Aug 272013
 
A spray-painted welcome to President Bush on St. Claude Avenue on Aug. 29, 2006. (photo by jewel bush)

A spray-painted welcome to President Bush on St. Claude Avenue on Aug. 29, 2006. (photo by jewel bush)

jewel bush

When President George W. Bush’s motorcade drove down St. Claude Avenue on August 29, 2006 — the first anniversary of Hurricane Katrina — there were many signs, like sentries, stationed along his route to Fats Domino’s house in the Ninth Ward, one stop on his itinerary of ceremonial rounds.

The messages, posted on signs lined along the neutral ground and on the actual storm-clobbered buildings, weren’t flattering greetings from the city’s welcome committee. The collective reverberation to the commander in chief’s obligatory pilgrimage to the place he neglected a year earlier was that of a shimmering rage, pithy and piercing in delivery.

One of the strongest indicators of this sentiment was a lop-sided, green Port-a-Potty positioned on the very edge of the neutral ground somewhere along St. Claude, a strategic locale sure to catch the eye of, if not, the president himself, someone in his party. Among protest notes scribbled in gold spray paint on all four sides of this freestanding structure, the standout read: “Reserved for Bush.”

Mr. President, welcome to New Orleans.

This silent, stoic demonstration captured the hearts and gripes of the city in that particular moment. And remains one of the most brilliant forms of protest art I’ve ever seen especially since New Orleanians understand the value of bathroom privileges — à la carnival — with ditties even written about the subject.

The impression that dumpy portable toilet made on me remains as I still contemplate how to answer questions on the recovery of New Orleans nearly a decade after the levees broke. My answer depends on whether someone has broken into my car the night before or whether I’ve hit an unmarked, canyon-sized pothole or whether there’s a random boil water advisory or I spy a shotgun double renting for New York City rates. My answer depends on whether I slow down long enough to marvel at how really beautiful the architectural landscape is or consider what it meant for the ancestors to dance the calinda or beat the bamboula in Congo Square or whenever I’m reminded of a childhood comment I made about the boats taking a bath in the muddy Mississippi River.

New Orleans is no longer a national priority. Sympathy has waned for our city as other tragedies and natural disasters overshadow Katrina, which is now considered old news. Today, we’d probably have a Port-a-Potty outside the old shuttered Charity Hospital or on the University of New Orleans’ campus chiding Governor Bobby Jindal’s deep budget cuts on the higher education front and his egregious disregard for the healthcare needs, especially mental health, of Louisianians.

Eight years later, presidents no longer visit New Orleans on the Katrina anniversary. But we don’t have that luxury of tuning out, because our lives are forever marked by the terms “before Katrina” or “post-Katrina.”

jewel bush, a New Orleans native, is a writer whose work has appeared in The (Houma) Courier, The Washington Post, The Times-Picayune, New Orleans Homes & Lifestyles Magazine, and El Tiempo, a bilingual Spanish newspaper. In 2010, she founded MelaNated Writers Collective, a multi-genre group for writers of color in New Orleans dedicated to cultivating the literary, artistic and professional growth of emerging writers. She is currently communications coordinator for Service Employees International Union Local 21LA. Her three favorite books are Their Eyes Were Watching God, The Catcher in the Rye, and Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret.

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  • david

    Post Katrina era will end when the next big storm hits New Orleans.

    • Moses

      Katrina was only the tip of the iceberg. If THE ICEBERG hits then we will be down THE RIVER without a FEMA.

  • Deux amours

    Katrina? Are you still writing about that?

  • THP

    Well written article. Having not lived here “before Katrina,” I have always hoped people would stop using Katrina as the beginning of time. I don’t mean in an nostalgic way, i.e. I miss the park that was here “before Katrina.” (Not to say this isn’t annoying, I’m just a little more understanding of it). I mean in a way that people expect things to be “before Katrina.” As I understand it, things were probably worse here in most respects “before Katina.” Sure, the rent is too damn high and gentrification is occurring, but the city is better. jewel, your next (compelling) article could be on how the city has progressed over the last ten years absent mention of Katrina. Maybe above can be your lede?

  • jexni

    Many things mark our lives, but only the perpetual victims or those making a living off of the disaster are still blaming Katrina, a politician, the Corps or the government for their ills. Katrina still serves a useful purpose for those that can’t get on with their lives . Many people have endured a lot worse and still do.

  • NolaMan

    Victimhood mentality. Move on. The city is much better now in almost every way.

  • G in Uptown

    While I’m not really sure what the thesis is of the article, it does certainly carry a typical grievance tone to it. People that operate in their own rational self-interest have moved on. Taken care of their business.

    Why should we be looking towards a federal government right now? What are you looking for?