August 31: Hurricane Harvey's Cascading Social and Public Health Catastrophe; Getting the Demands into the Hands of the People

August 31, 2017 | Revolution Newspaper |


From a reader:

Devastation caused by the hurricane and deluge that has hit the Texas and Louisiana Gulf Coast continues. New terrors unfold daily as the storm slowly moves east. The mayor of Port Arthur, about 90 miles east of Houston, sent out a message saying “Our whole city is underwater right now”. Nearby Beaumont—a city with about 120,000 people—lost its municipal water supply when massive overflow from the Neches River shut down its main pumping station. A city official said “There is no way to determine how long this (restoring water to the city) will take at this time”. The one large hospital in Beaumont was forced to transfer all its patients.

In Crosby, north east of Houston, the Arkema chemical plant exploded—twice—and set off “chemical reactions” and fires. Several deputies near the explosions were hospitalized, and the area around the plant was evacuated. In the face of this disaster, the CEO of Arkema made the amazing claim that the environmental impact would be “minimal.” Meanwhile, the Texas Tribune reported that the head of the state Sierra Club said smoke from the fires and explosions indicates “the presence of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, a known carcinogen. Depending on the wind, these chemicals could spread quickly to the surrounding area.”

In the midst of this cascading social and public health catastrophe, the demands issued by Revolution have begun to circulate. The following is based on reports of some initial activities, including some interviews with people at two of the major shelters, the George R. Brown Convention Center, and the Lakewood Church.

Wednesday, August 30 A long line of people continued for hours outside the GRB. It is filled to double its capacity with people homeless from the storm. We went up to people with the Demands printed on the Revolution site. Most people were really appreciative of what we were doing, even as they were also very distressed. In particular, many people appreciated that these demands concentrated a lot of the lessons coming off Katrina. Also, while there is a facade of concern right now among the authorities, a lot of people said that the government is not to be trusted in their promises.

Many people did not know that Art Acevedo, the police chief, had a press conference yesterday announcing that the police are cutting back on “search and rescue.” Acevedo said the police’s focus is going to be on “looters” and “people taking advantage of the situation.”

There was controversy over this: a lot of people were taken in by the hype coming from the media about people “taking advantage” of the situation to steal from people’s homes. Some of them said they had experience of getting robbed while trying to escape the flood. This is being used big time to divide people, and build support for the police. One woman at the Lakewood Church who had come to volunteer at the GRB, asked about this when she read the demand, “Extraordinary measures must be taken to distribute needed resources from all stores to people, at government expense—and under no circumstances must those who take the needed resources be shot or arrested.”

A lot of people were very skeptical about government aid. They knew that whatever was being done now was not out of the goodness of the government’s heart. The authorities in GRB are allowing people to make phone calls, and at least in the immediate period they feel compelled to appear helpful. A lot of people were there with their kids, and are very concerned with the children’s well being.

The question of climate change was important. People really need science. Most people seemed to appreciate what we were saying about the hurricane being natural but the disaster coming from the system. They also related to the fact that a lot of the demands come from experience of Katrina. We met three young women originally from Baton Rouge, where they were flooded out a year ago, and now they are flooded out again! People also talked about how release of water from two reservoirs was avoidable, since it had been known for years that these reservoirs were at “high risk” for failure.

A number of Black people agreed with the demand around ICE. “ICE must be kept away from hospitals, shelters, schools, jails, and other key places during this emergency—and this policy should be publicly broadcast and announced. People should not have to choose between drowning or dying in the floods or losing their children, being permanently separated from loved ones, and hurled across the globe.” Also, most people didn’t know about the horrible flooding in Asia going on at the same time, and how people there are facing an even worse situation.

There were a few [white] Trump supporters, who generally were not friendly, although one really liked what we were doing. He said that he voted for Trump. When I said Trump is a fascist and explained that, he sort of laughed, at himself, I think. But then we had an exchange about climate change, because he said it was predicted in the Bible that it was supposed to warm. He was interested in what I said about the science of climate change, even if he wasn’t convinced. It was ironic, if not surprising, that some white people in this situation support Trump. But also there are openings through this work, including towards November 4. People generally were not aware that Trump was proposing budget cuts for FEMA, but found that important to know.

We met a Black woman in her 20s who attends Joel Osteen's Lakewood Church (a Charismatic Christian mega church that attracts people of all nationalities), who was very appreciative of our efforts. Then she raised the conspiracy theory that scientists are behind these shifts in the weather, “Have you heard of HAARP?” [generally this is an idea that the scientists are using technology to alter the weather]. I said it is the scientists who have been exposing the climate change, and the conspiracy is to hide what they are discovering. These conspiracy theories are rampant generally and bound to come out during these crises, but she took seriously what we said about it.

That’s all for now. We got out a lot of the Demands flyers, a few November 4 flyers, and a few copies of Revolution.

Excerpts from interview with a Black woman in her 30’s: “You Left Us Out There to Die”

Early Saturday morning, we come outside and the water has already filled up to like five feet. So I went live on Facebook to my family and my friends, my Facebook friends, saying, “Help—we’re stuck out here...everybody at the top of the apartments is seeking help.” So my friends start giving me like the National Guard safety number and I call the number and its busy, it’s busy, so I’m like—man, I gotta get my kids, my mom and everybody outa here.

So we literally had to like suit up and swim, in five feet of water, just to get to the freeway. Once we got to the freeway we started seeing snakes and stuff so we had to hurry and jump up to the freeway to safety. We see like a firetruck coming down and I had to jump in the middle of the street to flag em down. We got on the firetruck and they took us to some Metro stop down the street...and the Metro bus brought us to the health department in Third Ward.

Once we got there, we sat there for a looonnng time, like just wet, shivering, cold. They didn’t give us no blankets, they didn’t give us nothing to keep us warm, and we had to sit there for a really long time until another bus came and brought us here (George R. Brown Convention Center). And once we got here it was real, real crazy—like everybody was just running wild...people not getting the medical attention that they need. I mean people falling out, people having asthma attacks and stuff—it was just real crazy. And once they got us in there they was feeding us crackers, bread, and not properly feeding the kids. Man, it was crazy.

But now it kinda like got a little bit better, since they been sending in volunteers and stuff like that so eventually I see progress by the day. It has gotten better. But us not knowing when we can leave, or what we should do when we leave, it’s like really depressing cuz some people can’t just go back to they home, cuz everything is destroyed. Like me, in my position, I don’t even know what my next move is. So I just frankly don’t know what to do. Cuz every person I ask questions to—they don’t know what’s going on...

Like everything I worked hard for, all my life—it’s gone. And what’s really crazy about it is, how come the news people didn’t make a mandatory evacuation—like it’s just something that happened out of the clear blue? Like y’all didn’t even want us to leave, to get out of here, get prepared, nothing. Y’all waited til the water got 5 feet until you wanna start moving people? No. That’s not how you operate things. You basically left us out there to die.

Two Youths From Fifth Ward: The Pickle Man

"When we came to George R. Brown Center—we didn’t know we was going to come here. So we found that out from communication from other people. So we walked from the apartments in 5th Ward. And when we was walking the water was so high to our knee caps. And then while we was walking the water starting getting so high even to our chests. So we were almost fell into the water and felt like we was drowning. But we lift back up and we started walking toward the freeway. So what we did, we walked on top of the freeway so we could get to higher ground. ..

“We did not get upset. We never got discouraged. So—we had to just walk with the faith; not walk against the faith. So I hope that everybody that’s out there, listening to this message—Mason and Tidwell in 5th Ward is totally flooded. Do not go that way.

“In the Fifth Ward, there’s a man, we call him Pickle Man. He sells the neighborhood pickles to everybody. Sometimes he gives free pickles to the kids and the parents just to have people have a smile on their face while he was out there. He was out there on a dumpster truck. And he was out there on the dumpster dirt truck and he was riding on a truck like those. We was helping people out with wheel chairs, pushing them around and all that.

“Some people that couldn’t get on the truck, some people that was handicap people. He was letting the handicap first. And anybody—let the handicap go first before us. We’re more stronger. We got legs and we’re healthier. Young kids that out there that’s going through it right now; this is their first time going through floods—if we can stay stronger, if we can hold on through these things... I’m giving you all the encouragement and to encourage your parents too.”


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