THE BUTTERFLY EFFECT – KATRINA AND OCCUPATION
I haven’t been sure how to respond to the aftermath of Katrina, or its coincidence with the almost 1,000 Iraqis who were killed during a panic stampede when a bridge suffered a structural failure. I go back and forth, between abject killing rage and nearly despondent sadness.
Too obvious to me that the same people running the war in Iraq are running this show. For good or evil, they don’t give a shit, and they are nearly perfect in their incompetence.
Empathy can’t be given too free a reign or we would be paralyzed all the time. But when I see people doubled over in grief on top of the bodies of loved ones, and when I see the lassitude beginning to take hold of small children who are beginning to suffer from life-threateneing dehydration, I can’t screen that out. It gets in my head. It makes me obsess about everyone I love and wonder — if I don’t know where they are — are they are okay.
I know that grief and death are parts of life, but goddamn it, if someone has the wherewithall to put reporters and camera equipment there, surely they could expend the same effort getting people some bandages or potable water!
And nothing about this is natural. War isn’t natural; and neither is poverty. That’s what people are dying of, not a hurricane. They are dying of war and poverty. They are consumed with rage because of war and poverty. They are paralyzed with helplessness because of war and poverty. They are twisted and driven crazy by war and poverty.
I can’t help but ponder not just the obvious about the Gulf Coast’s National Guards that are currently off in Iraq, whose members have to sit by helplessly wondering about their own families, neighbors, friends, but about how much relief could be provided, and how effective an evacuation might have been mounted if the total assets of the US military had been available and put to use.
Cuba evacuated 1.4 million people in advance of Hurricane Dennis, a Cat 4 that hit them in July, and suffered 16 fatalities. That’s because Cuba not only invests in disaster preparation and strong civil defense, but because there is a social committment to medical infrastructure, high literacy levels, and government support of community organizers, to mention a few of the reasons.
We did the free-market evacuation, an unenforceable order for people to leave under their own power after it was too late. Cuba is resource poor. The United States is resource rich. Figure it out.
The Oxfam report linked above notes the following as “intangibles” that make the difference:
â€¢ social cohesion and solidarity (self-help and citizen-based social
protection at the neighborhood level)
â€¢ trust between authorities and civil society
â€¢ political commitment to risk reduction
â€¢ good coordination, information-sharing, and cooperation among
institutions involved in risk reduction
â€¢ attention to the most vulnerable population
â€¢ attention to lifeline structures (concrete procedures to save
lives, evacuation plans, and so on)
â€¢ investment in human development
â€¢ an effective risk communication system and institutionalized
historical memory of disasters, laws, regulations, and directives to
support all of the above
â€¢ investments in economic development that explicitly take potential
consequences for risk reduction or increase into account
â€¢ investment in social capital
â€¢ investment in institutional capital (e.g. capable, accountable, and
transparent government institutions for mitigating disasters) (end clip)
The reaction of the US government to Katrina is as ugly a picture as you might want of capitalism, and make no doubt that this response is a capitalist response. You’re on your own… if you’re poor, too fucking bad.
There is also no more stark a picture of the African American national question, to my mind, than seeing Black families in New Orleans roaming through the poisonous floodwaters in search of survival. African America is only one disaster away from third-world status, and we can see clearly how Black people are the vast, vast majority of those who were left behind, without transportation, by the free-market evacuation. The White Nation managed by and large to get out. The Black Nation is left to fend for itself.
The poor whites among these refugees have been effectively excluded from the White Nation by their class, but the fact that they are “white” does not change the essential reality of race as a national question.
Looking at the whole question in light of Katrina’s afermath, it becomes much more difficult to shazam away the national reality we are witnessing on the devastated Gulf Coast right now. Historically, empirically, dialectically, subjectively… doesn’t make a bit of difference which lens you use, the scenes from places like New Orleans, now 80% under a toxic soup that the EPA has said couldn’t be cleaned up with the equivalent of the US Gross National Product, are scenes from the African diaspora and scenes from an oppressed nation.
There was a televised report yesterday of a Black family foraging in a pile of garbage for food. A pre-pubescent boy, wearing only a pair of shorts, carefully picked a barefooted path onto the steaming pile of refuse to salvage edible calories. I thought I was in Haiti again.
The parts of African America that White America doesn’t want to see were already in the Third World before Katrina. On the Gulf Coast of the Mississippi Delta that was the case for many already. Now they are a step down from a poor nation; they are refugees.
Jordan Flaherty, reporting from the zone on September 2nd , wrote:
“In the refugee camp I just left, on the I-10 freeway near Causeway, thousands of people (at least 90% black and poor) stood and squatted in mud and trash behind metal barricades, under an unforgiving sun, with heavily armed soldiers standing guard over them. When a bus would come through, it would stop at a random spot, state police would open a gap in one of the barricades, and people would rush for the bus, with no information given about where the bus was going. Once inside (we were told) evacuees would be told where the bus was taking them – Baton Rouge, Houston, Arkansas, Dallas, or other locations. I was told that if you boarded a bus bound for Arkansas (for example), even people with family and a place to stay in Baton Rouge would not be allowed to get out of the bus as it passed through Baton Rouge. You had no choice but to go to the shelter in Arkansas. If you had people willing to come to New Orleans to pick you up, they could not come within 17 miles of the camp.
“I traveled throughout the camp and spoke to Red Cross workers, Salvation Army workers, National Guard, and state police, and although they were friendly, no one could give me any details on when buses would arrive, how many, where they would go to, or any other information. I spoke to the several teams of journalists nearby, and asked if any of them had been able to get any information from any federal or state officials on any of these questions, and all of them, from Australian tv to local Fox affiliates complained of an unorganized, non-communicative, mess. One cameraman told me ‘as someone whoâ€™s been here in this camp for two days, the only information I can give you is this: get out by nightfall. You donâ€™t want to be here at night.’â€
I cannot imagine this “plan” for a destitute mass this size if they were mostly white folks.
Or such a response. On the news, white families foraging through flooded convenience stores for food and water are said to be “recovering” food. Black families doing exactly the same thing are called “looters.” The organs of commodified information are clamoring for control of this deracinated mass of black bodies — get law and order back, even though the city is gone, is a more urgent cry than finding those who are still trapped in their sweltering attics, slowly dying of dehydration and vascular collapse… children the most vulnerable.
Bush spoke today (September 2) in response to the mounting wrath at how the Federal government has responded, and all he could think of to say was, “We are going to restore order in the city of New Orleans.” He knows his White nationalist base well, and that’s all he has to go to now. New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin, at his wits end with diplomatic restraint had to be bleeped on the radio when he said, “They don’t have any fucking idea what’s going!”
The emergence of the American Empire has taken a terrible toll on many people, many nations. I’ll be the last to argue for competitive oppressions. Each was unique in its particulars, and each the same in its purpose — the capitalist must continue to make money, continue to expand, and the capitalist state must continue to ensure his access to materials and — most critically — human beings to work and valorize his capital.
When they are excess to that process, when they become surplus people, they are sent away. In New Orleans, where there is 40% illeteracy in the Black Nation, and a terrible job shortage, petty crime and drug use are survival industries that also serve to feed the hellish slave-mill of Angola State Penitentiary. Now, with Katrina and poverty displacing them, we can pretty well expect the speculators and developers to come in and make good on Bush’s weird promise today that this would lead to a “more beautiful Gulf Coast.” First slaves, then sharecroppers, then meatpackers, then service workers… now Indians.
What is unique about African America is that this nation traces back a history of captive immigration. There were no potbellied Minutemen volunteering to guard the border and prevent them coming in. The market had resolved the question of how to make a proletarian an instant and complete 24/7 commodity.
We can say whatever we want to claim this is merely the past, but the descendants of these Africans did not draw a single property line on an expropriated continent. The “white” bourgeoisie — and White became the national-racial identity — drew the lines, passed out the land they had expropriated by force of arms, and proceeded by fits and starts to construct the intergenerational wealth that today can be counted — not anecdotally, but statistically. “White” net worth in the United States is 14 times that of Black net worth, and when a Katrina happens, this translates into the capacity to escape, te re-establish some measure of autonomy, and to reconstruct one’s life. It reflects the ability of families apart from the disaster to intervene and assist with that recovery.
During Reconstruction, when the Black nation was being forged out of the charred remains of Atlanta and the blood-soaked battlefields, New Orleans became a unique place in that nation. African Americans managed to gain a toehold in the city, even in the face of renewed whtie racial terrorism with the 1877 collapse of Reconstruction. And before the Civil Rights movement achiecved many of its national goals, as early as the 1950s, the Black community of New Orleans had established a complex institutional infrastructure that gave this community poitical influence.
Maybe now is a good time for all of us to visit Reconstruction, because it not only forged a Black nation inside the territorial boundaries of the US, it was a period when the “white” working class — and not just the ruling class, as some schematic lefties would have it — con tinued to forge the White national identity as well.
The American Civil War would resolve, once and for all, what class would determine the direction of US development. An old order — the planter class that oversaw the political separation from Britain — now faced a challenge from its own offspring. New geography, new demographics, and new technology — and the emerging industrial bourgeoisie of the North — had been born of the plantation, nursed at the breast of the Cotton Economy, and was now grown strong and demanding the keys to the state.
Revolutions happen only when conditions bring together economic, political, and military crisis. Lacking that complete combination, the most that happens is a restructuring of the existing order, an adaptation, a re-structuring of the same power. The cataclysm of the American Revolution set in motion the unfettered evolution of Northern machine manufacture â€“ an economic amplifier for cotton production in the slave economy. But the two predominant and contradictory forms of production could not share a political system. Slavery and and the tirbutary economy of sharecropping existed in direct contradiction to the â€œfree laborâ€ dynamism of the industrial capitalist North. A Second American Revolution, the Civil War, followed quickly on the heels of the first.
Contained within this titanic power struggle that would unleash the bloodiest war the world had ever seen, were millions of sullen slaves, heads bowed before the gun and the lash, but waiting and watching.
Haitiâ€™s successful slave-led revolution in 1804 had simultaneously quickened the American slaveâ€™s will to insurrection and the slave-ownerâ€™s terror of slave revolt, and the repression of slaves in the South became even more ferocious.
The Haitian Revolution smashed the foundations of the white supremacist ideology. Reconstruction would give the lie to white supremacy as well.
With the military defeat of the Confederacy, in a matter of a mere two years, Black civic and political organizations proliferated with blinding speed across the South, especially the Black Belt â€“ so called because of the dark, rich soil from which slave labor had extracted profits for the planters. Under the nominal protection of Northern occupying troops, many Black themselves, the newly liberated slaves â€“ aware of the need for their own institutions to achieve self-determination â€“ created self-help organizations, schools, became active members of the Republican Party, published newspapers, organized banks, established â€œburial societies, debating clubs, Masonic lodges, fire companies, drama societies, trade associations, temperance clubs, and equal rights leagues.â€ (Eric Foner, “Reconstruction,” pp. 95)
Blacks also established churches. White churches that allowed them at all, still clinging to the markers of white privilege, segregated white and Black in the church. So the Black church became the focal point of Black collectivity. Social, economic, and political leadership in Black communities sprang from the independent Black church. The Black church linked â€œblacks across lines of occupation, income, and prewar status… offered the better off the opportunity for wholesome and respectable association, provided the poor with a modicum of economic insurance, and opened positions of community leadership to men of modest backgrounds.â€ (ibid.)
Through the coming decades of shifting social conflict, high spots and low, to the present day, the independent Black church has persevered as the locus of community life â€“ for good and ill â€“ where a distinct community identity was forged in resistance to the pressures of persistent white supremacy.
It would also be the most reliable Black institution within the white-capitalist society. Blacks would never control the means of social production, so Black churches became the vehicle for social mobility, and therefore the occasional battleground for power within the Black community. The church became a point of resistance to white supremacy, and at times, leadership within the church would collaborate with white supremacy. The Black church quickly developed into a patriarchal establishment where internal battles between liberation and accommodation trends, which corresponded to the interests of developing classes among Blacks, would be fought out.
More than any other factor, the intractable nature of white supremacy as a practice would maintain the solidarity of these institutions through all their internal tensions. And it was this gradual recognition by Blacks in the United States that they would never be allowed an equal partnership â€“ even with so-called white allies â€“ that led to the emergence of Black nationalism. This idea was a direct reflection of the lived experience of Blacks, now cohering into a homogeneous community that was only still partly African and not fully integrated as American, but African American. With the decisive defeat of Reconstruction, and the literal consignment of African-Americans to colonial status within the South with codified segregation, Black national consciousness put down deep roots that persist to this day.
The period of Reconstruction, officially from 1865 to 1877, with political consequences that werenâ€™t decisively reversed until 1898, was turbulent, contradictory, and complex.
Black nationalist consciousness was only dim when Reconstruction began. The early development of Black civil society was a heady and hopeful time, when Blacks were demonstrating a rapidly sophisticated grasp of issues and organization, and asserting these often in the face of furious and violent reaction â€“ reaction that was egged on by the bitter remnants of the planter class, who would never miss another opportunity to inflame and alarm whites of every class about the perils of â€œNegro power,â€ but also — as Ted Allen and David Roediger and others have pointed out — with the active and sometimes leading participation of the “white” working class.
Blacks fought for social and political power, and developed a society within a society. The desire of Blacks to determine their own future was constrained economically and politically within a larger, white-dominated system, that was itself undergoing a radical reconstruction â€“ one based on the needs of a new Northern-dominated industrial bourgeoisie, based on fortunes grown fat with war profiteering.
Lincoln dimly recognized the dangers these profiteers posed even before the Civil War was over. In 1864, he wrote to Colonel William F. Elkins and said, â€œI see in the near future a crisis approaching that unnerves me and causes me to tremble for the safety of my country. … corporations have been enthroned and an era of corruption in high places will follow, and the money power of the country will endeavor to prolong its reign by working upon the prejudices of the people until all wealth is aggregated in a few hands and the Republic is destroyed.â€
While Black civil society hitched its hopes to Federal Republican repression of the post-war planter class, the Republican Party itself — an eclectic mix of unionists, abolitionists, proto-libertarians, utopian socialists, â€œfree-laborâ€ advocates, and now Blacks — came under the powerful financial influence of big business. Much like the Democratic Party of today, the Republican Party was ratcheted to the right, subordinated to big business, and led to court Black voters at election time, then betray Black interests when they were brokering power.
The ideology of white supremacy was deployed by Democrats as the twin of an anti-federal government ideology in the South, a coupling of ideas that persists to this day. The paternalism of much of the white Republican support for Blacks â€“ reinforced by the unofficial and official systems of white privilege â€“ soon suffered a kind of â€œcompassion fatigue.â€ When Blacks didnâ€™t â€œpull themselves up by their bootstrapsâ€ (ignoring of course not just economic disadvantage, but escalating violence, including the organization of a Southern planter militia named the Ku Klux Klan), white Republicans began to recite from the chapbooks of biological racial superiority. Even the movement of white feminists, formerly the allies of abolition, opportunistically attacked the Black franchise, and resorted to crude racist appeals.
In the mid-1870s, on the heels of a period of wild economic speculation, the United States was gripped by a harsh depression. Economic hardship sharpened class differences between â€œfree laborâ€ and industrial capital, and between small farmers and the predatory lenders of the day. In response, the Grant government, which was now filled with appointments from the new dominant class, pushed for Westward expansion to relieve the tensions that had begun to break out in strikes and riots. By 1876, there would again be talk of Civil War.
On June 27, 1876, President Grant received disturbing news. On June 17th, the Lakota Sioux leader, Crazy Horse had defeated an incursion by General George Crook in South Dakota. Crazy Horse had then linked his forces with Cheyenne chief, Sitting Bull, and on June 25th they had trapped General George Armstrong Custerâ€™s 7th Cavalry in the valley of the Little Big Horn and completely destroyed them.
Federal forces could no longer be spared for the increasingly ineffective occupation of the South, with an indigenous rebellion in the West delivering tactical defeats to the US Cavalry.
In 1877, Reconstruction was officially ended. The white capitalist establishment â€“ once providing allies for Black liberation â€“ now left Southern Blacks to the tender mercies of a bitter planter class and the New South bourgeoisie, in order to more effectively pursue genocide in the West.
In some places along the Black Belt, the gains of Blacks had been consolidated, and Blacks held political office even after 1877. With the deepening severity of the economic crisis, and the behind the scenes promotion of racist ideology by both planters and New South bosses, white labor largely embraced white supremacy to secure some elements of white privilege by excluding Black labor. Black Republicans then found themselves in a marriage of convenience not with white free labor, but with white small farmers â€“ the basis of the anti-monopoly Populist movement â€“ and a powerful fusion politics emerged, especially in the Carolinas, but also in places like New Orleans, with white Populists and Black Republicans.
The southern Democratic Party then became the political home for an alliance of planter and New South industrialist â€“ both now threatened by this Black-white coalition â€“ and the Democratic Party then declared itself the â€œparty of white supremacy.â€
The decisive defeat of Reconstruction was the defeat of Louisiana fusion candidate for Governor, John N. Pharr, by Democrat white supremacist Murphy James Foster in 1896. Jim Crow arrived in New Orleans with that election, and had been thoroughly codified into law within a decade.
One aspect of racism seldom discussed at any length is the potent psychological poison of the Calvinist male terror of womenâ€™s sexuality, and the irrational transference of that sexual anxiety to a bestialized Black male. Progressives often donâ€™t understand the significance of it, but racial demagogues have always understood its power. I would reference here the earlier post on “King Kong” as a metaphor for white male sexual terror.
The campaign of the Democrats against Black-Populist political power was based on lurid images â€“ oft repeated â€“ of Black men ravishing white women. This image became the cornerstone of the ideological assault on â€œfusionâ€, the on Black political rights altogether. Ultimately, the violent defeat of Fusion and the last vestiges of Black political power in 1898 was launched as a campaign to protect â€œwhite womanhood,â€ and Reconstruction was done away with once and for all.
Populism was co-opted with the carrot-and-stick combination of racial privilege and punishment for â€œracial collaboration.â€ The Black community, after showing the world its vitality and dynamism in the post-Civil War interregnum, became an occupied people within the United States.
Those who claim there is no direct line from slavery to the present are not only wrong, they are trying to jump over Jim Crow. Slavery ended in 1863. It took Jim Crow another 100 years to reach its legal end, and it has been reimposed through economic warfare since then.
It wasn’t long after the end of Reconstruction that Black nationalism became explicit, and with it pan-Africanism. Garvey and DuBois leapt onto the scene, one emphasizing the national character of Black America and the other talking about unity across the African diaspora — pan-Africanism. These currents became the theoretical expressions of the lived experience of collective oppression and collective solidarity for African America.
Torn from their African history, yet struggling to make their way after manumission in North America, Black people in the United States at the turn of the 20th Century were neither African nor incorporated with full citizenship into the American social and political body. Yet there was a distinct and cohesive community that had emerged in the interstice of Reconstruction along the former plantation stronghold of the Black Belt, and that community — oppressed, exploited, and reviled as it was — maintained its distinctive coherence as a both a colonized people and a self-supporting community. It was Fanon’s settler-native construction turned on its head.
It took Garvey to call it a nation, but it took DuBois to point out that a national minority could not pursue a struggle for self-determination against a national majority except in an international context. across the diaspora, and linked to the anti-colonial struggles around the rest of the world.
Alf Hornborg describes imperial privilege as the entitlement to “appropriate space and time,” and he describes the imperial core-exploitable periphery relations as one where the core imports wealth and orderliness, while it exports disorder, poverty, and waste. The white citizens — and who can blame them — jumped in their vehicles, gassed up, and headed north away from Katrina’s ruthless power. They appropriated space and time, using the universal equivalent of money. Those without the money and the cars, they are left behind, trapped in space and time to face the social disorder and to wade through the carcinogens, mutagens, and embryotoxins.
This is the essence of colonization… and the basis of a struggle for national liberation. Under the Republican Party after Nixon’s Southern Strategy, the war profiteers were effectively re-merged with the ideoloogy of white supremacy, and they have acieved their zenith under this administration.
It was a weather scientist… since weather broguht us to this juncture… Edward Lorenz, who unintentionally created a revolution in science when he was trying to model weather on a primitive computer in 1961.
Lorenz had been pottering around with his toy, trying out a set of 12 equations to see what their value might be for predicting weather. He was in a rush one day, so instead of running the whole sequence, he typed in the values part-way through the sequence and let it run for an hour. (I told you, these were very slow computers by todayâ€™s standards.) But something happened.
When he checked his figures after that hour, he found not some minor variations, but some shoâ€™ â€˜nuff, holy-shit! variations. In his investigation of what had â€œgone wrong,â€ he realized that he had set the computer to calculate to six places beyond a decimal point, but to print out only to three places. So when he has started the mathematical process with unintentional differences that are generally considered to be statistically insignificant, he got wildly differing results â€“ not differences of quantity, but of quality.
This was one of those aha! moments for Lorenz, whereupon he decided that predicting the weather would always be impossible because in any complex system, extremely tiny variations at one point in time develop into massive variations in possibilityâ€¦ which translates into â€œrandomnessâ€ even in deterministic systems, ergo, unpredictability.
What Lorenz had discovered was that Einsteinâ€™s dismissal of quantum physics â€œrandomnessâ€ as â€œGod playing dice with the universeâ€ was wrong, but only partly wrong. Lorenz discovered that â€œGod plays dice with the universe, but the dice are loaded.â€ Lorenz didnâ€™t see his experiments as momentous beyond weather prediction, and he published a meteorological paper on his discovery â€“ which then lay idle for several years.
Then a biologist, Robert May, ran across Lorenzâ€™s publication and decided to conduct similar experiments in biology â€“ another science involving very complex systems. May was looking at population growth rates, and he noted that when he accelerated the rates of growth, even using the same figures, his progressions would hit points where two distinct deterministic possibilities occurred â€“ one identical cause with two possible effects. He called these points of dual possibility â€œbifurcations.â€ He also discovered that the faster he accelerated his progressions, each â€œbranchâ€ of the bifurcations would itself bifurcate, faster and faster, until a point of absolute unpredictability occurred â€“ chaos. After the â€œchaoticâ€ interlude, a new period of relative stability would return, but on a wholly different mathematical basis, then the â€œagitationâ€ would set in again.
The way I visualize this process is by thinking about a cigarette burning in an ashtray. There is a fairly steady up-streaming column of blue-gray smoke, but at some point on that column you see this smoke-rope begin to sway then very suddenly ripple all over the place, then reassume a stable but different pattern above the ripple. We have all seen this.
It was weather that started all this, so the metaphor for this unpredictability and how it rippled out through entire systems was “the butterlfy effect.” A butterfly flaps its wings in one place, and the weather changes in another.
Bifurcations can be social and political, too. The butterfly effect is real. There is a relation between the collapsing bridge that killed a thousand Arabs in Baghdad and the after-effects of Katrina that are causing what David Von Drehle and Jacqueline Salmon today termed, “[t]he largest displacement of Americans since the Civil War” (Wahington Post).
Yes, there was weather… destabilized by a slight rise in the mean temperature worldwide (hardly a “natural” event), and look where it’s taken us. But some bifurcations can be intentional, too. We can participate in our histroy, even if we can’t predict or control it. Who could have known that Cindy Sheehan’s refusal to leave a ditch along the road in Crawford, Texas could have catalyzed a new crisis for the administration?
Now, as the popularity of the White nationalist government is sliding, along comes this hurricane to expose the callous incompetence of this ruling clique. That is their bifurcation. Their complex system is also proving itself “sensitive to initial conditions,” and vulnerable to catastrophic cascades. It’s all connected, all related. We can see it more clearly now, and act more clearly in the face of it. The Katrina-Occupation Connection.
There is a relationship between the hostile occupation of Iraq that caused a disaster, and the disaster in New Orleans that now looks more and more like a hostile occupation. There is a relationship between the prison at Angola and the prison at Abu Ghraib. There is a relationship between the soldier sent to do Bush’s dirty work in Iraq with scrap metal for armor on his humvee and the FEMA bureaucrat put between the people and the administration to take the flak after the administration gutted their budget.
Go review those intangibles listed by Oxfam that make Cuba’s disaster preparation successful and that of the US a disaster after the disaster. The commonn thread in those intangibles is care. The Cubans care. The white ruling class of the US doesn’t give two shits about anything or anyone except their own class… and themselves. They don’t give a fuck about the soldier in Iraq any morte than they give a fuck about Black people in New Orleans. These folks are just tools for them, just a cheap set of hands, cannon fodder or slaughterhouse fodder or the representatives of a dark enemy to justify the depradations of racist cops.
It’s all out in the open now, exposed like an open wound. The Gulf of Mexico meets the Persian Gulf… meets the gulf between Black and white, between poor and rich. The misery of Katrina’s refugees is just the culmination of the violence and misery of poverty, of being a colonized nation… and exclamation point to punctuate the system.
Is this the threshhold? Is this when someone says it is intolerable? Is this when we become the Haitian National Popular Party, the Iraqi Patriotic Alliance, the indigenous rebellions in Latin America? Time will tell.
I know where some will go already, trying to hitch their wagons to this anger, without breaking the code of Omerta in the Empire. “Why should we be helping Iraqis, when our own people need help?” Don’t fall for this. Anyone that says thsi is trying to have his cake and eat it, too. They are pretending to speak for the Black Nation, while they are covering up for the White Nation.
Tell people, every time we hear it, don’t go for this. It’s too pat, and too wrong. The resources expended in Iraq are expended there for domination and plunder, just like they will be spent her for domination and plunder. No African American is in competition with Iraqis for “help.” The White Nation uses its resources to attack Iraqis, and the aftermath of Katrina is nothing less than the culmination of an attack on African America that has gone on for centuries.
Humpty Dumpty is not going back together. They all like to say that 9-11 changed everything forever. Well, so does Kartrina. African America can mark this day as infamous as 9-11, the culmination of an attack by the White Nation on the Black Nation.
DuBois said that African Americans (and their allies) needed to build solidarity with other Africans outside the US, and with other colonized peoples. The struggle has to be internationalized. The nation of African America is an occupied nation no less than Iraq, albeit with greater hegemony (the consent of the governed). It is an imprisoned nation just as Iraq is an imprisoned nation, just as Palestine is an imprisoned nation, just as Haiti is an imprisoned nation.
Rod Bush writes that “the rising tide of decolonization in the post-World War II period was to reinforce the radical elements within the African American population who linked civil rights with liberation movements… At the same time the US had become the new hegemonic power ironically clothing itself in the language of its anti-colonial heritage. To win the allegiance of these new nations of color required that the US eliminate its official saction of segregation and adopt a posture of support for civil rights. But the collapse of the European empires vindicated the notion of the inevitable rise of the dark world, which was part of the folklore of the Black working-class communities from which Malcolm Little had come, and thus contributed to the mobilization of these communities… Whiel the civil rights movement drew inspiration from the challenge to the white world, they did not develop a position so frankly oppositional. They hoped that their movement might redeem the soul of America. But the movements [Malcolm's and Martin's] operated in a common social space [the Black nation], interpenetrated one another, and generated an increasingly powerful internationalist discourse that resonated to other emancipatory voices within the United States and from many parts of the earth. Many viewed the rebellion of the inner cities a nd the resistance to theincreasing violence of the US interventionin Vietnam as the onset of a sea change in power relations not only within the United States but on a world scale. This was a remarkable evolution, with a substantial section of the movements arguing for global solidarity with those whom Martin Luther King, Jr. called ‘the barefoot people of the earth.’ The agenda was to com plete the Ameircan Revolution, and to transform the American Century into something more akin to a ‘People’s Century.’” (“Reflections on Black Internationalism as a Strategy,” Socialism and Democracy, July 2005)
I can’t help but think, as I read Rod Bush’s piece, of the barefoot boy in New Orleans going through the garbage heap, and about the September 24th mobilization against the war in Iraq. When Dr. King was gunned down, three years after Malcolm X was assassinated, he had been planning a massive Poor People’s March for Washington DC. No one will ever convince me that this plan and his assassination were not connected.
Right now, while the nature of this system is exposed in its ruthless inhumanity, may be the time to revisit this internationalism and to finish what King started.
A new Camp Casey has spring up on the north shore of Lake Ponchertrain, this time to provide relief. Some of the same Iraq veterans and military families who were set up as sacrifices on the alter of Imperialism are now moving to assist the latest victims of Imperial attack.
Perhaps this will not be the flap of the butterfly’s wings that will create that decisive destabilization. We can’t know.
But my fantasy is… and it is just that… my fantasy is that those people across the country who are mobilizing to demonstrate against the war in Washington DC on September 24th — and who have watched this whole horrific colonial drama unfold around Katrina — will organize hundreds of buses to drop by Camp Casey – Lake Ponchertrain, and pick up as many of these refugees as possible. Adopt them to DC. Share food and water. Bring tents and cots. Assist with diapers and medicine…
And build a giant displaced persons camp on the Mall in DC. King’s Poor People’s Campaign redux. This is where tens of thousands of refugees and their supporters can stand directly before the seat of power, and say, “What in the fuck are you going to do now?”
They could not get away with throwing a grieving mother out of a roadside ditch in Crawford, and they will not be able to displace the displaced on the Mall if we determine to stay. African America will not tolerate it. Many of us will not tolerate it.
The slogan is already there. “End the occupations. Self-determination.”
Voices from 2004:
The evacuation of New Orleans in the face of Hurricane Ivan looked sinisterly like Strom Thurmond’s version of the Rapture. Affluent white people fled the Big Easy in their SUVs, while the old and car-less — mainly Black — were left behind in their below-sea-level shotgun shacks and aging tenements to face the watery wrath.
Deadly Hurricane Ivan Gives Big Easy the Jitters