As my time in New Orleans draws nearer I find myself seeing and hearing NOLA everywhere. Whether it be in books, in stores or on my iPod it seems like everything is related to the journey my peers and myself are about to embark on.  However, nothing put things in perspective quite as much for me as a Jan Stanners article I came across on the Feminist Dating blog that she had penned for the first annual International End Victim Blaming Day (IEVBD). IEVBD came about through the Slutwalk movement which originated here in Toronto after a sexual assault occurred and during a press conference at a local university women were asked “not to dress like sluts” in order to avoid becoming assaulted in the future.

I have noticed this sentiment where the blame is placed on the victim or survivor and not on the perpetrator and find it so infuriating and illogical. Stanners does as well and made some excellent connections to Hurricane Katrina and the victim blaming that has occurred in New Orleans since.  She highlights how the government blamed those who did not evacuate, while not taking into account the means people have to have in order to evacuate.

This is exactly the impression that I had reached in researching more about Hurricane Katrina and the social inequalities I feel that it exacerbated.  I would like to further expand Stanners’ position and think of the Katrina survivors in the months that follow.  Not only have they experienced such massive and abrupt loss, but now this loss is being placed squarely on their shoulders during a time of rebuilding and grief—a time when they should be receiving apologies and reparations. 

I cannot help but think that this more than the system attempting to blame the victim in order to shift blame from themselves.  After all, if this was the case would the government not try to blame Mother Nature and the storm itself for the damage?  Instead they selected those who had been greatly disserviced by the state and in their moment of need and pain said “this is your fault”.  This to me is the state blatantly trying to gain control over and further marginalize those already experiencing inequality in society.  Not only is it sickening to think that any kind of organization with power would set out to do this, but the thought that they attempted to do so by praying on people who were experiencing an unprecedented amount of stress emotionally, financially and physically is utterly deplorable.    

This story is still unfolding in New Orleans now almost 7 years later and yes, victim blaming is still prevalent.  However, something big happened after the blame was placed on Katrina survivors…they said “no”…actually they said “HELL NO”.  The survivors refused to be blamed for life situations they did not cause, they stood up for themselves and their community and attempted to rebuild.  Is this a perfect story, one where the state realized their wrongs and fixed everything? No, it is not, but I feel that it is so much more than that.  It is more than that because the courage of those who stood up in their weakest moment to fight and who still continue to live through this is so inspiring.

This is how movements like ending victim blaming come about, through people who are not willing to entertain the unfounded idea that they made themselves victims.  These movements set a standard that tells those who take part in victim blaming that they are not going to be successful in deterring the growth of survivors.  These movements inspire others to unite and push back against victim blaming.  It is the movement that is happening in Katrina that has inspired 22 students from Toronto to become more aware of and work with the survivors in the fight to end this kind of victim blaming by providing growth and support, which takes away the blaming power of the state.

I am so excited to be a part of this movement and like I have mentioned before, I am so looking forward to meeting those who live in New Orleans and feel I have so much to learn from their courage, strength and perseverance.  They are proof that although you may not be able to avoid devastating life experiences, you have to power to push back against victim blaming and help yourself and others to achieve a standard of living that every human being deserves.

I’ll be blogging often during this trip, come follow my peers and myself on our journey to NOLA with LOVE!

-Natalie Morning