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To cite this paper using APA format: Conley, T. L. (November 2007). Virtual volunteers: Hurricane Katrina’s impact and women’s resolve at Media Justice and Feminist Futures, Albany, NY.

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Virtual Volunteers:  Hurricane Katrina’s Impact and Women’s Resolve

By Tara L. Conley

On August 29th 2005, the United States experienced one of the worst (un)natural disasters [1] in recorded history.  Hurricane Katrina proved to be a deadly and destructive storm that left thousands of Gulf Coast residents displaced from their homes and communities. The storm also demonstrated how good Samaritans from around the country could mobilize online and assist survivors of the hurricane in rebuilding their lives.  Every day citizens, including survivors of hurricane Katrina, were significant players in sustaining ongoing relief efforts, perhaps more so than the U.S. government. The impact of hurricane Katrina also revealed a different type of volunteering effort characteristic to digital and social media of the twenty-first century.  Virtual volunteering describes community activism and grassroots organizing that is conducted via the World Wide Web. Virtual volunteers can be those directly affected by crisis, they can also be those outside of the crisis community, and as I discuss in the following analysis, virtual volunteers may also blur the lines between survivor and volunteer. The following essay highlights three virtual spaces of volunteering: Real People Relief, Beyond Katrina, and Katrina’s Angels in Action Forum (a Yahoo! group).  These virtual spaces of historical significance not only reveal the impact of hurricane Katrina but also reveal the motivations and resolve of volunteers and survivors alike.  Through an analysis of these online spaces, I argue that hurricane Katrina virtual volunteers, specifically women and single mothers, are characterized by four trajectories outlined in this essay: 1) direct impact of hurricane Katrina; 2) lack of preparedness and long-term support from local, state, and federal governments; 3) gender role expectations about women’s work; and 4) technological advancements and accessibility [2] to the Internet.

Methodology

The primary sources highlighted in this essay include three categories of Katrina-related virtual volunteering: blogs [3], group forums, and website newsgroups.  First, an analysis of the blog, Real People Relief (RPR), (created by Leslie Holly, a single woman from New York) reveals what survivors experienced as a result of being forced out of one’s home and uprooted to unfamiliar places. The blog also reveals survivors’ struggle to sustain faith in various sectors of governments that are obligated to provide assistance overtime.  In particular, survivors publicly share with others their dwindling confidence in government agencies such as FEMA.  The narratives included in this paper represent the social location of many women survivors.  The content found in RPR blog posts, threads, and comments sections describe women’s “standpoints” [4] and illustrate the on-going struggle to rebuild lives and communities after hurricane Katrina.  While some of the women include pictures in their blogs post, an issue that may arise with relief blogs, such as RPR is the authenticity of identity.  Even if photos are provided, it can be very difficult to assess whether or not the people posting stories and/or requesting assistance are in fact survivors in need.  An important job of the moderator of relief blogs is to stay in contact with the users of the blog sites.

Next, I analyzed the Yahoo! group forum, Katrina’s Angels in Action Forum (KAAF), (created by community activists, Janet Arp and Karen Iwicki). This forum functioned to quickly and effectively disseminate information through listervs and bulletins to Katrina survivors and other grassroots volunteers.  In order to utilize this Yahoo! group (i.e., post messages, upload files/photos, access group database, and access links to outside Internet/community sources), a person must join and then be accepted by the group’s moderators/creators.  The group’s moderators/creators control the number of members who can join and access the forum, which is arguably a drawback as it is not necessarily an open access virtual space.

Finally, I analyzed the website Beyond Katrina (BK) (created by community activist, Margaret Saizan), an online forum for grassroots organizers such as journalists and scholars to post POD (publish-on-demand) articles and essays about hurricane Katrina relief efforts nationwide.  Note that the essays and articles found at Beyond Katrina might not necessarily represent/reflect the views of the survivors of hurricane Katrina.  When analyzing the website I had to take into consideration that the main function of this source is to provide additional information and links to other websites and blogs, and not function as a precise representation of the survivors’ circumstances post-Katrina.

The Direct Impact of Hurricane Katrina:  Survivors and Volunteers-in-the-Making

On Monday, August 29, 2005 hurricane Katrina makes landfall on the Louisiana coast at approximately seven o’clock in the morning (CNN) impacting citizens around the nation.  On that very same day, while President George W. Bush shares a birthday cake photo-op moment with Senator John McCain (White House), many citizens of the “direct impact states,” Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, (Greenberg 3) were forced out of their homes desperately in need of water, food, and shelter.  In the following days, while New Orleans citizens were trapped inside of the Superdome, “a woman spots Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, shoe shopping in New York City” (Think Progress).  Several days and weeks after hurricane Katrina, the water began to recede leaving the Gulf Coast in ruins.  The total number of people affected by the storm was approximately fifteen million (Hurricane Katrina Relief); this statistic includes those affected by an increase of energy costs nationally.  Sources estimate that the death toll exceeded one thousand (Hurricane Katrina Relief) and there are reports that over nineteen hundred people are still missing (Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals).  As horrific as hurricane Katrina was for many U.S. citizens, the storm itself did not stop many community organizers and volunteers to quickly respond—proving that effective assistance and relief extend far beyond government intervention.

The loss of life, homes, and hope due to the direct impact of the storm prompted many survivors to begin organizing within various communities in order to help those in dire need.  Dr. Robbie Ethridge, associate professor of anthropology and Southern studies at the University of Mississippi, documents when she and her colleagues immediately responded to relief efforts in her essay “Bearing Witness:  Assumptions, Realities, and the Otherizing of Katrina.”  Ethridge writes, “[we had] one goal in mind: go to the stricken area to take water and food and to bring out as many people as we could transport” (5).  Professor Ethridge was one of many who volunteered time and resources to the relief efforts immediately after the storm hit.  I too was fortunate enough to volunteer at the Reliant Center when the survivors were bussed to Houston, Texas during the first week of September 2005.

However, not all volunteers were able to physically assist survivors immediately after the storm. Leslie Holly, the moderator of the Katrina blog website Real People Relief, was motivated to donate her time and energy and help survivors using the Internet.  Leslie provides a brief biography on the website revealing her dedication as a virtual volunteer.

I am a problem solver, a researcher and a networker. I am also disabled. 5 years ago, I was fighting chronic sinusitis, awaiting surgery, when a virus attacked the nerves in my right ear. Daily life is a challenge. I've improved so much, but am still so far from being able to work again. It's frustrating beyond words.  However, even if I can't recover, that doesn't mean others shouldn't be able to. So ever since The Storm of '05, I have worked every day at finding ways to help both individuals and volunteers get the help they need to speed the recovery efforts. I may not be able to come down and get my hands dirty, but I can make it so more people can.  I am now focusing my attention on the individuals who have fallen through the cracks of ‘organized relief.’

Leslie’s website allows survivors to directly post information for people to access around the world.  Specifically, Real People Relief (RPR) links users to other survivors’ blogs, recovery agencies, fraudulent Katrina-related relief sources, and regional news sites.  RPR is a virtual space that not only provides direct assistance and information to survivors and volunteers but it also functions as an historical document that reveals the undeniable resolve of many women, survivors and volunteers, who operate on a shared consciousness of hope and altruism.

Lack of Government Preparedness and Long-Term Support: Politics as Usual

The lack of preparedness from local, state, and federal governments is symptomatic of a more agonizing affliction: the cliché notion of politics as usual.  Two government documents were released in 2006 that addressed the local, state, and federal governments’ response to hurricane Katrina: “The Federal Response to Hurricane Katrina: Lessons Learned” by Frances Fragos Townsend, and “A Failure of Initiative” by the U.S. House Select Bipartisan Committee.  Frances Fragos Townsend states in the report that the federal government had many lessons to learn from the Katrina disaster.  The first lesson he points out is that “all federal agency personnel must understand their roles and responsibilities . . . [and] all must be aware of the situation on the ground and share a common operating picture when an incident occurs” (quoted in Menzel 2).  One reason why many U.S. citizens residing in the Gulf Coast were left without direct assistance for at least three days after the storm was due to deficient communication and initiative by local, state, and federally elected officials.

The House Committee Report connects the lack of initiative with the lack of leadership implying that “[a] failure of initiative is another way of describing a failure of leadership” (quoted in Menzel 4).  The report specifically addresses some of main players who lacked initiative and leadership during and after hurricane Katrina.  One of those singled out was Secretary of Home Land Security, Michael Chertoff, who was described as acting “late, ineffectively, or not at all” in carrying out necessary evacuation and relief plans (quoted in Menzel 5).  The House Committee Report also mentioned that The White House (and by extension the Bush Administration) failed to “de-conflict varying damage assessments and discount information that ultimately proved accurate” (quoted in Menzel 5). Louisiana State Governor Kathleen Blanco and New Orleans mayor Ray Nagin were also charged with failing to enact mandatory evacuation plans in a timely manner (Menzel 5).  Federal agencies, such as the Department of Home Land Security (DHS), were charged with not being familiar “with their roles and responsibilities under the National Response Plan and the National Incident Management System” (quoted in Menzel 5).  All of the aforementioned persons and agencies played significant roles in contributing to the devastating impact hurricane Katrina left on U.S. citizens.

Another major agency singled out in both reports was the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).  In 2003, according to a survey conducted by the Institute for the Study of Public Policy Implementation at America University, FEMA ranked last among twenty-eight federal agencies studied (Menzel 5).  The survey also reported that job satisfaction at FEMA began to quickly deteriorate in the early years of the Bush Administration (Menzel 5). Questions linger about FEMA’s lack of response during the Bush era considering that during the 1990’s FEMA was performing efficiently during emergencies (Ink 7).  FEMA (and other government agencies/agents) was informed at least two days prior to the storm, yet was unprepared when the storm landed on the Gulf Coast. That said, however; The House Select Committee report praised two federal agencies, the National Weather Service and the National Hurricane Center, for providing timely and valuable hurricane information.

Rampant blame among elected officials impeded recovery and relief efforts. The common goal of rebuilding lives was compromised when local, state, and federal representatives publicly accused one another for failing to respond.  Below are quotes from local, state, and federal officials directly, and indirectly, blaming others for lack of preparedness.

Yet, despite their best efforts, the magnitude of responding to a crisis over a disaster area that is larger than the size of Great Britain has created tremendous problems that have strained state and local capabilities. The result is that many of our citizens simply are not getting the help they need, especially in New Orleans. And that is unacceptable. (President George W. Bush, Think Progress).

I don't know if it's the governor's problem or if it's the President's problem, but somebody needs to get their ass on a plane and sit down the two of them and figure this thing out right now.  (Mayor Ray Nagin of New Orleans, “Ray Nagin Interview”).

What happened here was that essentially, the demolishment of that state and local infrastructure, and I think that really caused the cascading series of breakdowns. (Secretary of Homeland Security, Michael Chertoff, quoted in Shane).

The lack of long-term support from local, state, and federal governments not only resulted in political backlash but also caused many survivors and volunteers to lose confidence in government-sponsored relief organizations and legislation. Shelly, a survivor/blogger on Real People Relief (RPR), expresses her aggravation with the system (particularly FEMA) along with the hardships she faces as a single mother and survivor of hurricane Katrina.  The following excerpt was written on October 30, 2006, approximately one year and two months after the hurricane.

I have managed to do it on my own since the Hurricane. My husband left me in Jan. 2006 and took all our savings with him. I have managed by myself since then. Now I am trying to stop a foreclosure and keep my electricity on, but that doesn't see[m] to be happening. I had to give up a decent job, in order to be home with the kids at night. I have managed to get $348 from FEMA and finally got Food Stamps about 2 weeks ago (my husband helped with that when he turned me in, before I was not eligible because he would not pay child support), and my children have Medicaid. Other than that I have not recieved [sic] any assistance. I plan on having a daytime job soon, but not soon enough.

Another survivor/blogger, Elizabeth, writes how the storm has impacted her family.  The following excerpt was posted on November 23, 2007:

My oldest is 9 and sees a psychiatrist about twice a month for depression and self esteem issues. He had been missing for about 22 days because of hurricane Katrina and was found by someone who saw his picture posted on CNN***. He had been in 5 different schools in 3 different states for 2005 first grade alone. Since that time he still has nightmares, wets the bed, and becomes very homesick for our family and his things. He has more doctors and medication than I do.

My middle child is 2. She was 3 weeks old when the hurricane struck. Every baby items I had for her I left behind except for a few days worth of clothes and diapers and formula. Everything else, gone.

My youngest just turned 1 but she was born 10 weeks premature. She sees a physical therapist every week.

We had lost everything in 2005. Everything we have now is due to the kindness of strangers. However, recent events [referring to the death of a relative] have led us to become in need of help.

Shelly’s and Elizabeth’s revelations illustrate that despite the billions of dollars spent by FEMA and TANF (Temporary Aid for Needy Families), Katrina survivors, particularly women, face significant hardships; problems that require more than money to address. Even though RPR does not provide monetary funds equitable to government agencies like FEMA and TANF, the site acts as a virtual community allowing women and families to share their stories, network with others, and potentially find privately funded assistance in the process.

In May of 2007, Paul Greenberg, a regular contributing writer/scholar for Beyond Katrina (BK) and Gulf Coast resident expressed his views regarding the lack of governmental support in his POD article “Post Katrina: Flood of Broken Promises.”

I am not a whiner. I'm simply reminding. And, I am not alone in my frustration at the crooked road of broken promises that characterizes the Post-Katrina Gulf Coast of America. Keyword: AMERICA. We are Americans, not simply Gulf coast residents or New Orleanians, or Mississippians. We used to believe in the power and weight of a good promise from our legislators and leaders. And, more than anything, we so want to believe again, and to be treated with the respect and fairness we always took for granted as citizens in a true democracy.

Shelly, a survivor/blogger, and Paul, a professional journalist and scholar, both share their frustrations with government relief efforts (or lack thereof).  However, Shelly is faced with more complex circumstances because she struggles to find long-term assistance to support her family. The dwindling confidence from survivors articulated in RPR and BK is particularly significant as an historical narrative of the time, that is; through online spaces survivors of Katrina reveal ongoing frustrations with disorganized systems of governments.

As time goes on short-term governmental cash benefits to survivors quickly diminish.  The lack of long-term support from government agencies motivates women virtual volunteers and survivors to continue their efforts in seeking assistance and helping others beyond government (short-term) assistance, respectively.  The House/Senate bill H.R. 3672, the TANF Emergency Response and Recovery Act of 2005, was passed in order to provide additional monetary support for Katrina survivors residing in the direct impact states (Alabama, Louisiana, and Mississippi).  The bill allocated funds (in the form of loans) to each state accordingly: Alabama received $18.7 million, Louisiana received $32.8 million, and Mississippi received $17.4 million (Greenberg 1).

Additionally, the bill set up a contingency fund in order to reimburse non-direct impact states that assisted families from the direct impact states, like Texas for instance. These funds are considered loans.  However, the states are not required to pay interest on or repay the loans. The contingency fund was set at a non-recurrent short-term cash benefit of $1.9 billion for families directly impacted by hurricane Katrina (Greenberg 2).  In other words, the contingency fund was only a one-time cash benefit to survivors of the direct impact states.  As of 2007, many TANF families are still in need of monetary assistance as a direct result of hurricane Katrina.  According to FEMA’s website, a year after the storm the agency has spent approximately $4.2 billion in housing assistance which covers temporary housing, replacement and permanent housing construction.  Despite the billions of dollars spent, (and as the aforementioned blog excerpts illustrate), there are still many families in need as a result of being displaced.  Construction on “replacement” and “permanent” housing still continues.

Despite all of the (short-term) monetary contributions from FEMA and TANF, many women, especially single mothers continue to struggle to rebuild their lives years after the storm.  The need for further assistance perhaps proves that monetary support from governmental agencies is still not enough to replace all that has been lost financially and emotionally as a result of hurricane Katrina. Anna, survivor/blogger, shares her experience with struggling to rebuild her life after the storm.  The following excerpt was posted on December 12, 2006:

We evacuated right before Katrina. They brought us a FEMA trailer last winter right before the first real cold spell..[sic] and it was nice to have heat... but they took [the FEMA trailer back] several months ago.. so now we are back in our home.. and back to extra blankets and really quick showers!! brrr [sic] In a year I hope to be 1/2 way to a degree in Biotechnology and have the repairs we need taken care of! . . . . I am a single mother of 2 who has never been able to collect child support.. [sic] so you can imagine how i [sic] struggle in even the most normal circumstances!

Virtual volunteer resources, such as Real People Relief, are important factors in contributing to relief efforts for many women and single mothers outside of government assistance.  These online resources offer a place where individuals are given a voice to express their struggles as survivors of hurricane Katrina. Virtual communities offer many survivors the opportunity to access information that would not otherwise be provided by governmental agencies.  Though hurricane Katrina lasted less than twenty-four hours, the aftermath of the storm will continue to affect the lives of many families, particularly women and single mothers for years to come.

Women Virtual Volunteers: Gender Role Expectations and Domestic/Community Work

Social welfare and community work has historically been seen as the responsibility of women in the private sphere and thusly deemed women’s work.  Some women have been motivated to partake in community work as historically noted during the Industrial Revolution.  Arguably, a motivating reason for some women to value community can be based on patriarchal presuppositions of women’s roles in society.  Early on women were defined based on their status as a “domestic labor[ers]” (Abramovitz 107).  One significant result of the Industrial Revolution, and consequentially the Industrial Family Ethic, was the expectation of women to “reproduce [within] and maintain [the] household” (Abramovitz 107).  Around the same time in history, the expectation for women to “bear children, take care of family members, and manage household affairs” (Abramovitz 107) within the home was then extended to managing social welfare within the larger community.

Women began to change the definitions of volunteering by taking their private work into various public communities.  Further historical examples of women partaking in domesticated work within the larger community—(that is, privately funded and grossly underpaid community work)—are Jane Addams’ Hull House in the nineteenth century and Johnnie Tillmon’s  leadership work for the National Welfare Rights Organization (NWRO) during the 1960’s and 1970’s.  Both women were significant in “band[ing] together to resist [ineffective government legislation and] policies” (Nadasen 15) in order to help poor women and families.  Johnnie Tillmon’s work within the NWRO is similar to the work many virtual volunteers perform as it relates hurricane Katrina relief efforts.  Tillmon work and the work of virtual volunteers are both examples of blurring the lines between volunteers and survivors.  Tillmon was not only an activist and volunteer for welfare rights, but she was a welfare recipient.

As illustrated on Real People Relief, survivors of hurricane Katrina also volunteer time and resources to other families who have survived the hurricane,.  Below is part of an exchange between two survivors of hurricane Katrina, Alysia and Christa.

Hi Alysia, This is Christa. I had spoken to you a while ago. So you remember we both were waiting to get our daughters into Head Start. If that helps. [sic] Anyways, my daughter is three and is now growing out of her 2T clothes. I also have some 18m clothes here. Some are for the cold weather and some for warm. Most of them are in good condition and if you want them then let me know. I may have some shoes she can fit into as well. For your son I can ask my sister if she has any boy clothes in his size. Her son just turned 6 so she may still have some left.

Both volunteers and survivors are benefiting, to some extent, from donated goods/services, and time towards recovery efforts.  Though virtual volunteering might be considered “women’s work” based on historical characterizations, its definition also accounts for blurring the distinction between volunteer and those in need of assistance.

Though the work women do as virtual volunteers is significant to recovery efforts, the “women’s work” construction associated with virtual volunteering may function to devalue women's efforts in community organizing and recovery work. On one hand, women’s work in grassroots organizing has proven effective and even more reliable than government assistance.  Yet, on the other hand, defining community organizing simply as women’s work presents a one-sided story about women’s roles within, and value to her community--particularly a community in crisis.  Furthermore, without the work that women perform within these various virtual spaces, many survivors, particulalry those with children and families would not get the help they need and deserve.

In the case of Alysia and Christa, both women have “by necessity, devised complex survival strategies based on multiple and often unreliable sources of aid” (Neubeck and Cazenave 100) to support one another.  Both women used the blog as a way to network with other non-relatives to form “fictive kinships” (Davis 154).  Alysia takes on an “activist mothering” (Naples 11), or other-mothering (Collins 178) [5] role to further support Christa and her family. Alysia’s and Christa story in this virtual space is an example of how hurricane Katrina survivors have strategically orchestrated ways and means beyond government assistance.

The Yahoo! Group, Katrina’s Angles in Action Forum, is another illuatration women’s work in virtual volunteering.  In an email submitted by a forum member, Denise (director of Miracles of Hope) sent out a request for a prom dress for a young Katrina survivor.  Denise writes, “I have a specific request for a young lady who is a size 18 (stout) prom dress. She is wanting white.  She has no parents and is in the Katrina area.  Anyone who can help either through the actual donation of a dress or funds to give to her to purchase a dress please let me know.”  Though virtual volunteers are characterized according to static and normalized perceptions of gender, these women appear to be engaged in dynamic work that will enable many survivors, particularly young children to move on with their lives.

Technological Advancements and Accessibility to the Internet:  A Motivating Factor for Some, But Not for All

Leslie Holly, Janet Arp, Karen Iwicki, and Margaret Saizan have all innovated the way post-Katrina recovery volunteer work is carried primarily because they have access to the Internet.  Without the technological advancements of interactive blogs, forums, and websites virtual volunteering would not be as successful in helping many hurricane survivors around the country.  The widespread accessibility to the Internet for many grassroots organizers has launched volunteering into a new age of communication and networking.  Margaret Saizan’s website, Beyond Katrina, received a New Media award from the Society for New Communication Research for its innovative use of social media.  In her introduction blog, Margaret describes herself as a “citizen journalist” inspired by the horrific events of hurricane Katrina and motivated to make a difference with the accessibility to the World Wide Web.  Leslie, who describes herself as dis/abled in her introduction blog, understands that without the accessibility to the Internet, she would not be able to assist as much as she has since the storm hit the Gulf Coast.  Though she is unable to physically help rebuild communities in the southern regions, she makes it possible for other people around the world to help survivors using the information posted on Real People Relief.  Janet and Karen, of the Katrina’s Angels in Action Forum, take pride in knowing that information is being quickly disseminated by the use of listervs and message databases.  Even though Janet recognizes the tediousness of being “hunched over a keyboard” for hours at a time, she also acknowledges that without the accessibility to the Internet she could not help so many people simultaneously.

Though some volunteers and survivors of hurricane Katrina have access to the Internet, the reality is that many, specifically low-income women and families of color do not.  As innovative as virtual volunteering is concerning relief for hurricane Katrina survivors, a drawback is that in order to engage in virtual volunteering one must not only have (time to) access to the Internet but also know how to utilize a computer.  This “gap between those connected to the Internet and those not connected . . . between the information have and have-nots” (Steyaert 199), is most commonly referred to as the digital divide [6].  In the context of virtual volunteering, circumstances, usually economical, that prohibit survivors from accessing the Internet might also limit their access to potential benefits (and fundamental rights) that result from networking in a virtual space.  Even if one knows how to use a computer, s/he may not know how to navigate through blogs, websites, and forums. Further research must be conducted in order to investigate whether or not these families are getting just as much help as others through virtual volunteering.  A research challenge for anyone interested in looking at virtual volunteer communities concerns anonymity and identity on the Internet.  Unless a picture (and sometimes that is not even enough) or other details besides the written word are provided it becomes difficult to assess who is benefiting from virtual volunteering.  If there is an issue regarding differential access to the Internet based on race, class, and even age, one must question why this might be and more importantly figure out ways to make virtual volunteering beneficial to all those affected by hurricane Katrina.

Conclusion

The impact of hurricane Katrina will continue to affect the lives of many women and single mothers.  The lack of long-term government support will likely contribute to further hardships for many survivors and their families.  Virtual volunteers can perhaps lift some of the burden many survivors carry.  These volunteers may also work to provide support that goes beyond short-term monetary assistance from the government.  Virtual volunteers cultivate online spaces that provide refuge for women and families seeking resources, networks, and a voice.

Though the roles of women community activists in these spaces may be defined according to myopic definitions of women’s work within the domestic sphere, the jobs these virtual volunteers perform online and offline is significant to post-Katrina recovery efforts.  The World Wide Web has become a critical medium through which volunteers and survivors can participate in meaningful recovery efforts from providing childcare supplies to offering emotional support.  Though not everyone may have access to the Internet, it is my hope that virtual volunteering will continue to be an accessible form of twenty-first century community organizing and activism, and continue to innovate how citizens assist each other before, during, and after a crisis.

Thanks to Leslie Holly for providing additional research sources and helping me revise this essay.

Notes

[1]

In his book, Disaster Culture: Knowledge and Uncertainty in the Wake of Human and Environmental Catastrophe (2010), Gregory Button frames ‘natural’ and ‘unnatural’ disasters in the context of uncertainty, or uncertain political, economic, and social systems. Button writes, “Whether labeled ‘natural’ or ‘unnatural,’ disasters highlight the asymmetrical distribution of power and foreground the struggle of state, corporations, and human agency for the redistribution of power.” (p. 16). Hurricane Katrina may have been a nature-produced hurricane, but the devastation as a result of Katrina (i.e. inadequate infrastructure and failed first response efforts on the part of federal, state, and local governments) is arguably in part (wo)man-made.

[2]

Later in this essay I will explain how the accessibility of the Internet may be problematic especially when considering that not all people (especially low-income women of color) have access to the World Wide Web.

[3]

A blog is a virtual journal and editorial where people can interact with one another through textual, pictorial, and audio communication.  The blogs found on Real People Relief typically include journal entries and pictures from hurricane Katrina survivors and volunteers.

[4]

Patricia Hill-Collins defines standpoint theory in her book Black Feminist Thought: Knowledge, Consciousness, and the Politics of Empowerment as “a social theory arguing that group location in hierarchical power relations produces common challenges for individuals in those groups.  Moreover, shared experiences can foster similar angles of vision leading to group knowledge or standpoint deemed essential for informed political action” (300).  Collins’ use of standpoint theory is applied when analyzing the narratives of each survivor.  The information derived from the blog narratives fosters a deeper understanding of survivors’ epistemologies.  The blog narratives also help to incite political and social awareness as it relates to hurricane Katrina relief efforts.

[5]

In her book, Grassroots Warriors: Activist Mothering, Community Work, and the War on Poverty, Nancy A. Naples defines activist mothering as a type of “political activism [that is] a central component of mothering and community caretaking of those who are not part of one’s defined household or family” (11).  Patricia Hill-Collins defines othermothers in Black Feminist Thought as “women who assist bloodmothers by sharing mothering responsibilities” (178).

[6]

This essay was first written in 2007 when the digital divide (that is; the new communication technology access gap) was still a reality for many poor, urban communities and people of color. While the digital divide still exists, particularly in rural areas, it less emphasized in current research as is the digital literacy gap, which continues to impact low-income communities, rural communities, and people of color.

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