The Mess After Katrina


Seven months after Hurricane Katrina, many New Orleans residents are still largely without jobs, emergency housing, flood protection, mortgage relief, and health care. African-American residents have been hit especially hard by the slow recovery—a recent Gallup poll reported that 53 percent of black respondents had lost “everything” in the wake of Katrina, as compared to 19 percent of whites.

To make things worse, according to the Brookings Institution, rebuilding has proceeded unevenly, and has exacerbated the racial and socioeconomic divides. “The [white, relatively upscale] French Quarter and Uptown, you see life basically as it was before the storm,” said Matt Fellowes, a senior research associate at Brookings. “It’s eerie, because life really is normal in those neighborhoods and then you cross over the Industrial Canal and enter the lower Ninth Ward or eastern New Orleans, and it looks like a bomb just went off yesterday.” And it’s possible that this is deliberate policy: Mike Davis has a piece in the Nation this week reporting that “mayor-appointed commissions and outside experts, mostly white and Republican, [are] propos[ing] to radically shrink and reshape a majority-black and Democratic city.”

As many as 5,500 homes still need to be leveled in the lower 9th Ward alone., which means that a sizeable proportion of 9th Ward and Eastern New Orleans residents remain in temporary housing elsewhere around the country, and their displacement could have a lasting affect on the face of local politics. 500,000 African-American residents lived in New Orleans before Katrina; that number is now down to 200,000, which will drastically shift the balance of electoral power in the upcoming mayoral and city council elections. Nevertheless, this week a federal judge ruled that the elections will go on as usual, despite the fact that many former residents won’t be able to participate.

Bruce Gordon, President of the NAACP, appealed to Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco on election matters:

For far too long in Louisiana’s history, voting has not been a right afforded to black citizens. Historically, the extension of voting rights to black citizens in Louisiana has been strongly resisted, whether through literacy tests, poll taxes, or other formal and informal practices combined to keep black voting rates in the state low. The impact of Hurricane Katrina now threatens Louisiana’s African-American citizens’ voting right in equally devastating ways.”

Less than 10,000 of New Orleans’ 297,000 registered voters have requested absentee ballots and the city of New Orleans may be on the verge of electing its first white mayor in nearly 30 years.

DOES IT FEEL LIKE POLITICS IS AT A BREAKING POINT?

Headshot of Editor in Chief of Mother Jones, Clara Jeffery

It sure feels that way to me, and here at Mother Jones, we’ve been thinking a lot about what journalism needs to do differently, and how we can have the biggest impact.

We kept coming back to one word: corruption. Democracy and the rule of law being undermined by those with wealth and power for their own gain. So we're launching an ambitious Mother Jones Corruption Project to do deep, time-intensive reporting on systemic corruption, and asking the MoJo community to help crowdfund it.

We aim to hire, build a team, and give them the time and space needed to understand how we got here and how we might get out. We want to dig into the forces and decisions that have allowed massive conflicts of interest, influence peddling, and win-at-all-costs politics to flourish.

It's unlike anything we've done, and we have seed funding to get started, but we're looking to raise $500,000 from readers by July when we'll be making key budgeting decisions—and the more resources we have by then, the deeper we can dig. If our plan sounds good to you, please help kickstart it with a tax-deductible donation today.

Thanks for reading—whether or not you can pitch in today, or ever, I'm glad you're with us.

Signed by Clara Jeffery

Clara Jeffery, Editor-in-Chief

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our newsletters

Subscribe and we'll send Mother Jones straight to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate

Share your feedback: We’re planning to launch a new version of the comments section. Help us test it.