Katrina: An open letter to the radical/progressive community

Sunday, Sep. 04, 2005 at 2:05 AM
Dear friends, radicals, progressives and anarchists,
There is this great myth that natural disaster is the “great equalizer” holding no prejudice towards any one race or class. While nature may hold no preference, we live in a society that makes its choice of victim clear. Whether its trailer parks in tornado alley or the low level 9th ward in New Orleans, it is almost always the poor and minorities that carve out their existence in places most vulnerable to nature’s wrath or the wrath of humans with toxic factories and refineries fueled by greed and consumption.
As peace activists, we have consistently pointed out that the Bush administration is siphoning desperately needed funds and resources to fight an illegitimate war in Iraq. We have warned against being stretched too thin and asked the question, what will happen when disaster strikes at home? We now know the answer: the poor, the infirm and the downtrodden will die horrific deaths as federal agencies struggle with their incompetence. By practically disabling FEMA, cutting the budget for the New Orleans levee system and calling the National Guard to arms in Iraq, the Bush administration’s myopic focus on Iraq and the War on Terror has left us more exposed than ever before. In what should be Homeland Security’s shining moment, it is now clear that the Bush administration is ill-prepared to respond to large scale disaster be it at the hands of humans or nature. The lesson comes at the cost of innocent lives that for too long already have been ignored and forgotten on the fringes of society.
As anti-capitalists and anti-racists, we have decried the corporations and brutal system that breeds inequality and heartbreak along the fault-lines of class and race. We have pledged our solidarity to the working class, to the poor and oppressed. We have raised fists and banners in their names but I am stuck in this netherworld between blinding optimism and abject cynicism and lament that for too long that is all we have done (certain exceptions are not ignored). The devastation wrought on New Orleans and the Mississippi shoreline all too clearly exposes the quietly raging river current of class disparity and racism winding throughout this country.
As environmentalists, we have been the right wing’s “chicken little” foretelling of the days to come when furious storms unleashed by global warming would rip through our lives. NASA recently revealed their “smoking gun” for global warming found in studying the ocean and its increasing temperatures. And now in the wake of Katrina even mainstream press is daring to pose the question, could global warming have contributed to Katrina’s strength? According to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, hurricane wind speeds have increased by 50% in 50 years, that warm water is a crucial ingredient to hurricanes, makes such findings even more sobering. As environmentalists, we have warned against disrupting nature’s defense mechanisms against storms whether its clear-cuts begetting landslides in the Pacific Northwest or the eradication of the wetlands surrounding New Orleans for the sake of “development”. We have removed natural defenses and for too long, we people of consciousness have voiced our fear over what the cost will be and our cries have largely fallen on deaf ears.
So, is this intended as an “I told you so” or as a stratagem for how we can capitalize on this and use it for the “movement”? Indeed no, I write this with a heavy heart, a fear of the world becoming more unhinged than it already is and regret that for too long we have “intellectualized” a movement and bounced from issue to issue never linking them together in any meaningful way. Some of us (not all) have missed the forest for the trees and lack deep committed connections to one another and those that suffer daily under this system. We have focused on goals and movements and unconsciously/consciously objectified and tokenized along the way. As radicals, anarchists and progressives it should be our compassion, love and desire to live our lives a better way in balance with nature and one another that sets us apart. Some of our bitter predictions have come true and it’s time to put our money where are mouth is and support the victims of Katrina and a system we defiantly oppose. What were once talking points have becomes screams echoing along the coastline of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. Hopefully people are converging throughout the country with similar orientations, planning how to send aid in any form possible and not waiting for United Way or the Government to tell you how. People are dying folks, the very people we have purported to stand in solidarity with for so long, even more are displaced with whatever possessions they had destroyed. I don’t have perfect answers for what we can do or how we can help but I know there are answers out there. We talk so much of community and whether you’re in Portland, Houston or New York, how we respond will reflect how deep our commitment to community truly is.
As humans, all other “activist” labels aside, we need to come together with a meaningful message of compassion, love and solidarity that is not measured by our words but by our actions.
With love, rage and a little bit of hope,
maureen haver
houston, texas

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