Blogger Nancy Scola is down in Louisiana, and has an interesting interview at DKos with local NAACP leader Dr. Ernest Johnson, one of several grassroots leaders struggling to handle the Katrina aftermath. We've passed along reports from others locals doing work "on the ground" like Paul Robinson of "SOS - Saving Ourselves After Katrina" and Mama Dee in NOLA's 7th Ward.
What emerges from these stories is a battle that community leaders are fighting on two fronts, with woefully inadequate support. On one hand is "crisis management" to handle urgent needs for housing, money, food and other essentials. With stories pouring out of FEMA and Red Cross incompetence, inaction, or worse, these and other local leaders have been pressed into heroic duty to pick up the slack.
On the other is the broader war over the long-term vision for the Gulf. What economic and political agenda will prevail? At the moment, the leaders who see the Gulf as a "testing ground" for corporate-conservative interests have the upper hand, and are poised to capitalize on the disaster.
The grassroots leaders are clear about the larger war -- but confronting immediate needs has made engaging the long-term struggle more difficult. Here's what Dr. Johnson of the NAACP said when asked about where the leadership will come from to take on the bigger political and economic issues:
That's a good question. There is so much chaos now with state, federal, and local government. You really would think that the government should provide the leadership. But you can't have anything concrete coming out of confusion. And right now we've got confusion at that level.
I think it has to be the people that were in that meeting the other day taking control of their own destiny. And out of that process, identifying a leader among the evacuees. We haven't gotten there yet.