( Editor's Note: The following are texts of speeches delivered by Danny
Glover and Harry Belafonte at the Higher Ground Hurricane elief benefit
concert, an all-star jazz concert Live at Lincoln Center on Sept. 17, 2005)
John Coltrane once said, "The main thing a musician would
like to do, is to give a picture to the listener of the many wonderful things
he knows of and senses in the universe." When Miles Davis asked him
why he played so long, Coltrane answered, "It took that long to get
it all in."
New Orleans is the site of so many "wonderful things"
-- the city being a great crossroads of diverse peoples, languages, architectures,
cuisines, and rhythms through the centuries.But it has also been the site
of shameful things -- slavery, exploitation and neglect.
It is a tribute to jazz musicians that they sought to "get
it all in." The music itself -- vital, transformative, seductive, subversive
and often improvised -- provided the record that tied each generation to
the next. Out of suffering and hardship, we have heard time and again jazz
artists rediscover possibility. Such is the power of imagination. And hence,
the critical importance of this evening's effort.
When the hurricane struck the Gulf and the floodwaters rose
and tore through New Orleans, plunging its remaining population into a carnival
of misery, it did not turn the region into a Third World country, as it
has been disparagingly implied in the media; it revealed one. It revealed
the disaster within the disaster; grueling poverty rose to the surface like
a bruise to our skin.
But the storm not only revealed the poverty of those most
vulnerable, those left behind. It also revealed the poverty of skewed priorities
that put the shoulder of technology to the wheel of death rather than life,
creating killing machines that are now called "smart" and surveillance
systems that, in the words of the great Guyanese poet Martin Carter, "are
watching you sleep and aiming at your dreams."
Mother Nature revealed the poverty of a mindset that narrowly
views security as a military issue; that is blind to the role of culture
in sustaining the mental health and social wellness of people, which is
also the basis for economic productivity; blind to the role of culture in
education, through which we are prepared for our responsibilities in a democracy;
and hostile to the role of culture in the search for truth.
Hurricane Katrina revealed, more than anything else, a poverty
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, "True compassion
is more than throwing a coin to a beggar. It demands of our humanity that
if we live in a society that produces beggars, we are morally commanded
to restructure that society."
Let us challenge what we have been told was inevitable: Katrina
was not "unforeseeable"; the loss of life and suffering was not
"unavoidable." It was the result of a political authority that
subcontracts its responsibility to the private sector and abdicates responsibility
altogether when it comes to housing, health care, education and even evacuation.
As New Orleans rebuilds, let us also ensure that reconstruction
does not result in further victimization. Let us support the efforts of
those people in the Delta who have stated that they will not go quietly
into the night, scattering across this country to become homeless shadows
in countless other cities while federal relief funds are funneled into rebuilding
casinos, hotels and chemical plants. Let us ensure that those victimized
by this tragedy will be empowered to actively participate in the reclaiming,
rebuilding and improvement of their communities.
The gift of music is to bring people together, to create not
only a shared identity, but to embrace a shared humanity. To truly know
ourselves is to realize how we are connected to each other.
Many people this evening have described the beauty, the Creole
and spice, the gumbo that is New Orleans; the African roots, blues, gospel
and many other musical traditions that have come together to create that
uniquely American art form: jazz.
And the meaning of jazz, is life. Whether we receive it as
a blend of many notes reflecting diverse traditions, or as John Coltrane
might have it: as one note, played in endless variations.
Let us commit ourselves to the service of life.
Glover and Belafonte are representatives of the Vanguard Public
Foundation, which has established a People's Hurricane Relief Fund.
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the opinion of the author and is provided for educational purposes only.
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