Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Learning from Candide

Mimi stings me where I need to be stung, r@d@r thanks me when I need a bit of thanks. So I'll shove this one out of the nest and get back to more useful considerations. Someone wrote me to ask if the "torture bill" had broken me. No, it wasn't that; or not that alone. It was everything and nothing; it was left blogistan and preaching last Sunday. It was simply reality, and my response to it. So, continuing (and completing) the sad spectacle of commenting on my own comments (or just expanding my point), consider the Gulf Coast and New Orleans.

What happened to it?

The electorate is supposedly voting on Iraq. Or they are voting for accountability, which leads back to Iraq. But what about New Orleans? What about the Gulf Coast? Who speaks for them? If I want to register my concern for the cities, for the towns, for the people, the displaced, the homeless, the poor, the newly-impoverished, for whom do I vote?

It was power that put them in those places of vulnerabilty, power that made them still more vulnerable. The power of oil and gas corporations, eating away the wet lands of Louisiana. The power of commerce, forcing the marginalized onto the Gulf shores and exposing them to the vagaries of nature. Power that now ignores their plight and wishes them well and hopes they can recover, but basically has no interest in whether they do or not because, after all, it doesn't serve the interests of power to see that they do. It was power that forced poor blacks to stay in the Ninth Ward and to stay behind in the flooding and to sit waiting for days on their rooftops, or surrounded by high water, or helpless in the Super Dome. It was power that ignored them, until finally power was forced to respond. And it is the irony that those who wielded the power are now paying the price for their malfeasance and misfeasance and just plain incompetence. But power is not restoring New Orleans and the Gulf Coast. People are doing that, despite the indifference of power.

For whom do I vote, then? Who speaks for the powerless of New Orleans, of the coast of Louisiana and Mississippi? Who speaks for justice for the loss of an entire American city? Isn't this what we are supposed to fear, that terrorists will get a bomb into this country capable of destroying an entire city, of rendering it virtually uninhabitable? One of the greatest cities on earth was destroyed, rendered almost unlivable, and what is our system of political power doing about it? Which seems to be greater for us? The abstraction of fear, or the reality of New Orleans?

I'm tired of dealing with abstractions. I cannot decide who wins the Senate race in Connecticut. I don't even have a vote in the matter. I cannot decide who controls the Congress. I'm no longer convinced it will make any difference. I will vote for the Democrats because I despise what the GOP has become. I agree with Bill Curry, this is definitely the time to vote the party, not the candidate. But I also agree with Wendell Berry: I must think locally, and more importantly, act locally.

All my grand sweeping theoretical pronouncements about how things ought to be in matters far beyond my control are just wind, just legend and song, and of no matter whatsoever. I am tired of straining at gnats and swallowing camels. New Orleans and the Gulf Coast shame us all, and none of us are even looking anymore (well, almost none of us). It is time I did what I could where I can, because that is all I can do. I can't do any more.

Mimi, I'm ready for that support group now.

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