Chat with US Rep. McKinney on Hurricane Katrina, Race, Class

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(APN) ATLANTA–“The government was not prepared at all to deal with the people who did not have the means to evacuate, and it still is not prepared to provide solutions to people whose lives have been completely displaced,” US Rep. Cynthia McKinney (D-GA) told Atlanta Progressive News in a phone interview today.

US Rep. Cynthia McKinney talked with APN about her official findings about the roles of race and class into the government’s response to Hurricane Katrina.158_mckinney_2

“What we learned was that the National Guard and the City [of New Orleans] requested buses, and FEMA held them up. If the Department Of Homeland Security (which oversees FEMA) had just done what it was asked to do,” lives could have been saved and people could have been spared from suffering, the Congresswoman told Atlanta Progressive News. “It’s just incredible.”

“When [Louisiana Governor] Kathleen Blanco says ‘Give me all you’ve got,’ that means everything you’ve got! And that doesn’t mean going back and itemizing five of these and two of those, and if she’s doesn’t use the proper form…” that the people of Louisiana won’t receive anything, Rep. McKinney said. “It’s ridiculous,” Rep. McKinney said.

“As I pointed out in my remarks, the Hurricane Katrina was indiscriminate in both race and class in who it victimized. But the federal response wasn’t indiscriminate, and that’s the problem,” Rep. McKinney said.

“Even as President Carter remarked, the world saw the faces of the hardest hit of the Katrina survivors and those faces pointed to race and class as still being issues in our country,” the Congresswoman added.

The APN interview came on the heels of the Congresswoman’s remarks on the US House Floor today, which were aired on C-SPAN, and the release of a report issued by the US House this week.

Rep. McKinney provided Congress with a 71 page special section of the report, entitled, “Supplementary Report on the Findings of the Select Bipartisan Committee to Investigate the Preparation For, and Response To, Hurricane Katrina.”

The report is beautifully written, meticulously documented, and is an excellent resource for New Orleanians and other evacuees who want to know what the heck went wrong when they needed their government the most.

The report also makes numerous policy recommendations, including that FEMA should again become an independent agency reporting directly to the President. FEMA was subsumed under the Department of Homeland Security shortly after said Department’s creation after September 11, 2001, which some argue led to a lack of attention to the threat of natural disasters and an abundance of attention to the threat of terrorist actors.

Other recommendations of the supplemental report include:

-Understanding that looting for food, water, and survival items may be necessary and it is cruel to shoot people on site for taking care of their basic needs.

-That transportation provisions need to be made for the elderly, infirm, and low-income.

-The need to protect the civil liberties of minorities in a disaster situation by clarifying the consequences against police and other public officials for violating such liberties.

-Clarifying the national response plan, including the respective roles of state and federal agencies.

“What we are left with is a spectacular failure of government,” the report’s conclusion on Page 62 states. “Prior to the flooding of New Orleans, Grover Norquist, President of Americans for Tax Reform… publicly stated… ‘I don’t want to abolish government. I simply want to reduce it to the size where I can drag it into the bathroom and drown it in the bathtub.’ It seems he got his wish, at least for the people of New Orleans. Hurricane Katrina should and undoubtedly will force us to reexamine prevalent notions of the market fundamentalists… It was under-funding that contributed to the flooding of New Orleans, and to the delinquent response.”

Congressional Democrats had boycotted the panel at first because they were concerned that the scope of the Bipartisan Committee would not provide enough scrutiny. However, Rep. McKinney participated anyway.

“The Republicans by and large have accepted the Republican report. The Democrats are now changing their mind about it. They had previously called the panel a sham, but now the Hill Newspaper reports there are some Democrats who are changing their mind about the work of the panel,” Rep. McKinney told Atlanta Progressive News.

“Now the Democrats are putting together a Task Force and I intend to ask to serve on that Task Force by the Democratic Caucus under the leadership of Jim Clyburn,” Rep. McKinney said.

“It was too important not to participate,” she said. “It’s like asking a voter to boycott an election. We can’t boycott elections, we have to overwhelm elections with our voters.”

The renegade Congresswoman also says working on the bipartisan panel with numerous Republicans taught her something about looking past party lines. “I learned that we shouldn’t automatically judge… I won’t be partisan… I learned that all Republicans are not interested in covering up the truth. We should stay away from generalizations,” Rep. McKinney said.

But that’s not all Rep. McKinney found in her inquiry. “I learned how incompetent [DHS Director] Michael Chertoff really is, but then the whole country is seeing that as well,” she said.

So, why is a Congresswoman from Georgia taking the lead in regards to a Hurricane that didn’t physically hit her District?

“My District was hit by Katrina because the entirety of the US was hit by Hurricane Katrina and our country can’t suffer through such a tragedy and revert to regionalism or parochialism,” Rep. McKinney explained to Atlanta Progressive News.

“Hurricane Katrina is an American problem and all Americans have to care,” she said.

Atlanta Progressive News also participated in a recent Hurricane Katrina Town Hall Meeting that Congresswoman McKinney hosted in Clarkston, Georgia, in her House District, about two weeks ago. The photographs above of the Congresswoman and her Katrina evacuee constituents used for this article were taken at that event.

About the author:

Matthew Cardinale is a Katrina Evacuee from New Orleans, and is Editor of Atlanta Progressive News.  He may be reached at matthew@atlantaprogressivenews.com.

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