Ken MacLeod's comments.
The title comes from two quotes:
“Work as if you lived in the early days of a better nation.”—Alasdair Gray.
“If these are the early days of a better nation, there must be hope, and a hope of peace is as good as any, and far better than a hollow hoarding greed or the dry lies of an aweless god.”—Graydon Saunders
The now famousaccount by Larry Bradshaw and Lorrie Beth Slonsky of their experiences in New Orleans makes two points very clear. One is that much of the 'looting', including armed 'looting', was entirely legitimate and necessary salvage of food, water, and other supplies. The other is that people were forcibly prevented from walking out of the city:
As we approached the bridge, armed Gretna sheriffs formed a line across the foot of the bridge. Before we were close enough to speak, they began firing their weapons over our heads.
We questioned why we couldn’t cross the bridge anyway, especially as there was little traffic on the six-lane highway. They responded that the West Bank was not going to become New Orleans and there would be no Superdomes in their city.
Other groups, time and again, got the same response.
Here's another account, again from a generally not-making-shit-up left-wing paper, of what went on in and around the Convention Center. It corroborates these two points, and seems interesting enough to quote at length. Lisa Moore is telling the story of her cousin Denise:
From what she told me, her mother, a licensed practical nurse, was called into work on Sunday night at Memorial Hospital (historically known as Baptist Hospital to those of us from NO). Denise decided to stay with her mother, her niece and grandniece; she figured they’d be safe at the hospital.
[...] Tuesday the levees broke, and water began rising. They moved patients upstairs, saw boats pass by on what used to be streets. They were told that they would be evacuated, that buses were coming. Then they were told they would have to walk to the nearest intersection, Napoleon and South Claiborne, to await the buses. They waded out in hip-deep water, only to stand at the intersection, on the neutral ground (what y’all call the median) for three and a half hours. The buses came and took them to the Ernest Morial Convention Center (yes, the one you’ve all seen on TV).
Denise said she thought she was in hell. They were there for two days, with no water, no food, no shelter - Denise, her mother (63 years old), her niece (21 years old), and two-year-old grandniece. When they arrived, there were already thousands of people there. They were told that buses were coming. Police drove by, windows rolled up, thumbs-up signs. National guard trucks rolled by, completely empty, soldiers with guns cocked and aimed at them. Nobody stopped to drop off water. A helicopter did, but all the bottles exploded on impact due to the height of the helicopter.
The first day (Wednesday) four people died next to her. The second day (Thursday) six people died next to her. Again, nobody stopped. The only buses that came were full; they dropped off more and more people, but nobody was being picked up and taken away. They found out that those being dropped off had been rescued from rooftops and attics; they got off the buses delirious from lack of water and food. Completely dehydrated. the crowd tried to keep them all in one area. Denise said the new arrivals had mostly lost their minds. They had gone crazy.
Inside the convention centre, the place was one huge bathroom. In order to shit, you had to stand in other people’s shit. the floors were black and slick with shit. most people stayed outside because the smell was so bad. But outside wasn’t much better: between the heat, the humidity, the lack of water, the old and very young dying from dehydration... and there was no place to lay down, not even room on the sidewalk. they slept outside Wednesday night, under an overpass.
Denise said, yes, there were young men with guns there. But they organised the crowd. They went to Canal Street and ‘looted’, and brought back food and water for the old people and the babies, because nobody had eaten in days. When the police rolled down windows and yelled out, 'The buses are coming', the young men with guns organised the crowd in order: old people in front, women and children next, men in the back. Just so that when the buses came, there would be priorities of who got out first.
Denise said the fights she saw between the young men with guns were fist fights. She saw them put their guns down and fight rather than shoot up the crowd. But she said that there were a handful of people shot in the convention centre: their bodies were left inside, along with other dead babies and old people.
Denise said the people thought they were being sent there to die. Lots of people being dropped off, nobody being picked up. Cops passing by, speeding off. National guard rolling by with guns aimed at them. And, yes, a few men shot at the police, because at a certain point all the people thought the cops were coming to hurt them, to kill them all. She saw a young man who had stolen a car speed past, cops in pursuit; he crashed the car, got out and ran, and the cops shot him in the back, in front of the whole crowd. She saw many groups of people decide that they were going to walk across the bridge to the west bank, and those same groups would return, saying that they were met at the top of the bridge by armed police ordering them to turn around, that they weren’t allowed to leave.
This added to the belief they were sent there to die. Denise’s niece found a pay phone, and kept trying to call her mother’s boyfriend in Baton Rouge, and finally got through and told him where they were. The boyfriend, and Denise’s brother, drove down from Baton Rouge and came and got them. They had to bribe a few cops, and talk a few into letting them into the city ('Come on, man, my two-year-old niece is at the convention centre'), then they took back roads to get to them.
After arriving at my other cousin’s apartment in Baton Rouge, they saw the images on TV, and couldn’t believe how the media were portraying the people of New Orleans. She kept repeating to me on the phone last night: make sure you tell everybody that they left us there to die. Nobody came. Those young men with guns were protecting us. If it wasn’t for them, we wouldn’t have had the little water and food they had found.