late summer, while the Satya staff was devouring copious amounts
of food for our September New Taste of Vegan issue, my brother
diverted my attention to the famine in Niger. I was once again in
place of trying to understand and reconcile the obscene disparity
in the world and reminded of decades of aid and politics that continually
fail to adequately address poverty and in most cases perpetuate it.
Then Katrina hit. While the hurricane blew the Niger famine off the
headlines, it also displaced the discussions of poverty and class
the United States.
Americans were forced to acknowledge the disparity that exists in
this country as Katrina shed light on economic and environmental
policies and practices that
have left people so vulnerable for so long.
The Empire Strikes Back
Now should be the time to tackle the roots of poverty, assess and reinforce
our neglected infrastructure, revitalize our wetlands, and patch the huge gap
rich and poor. While it seems the most appropriate time to address these issues
of race, class and environmental injustice, our unrepresentatives in Congress
and the oval office would rather exacerbate these problems.
Rather than alleviate unemployment and offer a new New Deal that would generate
decent paying jobs for reconstruction, our president suspended the Davis Bacon
wage determinations, which require those receiving federal contracts to pay
the prevailing wages to their workers.
Rather than invest in local groups and businesses and assist them on the road
to economic recovery, this administration waived affirmative action requirements
for federal contracts and has already started allocating no-bid contracts to
firms like Halliburton and Bechtel.
Rather than invest in renewable energy and address the harm refineries have
long had on neighboring communities, congressional energy bills seek to expedite
construction of new refineries, streamline the permitting process, and waive
some of the environmental standards that apply to them.
Rather than reprioritizing our budget in favor of people’s needs, the Republican
Study Committee created Operation Offset, a wish list that has long been in the
making of budget cuts in the name of Katrina. Masquerading as “Tough Choices
for Tough Times,” these cuts range from shaving Medicaid and Medicare to
eliminating subsidized loans for graduate students. A section entitled “Eliminating
Corporate Welfare” does not curb subsidies to big oil as one would logically
suspect, but rather cuts research in renewable energies, clean coal technology,
and hydrogen fuel initiatives. A reprioritization of federal spending would remove
funding for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, reduce funds for Bureau
of Indian Affairs school construction, and eliminate funds for the national endowments
for the arts and humanities, and NSF math and science programs. It would also
eliminate payments to socially disadvantaged farmers, eliminate the Minority
Business Development Agency, reduce funds for the Department of Energy’s
Environmental Management, and decrease funding for the Centers for Disease
Control. Our foreign aid and peacekeeping will also be reduced. And out of
cuts of more than $900 billion over the next 10 years, roughly one percent
comes from cuts to the Departments of Defense and Homeland Security, where
encourage our military personnel to opt for less comprehensive medical coverage.
Our government’s response is perhaps more destructive to our country
than any hurricane, earthquake, or terrorist attack could ever be.
The People’s Plan
There’s no better time than now for the people to stand up and take back
control of our country. Concerned residents and communities in the hurricane-affected
regions are uniting together for local grassroots leadership in the reconstruction
process. Community Labor United is managing the People’s Hurricane Relief
Fund and demanding transparency from FEMA and other organizations raising and
distributing funds in the people’s name.
They are establishing a number of committees addressing education, politics,
health, and the environment. From creating “freedom” schools, conducting
independent water, air and soil monitoring, to collecting and compiling people’s
stories, Community Labor United is intent on making sure the people’s
needs are addressed, their concerns are voiced, and they play a prominent role
Closing the Gap
Whether it be famines in Africa, earthquakes in Asia, or hurricanes in America,
the ones who suffer most are always the poorest. And however well intentioned
recovery and aid efforts appear, the people making decisions have always been
people of privilege, with nothing to lose, and if you pay close attention,
everything to gain.
Let’s not allow the devastation of future disasters divert our attention
from what is often the root cause—disparity.
To learn more about Community Labor United and the People’s Hurricane
Relief Fund visit www.communitylaborunited.net.
Rescued chicken on medical
Photo: Farm Sanctuary
This issue was particularly challenging
to put together. Sifting through the debris, searching for the stories
most forgotten was harder than one might think. A major part of the problem
was that some of the most neglected of voices, African American natives
of New Orleans who lost everything, were scattered to the wind, scrambling
to locate lost loved ones and doing everything in their capacity to get
back on their feet—and back home. We could imagine a list of some
of those missing from the headlines: women of color, people with disabilities,
our elders, prisoners, orphaned or lost children vulnerable to sexual
trafficking, gays and lesbians, military personnel ordered not to go
into New Orleans to help, and the deafening silence of the animal lives
The conservative human body count for Katrina and Rita hovers around 1,300,
although we may never know an accurate figure: neighbors respectfully buried
bodies left to rot, while the remains of loved ones are still being discovered.
The loss of animal lives is astonishingly unknowable. Listed next to the bushels
of corn and rice lost, a preliminary report by the USDA estimates the loss
to the agricultural industry of 10,000 head of cattle and 6.2 million broiler
chickens. That’s right: 6.2 million, an extremely low number if you take
into account the claim of just one poultry processor of a loss of 8.2 million
chickens. Whichever number you like, Katrina served as a literal holocaust
to chickens and other farmed animals, and should give us pause.
The cats and dogs who survived Katrina still anxiously roam streets and fade
away behind the doors of abandoned homes—waiting.
This issue of Satya attempts to acknowledge the lives lost and disrupted.
We will cover more in depth the neglected areas of concern in the coming months
as the facts become clear. In the meantime, our hearts and thoughts go out
to every living creature affected.