Jesse Jackson's Excellent New Orleans Adventure

Last month Jesse Jackson equated New Orleans’ evacuation centers to the "hull of a slaveship!" which was mild, actually, compared to Geraldo Rivera, who weeping in front of Fox News’s cameras while on location in New Orleans, described the scenes as "worse than Dante’s inferno!"

You’ll recall how on prime time TV in 1986 the famous archeologist, Rivera, hosted and narrated the excavation of Al Capone’s secret tomb. During the show’s lengthy foreplay, the panting host hinted that — among a stash of many other fascinating curiosities — Capone’s crypt contained: "the bones of those who annoyed him!"

In fact, while digging through all the dirt they found more dirt. They found nothing related to Capone. The show was a gaffe from start to finish. Geraldo handled it masterfully. His tap-dance shamed Ashley Simpson’s on Saturday Night Live. "A silly high-concept stunt that failed to deliver on its titillating promise," Rivera himself described it in his autobiography. This being America, the show earned the highest ratings for a syndicated special in TV history and catapulted Rivera to media stardom beyond the wildest dreams of even Donald Trump. Ashley Simpson take note.

But we were talking about Jesse "Castro is the most honest and courageous politician I’ve ever met! Viva Fidel!" Jackson. After the (mostly black) New Orleans refugees were evacuated from those "slaveship hulls," Reverend Jesse Jackson quickly rummaged up another angle. "Katrina destroyed its victims’ homes," he wrote in the Chicago Sun-Times, "we shouldn’t let the administration make them exiles from their own city!"

Jackson now implied that the crafty and racist Bush administration was busing these people into: "permanent exile." For the first month after the storm, we’d heard that not evacuating people from New Orleans was a racist plot. Then it turned out that the evacuation itself was a racist plot — a vast white-wing conspiracy to ethnically cleanse New Orleans, to turn it white again.

"Karl Rove is a political reconstructionist who wants to change the character of Louisiana politics." Jackson declared. "When Bush promised to remove the legacy of racism in New Orleans, he meant he’d remove the poor who were victims of that racism. Bush isn’t planning urban renewal, he’s planning urban removal. The administration has given the victims of Katrina a one-way ticket out with no plan for their return."

Apparently, when those racist Republicans finally caught on, they devised an ingenious scheme to return New Orleans to the historic role Mick Jagger celebrated in Brown Sugar (Gold coast slaveship bound for cotton fields, sold in the market down in New Orleans.) But ah! You’ve got to wake up pretty early in the morning to put something over on Jesse Jackson and his Rainbow/Push operatives. They’re not falling for it. So they quickly mobilized to foil this Republican villainy. "They’re trapped in those rescue camps," Jackson explained his humanitarian campaign to the media. "They (the New Orleans refugees) should have the right to return and priority in jobs and housing." And so he led over 200 of these "trapped New Orleanians" in a five-bus caravan that started in Chicago wound through St Louis, Memphis, Mobile and Jackson and finally pulled up to New Orleans on October 11th.

"Their accents don’t sound right for New Orleanians," noted New Orleans natives Shantell and Woodrow Arnold after they boarded one of the Rainbow/Push buses in Jackson Ms. The buses landed amidst much fanfare and the local TV and radio stations were on hand to interview the multitude of returning "New Orleanians."

But the accents didn’t sound right to the media people holding the mics either. They went from one returnee to the other, frantically seeking an actual New Orleanian. Turned out, exactly 14 of the 200 people were from New Orleans. And when the rest of the bus riders discovered the state of local conditions 75 per cent of them promptly boarded the buses and fled back to their homes in Memphis, Chicago, Mobile, etc. "It was hard to convince displaced residents to return home," finally admitted Denise Dixon, national field organizer for the Rainbow/PUSH coalition.

But nary a peep issued from Reverend Jackson regarding the discrepancy, nary a hint that something other than a racist Republican plot to ethnically cleanse New Orleans was at work.

One of the precious few New Orleanians on a returning bus did have a comment for the local media. "One person can change their community!" declared Travis Houston to the local Times Picayune." One community can change a city! One city can change a nation — and one nation can change the world!"

Jesse himself could not have put it any better. But that’s where the resemblance ends. According to local media, Mr. Travis signed on with a clean up crew and toils daily, which is to say: he works for a living.