Rossana and I braved the icy roads to drive into Oberlin tonight. We were planning on attending a talk with Malik Rahim. He was one of the founders of Common Ground Relief which is who we were working with in the 9th ward of New Orleans. We didn't get to talk with him down there and I regretted that. He speaks with a clear, eloquent passion that is sorely lacking in most leaders these days.
When we saw a flyer yesterday in town announcing he was giving a talk we'd figure we'd show up to hear him speak, get an update on what's happening and maybe get a chance to talk with him. But it didn't happen. And it was for the worst of reasons.
After a brief wait a young man stepped onto the small stage, he said that Malik had wanted to be here at Oberlin, because so many students from that school had come down to volunteer, but just yesterday a bus carrying 7 volunteers went out of control and flipped. A young women was killed in the accident. The kid was having a hard time taking.
"She was a good friend.. I mean, I didn't know her that long but when you work together down there you kinda... Anyway Malik is sorry he couldn't come and he hopes to be here in the spring." and then he just walked off.
One of the organizers, unsure of what to do, asked how many in the crowd had already gone down. There were about 20. I stood up and asked how many were planning on going. There were maybe 15 in the crowd of 40 people.
"If you have the chance, if you can find a way, I urge you to go." I then spoke for about 10 minutes. I didn't want this chance to slip away, I didn't want these college kids to get turned off to the idea. I told them the unvarnished truth, that in the time I was there we cleared maybe 35 houses. Lets say that all the volunteer groups combined did ten times that. There are maybe 50,000 damaged homes in the ninth. It is an overwhelming task, but at the end of the day 350 families can begin to restart their lives again. We then filed out.
I didn't want to think about those kids on the bus. They rolled into Biloxi just as we were pulling out, and got to New Orleans a few days after we did. Their monstrous green/blue school bus was a hippie cliche' run on recycled vegetable oil. There are pics in the photo gallery. I didn't get to know them. Which I suppose is good because I don't think I could handle finding out someone I volunteered with down there just a few weeks ago died in an accident.
It wasn't supposed to be like this. I looked at that top heavy monster when it roared into Biloxi and thought "wow, you gotta be brave to drive in that". It was unsafe, but didn't we all used to do stupid or unsafe stuff when we were young? It wasn't supposed to be like this. They were so young and so fucking full of energy and righteousness and ideas and dreams. I'd listen to them and smile as they talked about saving mother Earth and bringing social justice to the poor and I'd smile a little. I see things a little different as I get older. They were naive, but they still had the right idea.
This was supposed to the an event in their lives. Something they would talk about with others, something that would inspire and motivate people to do something. This would be one of those times they would look back at years from now, when they have jobs and have settled into a routine. They would say "I helped out" and if the need arose, they would likely do it again. Some of them might even do more. Several Oberlin students have been down there since the beginning. They are in it for the long haul.
But now it's different. Now that small spark of joy that you feel when you've done something good for someone else is overshadowed by this. The shittiest part is that there is nothing anyone can do. There is no legal authority to appeal to. There is no protest or action that can undo it.
I feel like crap.