Teach-In Explores The Storm After the Storm
When the Levee Breaks
New York, NY - September 9, 2005--Students, faculty and staff gathered on Wednesday at the Newman Vertical Campus for a teach-in on the social, political, and economic consequences of Hurricane Katrina. Black and Hispanic Studies Professor Ted Henken moderated the event.
As the country tries to figure out how such a cataclysm could have occurred in the wealthiest of nations, and how long the Crescent City will need to recover, Prof. Henken echoed the sentiments of many Americans in his opening remarks.
“I have been watching recent events in New Orleans with a heavy heart, first as the city was waylaid by Mother Nature, then briefly abandoned by Big Brother,” he said.
A diverse group of speakers, including representatives from the academic community, local business, and the arts, shared their experiences before, during, and after the disaster. All agreed that knowledge of the impending devastation was widespread, from the upper echelons of the federal government, right down to the man on the street.
Baruch English/Business Journalism Professor Christopher Hallowell, whose book Holding Back the Sea (HarperCollins, 2001) foretold the dire consequences of poorly maintained levees on the coastal regions of Louisiana and Mississippi, sketched a brief history of the long-standing challenges faced by New Orleans’ wetlands. New Orleans coastal wetlands make up over 60 percent of all U.S. wetlands, and the effects of neglect, lack of funding, and the destruction of marshes cited by Hallowell were confirmed as Katrina hit.
Baruch freshman Rattanmol Singh Johal, who spent part of his summer re-building a school in Tamil Nadu, India that was demolished by last December’s tsunami, gave a slideshow that charted the progress of the student-funded project. Henken and Johal agreed that an alternative spring break program in which members of the Baruch community and the general public volunteer for the massive rebuilding effort New Orleans faces, should be developed soon.
Ethnomusicologist and New Orleans resident Ned Sublette called the human toll from Katrina “one of the biggest tragedies of this country,” pointing out that the $60 million to $70 million of federal aid the city received in the past was “only good for band-aids.”
Displaced Tulane University student Greg Goldstein, one of 14 displaced students to enroll at Baruch for the fall semester, reminisced about the city’s jazz music scene and said he has high hopes for returning to Tulane for the spring semester.
Tom Thayer’s bar d.b.a., on Frenchman Street in the city’s ninth ward, received its live music permit a few months ago, just as the edgy neighborhood was approved as an arts and cultural district. His business is miraculously intact, but he said he feels guilty when he thinks of his own losses. Thayer is working to help create relief resources for New Orleans musicians and service industry employees.
“All the social, economic issues have been there for a long time. These were people that didn’t have anything before this, now they have less than that,” Thayer said.
“I don’t think people have had a chance to fully absorb what it’s like to lose an American city. And what a city!” said Sublette.
“That’s true,” Thayer replied, “there’s nothing like New Orleans.”
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