Tuesday, August 7, 2007

The Political Landscape: Rhetoric vs. Reality

Not surprisingly, there is little to be found in a survey of the national media landscape that speaks to the reality experienced by millions of people affected by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita on the Gulf Coast. Elevating the voices and perspectives of women and their communities is no small challenge—even the most surface-level news about the disaster’s aftermath has a hard time making headlines.

Meanwhile, legislative debates in Washington and the primary elections in Mississippi underscore the huge rift between national and state political rhetoric and the lived reality on the Gulf Coast:

Currently, President Bush is balking at a federal “water bill” that includes (minimal) funding to help restore the Gulf Coast and bolster infrastructure to protect the region from future hurricanes. Just last week, Chris Kromm, Executive Director of the Institute for Southern Studies, wrote:

“…One can only imagine the rage that is greeting this week's news that President Bush plans to veto a $21 billion bill for flood control and coastal restoration, passed 381-40 this week with broad bipartisan support in the U.S. House. The bill's programs are national but of special importance in southern Louisiana, where it would fund a 72-mile levee and floodwall system and put $1.9 billion -- a fraction of what's needed -- towards coastal restoration.” (See: “Bush to New Orleans: Good luck”)

If Bush can’t get behind one of the least-politicized aspects of Gulf Coast reconstruction (there was little dissent in the House), how will he ever come around to promoting equitable housing, labor, and health-care policies—among others—that would bring Gulf Coast residents closer to a just and sustainable recovery?

Meanwhile, Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour (Republican) is running for reelection against the likely Democratic primary winner, John Arthur Eaves, Jr. Barbour is a huge ally of the Bush Administration and former chairman of the Republican National Committee who, because of his political ties, was able to garner a disproportionate amount of federal money compared to Louisiana in the wake of Katrina (even though Mississippi sustained less damage). But as grantees of the Katrina Women’s Response Fund will tell you, Barbour’s “success” story didn’t translate into success on the ground. Mississippi grantees, many of them participating in this week’s radio training, tell a much different story of an exhaustive lack of affordable housing, health care, child care, employment, and the list goes on…

For a bit of background on the disparity between what Barbour secured for Mississippi and its impact (or lack there of) on people’s lives, read, “A harder look at Haley Barbour’s post-Katrina miracle,” by Chris Kromm and Sue Sturgis, again of the Institute for Southern Studies.

Clearly, there is such a huge gap between the political machinations taking place at the federal and state levels, and what Ms. Foundation grantees are contending with on the ground. But our grantees—grassroots women activists—remind us that they are not standing by while federal and state policymakers ignore them. They are making change—policy change and social change—in their communities, and cities, happen. The stories they will share on the airwaves are a testament to this—to their burgeoning collective power, and the livable, equitable reality they are working to create.

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