Putting people first in disaster recovery

September 19, 2017

Katrina survivor Mike Howells proposes an alternative to upside-down priorities.

REGARDING "THE lessons of Katrina that haven't been learned": As a Katrina survivor and a veteran of the New Orleans right-to-return movement, I think the logical next step for the U.S. left when it comes to Katrina, Harvey, Irma and the slew of other hurricane disasters that have been inflicted on millions of people in the United States in recent years is to do more than simply critique the profoundly anti-working class nature of Washington's current approach to "disaster recovery."

We must also raise the demand for an approach to disaster recovery that puts the needs of working- and middle-class disaster survivors ahead of the profiteering of disaster capitalists.

The starting point for developing a working class-friendly approach to disaster recovery begins with coming to terms with the reality that the current federal government-backed private contractor/nonprofit approach to disaster recovery is, first, a scheme that promotes the mass transfer of wealth from disaster survivors to disaster capitalists.

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Secondly, utopian nonprofit approaches to disaster recovery--Common Ground in New Orleans being a prime example--however well intentioned, fuel dangerous illusions among both disaster survivors and disaster volunteers that a viable private-sector approach to disaster recovery exists.

Katrina taught me that it does not exist. The reality is that in the U.S., this side of the socialist revolution, only the federal government can marshal the resources necessary to make survivors of a major hurricane disaster such as Katrina or Harvey whole again.

For many reasons, too many to enumerate here, the approach to disaster recovery that holds out the best prospects for a recovery--that leaves no disaster survivor behind, or at least leaves many fewer disaster survivors behind than is currently the case--is a public-works recovery program driven by living-wage jobs for all.

This is an approach to disaster recovery that holds the best chance of strengthening the position of disaster survivors in shaping the development of the recovery process that so directly affects their lives. It is also the approach to disaster recovery most likely to rein in much of the corruption, bureaucratic obstructionism and, from a disaster survivor's perspective, waste.

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It is clear that the 1 Percent politicians, high-level government bureaucrats and disaster-capitalist corporation aren't about to kill the goose that lays their golden eggs by creating and implementing a living-wage, jobs-for-all public works approach to disaster recoveries.

The call for this change can only come from the working class and its allies on the U.S. left.

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