Revolution #175, September 6, 2009
On August 29, 2009—the 4th Anniversary of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans:
Whole families wading in chest-high floods.
Bodies floating in toxic water, a dead grandmother left to bake in the sun.
Desperation, hunger and thirst emanating off scorching rooftops.
People, most of them Black, packed into a modern-day-stadium slave ship.
Over 100,000—abandoned and criminalized.
Soldiers and cops and even Blackwater mercenaries pointing guns at—and yes, beating, shooting at, and killing—people trying to survive.
Families separated by heartless evacuation.
Many, many needlessly dead.
And we remember the poor, mainly Black, people in New Orleans—abandoned by the government—taking matters into their own hands, overwhelmingly in order to support and help each other, especially those in the most desperate need. We remember the youth wading in chest-high water to save those who were trapped, commandeering school and city buses to get people to safety, and sharing food and water taken from deserted stores. We remember people voicing their outrage at a government, a regime, a system that had not only left them to rot, but penned them in by force.
We remember the people all over the country, from many different walks of life, stepping forward in thousands of ways to try to help, only to be thwarted by the government.
And we remember Bush, fiddling like Nero when Rome burned, heartless. We remember learning how first Congress and then Bush had slashed funds for the levees—in the face of warnings that they would blow. We remember his mother saying that things “were working out very well” for the Katrina victims, as families were split apart and people waited for word of their loved ones. We remember the Louisiana Congressman who said they had been trying to get rid of public housing for years, and now “God had done it” through the hurricanes.
We remember. And we must never forget . . . and never forgive.
The U.S. government knew for years what would happen if a huge hurricane hit New Orleans. Hundreds of scientific reports predicted that the Black neighborhood of the 9th Ward, and the mainly working class neighborhood of St. Bernard, would be flushed away and the industrial districts and wealthy neighborhoods would survive. The way the levees were built made this all but inevitable. But Congress slashed funds for the levees and Bush cut them even more. It was known for days that Hurricane Katrina was coming, but authorities failed to evacuate the city. Then after the storm hit on August 29, they abandoned the poorest sections of New Orleans, with the highest populations of Black people. They left those most vulnerable to face the storms and flooding with no help of any kind. Bush refused to interrupt his vacation and allowed people to suffer and die for days. Over 1,000 died and hundreds of thousands suffered and are still suffering—unnecessarily.
Whether by negligence or design or both, this was MASS MURDER carried out by the authorities, beginning with Bush.
THE AUTHORITIES AIM THEIR GUNS AT THE PEOPLE: The government and its armed forces treated tens of thousands of desperate, hungry, and sick people like an enemy. The media, politicians, and officials created an ugly, racist atmosphere—spreading the lie that there was widespread looting and savage atrocities being carried out by Black people. Brig. Gen. Gary Jones, commander of the Louisiana National Guard’s Joint Task Force, said, "This place is going to look like Little Somalia. This will be a combat operation to get this city under control." Bush said there would be "zero tolerance" for looters and Louisiana's governor said National Guard troops would "shoot and kill" people taking things from stores. Blackwater, the company hired by the U.S. for death-squad activities in Iraq, deployed 200 men to the city, authorized to use lethal force. When hundreds of people tried to escape the floods at the Crescent City Connection Bridge, the police fired warning shots at them and blocked them from crossing. Set loose by the tone set from on high, the New Orleans and other police departments in the area beat and even killed many people, for which there has never been an accounting!
THE PEOPLE TAKE COLLECTIVE ACTION: The disaster showed the people's potential to organize themselves and courageously take matters into their own hands. One 20-year-old man commandeered a school bus to bring people from New Orleans to the Houston Astrodome. A group of mostly teenagers and young adults pooled what money they had for gas and necessities like diapers. Some young men broke into the kitchen of the Marriott Hotel, fixed a batch of scrambled eggs, grits and bacon, and served it to other victims. A retired teacher at the Convention Center praised these youth as "Robin Hoods"—bringing food to the people. Another elderly woman said, "Those ‘looters’ are the only ones keeping us alive." A young man put 18 babies and children from apartments near his in a rowboat and rowed them to safety and continued to care for them. Others went through apartments in the projects or houses in their neighborhoods searching for people they knew wouldn’t be able to move out on their own, and helping get them to safety. People with boats from the surrounding area and bus drivers in Houston, Dallas, and Lafayette, Louisiana, tried to rescue people in New Orleans but were stopped by FEMA. This showed the potential strength that the people "on the bottom" have when they join together—the strength to resist and, ultimately, to make revolution and build a new society.
TURNING DISASTER INTO PROFIT, ETHNIC CLEANSING AND BUILDING UP THE CHRISTIAN FASCISTS: Bush announced plans for "enterprise zones" in New Orleans, where the big capitalists could turn disaster into big profit with billion-dollar construction contracts, new zoning laws, no environmental protections, tax breaks, and even lower wages.
Before the hurricane, Black people made up about 70% of the population of New Orleans. After Katrina, Bush’s Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Alphonso Jackson said: "New Orleans is not going to be as Black as it was for a long time, if ever again." Louisiana Congressman Richard Baker said: "We finally cleaned up public housing in New Orleans. We couldn’t do it, but God did."
Katrina was a natural disaster, easily explained by science. But reactionary preachers blamed the masses for the hurricane, saying, "God did this to punish the people of New Orleans" for gambling, abortions, drugs, Mardi Gras, gay pride days, or even voodoo. And the disaster was used to support and promote Christian fascist churches and funnel money into their "charities."
CRUEL EVACUATION: The authorities subjected tens of thousands of people to slaveship conditions at the Superdome and Convention Center. There was no food or electricity, and the toilets backed up. People suffered from dehydration and were surrounded by disease-ridden water. Dead bodies were left out in the open. Thousands were herded into shelters and dispersed all over the country. Echoing slavery days, many were separated from their loved ones. People were treated like criminals or potential criminals. Background checks were done when people checked into shelters. Some were jailed on old warrants, some immigrants were deported. People were housed in heavily guarded centers, with metal detectors, surrounded by police cars, armed soldiers, and FEMA agents and federal, state, and local officials.
KATRINA WAS PART OF THE WHOLE CRIMINAL HISTORY OF CAPITALISM: The neglect, abandonment, abuse, and brutality of Black people after Hurricane Katrina is a crime of the capitalist system, connected to a whole legacy of slavery and Jim Crow laws. This system has always treated Black people as exploitable, expendable, and undesirable.
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