I don’t know how others deal with the anger, frustration and dismay involved in watching our government allow a foreign company to dump millions and millions of gallons into the Gulf, but I have a few tricks.
One is that I remind myself of the indomitable spirit of this region. We can all remember seeing the reconstruction taking place after Katrina like it was yesterday… because it WAS yesterday. But, long ago, this region faced a far more devastating blow, the Civil War.
Before the war, the South was responsible for 3/4 of the world’s cotton supply. Cotton became the number one export, accounting for 60% of American exports and valued at nearly $300 million a year. The more cotton the South grew, the more slaves they needed. After the cotton gin was invented, British textile manufacturers were all too happy to buy all the cotton that the South could grow and sales rocketed to to nearly 5 million bales in 1860. The South miscalculated, thinking this alliance with Britain made cotton “King” and that certainly the Brits would run to their aid when they needed more cotton. But, the British manufacturers, wanting no involvement in the war, let the cotton pile up in the South and bought from India, Egypt and Argentina. By 1864, they sold only 300,000 bales.
Last week, I sat on the front porch of The Columns Hotel, built in 1883.
Sure, it was built after the war, but as I sat there staring through the low hanging limbs of a Live Oak, out onto St. Charles Street, I thought of how frightened the people here must have been when they realized, “The Yankees are coming!” Those who allowed themselves to understand what was heading their way must have known that their way of life, their cotton, their homes and land and their slaves were all at stake.
I’m hoping we can all agree that ending slavery was right and good and necessary. Calling people of any kind 3/5 of a human (that slaves were 3/5 of a human was in our Constitution for purposes of congressional representation and taxes) makes us 3/5 humane. It is irrational and cruel to call any person less than a person. And, of course, it is immoral to “own” an individual. The Civil War devastated the South. Homes were destroyed or lost to carpet baggers. Crops were burned or allowed to rot. And the slaves were set free, no matter how much money had been invested in them or how much their labor was needed to keep alive an export too big to fail.
We can all agree that the cost to the South was high. We can agree that slavery was wrong and needed to be stopped. And we can agree that the South rebuilt. We found new crops. Today, Louisiana’s supplies over 30% of the U.S gas and seafood consumption. Now, both of those economies are destined for devastation. This is not Obama’s Katrina (though it may be his Chernobyl), it’s the South being asked to survive devastation not seen since we were at war only this time, we weren’t in the wrong. The seafood and oil industries here are peopled with generations of hard working, highly skilled masters of their crafts. They work in dangerous conditions and seem grateful to do it. No one is being set free here. No greater good is being served.
Sure, we have an opportunity to see the greed at the top (again) and make decisions about our leaders, but I see a greater opportunity I fear will be missed (again). We have the opportunity to control our contributions to the problem. Many products formerly made only of petroleum products are now made from green materials. Every time you buy one, you are voting with your dollars, saying, “I’m open to alternatives.” Every time you carpool or take public transit or walk or bike, you are saying, “I can consume less if you can’t find alternatives.” I could never compare our habitual tendencies to being a slave, but we do have some openings to set ourselves free of a way of life that may be outdated and dangerous. Even if this spill had never happened, it’s time to start switching to more renewable sources of energy and energy found on U.S. land.
I can’t comfort myself with thinking there’s some silver lining to all of this. I suspect this is simply tragic and that little good will come of it. But, the South’s ability to rebuild after losing it’s way of life and its economy after the Civil War proves something about our resilience. And I comfort myself knowing that they beauty of this region reaches into my soul and, for now, it is all around me.
Enjoy some of that beauty in this short video of photos of magnolias and other flowers in the Garden District, Live Oaks, sunsets and rainbows all while listening to birds and frogs recorded from my back patio. Click the bottom right icon to watch it full screen.