It’s a good thing that people across the political spectrum, even conservatives, have been speaking up to condemn what many see as the criminal negligence of the government, particularly Bush and his FEMA and Homeland Security Agency, in response to the Hurricane Katrina disaster, and it’s a good thing that there is a tremendous outpouring of support for those who are suffering as a result. Because the likelihood is very high that there will be more and more hurricanes, floods, droughts, people displaced and other natural disasters hitting the U.S. in the coming years.
Indeed, God forbid, it is possible that Louisiana and Mississippi could be hit by another killer hurricane sometime this fall.
The scientists’ predictions of what would happen as a result of global warming are coming true. There have been many other examples over the past several years, none in this country as disastrous, but Katrina may well be the wake-up call to galvanize a popular movement around this urgent survival issue that our threatened ecosystem badly needs.
Katrina is also example number one of this fact: global warming will disproportionately hurt black, Latino and other people of color, both in the U.S. and globally.
It is people of color who live on the islands in the South Pacific which have been shrinking as the oceans rise. Some of them will go under completely within the next 5-10 years.
It is the people of Bangladesh, most likely millions, who will be forced to leave their low-lying homes as sea levels continue to rise.
It is Indigenous, African, Asian and Latin American people who have been suffering as oil, coal and natural gas companies extract fossil fuels with little or no regard for the economic, social or environmental impacts of their operations.
It is disproportionately people of color who, as we have seen in New Orleans, tend to live in the areas of cities most vulnerable to flooding. White people with privilege tend to live disproportionately in the suburbs or exurbs.
But all people will be affected. Most of the 25,000 or so people who died as a result of the heat wave in Europe in the summer of 2003 were not people of color. Most were elderly white people. For that matter, all taxpayers in the United States will see tens of billions of dollars of their tax money go to pay for the damage done to New Orleans. This might have been avoided if Bush and Congress had not cut needed funding to strengthen the system of levees prior to Katrina at the same time that they were spending hundreds of billions for an illegal and unnecessary war.
The government’s response to Hurricane Katrina is also having a huge political impact.
I was astounded a few nights ago to watch national public television news and hear David Brooks, a George Bush supporter and apologist, sharply criticize Bush’s woeful performance as regards Hurricane Katrina. Not only that; he predicted that the anger and outrage among so many over the government’s negligence and incompetence could well fuel a progressive movement of historic proportions. He was joined in this assessment by liberals Tom Oliphant of the Boston Globe and Clarence Page of the Chicago Tribune.
The word “racism” is actually being spoken by mainstream columnists to describe, accurately, an essential aspect of what is going on. Sometimes the truth of things just can’t be hidden.
On the other hand, I was not surprised to receive hundreds of angry, hurting and solidly critical emails from grassroots activists and others around the country all through last week. I was struck by how Katrina and its aftermath was uniting in action people from many different organizations and networks to provide immediate aid to the suffering. And just in the last couple of days I am beginning to see alternative proposals and projects put forward to try to have a positive, progressive, community-based impact upon the reconstruction process.
Perhaps the disaster caused by Katrina, both natural and government-made, will be another kind of beginning, the beginning of a grassroots-based, multi-cultural, anti-racist, massive, independent people’s movement. One which has no use for dishonest and deceitful politicians of any party, which operates democratically and transparently, and which raises up and supports the leadership of those who have been most hurt by this system’s oppressive institutions. A movement which links the issues of global warming, war, racism, class inequality, and the need for a fundamental restructuring of our economy toward sustainability and justice for all.
As I said in a poem written in 1997, “We must use our anger, our outrage, our humanity, our love, burning like a low flame, a pilot light, flaring up as necessary into a burning torch to lead others into a future, a future world, we must, we have to, claim and win.”