Live from New Orleans: The programme
Two hours live from New Orleans! We had a great time and hope you did too. We were at Preservation Hall, a wonderfully atmospheric jazz club in the French Quarter, that has been closed since Katrina but opened their doors to World Have Your Say.
We had around 20 audience members. We heard their stories from areas where Katrina’s force was felt the most. We visited Caroll from Lakeview and Cora, Pam and Patricia from the lower 9th ward were in our audience. They spoke of anger, loss but determination to make life better.
We took phone calls from New Orleanians who felt they couldn’t, or didn’t want to, go back. Our audience said they could understand the fear of returning but encouraged exiles to come and help them rebuild.
There was anger at engineers, government officials and FEMA but seven months on their focus was very much on lessons that could be learnt and what could be done to protect the mix of communities from the politics of rebuilding.
Our debate on race and class in America uncovered some interested viewpoints from both our audience and our international callers. Our guests, Dr Mark Naison, a professor of African-American studies, and Dr Jeffrey Sachs, an economist and leading voice on poverty alleviation discussed the poverty divide and the accusations of racism that have blighted aid and re-building efforts.
We opened our phone lines and you responded, a fellow-American felt Katrina evacuees had ruined his hometown in Texas and was concerned that his tax dollars were being used to rebuild in areas too low for residential housing.
International callers gave us their perspective of how their image of America was changed by the scenes of devastation following Katrina some callers denied that rebuilding was a race issue; one of our audience used the term “ethnic cleansing”. Tensions ran high and the audience clapped, booed and at the end sent a message out to the World Service audience to “come visit New Orleans – it’s still great”.
Twice during the programme we listened to Peter, a double bass jazz musician, in his eighties. Unfortunately some of the power would have been lost through the medium of radio. He was so enraptured in the emotion of the piece that you had to see him perform to understand his love of jazz.
I was stuck by the passion of New Orleanians to rebuild, and protect the unique character of their city, their determination to make life better. It was a wonderful city, with genuine and friendly people delighted to see the BBC return to New Orleans long after the media’s spotlight has turned from their streets.