In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Kanye West famously remarked: “George Bush doesn’t care about black people.” Following recent events in Greensburg, Kansas, we can definitively say that Bush and the rest of the U.S. ruling class don’t care about any working or poor people, regardless of race.
On Friday May 4th, an EF-5 tornado ravaged the small town of Greensburg, Kansas, leaving 97 percent of the buildings either destroyed or beyond repair, injuring 60 (16 critically), and leaving at least 11 dead.Greensburg was a classic Midwestern working class town, with a population of 1,500 and a median income of $28,000. This was the first “EF-5” tornado since the new “enhanced” rating system was instituted. The storm ravaged through the working-class town leaving 97 percent of the buildings either destroyed or beyond repair, while injuring 60 (16 critically) and leaving at least 11 dead. This was a tragedy by any definition, but it was made worse by the aftermath, which brought echoes of Katrina. And once again, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) was at the center of criticisms. According to reports by those who visited the area in the aftermath, FEMA prevented additional volunteers from entering the city and from helping out until the area has been “secured”. What they mean by “secured” is clear enough, i.e. the securing of private property. This has been evidenced in their actions thus far, just as it was shown clearly by the events of Katrina. The first places “secured” were businesses, that is to say, the property of the rich.
FEMA has given little help to those who lost their homes in this disaster aside from offering “low interest” loans. They have provided only limited aid in the arduous task of cleaning away all the wreckage that impedes residents from salvaging that which can be salvaged. And yet, they have provided air-conditioned trailers to the police, while taking their sweet time providing temporary housing to the displaced working people, the majority of whom are now homeless.
Why did they procure air-conditioned trailers for the police and National Guard units, while not for families devastated by the storm? For the same reason they confiscated residents’ firearms. Quite simply, they had to secure private property and reassert their physical control over the area after the disruption caused by the storm. To do this, they needed to ensure that they were the only armed power in the area (a lesson they learned after Katrina in New Orleans).
And what about the Kansas National Guard? Aside from their domestic role of establishing “order”, the National Guard is allegedly supposed to be able to help with disaster relief. As with the Louisiana National Guard in New Orleans, they have been left without adequate equipment and tools, because of the war in Iraq. They need Humvees for the rescue and clean up efforts, but they are all in Iraq; they need personnel, but many are in Iraq. The aftermath of every disaster while the war continues raises the question: What if our resources were being utilized to meet people’s needs rather than squandered in an imperialist adventure? This is yet another example of how the war in Iraq is a war on workers at home and abroad.
It should be noted that organizations such as the Salvation Army and the United Way also played a rather pernicious role, informing would-be volunteers that their help was “not needed” and so forth, while people on the ground continued to clamor for assistance. Instead, these groups encouraged callers to consider making financial donations! Rather than mobilize the many willing volunteers (Katrina has left many with a “Never Again” approach when responding to disasters of this kind), they instead used the opportunity to fill their coffers. This is nothing new for “charities” of this sort.
What can we learn from this disaster? It is clear that agencies such as FEMA have no real interest in protecting working people from disasters, or concern for their safety in the aftermath. Time and again we see that their first response is to rush in to protect business interests, while workers and the poor, whose personal property has been destroyed, are left to fend for themselves. Working people cannot rely on the pro-big business government to act on our behalf – their interests are diametrically opposed to ours . We can depend only on our own strength and organizations. This is why we need a party of, by, and for the working class, a party that can truly address the needs of the majority.