[R-G] New Orleans - the steps that must be taken
david.mcr at earthlink.net
Thu Sep 1 14:27:53 MDT 2005
All of us have been watching television, transfixed by the reality that one of the great cities of our nation is gone, drowned in water.
Much of the tragedy along the Gulf Coast could not have been avoided - a hurricane is a hurricane. We ourselves, at our safe distance,
are slow to grasp the dimensions of what has happened. Bodies floating in the water. People standing on roof tops waving for help.
I sit in my air conditioned apartment, clean water and ice cubes just a few steps away, and slowly understand that for
these hundreds of thousands from Mobile to New Orleans there is nowhere to go that is cool, no food safe to eat, no
water that is safe to drink. No medicine, not even aspirin.
Piled in vast lumps of wreckage are the wedding pictures, baby pictures, the documents that certify us, passports, birth records,
financial reports, insurance papers, the knick knacks of every home.
We want to blame someone and the blame pours in over the internet. Someone even blamed homosexuals for causing this - God
destroyed New Orleans because of its immorality. And we blame Bush, and global warming. Then we want to blame the blamers
for trying to take political advantage of this tragedy. One man, that I know is conservative, but with whom I exchange occasional friendly notes,
wrote to demand I take him off my lists, because I was taking political advantage of this tragedy by posting something from the New Orleans
press, noting this disaster has been in the making for a long time.
Bush didn't cause the hurricane. It would have been politically advisable for him to cancel his vacation when it became clear
that Katrina was shaping up to be a disaster, rather than waiting until there were only two days left of his month-long holiday. But if
he had returned to the White House at once, it would not have stopped the fury of the waters that smashed along the coast. Yes, it
is quite possible global warming had a hand in this, but our whole industrial system - not George Bush - created this.
Bush is too small a man to hold responsible for so massive a tragedy.
Yes, the media sends mixed messages - looting will happen in any situation where social order breaks down, but in this case
much of the looting has been to get food and water. While you might not know it from some of the media reports, everyone seems
to have taken part, black, white, and police officers.
One post I got called the US a failed state, and that point was true. It wasn't what happened when the hurricane struck, but what has
happened after it struck. The media has been able to reach the victims, but the offices of public safety have not. The TV reporters
give the names and addresses of the victims they are talking to - hoping that may help the emergency services locate them.
Meanwhile, where are those emergency services? How is it possible for the media able to talk to people about their need for water,
but the government can't find these people? Where are the buses needed to evacuate the dome in New Orleans?
Much of what we are seeing will be over in another week - those on roof tops will be rescued, those who hunger will have been fed,
those who thirst, will have had cold water. But many will have died long after Katrina passed - because the help that will come,
did not come in time. Even the "mundane" tragedies of cats and dogs that were swept away, that could not be airlifted . . .
The two things I would say are simple. One is that it is now clear this nation is not in a position to handle any serious
disaster. For all the emergency planning, aid is still not reaching the people who need it. TV crews can get there, but government
agencies can't. One of the things which should have been done instantly would have been the deployment of national guard troops to
all the areas hit, from Mobile to New Orleans. Not to stop looting (though it would have done that) but to give a display of security in the
midst of chaos. One might ask why a pacifist would ask for the deployment of the national guard - and the reason is simple, and has
nothing to do with violence. It is because what people need, and need now, is to see some sense of order on the street. I've read
posts from people on the "left margin" of the socialist movement, who don't understand that the first and worst victims of
disorder are the poor. When guns go off in the night, when armed bands spring up, when small stores can be broken into and ransacked,
it isn't the rich who suffer, it is the poorest of the poor.
The second thing is that we should have had waves of helicopters operating steadily, lifting people out. But the
these resources aren't in the US - they are in Iraq and Afghanistan. Fleets of helicopters are there, when they are needed here.
The National Guard units that should be patrolling the streets of New Orleans, are stuck ten thousand miles from home, bringing chaos
to another country. Young men and women, hated as occupiers, who would be welcomed in the states from which they came.
At a time of grave and deepening disorder, what the public wants is not a "strong and violent hand", but a "helping and present hand"
of fleets of trucks and buses and helicopters. No wonder there is disorder in the dome in New Orleans - days have passed during which
every single person there could have been gotten out. All the hotels in the Southern states should have been asked
to open their rooms for these refugees from disaster - it is not a vacation season, the hotel rooms are empty.
There is an ancient saying that "a man cannot serve two masters" and that has never been more true. We are "serving" - and serving
badly - the peoples of Iraq and Afghanistan, blowing away their homes, killing their people, imprisoning their men and women,
occupying their lands. Even if we had done a "good job" at this, it would be wrong, but the US government, which launched these wars,
has done a hideous job. And now, when those guard units are urgently needed, when every possible helicopter needs to be pressed
into service, they are ten thousand miles away.
It is time tor Bush to close down the disaster areas he has created - Iraq and Afghanistan - and turn his full attention to the disaster
which Katrina inflicted upon us. And since there is no reason to think Bush will do this, then Congress must act.
There will be time enough to discuss all the work on the levees that should have been done years ago, all the money that was cut
from these programs, which should have been spent. But it will be too late for that. As one who has known and loved New Orleans,
who has always told foreign guests that we had "three great cities - New York, San Francisco, and New Orleans", I know that the New
Orleans of yesterday is gone. For that loss, I blame Katrina. But for the enormous humid, hot, hungry, thirsty, sick, stench filled days
that followed - I blame Bush and a government which suddenly finds it has few resources to handle a disaster which every weather report
warned was about to hit.
We should send what funds we can to those agencies we trust. How ironic that the one agency which has claimed it could protect us -
the Federal Government - is the one most helpless in this mess.
(member, Socialist Party National Committee, former Chair, War Resisters International)
(feel free to repost or use)
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