Fifteen years ago, Hurricane Katrina slammed into the coast of Louisiana with the force of a wrecking ball, with sustained winds reaching an incredible 125 miles per hour.
By now, we all know what happened next. Those who could fled New Orleans and other towns across the Gulf Coast. Those who couldn’t – mostly poor, Black, and Brown Americans – were left largely to fend for themselves as levees broke and flooded the city’s Ninth Ward, sending residents scrambling for rooftops and attics just to survive. Over 1,800 did not.
The tragedy didn’t end there. The world watched in disbelief as thousands of Black and Brown Americans who sought shelter in the New Orleans Superdome instead found a nightmare where food and water ran short and the federal government just didn’t seem to care. All in the world’s largest economy.
It should have been a warning and a wakeup call to the nation, a turning point on deep inequities and injustice that Black and Brown Americans live with every day. It should have forced the federal government to confront the climate crisis with the same focus and drive it would bring to the war on terror a year later.
But instead, America moved on. After Katrina there was Sandy, Harvey, Irma, and now in a tragic feat of timing, Laura. Each time, poor families and Black and Brown communities get hit hardest and struggle the most to rebuild, while the wealthy and White Americans so often emerge relatively unscathed.
As the reported line from Mark Twain goes, history doesn’t repeat itself, but it often rhymes. In the years since, we’ve seen in the unequal suffering and official indifference in the COVID-19 pandemic where Black and Latinx Americans are three times more likely to become infected and twice as likely to die from the disease than Whites.
We saw it again this week in the tragic shooting of Jacob Blake, joining the long list of Black Americans shot and brutalized by the police supposed to protect them from harm.
In this moment, the 15th anniversary of Katrina reminds us that for all our progress, real equality and equity remain a far-off goal. That for all the glorious rhetoric of a founding document that declares that “all men are created equal,” the everyday reality in America is painfully different and we have so far to go to meet our ideals.
More and more, we’re asked at Climate Reality why we say that there is no climate justice without racial justice. Why we speak out when another Black man is shot by the police. Why, as a climate organization, we say, “Black Lives Matter.”
The answer is simple. At its core, our fight against climate change is about creating a more just world for all, no matter the color of their skin or the size of their paycheck. We can only get there by fighting the systemic racism that places coal plants in Black neighborhoods and toxic waste facilities next to poor families while wealthy and White communities never know they exist. By working for a just transition so frontline communities no longer have to face ever more powerful storms and lethal heatwaves. By calling out and standing up against injustice and racism wherever we see it. By understanding the simple but powerful truth of Dr. Martin Luther King’s statement that “No one is free until all of us are free” – and acting accordingly.
A good place to start is by honoring the 15th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina for what it is. Our friends at the Hip-Hop Caucus will be leading the official Katrina Commemoration with a socially distanced appropriate march in New Orleans and livestreaming the event at www.katrina15.com.
To join us in our fight for a just and sustainable future for all, sign up for our email activist list.
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