Eeerrrt! Eeerrrt! Eeerrrt!

I find it both ironic and eerie that in the middle of Democracy Now’s evening report on the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, the news broadcast was interrupted for an emergency broadcast of the Eeerrrt! Eeerrrt! Eeerrrt! variety. At first I assumed it was “a test of the emergency broadcast system.” As in, This is only a test. Instead, it announced a severe thunderstorm with sixty mile an hour winds and advised everyone to take shelter and “prepare for damaging weather.”

This announcement was for Johnson City, Tennessee – an hour and fifteen minutes from here. But still, clouds gathered and swirled around the tips of the Black Mountains and then the range faded from view entirely. It happened very suddenly. One minute I was three paragraphs into an essay and I looked up to see the mountains – the sky was relatively clear at a quick glance. I composed the fourth paragraph of the essay and looked up again, only to see a whiteout forest and the total absence of the mountains.

I couldn’t help but remember Katrina. When it happened one year ago I did what I could to carpool and donate money. I even wrote an editorial for the local paper based on a blog post. I tracked radio coverage of the happenings obsessively, but like September 11th, I did not own a television and saw no live images of what was happening. One year later, I still have yet to see more than a dozen shots of post-Katrina New Orleans.

Does this make me a poor citizen? I don’t trust the corporate media and I have no patience for sensationalism and manipulation by fear. My mind is quite imaginative enough, thank you. I will say, however, that there is some sense of camaraderie afforded by the awkward opportunity to watch other peoples’ suffering, albeit through the television. I remember this sensation from life with television, though by the age of eighteen I vowed never to live with television again and I haven’t since then – almost a decade ago. Maybe if we’re far from the atrocities we can make ourselves feel a little better by watching hurricane victims in their pain. We think we can suffer a little along with them and we think we are suffering – we even cry or have nightmares or feel brokenhearted. We can do all this, though maybe we’re in our nighties on the couch and it’s the 11 ‘o clock news we’re watching and our carpets are dry and our children are asleep.

I don’t know what to do to acknowledge this suffering (and injustice and racism and classism) other than to stay informed and take small steps like carpooling when I can. I have chosen causes before and will choose some again, but no one can choose every cause. For now, for this one year anniversary, that Eeerrrt! Eeerrrt! Eeerrrt! made me take pause once again. I stopped what I was doing and lay on the couch, listening to the report in full. And now I’ll pass on what I learned to you:

The single most important piece of investigative reporting on a national issue that I’ve heard all year was broadcast yesterday on Democracy Now. The follow up report was tonight and was equally enlightening. If you didn’t hear this, please go to and listen or read the transcript: Democracy Now’s Katrina report PART ONE
Democracy Now’s Katrina report PART TWO.

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