Landfall, or How I Got to Louisiana

Originally published in The Protest, Fall 2005- presented here w/out revision i.e. the benefits of either  hindsight or intervening maturation
but w/prayers for the departed and those who remain, and prayers too for those in Isaac's path

Monday Aug 29

A group of young people I organize with around power and justice is holding a public meeting at the Thompson Center, downtown Chicago. As we prepare during the day, my man Steve, our lead organizer, remarks: “We’ll be lucky if we get much press coverage, Katrina is supposed to make landfall today.” One reporter shows up, briefly, from the Tribune. Forgive us for being pragmatic – we didn’t know it would be like this either.

>Wednesday Aug 31

I call Steve to remind him that Kanye’s Late Registration dropped Tuesday. I ask which of us is buying it. He says he’ll buy it, which works, cuz he’s the one with the salary.

>>Saturday Sep 3

I meet Steve in the mid-afternoon in Lawndale. We share a chocolate chip cookie sundae at Lou Malnati’s with Amy, like me, one of our leaders. Amy asks me, “Did you hear what Kanye said?” I haven’t but I’ve seen a headline that implied controversy. Steve comes back to the table and does his best Kanye/Mike Myers/ Chris Tucker-at-the-Katrina-telethon impersonation. Later, when I finally get a copy of the video clip, it matches up pretty well. On the way back north, Steve turns to me and says “I’ve been thinking about going down there.” I don’t need to ask where “down there” is. I say I’ve been thinking about it, too. Completely serious, he asks me, “Wanna leave now?” He goes on, piecing together a pitch, “If you drive, I’ll pay for gas. We can be there by tomorrow.” I’m like, “Naw kid, not on the spur like that.” He nods, but I know he is unsatisfied. We stop at his office downtown to pick up that Kanye. The speakers bump on the way home. A reflective line from “Crack Music” asks ‘How could you let this happen?’ It seems prophetic, or at least timely in a way that’s unnerving.

Sunday Sep 4

I sit in the basement watching the news with my father, waiting for my mother to finish getting dressed for a baptism celebration. A Fox commentator and military apologist reported that the eight armed men fired upon from the air by the army corps of engineers were in fact contractors – obviously a magic, even transformative term in our free market capitalist state:
“It’s like the Wild West out there; a lot of people have guns – the good guys and the bad guys.”

My thoughts in that moment:

“It was a fucking hurricane! When did New Orleanians become ‘the bad guys?’”

But muthafuckas got guns drawn ready to blaze.

That finding/scavenging/foraging vs. looting was so blatant that it’s ridiculous; I mean c’mon, from the same news outlets?
At least Kanye talked about it.

Idea: “Thanks Kanye!” = T-shirt

It also occurs to me that Ray Nagin should run for President. (I share this with my father.) Also = T-shirt.
I mean, the brotha got issues, and a national stage, like Obama @ the DNC. The Dems will probably use him, too, especially since Congress was out of session when shit popped off.
This is some generational shit though, even more than 9/11. So many things have happened recently that resonate differently with different people, depending on their politics: Seattle ’99; Election 2K/Decision 2K1; WCAR in Durban, 9/11 the same week; the Wars in Afghanistan and GWII, and the people’s response; for me, the U.S.-backed almost-coup in Venezuela and the U.S.-backed coup in Haiti, Election 2K4, and Katrina.

There is another baptism celebration scheduled tonight at a neighbor’s house. As we drive off, we see one of the members of that family. He tells me his daughter has asked about me. She is a student at Xavier University who has come home. He gives me her number.

Monday Sep 5

In the morning, as I do my self-imposed basketball drills – still scheming on the NBA, I think about Jasmine a lot. In the evening I call her and leave a message that sounds strange to my ears. I can’t really conceive of what she’s dealing with, so my words are hollow.

Tuesday Sep 6

In the evening Jasmine calls me back. We talk about the present and the future and Kanye and everything.
I know those people, she says. She tells me how much she loves Xavier and wants her degree to come from there and that she hopes they will accept her finishing credits from Loyola. She says she talked to Northwestern but they were funny and not really trying to help her out. She tells me that she may have lost everything in her apartment and about how an elevator in her friend’s dorm went out over the weekend and how she’s not sure if anyone she knows died in it.

I tell her about my impotent rage. I critique the federal government.

She tells me she’s about to start classes next week but desperately needs to find a job because she’s been away from home so long that she no longer quite fits into her family’s budget. She tells me about how her friend convinced her to leave the Saturday before Katrina made landfall and how she stayed in Atlanta for 5 days before she was able to get to Chicago.

I, more full of impotent rage, critique the class system and defense spending and deployment. It’s not enough. Now I must go. Steve’s already working on it.

Wednesday Sep 7

Steve calls me in the morning. I still haven’t figured out the car situation. He tells me we have 4 options:

Option A: New Orleans – obvious needs, unclear how we can best help, lots of danger, some health-related and some related to the combination of shoot-to-kill and my own dark skin.

Option B: Baton Rouge – ACORN, a national organization we know and respect, has moved from NO and set up shop there, so we might be able to link with them. The population has also doubled in the last week and a half.

Option C: Dallas – we both have family there, and all it takes to help is to show up at the stadium.

Option D: Houston – major destination for evacuees, the Astrodome needs volunteers, Steve’s friend and a cousin of mine both have places to crash.

I tell him Either B or C. A might be too dangerous, and D, well if we’re going to Texas we might as well see family.

By the time I talk to him in the evening, we’ve both chosen B, independently, cuz while it might be good for him to work with his family, who had already been volunteering, and me to get mine involved, Dallas would still be more pleasure than business, and that’s not on our agenda. I tell him we can’t take the loaner, but that I’m sure we can use my dad’s car. I’m wrong.

Thursday Sep 8

I run a few errands in the morning. I drop my car off at the dealership. On the way there, I get a speeding ticket, and offer up my AAA card as bond. I don’t tell my parents, worried that they’ll try to influence me to stay. My Dad takes me to pick up a rental car. I pack a Maglite, a baseball bat and some food. That’s not all, I’m actually ridiculously prepared. Before I leave my house, I tie my mirror ornament onto the rearview, just to make it my own. I pick up Stephen at the Avis in the Loop so we can add his name to the reservation. Once we make it out of the city, we realize we both forgot the Kanye, but maybe never really needed it to do what we’ve set out to do.


My cousin told me recently, “our kids are going to read their history books and be amazed at everything that’s happening now.”

I agree with Kanye, not all the time, but this time. I also think it was hot that he had the TIME cover, dropped his album, and shocked the world within a few days, just when white America thought they had found a new ‘safe Negro’ like Michael Jordan or pre-white-Bronco OJ.

I've been to Lousiana; I got there late, but I beat FEMA to some of the places I visited. I was at one shelter where some young brothers were pounding out beats and freestylin. They had beats boy! But the crazy thing was, they out in the country still on that gangsta shit, talkin bout murkin cats, bout takin over the industry. Nobody said 'fuck Mike Brown.' So here it goes: Fuck Mike Brown, and everything he represents.

A lot of people hoped that hiphop was finally going to stand up. But the cats freestylin in shelters just want radioplay and MTV cribs.

When I get a chance I’ll tell you some more Lousiana stories, about a grape called musky dime, the field peas in my pocket, and a hitchhiker named Jeff…




Let that breathe for a moment
I know how fast the memecycle moves, but I needed 'til
now to give you something whole

Amidst the ensuing controversy

had the same thought as several of my comrades

If Frederick Douglass had live-telegraphed his jawn
‘What to the Slave...?’
Samuel Morse might have lost his mind

In ‘08 I was home for the 4th, spent the day with generations of thinkers and strugglers strategizing how the grassroots might possibly hijack access this Obama thing
I drove somebody home on my way back North
got off Lake Shore around Foster Beach
the smoke was so thick
the flashing and thunder of the fireworks
and the smell
matched my imagination’s version of a battlefield
my passenger was deaf, so I felt like I was experiencing it alone
I had known since I could remember that the star spangled banner is war song
and I have never honored it
but that was the moment that crystallized for me that even the celebration of Independence Day is not only one of joyous erasure
but fundamentally also a grim commemoration of a hostile takeover

'we will kill our mothers and fathers and brothers to get this $, son!'

one of the signal modern historical instances of $ over whiteness