Ten Years Since Katrina. What Have We Learned?

By Rae Breaux

I’m writing you from the coast of southern Louisiana. I’m here because today marks an important anniversary for those of us who care about both climate change and racial justice:

Ten years ago, Hurricane Katrina made landfall on this coast, and set in motion a catastrophe that’s still being felt from Texas to Florida.

Ten years ago, I was at home in Los Angeles with my family. My dad’s family all grew up in Louisiana, and we were all glued to the news footage, watching as the reality of our changing climate hit — quite literally — close to home.

When Hurricane Katrina made landfall and the levees protecting New Orleans failed, about eighty percent of the city was flooded. Along with the rest of the country, we watched as the overwhelmingly Black and working class residents of the neighborhoods in and around the Lower Ninth Ward climbed onto their roofs and crammed into the Superdome. We watched as they waved signs calling out for urgent medical and emergency support — and we watched as that support took criminally long to arrive.

Ten years later, this country is still grappling with that image and what it reveals: Climate change means Black and brown folks, like my family, are all too often caught between a dangerously unbalanced climate system and a social system willing to abandon entire communities when disaster strikes.

In my work coordinating partnerships with impacted communities in places like the Gulf Coast, I talk a lot about the need for climate justice. Katrina is the flipside of that. Katrina is what climate injustice looks like.

Black, brown, and poor communities are hit first and hardest by the impacts of climate change. It was true ten years ago here in Louisiana, it was true three years ago when Hurricane Sandy hit New York City, and it’s true today. It will continue to be true until we change it.

Here’s why I’m feeling hopeful, though: In the ten years since Katrina hit, Black, Indigenous, and immigrant organizers along the Gulf have been building incredible community power. Today, I’m here to support an initiative called Gulf South Rising that aims to move from “resilience” — which accepts that places like the Gulf South region will continue to be subject to disaster after disaster — toward resistance. From day-long Southern Movement Assemblies to a march through the streets of New Orleans, folks here have come together for a week of both education and agitation.

Today, I’m here in Louisiana to support their grassroots leadership, and I hope you’ll join me.

Click here to donate to a community-controlled fund supporting the organizing leadership of people rooted in Gulf South communities of color.

I think that the climate movement is about more than just the carbon we keep in the ground — it’s also about the injustice and oppression we dismantle while doing it.

This is a good day to remember that. As folks here in Louisiana say: the seas are rising, but so are we.Φ

P.S. If you’re interested in reading more on how climate justice and racial justice are connected, check out this piece by Elizabeth Yeampierre (one of our crucial partners during last year’s Peoples Climate March in NYC): “Hurricane Katrina proved that if black lives matter, so must climate justice”

Rae Breaux is a self-taught photographer based in San Francisco, CA. Rae works as a photographer for radical organizing projects, exposing the true faces of social, environmental, economic and gender struggles. She tweets at @hoorae.

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