Sunday, June 11, 2006

Buffalo and New Orleans, sisters in suffering

When the dikes broke and Katrina spilled over into the proud city of New Orleans, two tragedies occurred: one natural and one man-made. The natural disaster was a hurricane that meteorolgists predicted would eventually come and was a mighty force. The force of the hurricane, while mighty, was magnified thousand-fold by the man-made disaster.

As we all know, the foundation of the city rested under sea level, an artifical arrangement created by the levees and the Army Corps of Engineers. The people of New Orleans put their trust in a distant Federal government, a government that taxed them, demanded and recieved their allegiance and sent thousands of their sons and daughters away to war. At the same time, the Federal government cut the budgets that funded the very levees that the city relied upon for its survival. The unfortunate people found that when you put your lives in the hands of a barely accountable federal agency (an army division) that represents a government located half-way across a continent away, the inevitable lack of interest from that government can have disasterous results.

This man-made situation was later compounded by the fact that after the levees broke and the tragedy began, the people continued to turn their eyes to a distant Federal government. To all of our horror, that government did nothing for days.

Perhaps some of the people of New Orleans, and the US in general, are beginning to suspect that their trust is misplaced. But of course, up here in Upstate NY, our cities are nowhere near as vulnerable as submerged New Orleans.

Or are they? What about Buffalo's fiscal problems? When the press discussed photos of the devastation of New Orleans, they would often compare it to a war zone. But to me, ruined homes, boarded up store-fronts and abandoned factories reminded me instead of the Rust Belt, albeit covered in sea muck, not rust and slush.

Is not the tragedy of the Rust Belt not a story of the victimization of communities by central authorities as much as New Orleans is? Perhaps our problem is that our man-made tragedy cannot be blamed on an act of God and that our misery was stretched out over years (and continues) while theirs occurred in a few days. America was justly horrified by the looting and violence in the wake of Katrina, but is able to blithely ignore the spike in violence that follows every factory closing. Murder, spousal and child abuse, petty theft and alcoholism are some of the symptoms of slow death for our communities that rarely appears on television screens.

Like the people of New Orleans, trusting the Army to build walls to protect them and the Federal Government to bail them out when disaster hit, we trusted the corporations that we worked for to keep the factories open if we did our jobs, we trusted federal and state governments to bail us out if disaster hit. The betrayal of New Orleans in the days after Katrina is a crime that is echoed in the passage of NAFTA and every free trade agreement that not only tears the heart out of our communities, but those of other peoples across the globe.

You would think that perhaps its time that we learned out lesson, but yet you still see so many of our local "leaders" turning to the easy solutions of corporate development and federal/state aid, yet again. How many jobs have to be outsourced before we learn that the corporations don't care a rat's ass about our livelihoods, our homes and our communities? How many "free" trade agreements have to be signed before we learn that the federal government cares more about corporate campaign donations than the people of the Rust Belt? I think it's time we stop seeking our solutions on Pennsylvania Avenue and in the halls of power and instead turn to Maine Street (or perhaps State, Court or Division or wherever) and halls of our own towns, cities and villages.

-Posted by Jesse
(Originally posted on York Staters on 2/12/2005)