I guess all we need now are locust. Disastrous wars, storms and floods are striking our nation with biblical intensity. To the long list of war crimes accrued by George II and his thugs can now be added gross incompetence in the field of disaster management. Anyone who questions the claim that the administration’s incompetence is causing more death and sufferering than Hurricanes Katrina and Rita actually did is not been paying attention.
Of course, even in the light of a self-proclaimed revived media, the administration continues to ignore reality and sticks to a script that becomes increasingly impossible to follow with a straight face. A hack reporter like Ted Koppel recently felt it necessary to interrupt FEMA head Michael Brown’s preposterous monologue about all the federal aid coming to New Orleans with the question: “Don’t you guys watch TV? That’s not happening.”
That may be true, but it’s not stopping George and company from sticking to the most recent facets of their Big Lie. Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. The insurgents are few in number and will not impede the growth of democracy in Iraq. The government was unaware of the risk to New Orleans posed by faulty levees but took action as soon as it did to save life and property.
Unlike the war, which strikes conflicting chords deep within the American psyche, it has been difficult to find many people of conscience who aren’t finding the current administration at fault for the destruction caused by Katrina and Rita. And while progressives raised that issue during the Sept. 24 mobilizations around the nation, they have been largely silent - except in those states struck by the hurricanes - at the local level. How many demonstrations have there been in Portland about our own vulnerability to disasters thanks to this administration’s reorganization of emergency services? Who is doing outreach to communities particularly at risk from flooding, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions or toxic catastrophes (what happens to Linnton and St. Johns should some of those chemical storage tanks along the river start burning)?
As I’ve said before in these pages, it is at this local level that the best opportunities for organizing people occur. I’m not suggesting the sort of fear-mongering we’re seeing on the evening news. What I’m talking about is engaging people in discussions about why there may be cause for fear of natural disaster in Portland and what are the real reasons such risks exist.
Now what I’m not talking about is bashing Bush and company as a pack of greedy fools - although in many ways that is exactly what they are. The issue is much larger than any single cabal of greedy white men. The real cause behind the disasters is the ongoing dismantling or reorganizing of government to better serve wealthy elites.
Civilian emergency services have been swallowed up by Homeland Security, an institution capable of moving with all the speed of Jaba the Hut. Their missions have been redirected to helping fight terrorism, a euphemism for stifling domestic dissent. Meanwhile, our national guards are busy fighting and dying to maintain our empire and the natural resources upon which it depends.
Local progressives succeeded in keeping Portland out of the terrorism task force game - a victory that won national attention. Where are they now when they should be demanding a similar opting out of our emergency services and national guard? Portlanders, awash in news stories about the New Orleans debacle, are ready to start thinking beyond mere slogans. They open to concrete ideas if only someone would offer some. Before the moment fades, let’s start demanding an accounting from our local officials about how well they can handle Katrina-like disasters. Let’s demand from our elected officials or through the initiative process a redirecting of civilian emergency services back to protecting civilians rather than chasing non-existent terrorists. Let’s work together to turn off the national guard spigot from which George Bush is drawing the cannon fodder he needs for his bloody war.
We may not succeed in all these objectives, but we’ll be better off for the struggle, especially should nature decide to turn her attention to the Pacific Northwest.
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A special thanks to Joanne Oleksiak for the many hours she put in to make our recent event with Guadalupe Rivera Marín a success.
The Portland Alliance
2807 SE Stark Portland,OR 97214
Last Updated: November 7, 2005