Roles for Katrina Role Play

By Ian McFeat

The following are excerpts from the roles for the Katrina role play.

For the complete roles, see All Roles Together.

State and Local Authorities

After Katrina hit, Kathleen Blanco, the governor of Louisiana, issued a “shoot to kill” order designed to protect private property instead of protecting poor and abandoned people as they searched for food and water. Not to be outdone, Mayor Ray Nagin abandoned the poor through policies that were designed to drive them away from areas where big business could reap profit.

Poor People of New Orleans

It’s difficult to blame the poor for not being wealthy, for not escaping New Orleans because they lacked the funds. But this is exactly what many pundits in the media did. I wanted students to confront this perspective in the trial.

Rich People of New Orleans

Not only did some of the rich of New Orleans eat rack of lamb in the Hyatt while thousands suffered next door in the convention center, but the rich benefited most from policies that created and helped sustain poverty.


Aside from having a former Arabian horse judge as its director, FEMA clearly was not prepared for the hurricane and even went so far as to blame the victims of the flood waters for not evacuating sooner.

The Bush Administration

With $71.2 million cut from the New Orleans Corps of Engineers and $4.5 billion a month spent on the war in Iraq (with large numbers of Louisiana and Mississippi National Guard stationed overseas), this administration’s priorities were clear.

The Free Market Economy

While creating the roles, I focused on the commonalities between them. Each role involved the operation of the free market. So, rather than embed the free market in each group, I decided to give it its own role. And there was so much to include.

Even before disaster struck, developers’ pursuit of profit had drained huge areas of wetlands. For the free market, “natural resources” are viewed as a source of profit. It didn’t take a conspiracy, simply the normal workings of the market to leave New Orleans vulnerable to Katrina.

Similarly, as authorities learned of the imminent danger of Katrina, they turned to the free market for solutions: Let consumers strike their best deal in the marketplace. Wonderful plan for the rich and affluent of the area, but without transportation or money, what choices did the “free market” offer New Orleans’ poor?

The whole idea of a free market economy is that each of us pursuing our own private gain will result in the common good. In a market economy, the idea is that private interests should carry out “development,” not the government. Thus, cutting the corps of engineers budget by over $70 million was simply being faithful to free market principles.

It didn’t take too much digging to discover that the free market rewards a shortsighted focus on private profit. The market can’t “think” long term when profits are the goal. A refusal to invest tens of millions of dollars into strengthening levees led to a catastrophe that will cost hundreds of billions of dollars to fix.