Hurricane season is upon us again, with the wounds of Katrina still raw. I vividly remember the images of stranded New Orleans residents, some defeated; others demanding answers--and justice--from the t.v. cameras aimed at them. I'll never forget them. We should never forget.
"Don't look to your government for help," some say. " You've got to help yourself." The government already did its part by supporting the stadiums. Stadiums and tax money go together, like corn bread and greens. Oh, I thought the government was the people--that's us, since our tax dollars pay for it. Guess I don't get the concept...
Back in time to Labor Day, late 1990's. We were sitting around a picnic table debating the wisdom of spending tax dollars to help pay for a football stadium in this, a medium sized south Florida city. Voters had just approved a half cent sales tax to help finance construction costs for the new stadium, the baby of a millionaire from a neighboring state. Those same voters didn't seem concerned with the question of why a wealthy out of state developer would need our tax money to build his stadium. And it didn't seem to bother voters that sales taxes are disproportionately paid by the poor/working poor-- the people who are least likely to ever be able to afford a ticket to a football game in that same stadium.
Stadium cheerleaders (forgive the pun) argued that jobs will be created that benefit the poor. Actually the jobs created---mostly low wage, contract, and seasonal jobs with no benefits--will keep the poor poor.
Jump to the present day. A report by the Institute of Medicine published this week concluded that "Emergency rooms are taxed (no pun intended) by the nation's 45 million uninsured, who often have nowhere else to go. Hospitals end up losing millions annually in uncompensated care, which contributes to the shuttering of emergency departments." So spoke Arthur Kellerman, chairman of emergency medicine for Emory University School of Medicine.
Meanwhile back at the picnic, I recall the conversation took a strange turn when a sober, successful military veteran and retired businessman suggested that maybe the extra stadium (we already had one) would be used as a "concentration camp."
Say what? A concentration camp---in America? N-a-a-a-h.
But then I heard about the McCarran Act of 1950, which called for the registration of "communist front" groups, and authorized the construction of concentration camps for the purposes of interning without trial all suspected "subversives," should either the President or Congress declare a national emergency. Our veteran friend was old enough to remember the internment of innocent Japanese citizens during World War II. Other suspected "subversives" in those dark days were union officials--Taft Hartley required all union officials to sign non-communist oaths---and Lucille Ball! Back in the day, Dr. Martin Luther King was also a suspected communist.
Forward to 2005. Hurricane Katrina rips through Louisiana, leaving thousands of poor Black Americans homeless and destitute, and/or dead. With no cars, no money, no homes, and already living on the edge, these displaced country men women and children are herded into stadiums like cattle, in New Orleans and Texas, where they languish without food, water, and sanitation. Maybe our friend was right, and the stadiums are internment camps for the poor. In the flooded streets, bodies floated. In the ruined hospitals, doctors and nurses with impossible jobs, worked around the clock, forced to choose between caring for the emergencies--or the worse emergencies.
A year later, the levee ain't ready for another Katrina, and many New Orleans natives are still homeless, forever cast out from the only homes and communities they knew. It wasn't so much Katrina that displaced them, as it was poverty. Poverty and neglect. When you have resources, you can escape, rebuild, start over. As Gandhi said: "Poverty is the worst form of violence." Funds that should have been used to secure the levees were diverted instead to Iraq. To the war on terrorism. To find the weapons of mass destruction.
It was Congressman Dennis Kucinich who said, "Poverty is a weapon of mass destruction." And so it was. www.kucinich.us