In This Episode
Today on Hot Take is all about resilience—and the limits thereof. Mary talks with two fellow southerners – Ko Bragg, Scalawag’s Race & Place Editor, and Amal Ahmed, Disaster Reporter at Southerly. They discuss the uneasiness of today’s summers, the problems with individual responsibility and why “resilience” is almost never the right word.
Mary Annaïse Heglar: Hey, hotcakes. Welcome to Hot Take. I’m Mary Annaïse Heglar.
Ko Bragg: And I’m Ko.
Mary Annaïse Heglar: Oh, that’s right. You’re not Amy. Amy is out this week, but in her place we have the talented journalists and my Franco brag quotes help folks where you’re working on what you’re working on these days.
Ko Bragg: Sure thing. So my name is Ko. K-O, Ko. That’s it. I spell it so that you don’t add any extra letters very literally. Otherwise, I’m Cole and Nicole, and I’m none of those things.
Mary Annaïse Heglar: What about Coco Puff?
Ko Bragg: No, that’s.
Mary Annaïse Heglar: Not Coco Puff.
Ko Bragg: I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry. That’s at rest. Um. Yeah. So I’m the race in place editor at Scalawag, which is a nonprofit outlet that covers the South. We’re an abolitionist media. We’re reckoning with all things justice. And I am based in New Orleans, mainly. And but I love Mississippi, obviously, like Mississippi of everything Mississippi supremacist, which I know that might throw some something in the question for some folks who don’t know Blackman, Mississippi, but I’ll be happy to get into that later from editing a lot of things. Right now, my main focus is a series called Pop Justice at Scalawag, where we reckon with the intersection of pop, pop culture and the justice system and how like a lot of the things that we watch on TV and consume completely warp our understanding of all sorts of things. But especially what you think. So yeah. Doesn’t.
Mary Annaïse Heglar: I am so happy to have another Mississippian on this podcast. You have no idea how excited I am.
Ko Bragg: I think I have an idea though.
Mary Annaïse Heglar: You think so?
Ko Bragg: I think have an idea.
Mary Annaïse Heglar: Okay. I mean, I am also just going to note that you’ve also been published in The Atlantic and Harper’s Bazaar and plenty of other fancy places. And I have to tell you that I really love your piece about how fuck music turned you into an environmentalist. I really related to that.
Ko Bragg: Oh, thank you. Yeah, I would. It’s one of those pieces that came to be in the aftermath of Hurricane Ida, when there was just, like, a lot of things going on. And I just really was looking for I was really stressed out around the fact that like this level of devastation and like frequency of, like having to evacuate or response to like climate disaster was like our new reality. And I just really miss feeling nostalgic about like a period of time where, I don’t know, like our childhood, where summers were normal and like, things. It didn’t feel like the climate was really trying to kill us every other day. Yeah, I played a lot of music that my mom used to play growing up, and it kind of clicked, like listening Stevie Wonder and Earth, Wind and Fire and a lot of like that genre of music that like Marvin Gaye, etc. have been talking about protecting the planet. But like the environmental movement, like is mainly what at least in the era that they were in, was like a white hippie tree hugging movement. And yeah, didn’t really give room to a lot of the ways that, like black people were also like, first of all, at the center of a lot of like these crises, but like literally calling for like protecting the planet. And so I just wrote about that basically, and I think it’s put a pin in this, but it’s like interesting to me to like look at some of the things that are happening in Atlanta with Cop City. The city is like wanting to build like a cop training facility and like destroy a forest. And like, that’s what’s getting a lot of white people to care about the issue. But like across the street from historically black communities and like, there’s going to be people who are, like, literally affected by an increased police presence and like literally literal police training facility. And that wasn’t enough. But it seems that people care about the trees. But yes, I also care about trees, but I also care about black people. So it’s just been a kind of interesting thing to watch from, like something I’m hoping that, like, deal with that scalawag. But yeah, it’s like these things don’t end.
Mary Annaïse Heglar: Yeah, that’s so interesting. So I didn’t know that they were calling that cop city. And I’ve seen all of this graffiti all over New Orleans about Stop Cop City from NOLA to ATL, and now it’s clicking for me. So you and I met about a year ago in New Orleans, where we both well, where I’m living right now. And you’re so based. And one of the things that we bonded over, as we’ve already mentioned, is being daughters of the most beautiful and most misunderstood state in the union, Mississippi. And I think as black Southern women who live in a city like New Orleans, we kind of have a unique relationship with the word resilience.
Ko Bragg: Oh, I definitely have some hashtag gods.
Mary Annaïse Heglar: I know you do, but save them for just another couple of minutes because I don’t want today’s guests to miss them. Amal Amalgamated.
Ko Bragg: Yes. I’m so thrilled to be talking to them all. I literally have such a fan of her work. I saw her on Twitter and I just think like she’s one of those people that is like always like one of those people that’s been ringing the alarm word to be the save for years and years and years and years. And now all of a sudden like and I’m happy that people are coming along on this climate journey. And also, you’ve got to respect the people that have been like on this beat or like on this like path of movement, etc.. And I think like she’s actually one of those people that I’m like, Oh, I’m definitely going to keep bringing Amal because she’s been right and is, so yeah.
Mary Annaïse Heglar: With that, I think it’s time.
Ko Bragg: Let’s talk about climate.
Mary Annaïse Heglar: Welcome Amal. We’re so glad to have you join us.
Amal Ahmed: Yeah, thank you for having me.
Ko Bragg: Now, Amal, can you remind me where you’re working at these days?
Amal Ahmed: Yeah, for sure. So I have been freelancing since January and I’m actually going to be starting at Floodlight in August.
Ko Bragg: Oh, that’s awesome. Congratulations. I was like, love your freelance work and as like a, I guess I’m still freelancing. I completely understand the shift to something a bit more permanent. So yeah. And Floodlight’s doing great work. So that’s awesome.
Amal Ahmed: Yeah. Thank you.
Mary Annaïse Heglar: Wait, can you explain what what Floodlight is first? I know we’ve had Sara Sneath on before, but we didn’t really get into what it is.
Amal Ahmed: Yeah, so it’s an environmental investigative outlet and the model is sort of more collaborative, right? So every story that Floodlight publishes is about a local issue, you know, local environmental or climate issue. And those stories are published with local papers for local audiences. So I’ll be getting to do that work in Texas, focusing all over the state. But I think particularly the Gulf Coast and a lot of the oil and gas developments that are happening over here.
Mary Annaïse Heglar: So we’re all southerners here. You are based in Texas and CO and I are based in Louisiana. And this summer has been like kind of a kind of a doozy, at least, you know, weather wise and pretty much in any other other capacity. How’s your husband?
Amal Ahmed: Yeah. It is very hot, as you guys probably know. Yeah, it’s just been a miserably hot summer. It feels like every day we’re breaking all sorts of records and yeah, it’s just kind of watching. Watching those forecasts has been a it’s sort of like a live feed of climate change. It feels like.
Mary Annaïse Heglar: Yeah, I know that my air conditioner broke during the worse of the heat wave here in New Orleans. And this is kind of scary. This is not supposed to be this hot in June. Like this was like that late July heat, that August heat, but it was June. And that makes me really worried about the rest of the summer.
Ko Bragg: Yeah, I feel like even it feels really drastically hotter even than just last summer because I feel like I pay a lot of attention to my air conditioning unit because like, New Orleans is weird because I feel like it just gets hotter. Like around three or 4 p.m. is like when it’s really like, okay, we’re cooking now. Yeah. There’s a moment where my A.C. is just like, I feel like there’s no temperature on it any more. It’s just like, baby, I’m doing my best, like, sweetie. So I set it to, like, a in the summer, like on a really hot day. I’ll do like 74 because I know it’s not going to get to any cooler. But then there’s a moment where I just watch it and it’s just like 75, 76, 80, and then eventually it starts to cool back down. But this is happening much earlier in the summer than it has the other two summers that I’ve lived in this whole in particular in New Orleans. And I’m just really nervous about what that means for the Gulf and for hurricane season and just for like general survivability in the heat. Like, it’s just so frustrating, like hot. Like I feel like I go outside to get my meal and I feel like I’m melting. Like I feel my brain suffering.
Mary Annaïse Heglar: Yeah. I mean, and only you can only drink so much water, you only paying yourself so much until, like, this sort of heat, you know, it takes a toll on you no matter what you do.
Ko Bragg: I if I can. I know, like, Texas is wild with the heat and, like, the, like, blackouts that are, like, looming, which is very scary, like, for people not to have power during the heat as wild.
Amal Ahmed: Yeah. I mean, we’ve been I’ve been sort of watching that all day. And, you know, we got those alerts this morning that the, you know, ERCOT, which is the grid provider in Texas, would probably be doing conservation alerts and whatnot. And so far, it’s it’s held out so far. Right. So, you know, folks have been asked to turn their thermostats up and not run loads of laundry during the day. Right. All of that so far so good across.
Mary Annaïse Heglar: The entire state.
Amal Ahmed: Yeah. Uh huh. And you know, this is, I think pretty typical for summer, right? Like to see an alert like this is not all that unusual because when you’ve got every single home in the state turning on their air conditioning at the same time, you know, for hours on end because it’s 105 degrees outside, like this is something we’ve definitely seen. But I think what’s different now is that people are so scarred from what happened in February 2021. Right. That even an alert like that feels a lot more ominous. Right. And certainly, you know, this early in the summer and this much heat is is concerning. So there are, you know, definitely questions about what might happen later in the summer, considering that, you know, we’re breaking all these energy demand records like almost daily rate.
Ko Bragg: Yeah, that’s scary because it’s like the winter that like February freeze and like the grid failing essentially is super scary. But it’s like Texas. It’s like if anything, Texas is designed ostensibly to withstand heat. But if the heat is also becoming a threat, then it’s like we really think about some solutions here. It’s like, Yeah.
Mary Annaïse Heglar: Yeah, yeah, because you can only be so resilient. And so, yeah, we’re, we’re going to get into what does resilience mean and what does it not mean. Very quick, I want to talk about you know, I remember when summer used to be fun, like when I was a kid. I look forward to summer. I still kind of look forward to it. But it’s also kind of become this this season of trepidation, especially if you live anywhere near the climate change danger zones, which we all do. So first, I want to talk about the wildfire projections. So in 2021, there were more than 8600 wildfires and they burned 2.6 million acres, which kind of feels like a lot. And the forecast models for 2022 are not good. Most of the U.S., West and Southwest is under drought conditions, and that’s not limited to the western Great Plains. Florida also has above normal fire potential along with Hawaii. And let’s not forget the wildfire in Tennessee earlier this year. And there’s also a pretty high fire potential in Alaska so far, the year to date acres. Earned in the United States is approximately 220% above the ten year average, and that’s with 92% of that having happened in Alaska, which I don’t know about you all, but I haven’t really heard much about Alaska and fires. So yeah, it’s going to get a lot worse than what we’ve already heard about with the New Mexico fires. I heard there’s that. Another fire happening right now in Yosemite in California. So, yeah, all of that kind of a summer, a difficult time to look forward to. And that’s without even going to get to the the hurricanes.
Ko Bragg: Yeah, it’s a lot. And I just I feel like I remember my aunt. She’s been in San Francisco like my whole life and she’s an environmentalist. She works for the state. And like she 100% was one of those people that was like, you take an army shower in my house like you out of the soap up and you like, turn the water off. You let that water hit you and you get out. I’m like, Yeah, girl, I’m just gonna shower when you leave because there’s no way I’m doing, like, that’s intense. And I just remember growing up and being like, you’re so intense. And, like, part of it was like California then with, like, has the, like, drought warnings or what? They would be under a drought, but it would be like limited. It wouldn’t be like feels like California now is like always a drought. But I just always thought like she was so extreme. And now she’s one of those people where I’m like, damn, I’m like, you bearer. I am like, Yeah, I’ll take I’ll take a military shower and I will, I will. Like, I get it. But it just is getting worse and worse. And I just like the last time I visited her was like fire season and it was just like you couldn’t buy masks and it felt like it was like a precursor to the pandemic when like, minus and everything’s super scary, but like, everything is so much more intense and it’s like it feels like you’re a doomsday prepper to say, like, literally everything is doomed, but like, it kind of is. And that feels really scary, but and it also feels scary like being a New Orleans homeowner, because not only has hurricane season started earlier, it now starts June 1st. And it used to really be like a later summer thing. Like even the hurricane season technically started in July. It was like, Yeah, but the storms aren’t really going to hit. Like if we get hit with one. And it used to be like a few, maybe one or two, it would be like an August thing. And now we’ve already had like three named storms, which puts us ahead, not us being New Orleans, but like in terms of like this hurricane season, even three named storms which like usually, like I said, don’t cross that threshold until August 3rd. And in 2021, there were an ominous 21 named storms. And there, which is like more than the 14 the previous year. So like we are getting more big storms. I remember like my first year living in New Orleans was 2020 and that summer felt so intense because you have the pandemic obviously like this is pre vaccine and then you just have a constant like, oh, this storm’s coming, this storm’s coming. Oh, and then it would like a storm would turn. And then we just kept getting. It was just a really stressful time to just have to feel like you’re constantly preparing for what could be the worst, because these storms are like not just coming, but they’re getting more intense at the last minute. So if you do want to evacuate or you do want to board up something, you might not have the time to make those extra preparations once a storm goes from like a three to a four. So yeah, for this year we’re looking at like 14 to 21 named storms and 6 to 10 hurricanes. 3 to 6 category five storms are possible, which Ida was a four and I was a badass. So I’m really trying to see. I don’t want that for anybody. With the way that we’re talking about heat, this golf is so hot already and I’m just really praying for us.
Mary Annaïse Heglar: Yeah. I mean, yeah. So Ida was a four. Zeta was a three. Katrina was a three. Like, these things are not a yeah, these things are not a game at a one or two level. One. One quick note, though, because I know somebody is going to say it. The 2020 hurricane season was the most active hurricane season, but there were 14 hurricanes in it. So I know somebody is going to catch that, but. Yeah. So. Yeah. Amal, you’re not on the Gulf Coast, are you?
Amal Ahmed: No, I am pretty far inland in Dallas, so very landlocked.
Mary Annaïse Heglar: But I know you do a lot of reporting on on the Gulf Coast for hurricanes. And so how long have you been doing that, that work?
Amal Ahmed: Yeah, that’s a good question. You know, I think ever since I really started in journalism, right, like my first internship, it was at Texas Monthly, the year that Hurricane Harvey hit. Right. And so, you know, that was sort of the tail end of my internship. And that involved a lot of like figuring out who we could talk to and compiling like resources and stuff for the big feature that they were going to run on on Hurricane Harvey. And then, you know, I did a piece on like the pollution shut down. So ever since then, right. Like five years, five years running, it feels like. Yeah.
Mary Annaïse Heglar: Yeah. I feel like you must have seen a lot of change in the way that we talk about hurricanes in that amount of time.
Amal Ahmed: You know, I think for my work and what I wanted to focus on, like, I mean, it was I mean, post Harvey, right? Like that’s what most of my work has really been informed by and sort of the, the really long pathways that people face to fully recovering and the environmental justice issues that, you know, come up with everything from like housing codes to, you know, building in floodplains and, you know, segregation and all of that. Right. And the way that all of these are sort of. You know, in there intersect with hurricanes in disaster recovery. So, I mean, I think just that a lot of my work has focused on that just because that’s been such a big story. Right. Like even this many years after and then, you know, two years after Harvey Houston was hit by Hurricane Irma, our tropical storm Imelda. Right. Which was major flooding just two years after Harvey. Right. So a lot of the same folks would barely started to dig themselves out of that, you know, back to square one.
Ko Bragg: Yeah, I know. You said you’ve only been I would say only, but like you spent the last five years doing this and five years, like in a lifetime isn’t that long. But in terms of what it’s like, I feel like the increasing amount of disasters, hurricanes, etc. in this region, like five years is a lot because I’ve been in the U.S. for two and I feel like I have weathered a lot and I haven’t been here that long.
Mary Annaïse Heglar: I feel like five years ago is about when we started to see the storms that really scared people. It made them take climate change seriously, like Maria and Harvey and Irma. So yeah, I feel like I’ve seen the discourse change a lot. I don’t really think people paid enough attention to the environmental justice implications of this before, before those sorts of storms and before work like yours. So yeah, I think it’s changed a lot. Yeah.
Ko Bragg: So since we’re all like very disaster prone living in these amazing, amazing, amazing places, I wouldn’t trade where I live in the world for the world, but nope. It also means that we have a lot of preparation to do and we face a reality that I think it’s not only easier to deny, but that a lot of people have been denying or think that won’t affect them in the same way. And I just think that there’s a realism on the Gulf Coast in particular because it is ground zero in so many ways. So I’m super curious as part of your hot girl, Summer, because it is hot, but what have you been doing to prepare for the disasters that are likely looming? Unfortunately.
Amal Ahmed: Wait, was that for me or for Mary?
Mary Annaïse Heglar: It’s for you.
Ko Bragg: Let’s go to any hot girl in a disaster zone.
Amal Ahmed: Yeah. I mean, you know, being in Dallas, obviously, hurricanes are not an issue. Like if we get flooding, it’s like street flooding. So it’s it’s not super common here. But I mean, this morning, you know, when you see the ERCOT alerts, like I went to the grocery store across the street, I got ice, I got water, I texted my dad and I was like, hey, did you did you do the same thing right? Have you got canned food? Because that’s really what a power outage, you know, in the summers. That’s probably the only thing you really can do, right? Aside from trying to figure out where are the nearest cooling shelters, like where can I go if the power goes out? Right. Because, you know, as it gets hotter inside your house, it’s really dangerous. Right? You’re at risk of like hypothermia and heat stroke and all of that. So knowing sort of what are the risk factors, what are the signs of heat exhaustion like? Those are all really important, right? I think in terms of preparing. But yeah, certainly not a hurricane where you can also, you know, board up your house or something like that. There’s not too much you can do. Right?
Mary Annaïse Heglar: Yeah. Yeah. So as for me, I just recently had to have a whole back and forth with Geico to make sure that my renters insurance policy is up to date. One of the things that gave me the most anxiety around Ida was that I had been lazy and I hadn’t signed up for renters insurance by then. It turns out they cut off when you can sign up for a policy when they see a disaster coming. So that gave me consternation. So anyway, I took care of that. I just my power went out just recently for a few hours because, you know, that’s New Orleans and that’s the thing that happens. And I realized I don’t have any flashlights in the house, so I need to fix that. I need to get some more water. And just like standard disaster survival supplies, I need to get in my house and I need to put some more thought into my evacuation route because at some point I’m going to have to evacuate. So what about you, co as the homeowner in the group, what have you done?
Ko Bragg: Okay, so I have to make a confession. So for this hurricane season, I will not be in New Orleans. I am renting my house out. This is breaking news, by the way. So this is news. Haven’t really told many people this. So yeah I’m renting my house out right now. And part of the things that I’ve been doing it to prep the house is like when I walked this woman through, I was like, Hey, so these are the things that you need to move inside when, not if, but when there is a named storm in the Gulf and it is heading towards us. And I’ve been doing all these home repairs and I feel like everyone is suddenly like, Oh, shoot, like all the things that broke during Ida like could break more during this next hurricane season. So I’ve been like. Bullying my contractor a little bit to be like, so you go back to my friends or are you going to do this? Or Do I have to send somebody to come get you? Like, what’s going on? So a lot of those things I put off a lot of the repairs until now, honestly, which I know from the hammering in my neighborhood, I’m not alone. There’s still a lot of blue tarps in the city, but I have seen less and less. I feel like people are just trying to throw pennies together, do whatever they can to like, try to make things as prepared as you can right before the inevitable. And so, yeah, I’m kind of dripping out and I feel I think I should feel guilty. And I do. But I honestly feel like Hurricane Zeta, which was in 2020, it was a Category three storm. It was going to be a two. But at the last minute it escalated to a three. And I thought I could write out of two. And I was by myself with my dog in a new city. And the power went out and I’m scared of the dark on a regular they are. So I just thought, yeah, I’m with the dark think TV on. I have always been afraid of the dark and my big age as I’m about to be 29. And I’m still afraid that that really struck me out. And obviously I was like very drunk as well. And I just, you know, I’m going to leave. I’ll be back. But I just I’m thinking about obviously like having a home there makes it makes me have to like I still have preparations to make. I still have to make sure this person who’s living in my home is, like, safe and knows, like, this is the route you should take. And these are the things that here’s the flashlights that are in the bedside table. Here are the candles. And like, it’s kind of an interesting perspective to be doing it sort of in this like third party way to make sure that someone else is safe and like I’m away from it. So I’ll be curious to see what that distance feels like because the distance, when I evacuated after Ida was really like it was. It was difficult in its own way, right? Yeah. But I think being completely removed from the city, from the region is going to be additionally interesting and I’ll probably be documenting cross writing about it. But yeah, I’m not dealing with hurricane season directly this year and I know that that doesn’t mean that it goes away, that like the dangers go away. But I feel a little bit at peace with knowing that like this year I don’t have to, like, keep gas in my car, like, make sure I’m always changed at all times in case I just have to get up and go. So I did that a lot in 2021, driving to my parents house at any because I was like, I’m not doing enough Zeta, I’m not going to be hurt.
Mary Annaïse Heglar: You just reminding me I need to get my oil checked. So thank you for that. Cause during Ida I did not have a car, so I was just like at the mercy of kind souls, including people like Ko, to get out of town in time. And I’ve decided I will leave for two. Once I hear two, I’m leaving. For folks who don’t live in hurricane zones, normally people do not leave for a one or two. They definitely don’t leave for a tropical depression. But what Ida taught us is that today’s storms are not yesterday’s storms, and they can go from a two to a four real fast, like Ida turned into a monster from just like a weird group of clouds and 36 hours. The globe is only gotten hotter since then. So there’s only there’s so many limits to how resilient you can be in the face of all of this. And that’s that’s what we’re here to talk about, so many facets of resilience. But first, I want to acknowledge that that is a loaded term down here in the Gulf Coast and probably in plenty of other places, too. So for y’all, what’s the first thing that comes to mind when you hear the word resilience? Amal, let’s start with you.
Amal Ahmed: Yeah, that’s a good question. You know, I think every community sort of defines it differently for themselves, right? So for some folks, that might mean like a physical resilience. Like my house is elevated, I have home insurance, like I have all the tools I need so that if the worst case scenario passes, like I know how to bounce back, great. For other folks. It means they’ve got a community to draw on, right? They’ve got these networks like they know who to call, they know who to check on. They know how to get people out of the neighborhood. Right. Yeah. So it’s interesting, you know, again, because I don’t live in a in a hurricane zone, but having talked to so many people in different parts of the Gulf Coast, like it just seems like everyone’s got their sort of own personal definition of that.
Ko Bragg: Mm hmm. Yeah. I’m glad you told them all to go first. Where were you when you were like, Oh, what comes to mind when you hear resilience? I’m like, racism. Like, I almost I know my self control and have been since I got my secondary report card that said, this girl can read but she ain’t got no self-control. Still true.
Mary Annaïse Heglar: Oh wow.
Ko Bragg: Still true. But there’s a microaggression there. There’s some race, there’s some anti-blackness there. And that’s what I hear.
Mary Annaïse Heglar: Are you still salty about that from the second grade?
Ko Bragg: But that’s crazy because I’m talking about it applies to both the report card and resilience. I feel the same way. I feel like you need to just just go ahead and say the quiet part out loud. Right. Right. You are saying to me what I hear is like, oh, I just hear it in this. Like, this is a voice. I hear it. Oh, they’re just so resilient down there, aren’t they? They’re just so resilient. No, they speak so well. Oh, you said so eloquently, this girl, she can relate. It’s like, oh, that’s what I really feel. Because it just implies that like, you are you are a rubber band. We’re going to stretch you out to your max and you’re going to bounce back and everything. And that’s just what you do. That’s what your people do. And yeah, that’s true. That’s what black southerners have been doing will continue to do. But it’s, I think, to your point, a mall, it’s different when a community is calling themselves resilient, because I think what they what I’m hearing in that is like we are resistant to the forces that are trying to whatever whether it’s the climate or the people who are supposed to be supporting us. And it’s different when you have an outsider, whether it’s the North or people who don’t understand the South in particular, who are like, Oh, y’all are so resilient. It’s like you are expecting us to continue to endure this and and continue to bounce back into shape and to shucking job and be happy with whatever little handouts we get, whether it be a president throwing paper towels or some little blue tarps on our roofs. It’s like it’s not enough. And it’s also not okay for you to continue to point at certain or feel good about yourself because certain communities continue to get the short end of the stick and they are making grits out of it. Look at them. Stir the pot. It’s annoying. I can’t take it.
Mary Annaïse Heglar: Yeah, yeah. I mean, I think, you know, it’s important to acknowledge that, you know, this happens to the Global South just as much as the U.S. South and also to like to California and other places. They’re disaster prone. It’s like, look at this horrible thing that happened to these people, but don’t worry about them because they’re resilient. They’ll get through this.
Amal Ahmed: There was they.
Ko Bragg: Say that about Malibu when Malibu when the fires were coming, where we, like all those rich people are so resilient. Like, of course we’re resilient. You have money. Like, I just feel like there’s a certain coldness that happens when it’s like people who are not moneyed and people who are not white, they beat up. It’s like, I didn’t hear that about now you just say, Yeah.
Amal Ahmed: I mean, I think there’s a there’s a real difference between what people project on to certain communities resilient and how a community thinks of themselves. Right. And I think that’s exactly like yeah, like, you know, I think that a lot of yeah, like rich white people and policy spaces or something. Right. Might have a very different idea of resilience and how that needs to look in a community that doesn’t always translate to anything tangible for the folks that live there. Right.
Mary Annaïse Heglar: Exactly. Exactly. I think often resilience is used as this kind of catchall to responding to a disaster. And it it can mean so, so many different things. And yeah, it’s it’s almost never the right word. And speaking speaking of which, watch what vegetable can tie your stomach in knots.
Ko Bragg: And not so. Oh, no. What is it.
Mary Annaïse Heglar: String beans.
Ko Bragg: I don’t get it. Oh. Okay.
Amal Ahmed: That’s a good one. That’s a good one.
Mary Annaïse Heglar: It’s a thinker.
Ko Bragg: L-O-L.
Mary Annaïse Heglar: It’s a thinker. Okay, whatever.
Mary Annaïse Heglar: [AD].
Mary Annaïse Heglar: So a lot of the time when people say resilience, I think what they really mean is abandonment. And I think that goes even from the federal government to the states. I’m sure that y’all probably know more about this than I do. But this past March, Louisiana just got granted more than 1.7 billion of relief funds for the 2020 hurricane season. While I think people are like really glad to get this money, it comes two years after the season and places like Lake Charles got absolutely pummeled by the storms like Laura and Delta. And they didn’t escape Ida either. And then they had all these different floods and the pandemic, which people like to act as like it’s over. And the Louisiana Coalition I talked about this on a previous episode. They tried hard to get these funds and they got like all of these convoluted bureaucratic battles and one of which was specifically thwarted by Rand Paul. So like just an extra fuck you to him one more time. Just to remind folks, Lake Charles is 50% black and it’s already lost a good portion of its population in some places like Houston and Dallas. And more than 300 commercial buildings have been condemned since Laura. And many streets in the city’s historically black north side are still roughshod and covered with potholes, even to this state. Yeah, there’s no question there. That’s just a bunch of that’s a litany of awful facts.
Ko Bragg: Yeah, that’s really frustrating because I think in a lot of people in public memory, 2020 feels like an extremely long time ago. Like when you think about where you were, like when the pandemic first started, that was like a really long time ago both. And just like the feeling of, you know, I think most people are behaving differently in terms of like the pandemic, we have vaccines, etc., like obviously. Yeah. And so just to imagine that like months after the pandemic began, there were these storms that completely changed the game for Lake Charles and the surrounding areas. And folks there have not been able to recover. And they’re just now getting funds which like if the funds were just approved by the federal government, they’ll get nothing. They don’t have direct deposit. So yeah I’m saying my theory is they’re not. Yeah. And that money probably for this hurricane season and if they do then it’s like there’s another season on top of there’s two seasons in between. So guess what? This is what the this is what the best our government has to do then. Yeah. What you’re saying about resilience is abandonment. It’s like you better be resilient because we’re not coming to save you and we’re not really got no money for you. And when we do, I don’t even know how it’s really going to help because you have to piece it together. Live in a trailer, live in a tent, move like it’s insane.
Amal Ahmed: Yeah.
Mary Annaïse Heglar: I mean, and it goes beyond that to like in 2013, every senator and representative from Texas voted against the recovery package for Hurricane Sandy. And then, you know, the East Coast politicians accused the Texas delegation of hypocrisy after they pushed through billions of dollars of aid after Hurricane Harvey. And it’s just like this, like bickering in Washington while people on the ground are like suffering.
Ko Bragg: With giving Ted Cruz. When where to my guy go to Mexico. Yeah, like give me a break.
Mary Annaïse Heglar: I don’t know. And then at the same time, we’re declaring more disasters than ever in 2022 so far, which may be where in July we’ve declared 23 disasters and 2021 there were 56, 2020 that were 47. And Mark, can you explain what exactly it means to declare a disaster and what they’re supposed to trigger?
Amal Ahmed: Yeah, I this kind of reminds me the, you know, the piece that I wrote for Southerly explaining how disaster declarations and money works. Great. The researcher I spoke to said and this all kind of stick with me, right? She said. I asked her like, you know, how do we fix this? Like, how do we fix this so that we don’t have a two year delay between a hurricane hitting and folks getting money? And, you know, the answer is, obviously, there’s there’s not one solution, but she’s like the current way it works is just like death by a thousand paper cuts, right? Like everything has to be like just, you know, relitigated in Congress and this and that. And like, it takes forever, right, to get push money through from the federal government all the way to the people that need it most straight. So I think that’s the most helpful way to think of this whole process, right? It’s just, yeah, death by a thousand paper cuts because even as a homeowner or a renter, you’re going to have to fill out all this money just to get approved for any of it to begin with. Like to actually see any of it. Right. There’s just a million forms and yeah, it’s it’s really unfortunate. This is the way it works.
Mary Annaïse Heglar: Yeah. So the way it works is that it doesn’t work is essentially.
Amal Ahmed: Yeah, I mean, so, you know, the first thing is if you’re going to get money from FEMA or through the federal government, there has to be a presidential disaster declaration. Right. So what that means is there’s a certain threshold at which the federal government steps in because the state government or the local government can’t, you know, sufficiently help folks rebuild or, you know, address the infrastructure problems. Right. So that involves getting these like free assessment surveys. Right, and figuring out what the damage is. And once those are in, you can get a disaster declared and sometimes those are expedited, right? Like when you think of a storm like Ida or something, like nobody’s going to you know, everyone knows that that’s such a huge disaster that like the state of Louisiana cannot fix that themselves. Right. So in some cases, they are expedited and you get like an immediate disaster declaration which allows FEMA to start working in that state. Right. And to do sort of the immediate aid that’s needed. But, yeah, that disaster declaration is is the only way that a state can get federal funds for more long term recovery. Right. Whether that’s rebuilding homes and infrastructure or whether that’s thinking about long term mitigation projects. Right. So flood control, dams like roadway improvements, all of that, things that are designed to reduce risk in the future that also comes out of a disaster declaration. Right. So that money takes even longer to get disbursed. Right. So that’s a lot of what we’re seeing in Houston. If you’ve been following with the state of Texas this decision to distribute these mitigation dollars. Right. In a way that was discriminatory.
Mary Annaïse Heglar: No, I haven’t heard about this.
Amal Ahmed: Oh, well, I can certainly fill you in on it, if I’m very curious. Yeah. So, again, this goes back to just how convoluted this process is, right? So for Hurricane Harvey, there’s a huge pot of money that housing and urban development had for Texas. Right. The state agency, the General Land Office, is the one that distributed that money. Right. So they get to decide which projects they’re funding through this big pot of money. Right, for mitigation projects. The state of Texas gets to design its own application process that local officials apply to. Right. So they have projects that they want to build that could be anything from like wastewater treatment plants maybe, or like water infrastructure or flood control. All of these projects, they, you know, that people get to apply to it. And the way that the state of Texas designed their criteria and scoring essentially started giving money to communities that were hardly affected by Harvey at all. Right. So the city of Houston, Harris County. Right. Which is a big urban community. You know, one of the largest urban areas in America. So obviously a lot of folks who could benefit from those projects. Port Arthur, which is an industrial town that’s, you know, like Lake Charles, majority black, lower income working class town on the Gulf Coast. That also was severely impacted by Harvey. Corpus Christi, you know, all of these kind of areas of the coast that have more people of color and have more low income folks. Right. That could really benefit from from these projects that would address climate change. They all got zeroed out. Right. And this money went out to these rural communities and wealthier areas that, you know, technically could probably have found a different source of funding besides Harvey mitigation funding for some of these projects. I’d definitely encourage you all to look at whoever is listening. The Houston Chronicle has a lot of really great reporting on this that goes much more in depth. And my quick summary here. Yeah, eventually folks in Houston sued the state and HUD has found that, you know, Texas discriminated in those decisions and they’re going to have to sort of redo a lot of that and figure out how to not discriminate in the second round of funding that they’re supposed to open up. Right.
Mary Annaïse Heglar: Are you optimistic?
Amal Ahmed: I mean, it’s Texas, right? So. Well, we do have an election, right? So we do. Actually, this year, the general land office commissioner is up for reelection. So do with that information what you will.
Ko Bragg: I mean, like I’m always here for like I. But when is in quotation marks, y’all? I like a win like that. Right. Because it also there’s just like an incredible amount of, like, labor. And I just honestly, I don’t believe in our courts, but that’s another thing for another day. But I just like what I’m thinking about is like when you have this lack of a cohesive disaster response at the top, like at the governmental level, then that means like households, individual communities, all these different efforts of like just like the social fabrics that we so like that’s how we get through disasters, essentially. And so I would love to hear from you a mall about like. Really? Like, this is not a trick question. Who gets hurt the most when the responsibility is placed on individual shoulders? Right. Like when it’s like folks like my neighbors who are having to figure out how like their best recourse. And a lot of I mean, and frankly not me starting answer my question, but like, you know, a lot of these resources are not easily accessible. Like, it is very hard to find out how to like when you’ve been wronged, like, and when you’re in the thick of like, there’s a hole in my roof, like how to take the best path. So, yeah, I’m super curious about all those work. I just that.
Amal Ahmed: Yeah, I mean, there’s a lot of structural issues, right, in the way that disaster relief works. You know, I think if you the most basic thing is like you have to show ID, you have to show proof of residence, you have to show all these documents. So for a lot of folks and immigrant communities or, you know, who are undocumented themselves, like that’s just a nonstarter. Right. So you’re not seeking help from the government in that case. Right. You know, there are some aid programs which, you know, they’re they’re not supposed to ask or they’re not allowed to ask about your immigration status, how that plays out. You know, if you’re in rural Texas, I don’t know. But, you know, that obviously is something that folks have a lot of fear of if you’re a renter. Right. If if you’re a renter, you are just automatically not going to get a lot of the aid. The way that disaster relief works in America is, you know, it helps homeowners. Homeowners get all the money to repair their houses and to do all these projects and, you know, get reimbursements and whatnot. So you’re not going to be able to do that as a renter. Right. You’re at the mercy of your landlord. So if your landlord doesn’t want to fix it, you’re just at the mercy of the person that owns the house. Right. And, you know, even for homeowners, when you think of lower income folks, homes that have been passed down and inherited and there might be like 17 people that technically have a stake in the House and, you know, it used to be that you needed to prove all of the ownership and all of that. And FEMA has changed that actually this year so that heirs, property owners can actually have an easier time of applying this year.
Mary Annaïse Heglar: Oh, that’s good.
Amal Ahmed: So that was a huge that’s a huge issue. Right. You know, you had to have like a deed to the House, but in a lot of actually historically black communities, that was not how homes got passed down. Right. It was just sort of understood. Right, that this is now my house because my mom lived here. But if you didn’t have a deed, you were out of luck when you were trying to apply to FEMA. You know, a lot of times if you are not caught up on your property taxes or if you don’t have flood insurance, if you don’t have homeowner’s insurance, you’re not getting anything back out of these programs that you didn’t pay into. But those premiums can be very steep. Right. I think a lot of people don’t always realize that homeowner’s insurance and flood insurance are separate. So if you have homeowner’s insurance and your house floods because of a storm, you’re not getting any money for that damage. Right, because that is not covered by a normal homeowner’s policy. A homeowner’s policy typically covers like, okay, a pipe in my house burst and then the house flooded. But if the water comes in from outside, you’re out of luck. Those are all issues. Right. And in some cases, we’ve talked to folks that are it’s like it’s just so expensive to elevate a house. So your house floods and like you might be able to get money to elevate the house, but you’re not getting enough to do the full thing. Right? Like it maybe covers a fraction of it. But what you’re paying is maybe more than the house is worth, right? So for a lot of folks, that’s just not something they can afford. There’s sort of an endless litany of like structural barriers to how you access this type of aid. And even I didn’t even talk about like Internet access, right? Like if you’re elderly, if you don’t know how to access the Internet and you don’t know how to submit all these claims to FEMA, like especially in the pandemic, like the agency wasn’t sending, you know, people on the ground to do this work. So you were sort of out of luck if you didn’t know someone who could help you do that or to take photos of your house before disaster. Right. So you could send them to an insurance claim, right? Like. You know, that involves a level of tech savviness or Internet connection or a smartphone, which not everyone has. Yeah.
Mary Annaïse Heglar: Yeah. Just earlier today, my mother’s air conditioner was not working right and called her insurance company to try to get them to send someone over there. And they were like, well, you need to do a video call with us. And I was like, actually, I don’t live there. And no one who does has a smartphone. And it just took forever to get them to understand that not everyone has a smartphone. I actually think it’s kind of hard to get flood insurance in New Orleans. Is that right?
Ko Bragg: Oh, I don’t have it. And I don’t have it because I’m not in a flood zone. And I’m just like, basically the way I’ve approached homeownership is just like crossing my fingers. And I think I mean, like, my street doesn’t fly. Like, you know, there’s parts of New Orleans that flood every time there is a rainstorm. And what I’ve learned is that like flood insurance really only covers my houses raised as well. But like flood insurance only covers damage from flooding. The odds of my house flooding are a lot lower than there being some sort of wind damage and all these other things that are baked into homeowners insurance in general. So like most of the damage that you get in a hurricane is like obviously there can be flooding. Not saying that’s not possible, but if you’re not in a flood zone or whatever that that’s called, I’m a joke, actually. And then like you’re the most important thing that you have is like coverage from like a tree fell on my roof during Hurricane Ida and that was completely covered because I have homeowner’s insurance. The insurance wasn’t really it was kind of a nonstarter for me because there’s like all these things, like it has to be X amount of water and then it all. And so, yeah, I’m just winging it like a lot of people are because flood insurance is expensive and.
Amal Ahmed: That runs into like another structural issue. Right, which is that the FEMA floodplain maps are so outdated that you might think you’re not in a floodplain, but you very well might be now. Right. Because of the way that all of these things have changed with climate change and rainfall and all of that. Right. I think typically when you’re in a flood zone, if you’re like buying a new house or something, I’m pretty sure you’re required to get flood insurance like with a mortgage. I might be wrong on that. But, you know, if you’re not in a floodplain, that requirement isn’t there. But theoretically, you could be in a flood plain and it’s just not labeled on a FEMA map. Right?
Ko Bragg: Right.
Amal Ahmed: Yeah.
Ko Bragg: Yeah.
Mary Annaïse Heglar: When was the last time they updated those maps? Do you know?
Amal Ahmed: That’s a good question. I don’t know. Off the top of my head, I just know they’re very outdated and yeah.
Mary Annaïse Heglar: Yeah, I feel like. So I’ve been living in New Orleans for a year and I feel like I’ve seen like parking spots that used to didn’t flood start flooding now. So just in that year they probably need to update them.
Ko Bragg: The only way I will buy flood insurance in New Orleans is if my neighbors start to move their cars when it rains, because that means that I don’t care what the flood maps say, that we are now in a flood zone.
Mary Annaïse Heglar: I mean, I think what we’re what we’re talking about is the limits of individual responsibility when it comes to facing a threat like climate change, like individual responsibility is nothing in the face of an existential threat. But at the same time, there are these like preppers out there who literally train for these kinds of moments. And a lot of them are white supremacists. And that gives me a lot of concern in this world. There’s people who look at climate change and say, Cool, I’m going to get a bunch of guns and a bunch of like storable goods and be ready to like patrol the neighborhood as a militia. And the first time I ever heard of this happening was in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. Like there were like groups of white folks running around shooting black people for sport. Like it’s actually documented that that happened and there were never any sorts of consequences for that. There was never any sort of like investigation into who those people were and what they were up to today. And I think about that when I look at like fires happening in California and there is like white supremacist militias holding checkpoints against that sort of thing. I don’t know. I feel like that’s the thing that scares me the most about climate change. And I wondered if you all had thoughts on that.
Ko Bragg: Ugh, yeah. I mean, I think part of what you’re saying is exactly right is like people I’m being very clear about this, why people and like why dominant culture portrays that, like we can individualize ourselves into freedom and that’s just not true. Like, you can never have enough canned goods. And we swim here, there, and you never have enough Lysol, you never have enough mass, because it actually is more important what your neighbors have access to and what your community has access to versus what you and yours have have or the bunker that you have or don’t, etc.. And it’s like I think for me the most like current example has been when Hurricane Ida hit in New Orleans, obviously. In that hall wasn’t done and she moved up north. And get regions like that out a little bit and then got bigger and better and went to New York and killed people like flooded basement apartments in underserved neighborhoods. It was very much like I remember it being very much like, oh my God, like all my friends up north, look at New Orleans. Wow. So sad. Another Katrina like event will be the next Katrina. And then literally three days later, it was like, whoa, whoa. Like, flash floods. Like, it’s up here. Like, it’s the same storm. And it was just kind of like, yeah, because it’s not just for one reason. It’s not just for one race. It’s not just for one part of the country or whatever or whether you have money to prep or not. It’s literally climate change doesn’t care about none of that. Like you can’t money your way out of the situation. And I think that like literally capitalism has told us that like as long as you if there’s some sort of like merit based economy and you do the right thing and you prep for the right stuff, it doesn’t sometimes it doesn’t matter. Sometimes it’s not good enough. And it’s really frustrating that like, yeah, there is this layer of like individualism and then lack of accountability, right? When there are these, these things that happen in the wake of storms, when people get I don’t know. I mean, like obviously Katrina, the media was riling people up and like, yeah, there was so much violence and not the violence wasn’t coming from where people were reporting. It was there were these gangs of white men in the suburbs of New Orleans who were like looters, get like shoot you loot, you get shot or shoot and loot, whatever the little I don’t know. I wasn’t there. I’m not. And that’s not my judge. But like, it’s it’s crazy. It’s it’s all interconnected. And as, like, white supremacy gets more wanton and more violent and more above all. Um, yeah, it’s, it becomes, like, very scary because people are getting to this place when they’re things, when their communities are harmed or when you feel like, Yeah, when there’s a climate disaster, like people are extremely stressed and people are trying to protect whatever little bit is theirs. And if that’s your mentality, it gets exacerbated. And like who’s most harmed by that? It’s literally the same people who are already most harmed by these disasters is black and brown people, because white people think that they can white people their way out of disasters when we really need to be thinking about community infrastructure.
Mary Annaïse Heglar: I mean, we could. But did you hear the one about the Vegan Devil Worshiper?
Ko Bragg: Oh, didn’t like Satan.
Mary Annaïse Heglar: He saw the soldier say to him.
Ko Bragg: Oh, yeah. And then, oh, look at me, look at me. I knew it was something I didn’t know. That’s how you said it. I was just kind of going on a whim. I thought it was you, honor, whatever. I don’t eat it.
Mary Annaïse Heglar: So you’ve never had a statement?
Ko Bragg: Nothing. I don’t eat it. I don’t like. I don’t. I don’t not like it. But I’m not gonna order it.
Mary Annaïse Heglar: I see. Okay. One of these days, I’ll. I’ll get your check. It’s like the fake duck that they give you at the Thai restaurant. It’s actually pretty good.
Mary Annaïse Heglar: [AD].
Mary Annaïse Heglar: All right. Let’s talk about prisons. Ko, you’re up!
Ko Bragg: Yeah. And I actually it dovetails so nicely with what I was just ranting about in that. Like, I think one of the things that really pains me about prisons is just how isolated they are. And I know that that is part of the design of them. Right? Like, there are so many things that happen about in prisons that the general public does not know about. And even people who have loved ones or family members or community members who are incarcerated is extremely difficult and often expensive, right, to like be in touch with them and even just like the physical design of them. Right? Like you can’t just walk up to a prison and go visit. Like, there’s just they’re so isolated, which means, like in disasters, that is also a disaster. Because not only are they like are people like physically isolated, etc., like people don’t care about prisoners on a on a sunny day. So when it comes to like a major storm coming through, when I was an editor at Southern by editor of a piece that was about a Florida jail that was about to get hit with like some toxic wastewater was about to roll into this town and the town was like evacuating. But there was a jail with like 800 people and obviously like people in prison and jails, which I don’t think enough people understand, have access to the news and the media. So they understand that there is a state of emergency, that there is this like toxic runoff water that is coming for the place that they are like they cannot leave. And they were obviously like the guards and the wardens are not disseminating like good information or any and it’s hard for their families to get in contact with them. So obviously that creates more hysteria and misinformation. So yeah, it was like some people got evacuated, but others didn’t and family members didn’t know where their family was. And it was just like, you know, there was an expert that talked to the reporter who was just kind of like. There’s no requirement for the government to factor in what happens to people who are incarcerated or who are in control of the state like they are being controlled by the state. They literally don’t have to think about that. So like I think about this often when there’s a power outage like we were talking about earlier or there’s a hurricane, I know that like during Ida, like there were I know. I think like some of the children who are being incarcerated were moved to adult facilities and prisons, etc. and like they move people who are in jails in the city. Often they take them to Angola, which is a prison operation and should be destroyed. But Angola first, Angola and Parchman. Get them out of here.
Mary Annaïse Heglar: Yeah, they’re literally plantations.
Ko Bragg: Are literally plantations and still are. So, like, it’s just a whole other thing that happens when you don’t have autonomy and you literally don’t have a say in your safety. And that’s true for, like me, incarcerated, period. But when it comes down to like a disaster and like, you know, the wardens and the people who work there are working on their evacuation plans or they’re working on their how they’re going to keep their family safe. And no one is even telling you an update. Right. Like no one’s even saying, like, if this happens, then we promise to keep you safe in this way. And thinking about the people who make up our prison industrial complex, which is predominantly filled with black bodies. It’s like it’s so frustrating and, like, infuriating because it’s like, obviously another reason on my list is an abolitionist that, like, prison should go, but it’s just like I think people don’t even consider it in that because it’s like, oh, well, we have completely like isolated prisons in this way where it’s like, you deserve whatever happens to you when you enter those walls. And so if if there’s toxic poop water in your in your jail. Oh, well, you should’ve never went to jail. Like, that’s kind of where the discussion ends. And I think our politicians, etc., they know that. They know that they don’t have to do better. And, you know, not to mention the fact that like in California or places with wildfires, there’s often like prisoners who are fighting those fires on the front lines for $2 an hour. That it’s just like the use of prison labor, which is obviously born out of chattel slavery. And the fact that like when there are natural does when there are disasters, I think about the way flood lines the podcast, the Atlantic brand started it talked about the huge storm, the 1800s that came and hit Louisiana and how there was this lay person who was like, Yo, this got to be a big storm. And it was just kind of like, okay, like, you know, get out of here. Like, we don’t believe you. And so it’s very like full circle and very personal and very unnerving that this is still sort of our cycle in the way that we just, like relegate people to prisons and to the edge of society. And then we feel like we don’t need to care for them, right? And like that, that our freedom is not wrapped up in there. And I think that like, yeah, I’m very interested, especially like moving forward as people, for instance, get arrested in the wake of a storm, right? Like after Hurricane Ida, like people are getting arrested for quote unquote looting and a lot of these charges are falling apart. And court, what happens to those people? You’re taking me to jail and there’s no light in this jail, like, you know what I’m saying? Like, that’s what we’re doing. We’re continuing to incarcerate people when there are no lights and people are literally dying in their homes because it’s hot. Like that’s where we’re at with the police day. It’s like, please don’t talk to me about protecting us, sweetheart.
Amal Ahmed: No, I mean, I think Joe hit a lot of what’s wrong with the way that we think of prisons and climate change. You know, I remember that during the winter storm here, like that was another big thing, right? That there were no sort of plans or evacuations or anything like that. As like, you know, indoor air temperatures were getting to like 40 degrees. Right.
Mary Annaïse Heglar: I feel like prisons are one of the places where we really get to see the resilience turned into abandonment. But it happens also in ice facilities and nursing homes. So I know that ICE facilities were also left in those frigid temperatures during the ice storm and also during the 2020 hurricane season. There were all these stories of ice facilities where people were just like being contained in in horrible conditions. And the thing about ice is that, like, they don’t have to hold those people. And they can say that if they can’t safely hold them, they can release them to other sorts of housing, like with relatives or in hotels or something. Like they they’re they are not bound to hold these people. They’ve not committed any sort of crime. They could just put them in safer conditions and they just choose not to. And then also, there’s there’s almost always a scandal with nursing homes after a big disaster, because there’s never a lot of thought put into evacuating these sorts of places, especially when they’re run by the state. And it’s like, how how can you. Be resilient when you don’t have autonomy over your own body or where you go or where you don’t go or when you can evacuate and when you can’t.
Amal Ahmed: Yeah. And I think, you know, there’s a lot of really great reporting on this out of Texas, but like nursing homes and long term care facilities also don’t really have the level of scrutiny that they should from the state. They’re sort of separate entities like when when you think of like regulatory stuff and they’re not always required to have like disaster and evacuation plans or some of them are really out of date and all of that, you know, and I think it’s just a very much like out of sight, out of mind kind of thing, right? Like, you know, in some of the same ways that we think about prisons, right? Like older folks who maybe don’t have family to advocate for them. Right. Like I remember in the aftermath of the winter storm. Right. Like I never I didn’t I wasn’t able to do a story on this and put enough together on this. But there are so many folks who, you know, either told me about relatives in nursing homes that they’re pretty sure wouldn’t have died if the blackouts hadn’t happened. Right. And the way that they were evacuated was really traumatic. Or, you know, when you look through public testimony that different government agencies took after the storm, you see a lot of that. Right. Like a lot of people talking about their elderly relatives who, you know, are very vulnerable to these climate extremes to begin with. Right. And then there’s no really comprehensive plan with, okay, if this happens, how are we going to protect people? Right.
Mary Annaïse Heglar: Yeah. And then you add COVID on top of that and it’s like a catastrophe. Yeah. Yeah. Pretty horrible. So just one more facet of resilient resilience as abandonment that I think we should talk about is the media you know, media concentration on the East Coast, I think means a lot for how Americans view climate change. And like, I wonder how, you know, the world will feel about climate change if our media were concentrated on the West Coast or the Gulf Coast. Right now, approximately 70 million Americans live in news deserts. That’s places where there’s only one or no local newspaper. And one third of American newspapers that existed roughly two decades ago will be out of business by 2025, which is like, Wow, that’s really close. Already, some 2500 daily and weekly newspapers have shuttered since just 2005, when Hurricane Katrina hit, there’s fewer than 6500 left, and every week two more disappear, which is pretty concerning. So how different do you think the national discourse on climate change would be if the people bringing us the news had been hit by colder fire or Hurricane Ida? And I’ll start with you. Since you’re working with, you know, a media outlet, this kind of taking the place of some of these local papers that we’ve we’ve lost.
Ko Bragg: Yeah. And this is something that I mean, I came up with Scalawag. One of the things I was really grateful for, like after I think I tried to like work immediately after Ida because I was like, Oh, that’s kind of like what my service can be. I can be online. And I was like at my, my parent’s house in rural Mississippi. Internet is garbage. But then also it just once I actually like went home to assess the damage to my house. I just kind of was like, I can’t focus. So I was able to like take a week off, which is great. But I think like one of the things because I also freelance on the side, that became very stark and a lot of us at Scalawag have where multiple hats are like another one of my friends who lives in New Orleans, who she’s one of our visual editors. We had these people were based on the coasts who were like blowing our email up, like, where is this and where is that? And like, hey, I hope you’re doing well. Like, heard the news. And then it was just like, but anyway, girl, like, can you file that letter? And it seemed like everyone kind of backed off of me once. I was like, Oh, sorry, I missed your last email. There’s a tree on my roof. And like, it’s really crazy here. And not sure if you heard about the hurricane and like how devastating it is still without power. But I’ll get back to you. And it’s like sent from my iPhone and they’re like, Oh my God, we are so sorry. Like, please let us know if you need anything. Lie like and it’s just clear, like, you don’t care about me. Like, y’all only care about, like, what I’m contracted to do and produce for you. And so it just became very clear that it I mean, even I went to my cousin’s wedding like a week after the hurricane, which was like nuts, like, because obviously the flights were canceled. So ended up driving up to Nashville to make this like very beautiful day. But like, even when I was there, I was just kind of absent minded and like a whole people are like, Oh yeah. I was like, Oh, where are you from smalltalk, oh I’m from New Orleans. And they’d be like, Either they’d be like, Oh my God. Like, are, are you okay? Is your home okay? But there was quite a few people, my cousins from New Jersey, no shade, but there was quite a few people attending the wedding from Jersey who were like, Oh, I love New Orleans. Cafe du Monde beignets and I was like, are you serious? Like, and so it just became very apparent that like some people were completely disconnected from like something that was like really weighing on me. Like, that was really revelatory in a lot of ways, but it really just starkly like working, having these other media based contracts with people who are based on the coasts who were like, Oh, there’s other things going on kind of like this, the last thing I’ll say, but there was a media organization who owed me back pay and I was like, This is a great time to follow up because the period of time that they had to like come to a resolution on how much money they owed me because they were underpaying me as well as a lot of other people, the organization and that that period of time fell at the end of August. So I was like, perfect time to be like, Hello, you said you had 30 days where my money and they were like, Oh, we are living the news cycle right now. It was something that happened where I think it was like the Supreme Court had said that they were going to take up the Roe v Wade case, sorry, the case. DOBBS The Mississippi abortion case. Right. And I was like, okay, I am also living the news as a homeowner in New Orleans, but it just felt very like we are up here and we are focused on the news that matters or we are focused on our work because we’re on the coast or like where we’re a money publication and everything we do is so important. And I’m like, Yeah, I’m focused on making sure that like, my aging neighbors have ice and water and like, money and like, people who evacuated can come back and people, like, don’t have, like, leaky roofs and like, can breathe like it was it just like the the dissonance there was just, like, so stark.
Amal Ahmed: I was just complaining about this to a group chat, actually, but I think that you would see more correct descriptions of geography if more writers from the South had to write. I was trying so hard not to submit with this, but there was a a New York Times Magazine story, I think, where the writers talking about the view from a Houston skyscraper of Texas City’s oil refinery complex. And I was like, there’s just no way you’re not looking at Texas City. That’s 40 miles south of Houston. And that Houston Ship Channel is like right there. So I think you are describing a completely different city, my friend. It was like that, though, right? It’s like you got money to fly out to Houston and like. You know, on top of, you know, a lot of these pieces, again, like reporting on environmental justice communities, takes a lot of time and effort and being rooted in a place and having folks trust you. Right. You can’t really just drop in and do that. I mean, maybe like very rarely there are very few instances where that can work. But I just think that if you’re not rooted in a place that you don’t know where to look, if you don’t know who to talk to, like you’re just not talking to the right people, right? Like, I don’t at the end of the day, like a lot of the climate coverage that I see from folks not in the South comes across to me as like very pretentious and very sort of, you know, I think there’s a lot of people that love writing about places in the South with this like very literary flair or whatever, because they think it’s like a testing place and whatever. Right. And I just I’m not interested in that. Right? Like if you’re spending 200 words describing the tone of someone’s voice and their haircut, but you didn’t take the time to, like, talk to anyone who works in an environmental justice community. I just don’t think that’s worth my time to read. Yeah, I could. I could go on and on about this, but yeah.
Ko Bragg: That’s super real. Yeah, that’s super real. I mean, Mississippi is often described as a land. Right. They call this like the landmass between Alabama and Louisiana and Mississippi never gets its credit. But then there’s also I may or may not have made the secret bingo board with some of my friends from Mississippi who are also either like current or former journalists of like parachuted into the south, specifically into Mississippi like bingo board. And it’s like for some reason people just have this obsessive obsession with cotton, like it’ll have this tornado and then do a god. And we are talking about a hurricane, tornado or fire. And you stopped in a cornfield and you want to describe it as fluff. Yeah, baby, please keep me out of it.
Mary Annaïse Heglar: Yeah, yeah. I mean, I feel like a lot of those stories are written about Southerners as though Southerners will not read them.
Amal Ahmed: Oh, absolutely.
Mary Annaïse Heglar: So. Right. They’re like just describing people’s accents as though we don’t know what we sound like you know. Or like talking about a dirt road as though it’s like some sort of, like, phenomenon or something. It’s like, that’s just normal. So, you know, assume we’re going to read the stories maybe. But yeah, the media abandonment of these sorts of stories, I think is really telling. And and like every we’ve been on the verge of losing the Times-Picayune a million times and well, it’s not the Times-Picayune anymore, but the New Orleans local paper has kind of been on the ropes several times in like I can imagine all the stories that wouldn’t go told if we lost it. And also, as somebody who lived in New York for a long time, it’s been really jarring to me to see how much New York weather takes over Twitter and how New Yorkers act like their weather is the weather of the entire world. They’re like, Wait, it’s not raining where you are. Like, they’re genuinely surprised by that.
Ko Bragg: You know? Yeah, no. But like literal, literal, like local publications in New York are taught that their local news is world news. And they’re not joking. They really. No, they’re like they’re they’re serious. And I’m like, okay. Like, it’s not, though, like, I really don’t care, you know what I’m saying about the rat in the subway? Cause we all make choices, but, like, I don’t need to hear about that. And also, like, you should be questioning. I thought that was like I mean, obviously, rats in the subway do matter because, you know, but it’s a little brief example. It’s like that is not going to make it to Tokyo.
Mary Annaïse Heglar: I don’t know. Okay. Why are spiders so smart?
Ko Bragg: Wow. All right, now tell us, Mary.
Mary Annaïse Heglar: Because I can find everything on the Web. That was a pity laugh and I’ll take it. Okay.
Ko Bragg: You’re just going to ignore my heavy sigh, because I.
Mary Annaïse Heglar: No. Yeah, I’m totally ignoring that. Okay.
Ko Bragg: I just. I think. And I hate to be the. I don’t. Let me let me rephrase this. I don’t hate to be that person. I am that person who is often just talking about how I’m in my everything is fake era. Right? Like, I just people be talking about stuff and I’m like, it’s fake. Like, everything is made up. Like, that’s what society I’m a. I’m a real joy. Invite me to all your parties like and I can just tell you how we just, like, subscribe to these rules and society that are made up. And one of the main thoroughfares is capitalism. Like, it’s so made up, it’s also very real. But like, if you really start to unpack it, it’s just be as like it is a house of cards. And I think where that comes into focus for me, for this conversation is like, yeah, I actually think that like resilience is a Ponzi scheme and walk with me here because I love I love a good like Ponzi scheme, I love scammer TV. I think that there’s like so many scams that have been illustrated like on, you know, from Theranos to fire swindler, tender swindler. Like, so fascinating. And also what capitalism does and a good Ponzi scheme does is somebody is at the top, you know, pulling the strings. And there are all these other people who are who have bought into this weather and capitalism. You don’t really get to opt in or out. We’re just all here. And so, like, what happens with like a disaster is like people are thinking about capitalism, whether they realize it or not when they’re waiting, for instance, whether to stay or go. So if you’re at the top, it’s like it’s whatever. I’m just going to like go to my island on the other coast or whatever. What rich people do when they evacuate, they go on vacation or something, and everyone else is kind of left at home like, okay, well, I don’t know if I like so many people, I know we’re like, I don’t think I want to leave. For instance, during Hurricane Ida, because if it really is a Category three and if it really isn’t that bad, like if it turns away at the last moment, my job is going to be open tomorrow and I got to be able to go to work or when if the power goes out and they have a backup generator, I got to go to work or I got to take my kids to whatever. And and and so many people were not able to factor in, like, is this the best decision for me and my family to, like, ride out this storm or, you know, without having to think about how we get paid or what we’re used for? Right. To make somebody at the top of this scheme, rich. And it’s just it’s just really wild to me because it’s like you are are the people who are at the bottom of the scheme are expected to be resilient. Right. You are expected to, if you leave, bring your life back. Right. Because you need to get work at 8 a.m. You need to be checking people out at the grocery store because they’re back in town and they are ready to restart their lives. And as a black woman, that feels like especially heavy because we know that like a lot of the people who are doing a lot of the preparation and who are worried about grandma and them are the matriarchs of the family. And it falls in that burden of like black women constantly being told, like the the the prototype of like a strong black woman is like you just have to figure it out and you don’t even get to bounce back because that implies that you were stressed out of shape in some way. And this is the shape that you always need to occupy. Like you always need to be ready to take on additional labor and just push the process. Right. And so I just think that like it’s so bizarre to be in a place where like folks who have a job at Costco that doesn’t care about them at all, you will get replaced overnight. That Costco salary is feeding a family and helping people get by. And that is what people are factoring in when it comes down to their lives. Right. Like these storms are not a joke. Like these storms are super serious and people should not be in a situation where they are thinking about their job at the gas station as to whether or not they evacuate their mother. Right. Who has needs and might not be able to get her medication if there is some sort of like power outage or anything devastating happens. That’s where we’re at.
Mary Annaïse Heglar: Yep. Yep. I mean, I think this gets into that classic question that people from far away love to ask whenever there’s a disaster, which is why didn’t they leave?
Ko Bragg: Why don’t you just move? Permanently?
Mary Annaïse Heglar: Exactly. Yeah. And like my question back them is like, who the fuck is you to be asking me questions like or to be asking them questions? Like, this isn’t, no. This that’s inappropriate. Like, people stay for all sorts of reasons. And one of the biggest ones is is capitalism or not having the funds to leave. Because even though there’s all these, like, you know, FEMA programs set to help people to, you know, with their expenses for an evacuation, first of all, those funds are really hard to get and you definitely don’t get them before you go. So if you don’t have the money to front for the gas or for the hotel room or for the whatever that you need to evacuate, you might just have to stay.
Amal Ahmed: There’s actually some interesting research, I think, that’s shown that if a hurricane hits the end of the month, people are less likely to evacuate because they, you know, are running low on money versus, you know, the beginning of the month when they have more in their bank.
Mary Annaïse Heglar: Accounts and most of the. Yeah, like so Ida and Katrina happened on August 29th toward the end of the month and Zeta was on the 31st. So it was a Halloween storm, wasn’t it?
Ko Bragg: Mm hmm.
Mary Annaïse Heglar: Yeah, it’s on October 31st, so. Yeah. And then you add in that now these evacuations are becoming more and more sudden. And not to mention with wildfires, like I don’t, honestly, wildfire gives me so much anxiety. Like the idea of having to evacuate through a literal inferno is is literally the stuff of nightmares. And it’s like, how do you know? It’s kind of hard to know when to go, you know? So and on top of that, another reason that so many people don’t evacuate is because they actually have a sense of place and they actually love the places where they live and they love the communities that they live in. You know, in a lot of these places, there’s this really strong social fabric and sense of responsibility both to the city, to the land, to your neighbors that people don’t want to leave in a time of disaster. And in fact, that’s the time where they want to say the most. And I feel like that’s not honored. And in our society.
Ko Bragg: Yeah, 100%.
Amal Ahmed: Yeah. I think it reminds me of talking to, you know, southerly we’ve been trying to think of, you know, a lot of the stuff that I’ve been doing it so early is not things that people have seen because a lot of it is just talking to folks and figuring out like what kind of journalism and what kind of programs can we run that’ll actually help people, right? So we’re not just tweeting a link in a storm like, you know, one of the things that really stuck with me was talking to some folks in rural Texas who are fishermen. And like the reason that they don’t evacuate is because their boats are their livelihoods. Like if their boats get destroyed in a storm, like they have no way of coming back and making money. Right. So like securing. All of that takes a lot of time. And if you don’t have the ability to evacuate because you’re too busy, like trying to make sure that most of your expensive equipment isn’t going to be washed away. That’s just what people do. Right. And so there’s, you know, there’s so many reasons that. Evacuations are difficult. You know, I think another big thing is like trust in the folks that are calling the shots on it, on mandatory evacuations. Right. And, you know, it’s a time when so many people are confused and there’s a million things going on and like, there’s so much information that it’s an overload. And if you like, if the folks in government don’t have the routes and methods to really reach people effectively and safely and sort of in a really calm manner, I think that definitely makes the problem worse. Right?
Mary Annaïse Heglar: Yeah, for sure. And it makes me think of like after Katrina, a lot of people did evacuate either before the storm or in the aftermath of the storm and weren’t able to come back for years. And that create a very real trauma for for folks who, like, just don’t want to evacuate again because they don’t want to be, like, forcibly separated from their home again. And that, to me, speaks to like a really deep level of of love. I mean, I think resilience is just such a deeply abused word that it kind of is devoid of any and all meaning. But if there is a form of resilience that is that’s acceptable, I think that’s it. I think like resilience could be love or resistance really. It’s resistance and kind of like a sense of defiance of like, I love this place and I will stand with it as long as as humanly possible. Yeah.
Ko Bragg: That’s real. I agree. There’s a saying that New Orleans has and it came up after Ida, which was there’s this theory that New Orleanians are just passing around the same $20 to each other for like mutual aid. And it’s like, well, you know, the city really is not very well funded. I’m saying in any capacity. And also, I feel like when there is a crowd fund, when there is a mutual aid effort, like people really show up and show out even when people ain’t got it themselves. And I just think that like, yeah, I’m super curious about what that looks like in the future, especially like this recession. I don’t care how many jobs reports y’all put out to say y’all created more jobs. People are hurting economically. So I’m at a time where, yeah, there’s going to be a lot of climate pressures that require funds, honestly. Yeah. So I think this year in particular is going to be a very stressful one in a lot of capacities and also one where a community is going to inevitably step up and fill those gaps that obviously, like other structures would take much longer to.
Mary Annaïse Heglar: Yeah, I am interested to see what the limits of mutual aid are going to be because like we’re in constant crisis and like that can be things like needing cancer treatment because you don’t have health care. It could be like a COVID related disaster. These kinds of things that are just like under the surface all the time. And then you have these like shocks, like a hurricane or a wildfire or I don’t know any other number of things. Like mutual aid is kind of doing what taxes are supposed to do. And so at some point we’re going to run up against the limits of that. And that really concerns me. And CALL You did a big mutual aid product project last year after IDA, right?
Ko Bragg: Yeah, I think because I was getting frustrated with a lot of people like and it was a lot of people whose heart were in the right place. Right. Who were just kind of like hitting me up like, oh, my God. Like, this is crazy. Like, what can I do? Like, what do you need? And I was like, I don’t need anything. I do know people who do need stuff. So if you actually are are concerned about the Gulf Coast, then you can put your money where your mouth is. So I just made like a PayPal link where people could give me money that I could then get to other places. Because then there becomes the question of like it can be overwhelming because there are so many great causes, right? Great places that you could send money to. And I think people wanted to make sure that they were sending money to places to the right places. Right. Because there there is a lot of NGOs in New Orleans and some of them, frankly, don’t need the money. Right. Like they have money that they can disperse. But like there were some actual like on the ground folks who are like not like I’m giving this cash directly to people or these goods directly to people. There’s no middle person, there’s no bureaucracy, red tape. This is literal mutual aid. So I do respect that. And I also have big respect for people who move this kind of money all the time. Because, baby, I do not like counting up the coins like this, but I was like really happy to be able to like get cash. The people in my neighborhood get water, get coolers, the people when I was passing through. But yeah, it it becomes like, let’s see, when did the tornado come through New Orleans? Like, literally less than a year after. I’d like we have a huge tornado come through the city. And people who are recovering from a hurricane less than a year ago are had lost a lot of blood, lost their homes like so. Yeah. Did some more money moving for that. But it just seems like there is always yeah. There’s no period of rest. Right. If you have to be your bank account, got to be resilient to shit like you got to be ready to bounce back, move money, help people be there, lend an ear. And I just know that like organizers have to be also exhausted. I do believe I mean, like I’ll say this, I really do think that mutual aid is really powerful. And I think that I’m heartened to see like. More people in media, like some of the smaller outlets who understand that like part of the power of our our power disseminating information is giving people the tools that they need, including like access to some of these mutual aid platforms, etc., like, and that can be part of our service. Like we don’t always have to hop on a flight, right? To fly into the disaster zone to do like poverty porn, because what’s the cost of that flight? I’m wondering, New York Times are like, how much money are you really blowing to come down here and play in people’s faces? A lot of the time or or write a story that you came up with in some high rise in New York. And the story is written before you get here, right? Like where all that money could be moved in a different way. And the least you can do is connect people with, you know, what they need. And I think, like, I know that’s something we do at Scalawag and I’ve seen like suddenly is doing like the disaster guides. And I think that there are a lot of outlets who are kind of thinking like, we can’t keep operating in this way because to your point earlier, I’m all, who are you writing these stories for? Are you writing these stories for people in New Orleans? Like, I don’t need to read a 5000 word profile about how the sweat was sticking to someone’s edges, like as they were in their home that didn’t have air conditioning for over a week and the floors were warping. I don’t need that. I need to know where the cooling center is and who has money and food for me and my family. And so, yeah, I’m really hoping that media makes that shift as well because like if you have an audience, if you are a connector in that way, that’s also I see that as part of our jobs and mutual aid is not going anywhere. And I, I think that like we’ve we view our role as dialog is like mutual aid is part of what we do. Part of it can be information. It can be money, whatever, whatever gap needs to be filled. That’s part of our job as well.
Mary Annaïse Heglar: I don’t know. Amal, is there, like, a version of resilience that you think is acceptable to you?
Amal Ahmed: That’s a good question. I mean, again, I think like one thing that journalists can do that I think is really helpful is stick with the story in the long term. Right. Like when you think of resilience, like the projects that get built or like where funds go, you know, to ask tough questions of the people in charge. Right. Because I think resilience is also very much a policy buzzword that people love to throw around. But what’s the proof? Like, what’s the evidence? Right. And so many people, you know, like when there’s a hurricane, like all these reporters will come down in a time of crisis. But who’s staying with the story like five years later? Right. If you’re lucky, that’s your local paper. But as we’ve talked about, like, that’s not always there. And that’s another thing, right? Like training people and giving them the tools to, like, ask those questions and make their own public records requests and, like, distribute that information in their own communities. Right. Like that’s something that suddenly is also looking at, right. As part of journalism, a journalism model that works for communities. Right. I don’t know if I’m supposed to give away too many of the beans there, but it’s, you know, the project that’s like it’s a project that we’ve been talking about for a couple of years now that Lindsay has spearheaded. And I think it’s just really emblematic of like the types of things that matter. Right? Like, like code saying, like, nobody needs that 5000 word profile. Like, that’s not really helping anyone. Like, but if you can empower folks to, like, put the pressure on their local officials by getting this information themselves and teaching them how to do that, I think that would be really cool. Right. I think that’s something I would love to see more of generally.
Ko Bragg: Mm hmm.
Mary Annaïse Heglar: Yeah. I’ll say for me that I just think that resilience needs to look more like resistance, because resilience to me kind of means like you just keep taking the storms, you just keep taking the hits. But like, there’s also things we can do about us. And I think most people on the ground and on the frontlines of climate change understand that. And so, you know, they’re not they’re not resilient. They’re resistance. They’re they’re defiant in the face of the storms. And I think that and also in the face of the power structure that’s creating this sort of world. So, yeah, if you want to cultivate resistance, then you need to be standing up to the fossil fuel industry. You need to be developing empathy and getting to know your neighbors and building the social fabric of your community. Because honestly, individual resilience is a myth. Resilience is only at the community and communal levels. So anyway, thank you both for coming on. And this is a great conversation. And I’m you know, I know we focused a lot on the hurricanes, but, you know, it kind of gets overlooked. So. Thank you.
Ko Bragg: Thank you.
Amal Ahmed: Thank you. This was great.
Mary Annaïse Heglar: Hot take is a Crooked Media production.
Amy Westervelt: It’s produced by Ray Peng and mixed and edited by Juels Bradley. Our music is by Vasilis Fotopoulis. Thimali Kodakara is our consulting producer and our executive producers are Mary Annaïse Heglar, Michael Martinez and me, Amy Westervelt.
Mary Annaïse Heglar: Special thanks to Sandy Girard, Ari Schwartz, Kyle Seglin and Charlotte Landes for production support and to Amelia Montooth for digital support.
Amy Westervelt: You can follow the show on Twitter at Real Hot Take. Sign up for our newsletter at Hot Take Pod dot com and subscribe to Crooked Media video channel at YouTube.com slash Crooked Media.