If you haven’t heard yet a historic coalition is being built in the City of New Orleans to help not only those displaced and left in need by Hurricane Isaac, but also the almost 10,000 people who have been left homeless since Katrina struck 7 years ago. The Occupy Movement is using the communications capabilities of InterOccupy and its national & international reach, to bring together the Common Ground Collective & Food Not Bombs, in a relief effort that will force our political system and the mainstream media into a conversation about the human impact of global warming.
Since I have arrived in NOLA early Sunday morning I have observed the electrical crews working to restore power, armed National Guard Humvee Patrols, and Air Force One flyovers that exemplify the band aid approach that our leaders apply to increasingly frequent natural disasters. The media, not having the sensational pictures of thousands of underprivileged citizens of NOLA clinging to their roofs for dear life, is content to report that lessons were learned, levies were strengthened, and that we have averted the tragedy that accompanied Katrina’s landfall exactly seven years prior to Isaac. But have we really?
Any person that has passed 5th grade science can tell you that the release of greenhouse gasses like CO2 into our atmosphere will raise the temperature of our planet, putting more water vapor & energy into our atmosphere and increasing the frequency & ferocity of disaster weather events. As this water moves from our lakes, rivers & glaciers into our atmosphere, the seven billion people & the plants that feed them, will compete over less & less water. At the same time the polar ice caps are melting and rising oceans will threaten to flood cities like New Orleans and displace 80% of the world’s population.
Still our political response has been to retrench into our existing energy sources and give lip service to changing our world’s suicidal addiction to the energy sources that release greenhouse gasses. Even more disturbing than Governor Romney’s plan to allow for more drilling, mining and the exploration of oil, coal and tar sands so that we can burn them; was the incredulous laughter on the convention floor to the proven fact that our oceans are rising. This summer Bill McKibben pointed out in the article “Global Warming’s Terrifying New Math” that even if no new drilling or mining occurred and we only burned the fossil fuels that are currently in the Oil companies reserves we would release 2,795 Gigatons of CO2 into the atmosphere, almost 5 times the 575 gigatons that most scientists agree would be catastrophic if released into the atmosphere.
Our government’s response to Isaac, much like its response to global warming, is like a doctor prescribing band aids to a hemophiliac. It fails to address the underlying condition and looks rather to give the impression of helping, while actually allowing the underlying condition to get worse. Yesterday I had a conversation with an Algiers resident who described the dehumanizing experience of visiting a Red Cross Distribution Center and being menaced by twenty M-16 wielding National Guardsmen. Today I have received reports that both FEMA and the Red Cross are beginning to pull out of some of the hardest hit areas. In their eyes, the mission has been accomplished, and the band aid has been applied.
However #OccupyIsaac doesn’t agree. We know that only addressing the short term physical needs of the victims, will only neglect their psychological, spiritual and communal needs. After Katrina these needs were neglected in the broader New Orleans population and the city has never really recovered. Even today the city has almost 100,000 less residents than it did prior to Katrina and more than 10,000 residents who are homeless. Despite the fact that New Orleans has the largest port in the country economic opportunities for residents are at an all time low. Like Detroit, New Orleans has become a warning story about the perils of Globalization and Neo-Liberal Corporatist policies. Its time to learn the lessons of Katrina and use our response to Isaac as an example of what collective action can achieve.
I have been working closely with Malik Rahim, the founder of Common Ground, and a lifelong New Orleans resident, to create a vision of what it is that we will achieve with this relief effort. Our shared vision is to play to the strengths of Common Ground, Food Not Bombs, and the Occupy Movement; to celebrate the ability of autonomous individuals to accomplish seemingly impossible tasks when they come together with shared intentions in a respectful and cooperative fashion. Right now mobile kitchens from across the country are being mobilized to travel to New Orleans and the surrounding hard hit Parishes. However, rather than just providing food and doing mass feedings; when we provide food we will engage the community in the fashion of a community dinner; where entertainment will be mixed with education, and a compassionate ear will be lent to the victims of this storm so that they will know that they are not alone. When we provide relief to a family whose home has been flooded, rather than just gutting the home for them, we will educate them on how to do it themselves. We will provide Tyvek suits, respirators and teach the basics of mold remediation. We will teach them that infections will be rampant after the flood, teach them the basic first aid necessary to prevent infection, and administer tetanus shots. We will teach them how to heal their fields and gardens by removing pollutants through biological soil remediation. We will teach them about the decisions that they can make as they rebuild their homes, that will make the next disaster a little less devastating. We will teach them how to be more sustainable and how many of the “easy” decisions we all make in regards to our lifestyle translate into more disasters for them. Most importantly we will teach them why the inability of our political class to mobilize against global warming & the Oil companies is condemning them to disaster and we will tell this story to the rest of the world, giving a face to the victims of our disastrous energy policies and lifestyle choices.
This begs the question of WHAT CAN YOU DO? Although Common Ground and Food Not Bombs will be performing the on the ground relief effort, this effort will not work without the participation of Occupy Camps across the nation and the world. Unlike the relief effort of the Red Cross and FEMA, our relief effort will not be measured in days and weeks; but rather in months, years and decades as the volatile weather produced by our warming climate continues to destroy our communities. We urge you to activate your camps and retake the parks and squares from which you were pushed. However this time rather than re-establishing your camps for the purpose of 24-7 sleepful protests, we urge you to retake the parks and squares for the purpose of organizing daytime food drives for the benefit of those who have been left in need by the volatile weather brought on by our warming climate. We urge you to recast the compassion for those drowning in a sea of inequality that informed our original acts of defiance, into acts of compassion that exemplify what we are all capable of achieving when we act in a respectful & cooperative fashion. The purpose of #OccupyIsaac is not to antagonize the status quo into confrontation, but rather to inspire all of our communities with the power of compassionate collective action.