Sep 12, 2005
There are at least one and a half million people turned into refugees by Katrina – or more exactly by government actions that transformed a natural cataclysm into an enormous human catastrophe.
One and a half million people without a home, without a job, without a school for their children, without a hospital or clinic to go to. One and a half million people cut from their families, from their neighbors, from every thing that had made them who and what they are.
It's the biggest uprooting of a population in this country since the Civil War, when Sherman's march from Atlanta to the sea destroyed the economic lifeblood of the South. The closest thing to it was the dustbowl of the 1930s, when hundreds of thousands of farmers were thrown to the winds by the droughts and lack of governmental attention to that growing catastrophe.
In the face of this modern disaster, what does Bush propose? "Contribute cash to a charity of your choice." Charity? It's nothing but a vicious sleight of hand.
The survivors from Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama don't need charity. They don't need welfare or hand-outs, which can be cut off whenever the hand that's giving decides. They need a job, a way to rebuild their homes – and a way to reestablish the human connections that once made up the fabric of their lives.
What better way for them to do it but to rebuild what has been destroyed? There is a whole world waiting to be put back together, running from New Orleans, through the Louisiana and Mississippi coasts all the way over to Alabama. There are houses to be replaced from the ground up or repaired and rebuilt. There are hospitals, schools, roads, bridges, water systems, public transport systems, electric grids – all needing to be built or rebuilt.
The people this government turned into refugees could do that work. Why not? They have lived there all their lives. Who better to do it but them?
They can be the ones who organize new temporary schools, hospitals, clinics. Why not? They were the ones who did it before – they were the ones, in fact, who stayed in the hospitals with the patients when administrators deserted without ever organizing an evacuation.
They can work with the scientists this government ignored to re-establish the barrier islands, replenish the marshes, reconstruct the swamps – all of which once gave some protection from hurricanes.
They can work with the engineers this government rebuffed to rebuild the levees to the width and height needed, to reroute the shipping channels, etc.
There's plenty of work to be done – and plenty of money with which to do it.
Even before Katrina had puffed its last breath, the government was rushing to give new cost-plus, no-bid contracts to some of the biggest companies in the country – Bechtel and Halliburton among them – to rebuild military bases and oil installations.
Why should Bechtel, Halliburton and hundreds of other companies – already lining up at the government pig trough – make a profit off this disaster? Put every bit of this money to work giving work and habitation to the people who want to come back to New Orleans, Lafayette, Biloxi, Gulfport and all those little towns in between them.
Bush's appeals for charity, for donations, for benefit concerts are nothing but a blatant attempt to channel our feelings of human solidarity away from the kind of struggles that could force the government to give the survivors what they really need.
Give cash? We need to give support to the struggles of the survivors. We need to join their struggles.