Why COVID-19 Is Trump’s Hurricane Katrina
Planning and response to the COVID-19 pandemic has been a flood of bad decisions.
March 25, 2020 at 10:45 pm
Written by Rashad Robinson
When Hurricane Katrina Hit in 2005, it exposed the painful truth about life and politics in the United States: no one was nervous about disappointing Black people.
It’s been 15 years since Hurricane Katrina, and now the coronavirus pandemic is showing us that President Trump and his administration are just as careless about our lives and well-being. Black people have been forced to expose themselves to the coronavirus for a paycheck, and a disproportionately Black, low-wage workforce pleads for living wages, affordable health insurance and paid days off that they should have had to begin with. As thousands are laid off, it's communities like ours that haven't had enough to save for an emergency like this one.
My organization, Color Of Change was born in 2005 out of the failed government response to Hurricane Katrina. Our founders, Van Jones and James Rucker, decided we needed a new infrastructure that put digital-first to amplify our voices and build power. As the coronavirus pandemic rages out of control our founders’ call to action rings true. Isolated in my NYC apartment, I’ve seen Black people support each other, make space for joy and lead the fight for progressive reform on every level of the political spectrum. This kind of power, based in the digital world, was built since 2005.
Remember, the real disaster wasn’t the hurricane itself. From preparedness to response, George Bush abandoned and abused Black people. 1,833 people lost their lives. More than a decade later, Black workers are still being excluded from reconstruction and 50% of New Orleans children are living in poverty, all while corporations make exorbitant profits. An entire generation of harm has been done to Black communities in New Orleans.
Like Hurricane Katrina, the response to the Coronavirus pandemic has been a flood of bad decisions. The Trump death toll is rising every day because of his administration’s weak, incompetent response not only in the last month but in the entirety of his presidency.
This “wartime president” rendered us unable to fight before the battle even began.
Despite being briefed on the danger, in 2017 the White House eliminated funding to the Affordable Care Act that offered health insurance to vulnerable populations. The Trump administration fired the country’s pandemic specialist and abruptly disbanded the global health security team. Then, they cut outbreak funding for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) by 80%, forcing the organization to deprioritize its efforts in China. The list goes on and on.
This president has spent his time in office dismantling government programs designed to protect against pandemics, choosing instead bigoted and racist policies over the health and safety of our country. The trend has continued today with Republicans in congress brazenly focusing on profits over people’s lives.
We haven't had a president declare war on something — from the war on drugs, the wars in Vietnam and Iraq or the war on poverty — without people of color getting killed and corporations making a bank. This time it’s no different. So, the real crisis of this pandemic is the lack of corporate and government accountability that created it.
Now, Americans are taking matters into our own hands and building power to be able to hold the president and his lackeys accountable. Here are just a few ways you can support Black folks’ efforts to make sure we get the help we need:
– Start a petition to freeze rent, mortgage and utility payments in your state during the crisis.
– Demand the expansion of vote-by-mail options so that our people don't risk their health at the polls.
No progressive change has ever happened in this country without Black people being involved — as strategists, activists, storytellers or voters. In the 15 years since Hurricane Katrina, Black people have moved from presence to power in so many ways. By banding together, we can ensure that the people who created this crisis don’t get to stay around long enough to create another one.
Rashad Robinson is President of Color Of Change, the largest online racial justice organization in the country that designs winning strategies to build power for Black communities. Rashad appears regularly in major news media and as a keynote speaker nationally. You can follow Color of Change on Twitter.