Hook". I was getting a Citizen Kane experience. The words were all fluff. Empty promises, impossible goals, no substance. I kept that remember that even Eliza Doolittle, the Cockney guttersnipe she was, could be trained in eloquence despite knowing absolutely nothing.

The reaction people had to him was frightening. The fainting, the wanting to name their son's after him, the wanting to have his baby! Oh dear. None of these people could tell you ONE thing his political platform was built upon, couldn't even tell you who his running mate was, but was willing to trust him with every fiber of their being. Even walking out of the polls they still couldn't.

Remember this?

I will be the first to admit, McCain made a LOT of mistakes. And I mean a lot. But if I had to vote over again, it would still be a million times McCain. Believe me, I wanted Obama to do well. I knew that so much was riding on his performance. I was afraid that if he didn't do well, aside from our country being on the fast track into hell, that he might ruin chances for another minority to run. I don't even know if I was prepared for the kind of division he'd bring, even though I knew there would be some. Once again, just like my ex-boyfriend who managed to separate me from so many of my friends so I would be alone, I feel like so many of us have been separated from friends that we once had. After this we will be broken and it will take a long time to heal, but we will never be the same.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

My Personal Katrina Experience

I remember the Friday before Katrina. I had only been back in nursing school for five days down in Gulfport. And before that I had just moved back down to Mississippi a week before. I remember being let out of school about 4 hours early. I didn't even know about the hurricane that was growing and getting stronger in the Gulf.

As I was driving home, I lived about 30 miles north from the Coast, I could see the sky beginning to change. A Hurricane Sunset. The sky changes to a palate of colors unlike anything you've ever seen. And what's more is that this change was happening days before the Hurricane even made landfall. Listening to the radio, they were speaking rapidly about it. This was going to be BIG.

I went to my cousin's house and told her about the hurricane. She was incredulous. She didn't believe me when I said that it was going to be big until she turned on the Weather Channel and saw the massive swirling in the Gulf. Category 5. My other cousin came home with a friend at that moment, carrying Chinese food. I suggested to everyone that we head to Walmart to buy provisions because this could be serious. They pretty much dismissed it. I guess when you've been through as many hurricanes as we have you get a bit jaded. I was like, ok...

Back in New Orleans, my mom and brothers, and aunts and uncle and their families had already packed up and were heading to Texas. Good thing, as time progressed, traffic flow out of the area became GHASTLY. I was staying at my grandmother's house in the country, as her primary residence was in New Orleans. I was supposed to have the place pretty much to myself while I was going to school, provided I pay the utilities and deal with occasional droppings in.

My grandmother was already on her way to Mississippi to stay at the house, and eventually my other uncle and his family made their way. Eventually I decided to go stay at my cousin's house a few doors down, because my grandmother, my uncle, and myself frequently clashed due to personalities. And besides, my cousin had a gas stove as opposed to electric. Good thing I did leave, as more people tried to leave Louisiana at the last minute, they had a hard time getting far and made a detour to my grandmother's house and quarters got VERY cramped by that Sunday.

I talked to my mother on the phone that Saturday evening and she said they had already arrived in Austin and had gotten hotel rooms. We all thought that everything would be temporary. Usually the protocol was that if a hurricane looked really bad, we'd batten down the hatches and secure everything we could. Sometimes we'd have hurricane parties, but mainly we'd just go to sleep and wake up after the hurricane because there were pretty much nothing you could do beyond that. If you evacuated, you'd return after a couple days, clean up the mess and deal with the minor flooding and then move on with life.

Flash forward to Monday morning. I awoke at about 9:30 in the morning, although it was so dark outside you'd think it was 9:30 at night. I could hear the violent thrashing outside caused by the rain and wind. Everyone else was already up and we had a few other additions, more cousins (I reckon) that didn't make it out of the area in time. They were listening to updates on the radio, the power had already gone out. I didn't know when. I walked out into the carport to have a cigarette and watch the horizontal sheets of rain pummel everything in sight. The wind had blown down branches everywhere and shingles were flying off houses. The back driver's side window of our visitors' Cadillac had been shattered by a flying tree branch and rain was pouring in. There really was no way to run out and try to temporarily mend the damage because going out that far could prove dangerous and also the attempt would be fruitless anyway. I wondered where all the stray dogs and cows in the field had managed to hide. They weren't in their usual spot. There really wasn't much to do so I went back to sleep. The hurricane raged on all day and all night.

For days after, all that could be done was to sit around in the sweltering heat and humidity and listen to the radio at the events that played out. I remember how everyone cheered when Nagin decided to go all "New Orleans" on everyone. I just sighed and informed everyone that he just shot us all in the foot. In a way I was glad that at the time I didn't have a TV to see everything that had happened. I would have been infuriated and sickened. I was later infuriated to see the images of the RTA and school buses in the bus yard left underwater instead of used to evacuate those who could not get out themselves. That bus depot was no more than a mile to a mile and a half from my mother's house. I felt my heart jump into my throat when I saw the covers of Time magazine with the Treme underwater and homes with the spray paint on them. They looked like tombs in the cemeteries.

Condensing this story a bit:

Power was not restored for about 2 1/2 weeks. Food consisted of whatever was leftover (and edible) in the refrigerator, canned goods, and MREs. Bottled water was cooled with ice supplied by the military and Red Cross, and all melted ice was boiled (thank goodness for my cousin's gas range) for simple bathing and for flushing the toilet. My cousin made regular trips to a local pond to get additional water for toilet flushing. To further add to the indignity, I was suffering from a gastrointestinal disease, which had conveniently come out of remission. I had to conceal this fact from everyone. My other cousin (almost the entire town is my cousin in one way or another), who was a state trooper, got us access to MREs, water and ice. We drove around the neighborhoods dropping off provisions to the more elderly and infirm.

Early attempts to get out of town were unsuccessful as trees and bushes blocked side roads. The main highway, 49, after it had been cleared off, was pretty much restricted to military and emergency vehicles. There was really no power anywhere in town but the Walmart stayed open. People were allowed to shop pretty much one at a time, and the store was monitored by guards with semi-automatic weapons. I guess Walmart had at least auxillary power.

Gas was running low in everyone's cars. I remember waiting in a line at least a half a mile to a mile long for four hours just to get about $40 worth of gas, only to be turned away as soon as I got to the station because it had run out. We eventually managed to siphon about 7 gallons of gas from a non-working vehicle and split it between two cars (2 gallons each) and a generator (1 gallon). I used that gas to travel to Hattiesburg to do loads of laundry, buy the rationed $40 worth of gas, and finally call my mother and a few friends to let them know I was alive. This was two weeks after the storm.

School reopened 3 weeks after the storm, but I came back to half my class. Some couldn't make it back, some were injured, and others simply didn't come back. It was a huge blow to the morale of the class. I decided to move into the dorms because my grandmother's and uncle and his family's stay became permanent, and the conflict became overwhelming. I couldn't get a job because so many businesses were destroyed, so therefore I had no money. My mom and dad would wire me money, a few hundred here and there. I applied for assistance from FEMA, was interviewed, and waited three weeks before being rejected. I sometimes waited on hold for up to 2 and 3 hours to speak with someone regarding the status of my application. I was told that I was rejected because I had not been physically displaced and had sustained no substantial loss of property. The extent of any aid I got was $300 from the Red Cross.

Around November or so I talked to my mom and she said she had been back to our house in New Orleans. She told me to not even bother going back to see it because she knew how I was and that I would freak out. I really couldn't have gone back if I wanted to because the route I'd take to go home, the Twin Span Bridge, was destroyed. I later found out that my grandmother and uncles had gotten 8 feet of water in their homes. My mother and aunt, who lived one street away from each other, got 5 feet on the street, but due to the elevated porches, had only gotten 2 feet in the house, but as we all found out, that's good enough to cause a significant amount of damage.

Initially I was motivated to be a part of the rebuilding, but one day during my clinicals, I looked out the window on the 6th floor of the hospital where I was and saw that the first 3 floors of a condominium on the beach had been completely washed away and all that remained were the wood beams holding the other floors up. I could see straight through to the beach. I also reflected on how I could barely find my way along Highway 90 because all the landmarks, the casinos, souvenir shops, restaurants, and expensive homes, had been all washed and blown away, sometimes leaving nothing more than a concrete slab where a home had been. Biloxi looked like Paris after after Germans had stormed through it. The VA Hospital in Gulfport looked like an urban warfare simulation. Nothing remained but the hollow stone buildings themselves.

My soul began to be eroded more and more with despair. I began to get more and more depressed. I felt as if I was drowning in all the chaos and destruction around me. I knew I had to save myself. I tried my best to complete my semester but ended up withdrawing before finals because the stress became too great. I made the decision to contact the patient care director at the hospital at which I'd interned the previous summer here in Virginia and asked for a regular job. I called a friend and arranged to stay with him while I got back on my feet.

I didn't go back to see my mother's house for 10 months, and it looked like one of the tombs with the spray paint markings and hanging siding panels. I could see the water line on the side of house. The pictures my aunt sent me of the interior of her house, with the 6 feet of mold creeping up the walls, buckled wooden floors and toppled things that were left behind, were horrific.

My city looked like an almost barren ghost town. I still haven't watched When the Levees Broke. It took me months to be able to watch Treme for the first time and even still I cry. I'm still debating on whether or not I want to waste my time to watch New Orleans Rising. I don't consider myself a victim. If I must have any label on me I'd rather it be "survivor".

I know that many, myself included, wish not to have the issue repeatedly rehashed. It's like constantly reopening a wound. I do admit that I have a MAJOR love/hate relationship with my home town, but I could NEVER be on board with some who so foolishly suggest that we should just leave New Orleans to languish. New Orleans has given this entire world so much.

Don't get me wrong. I'm in no way proclaiming that my experience was anything like what those who were in New Orleans proper experienced. This is just MY personal account.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Michelle Antoinette Gets the Anime Treatment

While Michelle Antoinette was out in Spain partying like it was 1999 with 40 friends, Taiwan was busy given her a rather whimsical treatment using CGI. I wonder if some people will find this a little more shameful that a foreign country is regarding our poor choice in leadership in this manner since the sentiments of a majority of Americans seem to mean nothing to them. I think it just goes to show that we are in no way inspiring the unity, respect and understanding that this so-called post-racial "Everyman" president and his down-to-earth (snickering) wife were supposed to be.

I would like to think that a display like this would be the icing on the cake to some people who were still teetering on the fence as to whether they could continue to support this "regime". To put it into perspective, what was spent PER DAY for this excursion, was the equivalent of a year's salary for yours truly. That's quite a way to show your support for a bereft friend, or a your daughter's vacation, or a so-called bridge building visit with Spanish royalty, whatever the excuse du jour may be.

You don't even have to understand what's being said in this clip to know what's going on. The images speak for themselves.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Socialist Party of America list 70 Representatives on their rolls

Ok people, these are the ones you need to train your sights on. Since Joseph McCarthy's no longer around (unfortunately), we need to be the ones to extricate these traitors from power in the Republic.


This Should Just Break Your Heart

Is this really where we're headed it? Is this the America we want?