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VIEWS AND VOICES
What the Camp Casey peace bus found in Louisiana
Abandoned by the Feds

September 16, 2005 | Page 12

ALBERT MARINO was on the Veterans for Peace bus, the White Rose--the bus that took Cindy Sheehan to Crawford, Texas, for her antiwar vigil in August--when it traveled to Covington, La., earlier this month to help with the grassroots hurricane relief effort. Albert's Web site about Hurricane Katrina is called www.katrinaremembered.org.

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THE WHITE Rose, a Veterans For Peace bus based out of California, left Austin, Texas, on September 1, loaded with 2,000 pounds of food, medical supplies, toiletries, two generators and 500 gallons of fresh water. The destination: Covington, Louisiana, a small town of about 7,500, devastated by Hurricane Katrina.

Aboard were three veterans and four peace activists who spent weeks at Camp Casey in Crawford protesting the illegal and immoral Iraq War. They were certainly ready for the draining heat, hard work and uncomfortable sleeping arrangements. But those who had not experienced the horrors of war were not prepared for the war zone-like condition that Katrina left Covington in.

Fallen trees tore down the power lines throughout the town, fresh water was unavailable anywhere, food was so scarce that many of the townspeople had not eaten in a few days, those who could leave town had to wait for hours at the pump, and one in three homeowners saw a new addition to his or her house--in the form of a tree in their roof. Since the tragedy took place, the only relief available to the people of Covington was military-issued Meals-Ready-to-Eat (MRE) from the American Red Cross. The White Rose was truly a blessing for the people of Covington.

Veterans who have seen combat and survived--physically, as well as mentally--can tell you at great length the horrors of war. The devastation of communities, the countless loss of civilian life, the tragic loss of soldiers' lives due to friendly fire, the long-term contamination of people and cities due to the use of non-thermonuclear weapons such as depleted uranium, which the U.S. military still uses to this day, the environmental destruction, and so on.

But war also takes its toll in other ways. In addition to continuous cuts in government assistance, social services and access to health care, the money and troops invested in Iraq mean that a tragedy such as Hurricane Katrina cannot be met with appropriate assistance from the federal government.

With those middle- and upper-class Louisianans, Alabamians and Mississippians who could afford to split out of the way, the majority of people left to fend for themselves in these horrid conditions are working class. Although many of us become desensitized to the fact that the needs of the working class are typically overlooked, the entire nation cannot help but be outraged at the apparent disregard by the government towards the needs of those who require assistance the most.

The people of Covington looked miserable as they waited for their plates of beans and rice and cups of water, lemonade or coffee. Those who were able to secure jobs saw them vanish; without refrigeration, many saw their food supply slowly spoil; and with gas and money in short supply, many are expressing their hopelessness, some even openly discussing suicide.

After rumors surfaced that armed mobs could be making their way into Covington, the White Rose moved Camp Casey into a local middle school, where the Red Cross had already set up a shelter.

The sight was demoralizing. Roughly a dozen elderly men and women, a score of adults and children, and seven newborns shared a dark and boiling-hot cafeteria lunchroom. With no electricity, clean running water or a way to reach the outside world, the conditions were miserable, especially for the elderly and newborns, for which there was a very short supply of formula, diapers and other necessary baby supplies. Before the White Rose arrived, the children in the shelter were living on MREs.

Some survivors are wondering why their government hung them out to dry. Most of them already know. The federal government is too busy expanding its markets and securing oil resources to take care of American working-class families in dire need of assistance.

They are not surprised. But they are grateful that other working-class Americans have not forgotten the needs of the people. The Camp Casey veterans on the White Rose stand in solidarity with those suffering from the devastation caused by Katrina and will continue to do so as long as there is need.

When the smoke clears, President Bush will have more questions to answer. With more and more people standing up against the war in Iraq, questions continue to mount regarding our intentions and need to be there. Now that the people of the world have seen the utter incompetence of our government when it comes to aiding its own citizens during these tragic times, new questions will arise regarding our government's competency.

With solidarity continuing to mount among the working class in America due to the Iraq and Katrina disasters, Bush and his cronies will soon not be able to hide behind their lies, and will be forced to answer to the American people.

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