Author Forum: Touring Disaster

By Guest Columnist Sep 12, 2006

by Jordan Flaherty In the new issue of Colorlines, I wrote Touring Disaster about the mixed feelings people in New Orleans have about the many visitors who have come through. Its been a wide ranging group: from Spike Lee, Brad Pitt and Bruce Springsteen to congressional reps and international observers. And, of course, there have been tens of thousands of volunteers – mostly white, mostly anarchist volunteers with Common Ground, volunteer groups made up largely of people of color who have come through with People’s Hurricane Relief Fund, many church groups and other organizations. Now with the anniversary past, many of us feel we are in a countdown to the disappearance of our guests. The problems that Katrina highlighted are still here ? a criminal injustice system out of control, public housing, health care and education under attack, deindustrialization and a lack of infrastructure ? but the volunteers are starting to move on. I can?t blame people for moving on ? no one can deny that there are pressing issues everywhere ? but sometimes volunteers have come through and made commitments they can?t follow up on, or stirred up conflicts before leaving, with others left behind to clean up the mess. This whole experience has brought up a lot of questions about the nature of solidarity, and I thought I’d take a minute to post those questions here to see what kind of ideas they generate: What is the commitment that people make in volunteering the time? Is it possible or worthwhile to give meaningful support as a short-term volunteer? What would an accountable, community-led relief look like? From Lebanon to Iraq to Argentina, how do we support, and stand with, other people?s struggles?