Right now, 25,000 people wait in the Superdome to be evacuated. According to today's "Washington Post", these refugees wade through their own urine and feces, without adequate water or food, inside a stinking, foul oven. To make matters worse, according to the Associated Press, the evacuation has been suspended as a gun battle rages in the streets with shots apparently being fired at a U.S. military helicopter.
It sounds like another part of the world where this kind of hell plays itself out on a daily basis, and the sad truth is we know that there are parts of the world where this hell is even worse day after day, year after year.
The thought that people are firing on US military helicopters inside of the United States might tempt one to think that la revoluciòn is right around the corner. This is unfortunately far from the truth. Why individuals are acting as they're acting in New Orleans I don't dare speculate, but whatever is happening for whatever reasons it is happening, it is impossible to imagine that a better world is on the horizon anytime soon. If anything, the suffering in New Orleans and across the Gulf Coast is making things worse. The poor are suffering more, the government is more determined to take charge of things, and there's a general sense of demoralization. And, even if one were to imagine that this further stratification might breed a greater class consciousness which will lead to the ultimate class struggle, I don't see that providing just what we are looking for, and it won't stop the hunger, the stench, or the utter dejection anytime soon.
What is happening in New Orleans is chaos and the fallout of a system that's terribly rotten. We can look at it in several respects.
Historically, one wonders why New Orleans was ever built in the first place. What led the French not only to build a city on this location, or even to build at all on the North American continent? At root, I suspect it was one answer driving things. That answer was a sense of their own moral and ethnic superiority, of their people, of their religion, of their entire way of life. There was a sense of entitlement that permeated all the European powers. The site of New Orleans was spectacular for trade and a spectacular place to exploit not only the indigenous population but their European rivals. Sure, they knew right from the start that the site was potentially a nightmare waiting to happen, but who ultimately suffers? The future, the poor of the future, and when seen that way, the trade off seems good for anyone aspiring to glory.
Economically, we see a society of rich and poor, slaving for economic comforts. New Orleans lives off of the oil industry, trade, and tourism. Such spoils and such wealth, unfortunately, do not translate to equity among its citizens. More than that, the wealth that finds its way into the coffers of the United States government is not used to benefit all the people of New Orleans but rather to build and maintain the military industrial complex, most evident in the war in Iraq. One could write a volume of books about the failings of the economic system. And, when one sees looters in the streets, I cannot help but think that everyone is a victim of the system. Even most of the victimizers unwittingly believe they are merely supporting themselves and their families. We are all victimizers and victims alike, and those who loot (besides being horribly thirsty and hungry) must sense they are only getting what they deserve. If business men in suits can loot you with the flick of their pen working no harder than anyone else, it’s hard to be too outraged at people who don’t have the means to loot more cleanly. This doesn’t justify the means; what it suggests instead is how horribly things are broken and how chaotic the world is right now.
Environmentally, we know that New Orleans exists only because the earth has been manipulated to allow for its existence. That very same manipulation has led ironically to greater devastation of the below sea level bowl that is New Orleans. The destruction of barrier lands for commercial development, the lax environmental regulations, have turned New Orleans into a simmering cesspool of poison for the old and the sick to dissolve into nothing. These environmental policies have led to the transformation of the North American biosphere into carnage waiting to happen. It is hard to imagine a better world happening after the fall of any government given the environmental wasteland that is much of the earth.
We could go on for pages. The point I am making is that it is inconceivable that a better world is just around the corner and that some romantic notion of revolution is just ahead of us. When we consider the sorry state of the social movements that exist in the United States, movements that are run like corporations, complete with their own social class system, we should have no faith in believing that the shots on the ground in New Orleans this morning represent anything but more of the same, only much worse for the suffering.
What this means, I think, is that we have to get our sorry act together. New Orleans is an interconnected mess of systemic failures, and we who believe in social change cannot simply surgically deal with one problem at a time. The devastation we are facing is far too widespread than that. The chaos of New Orleans is only a small microcosm of the vast carnage the world over.
How do we do this? How do we get our sorry act together? Of course, it starts with self-analysis, critique, and facing up to hard questions. Yes, but then what? I think then it starts with compassion, empathy, and understanding for our neighbors and even many we might not count as neighbors. Yes, blah, blah, blah, what then? Then, I think we have to face the fact that we have to deconstruct society and resist, tear it down to its bear essentials while doing our best to take care of each other. This is the plight of our lifetimes—that a better world is not possible until we take the time to tear down the structures that are continuing the damage, much like amputating a leg that’s been blow to pieces. We have no other choice. We have to stop talking about some alternative that doesn’t exist yet and can’t exist yet until we work together to tear it down. And, our only salvation will be in how we work together, how we choose to tear it down. In that, of course, is something positive if we do it right. If we simplify our lives, work small, take on issues of patriarchy and oppression, and show mutual respect for the wide diversity of groups working on different aspects of the same goal, that is no small accomplishment. I think our number one task is figuring out how to resist war, empire, poverty, environmental destruction, and myriad other causes while learning how not to oppress each other both within our own groups and outside of those groups.
But, for God’s sake, let’s stop talking about how to build a better world right now. We don’t need to build anymore; we don’t need another New Orleans, or another Iraq, or another Haiti or another utopia. We don’t need any more pretenses that a better world is just around the corner if only this magic fill in the blank will happen. That to me is the most negative thing I can think of.
You see, as bleak as this sounds, I am very optimistic. I am optimistic that resistance done thoughtfully breeds the seeds of a better world we cannot possibly see or imagine. The process of resistance is its own salvation, is its own better world (at least until a time has come when we might have an opportunity to smell the flowers again, but alas I have wandered way too far).
Don’t be ashamed to be “anti-.” Don’t be ashamed not to see something better. Resistance right now is its own reward whenever that resistance is truly dismantling the evil structures that are in the smoldering ruins of this broken system.
Peace, love, and respect are perfectly consistent with deconstructive resistance, and in today’s context, I can see no other way.
Working out that resistance and the forms it will take are the exciting adventure we are on. And, because my heart burns for all the people, animals, maybe even plants and land that are suffering right now, I can’t wait to continue this journey.
Peace, Struggle, Love, and Resistance,