<\body> Stories in America: September 2005

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Peace Activists Rally in Missoula, MT

Far from the steps of the White House, about 100 peace activists braved the cold and light rain in Missoula, Montana to rally in conjunction with the anti-war march in Washington DC. The event, called "Take Back Our Country, Bring Back Our Troops," was sponsored by the Jeannette Rankin Peace Center and Code Pink.

Here are excerpts from a few interviews:

Betsy Mulligan-Dague, Executive Director of the Jeannette Rankin Peace Center

This is Missoula's version of a vocal anti-war rally in conjunction of what's happening in Washington DC. We do have some people in Montana that are there, but most of us couldn't travel there so we're joining them in spirit.

When there are protests in DC and San Francisco, you know what to expect, but a lot of people don't know what to expect from Montana. What is like protesting and having rallies here?

It's unpredictable as far as how many people are gonna show up. Missoula is a progressive community and supportive of peace and justice. There's a wide variety of folks here. We haven't really had many hecklers that I imagine you deal with in San Francisco and DC and other places. People are pretty tolerant here.

Are opinions about the war changing in Montana like they are nationally?

Yes. Our membership is up, people are coming by more and our events are better attended. People come in to the Peace Center all the time and just talk about issues or what's happening. I can tell just by listening to them that there is more hope in the peace movement. We had a lot of people -- hundreds of people -- at rallies prior to the war, but after the war started and the election turned, we really had some disappointed people that holed up and said, I'm not gonna try anymore. I think that's changing. People are coming back out and are getting involved again. They feel like there's hope.

What message would you send to people who don't know much about Montana and activism here?

The majority of Montana is pretty conservative, but also pretty tolerant. We've never been harassed and there are pockets all over the state of peace workers and activists. Missoula, in particular, is a magnet for diversity and people who are progressive.

Are there other events going on in the state?

There's one in Butte today and one in Helena tomorrow. Helena is our capital. Our state is small, so we all know each other. I know peace activists from all over the state, whereas you can probably go to a rally and not see anybody that you know, but I know all of these people. We work closely together. It's a tight knit community. I think we're looking at building from the inside instead of always focusing on rallying against something.

The DC rally received criticism for that.

They think anger is going to rev us up and get us involved and it has in the past, but I'm finding people more excited by the concept of building rather than tearing down and criticizing. We're planning a series called, "Creating a Culture of Peace." We're gonna bring in speakers every month and talk about different pieces of skill building that we need in communities to live in a peaceful, non-violent world. I get a hundred emails a day from truthout.org, moveon.org and commondreams.org and after reading them, I'm tired. I want something positive.

Sam Weaver, 20, Intern for the Montana Public Interest Research Group and Freshman at the University of Montana

How is your work connected to the war?

If you look at the Bush administration's policies, it's almost a war on the American people. The mercury issue is insane. It's hard to believe the EPA would allow this to happen. They really are waging a war on the American people. It's pretty bad. You can't have peace if there are exploitive people out there trying to hurt the people. That's absolutely unacceptable.

How big is the mercury problem in Montana?

One-hundred percent of Montana's waterways are contaminated with mercury. It's pretty egregious. It's everywhere.

What reaction do you get from Montanans?

Montana PIRG is basically made up of students at the university and most students are sympathetic and are taken aback. They can't believe this kind of thing exists. You also find people who don't want to take the time to worry about it.

Is the anti-war movement fairly large at the University of Montana?

It is a pretty liberal campus and a lot of people are sick and tired of death and destruction.

Brad Hash, 39, Finishing a Master's in Environmental Studies
Jay Bostrom, 35, Middle School Social Studies and Spanish Teacher

Brad Hash and Jay Bostrom

What brings you here?

Hash: I'm here to support a national movement that opposes the war in Iraq. I'm hoping these sorts of rallies increase and foster the prewar momentum that we had. I'm fully opposed to everything that George Bush is doing internationally and domestically as well. We need to have more of these events to show that we're not only looking for troops to be pulled out of Iraq, but to have better relations with other countries.

Bostrom: I'm here in solidarity with the organizations that stand in opposition to the war, but I'm also here with a more radical bent, too. I'm a wobbly and I'm proud of that. I'm part of the Industrial Workers of the World and I'm also a board member of Community Action for Justice in the Americas. I think the war is connected to the same issues we're talking about in Central and South America. I think the war is a way for them to sustain their economic policies of creating an economy hegemony throughout the hemisphere.

What is the political climate like here?

Hash: It's progressive. Compared to the rest of the state, it's definitely the liberal bastion without a doubt. Montana's got a lot of Democratic folk and a lot of liberal and progressive folk as well.

Bostrom: This is the island. I spent a year in Helena, Montana and we tried to protest there, but the climate is extremely different. That's the state capitol, which is interesting because there is a pretty strong group of peace seekers in that area, but they stand alone and isolated. Standing on the corner with a sign there is a very different experience. At the last anti-war rally we had here, there were 1,000 people, whereas in Helena, there might be 50. Helena might be the second most progressive place in the state, which is not saying much.

What message would you send to progressives in places like San Francisco? Especially those who buy the red state/blue state rhetoric?

Bostrom: We're proud of the fact that we only have 900,000 people in this state and we've done a lot to make change. Our organization itself was instrumental in getting our congressional delegation to vote against CAFTA. We led protests statewide and put a lot of pressure on them and they voted against it. During the last election, we were able to elect Governor Brian Schweitzer who has been a very loud critic of George Bush and I think that's another sign. We're a mixed bag. We should be considered a purple state because we somehow passed medical marijuana, but also passed legislation to ban gay marriage.

Hash: A lot of it has to do with agriculture and these congressional reps work with the farmers and they know first hand that NAFTA has been disastrous for Montana farmers and they're not about to let that be exacerbated by CAFTA. They know better.

Are opinions about the war changing in Montana?

Bostrom: Yes, definitely. I took a job teaching in arguably one of the more conservative areas, the Bitterroot Valley, which is just south of here. It's only 30 miles away, but it's a very fundamentalist, religious community. I'm finding the school teachers I work with, who are conservative on almost every issue, are increasingly anti-war and anti-Bush. It's changing.

Hash: Without a doubt, I would echo those sentiments. You have 200,000 people showing up in DC today to protest Bush's policies in Iraq, while the pro-war folk are putting out a few hundred people. That's a good indication of where we're going nationally. I'd say this is not only moving, it's gaining strength. The downside of that is that Bush is in his second term. What comes of this? Does he just ride this out?

Bostrom: Impeach him.

Hash: Impeach him is the thing to do. There's a legitimate movement for that. Clinton was impeached by a Republican congress over a personal extramarital affair and we have a man who has knowingly lied to the American public. He's brought the country to a war based on five lies. Five huge lies. We spent over $200 billion on this. We've lost almost 2,000 American lives and over 100,000 Iraqi lives and this is not impeachable? Is this simply because we have a Republican dominated Congress? If not, then everyone has their head in the sand. This is as impeachable as an offense gets.

Caroline Emmons, 63, Activist

What brings you here tonight?

I'm with Jubille Missoula, which is the organization connected to Jubillee USA. We're trying to get our government and the IMF and the World Bank to cancel 100 percent of the debt of impoverished countries with no strings attached. Today and tomorrow there are meetings in Washington DC where the World Bank and the IMF are deciding whether or not they agree with the G8 debt cancellation that came out of G8 meetings in July. Even if they do, they're only doing it for 18 countries and there are a lot of strings attached. That's not enough. There are so many more countries that need it.

Does the public know enough about this issue?

No, they don't know much about it. Because there was a lot of hoopla around the G8 agreeing to cancel the debt, it looks like it's done, but it isn't done. The United Nations has a millennium development goal that includes the eradication of poverty in the world by the year 2015, but there's absolutely no way they can even come close. There's no way they can do it if the debt isn't canceled. The debt is what keeps these countries impoverished.

How did you get involved in this kind of work?

I've been involved in this work since I've lived here in Missoula. I just like peace and justice issues.

What is like being an activist in Missoula, Montana?

It's the best place in the world because everybody else that you know is one, too.

A lot of people in more Democratic states tend to write off states like Montana because it went for Bush. What would you say to them?

They shouldn't do that because not everyone here was for Bush. Missoula usually votes for the Democratic party.

Do you know anyone who was in favor of the war when it began, but is now opposed?

No, I don't know anyone who was in favor of it. I do listen to right-wing radio. My husband gets very upset when I turn it on, but I want to hear what they're saying. They seem just as pro-war as they ever were. I was around during the Vietnam war and during that time, the protesting actually had an effect on government, but I don't know whether it has any effect anymore. Millions of people all over the world demonstrated against going to war and Bush just said, well, that's just a focus group. We might have to come up with more creative solutions.

Gerry Blackman, 65
Gerry recently returned from Uzbekistan as a Peace Corps volunteer. She was supposed to stay until April 2006, but had to leave due to political turmoil. She arranged for Farok Sandearoff, the eldest son of her host family, to enroll and study at the University of Montana.

What's it like to protest in Missoula, Montana?

Missoula is the one place in Montana where this can happen on a fairly large scale. I'm originally from Great Falls, Montana, which is a little different; maybe not so progressive. It's more content with the war because they support a military base. I've lived there most of my adult life. I've lived in Missoula about 17 years. This is a place more suited to me personally. This is a community that supports and mirrors my attitudes about peace and our international relations. I find I thrive here. It's a very special community in our state.

Do you find opinions about the war changing in Montana like they are nationally?

Yes, there's a definite change. Of course, I also saw this with Vietnam. I was a peace advocate during Vietnam and I'm seeing the beginning of that here.

What message would you send to people who aren't familiar with Montana?

I think there are people everywhere in America who value peace and international cooperation. I don't think we can discount the numbers of these people everywhere in America. I think it's unfortunate if we, for the sake of convenience, categorize people into red/blue or right/left. We need to hear from people to understand the scope of opinion in our country. I strongly object to those in the mainstream media that categorize us. I don't believe it's realistic and I don't believe it represents any reality in America today.

Eddie Johnson, 26
Eddie's brother is in the Army and has been called to leave for his second tour of duty next month.

What brings you here?

I think it's important to show support. You kinda feel alone and need some camaraderie with people that feel the same way you do.

What is it like protesting here?

It's a little different here. I didn't expect this many people to show up. Missoula is definitely the one liberal spot in the entire state. We don't feel like we're persecuted for protesting.

Do you feel connected to the big protest in DC?

I do feel connected. We have Air America radio here now and I listen to that almost every day. I feel pretty connected.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Photos: Bumper Stickers from UT to MT

Here is the latest batch of bumper stickers and plates we spotted on the drive from Utah to Montana.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Discussing Montana's Politics at the General Mercantile

While were in Helena, we stopped in a great old-fashioned coffee/tea house called the General Mercantile. While there, I met George Ochenski, an environmental lobbyist and political analyst for the Independent. His latest article is about globalization and the cost of energy. Here are excerpts from our conversation:

What's your opinion of Governor Brian Schweitzer?

He better hold up his promises. Now that you're in office, there's this whole other agenda going on. What is all this coal development? You didn't run for office on that. You said Montana's true economic foundation is the beauty of the mountains themselves and what lies underneath them. He said that in a speech to the Wilderness Association. I was there also giving a speech, so I heard that and said, oh, that's good. You watch him say these various things and think, finally, finally, somebody is not gonna just whore out the state to the highest bidder for whatever resources that we have that can be extracted.

Montana's history has been a resource extraction colony. Take whatever you can, wipe out the Indians, take their land, then introduce cattle, cut down the forests and run the railroads up every valley. The whole thing has just been take, take, take, so I'm thinking, oh wow, here's somebody who finally understands that in the real world, what Montana has is becoming more valuable by the second because every place else, natural ecosystems are disappearing and natural landscapes no longer exist. We take those things for granted because we live here. Those are really valuable now. Where can you go where rivers are still full of wild trout? They're naturally reproducing. Why? Because we have put policies in place over the last 20 years to truly keep it that way and help maintain this wild character, rather than raising them in hatcheries and dumping them in the rivers. The whole thing is totally bogus. You don't get a balanced ecosystem or a functioning ecosystem.

Because Montana rarely gets national attention, a lot of people associate Montanans with guns and hunting. How does that play out in the environmental movement?

I've been an environmental lobbyist for 20 years. All of my friends are the executive directors of the Wilderness Association, the Environmental Information Center, Trout Unlimited, and so on. They all hunt. Everybody hunts here. That's not a big deal to us to go hunting. Most people hunt does because there are lots and lots of deer here. Tons of animals. The ranchers appreciate it when you thin out the herds. The best way to do that is to shoot a doe and when you shoot a doe, then it also happens to be the best eating, so most people that I know do that because we have very low wages here. The lowest per capita income and hourly wages in the nation, so people hunt to fill their freezers and feed their families.

And hunting is not strictly a Republican sport. In the media, we often hear, if you're a gun owner, you're a member of the NRA and a Republican.

That's the ignorance of the media. They have these cute little pigeon holes where they have to stuff everybody, but people don't fit into pigeon holes.

Especially in this state.

Our politics have swung back and forth. When the Republicans came in in 1989, they took the governor's office. They hadn't been in power for 20 years. They were in power for 16 years. Now they're out. Now we have a Democratic governor, we have a Democratic senate majority, but in that 16 year period, we had all Republican governors. By 1993, the House was Republican and by 1995, both the House and the Senate were Republican. Now they're out, so the pendulum has swung back again, so how does this red state/blue state stuff work out? It doesn't.

Quite frankly, there are simple mistakes that both parties make that people aren't cognizant of and Montanans are smart. They are not dumb people. We get painted as being okies with snow and we're not. We have good schools and cool people and good journalists. I think the Democrats are fiscally irresponsible and so the people get tired of paying taxes because we have low wages. The Democrats basically get tattooed tax and spend and they get swept out of power. That's what happened in 1991. They had a seven percent solution and raised all taxes across the board. Next election, Democrats were gone just like the tide going out. Republicans get in, they immediately cow tow to the corporations, trash the environmental regulations, get rid of the tax base. It's the same thing we see on the national level right now where we have one party control of the executive and the legislative branches. One party control means we lose the ability to have honest debate about the policies with which the state or the nation are gonna go forward. That happened here. We've made some huge mistakes.

We deregulated electricity when Montana had the sixth-lowest electricity in the nation. The Republicans introduced a bill in the last two weeks of the section -- a major bill well over 100 pages -- to deregulate our electricity supply. In Montana at that time, the dams that were producing the cheap hydro-electricity were owned by one company, Montana Power Company (MPC) that had been around for 100 years. They were all regulated so that MPC was given a guaranteed profit and everything that they built was put into the rate base so we paid for it all. They got their guaranteed profit and we got low-priced electricity. Well, they deregulated it and six months later, the MPC announced they were selling off the dams and going into the telecommunications business. They sold them to Pennsylvania Power and Light for about $1 billion.

All of a sudden, Montana didn't have control of its electricity anymore. It was owned by a global mega-corporation. Pretty soon, our electricity rates started going up. We took a 40 percent jump in almost the first year and it's been going up since then. That same company owned all the natural gas companies, so they had the fields, the transmission lines and the delivery lines. They sold all those off, so now somebody owns the fields and somebody else owns the transmission lines. Right now they're projecting a 70 percent increase in natural gas prices up here. Montana is not like Florida. We can't go without heat in the winter. This is a place where it gets really cold. Most people heat with natural gas. We had these major, major policy mistakes because we did not have a balanced political debate. That's where the red state/blue state stuff breaks down. We might vote for George Bush instead of John Kerry because John Kerry didn't resonate with Montanans. I don't know about George Bush. I sure didn't vote for him.

Did you vote for Kerry?

Painfully. I was disappointed just watching the guy. Why are we talking about the Vietnam War now? This is something I went through. That was my era. Why are we talking about a war that happened 40 years ago and you're defending what you did then instead of talking about what's going on in the United States now. I'm still extremely disappointed in DC Democrats. You got Feinstein, Biden and Lieberman saying we should be sending more troops. We went into Iraq without any debate and the stupid Demos went along with it instead of saying, hey, this was a mistake. We should get the hell out of there before we kill anymore people. We're gonna suffer for years down the line, not just our image, but our fiscal standing. How are we gonna pay for all of this?

Do you align yourself with the Democratic party?

No. I haven't given any money to either party in years. I used to. I just became so disillusioned with them. I see them as guys in a locker room. Let's go club those guys down. Wait a minute, folks. That's not what's going on here. I lived in the mountains for a long time and climbed, skied and sponsored exhibitions around the world for years. When I came to Helena in 1984 to lobby, I was not particularly aligned with Democrats or Republicans as political parties because out there in the real world, you don't ask somebody, hey, are you a Republican or a Democrat before you help them push their car out of the snow. That doesn't exist here and that's part of why the red state/blue state thing doesn't work. Montanans by necessity, given our harsh climate and the rural nature of our state, have to help each other out. We do that all the time. It's even on the books. If you break down by the side of the road in Montana in the winter, you have to stop and render assistance.

This is the capital city and the partisan politics are so defined. I really do get tired of it. The Republicans don't keep their promises. They claim to be fiscally responsible, but just take a look at what Bush has done. Same here. Republicans got in charge of the state and they spent us into a hole. All of a sudden, the Democrats come in and what do they get? They get tax and spend because they have to restore something. In the meantime, the environmental damage leads to higher medical rates and higher incidences of cancer.

Do the Democrats and Republicans work together on environmental issues here?

It has struck me, after all these years of doing this stuff, that the way people most often deal with each other, whether it's in groups or over issues, is through polarization of the debate. I passed a bunch of bills through the Republican controlled legislatures while I was absolutely an environmental lobbyist. How did I do it? I tailored them so that they met the self-interest of the Republicans because that's what matters to them. They are not worried about people who don't have or problems that aren't theirs. That's not what they're worried about. They take care of themselves. If you put whatever kind of cookie in there that appeals to their self-interst, then they're likely to pass your bill, as long as it doesn't cost anything.

My bills created programs to enhance small feeder streams for natural reproduction of trout so rather than have to spend endlessly on million dollar hatcheries, we have these trout breeding and spawning naturally. Because most of those small feeder streams are on private ranches, I obviously had to get the backing of the ranch community and a lot of those guys are Republicans. The way I did it was offer the money to improve your stream for free, but without the guaranteed access for the public. If I would have said, if you're going to use state money to do this, then you have to open your ranch to the public, they would have said, no, it's not worth it.

My impression of how things work is there are no great movements that change things down on the ground for people. It's a whole series of little actions and lots of them are boring. It's like the state parks. Nobody ever wants to just go clean up the cigarette butts and pick up the garbage, it's always, we should have a big visitor center. In reality, it's the tiny steps that make the difference.

What's in store for the future of Montana politically?

Everything is fluid right now and not just in Montana, but in the nation. You can't raise gas to $3 a gallon and expect people to sit back and take it. It's routine for Montanans to drive a couple hundred miles just to see their family, visit their kids in college or go hunting or fishing. These guys are trying to convince everybody that this great economy is going to chug through the icebergs just like the Titanic. I would really feel good if I saw somebody out there saying it's time for America to grow up. It's time to quit being the big pig on the block with energy and pollution. It's time to get our shit together so that we have a high-standard of living, but much lower consumption.

Out of all the work I've done and great successes I've had, the thing that really haunts me most is, what kind of world are we leaving for future generations? That really bugs me. I have a 25-year-old daughter who lives in Portland. I work so hard to try and make a better world for the future and not just money. Is there a world that still operates? Do we have healthy systems? Do we have minimizing cancer causing toxins? Are we going to leave them these mines that are leaking cyanide messes? It's a real bummer for me. As a child of the sixties, I thought we were on the right path. All of a sudden, people my age driving Hummers. Where did you go wrong? How did you lose the vision? And they're all spotless. Not a drop of dirt.

What message would you send to the next set of political candidates?

It's time they really took their responsibility seriously. America has no vision. Where are we going? We're living paycheck to paycheck. Our society is stratifying into the haves and have nots at an astounding pace. The middle class is disappearing because we're being squeezed by the high cost of necessities. I really would like to see some candidates who come forward with some kind of a vision and say, this is where American should be going and here's how we're going to get there.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

American Indian Ministry Sunday

As part of my project, I'm attending different churches on Sundays to find out what role religion plays in politics and what draws people to specific churches. This morning I attended the University Congregational Church in Missoula, Montana, a congregation of about 700.

Today also happens to be American Indian Ministry Sunday, which celebrates and honors nineteen United Church of Christ congregations on American Indian reservations and one multi-tribe UCC congregation in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Here is today's unison prayer:

Wakantanka, Great Spirit, you have given us life and hope.
We tell you that we love you everyday of our lives.
We know that we haven't been living up to what you have set before us.
Please forgive us, teach us,
and show us how to walk the red road.
Thank you for your daily blessings,
both small and large.
May judgment of others, bigotry, racism and intolerance
be washed clean from our hearts.
May our minds be filled with your thoughts,
your unconditional love, and your acceptance of all people.
May this nation be forgiven its transgressions
against Native Americans,
and others who have suffered.
May our lives be turned into instruments of resurrection
that any sins of our forbearers be reversed through us.
May the beauty and greatness of this land
burst forth once more in the hearts of its people.
May the dreams of our ancestors
be realized in us,
so we might live in honest and integrity with all of our neighbors.
May we once again be a light to the nations
for hope and goodness and peace and freedom.
May we be repaired.
May we be forgiven.
May we be renewed.
May our children be blessed.
May you bless the entire world's family, our tiospaye.

Friday, September 16, 2005

Montana Facts

*Montana is the 4th largest state in the nation, yet its population is just 917,621

*Number of electoral votes: three

*Montana is 90 percent white, six percent Native American and 0.3 percent African American

*Montana has one area-code: 406

*46 out of Montana's 56 counties are considered "frontier counties" with an average population of six or fewer people per square mile

*No state has as many different species of mammals as Montana

*Yellowstone National Park in southern Montana and northern Wyoming was the first national park in the nation

*Montana's name comes from the Spanish word mountainous

*Montana is one of only fives states without a sales tax

*The unemployment rate in Montana is currently 4.4 percent

*Montana's wages rank last with an average salary of $27,833 -- the national average is $39,348

*White and Native American women in Montana earn about 67 cents for every dollar earned by a man, while Hispanic women earn even less -- 60 cents

*Approximately 41 percent of Native American women live in poverty in Montana

*There are no women in Montana's delegation to the 107th Congress. Montana has sent only one woman to the U.S. Congress, the first woman ever to serve in 1916. Rep. Jeannette Rankin completed her first term of office before most women could legally vote.

*Women in Montana are among the least likely to own a business and the most likely to live in poverty in the nation

*Montana was one of the 35 states that ratified the Equal Rights Amendment to the United States Constitution

*Montana has a higher proportion of people in their 40s and 50s than the nation as a whole, and a lower proportion of the population in their 30s

*Ninety-one percent of Montana's residents have a high school diploma, the second highest percentage in the nation

*Montana's women are more likely to have college degrees than women in the rest of the country

*Montana provides public funding for abortions, one of only 15 states that do so

*Nearly one of every three births in Montana is to an unmarried mother - this statistic has steadily risen from 25 percent in 1994 to the current level of 31 percent

Sources: 50states.com, US Census, Montana Department of Labor & Industry, Travel Montana Institute for Women's Policy Research, Women's Foundation of Montana

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

New Orleans Survivors: Starting from Scratch

Here is my latest article on AlterNet:

Starting from Scratch - AlterNet
In Utah, as in other states, thousands of survivors of Hurricane Katrina are attempting to start their lives over as strangers in a strange land.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

The Drive to Montana

The drive to Montana from Idaho was beautiful. At times, we saw no other cars on the interstate for what seemed like miles.

Monday, September 12, 2005

Conversations About Hurricane Katrina and 9/11

We left Salt Lake City on Saturday and are now in Montana. We stayed in Idaho Falls, Idaho on Saturday night and interviewed a few people in the Wal-Mart parking lot about the federal government's response to Hurricane Katrina and the fourth anniversary of 9/11. Here are excerpts from yesterday's random interviews:

Dorothy Bischoff, 63

What do you think about the government's response to the hurricane?

I think it was very, very slow. It's sad. Those people didn't have any food for how many days? Five, six, seven days. Not good.

Why do you think it took so long?

I don't know. Lack of communication.

It's the fourth anniversary of 9/11 and we've spent a lot of money on homeland security. Do you think the Bush administration has done enough to prepare the country for natural disasters and terrorist attacks?

No, I don't. I think we're really way behind where we should be, especially after 9/11 and I like Bush. I voted for Bush, so I'm not against him, but this is unacceptable behavior. He really messed up on this one.

Does this change your overall opinion of him?

No, I still like him. He just messed up on this.

What do you like about him?

I don't know. I've just always liked him.

Amanda Blake, 25
Dianne Watts

What do you think of the government's response?

Amanda Blake: People were without food and water for days and I think the government should have done more to help them. The National Guard was in Iraq and as far as I'm concerned, they're a state militia and they should have been there to help them.

Dianne Watts: I agree, but I also think we didn't get any insight into the other side of the story. What about the people who were actually prepared for the hurricane? We got one side and not the other.

Amanda Blake: It's just like Iraq. They tell us about all the bad and the bombings and the car bombs, but my husband is over there and they've built five schools and helped hospitals open. He tells me these things, but otherwise, you don't hear about that stuff.

Where is he?

Amanda Blake: He is in Northern Iraq somewhere. He never tells me where because it's confidential.

How long has he been there?

Amanda Blake: Since last Thanksgiving.

Do you know when he's going to come home?

Amanda Blake: Supposedly, in December. That's what the rumor is.

Have your opinions about the war changed since he's been there?

Amanda Blake: No. I don't think they have. He knows he's doing the right thing and as far as I'm concerned, if he thinks he's doing the right thing, that's what I think, too.

Do you think the Bush administration has done enough since 9/11 to prepare for natural disasters and terrorist attacks?

Amanda Blake: No, I don't think so.

Dianne Watts: I don't think they've taken security seriously. All the publicity about the airports and security is just publicity. I think we could do a lot more. The people don't take it seriously. If somebody really gets hurt in this country, then maybe they'll take it more seriously, but it's a joke right now as far as I'm concerned.

Amanda Blake: Like I said, I think the state militia is for the state. The National Guard were in Iraq and now they're coming home and they have nothing to come home to.

Are you both Bush supporters?

Dianne Watts: Was. When they say his approval rating has gone down, I'd have to be part of that. I thought he was doing a really good job after 9/11, but he's too much of an oil man. His politics have changed and it's just getting to be more about the politics than the good of the people.

Did you both vote for him?

Dianne Watts: I did.

Amanda Blake: I didn't vote because I wasn't here.

Is there any one major event that changed your mind?

Dianne Watts: It's just the day to day. He's just slowly not paid enough attention to home in my opinion. No big thing. His interest is gone from what our welfare concerns are here.

Deedee Sant, 59

What are your opinions of the government's response to the hurricane?

It's such a horrific tragedy. They should have been prepared. I think they could have gotten in there a little bit faster. I'm glad the man who was in charge of FEMA isn't in charge of it anymore. I think the president should have gotten to it a lot quicker. It'd be nice next time if they did, but they seem to always have to go through the bureaucracy again.

It's been four years since 9/11 and the government's spent a lot of money on homeland security. Are we prepared for disasters?

No. I don't think that homeland security has done much of anything. I go to Portland on the plane all the time and the security here in Idaho Falls is OK, we don't need much, but you go to Portland and it's a big joke. It doesn't do anything. Not one thing. I think it's something to make the people think they're doing something, but they're not doing anything. The thing that gets me about the airports is that you go in there and they randomly go through your luggage or randomly go through people's shoes and if they're gonna do it to one, they oughta do it to everybody. How do they know? They oughta do it to everybody to do it right.

Have your opinions of the Bush administration changed over the past four years?

When he first got in, I had high hopes for him and I really quite liked him, but then he got in overseas and the big battle. I hate to say this because I had high hopes for him, but I think he's a big warmonger. I think he went in there and the only thing he had on his agenda was to finish the job his father didn't finish over there. They got Saddam Hussein and that's all great, but I sit around and wonder, what's happened to Afghanistan and bin Laden? Nothing has been done.

Did you vote for Bush?


What makes this area so Republican?

Because most of the state is predominantly LDS (Latter-Day Saints) and they tend to vote Republican. They're very conservative or so they thought. I don't think going to war is conservative.

Tell me about this town. How have things changed over the years?

Idaho Falls is growing really fast. Our medical community has just skyrocketed. The housing industry has gone crazy. Gas prices have gone through the roof. It's hard to keep up. When the gas prices go up, everything goes up. It's hard. It's very hard. I'm on an extremely limited budget and like most everybody else around here, not everybody, but the majority of the people. It's tough.

What message would you send to the candidates who plan to run in the next election?

I hate to be a pessimist, but I think the government, both Republicans and Democrats, are so corrupt and they're out for one thing and that's them. I don't think the majority of them care for the people and what we want or need. I think all they get in there for is the money and they make it. They don't have to pay for things like we do and everything we pay for seems to go for their three martini lunches and on and on. I just think they're out for themselves. I don't think they give a hoot about anybody.

Do you always vote?

No, because most of the time when I do, it's the lesser of two evils and there aren't any lessers anymore. It makes you sit back and wonder, what's the point? That's a rotten way to feel, but personally, I think the last good President was Eisenhower. You're probably way too young to remember him. I was just a child, but this country was coming out of a war and he was a great, great President as far as I was concerned. This whole country was very family oriented and the whole economy was building up and it was a great time. I fear for my grandkids. It's scary.

What do you do?

I am a CNA at a retirement home here in Idaho Falls.

So you see the reality of what's going on.

Oh yes, I do. You bet I do. It's a hard profession to be in, but I love the elderly people. If I didn't, I wouldn't be there. They're really fun. They put things into reality. They're sweet people and I think we owe them more than they get. So many people go in there with what they think is gonna be enough money to get them by and in a couple years, it's gone and then they have to go on Medicaid and it's sad.

Bonita Frye, 59

What do you think of the government's response to Hurricane Katrina?

I think it's a poor area and even before the hurricane came, they did not prepare the people. These people need help. They need jobs. They need money. It's just awful to me. I don't think our government has done what they should be doing. Instead of sending money to Iraq to fight Saddam Hussein, we should be taking care of our country. That's the bottom line.

Do you think the Bush administration has done enough to secure the country?

I don't think it's any more secure today than it was before 9/11. I mean, look at the borders. If people are crossing the borders and they're not doing anything about it, what does the word illegal mean? I think we need to take care of home first and that should be the priority. I never did figure out how they went from bin Laden to Saddam Hussein. It was kind of like, well, we can't get bin Laden, so let's just pick somebody over there.

Did you vote for Bush?


This are is dominated by Republicans.

It is. That's why I'm outnumbered. (laughs) I'm not so much really a Democrat or a party voter. It's the agenda and how they talk about what their proposals are going to be. I really think that they are letting a lot of things go because they really want to take our civil rights away from us and that's what the whole Patriot Act is all about. Taking our rights. We're over there trying to give those people in Iraq freedom and they're taking our freedoms away. I don't understand that. It doesn't make sense to me.

Is the opinion around here changing at all?

There are a lot of people like me. It's kind of like we flock together. The people that are Republican flock together and you'll find that the majority of them out here are Republicans. They're just party voters. It doesn't matter if it was Hitler. They would still vote for him and back up everything he does and I'm not that way. I'm more about the American people and surviving. A lot of people say, oh well, those blacks down there, you know, too bad for them. They could have gotten out. No they couldn't. They are living below poverty down there. These people don't even have vehicles and how can that be in this country?

What about this area? What do you think people need to know about Idaho Falls? Has it changed much over the years?

There aren't enough jobs. We've outsourced everything. I was just recently back in Missouri and everything is all about restaurants and I see this happening here. We don't have any factories. If you're out of a job, you're out of a job. There are a lot of people here that are out of jobs and this community does try really hard to take care of a lot of the needy people, but then you've got a lot of people who are just too selfish. They're just too interested in themselves.

What do you do?

I retired from the Postal Service after 35 1/2 years. I could have worked another five or six years and I thought, you know what? I'm scared to death that he's (Bush) going to pull out on civil service retirement so I want to enjoy a little bit of it. We need to get jobs back and I think Bush's plan was to have the war and do like Roosevelt and boost the economy. Well, that was OK because back then we had factories. That's not working today because we don't have anything here that's made in the United States anymore. All we have is restaurants.

Do you always vote?

I do.

What message would you send to the next set of candidates?

Number one, I'm pro-choice and I'm pro-gun. I think we need to worry about America first and worry about the foreign aid later, especially hunting down somebody in some foreign country. I think we need to upgrade our military. I mean it's pretty sad when we're sending off National Guard to fight a war. The National Guard is supposed to protect the United States. People in the Army are being mistreated and they're dropping out of the military because when they come out, they're not getting what they've been promised. We have to really look at some real positive things here regarding the survival of America because at the rate we're going, we are going to be a bankrupt country that is going down the drain like a third world country.

Verla, 76
Ludean, 71

What did you think of the government's response to the hurricane?

Ludean: I think the government sometimes doesn't listen to what people who are knowledgeable tell them. There's such a bureaucracy and everybody is afraid that they might be responsible.

Verla: As far as the hurricane goes, they should have had buses to get them out, especially the older people. I think their response was pretty slow.

Do you think the Bush administration has done enough since 9/11 to prepare for disasters?

Verla: No, they haven't done enough. It's all for show. I'm not a fan of Bush. He's got that smirk on his face that I've never liked.

Ludean: I think he's been very ineffective overall. I think he did the wrong thing when he went to Iraq.

Verla: It was for the wrong reason. I think something had to be done, but I don't think he handled it the correct way.

So I take it both of you didn't vote for Bush?

Verla: I didn't and this is a very Republican state. I can't say I'm one or the other definitely, but I lean towards the Democrats.

Why is that?

Verla: I don't know, because I'm poor. (laughs)

Do you both vote?

Verla: Oh yeah.

Ludean: You bet.

What advice would you give to the next set of candidates?

Verla: Be more honest and truthful because I don't think we've had an honest president for a long time.

Ludean: Listen to what the people say, not just the advisers. Of course, we realize it takes money to run a campaign and they have to listen to some people.

Verla: I don't think they're hearing the voices of the people.

What issues are important to you?

Verla: For retired people like we are, we haven't had a bad time ourselves, but we've prepared and saved and so we hate to see things cost so much more because we have a limited income and have no way of making more money because at our age, you can't go out and get a job.

Ludean: Currently, I think the president and his advisers have not been on top of the situation as far as the price of gas goes. Obviously gas is going to go up, but I think it should have been monitored and companies are gouging. Of course, his social security ideas are just way off base.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

New Orleans Residents in Utah, Part IV: Reaction to the Government's Response

When I interviewed people at Camp Williams on Wednesday, I didn't push the political issue because everyone I met was more interested in sharing their personal stories. They also haven't had access to news or the Internet for the past week and had no idea how the Bush administration and FEMA responded to the devastation. When I returned yesterday, I found people who are still dealing with the initial shock anyone would experience after losing their homes and community. I also found a few people who were eager to share their opinions on the government's response.

John Seal, 54

What did you think of the Bush administration's response?

If we were in Florida, Bush would have been there the same day, but Bush waited three days and a dollar late. Then he come there like he's some kind of hero. Bush ain't worth a doggone penny. I think it was mighty lowdown of him. He's been to New Orleans before. For you to leave us under water all that time, then you're gonna make like the hero, the lone ranger? Hell no. He ain't nothing in my mind. They call him Mr. President or Mr. Bush. The only thing he Mister of is his house and his wife might be wearing the pants in there. I think it was mighty lowdown of him to do the things he did.

I seen the helicopter drop a woman from the air and she fell and hit the bridge and she burst right there. For him to sit there and think he's doing us a favor; it's too late to do us a favor. He can go wherever he wants and help out. But Florida? That's his number one state besides Texas. He'll be there on the spot, but since it was Louisiana and then New Orleans is a Democrat place, he didn't give a damn cause he knows he's not running no more. He knows he can't run for nothing as long as he lives. Everybody wonders how he could drop the ball like he did. The whole United States seen this. All the foreign countries are seeing this. You could help everybody else, but you couldn't help your own people in your own backyard? You got a serious problem. How can you look at yourself in the morning and at night and call yourself the president? No way.

Tell me about your experience.

I sat there and looked at my car go underwater. Then I seen water start to come inside. We went and tore the ceiling out and took the closet doors off and put them on the ceiling so we could have something to sit on. Sitting there on the porch after the water receded and watching stuff floating around us and the water stinking was nothin' nice. And they had chaos all around us. Everybody was looting, shooting their guns like it was the Fourth of July or New Year's. It was ridiculous.

I had enough canned goods and water to keep me going, but when I started smelling the bacteria and odor, and seeing people in the water, it was time to go. A guy came and took us to the bridge and I'm looking at all the blood on the bridge from that lady. I said, Lord, if it's my time to die, God forgive me for every sin I did, but it so happens, he brought me through. Now I'm here in hog heaven. I'm on top of the world. I thought we had hospitality. We have never been treated like this before. Utah is a wonderful state. Anybody tell me different and I'll slap the taste out of their mouth. That's the way I feel about it and I'm quite sure the majority of us here feel the same way. There's been nothing but sweet love. Ain't nobody say nothin' negative. They always have a helping hand. Always trying to do something for us. Utah, y'all number one, other than New Orleans. (laughs)

What are your plans from here on out?

I don't know. I'm just taking it day by day. Ain't no need to rush into anything cause you might rush into something that you might regret. I'll let God guide me in the direction I'm going. I got family in Texas. I got family in Mississippi and I'm way up here. I'm not trying to leave here and go somewhere else while I'm getting treated like a king and go somewhere I might be treated like dirt. From what I see in Houston, I ain't got time for that. We had enough chaos in New Orleans and for us to leave here and go somewhere else, it ain't worth it. Utah, thank you. Thank the governor. President, you know what you can do. You know. And I aint' afraid of you. You went over to Iraq for bin Laden, but you turned the table to Saddam and you turned the table on New Orelans, too, so that's a wrap.

Raymond Augustus, 51
Ellis Coleman, 53

Raymond Augustus

Ellis Coleman

What did you think of the government's response?

Raymond Augustus: I don't know what to say. I forgot about Bush. I don't know what he's doing.

Ellis Coleman: This was predicted 35 years ago. They could have done something about it. I heard Bush slashed funds for the levees. Now it's too late. A disaster happened.

Raymond Augustus: The only person I appreciate is my Mayor Nagin.

What'd you think of his response?

Raymond Augustus: I thought it was great, the way he went off on Bush.

Ellis Coleman: Bush was a day late and a dollar short.

What was your experience like?

Ellis Coleman: I was stuck in my house. The water was rising. I saw people walking around with water up to their necks. It would have been up to mine if the boats didn't come by and rescue me. I saw dead people floating around. Guys looting and shooting at people coming to rescue them. They were shooting at helicopters. That shit didn't make sense. People were supposed to be helping them.

What are your plans?

Ellis Coleman: I plan on staying right here. If I can take this winter, I'll probably be here. People seem friendly. The state seems like it's family oriented and I like that about it.

How's your family?

Ellis Coleman: My family is scattered. My kids are in Wisconsin. My mom is in Houston. My brother is in Atlanta and my sister is in San Antonio. Everybody is alright.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

New Orleans Residents Unknowingly Land in Utah, Part III

I returned to Camp Williams in Draper, Utah today to interview a few more evacuees and check in with the people I met on Wednesday. Last week, 583 people were unknowingly flown to Utah. Many left the base almost immediately and many more took buses to Texas to reunite with loved ones. As of today, 299 people remain at the shelter. Troylynn Wilson, one of the people I met on Wednesday, found her 11-year-old son Derek Wilson. I also heard cries of joy from another woman who, after a week of searching, found her son in Texas.

I met a lively bunch of people today, including Jacqueline Gordon and Ronald Herbert, a couple who met at the convention center in New Orleans two weeks ago and plan to get married on September 23 at Camp Williams. They just rented an apartment in Salt Lake City and plan to move in on Tuesday or Wednesday. Email me if you'd like to send them a gift to help them rebuild their lives and I'll send you their address.

Jacqueline Gordon, 50
Ronald Herbert, 48
Walter Favoroth, 49

Walter Favoroth, Yolanda Favoroth
Ronald Herbert, Jacqueline Gordon

Tell me about your experience.

Jacqueline Gordon: My kids left the day before (the hurricane hit). I decided to stay and ride the storm out. About a quarter to six that morning, the water started coming in. It came in so fast, all you could do was go up. Once I got up, I watched the water rising. I heard something and I decided to flick a light and see what was happening. Turns out it was gas, so when the fire went flying through, the water put it out. I said, Lord show me a way out of here. I crawled to the back of my house and punched the ceiling out and I dove down in the water. I said, when I go this time, I'm coming back out. When I dove in a second time, I swam through the furniture and when I looked up I saw a house that had floated up from another street and knocked a hole on the top of my house, so I was able to come out from there.

I got up on the roof and was up there from 7:30 that morning to 2:00 that evening, so I was in the midst of the storm up there on the roof, but I had a long talk with God and I found God again up on that roof. I just thank God that my daddy taught me to swim when I was eight years old. I didn't panic. I was glad my youngest daughter was gone because I didn't have to worry about getting her and her baby out of the house. I just had to think for me. My cousin's husband came by and rescued me and brought me to another house where I stayed upstairs for two days. I then got rescued in a boat where they brought me to the St. Cloud bridge. I crossed over there and stayed with a friend. From there, we walked up to the convention center, which is another horror story.

Ronald Herbert: That's where we met.

You met in the convention center?

Jacqueline Gordon: Yes, that's where we met, but let me tell you something and I want to set the record straight about them talking about the people looting. They looted to survive. They wouldn't give us no water and no food out there. We didn't have clothes. All we had were the clothes on our back. I met them and they took me in as family.

Ronald Herbert: I was supposed to go with the ministry I was in, Deeper Life out of Florida, but I chose to stay home because I wanted to be with my family. My brother's house was covered with water. He was on the roof for two days. I told my brother I was gonna go get some help. So I put my life vest on. I had to swim at least a good six miles going into the current, not from the current. I got to a place on Franklin Avenue where a boat picked me up. I went back and got my brother. From there, they picked all of us up and brought us to the convention center. The convention center was hell. Dead bodies. People's throats cut. Heads off bodies.

You saw that?

Ronald Herbert: Yes.

The New Orleans police chief said they found no instances of rape and murder.

Ronald Herbert: Yeah, there was rape. I was putting bodies in the freezer. We were right where it happened.

Jacqueline Gordon: We dealt with the bodies. They wouldn't know. They weren't in there. We were eyewitnesses.

Were there any law enforcement in there at that time?

Jacqueline Gordon: At night we had no law enforcement.

Ronald Herbert: They had people in there who didn't take baths for six, seven days. If you went into the bathroom, the odor hit you. All on the walls, in the corners, cracks, crevices. They were letting it out.

Jacqueline Gordon: Oh, it was toxic. If you went in the bathroom, the toilets were so filled up, you couldn't use them, so you didn't have a choice because there was no running water. None. The smell was so strong.

Ronald Herbert: The odor knocked you out.

Walter Favoroth: As soon as you get to the door, the odor knocked you out.

Ronald Herbert: I felt bad for the elderly people. They weren't bringing food for the old folks.

Jacqueline Gordon: Then they opened up a restaurant in the Marriott and fed everybody. Everything they found, they cooked. He and I were bringing food to the old folks.

Ronald Herbert: He saved his wife's life and his wife saved his life.

Walter Favoroth: I'm in water up to here and I had her on my neck. I had to walk like that for five miles. She doesn't know how to swim. It's too hard for her to talk about. In our house, we were watching the storm. We saw water coming under the door fast. I went to go get a sheet to put under the door and the water just came in. It filled our bathtub and our toilet and water rushed up to the ceiling. In a matter of five minutes, the whole house was full of water.

Ronald Herbert: I had to open my door and went to go save a guy in his attic. I fell through the attic and cut my leg. They were supposed to send me to the convention center to get treatment. I ain't got treatment until I got to Utah.

Walter Favoroth: What we went through, I thought was in the movies, but it was real.

What do you think of the government's response?

Ronald Herbert: They should have gotten the elderly people out.

Walter Favoroth: People died for nothing.

Ronald Herbert: I watched an 86-year-old lady die in her wheelchair.

Have you been watching the news at all since you've been here?

Jacqueline Gordon: Yeah, I just start crying every time I look at the water. When they rescued me on the boat, they went to rescue other people and I got to ride down in the ninth ward and I'm looking at the disaster and all I could do is sit there and cry. I'm not worried about losing everything because I know that can be replaced. My life can't be replaced. Just to see people's houses floating and sitting in the middle of the street.

Ronald Herbert: Bodies floating in the water. Alligators eating people.

Walter Favoroth: Trees coming out of the ground. Roots and all.

Jacqueline Gordon: We're so glad to be here. We love it.

What are your plans?

Ronald Herbert: We live here. We're getting married right here.

Jacqueline Gordon: A guy from a newspaper did an interview with us and they're throwing the whole wedding for us. They're paying for everything. We're going to get married at the chapel here on the 23rd. They're throwing us a huge reception and they're paying for my wedding dress. I went yesterday and picked out all of my flowers and bouquets.

Is your daughter planning to join you?

Jacqueline Gordon: She's in Texas. They have an apartment. I know eventually she'll get up here. She'll be 20 on the 18th of this month and she has a two-year-old. Like I said, I thank God they left the day before.

Ronald Herbert: I took my little niece who was two-months-old through water up to here. I had to hold her in the air and go three houses down where we could get up on a three-story house until somebody came, but nobody ever came, so they had to move again. The water was climbing. I'm not talking about hours. I'm talking minutes.

What do you think of the opinion that race played a role in all of this?

Ronald Herbert: Race had nothing to do with it. People had old white people hugging them and loving them.

Walter Favoroth: What I saw was unity with everybody cause everybody was trying to help everybody.

Ronald Herbert: That was unity down there. God brought people together down there.

Jacqueline Gordon: White people grabbed me and gave me food. We were glad to get something to eat.

Walter Favoroth: I didn't even know her and I took her as my family and we're here together.

And you're all going to stay in Utah?

Jacqueline Gordon: Yeah, we're in the same apartment complex. They're in the back and we're in the front.

Ronald Herbert: When we got here the only thing they didn't do was throw the red carpet out.

Walter Favoroth: I never seen so much love. That's why I'm staying here because I never seen so much love.

Did you know much about the state of Utah before you got here?

Walter Favoroth: No, I didn't know a thing about Utah.

Ronald Herbert: We didn't know anything about Utah.

Walter Favoroth: As a matter of fact, I never got on an airplane in my life. It was an experience. I was hugging my wife saying, baby, are we gonna be alright? (laughs)

Utah and Louisiana are very different states.

Ronald Herbert: Yeah, totally different from Louisiana.

How do you feel about that?

Ronald Herbert: I love it. I love this state. I thought I was going to come down here to crazy stuff like, "We don't want you niggers here." Man, they brought us here and showed us so much love. It's not about racial things. It's about love. God wants people to come together. God don't want all this crazy stuff. That's why he took that away cause there was so much crime and killing. God said, I'm goin' wipe it out.

Do you have any opinions about the way Bush responded?

Ronald Herbert: There are a lot of things I see wrong about Bush, but I think he did pretty good. I really think so and I give 100 percent to our mayor. Our mayor was crying about how the government treated us. The government treated us real bad. We're human beings.

Walter Favoroth: We're human beings. Everybody is equal. Just because you got a little more than me don't mean nothing. Just because you have more than me, God could swipe it away and take your life. The material things don't matter, but our lives do matter.

Ronald Herbert: They didn't look at that.

Walter Favoroth: They were just worried about themselves. They say, 'I told them to get out.' What about the people that don't have no money? What about the people that don't have no cars?

What did you do in New Orleans?

Walter Favoroth: I just opened up a detail shop two days before the flood. We invested about $2500 in that. I lost everything in my house. All kinds of suits and stuff. My wife had all kinds of clothes. I always got her everything she wanted.

Ronald Herbert: I used to work offshore.

Jacqueline Gordon: I wasn't employed at the time. Earlier in the year, I was working for a collections agency.

What are you hoping to do here?

Jacqueline Gordon: I have a degree in accounting, so I have a computer background. I was working on my second degree in computer information systems, so that's what I want to do.

Did you know anything about Utah before you landed here?

Jacqueline Gordon: Not a thing. Nothing. This is God's country. That's all I can say. I'm glad I'm here. I was a homeowner down there. I had my own home. I see my home. My home is still underwater, so what is there to go back to? Everything is gone and I don't feel bad about that because they have made me so welcome here. There's so much love here. People want to be where they're loved.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

New Orleans Residents Unknowingly Land in Utah, Part II

As of Wednesday, the number of New Orleans evacuees registered to stay in Utah totaled 108, or 40 to 60 households, according to the Salt Lake Tribune. Apartment complex owners agreed to both waive deposit fees and cap rents in order to keep living expenses affordable. Tonight I asked locals how they felt about evacuees starting new lives here. "Utahns are giving people. If they have nowhere else to go, they are more than welcome to stay," said one local resident. "We'll do whatever we can to make them comfortable."

It should be noted that not one New Orleans resident I met at Camp Willims on Wednesday expressed anger for unkowingly being flown to Utah, a very different state than Louisiana. Every person I interviewed who plans to stay said they are eager to find work. Most made under $7/hour in New Orleans and said they are becoming restless without jobs.

Here are a few more of the interviews I did on Wednesday at Camp Williams in Draper, Utah.

Entering Camp Williams

The Community Center

Evacuees making phone calls to find loved ones

Cornell Perkins, 20

Tell me about the process involved in getting here.

Me and my friends ended up at the convention center for four days until they sent a charter bus to get us. From there, we were brought to Louis Armstrong International. After that, we got on a plane to Utah that we thought was going to San Antonio, Texas. We came here, got a bite to eat, got our Utah IDs and they assigned us a bunk.

So you didn't know you were going to Utah?


How did you feel about that?

I felt bad at first. I'm like, what are we doing in Utah? I thought we were going to San Antonio like the National Guard told us. Man, we wound up far away from the south, but I've adjusted and I'm about to start my life over here in Utah.

So you're going to stay?


What sparked your decision?

I guess by just looking at the mountains and thinking about a fresh start. New Orleans is full of crooked politicians. The governor was not doing her job and the mayor was not doing his job. I just got so sick and tired of getting paid slave wages down there.

What did you do down there?

I was a prep cook down there. Hopefully I'll go check out the job fair tomorrow.

What was your neighborhood like in New Orleans after the levee broke?

After the storm, we thought everything was OK. We lost a couple roofs and power lines, but the water started coming about an hour later. In three hours, it was almost to my chest and I managed to escape. I walked through the water to a home for elderly and retired citizens. The people told me about the convention center and I wound up staying there for four days.

What went on in the convention center?

Haywire. No police. It was vigilantes. Children getting raped. Bodies in the freezer. There were horror scenes all over. People scouring for food, water, pampers for babies. Two or three babies died. It was very tragic.

What sparked the chaos?

It all happened the second, third and fourth day. The first day, everybody was setting up camp. We thought people were gonna bring us some food and water, but the people didn't know we were there until three days later. That's when they started sending buses. The President came to visit. Jesse Jackson came to visit. They all pulled together. That's the only thing they did right.

In terms of the violence, young guys came in with guns and the chaos began?

Yes. It was almost like a mini war. Citizens against the national guardsmen. Policemen couldn't handle the pressure. One policeman committed suicide on the other side of the street. Over 400 officers quit the force just because they couldn't maintain order and the city went under marshal law.

Could you leave?

No, the national guard would shoot us if we left. I found a safe spot in the back that was cool and waited for help.

How did that affect you? You saw some horrible things in that building.

It's a feeling and a thought in my mind that I will never forget. Every time I look at something about New Orleans, I'm gonna think of that day. Think of that day Katrina hit and think of those days in the convention center. It was my hometown. I grew up there. I thought I was gonna live there.

Do you think New Orleans should be rebuilt?

Yes, it should be rebuilt for the people who want to go back. It'll never be the same again for me.

Do you have family here?

No. Most of my family is scattered around in Houston and Dallas. I'm the only one here.

So you plan to stay here on your own?

Yes, me and a friend plan on getting separate apartments, but we're here together. We got each other's backs here. That's the only thing that made us feel alright. I was kinda down because I didn't have my family with me, but as long as I have someone here who experienced what I experienced down in the convention center, I'll be OK.

What do you think of President Bush's response?

He's been doing a fair job so far.

What do you think of him overall?

I think he's a very complex person trying to work with both sides. Sometimes he's unfair and sometimes he's fair. That's all I'll say about him.

Would you like to send a message to those who don't know anyone in New Orleans?

New Orleans was a nice city before the storm hit. As far as the looters go, people needed to feed their families. It was mostly food items they were getting. We do have some ignorant people in New Orleans, but people were looking for food to feed their families. The people from New Orleans are not lazy. We're very hard working, middle-class people who want a chance at a better life. We're ready to start over.

How do you feel overall?

I feel great here. It's a great city. I haven't had a chance to look at the downtown, but the people are very friendly and very resourceful. I'm gonna start a new life.

Charles Andrew Williams, 63

Tell me about your experience.

My mother and I were in the house. I peeked out the window and watched the rain come down. I turned around and noticed that the water was coming in the back room and I told her the water was coming in the house and she got kinda scared. She got in bed and the water was coming to the bed. I put her on two chairs and the water got up to my waistline. I had to hold her up. That went on for seven hours. I put her in the doorway and looked for help. I put her in my bed, which was floating. She stayed there for about an hour. Somebody said, 'Here come the national guards.' We stood in the doorway for about five hours. The boat came and she said she felt like she was gonna pass out. I told her, 'God didn't tell you that. God didn't tell you that you wasn't gonna make it.' I was talking to her to keep her awake. The boat came and they took us to the Superdome and she was sick. She was so sick, she couldn't eat anything, so I told the Red Cross to come and get her.

What was your experience like in the Superdome?

It was horrible. It was like a nightmare. Mother was gone. I stayed in the Superdome for six days. People were fighting in there, raping and doing everything in there. You could hear the shooting, but I wasn't around those bad people.

Were you fed?

Yeah, we got food and bottles of water.

Do you think the local government prepared for this?

No, I think they did a bad job. They did not build up the levees. They did not put sand bags over the canal. They did not prepare us. The governor and everybody did a bad job of preparing the people.

What about the Bush administration?

Bush didn't deal with it until the mayor of New Orleans called him about four or five days later. He was telling people what was going on in Iraq, but he didn't talk about the disaster in New Orleans until five days later and the mayor called him up and told him to come down and see the people and he did. Bush did a good job after he was informed about what was going on, but it took him five days. There's a big difference between Iraq and New Orleans. We are American people. We should get attention before anybody else. People were floating in the water. It was bad.

Did you see people floating in the water?

I saw a lot of dead people on the streets. People were walking on dead people. That's something that you got to see for yourself.

How do you feel about being in Utah?

It's gorgeous. They had a flight going to San Antonio. They had a flight going to Dallas and a flight going to Houston. A man said, 'You going to get on any of those flights?' I said, no, I want something new. So I got on a plane and the man said, 'We're going to Utah.' So I decided to go because I ain't going to no Texas. It's too close to New Orleans. So I came to Utah and I fell in love with Utah.

What are your plans?

My plan is to talk with my mother and tell her I'm not going back to New Orleans. I'll go back to get some of my stuff, but New Orleans is not gonna be my home anymore. I lived in New Orleans for 63 years.

Do you think it should be rebuilt?

No. You're gonna get another hurricane and it's gonna do the same thing. It's gonna happen again.

Michael Ford, 48
Penny Landry, 37, Michael's partner, joined the conversation in the middle of our interview

Tell me what your experience was like.

Michael Ford: I was in the Superdome for seven days and it was like being in anarchy. It was total chaos. People fearing for their lives because there was mass amounts of violence. There were not enough soldiers, but I'm not gonna play the blame game. It was really bad.

What sparked all of the violence?

Michael Ford: You want the truth? The people that were doing all the violence were young dope dealing thugs. They were up there breaking into suites, stealing booze, stealing cigarettes and selling them for inflated prices. Cigarettes and liquor became the new crack. They didn't care about authority whatsoever. They threw chairs through glass windows. They would trample over old people. It was total anarchy. It was survival of the fittest basically. They banded together like wolf packs and marked their territory. You had to be really careful about who you talked to, where you went and when you did it.

How were you able to find a safe space?

Michael Ford: I know some people and we just kinda stuck together. When we did have to brave the elements as far as using the bathroom, we always went in pairs.

What happend to your neighborhood?

Michael Ford: I don't know what happened. I was in the dome from start to finish. I was the 12th person who entered the dome.

Did you receive adequate warning from local officials?

Michael Ford: If you watched the news, you got warning. These people got this down to a science. In five days, it's gonna hit New Orleans. I believe in science and technology. These guys are getting really good at what they do, so I tend to believe them. I didn't have the resources to get out of town.

Do you think local officials did a good job of warning people?

Michael Ford: Everybody in the world has a TV. Nobody can say they didn't know it was coming. Even if you don't have a TV, somebody would have told you. They went through neighborhoods and used bullhorns, but that was when it was impending. You can't blame anybody for this. If you didn't go to the dome, I believe that was your fault.

A lot of people stayed because they wanted to protect their homes or their pets.

Michael Ford: True enough, but people brought pets to the dome. I don't think anything can equal losing your life.

What do you think of the federal government's response?

Michael Ford: I don't know. Maybe, maybe, maybe President Bush could have acted faster. Maybe FEMA could have acted faster. But who knows? I never felt forgotten. I knew we were gonna get outta there. I know America takes care of its own. Some people claim that America doesn't take care of its own, but I never had that feeling for a minute.

Penny Landry: I've been here for four days and I still don't have a dollar. We spend billions of dollars on foreign aid every year. What about us? I should be able to buy feminine hygiene stuff. If I could get a job, I'd go to work right now. I'd get up and work with my hurt foot. We got food stamps, but where am I gonna put the food? In what refrigerator? What stove am I gonna cook on? If I wanted to go outside and eat somewhere, I can't. I gotta depend on whatever is donated, which is great. Everybody has been awesome. I have pretty much everything I need, but there are a couple things we still need.

Michael Ford: We're working on housing. We're trying to get jobs. We're not going back to New Orleans.

Do you think it should be rebuilt?

Penny Landry: It would take so much.

Michael Ford: Kind of like the Bionic Man: bigger, stronger, faster. You're gonna have to build levees that are sufficient to handle the storm surge. You're gonna have to reinforce them with concrete.

Did you both know you were coming to Utah?

Michael Ford: When we pulled into the airport, the FEMA guy came up and said, 'Look, you're all going to San Antonio.' It took us an hour to get from the dome to the airport. By the time I finally got on the plane, it was 11:00 at night.

What did you do in New Orleans?

Michael Ford: I was working on the Mississippi Queen for the Delta Steamboat Company.

Penny Landry: I'm a painter by trade. I paint houses.

What are your plans here?

Penny Landry: We're trying to get to Park City. I want to wait tables and make money.

Michael Ford: We're gonna try to do the seasonal thing and see what happens.

Penny Landry: I heard there's a lot of money there. They ship in foreign exchange students just to work and you can get housing there, so I can clean rooms in a hotel and have a room. I prefer to waitress or bartend for the tips.

Michael Ford: I will shovel snow. I'm not particular. I will do what I have to do to survive.

Penny Landry: We're gonna hit the job fair tomorrow and go to Park City on Friday.

So they have things scheduled here?

Michael Ford: Oh yeah, these people are wonderful. They're doing everything they can. These people are smiling and they're working hard.

Penny Landry: I'm living in a dorm full of women. We're trying to get together. We got separated and reunited, but by the time we got reunited, we were already placed.

What do you have with you? Do you have ID?

Penny Landry: I lost everything. I asked about it and they gave me the number to the social security office. Do you realize how long it will take me to get a copy of my birth certificate? There are so many people that have lost everything and it's gonna be backed up for a couple of years. I'm just counting on my mouth piece to get me a job. Plus, they know what we've been through. I'm doing everything within my power. This is day four.

Michael Ford: I got my ID and important papers with me.

Did you go to the dome also?

Penny Landry: I didn't make it to the dome. I was checking on family members and friends. I had a boat, so I was helping people with food and water. I seen a dead body tied to a post floating in the water. Then I got in a copter.

How'd you find each other?

Penny Landry: Fate. We got on separate flights and ended up in the same place.

Wow, sounds like you're meant to be together.

Penny Landry: Yeah.

Are other family members here?

Penny Landry: I don't know where my grandmother and son are. I'm on the online thing and I called this morning, but still haven't heard anything. They evacuated before the hurricane, so I'm sure they're safe.

Michael Ford: This is really kind of unreal. It's almost like you don't believe you're here.

It must be surreal for you.

Michael Ford: It's totally surreal. It's hard for me to believe that I was in the greatest national disaster in the United States history and somebody cared enough to bring me here and care for me.

Penny Landry: It's been awesome. I appreciate everything. I'm in a hurry to start over. Obviously the things I had weren't meant for me to keep, but I'm an able body. Just to get from here to there takes money. Everything takes money and I have none. I wish they would give us something even if I had to pay it back. Just give me something.

Michael Ford: I have to say this. I have seen first hand, the worst. The lowest level of the human spirit and I've also...I'm about to cry. I've also experienced the best of human spirit. I can't believe I'm crying. I want to get up and display the best of my spirit.

Penny Landry: We just try and stay positive. I haven't given up. I ain't going down like that. I refuse. God didn't bring me here for nothing. There's a greater purpose that's above me. I'm just trying to do my part. I appreciate everything here, but I want to move things as fast as I possibly can. The shock is over.

Michael Ford: The shock is over. Get on with your life.

Penny Landry: There's all kinds of support here, but I'm an independent person. I can't walk into my own house, put the keys down and put something in the microwave or whatever. I can't take a shower by myself cause these are community showers. I just prefer more privacy. I'm 37. I'm used to being on my own. I'm sure you enjoy your home. Could you imagine? It's hard, but it's appreciated. It's not that it's not appreciated. It's just that the adjusting is hard because you're dealing with all kinds of different personalities that you're not accustomed to.

Michael Ford: I want to go back to the dome for a minute. The people that didn't get out came to the dome. Everybody knew that if the hurricane hit, we're gonna lose power, we're gonna lose water and we could be there for days. The only thing that I don't think they planned well for was the bathroom thing. The Supredome was huge on the inside. For Mardi Gras, they could get 1,000 porta potties lined up in a day. They could have put those in the dome for use. It wouldn't have been a toilet like it is now. When the military was handing out MREs, it was like a free for all. People went through the line five times. The elderly couldn't get their food.

Penny Landry: I was getting water for people and by the time I got to the airport, I passed out. The military had to bring me in and hydrate me. I drank a lot of water, but you can't imagine being in the water, in the sun, in a boat for two days. I pulled people in the boat, walking through the nastiness.

Michael Ford: I was a wreck. I'm still a wreck. I wasn't able to shower. You've got thousands of people around there and they're throwing food. A lot of times you don't know where you're laying. You didn't have a cot to lay on.

Do you have any final thoughts you'd like to share?

Penny Landry: God bless Utah. I've never seen such Christianity. Even when I was doing bad things in my other life (laughs), God had me and he's really shown me that he does work through people. These people don't know us from adam.

Michael Ford: And they're working their fingers to the bone.

Elaine Sims, 64

Tell me about your experience in New Orleans.

We got rescued by a boat and got brought down to Interstate 10. We spent the night on Interstate 10, then we had to walk to get to the convention center, which I think was horrible. When we got to the convention center, it was like a nightmare. We had no food and no water for at least three days. After making it through all the flood waters, then to get there and be without food and water in the heat and being frightened of different things that were happening in the convention center was worse than trying to escape the floodwaters.

And you couldn't leave the convention center?

We had nowhere to go. That was the shelter, but it was a horrible shelter. It was like a nightmare. It was frightening until the military came in. We left there Saturday and they told us we were going to San Antonio. After we were in the air, they said, 'You know where you're going?' We said, San Antonio. They said, 'Salt Lake City, Utah.' We said, oh no, but after we got here, everything was great. The people here are very nice. Really nice. You couldn't ask to be treated better. I think we ended up at the best shelter.

Do you have other family members here with you?

Yeah, my daughter is here and my son and my neighbor next door, we call her grandma. She's 97. My husband is right here.

What are your plans?

We want to go to Washington to live with our other son and wait until we can go back to New Orleans.

So you want to go back to New Orleans?

I really would like to. I was born and raised in New Orleans. It snows out here and I don't like cold weather.

Do you think the local government did enough to prepare you?

No, it was like we were forgotten. That was frightening. I'm 64-years-old and had to walk all the way up an interstate. We thought a bus would pick us up and bring us across, but it never came and it was blazing hot. I said, if I want to survive, I gotta walk.

What do you think about President Bush's response?

As far as I can see, everything is going good so far. I know a lot of money was put in for this and hopefully it will help us get our city back. I hope something good comes out of this.

How do you feel?

I'm feeling OK. I went to the medical center when I first got here because I wasn't able to bring all my medicine. I went to see the doctor and he wrote prescriptions, so everything is good. I'll be glad to get our city back and we can go back. I'll just have to take my chances with hurricanes.