New Orleans Demonstrates that we can Only Trust Ourselves
In the aftermath of one of the most ravaging storms ever to touch US shores, the people of New Orleans remain stranded. Even with several days to prepare, the federal government failed to render assistance, and the local government buckled under the strain. While people die in the streets, the Lousianna National Guard is unable to help, because they were all sent away to Iraq. Meanwhile, as poor people of color suffer in the South, oil companies profit from their misery, cops guard rich people's possessions, and wal mart bitches about "looting." This is occupied earth, in a microcosm.
Some say the social fabric in the hurricane zone is tearing apart. Hordes of "looters" roam the streets, gunfire has been heard ringing out over the flooded landscape, and desperate bands of marauders step over dead people to assail mini markets in search of food and weapons. For my part, I'm not so sure the social fabric is breaking down, so much as it is demonstrating in spades the harvest of a social system already torn asunder. It is the inequities of American life, floating to the surface with the bodies.
But there is another story here. If one looks past the glitteringly blind coverage being propelled from the screens occupied by the corporate media, there is a lot more to see through the hole that the hurricane tore through our comfort zone. Because while the wealthy fled the city before the storm's wrath, the poor had to stay behind. And while the corporate media labels them looters and victims and gangs, the truth is, they are survivors. They have learned the brutal truth, that the police state is not really there to serve and protect them, that Homeland Security is not really about protecting the people of this country, and that a safety net is really just an illusion to pacify them. When they reach a time of need, there is no line from above. They must drag themselves out. And so they are.
It has been a brutal lesson, but the people in New Orleans are banding together to provide for themselves and each other. Striking out through the flood waters to provide for starving comrades, they liberate supplies from bloodsucking corporate chain stores. Stranded after the limousines all left, some banded together to liberate vehicles and make their own way out of the sunken city. They brave the guns of polite society to do so, and it is a cruel irony that the corporate media's watchful gaze snaps mug shots from above and labels them criminals. Even more cruel that the people stealing to save their lives are branded looters, while the people stealing for profit -- those at Exxon and Chevron and Texaco, who jacked up prices and stand to gain from all this -- are just labeled good businessmen.
A friend found what he describes as "the best coverage of New Orleans so far" (You can find it here: http://www.livejournal.com/users/interdictor/). This isn't corporate spin, this is real people living through it, reporting what they see. And on Thursday, someone posted an interview with a Bourbon Street barman. He said he was one of the people whom the police had told to go to the Crescent City Connection bridge to wait for a ride out of there. So he walked there with thousands of other people. Three days later, he was still waiting. He said that they went without food, water, or medicine for days, and that when it finally came, it was chucked over the side of the bridge at the people below, most of it crashing apart as it hit the ground. He said that some people tried to go up to the bridge to walk the supplies down, but that "any attempt to approach the police or national guard resulted in weapons being aimed at them."
In their desperation, some people tried to flag down passing police cars. (After all, isn't that what we've all been told? If you need help, ask a friendly police officer.) But, reports the barman from New Orleans, "Any attempt to flag down police results in being told to get away at gunpoint." The police, after all, had other things to do. They had to stop looters. The barman continues,
"Before the supplies were pitched off the bridge today, people had to break into buildings in the area to try to find food and water for their families. There was not enough. This spurred many families to break into cars to try to escape the city. There was no police response to the auto thefts until the mob reached the rich area -- Saulet Condos -- once they tried to get cars from there... well then the whole swat teams began showing up with rifles pointed. Snipers got on the roof and told people to get back."
So when we hear about "snipers" from the corporate media, and the dark, shadowy picutes they build in our minds turn to gangs of thugs, we need to remember that those thugs are wearing police uniforms and badges. Because that's something the corporate media has consistently forgotten to mention.
This account of life after disaster is also heartbreaking. Says the barman,
"The people are so desperate that they're doing anything they can think of to impress the authorities enough to bring some buses. These things include standing in single file lines with the eldery in front, women and children next; sweeping up the area and cleaning the windows and anything else that would show the people are not barbarians.
The buses never stop."
It made me cry to read that. To think of people so hungry and so thirsty and so tired, going to all the effort of cleaning up around themselves in the middle of shit island, just so someone might help them, might see them as human beings. As if the problem is somehow located in themselves, rather than in a thoughtlessly indifferent culture, racist and classist to its core, that would just abandon them.
As I said, though, there is another story here. Because the people who survive down there will survive anything that comes now. They will survive peak oil, and hard times, and revolution. Because they have learned that solidarity, mutual aid, and community are their life lines. Not the government, not the "authorities," not the police state. Those things are only here to save rich people's cars and the aisles and aisles of tv sets at Circuit City. Salvation comes from each other.
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