Dear Friends,

I'm writing to you as I travel through places full of destroyed homes,
uprooted lives, and the stark contrasts of wealth and poverty side by
side. Usually my messages to you describe my experiences working with
the International Women's Peace Service in the West Bank. This time,
however, I'm not in Palestine, I'm in the U.S. South. This week I'm
participating in a fact finding delegation on poverty, race,
neoliberalism, and the effects of Hurricane Katrina with a group of
about 50 people including folks from the Philadelphia Independent
Media Center, students participating in the Poverty Initiative at
Union Theological Seminary, students at Columbia University's School
of Social Work, and members of the National Poor People's Economic
Human Rights Campaign. I'm part of the media team and mostly working
and traveling with a group of nine people, some of whom are good
friends and others folks I'm just getting to know. We're here to talk
to people, do our homework, and produce media that matters.

Golden Opportunities
More and more I feel that the rich and powerful in our country are
figuring out ways to benefit as things collapse. 9-11 was one example
of this. No matter who you think did it, or how you think it really
went down, the point is that a lot of people benefited and it wasn't
you and me. The Bush government benefited by putting into place plans
that had been in the works for years - the Patriot act, increased
control and surveillance over massive sectors of the population, the
squelching of dissent and questioning authority, suspicion of anyone
that does. The owners of the military industrial complex benefited by
the propaganda about a future of continuous war, successfully
securing their piece of the pie for a long time to come. Anyone who
has a stake in control, of people, capital, natural resources, or the
national political culture, benefited from this disaster. While we're
fighting with each other over scraps, the elite are laying in wait,
playing their cards right, and figuring out how to manipulate the
chaos. I've got to hand it to them - they know how to turn disaster
into opportunity.

Writing to you from the South, I can say from my observations that
Katrina and to an extent all of the natural disasters that happen here
follow the same pattern. 'Natural disasters' aside (but after all how
natural is global warming) there are sectors here that absolutely
benefit from the suffering, the dying - people who have come to expect
and in fact rely on periodic disasters for their very survival. Big
developers, for example, rely on the crises that are wreaked on
average people, and the destruction of their lives, to periodically
make a killing on new construction. When we wonder why politicians
never moved to remedy situations that they knew would produce
disaster, we should think about these dynamics instead of wringing our
hands at the sorry and unpredictable state of the world.

The conclusions are mind boggling but they are also real. We all know
that people are exploited every day in their jobs, and their
communities. But when we really tally up the death toll - from
stress, exploitation, and oppression, it is plain to see that not only
are the poor the first to die as victims of circumstance, they are
actually the first to be sacrificed by those who understand what is
coming, and how global economics really works. I want to suggest
that the devastation I've seen - and I'm talking about Pensacola
Florida, Ocean Springs and Biloxi Mississippi - we haven't even gotten
to New Orleans- constitutes not an unfortunate tragedy exacerbated by
inequality - but a sacrifice on the altar of global capitalism.

Neoliberalism. The dismantling of the welfare state. Every (poor)
person fending for themselves. New markets can't last forever. The
majority doesn't have enough wealth to buy everything that is being
produced. But production has to continue and in fact it has to grow
in order to increase profits. So how can profits increase? Use new
technology to eliminate the need for human labor. Convince people
that the state has no responsibility for human welfare and defund the
social safety net. Start wars to control resources and create phantom
enemies for people to attack when they become angrier about the
collapse. Even when you've gotten all these projects under way, if
you are rich and powerful - the Waltons, for example, who collectively
control 100 billion dollars, (that's 100,000,000,000) you've still got
to realize that you have a problem - surplus poor people. People who,
for all intents and purposes, are in the way. In the way of
'development', in the way of the riches that the already rich are
trying to secure in the only industries still experiencing growth -
finance, insurance, real estate. What will happen to the
neighborhoods that were leveled by Katrina? They happen to be sitting
on prime real estate. How about that! A hurricane did what our
government won't yet do - eliminate an unwanted population.

Meanwhile, the backbone of the 'reconstruction' are semi-slave
day laborers recruited by companies like Labor Ready from as far away
as Texas and Los Angeles, and who originally come from Guatemala and
Mexico. There are poor native born African Americans and whites too,
who are encouraged to hate these undocumented immigrants for 'stealing
jobs'. The day laborers are charged for food ($10 for a lunch which
consists of a baloney sandwich), showers ($5) and $300 a month
to 'rent' a 5X5 square plot of mud on which they pitch a tent and
the right to shit in porta potties and wash their clothes in buckets.
After they don't get paid for weeks at a time, they hang on with
nowhere to go, praying that a paycheck will finally come. After they
do the most disgusting and dangerous work (cleaning out the sewage and
black mold) with little or no protective gear provided, the more
skilled labor is brought in for the photo opportunities and so we can
all celebrate the rebuilding effort.

Meanwhile, contractors party in the bars of all the towns they're
working in, toasting to the business boom. Oh yea, and of course I
should mention that it isn't destroyed houses of the poor that are
being rebuilt, but casinos like the Imperial Palace in Biloxi, MI,
where crews are working around the clock to restore the profits for
the owners, while directly across the street there is absolute
destruction. Oh and I should also mention that the FEMA office, where
people have to go to deal with trying to wrest some pennies from the
government, is located on the second floor of this casino so that
folks can forget their problems on the way down with no clocks to
remind them what time it is. Think about that for a minute. And also
think about the fact that there is a bar inside the casino that was
recently named 'Katrina bar'. I guess so that poverty pimps of all
stripes can gather and toast to the best thing that happened to them
in a while.

We've got to wake up and prepare for the long haul. The rich know
that society is collapsing. They're banking on us being convinced
that it's not. That way by the time we realize we need to be building
the leadership and making the plans to take over, it will be too late
because they will already have orchestrated the collapse down to the
last pathetic violin. The global economic system cannot hold unless
more and more of us are completely emiserated. I don't even know if
that's a word but I think you know what I mean. We have to be looking
at the whole country here, because we're in the belly of the beast.
It's the people who are going to have to move, and by the people I
don't mean the progressive, college educated, liberal left. So start
thinking big, and strategic, because you're going to have to put a lot
of the prejudices you've been nursing, against people who don't act
right, or talk right, or think right, away. As things collapse around
us, we have to learn our lessons and understand that these are Golden
Opportunities for us as well. Opportunities to educate. Opportunites
to organize, and develop leadership. We have to turn tragedy into

More later and much love,

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