“I will not yield to a politic of despair”

There’s been a bunch of stuff going on here at BSP lately that has kept me from blogging with any seriousness. I’m going to try to delve into some of it, and hope that it makes some sense. On pure logistics, I’ve gone back to a more active work schedule, after spending most of August in a soporific haze. But my work has become more time-consuming without being more interesting, so I’m not that happy about it.

One of the results of my lazy August is that I spent way too much of the last week of August on blog & news sites, reading about the Katrina aftermath. A couple of months ago, I wrote a post called “What’s Wrong with White People?”. If I hadn’t used that title already, I would be tempted to use it now. Because some of the
things that white folks have been saying and doing in response to this tragedy just make me ashamed to be white.

The only thing that keeps me hopeful is the expectation that this will be one of those events that inspires mass activism and leads to major reform. Reform like the New Deal, or the Great Society. But at the same time, I’m worried that we’re only at the beginning, that things will have to get even worse before that mass activism will be kick-started. After all, Roosevelt only had the political impetus to pass the New Deal after the Great Depression had lasted for several years, and LBJ couldn’t have gotten half of his legislative agenda passed had it not been for the assassination of JFK–even with the enormous advances won by the Civil Rights Movement.

Landisdad and I were talking about this the other night, and he said, “yeah, what we really need is another Bonus Army. If only the people driving the buses out of New Orleans had gone to DC, instead of Houston.” He also reminded me of one of Dr. Martin Luther King’s last sermons, “Remaining Awake Through a Great Revolution”, which really could be the best thing ever written about poverty & race in America, and, sad to say, it’s almost totally accurate despite being 37 years old.

In going back and re-reading that speech, I was reminded of a book I read about 7 years ago called Striking Performances/Performing Strikes. It’s a history of the use of theatrical performance in two major actions that happen during 1936–the first being the Flint autoworkers’ sit-down strike, where workers won their union by occupying the plants of General Motors in Flint, MI. It’s one of the most famous strikes in US history, and led to the largest union election of the 20th century. The second action that is analyzed in the book was the one that was more interesting to me, though. It’s the story of 200 unemployed workers (the Worker’s Alliance of America) that, for nine days, occupied the state capitol in Trenton, NJ to protest the cut-off of relief funds. The reason that I found that story so amazing and compelling, of course, is that I grew up in New Jersey. I was educated in this state from the day I stepped into kindergarten until the day I graduated from college, and yet somehow, I had never heard about it. Now, why is that, do you imagine?

I’ll tell you what I imagine, and that’s this: there is no worse way to learn history than to accept the official version as true. We’re seeing that in action as we watch reporters from CNN doggedly interrogate the director of FEMA, to have him admit that he didn’t know about the existence of Katrina victims in the NOLA Convention Center until days after it had been reported on television. Regular people have more access to transparency in government and current events–in our country and others–than has ever existed before.

What do you bet that the official history of Katrina in 50 years doesn’t mention Bush’s remarks, or Brown’s cluelessness, or the fact that black people who were trying to flee the city got turned back by armed police from a white adjoining suburb? The only thing that will make the true version the official version is if people demand something different. We need to demand it the way that the survivors of the Triangle Shirtwaist factory fire did. We need to demand it the way that the editors of Jet did, when they published photos of the body of Emmett Till.

I may have been drowsy in August, but I’m wide awake in September.

September 11, 2005. politically motivated.


  1. all changed, changed utterly « Bumblebee Sweet Potato replied:

    […] In the aftermath to Hurricane Katrina, I wrote a post about my frustration with the whole situation called “I will not yield to a politic of despair.” This is a sort of follow-up, since I’ve just finished reading Douglas Brinkley’s history of Katrina, The Great Deluge. In my original post, I posited that the history of Katrina might actually have a chance of being true, since so many of us watched it daily on the news, but that it would only happen if we demanded the truth, and didn’t let Bush and others cover it over as they so obviously wanted to do. […]

  2. comfort addict replied:

    Right on, sister. I have often been ashamed of my race and, sometimes, ashamed of myself. Once, on a gig, a white bandleader was protesting the Detroit Symphony Orchestra’s affirmative action policy. “I suppose that, next, they’re going to want to put Ralph in the symphony,” he said within earshot of Ralph, a wonderful African-American saxophonist. I didn’t say anything then and I am ashamed for not having done so.

    I don’t understand why the powerful (mostly white) people of this country don’t get that we are all one family and that the current hegemony is destroying us all. For an alternate vision of what we could be, check out Looking Backward, a nineteenth-century novel by Edward Bellamy. The elites of this country, of course, would slam this vision as communist. I prefer to think of it as communitarian and wish that we could get a significant fraction of the “we, not me” philosophy it espouses.

  3. shaunna replied:

    Let’s all stay wide-awake.

  4. Bryan Hill replied:

    Three cheers for landismom!!!

    Hip-hip Hooray! Hip-hip Hooray! Hip-hip Hooray!

    Excellent post about the MLK essay. This country does learn, it just has trouble remembering.

    Good luck from a new fan,



  5. Regina replied:

    Great post!

  6. Metrodad replied:

    You’re absolutely right. While a part of the story may lay in that old adage that “history is written by the winners,” I think that those days are over. We must always remember. I think the fact that Brown resigned is good evidence that we’ll be able to start recording much of this history accurately.

  7. Jessica replied:

    Great post – thought provoking, as usual. I love reading your blog because (at least at this point in my life) I tend to be more “right-leaning” than you are so reading what you have to say gives me a viewpoint that I don’t hear very often (since I left Madison, WI at least). I think it’s giving me a more balanced perspective of the world. One I really appreciate.

  8. Jessica replied:

    What a powerful post, Landismom. Thank you.

  9. RainbowMomma replied:

    Like you, I was drowsy in August. But the events of late have woken me up, and now I’m cranky.

    Great post, as usual.


  10. chip replied:

    great post! Thanks!

  11. Library Lady replied:

    Great post, as usual!

    I fear you may be right in terms of history. But I hope we are proved wrong and that the history books mark Katrina as a turning point, both as the beginning of the downfall of the Bush regime and as the days when Americans truly became aware that there are people out there in need.

    I can dream, can’t I?

  12. things I’m thankful for, this 9/11th « Bumblebee Sweet Potato replied:

    […] 11, 2008 at 9:26 pm (politically motivated) Three years ago, I wrote a post in the wake of the Katrina disaster that referred to one of my favorite speeches by Martin Luther King—a speech where King made […]

  13. One year of BBSP « Bumblebee Sweet Potato replied:

    […] 9. “I will not yield to a politic of despair” […]

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