Posted by Thomas Nephew on 3rd November 2012
Hurricane Katrina was not the first large scale American natural disaster. But whether because of the magnitude of the storm, the inadequate federal and state responses, or both, it was perhaps the first one to shake American confidence that our country was up to the task of taking care of its citizens after a disaster, or of helping communities recover from one.
Even natural disasters, it seemed — usually imagined to be a time of unity and shared commitment — could bring out both the best and the worst in people. On the one hand, thousands of volunteers poured in to the disaster areas of Mississippi and Louisiana, and affected residents themselves rallied in many innovative ways to begin rebuilding their communities.
On the other hand, though, some people took strategic advantage of the crisis to push agendas they wouldn’t have been able to before — the phenomenon known as “Shock Doctrine” ever since Naomi Klein’s 2007 book of that name.
To give but one example, Education Secretary Arne Duncan once claimed Katrina was “the best thing that happened to the education system in New Orleans.“ But teachers like Mike Klonsky thought otherwise; what really happened, he said, was “the firing of every teacher in the city, the driving out from the city’s schools more than 100,000 mostly African-American children, the busting of the teachers union, and the creation of a new two-tiered school system around a core of privately-managed charters …[with] mostly inexperienced and unqualified TFA teachers teaching poor kids “study and time management skills.” I can only imagine what would happen if this recipe was foisted upon white, middle-class parents. But don’t worry. It never will be.” *
In an essay marking Katrina’s second anniversary, New Orleans professor and activist Bill Quigley identified ten lessons from Katrina, including self-reliance, telling your own story,** and understanding that disasters will reveal the structural injustices in the communities involved. But first and foremost, he wrote,
One. Build and rebuild community.
When disaster hits and life is wrecked, you immediately seem to be on your own. Isolation after a disaster is a recipe for powerlessness and depression. Family, community, church, work associations are all important –get them up and working as fast as possible. People will stand up and fight, but we need communities to do it. Prize women –they are the first line of community builders. Guys will talk and fight and often grab the spotlight, but women will help everyone and do whatever it takes to protect families and communities. Powerful forces mobilize immediately after a disaster. People and politicians and organizations have their own agendas and it helps them if our communities are fragmented. Setting one group against another, saying one group is more important than another is not helpful. Stress and distress is high for everyone, but community support will multiply the resources of individuals. Build bridges. People together are much stronger than people alone.
The aftermath of Superstorm Sandy seems to be shaping up similarly for the communities of the Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York seaboard as Hurricane Katrina’s aftermath did for the Gulf Coast: a monumental cleanup and repair job, a struggle for aid — and also sometimes a race between residents rebuilding community and outsiders exploiting opportunities for their own policy and/or business agendas.
Thus Yves Smith of “naked capitalism” notes, in” Shock Doctrine, American-Style: Hurricane Sandy Devastation Used to Push for Sale of Public Infrastructure to Investors,” the immediate pressure in Pennsylvania to deploy shiny new “P3″ (public/private partnership) initiatives for the rebuilding process. Philly.com’s Joseph DiStefano reports: “Rebuilding the shattered Shore and the swamped New York tunnels, along with badly needed updates to the Northeast’s exhausted roads and rails, will be an opportunity to implement streamlined construction laws backed by Republicans and pro-business Democrats in Congress and the states, says Frank Rapoport, Berwyn-based partner at New York law firm McKenna Long & Aldridge L.L.P., and counselor to contractors who support “public-private partnerships” (P3).”