Creating people's geographies
By Charles Sullivan | Counterpunch | 7 Sept 2006
It was a year ago that hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast region of the USA, and left a path of death and destruction in her wake. Well over a thousand human beings lost their lives in the floods that followed the tempest. Who can say how many people lost hope in the aftermath of that terrific storm?
Had Katrina hit an area of the country crowded with golf courses and country clubs the result would have been different. People with wealth and property matter in America; those without do not. America is a land where sharp divisions of class play an important role in deciding one’s fate. People are not treated equally here; although few will openly admit it in print. We are not supposed to bring up class warfare and other embarrassing traits stemming from capitalism. After all, we call ourselves a democracy, don’t we?
America’s imperial leader, George Bush—the murdering thief who stole two elections, was playing golf in Arizona on that fateful day a year ago. The cadaverous vice president was fly wishing in Wyoming. Condoleezza Rice was shopping for shoes in New York—a single pair of which cost more than a typical welfare family’s entire monthly budget.
A year later the commercial media is dutifully revisiting the story, as if to sell the public on the notion that they—a defacto extension of the government—actually care about America’s poor; they do not. America remains a racist nation that was built upon slave labor, and the exploitation of immigrant workers. Racism can be found anywhere but, thankfully, it does not exist everywhere. Not all Americans are racists. However, racism flourishes in the White House, and every branch of government is poisoned by the malignancy of bigotry.
The truth is that wealthy white Plutocrats are in control of the government, and they don’t give a damn about anyone they cannot exploit; and that is the observation of a white man.
Because of my race I know that I enjoy advantages and privileges that black men and women do not. I neither ask for nor expect preferential treatment, but I know that I am accorded them on the basis of my skin color. It should not be like this.
A great war—the civil war, was fought in the 1860s to settle the race question in America for once and for all.
History tells us that the south lost the civil war; however, the evidence suggests otherwise. The battle for equality is without end. In the good old days of Jim Crow and segregation, and before that—Negro slavery, the southern economy was built entirely upon slave labor. In those days rich white men ruled the country and lived in mansions, while their slaves lived in broken down shacks; and they still do. No longer is racism as overt as it was in the days of chattel slavery, but it is continues to flourish and multiply.
Racial bigots continue to control the government—especially in the south, while forging both domestic and foreign policies. The people running the government value wealth and property, and disdain those who have neither. Witness what happened to New Orleans’s poor in the aftermath of Katrina.
Hurricane Katrina provided the federal government an opportunity it has long sought—to radically alter the demographics of New Orleans. Thousands of poor black families—those who did not drown, were forced from their homes and will never be allowed to return. Throughout the Gulf Coast Region the homes of the poor were razed by bulldozers and earth moving machines in order to make way for the developers. It is out with the black, in with the white; in with the rich and out with the poor.
Homes affordable to low income families will be replaced by lavish gated communities for the wealthy, shopping malls and resorts. We do not ordinarily hear about this on the network news, nor do we read about it in the daily newspapers or magazines.
In effect, New Orleans was ethnically cleansed by the government; the same government that abandoned the poor and went on vacation when Katrina made landfall. New Orleans’s mostly black low income population was scattered across the nation and left to fend for themselves, like seeds from a dandelion dispersed by the wind. They were treated like criminals and punished for being black and poor. But what does one expect from a government that evokes imminent domain to demolish low income housing across the country, and turns it over to developers for private gain? When has privatized wealth ever served the public good?
It is becoming more apparent that only those with high incomes and property have inalienable rights. Everyone else is subject to eviction and refugee status at a moment’s notice. Money matters, people do not.
Those who know their history will recognize the familiar patterns of Plutocracy at work. That is how the government has always treated the poor, just as it has always exploited the working class and sent them to die in wars not of their making.
How could any but the ignorant and foolish dare call this democracy?
Katrina was a category three storm when she came ashore late last August. Thousands of poor people lost their lives; millions more lost their remaining faith in their own government. The truth is that the poor have no representation in government. That same government wastes $1.9 billion of our tax dollars every week in an illegal war and occupation in the Middle East; and there are more to come. Can there be any doubt where its priorities are?
George Bush, ever vigilant to exploit a good photo op, recently boasted that he has visited the Gulf Coast region eleven times since Katrina struck. Bush so loathes the working poor that he thinks they cannot tell the difference between a photo op and genuine concern backed by thoughtful action. The world saw Bush’s cavalier disregard for America’s poor on August 29, 2005; and they have seen it every day since. A few rounds of golf in Arizona meant more to him than the lives of all of those suffering people.
But the poor are not Bush’s people; they contributed nothing to his presidential campaign or to the Republican Party. Neither are they the demographic who cast their votes for him on election day. The people of New Orleans know who Bush represents. We see with clear eyes that poor people are disposable, while the rich are indispensable.
By contrast, when Hurricane Ivan, a category five storm struck Cuba—not a single human life was lost—not one! And Cuba is a nation, thanks to U.S. economic sanctions, that has only a fraction of America’s resources.
The commercial media, of course, will allow Bush his photo opportunities; they will do a few feel good human interest stories about rebuilding New Orleans for a day or two, leaving the impression that the people are being taken care of; but they will not tell you the story that most needs to be told. They never do.
Charles Sullivan is a photographer and free-lance writer living in the hinterland of West Virginia. He welcomes your comments at [email protected].