Thursday, September 08, 2005
  America's Voices
Now is not the time to "play" the blame game. Who the hell do they think they are? I want accountability for every person that died during and after Hurricaine Katrena. I want to know why help was not deployed BEFORE the storm when it was known for days that it was coming and the governor of Louisiana declared a state of emergency two days BEFORE the storm hit, on August 26. I want to know why the people who had no way to get out of the city weren't provided with transportation out of danger. There was plenty of time to get them out but Bush's regime couldn't break away from vacation long enough.

There are a lot of things I want to know. The first one is: who gave the Bush regime the right to tell American citizens when they could and could not ask for accountability from their government. Don't tell me to shut up President Buddy-Boy. Its your job to listen, not to tell American citizens when they can speak.

On that note, I'm going to turn you on to Dr. Jeffrey Feldman. If you haven't been to his site, The Frame Shop, I urge you to do so. The man juggles words like some people juggles knives and when he throws one, it goes straight to the target.

America's Voices
by Dr. Jeffery Feldman

Listening is the heart of accountability, not some fog of PR gimmicks designed to hide the President from the pain of the people.

Not now.

We're too busy.

This is not the time to talk.

These three sentences represent the logic that the White House is using to dodge any attempt by the American public to find out how the choices and actions of President Bush's government resulted in the deaths of so many people in Louisiana.

By repeating over and over again that `there will be a time' to answer questions--but not right now--the White House has all but succeeded in distracting the public into thinking that it is somehow immoral to talk about this tragedy. At yesterday's White House Press Briefing, Scott McLellan repeated these `time' phrases so many times that I lost count. And as of this morning, the news has become saturated with the `time' frame.

Meanwhile, as we have all figured out, the White House political team has launched a `when did you stop beating your wife' campaign aimed at the Mayor of New Orleans. To pin blame on Mayor Nagin, Republicans everywhere are repeating phrases that sound like this: `I'm not saying we should blame the Mayor of New Orleans.' So, in addition to using the `time' frame to dodge questions about themselves, the White House is also using it to create space for them to turn full fury of the White House against a local politician whose city was just destroyed.

In the days ahead, it is hard to know what will be more foul for Americans to endure: the death toll reported after the water is drained from New Orleans, or the wave of racist hatred that will be leveled against Mayor Nagin.Americans need to step back from the direction the White House has shoved the debate in order to return to the issues that matter to us right now. We need to understand the `time' frame and reframe the debate.

The `time' frame works by falsely defining time as a closed system or zero sum game. It follows the logic [time] is [a bag of beans]. If we put some of the beans over here, well, then we cannot possibly put them over there. This time frame works so well on Americans because most of us are overextended in our personal or professional schedules. We `ration' our time or `divide' our time or make sure we have `enough time left' to do the things we want.

Once we are convinced that time is something finite that needs to be rationed, then we are ready and willing to judge others for `wasting' time on the `wrong' things.

Before we turn to an alternative, it is important for all Americans who care about what happened in the Gulf States to stop falling into this `time' frame right away. Let's start by working out way out of it--by reminding ourselves of what `time' meant before the White House political team turned it into a PR gimmick.

`Time' was an important issue last week when the President and his entire cabinet were using their vacation `time' instead of working to save American lives.

`Time' was an important issue when it was just a matter of hours before a dozen more Americans died from dehydration and shock waiting for relief from their President.

`Time' was an important issue when reporter after reporter on American television asked `Why is it taking so long for President Bush to feed his starving and stranded people.

`Time' was an important issue when year after year, scholars and officials warned that it was just `a matter of time' before a hurricane broke the New Orleans levees, while the White House ignored these warnings and transfered money from America's `prevent national tragedy' account to George W. Bush's `start a blind war in Iraq' account. `Time' was an issue last week. But `time' is no longer the issue.

The real issue is `accountability.' And we must talk about it all the time.
We must remember that Americans do not need permission from the White House to talk about accountability. We do not need to ask if it is OK to express our grief and concern for other Americans in need.

We must remember that while the President was strumming a guitar, while the Secretary of Defense was joking with friends at a baseball game, while the Secretary of State was enjoying a musical comedy on Broadway--the American people, including the mainstream press, were pulling their hair out with fear and worry about the fate of those in the Gulf States. We must remember that it took a full solid week of grim pictures on TV, a nation that stayed awake in tears, thousands of activists and entrepreneurs stepping away from their lives to rush to the aid of the fallen--it took all that to get the White House's attention.

We must remember that it was not until the American people shamed the President of the United States for his lack of basic human kindness, that the White House political team began to flood the media with pictures of the President, and the First Lady, and the Cabinet members--posing with anyone who was not too angry or emotional to even be in the same room.

We must remember that it was the American people--not the President--the American people--not the White House--who have driven this mass effort to help the people of New Orleans.

And so we must stop asking for permission to discuss what happened--what is still happening--and just do it.But how do we do it? How do we talk about such an abstract concept as `accountability' in a way that is true to what Americans are feeling?

Ironically, the best way to focus attention on `accountability' is not to accuse the President or the White House of wrong doing, but to listen to the voices of those to whom we are most accountable. We need to listen to Americans tell us what happened and what is happening.

We must listen. As a nation, we need to listen to the victims, the exiled, the displaced, the `Astrodomed' people who lived and will continue to live this tragedy.

Accountability begins with hearing the voices of those that one has hurt.
Who is helping us to hear these voices?

The Oprah Winfrey show, yesterday (6 Sep 05), was devoted entirely to the voices of the people most hurt by the problems in our Federal government. Oprah, who rarely involves herself in politics, understands that the great tragedy--the horror to emerge from these events--is not just that the White House actions and inactions led directly to the death and suffering of Americans, but that the White House is now trying to prevent America from hearing those very voices of those who survived and witnessed.

As Oprah has done, Americans must go beyond the White House and the President to create their own forums for listening to the voices of those who are suffering.

And anyone who tells us that by listening to the voices we are impeding the rescue efforts--well, just walk away from those people. Let those people wallow in their own heartless unawareness of what is happening in American right now. Let them suffer alone until they figure out what is important to this nation. But when they are ready to listen, then we should welcome them to the conversation.

Everyday I have seen and I have heard people who want to talk about what happened. There is such an unprecedented need for Americans to talk about what happened that we are encountering something without comparison in our national history. Men and women alike--everywhere, by the thousands--are breaking down in tears in public.

Not even after the horrible events of 9/11 was there such a national need to talk about what happened. We are a nation that wants to listen to each other. We want to tell our stories, to hear the stories of others, and to ask questions.
And we do not want to be told what and when we can talk about.

The audacity of the President at this moment can be found in his willingness to tell the people of America to `shut up' and let us do our job, at the moment Americans want most to hear each other's voices.

If we have the courage to walk away from the press briefings and the photo ops and the `don't we look busy' Cabinet meetings, then we will begin what will become the greatest event in our nation's short history. We will start the conversation that will change this country.

Deep inside that conversation is our understanding of what it means to be accountable to our fellow citizens: to listen to them when they are in pain and through listening, to understand and respond to their needs.

Listening is the heart of accountability, not some fog of PR gimmicks designed to hide the President from the pain of the people.

We will need courageous leaders to help us find and hear our voices again, and I can feel--and just barely see--a few of them moving into position. Right now, the leaders of this new conversation are a small group of media figures that have been reborn by this tragedy. By tomorrow, I hope that there are dozens of leaders calling for America's voices to be heard. By next week, there could be thousands.

Last month, on a dusty road in Texas, a small revolution was started in this country when one woman turned to the President of the United States and said, `Listen to my voice.' Of course, the President seemed then, as he seems now, uniquely unable to hear the voice of any American that differs from the talking points of his political advisor. The President seems, even, to be unable to hear his own voice.

But not even the hardened heart of a President can silence America's voices. We will continue to listen and to be heard.

And the conversation will change us all.


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Samizdat: an underground system for the circulation of forbidden works of literature and political criticism in the Soviet era of Russia.

Location: Arkansas, United States

Angry, angry, angry ... but still, any day above ground is a good day.