University of Wisconsin students will drive to Louisiana next Wednesday to deliver food, clothing, medical supplies, hygiene products and money to the victims of Hurricane Katrina. We are activists in the Campus Antiwar Network — a national network of antiwar coalitions such as Stop The War! on this campus — and we're delivering the relief on our way to Washington, D.C., to protest the Iraq War on Sept. 24.
We will launch our collection efforts at the Wisconsin Union Theater in the Memorial Union this Sunday evening, where British MP George Galloway will speak as part of his North American antiwar tour. He will be joined by Jane Fonda, who is making her debut speech against the war in Iraq. While some protest, "Don't politicize this tragedy," it's up to activists to make the connections between the resources wasted on war and those who suffer the consequences of neglect at home.
The tragedy is political. A budget that prioritizes war and tax cuts for the rich always leaves education, health care and important infrastructure like levees in New Orleans under-funded. This is not left-wing conjecture; take it from the U.S. Department of Defense. It cited the billions spent on invading and occupying Iraq and Afghanistan when it slashed the budget of the Louisiana Army Corps of Engineers. Further, President Bush has finally admitted fault in the response; however, don't be fooled by Mr. Bush's aberrational humility. This was not just a lapse of planning that could have been averted.
The unnatural disaster that Katrina spawned — the breach of the neglected levees, the cordoning off of New Orleans by neighboring town police who, firing shotguns in the air, prevented those on foot (i.e., the poor and mostly African-American) from leaving the city — shows with painful clarity how the violent and racist priorities of this system make such tragedies inevitable. While the U.S. National Guard is busy occupying Iraq, the world's best-funded bureaucracy could be saving lives in Louisiana and Mississippi.
Our response needs to be two-fold. On the one hand, relief is still desperately needed and will continue to be needed in the months to come. So dig deep and keep giving. But charity, unfortunately, is not enough. There are political questions that will emerge in the coming months and years. Will the new New Orleans become the single biggest mass gentrification project in our nation's history, or will the government provide the jobs, affordable housing, and Social Security required to ensure that African-American and poor residents have homes to return to?
While the military has seen the displacement of hundreds of thousands as an opportunity (with greater urgency than any relief efforts, the National Guard set up recruitment stations at the Houston Astrodome), we must counter its efforts and fight for a world with different priorities. Beginning with respect for Iraqis' ability to run their own affairs free from American supervision, we must change America's priorities. We must demand relief for American victims of Hurricane Katrina and the Iraqi victims of Hurricane George.
As Mr. Galloway wrote, "Katrina shows there are two Americas." One is the America of Mr. Bush, the America of war and occupation, no-bid contracts for Halliburton and Bechtel, and shameful inequality and racism. The other is the America of the victims of Mr. Bush's America, the poor, the 40 percent of New Orleans left functionally illiterate by a war budget and corporate welfare. Just as those left to die in New Orleans couldn't escape the storm of Katrina, those same victims are in the company of billions more who cannot escape the storm of poverty.
Katrina may have been natural, but the negligence and poverty buoyed by war, racism and obscene inequality are not. Come hear an alternative vision put forward by Mr. Galloway and Ms. Fonda this Sunday evening. Bring donations to be delivered to the victims of the not-so-natural disaster left exposed in Katrina's wake. Most importantly, get involved in exposing the hypocrisy, lies and racism of this country's right wing.
"Homeland Security" was just a public-relations campaign used to turn the tragedy of Sept. 11 into the tragedy of war in Afghanistan and Iraq. Get on the bus to protest the war Sept. 24, help us collect and deliver the relief south, and get your ticket today to see Mr. Galloway and Ms. Fonda — two of the world's most prominent antiwar activists — as they point the finger where it belongs: at the negligent war criminals who are running and ruining the lives of the rest of us.
Tickets to see Galloway and Fonda are still available for $10 for students at the Memorial Union box office, (608) 262-2201. Tickets for the buses to protest the war in Washington, D.C., Sept. 24 are on sale for $100 at A Room of One's Own bookstore at the corner of Johnson and State streets. If you are interested in skipping class to deliver aid to Louisiana next week, e-mail Chris at firstname.lastname@example.org.