Olena Rypich/The AS Review
The Gulf Coast had not yet recovered from its biggest and most costly natural disaster when it was hit with the largest oil spill to date. The heartbreaking stories on the evening news linger for days, perhaps even weeks, before making way for something more current and more pressing for our attention.
To put into perspective events that have long disappeared from front-page headlines but remain key issues in our nation, Fairhaven College will be hosting “Community and Resistance from Katrina to the Jena Six” from noon-1:20 p.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 20 in the Fairhaven Auditorium.
The event will feature Jordan Flaherty, a writer and community organizer based in New Orleans, and Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha, an Oakland-based queer Sri Lankan writer, performer, teacher and part-time professor at University of California, Berkeley.
“Hurricane Katrina is an event that has not yet had closure and has had an effect on people both in that region and beyond,” said Shirley Osterhaus, Fairhaven College instructor and coordinator of the World Issues Forum. “When events like that happen in our country, they can be lost pretty quickly in our memory.”
Literally out of sight, out of mind.
“We have become a short-attention span culture, and much of the blame falls on our media,” Flaherty said through e-mail. “The U.S. media is in crisis, but not the crisis that is often identified. The problem is not the recent changes in technology, but the long-term shift from a prioritizing of truth to a prioritizing of profit. As all forms of journalists face massive layoffs, journalism’s role as a counter-force against the powerful is in jeopardy. For progressives and radicals working in media, it’s important to not only question what format news will come in, but also how to approach our work so it is both accountable and sustainable.”
Before Hurricane Katrina, Flaherty didn’t identify as a journalist, but quickly rose to the challenge.
“I was living in New Orleans when the storm hit, and saw a city flooded, then saw how the people of New Orleans, especially African Americans, were treated on evacuating. I saw guns pointed at people, families separated as they were put on buses, without even being told where the bus was going to take them. Then, when I left the city, I saw how people from New Orleans were depicted in the media. They were called looters, thugs, criminals, armed gangs.”
He said he wrote about what he saw as an attempt to dispel the media myths. This account was published and republished around the world and translated into several languages. Many New Orleans grassroots organizers and community members subsequently encouraged him to continue to make contributions.
“They asked me to keep doing this,” he said. “So I didn’t intend to become a journalist. I was pressed into service.”
Flaherty’s work as both an independent journalist and community organizer will make a story that probably has not been covered by corporate media.
Flaherty will also try to give suggestions on what we can do now for those who are still recovering from these disasters.
“In the Haiti earthquake, we saw the same patterns from Hurricane Katrina repeated,” he said. “[We saw] the privatization and militarization of relief, and the criminalization of survivors. Many of the same corporate interests, like Blackwater and Halliburton, keep coming up again. So we need to learn these lessons, or the same thing will keep happening,”
The talk will explore supporting marginalized voices: people of various ethnic backgrounds, the poor and the homeless. While numerous organizations, even locally, make tremendous efforts to help minorities; social injustice is very much alive.
“As much as we want to proclaim that we have liberty and justice for all, that might be the ideal, it’s not the reality,” said Osterhaus.
Osterhaus hopes students gain an understanding of Hurricane Katrina as a natural as well as a human disaster and understand the critical value of independent journalism, which she said aims to heed the voices that mass media doesn’t always count.
“Equal is what we really want,” she said, “But we want everybody to live with dignity and respect and human rights.”