Over the past week, we have reported about the enterprising students in Lori Bush’s AP Government class at the Isidore Newman School in New Orleans and their video segment challenging the results of an investigation into the Army Corps of Engineers – a video that was pulled from YouTube when the American Society of Engineers threatened legal action. (See posts of 11/13 and 11/19). Click here to watch the video.
Teaching The Levees had the opportunity to interview some of the students who made the video and ask them about how the experience has influenced their attitude toward student involvement in civic affairs. Their responses should provide great encouragement to any educator who places a value on educating for active citizenship.
TTL: How did you feel about the video being pulled from YouTube?
Jasmine White: I was upset when the video was pulled from YouTube. The Corps have no proof whatsoever that the video demonstrated libel, but the fact that the Corp was so worried about a high school project meant that they must have felt threatened. I think the video accomplished its purpose of letting America know our reality, which isn’t always broadcast on the news.
Ben Mayer: I feel that it is a good thing. The controversy around the video has created a huge interest in it. People not only want to see the video, they also want to know why the Army Corp of Engineers feels so threatened by it. There is now a greater curiosity around the levees and because of this more people will discover the truth for themselves.
Michael Harris: I felt like the government was abusing its power to stop a grassroots organization for telling the people of America the truth
Arielle Schwartz: At first, when we found out that the video had been pulled off YouTube, I felt like my right to free speech had not been protected. However, now that the PSA has gotten so many more hits on different postings, I feel that having it pulled was the best way to bring attention to the video and its concepts.
TTL: What is your reaction to all the press coverage the video has received in the past few days?
Saisha Chandrasekaran: I am actually glad the issue was raised because the result of it was spreading awareness of the situation in New Orleans regarding the safety of the citizens.
Abby Sartor: Exciting, considering it is a video that we personally worked on and could be potentially be scrutinized nationally, drawing much needed attention to the government’s failure to protect and aide New Orleans.
Michael Harris: This press coverage has been very good for the people of New Orleans because it has shone a new light on our city that is in dire need of help. National interest in the issue here has gone down and this has sparked an interest all over the country.
TTL: How were you personally affected by Katrina?
Rives Cary: Although I was fortunate enough not to accompany the many who were flooded, even lost homes and priceless items, I was greatly affected by the “man-made disaster”. After a decent semester in Houston, Texas, my family moved back to New Orleans. However, my dad did not join my mom, brother, sister, and myself. Post-August 25, 2005, the business my father worked for decided to remain in Houston. While some people now think my parents are divorced because they do not see my dad often, they are actually happily still married. He currently commutes every other weekend, which forced me to assume a different role in the family. I am now the oldest man in the household, which forces me to look after my brother, sister, and mother more than before. While I guess, from a positive outlook you can say it has made me more mature, everyone still misses my dad.
Arielle Schwartz: Katrina flooded my home and affected me in other extremely personal ways. I was removed from my city and home for months at a time. When I moved back there were many people missing from my classes and I lived in a hotel for the remainder of the school year. Now I am back home but my family is still rebuilding and refurnishing our home.
Emily Rigamer: It was an eye-opening experience, and also a humbling one. I saw people all over the country give New Orleanians everything when they themselves had nothing. It introduced me to the real world outside of New Orleans.
Bayley Bash: Katrina had a great effect on my life and my high school career. After the Hurricane I moved to Houston, Texas and finished the school year there. My family had questions about returning to New Orleans and ultimately decided against moving back for the time being. After Katrina I moved four times until finally returning to New Orleans for my senior year. It is great to be back in this wonderful city.
TTL: What do you hope comes out of this experience with the PSA?
Jasmine White: I hope this video forces the government to conduct an 8/29 investigation and improves New Orleans as a whole. I am all about my city because I love New Orleans. I want to go away to college and come back to work in my city, but I want a viable city to come back to. I also hope this video shows the rest of America that we are all not the stereotypical people shown on TV looting and begging for money. We are smart and we just want what is fair.
Rebecca Title: From this video, I of course want the 8/29 investigation and the Corps to come clean about the truth behind the levees. But on a wider range, I want kids around the country to learn that their voice can be heard. Out government class, consisting of twenty kids along with our teacher Mrs. Bush, found an issue that really affects us and that we feel strongly about and decided to make a difference. Through this video, our voices were heard as well as our frustration. I think that if this happened more often then there would be less corruption in the government and we would all be better off.
Bayley Bash: At first, I just thought this video was going to be a fun, educating activity that would be passed over on YouTube. However, the excitement caused by the events going on with the video is uncontrollable. It is amazing to know that we, as students, can make a difference. I hope this video spreads nationally, so that people will be reminded of the troubles we are still having in New Orleans.
Abby Sartor: I hope that ASCE challenges Levees.org to the point where the video is circulated nationally and becomes part of a larger fight against inept government policies.
Michael Harris: I hope this is just one more stepping stone on the way towards achieving an 8/29 commission from the government.
TTL: Has this experience influenced your attitudes toward getting involved in public affairs?
Rebecca Title: Through this video I have gained a new respect for activists. To fight the government and public officials is not an easy fight; however, it is a necessary one. This video has given everyone involved a sense of pride. To say that you were a part of a YouTube video that has had thousands of hits and is getting bigger by the second is a huge accomplishment. Because of this video, in the future I would definitely get involved in issues that I feel strongly about. If people don’t get involved and state their opinions then no one will and our government will end up running us, and we need to run our government.
Ben Mayer: This experience has shown me how much power an organized group of citizens can wield. With the help of technology we were able to get out a significant issue to a huge number of people. If ever faced with an issue of similar significance, I know that I can get out a message and that this message will be heard.
Arielle Schwartz: This has been a positive experience on my involvement in public affairs. I see the power that a small grassroots organization can have on a large national basis. I have no fear that people have the power to make, or try to make, changes on a bigger level.
Bayley Bash: AP Government in general has greatly influenced my attitudes toward getting involved in public affairs. This experience through Levees.org has only furthered my desire to become greatly involved. I have learned that we, as students and citizens of America, do have a say in government. I am excited for the years to come where I can get involved throughout our community, making a difference throughout our country.