I was just thinking yesterday I wanted to write about this, but Rebecca Solnit at Tomdispatch.com beat me to it:
Let’s rectify some names ourselves. We often speak as though the source of so many of our problems is complex and even mysterious. I’m not sure it is. You can blame it all on greed: the refusal to do anything about climate change, the attempts by the .01% to destroy our democracy, the constant robbing of the poor, the resultant starving children, the war against most of what is beautiful on this Earth.
Calling lies “lies” and theft “theft” and violence “violence,” loudly, clearly, and consistently, until truth becomes more than a bump in the road, is a powerful aspect of political activism. Much of the work around human rights begins with accurately and aggressively reframing the status quo as an outrage, whether it’s misogyny or racism or poisoning the environment. What protects an outrage are disguises, circumlocutions, and euphemisms — “enhanced interrogation techniques” for torture, “collateral damage” for killing civilians, “the war on terror” for the war against you and me and our Bill of Rights.
Change the language and you’ve begun to change the reality or at least to open the status quo to question. Here is Confucius on the rectification of names:
“If language is not correct, then what is said is not what is meant; if what is said is not what is meant, then what must be done remains undone; if this remains undone, morals and art will deteriorate; if justice goes astray, the people will stand about in helpless confusion. Hence there must be no arbitrariness in what is said. This matters above everything.”
So let’s start calling manifestations of greed by their true name. By greed, I mean the attempt of those who have plenty to get more, not the attempts of the rest of us to survive or lead a decent life. Look at the Waltons of Wal-Mart fame: the four main heirs are among the dozen richest people on the planet, each holding about $24 billion. Their wealth is equivalent to that of the bottom 40% of Americans. The corporation Sam Walton founded now employs 2.2 million workers, two-thirds of them in the U.S., and the great majority are poorly paid, intimidated, often underemployed people who routinely depend on government benefits to survive. You could call that Walton Family welfare — a taxpayers’ subsidy to their system. Strikes launched against Wal-Mart this summer and fall protested working conditions of astonishing barbarity — warehouses that reach 120 degrees, a woman eight months pregnant forced to work at a brutal pace, commonplace exposure to pollutants, and the intimidation of those who attempted to organize or unionize.
You would think that $24,000,000,000 apiece would be enough, but the Walton family sits atop a machine intent upon brutalizing tens of millions of people — the suppliers of Wal-Mart notorious for their abysmal working conditions, as well as the employees of the stores — only to add to piles of wealth already obscenely vast. Of course, what we call corporations are, in fact, perpetual motion machines, set up to endlessly extract wealth (and leave slagheaps of poverty behind) no matter what.
Go read it all.
To put it bluntly, Irene simply kicked our asses. Irene devastated us locally. I am fifty-one years old, and had never, ever been afraid of a weather event in my life. And I was petrified as I experienced Irene, and thought it would never end.
So now we are preparing for Sandy, and we know and are told that this storm will be worse. And believe me when I say that worse than Irene is a frightening thought. And for several days now, we’ve been receiving the usual warnings in the media. And with those usual warnings are the instructions as to what we should do and how we should prepare.
And for many residents in the impact area, and specifically many of the residents in my city, these instructions are both farcical and entirely impractical. Because the simple fact of the matter here is that the poor and the working poor don’t have the resources to make any preparations at all.
We as a community are told to stock up on batteries and such. But the poor and working poor generally lack the resources even for something as simple as buying batteries. We are told to stock up on non-perishable food items. Lost in that particular precaution is the fact that this is the end of the month, and the poor and working poor exhausted what meager food stamp benefits they had for this month days ago. They have been eating pasta and ramen noodles for days now, and doing what they do every month- which is to say they are holding on until they receive their monthly allotment sometime at the beginning of next month. And those allotments are coming too late.
And this is an issue that you really have to wonder about. An issue of such stupidity that it borders on being unbelievable and is utterly outrageous. This area and the people that live here are told to stock up on non-perishable foods, and have enough readily available for at least a week or two. And that power could be off for even longer than that. And they are told that at the exact moment of the month when they have absolutely no resources to do that or achieve that.
By simply replenishing the balances on their food cards a mere two or three days early, people with absolutely no means could actually buy this weeks’ worth of food and prepare. And without it they can’t. It is craven stupidity beyond comprehension.
Roughly 40% of the residents of our city rely on food stamps for survival. So as this once in a lifetime storm bears down upon us, they see those people with means getting cash out of ATM machines. Rushing to Home Depot for their generators and batteries, and mobbing the grocery stores for bread and milk and ice and who knows what else.
And they are afraid. And they have reason to be. Because they remember Irene and how brutal that was. And they have kids and families and are wondering how in the hell they can feed them. And they watch this cavalcade of mad preparations and they are absolutely left out and left behind.
If you are poor and in the path of this event, the term “perfect storm” has a whole new meaning. Perfect storm not only defines the event itself, it also defines the calendar. As the calendar goes, this is well and truly the perfect storm. Because the calendar works against you in a diabolical way that could not possibly be worse. It is a cruel Catch 22 that is leveled at the most vulnerable in our community. On the one hand being told that it is absolutely vital to stock up in preparation for this event. And on the other hand realizing that you don’t have the means to do so, and won’t have access to those means until after the storm hits and when in all probability it will be impossible to do so.
If you aren’t poor or working poor, you probably don’t understand fully what this means. And what it means is fear and terror. It means being left behind. It means staring at empty cupboards with absolutely no hope and no way to replenish them at a time when you are told to do exactly that.