Sunday, July 31, 2011

Positive Prose: Voices from the Storm

Because I am interested in far more than just reviewing and promoting comic books, I figured it's high time I paid tribute to a favorite prose book that proves to be more than just a good read. Voice of Witness is a non-profit organization that aspires to motivate people to correct social injustice around the world by educating them about it and by providing the people affected a forum to discuss their experiences. Their book Voices from the Storm provides firsthand accounts of Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath from thirteen survivors.

Comic book writer Valerie Finnigan's review of this as well as AD: New Orleans After the Deluge (the subject of another upcoming Comics for Causes entry) proved to be much less a review than one of many personal, visceral reactions as she relived when a relative had gone missing in the wake of "The Storm." He mercifully survived and became one of the thirteen whose experiences are chronicled in Voices from the Storm.

I found the book not without its flaws. The book focuses more on the overall chronology of the hurricane, breaking the accounts up day by day rather than letting the stories of the people involved flow without interruption. The result is that we know a lot about what happened on August 30, 2005, the next day, the day after that, and so forth, but because of the way the stories are choppped up and broken up by day, I found myself having to flip back to the introductions just so I could remember who all these thirteen people were. This might have worked better in a more visual medium such as comic books, when all it takes is a caption to remind people of who is who and where they are, and you always can see the faces that go with the names.

Another is that the book was compiled with a pretty obvious agenda that does not entirely jibe with the message I got from reading the stories themselves. There is absolutely no denying that politicians from the local all the way up to the federal level let selfishness and incompetence get in the way of their jobs as civil servants. The opinions expressed by the survivors of their civil servants are not all very well informed, but they come honestly nonetheless from their perspectives and, as such, are all very deservedly harsh. But these survivors are not passive victims who sat around waiting helplessly for the government to rescue them. From the mother who shared her own bottled water with her fellow refugees, to the "neighborhood group" that tried to maintain peace and safety where the local police failed, to the men who set out in boats to rescue stranded families, to the parish priests, artists, and musicians who lost no time helping rebuild- they won't admit it, but they're heroes. To correct social injustice takes more than just pointing out where the government's going wrong in hopes that politicians will listen. It requires individuals to step up and do as much good as they can, on their own if need be. As one survivor said, "You don't need a leader to do the right thing."

Books like this are needed not to just lambaste governments when they fail (as they all do from time to time). They are needed to amplify the voices of people who might not otherwise be heard and to encourage everyday, unsung heroes to be ready to step up in a crisis. This is why, flaws and all, I wholeheartedly recommend this book.

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