My mother always emphasized the virtues of “being prepared” over “crisis management.” Of course a combination of the two is probably the reality of any situation. But definitely a Stitch in Time Saves Nine. But for some reason, the prepared people do not get the rewards or applause that the clean up crew does. And in the political realm or even business, the budget busters who manage crisis (not prevention) tend to get another boost to their coffers. “People like to see the hustle,” a friend told me when she talked about Hollywood. Perhaps our society has overindulged in disaster movies. Heroes swoop down to save the day. They don’t save for the day.
This Fast Draw cartoon sheds light on this. CBS News features these “Freakanomics” type animations by Mitch Butler and John Landis.
In the years that followed, New Orleans could have remained a symbol of destruction and decay; of a storm that came and the inadequate response that followed. It was not hard to imagine a day when we’d tell our children that a once vibrant and wonderful city had been laid low by indifference and neglect. But that’s not what happened. It’s not what happened at Ben Franklin. It’s not what happened here at Xavier. It’s not what happened across New Orleans and across the Gulf Coast. (Applause.) Instead this city has become a symbol of resilience and of community and of the fundamental responsibility that we have to one another.
— President Barack Obama, Xavier College, August 30, 2010
Today I wore my “We’re Back” cap from the 2007 Mardi Gras in NOLA and added some golden yellow and green to the attire to pay homage to the survivors of and recovery from Hurricane Katrina. President Obama, Michelle and their daughters made a post-vacation stop to Xavier College today. For several years, volunteers in partnership with communities have committed to the rebuilding efforts in New Orleans now becoming an example of both natural disaster and government response failures and recoveries.
Transcript of President Obama’s remarks are available here.
And this past week, for the 5th anniversary of Katrina, HBO released Spike Lee‘s sequel to “When the Levees Broke” – “If God Is Willing and Da Creek Don’t Rise.” It covers the one-two punch on New Orleans from Katrina to BP to the extent of the recovery for some, definitely not for all. We know these things take time and a serious dedication to get the job done. But the aftershocks on the human psyche will need more than just air time.
THE PRESIDENT’S WEEKLY
As combat operations officially, if not technically, come to a close in Iraq, the President preps Americans for returning soldiers. Veterans benefits which include rehabilitation, job, education, health and accessibility services will have to be seriously revamped for the men and women returning from both Iraq and Afghanistan. The President specifically mentions expanding VA health care and hosptials to look after the “unique needs of female veterans.” The President also mentions “new resources to job training and placement.” Employers are requested by law to hold positions open for reservists, but often that isn’t guaranteed.
I’ve directed the federal government to hire more veterans, including disabled veterans, and I encourage every business in America to follow suit. This new generation of veterans has proven itself to be a new generation of leaders. They have unmatched training and skills; they’re ready to work; and our country is stronger when we tap their extraordinary talents.
It took nearly 20 years for people to take Vietnam veterans’ post-war distresses seriously; several years before Gulf War syndrome was not treated like some form of imaginary shell shock. Employers, health professionals, the VA, DoD, and local communities will have to do more than wave flags when these soldiers return home.
When labor leader A. Philip Randolph, organized a special march in Washington, DC for “Jobs and Freedom” in 1963, I have no doubt Randolph made deliberate choices on the date — August 28– and the venue — the Lincoln Memorial — as organizers did on the program and selection of speakers.
On this day in 1955 Emmett Till, a black 14-year-old teenager from Chicago was brutally murdered/lynched in Money, Mississippi for whistling at a white woman named Carolyn Bryant outside a small grocery store. His body was found three days later in the Tallahatchie River disfigured from beatings, torture, bullet wounds, and a 70-pound cotton gin tied around his neck with barbed wire. The prime suspects, including Carolyn’s husband Roy Bryant, were acquitted by a 12-member white jury. The suspects later admitted they were guilty of the crime but were never jailed (they are now deceased). Emmett’s mother Mamie Till insisted on an open-casket public viewing of her son’s body displayed just as he was found. The impact of the viewing shocked and disturbed many. It also moved more people to action. Mamie Till’s decision marked a major turning point for the civil rights movement.
Perhaps Randolph was also thinking about 1939, the year contralto Marian Anderson was barred from performing in DAR’s Constitution Hall because the venue was segregated and Anderson, who had performed with the Metropolitan Opera, was a “Negro.” First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt withdrew her membership to DAR in protest. The concert was moved to the steps of the Lincoln Memorial thanks to the efforts of concert organizers including Howard University and Harold Ickes, Interior Secretary who gave a great introductory speech which is rarely mentioned in this story. [Anderson was invited back by DAR to perform in Constitution Hall in 1942.] Considering the events of the day, this newsreel has a fascinating introductory slide.
I played the newsreel of Secretary Ickes speech and Anderson’s performance before an audience in 2009. The audience broke out in applause after the final strains of “Let Freedom Ring” and that was in the middle of the program. Even Forrest Gump can’t shake off the majestic moment of contralto Marion Anderson singing at the foot of Lincoln. And as “footnote,” the Lincoln Memorial was built as a tribute to Lincoln’s legacy in the preservation of the Union after the Civil War as well as his as being the great emancipator.
Randolph obviously knew the power of symbolism as well as time and place. He probably also had the benefit of a few Lincoln Republicans in the mix. Today’s organizers know the power of conflict especially in attracting media attention without getting any real important work done. Conflict oils the machine. It can also be used strategically to distract while others carry out an agenda with little notice. For better or worst, this still doesn’t give the greater society a foundation to build on.
The debate on whether Glenn Beck deliberately or unconsciously scheduled his “Restoring Honor” rally on the anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington for the “Tea Party” or whomever is so not the point. Technically, the Lincoln Memorial is a public space requiring a permit for gatherings. And Beck’s event is to raise money for scholarships to benefit the children of special operations veterans through a charity called Special Operations Warrior Foundation. After the overhead expenses and salaries are paid, the charity is expected to receive the remaining funds – follow the money. Even in the President’s weekly on the end of combat operations in Iraq, he outlines support for veterans and families of men and women who’ve served.
But there is no reason why we also can’t pick where “Jobs and Freedom” left off especially now when unemployment is at 10% and even greater among African Americans, Hispanic Americans, and young adults across the board. A livable wage is not a pact with the devil and unemployment benefits are not “entitlements” for people who don’t want to work. Sure there are people who say an unemployment check will give him/her more time — more time to find the job he/she wants and can do well. Isn’t that what the American dream is all about?
Let’s face it, if Beck, Palin, Fox and other opinion outlets were around in 1963, they would’ve done their darnest to shut the march down in the most blatant ways. Of course, not because of the color of the organizers’ skin, but the content of Randolph’s character. A. Philip Randolph was a socialist. And since King was affiliated, his dream would’ve been branded as a quest for a Marxist utopia.
1963’s march on Washington wasn’t just about a great speech or the opportunity for Martin Luther King, Jr. to declare his legacy. It was a culmination and coalition of people and events that collectively asked the nation to live up to its creed, values, and virtues. Is it just coincidence Till was murdered in a town called “Money.” For those who’d like to move beyond divisiveness, “Jobs and Freedom” is clear and relevant. It’s just plain American to me.
Over the vacation week, I saw a number of movies en route on land and sea. Some were forgettable (“Rush Hour 2,” “Did You Hear About the Morgans?”) but a majority were worth being a coach potato for. That’s allowed during vacation isn’t it? The Princess Cruise line exhibits films on the top deck’s big screen as well as in house cable. I noticed these films programmed to thematically tie into our destinations along the New England coast and Canada.
After a stop in Newport, RI, we headed towards Boston.
The Ghostwriter (2010) Roman Polanski’s last (or last) film based on the novel by Robert Harris who also penned the adaptation. Ewan McGregor plays “the ghost” aka writer. He has no other name. He shouldn’t. He can’t. That’s part of the deal when he takes up where the last ghostwriter left off. Actually, the previous ghost drowned while working on the memoirs of disgraced former British PM Adam Lang played by Pierce Brosnan. Lang is living in luxurious exile on the coast of Massachusetts while being accused of war crimes (i.e. torture) back home. The ghostwriter realizes this assignment will be more than just copy editing. True to Polanski form, the women are complicated, emotionally tortured, secretive, and seductive to the new man in the room. Lang’s wife, Ruth, is played by Olivia Williams. Lang’s mistress/administrative assistant is played by Kim Cattrall (Samantha in “Sex and the City”) Considering Polanski’s state of affairs, the making of this film was more than likely equally complicated and tempting. Usedom, an island in the Baltic was used as a stand-in for the coast of Massachusetts and a unit was sent to film on Martha’s Vineyard minus Polanski. But Germany was also a stand in, as Brosnan was a stand in for Tony Blair. What is this film saying about the U.S./U.K. relationship at the height of the Iraq affair. Complicated, emotionally tortured, and seductive.
On the way to Canada…
The romance channel had a few oldies but goodies. A Princess cruise ship was the setting for the television series “The Love Boat.” Summertime (1955) with Katharine Hepburn as Jane Hudson and Renato Rossano Brazzi as Renato de Rossi. Jane is a not so young single woman who takes a solo trip to Venice that turns out not to be so solo after all when she meets Renato, a handsome antiques dealer. For our trip, we only had a few hours in each destination. No time to shop for antiques or antique dealers. “Summertime” makes you feel like you’re in the real Venice, nooks, cracks and all. The film was directed by David Lean with cinematography by Jack Hildyard. There’s no special set ups, no very few, if any stand ins or rearrangements. And like a good vacation, Jane comes away with….
St. John, New Brunswick…I saw a bust of Queen Victoria above the doorway inside the Anglican Church in St. John.
My favorite of the week was Young Victoria staring Emily Blunt as Queen Victoria. The story was about the personal and public politics of England’s longest serving sovereign in the year she ascends to the throne. If her uncle had died before his niece turned 18, Victoria would’ve been under the power of a regency. As it is, an ambitious aide to her mother tries to force her to sign an order giving him authority until Victoria is 25 years old. Apparently teen Victoria knew the perks of power in her own right but she needed a trustworthy ally. Enter Albert who not only understands the game but puts his lady’s happiness and well being over the perks of the throne. Lucky Victoria finds true love and a partner (without a hidden agenda) in one package. Who needs a power struggle in a marriage.
I’ve become quite a fan of Emily Blunt since “The Devil Wears Prada,” an imperfect movie that I repeat watch from time-to-time. Every actor has his/her “Did You Hear About the Morgans?” But for now Blunt’s churning along, building visibility, credibility and a fan base. Let’s hope more roles worthy of her talent will be added to her portfolio.
On the way back to New York…actually Brooklyn. One of my screwball favorites.