Thursday, January 21, 2010

Come here Harriet Alston on the legacy of the Salsa Soul Sisters! Black Feminism Lives in Durham

What follows is a cross-post from  *here* @

Eternal Summer of the Black Feminist Mind

1/30 1pm Harriet Alston on the legacy of the Salsa Soul Sisters

January 21, 2010

Saturday, January 30th, 1pm@ the Inspiration Station

Black Feminism Lives in Durham!
(featuring Harriet Alston, founding member of the Salsa Soul Sisters)

Watch this video to learn more about the Salsa Soul Sisters and come to the potluck ready to ask great questions and benefit from Harriet’s wisdom and experience!

EXPOSE AND OPPOSE THIS OVERTLY RACIST WHITE NATIONALIST GROUP, American Third Position (ATP), Working Hard to Get Racist Candidates to Run for Elected Office Throughout the U.S.

ATP was created last October. It was reportedly brought together by members of Freedom 14, a racist skinhead group in Orange County, Calif., who initially formed a group called the Golden State Party to run candidates. But that group collapsed when reports surfaced about the criminal past of its leader, and so the Freedom 14 members decided to create a replacement group — the American Third Position.

This is what their smooth-talking WHM fascist appeal to racists and other overtly oppressive bigots sounds like, in video and in text:
This is their YouTube appeal:
American Third Position Chairman, Bill Johnson, introduces the the party and highlights what makes it unique.

William D. Johnson, J.D., is an international corporate lawyer practicing in Los Angeles, Ca. He holds both an undergraduate degree from Brigham Young University, where he majored in Japanese, and a law degree from Columbia University. He has been married for 27 years and has five children.

As Chairman of the American Third Position, he serves the purpose of speaking on behalf of the party, championing its sensible and just policies before the American people. He is also, more than any other, responsible for safeguarding the course, values, and program of the party*.

*Here is their white nationalist party's fascistic anti-Indigenous, racist, heterosexist, misogynist position on immigration, from their own website:

Immigration. Enough is enough. [So immediately deport yourselves out of North America and return to where your illegal alien immigrant rapist, genocidalist ancestors came from in Western and Northern Europe. GET OFF THIS LAND THAT YOUR PEOPLE STOLE by MURDERING the people whose HOMELAND this is! -- Julian]

If current demographic trends persist, European-Americans will become a minority in America in only a few decades time. The American Third Position will not allow this to happen.

To safeguard our identity and culture, and to maintain the very existence of our nation, we will immediately put an indefinite moratorium on all immigration. Recognizing our people’s right to safety, and respecting the sanctity of the rule of law, we will immediately deport all criminal and illegal aliens. We believe, too, that American citizenship should be exclusive and meaningful. As such, the American Third Position will end the practice of automatic birthright-citizenship for children of illegal aliens. To restore, with civility, the identity and culture of our homeland, we will provide incentives for recent, legal immigrants to return to their respective lands.

A closer look at the A3P’s [non-]sensible [fascist] immigration policies.

It was never our will that our nation be host to tens of millions of foreign peoples. Yet, it appears now that, unless something is done to stop it, we will be a minority in our own land, in only a few decades time. In fact, much to the satisfaction of a handful of people, the U.S. Census Bureau estimates that, by 2043, our people will be a minority in America.

Without ever having agreed to cede control of our land, we now face a political establishment who absolutely ignores our pleas to stop unfettered, out-of-control immigration. Both the GOP and the Democrats have conspired with one another to deny us sovereignty and to grant amnesty to millions of alien peoples who they happily collude with against our will. As if it were their goal, they adopt policies that will see an end to the America we love.

Also from the ATP website, posted to mock the quote as absurd:
To suggest that people like American white [sic] males have been discriminated against is absurd and flies in the face of historical fact. — Kevin O’Grady, ADL Director

What follows is cross-posted from *here*. I have added information about the Facebook group below this piece by Heidi Beirich.

Racist Group Plans to Run Candidates Nationwide

Posted in Anti-Black, Anti-Semitic by Heidi Beirich on January 19, 2010

The co-founder of the American Third Position (ATP), white supremacist Los Angeles lawyer William Daniel Johnson, says his new California-based group plans to run as many candidates for political office around the country as it can muster.

In an interview with Hatewatch last week, Johnson said that he intended to qualify “high-level people,” meaning prominent white nationalists, for campaigns on the ATP ticket in a large number of states. He did not elaborate on what states or offices, or precisely when, but said that that would be decided in coming months.
ATP was created last October. It was reportedly brought together by members of Freedom 14, a racist skinhead group in Orange County, Calif., who initially formed a group called the Golden State Party to run candidates. But that group collapsed when reports surfaced about the criminal past of its leader, and so the Freedom 14 members decided to create a replacement group — the American Third Position.

Johnson told Hatewatch that he was invited by acquaintances to the October meeting, where he says he met for the first time the man who would join him in founding and leading the ATP — Kevin MacDonald, a psychology professor at Cal State Long Beach who has become a darling of the radical right since penning an anti-Semitic trilogy of books. MacDonald, who did not respond to requests for comment, was named director, in effect co-leader with Johnson, of the ATP. That was quite a leap for MacDonald, who has hobnobbed with many racists but until accepting his new position had not moved into overt racist activism.

For his part, Johnson is a long-time racist activist. In 1985, he wrote a book under the pseudonym James O. Pace called Amendment to the Constitution. It proposed a constitutional amendment to repeal the 14th and 15th amendments (respectively, making freed slaves citizens, and prohibiting the denial of the right to vote based on race) and replace them with the “Pace Amendment.” That amendment would only have allowed whites “in whom there is no discernible trace of Negro blood” to be U.S. citizens. Hispanic whites, Johnson added in a generous moment, might also be granted citizenship, but only if their “appearance [is] indistinguishable from Americans whose ancestral home is in the British Isles or Northwestern Europe.”

Johnson, saying he preferred being called “racially aware” to being labeled a “racist,” told Hatewatch that he knows movement heavyweight and former Klan boss David Duke. Johnson attended a 2005 function held by Duke’s European Unity and Rights Organization. (Duke is also linked to MacDonald. As revealed by the Southern Poverty Law Center, Duke apparently lifted entire sections of his book Jewish Supremacism from MacDonald’s infamous trilogy.) But Johnson denied Internet rumors that he was a long-time member of the neo-Nazi National Alliance, or even a major Alliance splinter group, National Vanguard. Johnson did say he had purchased books from the Alliance and knew people who were members.

MacDonald, in addition to taking on leadership of the ATP, has been becoming active in the white supremacist movement in other ways as well. He recently launched his own hate website, The Occidental Observer. And he has been making the rounds of hate radio, appearing on Jim Giles’ “Radio Free Mississippi” show in December and James Edwards’ “The Political Cesspool” last week.
Facebook has an ATP recruitment group, and a few of its members look like this (can you discern what they have in common):

American Third Position has 217 Fans. 

The Global Women's Movement Loses Three Great Haitian Leaders

What follows is cross-posted from *here*.

Women's movement mourns death of 3 Haitian leaders

By Jessica Ravitz, CNN
January 20, 2010 1:11 p.m. EST

Myriam Merlet was one of three leading activists in the Haitian women's movement who died, a victim of the earthquake.
Myriam Merlet was one of three leading activists in the Haitian women's movement who died, a victim of the earthquake.

(CNN) -- One returned to her Haitian roots, to give voice to women, honor their stories and shape their futures.

Another urged women to pack a courtroom in Haiti, where she succeeded in getting a guilty verdict against a man who battered his wife.

A third joined the others and helped change the law to make rape, long a political weapon in Haiti, a punishable crime.

Myriam Merlet, Magalie Marcelin and Anne Marie Coriolan, founders of three of the country's most important advocacy organizations working on behalf of women and girls, are confirmed dead -- victims of last week's 7.0 earthquake.

Remembering the victims of the Haiti earthquake

And their deaths have left members of the women's movement, Haitian and otherwise, reeling.

"Words are missing for me. I lost a large chunk of my personal, political and social life," Carolle Charles wrote in an e-mail to colleagues. The Haitian-born sociology professor at Baruch College in New York is chair of Dwa Fanm (meaning "Women's Rights" in Creole), a Brooklyn-based advocacy group. These women "were my friends, my colleagues and my associates. I cannot envision going to Haiti without seeing them."

Myriam Merlet was until recently the chief of staff of Haiti's Ministry for Gender and the Rights of Women, established in 1995, and still served as a top adviser. She died after being trapped beneath her collapsed Port-au-Prince home, Charles said. She was 53.

iReport: A tribute to Merlet

Merlet, an author as well as an activist, fled Haiti in the 1970s. She studied in Canada, steeping herself in economics, women's issues, feminist theory and political sociology.

In the mid-1980s, she returned to her homeland. In "Walking on Fire: Haitian Women's Stories of Survival and Resistance," published in 2001, she contributed an essay, "The More People Dream," in which she described what brought her back.

"While I was abroad I felt the need to find out who I was and where my soul was. I chose to be a Haitian woman," she wrote. "We're a country in which three-fourths of the people can't read and don't eat properly. I'm an integral part of the situation. I am not in Canada in a black ghetto, or an extraterrestrial from outer space. I am a Haitian woman. I don't mean to say that I am responsible for the problems. But still, as a Haitian woman, I must make an effort so that all together we can extricate ourselves from them."
She was a founder of Enfofamn, an organization that raises awareness about women through media, collects stories and works to honor their names. Among her efforts, she set out to get streets named after Haitian women who came before her, Charles said.

Dubbed a "Vagina Warrior," she was remembered Tuesday by her friend Eve Ensler, the award-winning playwright and force behind V-Day, a global movement to end violence against women and girls.

"She was very bold," said Ensler, who at Merlet's insistence brought her play "The Vagina Monologues" to Haiti and helped establish safe houses for women in Port-au-Prince and Cap Haitien. "She had an incredible vision of what was possible for Haitian women, and she lifted their spirits. ... And we had such a wonderful time. I remember her dancing in the streets of New Orleans and just being so alive."

Magalie Marcelin, a lawyer and actress who appeared in films and on stage, established Kay Fanm, a women's rights organization that deals with domestic violence, offers services and shelter to women and makes microcredits, or loans, available to women working in markets, said Charles, the chair of Dwa Fanm.

Charles remembered a visit to Haiti about two years ago when Marcelin, believed to be in her mid-50s, called seeking help. Hoping to deflect the political clout of a defendant in court, she asked for women to come out in droves and pack the courtroom. Charles watched as the man on trial was convicted for battering his wife.

Her death has been reported through various media outlets, and was confirmed to CNN by Carribbean Radio Television based in Port-au-Prince. Her own daughter helped dig her body out from rubble in the aftermath of the quake, Charles said she learned when she got the call from Marcelin's cousin.

In an interview last year with the Haitian Times, Marcelin spoke of the image of a drum that adorned public awareness stickers.

"It's very symbolic in the Haitian cultural imagination," Marcelin said, according to the Haitian Times report. "The sound of the drum is the sound of freedom, it's the sound of slaves breaking with slavery."

With Merlet, Anne Marie Coriolan, 53, served as a top adviser to the women's rights ministry.

Coriolan, who died when her boyfriend's home collapsed, was the founder of Solidarite Fanm Ayisyen (Solidarity with Haitian Women, or SOFA), which Charles described as an advocacy and services organization.

Her daughter, Wani Thelusmon Coriolan, said in Haiti children bear only their father's surname, but her mother insisted on keeping her maiden name and making sure her two children shared it, too.

"She said my dad was not the only one who created me. She was involved, too," her 24-year-old daughter, who lives and is studying in Montreal, Quebec, said with a laugh.

Even though Wani and her brother no longer live in Haiti (he is in Paris, France), she said her mother was determined to make sure they were proud of their homeland.

"She loved her country. She never stopped believing in Haiti. She said that when you have a dream you have to fight for it," Wani said. "She wanted women to have equal rights. She wanted women to hold their heads high."

Coriolan was a political organizer who helped bring rape -- "an instrument of terror and war," Charles said -- to the forefront of Haitian courts.

Before 2005, rapes in Haiti were treated as nothing more than "crimes of passion," Charles explained. That changed because of the collective efforts of these women activists -- and others they inspired.

With the three leaders gone, there is concern about the future of Haiti's women and girls. Even with all that's been achieved, the struggle for equality and against violence remains enormous.

The chaos that's taken over the devastated nation heightens those worries, said Taina Bien-Aimé, the executive director of Equality Now, a human rights organization dedicated to women.

Before the disaster struck last week, a survey of Haitian women and girls showed an estimated 72 percent had been raped, according to study done by Kay Fanm. And at least 40 percent of the women surveyed were victims of domestic violence, Bien-Aimé said.

And humanitarian emergencies have been linked to increased violence and exploitation in the past, she said.

"From where we stand," Bien-Aimé wrote in an e-mail, "the most critical and urgent issue is what, if any, contingencies the relief/humanitarian agencies are putting in place not only to ensure that women have easy access to food, water and medical care, but to guarantee their protection."

Concerned women in the New York area plan to gather Wednesday to strategize their next steps, Ensler said.

And while they will certainly keep mourning, she and the others are hopeful that Haitian women, inspired by these fallen heros and leaders, will forge ahead -- keeping their fight and legacies alive.

*     *     *
She had an incredible vision of what was possible for Haitian women, and she lifted their spirits.
--Eve Ensler, on her friend Myriam Merlet

I felt the need to find out who I was and where my soul was. I chose to be a Haitian woman.
--Myriam Merlet, in her essay "The More People Dream"
*     *     *

"When the Media Is the Disaster": a brilliant piece of writing by Rebecca Solnit

[photo of Rebecca Solnit is from here]

-- Julian Real

[image/logo is from here]

Tomgram: Rebecca Solnit, In Haiti, Words Can Kill
Just before Haiti was devastated by the most powerful earthquake to hit the island in more than 200 years, when, that is, it was only devastated by the hemisphere’s worst poverty, there were but one or two full-time foreign correspondents in the country.  No longer.

Within days, the networks, CNN, and Fox had more or less transferred their news operations (already slimmed down by years of attrition) onto the island.  CNN’s Anderson Cooper made it first on Wednesday morning.  Katie flew in later that day.  By the time Diane made it out ofKabul and into Port-au-Prince, Brian had already long since hit “the tarmac.”  (All but Anderson were gone again by the weekend.)  Along with them, in a situation in which resources were nearly nonexistent, went at least 44 CNN correspondents, producers, and technicians, a crew of 25 from Fox, and undoubtedly similar contingents from CBS, NBC, and ABC.  Other than the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to the Los Angeles Times, this was “the biggest U.S. television news deployment to an international crisis since the 2004 Southeast Asian tsunami” -- at a cost that can only have been obscene.

In the process, as happens on our obsessionally eyeball-gluing, single-event, 24/7 media planet, “world news” essentially became Haiti with the usual logos, tags, and drum rolls (“Earthquake in Haiti”).  The three networks even briefly expanded the length of their half-hour news shows to an all-Haiti-all-the-time hour, with just bare minutes leftover for the rest of the planet.  In a sense, as the earthquake had blotted out Haiti, so the news coverage blotted out everything else with an almost religious fervor and the language to match.

In place of the world came endless stories of a tiny number of riveting rescues from the rubble (“miracles”) by international rescue teams -- less than 150 saved when possibly tens of thousands of buried Haitians would not be dug out and conceivably up to 200,000 had died.  Along with this went the usual self-congratulatory reporting about American generosity and the importance of American troops (they secured the airport!) in a situation in which aid was visiblynot getting through, in which people were not being saved.

And of course, with the drama of people pulled from the rubble went another kind of drama:  impending violence -- even though the real story, as a number of reporters couldn’t help but notice, was the remarkable patience and altruistic willingness of Haitians to support each other,help each other, and organize each other in a situation where there was almost nothing to share.  It might, in fact, have been their finest hour, but amid the growing headlines about possible “violence” and “looting,” that would have been hard to tell.

The coverage has been beyond massive, sentimental, self-congratulatory, and not anyone’s finest hour -- and a month or three from now, predictably, Haiti will still be utterly devastated and there will be but one or two foreign correspondents on hand.  Anderson, Diane, Brian, Katie?  They’ll be somewhere else, 24/7.  Of course, much of what happened might have been far better prepared for, if any of the anchors or correspondents had read Rebecca Solnit’s revelatory book, A Paradise Built in Hell, which offers news from the past on what people, again and again, in the worst of times, actually do without the help of the authorities.  The answer:  generally, they take care of each other in remarkably creative ways.  Tom
When the Media Is the Disaster 
Covering Haiti 
By Rebecca Solnit
Soon after almost every disaster the crimes begin:  ruthless, selfish, indifferent to human suffering, and generating far more suffering. The perpetrators go unpunished and live to commit further crimes against humanity. They care less for human life than for property. They act without regard for consequences.
I’m talking, of course, about those members of the mass media whose misrepresentation of what goes on in disaster often abets and justifies a second wave of disaster.  I’m talking about the treatment of sufferers as criminals, both on the ground and in the news, and the endorsement of a shift of resources from rescue to property patrol. They still have blood on their hands from Hurricane Katrina, and they are staining themselves anew in Haiti.
Within days of the Haitian earthquake, for example, the Los Angeles Times ran a series of photographs with captions that kept deploying the word “looting.” One was of a man lying face down on the ground with this caption: “A Haitian police officer ties up a suspected looter who was carrying a bag of evaporated milk.” The man’s sweaty face looks up at the camera, beseeching, anguished.
Another photo was labeled: “Looting continued in Haiti on the third day after the earthquake, although there were more police in downtown Port-au-Prince.” It showed a somber crowd wandering amid shattered piles of concrete in a landscape where, visibly, there could be little worth taking anyway.
A third image was captioned: “A looter makes off with rolls of fabric from an earthquake-wrecked store.” Yet another: “The body of a police officer lies in a Port-au-Prince street. He was accidentally shot by fellow police who mistook him for a looter.”
People were then still trapped alive in the rubble. A translator for Australian TV dug out a toddler who’d survived 68 hours without food or water, orphaned but claimed by an uncle who had lost his pregnant wife. Others were hideously wounded and awaiting medical attention that wasn’t arriving. Hundreds of thousands, maybe millions, needed, and still need, water, food, shelter, and first aid. The media in disaster bifurcates. Some step out of their usual “objective” roles to respond with kindness and practical aid. Others bring out the arsenal of clichés and pernicious myths and begin to assault the survivors all over again.
The “looter” in the first photo might well have been taking that milk to starving children and babies, but for the news media that wasn’t the most urgent problem. The “looter” stooped under the weight of two big bolts of fabric might well have been bringing it to now homeless people trying to shelter from a fierce tropical sun under improvised tents.
The pictures do convey desperation, but they don’t convey crime. Except perhaps for that shooting of a fellow police officer -- his colleagues were so focused on property that they were reckless when it came to human life, and a man died for no good reason in a landscape already saturated with death.
In recent days, there have been scattered accounts of confrontations involving weapons, and these may be a different matter.  But the man with the powdered milk? Is he really a criminal? There may be more to know, but with what I’ve seen I’m not convinced.
What Would You Do?
Imagine, reader, that your city is shattered by a disaster. Your home no longer exists, and you spent what cash was in your pockets days ago. Your credit cards are meaningless because there is no longer any power to run credit-card charges. Actually, there are no longer any storekeepers, any banks, any commerce, or much of anything to buy. The economy has ceased to exist.
By day three, you’re pretty hungry and the water you grabbed on your way out of your house is gone. The thirst is far worse than the hunger. You can go for many days without food, but not water. And in the improvised encampment you settle in, there is an old man near you who seems on the edge of death. He no longer responds when you try to reassure him that this ordeal will surely end. Toddlers are now crying constantly, and their mothers infinitely stressed and distressed.
So you go out to see if any relief organization has finally arrived to distribute anything, only to realize that there are a million others like you stranded with nothing, and there isn’t likely to be anywhere near enough aid anytime soon. The guy with the corner store has already given away all his goods to the neighbors.  That supply’s long gone by now. No wonder, when you see the chain pharmacy with the shattered windows or the supermarket, you don’t think twice before grabbing a box of PowerBars and a few gallons of water that might keep you alive and help you save a few lives as well.
The old man might not die, the babies might stop their squalling, and the mothers might lose that look on their faces. Other people are calmly wandering in and helping themselves, too. Maybe they’re people like you, and that gallon of milk the fellow near you has taken is going to spoil soon anyway. You haven’t shoplifted since you were 14, and you have plenty of money to your name. But it doesn’t mean anything now.
If you grab that stuff are you a criminal? Should you end up lying in the dirt on your stomach with a cop tying your hands behind your back? Should you end up labeled a looter in the international media? Should you be shot down in the street, since the overreaction in disaster, almost any disaster, often includes the imposition of the death penalty without benefit of trial for suspected minor property crimes?
Or are you a rescuer? Is the survival of disaster victims more important than the preservation of everyday property relations? Is that chain pharmacy more vulnerable, more a victim, more in need of help from the National Guard than you are, or those crying kids, or the thousands still trapped in buildings and soon to die?
It’s pretty obvious what my answers to these questions are, but it isn’t obvious to the mass media. And in disaster after disaster, at least since the San Francisco earthquake of 1906, those in power, those with guns and the force of law behind them, are too often more concerned for property than human life. In an emergency, people can, and do, die from those priorities. Or they get gunned down for minor thefts or imagined thefts. The media not only endorses such outcomes, but regularly, repeatedly, helps prepare the way for, and then eggs on, such a reaction.
If Words Could Kill
We need to banish the word “looting” from the English language. It incites madness and obscures realities.
“Loot,” the noun and the verb, is a word of Hindi origin meaning the spoils of war or other goods seized roughly. As historian Peter Linebaugh points out, “At one time loot was the soldier's pay.” It entered the English language as a good deal of loot from India entered the English economy, both in soldiers’ pockets and as imperial seizures.
After years of interviewing survivors of disasters, and reading first-hand accounts and sociological studies from such disasters as the London Blitz and the Mexico City earthquake of 1985, I don’t believe in looting. Two things go on in disasters. The great majority of what happens you could call emergency requisitioning. Someone who could be you, someone in the kind of desperate circumstances I outlined above, takes necessary supplies to sustain human life in the absence of any alternative. Not only would I not call that looting, I wouldn’t even call that theft.
Necessity is a defense for breaking the law in the United States and other countries, though it’s usually applied more to, say, confiscating the car keys of a drunk driver than feeding hungry children. Taking things you don’t need is theft under any circumstances. It is, says the disaster sociologist Enrico Quarantelli, who has been studying the subject for more than half a century, vanishingly rare in most disasters.
Personal gain is the last thing most people are thinking about in the aftermath of a disaster. In that phase, the survivors are almost invariably more altruistic and less attached to their own property, less concerned with the long-term questions of acquisition, status, wealth, and security, than just about anyone not in such situations imagines possible. (The best accounts from Haiti of how people with next to nothing have patiently tried to share the little they have and support those in even worse shape than them only emphasize this disaster reality.) Crime often drops in the wake of a disaster.
The media are another matter.  They tend to arrive obsessed with property (and the headlines that assaults on property can make).  Media outlets often call everything looting and thereby incite hostility toward the sufferers as well as a hysterical overreaction on the part of the armed authorities. Or sometimes the journalists on the ground do a good job and the editors back in their safe offices cook up the crazy photo captions and the wrongheaded interpretations and emphases.
They also deploy the word panic wrongly. Panic among ordinary people in crisis is profoundly uncommon. The media will call a crowd of people running from certain death a panicking mob, even though running is the only sensible thing to do. In Haiti, they continue to report that food is being withheld from distribution for fear of “stampedes.” Do they think Haitians are cattle?
The belief that people in disaster (particularly poor and nonwhite people) are cattle or animals or just crazy and untrustworthy regularly justifies spending far too much energy and far too many resources on control -- the American military calls it “security” -- rather than relief. A British-accented voiceover on CNN calls people sprinting to where supplies are being dumped from a helicopter a "stampede" and adds that this delivery “risks sparking chaos.” The chaos already exists, and you can’t blame it on these people desperate for food and water. Or you can, and in doing so help convince your audience that they’re unworthy and untrustworthy.
Back to looting: of course you can consider Haiti’s dire poverty and failed institutions a long-term disaster that changes the rules of the game. There might be people who are not only interested in taking the things they need to survive in the next few days, but things they’ve never been entitled to own or things they may need next month. Technically that’s theft, but I’m not particularly surprised or distressed by it; the distressing thing is that even before the terrible quake they led lives of deprivation and desperation.
In ordinary times, minor theft is often considered a misdemeanor. No one is harmed.
Unchecked, minor thefts could perhaps lead to an environment in which there were more thefts and so forth, and a good argument can be made that, in such a case, the tide needs to be stemmed. But it’s not particularly significant in a landscape of terrible suffering and mass death.
A number of radio hosts and other media personnel are still upset that people apparently took TVs after Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans in August 2005.  Since I started thinking about, and talking to people about, disaster aftermaths I’ve heard a lot about those damned TVs. Now, which matters more to you, televisions or human life? People were dying on rooftops and in overheated attics and freeway overpasses, they were stranded in all kinds of hideous circumstances on the Gulf Coast in 2005 when the mainstream media began to obsess about looting, and the mayor of New Orleans and the governor of Louisiana made the decision to focus on protecting property, not human life.
A gang of white men on the other side of the river from New Orleans got so worked up about property crimes that they decided to take the law into their own hands and began shooting. They seem to have considered all black men criminals and thieves and shot a number of them. Some apparently died; there were bodies bloating in the September sun far from the region of the floods; one good man trying to evacuate the ruined city barely survived; and the media looked away. It took me months of nagging to even get the story covered. This vigilante gang claimed to be protecting property, though its members never demonstrated that their property was threatened. They boasted of killing black men. And they shared values with the mainstream media and the Louisiana powers that be.
Somehow, when the Bush administration subcontracted emergency services -- like providing evacuation buses in Hurricane Katrina -- to cronies who profited even while providing incompetent, overpriced, and much delayed service at the moment of greatest urgency, we didn’t label that looting.
Or when a lot of wealthy Wall Street brokers decide to tinker with a basic human need like housing…. Well, you catch my drift.
Woody Guthrie once sang that “some will rob you with a six-gun, and some with a fountain pen.” The guys with the six guns (or machetes or sharpened sticks) make for better photographs, and the guys with the fountain pens not only don’t end up in jail, they end up in McMansions with four-car garages and, sometimes, in elected -- or appointed -- office.
Learning to See in Crises
Last Christmas a priest, Father Tim Jones of York, started a ruckus in Britain when he said in a sermon that shoplifting by the desperate from chain stores might be acceptable behavior. Naturally, there was an uproar. Jones told the Associated Press: “The point I'm making is that when we shut down every socially acceptable avenue for people in need, then the only avenue left is the socially unacceptable one.”
The response focused almost entirely on why shoplifting is wrong, but the claim was also repeatedly made that it doesn’t help. In fact, food helps the hungry, a fact so bald it’s bizarre to even have to state it. The means by which it arrives is a separate matter. The focus remained on shoplifting, rather than on why there might be people so desperate in England’s green and pleasant land that shoplifting might be their only option, and whether unnecessary human suffering is itself a crime of sorts.
Right now, the point is that people in Haiti need food, and for all the publicity, the international delivery system has, so far, been a visible dud.  Under such circumstances, breaking into a U.N. food warehouse -- food assumedly meant for the poor of Haiti in a catastrophic moment -- might not be “violence,” or “looting,” or “law-breaking.”  It might be logic.  It might be the most effective way of meeting a desperate need.  
Why were so many people in Haiti hungry before the earthquake? Why do we have a planet that produces enough food for all and a distribution system that ensures more than a billion of us don’t have a decent share of that bounty? Those are not questions whose answers should be long delayed.
Even more urgently, we need compassion for the sufferers in Haiti and media that tell the truth about them. I’d like to propose alternative captions for those Los Angeles Times photographs as models for all future disasters:
Let’s start with the picture of the policeman hogtying the figure whose face is so anguished: “Ignoring thousands still trapped in rubble, a policeman accosts a sufferer who took evaporated milk. No adequate food distribution exists for Haiti’s starving millions.”
And the guy with the bolt of fabric? “As with every disaster, ordinary people show extraordinary powers of improvisation, and fabrics such as these are being used to make sun shelters around Haiti.” 
For the murdered policeman: “Institutional overzealousness about protecting property leads to a gratuitous murder, as often happens in crises. Meanwhile countless people remain trapped beneath crushed buildings.”
And the crowd in the rubble labeled looters? How about: “Resourceful survivors salvage the means of sustaining life from the ruins of their world.”
That one might not be totally accurate, but it’s likely to be more accurate than the existing label. And what is absolutely accurate, in Haiti right now, and on Earth always, is that human life matters more than property, that the survivors of a catastrophe deserve our compassion and our understanding of their plight, and that we live and die by words and ideas, and it matters desperately that we get them right.
At the dawn of the millennium, three catastrophes were forecast for the United States: terrorists in New York, a hurricane in New Orleans, and an earthquake in San Francisco. Rebecca Solnit lives in San Francisco with her earthquake kit and is about to make her seventh trip to New Orleans since Katrina.  Her latest book, A Paradise Built in Hell, is a testament to human bravery and innovation during disasters. 
Copyright 2010 Rebecca Solnit

The Lakota on Pine Ridge are in need of food and heat: consider donating to assist people in South Dakota surviving the brutal North American winter and the ravages of classist racism and genocide

Cross-posted from Censored News, *here*. Thanks so much, Brenda Norrell!!!! All that follows is from her blog, linked to both above and by clicking on the title of this post below.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Lakota Desperate, Ignored in Relief Efforts

Censored News makes a special appeal to musicians and actors raising funds for Haiti. Please continue this important effort, but please consider doing the same for the Lakota who are cold and hungry and in need of heat, on Pine Ridge in South Dakota.
Madonna, Julia Roberts, Jackson Browne, Susan Sarandon and all the others, you could bring hope to those who are cold and hungry, especially the elderly and children. -- Censored News
Host: Wanbli
Special edition. Electric and propane needs at Pine Ridge with winter storms closing in. Autumn Two Bulls was born on the Pine Ridge Lakota reservation . Autumn will be my guest and explain in detail the problems going on at this time at Pine Ridge concerning the electric and propane needs of people and ways to help. Please let your friends know to listen and please have a pen and paper handy because a lot of information on who needs the help and how you can help individual families immediately will be given. Please , please come and listen and most of all please come and help. (At noon today, Jan. 21, Central time, in archives afterwards)