"The world does not reward honesty and independence, it rewards obedience and service. It’s a world of concentrated power, and those who have power are not going to reward people who question that power."-Chomsky

"The trouble with self-delusion, either in a person or a society, is that reality doesn't care what anybody believes, or what story they put out. Reality doesn't "spin." Reality does not have a self-image problem. Reality does not yield its workings to self-esteem management." -J.H. Kunstler

"You don't need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows."-Dylan

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Haiti & Lessons from Katrina

"Some Much Needed Reality: Haiti's been a shithole for a century. People dying everyday. Crime that made looting-for-survival look tame. All of the sudden millions of you "care" because you see pictures and CNN tells you to; showing you "care" by sending a txt/ writing a check? Before spouting how much you "care," show me what you were doing 2-weeks ago, or just write your $10 check and shut the fuck up." -TWW, 1/23/10

It doesn't happen often, but occasionally I can't say it any better (or more succinctly) than I already have. Inundated with pleas to "Help Haiti," I've spent the last few days waiting out a string of Pacific storms, preparing to leave, and buried in old notebooks looking to add highlights to the beginnings of this Odyssey. Coincidentally, a large part of the backstory revolves around August & September, 2005: Hurricane Katrina, and volunteering in Mississippi and New Orleans during the aftermath.

Part of that "experience" was futilely trying to navigate the corporate charities and the "faith based" organizations who first wanted to know "how I was with Jesus", which I'm sure Our Redeemer greatly appreciated. For a full month in 2005, I tried the proper channels in Denver making it crystal clear that I was available for whatever they needed-- as long as they needed it. Unless I was a doctor, they just wanted my money. I pointed out, repeatedly, that I KNEW there had to be SOMETHING I could do-- even if it was just hauling debris. They assured me that the best way I could "help" was to send money-- at roughly the same time I was being told "Brownie" was "dooin' a helluva job." With that, I connected a few dots and remembered the accusations shortly after 9/11: that donations were embezzled or diverted in directions that, had the public known, would have caused millions of people (including me) to think twice about donating after September 11th. Since then, I refuse to give them a nickel. Disaster relief has taken on the putrid odor of reality TV mating with big business. What I personally saw on the ground in Mississippi and New Orleans confirmed it.

I'll provide links in the archives (Aug- Oct '05) as I get things transcribed, but there are 2 slogans I remember hearing repeatedly while there. "Fuck FEMA!" And, "Fuck the Red Cross!" In my week+, I saw exactly one Red Cross vehicle. It was two-days late. Short on supplies. The driver explained that they were understaffed. About then I heard the Denver Red Cross operator saying, "the best way to help is to send money!" Not, "can you drive a truck?" I found it telling that, despite the propaganda NO ONE on the ground had ANYTHING good to say about the Red Cross. In fact, they usually said "FEMA/ Red Cross" in the same breath. FEMA has been vilified since, but the Red Cross PR machine couldn't allow that to happen. I'd be willing to bet that few if any of my cohorts have donated to the Red Cross since Katrina. I'd invite you to do a little research. Google "Red Cross September 11 Scandal" and "Red Cross Scandal."

In typical fashion, in 2005 I ultimately told the corporate charities to go fuck themselves; a Red Cross operator I finally told literally. Then I hopped in my Jeep, drove the 1,000+ miles, and arrived on the Gulf Coast unannounced knowing I'd find someone who could use help. Through a disconnected tip, I found a Louisiana Humane Society setup, was eagerly welcomed and spent the week+ there-- which included a couple trips into New Orleans to try to gather displaced pets. What I saw both at the camp, and particularly in the city, shaped many of my core-beliefs-- as you can imagine. One of which is how to "be of help." Or, to invoke Andre, "be of maximum assistance." Writing a check, like flying a flag after 9/11, is literally the very least we can do. Unless you're adopting a family and mailing them to Finland, money donations are little more than a token gesture; something to make yourself feel warm and cuddly. "I am one with Haiti. Wait! Leno's back? But... I'M WITH COCO!" Worse, your money is likely to be gobbled up by the corporate structure and red tape of a bureaucratic machine like the Red Cross... even one clean of corruption.

I'm unsure when the Red Cross became The Official Charity of The United States of America, but since 9/11 it's come to resemble more of a saturation-style marketing machine. Every politician, every pundit, every Hollywood douchebag urging you to "give to the Red Cross!" as if there is NOTHING else you need to do. As if your $10 check will "save the children", and you can happily resume your lives completely inconvenienced and completely convinced that you "care" as you show the world via your Facebook status that you're a humanitarian!

If you truly "care" about the people there, you'll likely find a way to provide some sort of tangible assistance. If you can, you'll find something that just might, possibly, disrupt your comfortable routine. You'll get off your ass and get dirty; do something more than spend money to get drunk over at The Skank's Den because "proceeds go to Haiti relief!" If you choose to do so, fine. But keep in mind that you're not doing something particularly humanitarian. Most likely, you're doing what CNN is telling you to do during what's again become wall-to-wall disaster porn, and you're doing it on-cue. Anderson Cooper and Wolf Blitzer have become our purveyors of conscience. Unless you were involved in Haiti 3-weeks or 3-years ago, just write your check, pat yourself on the back quietly, and go about your business.

Bragging about it is, to me, enraging; a slap in the face to the people I saw sleeping in tents at a Winn Dixie parking lot. People who would periodically have to not only CHASE their tents, which the wind blew away from time-to-time because it's impossible to stake a tent on concrete, but also had their main shelter roped down to concrete wheel-stops-- which were also unstable due to the wind! These people worked non-stop in primitive, ridiculous conditions because there wasn't enough staff. They needed help, not money. Volunteers going door-to-door performing body-checks. They needed help, not canned peas. People pulling survivors off roofs and out of the rubble. They needed people willing to miss this week's episode of 24. Folks passing out bottled water because there was/ is no safe water to drink. They need MORE water, not help with Gail McGovern's $500,000 annual salary or $65,000 signing bonus.

Winn Dixie, New Orleans

Remembering the conversation with Howard in August, I decided to try once again to find channels through which to personally get to Haiti. After running into the same systemic static, I decided to save the frustration and continue on as planned. If like me you can't/ choose not to get involved directly, at least investigate other avenues beyond the mega corporate-charities. If you're going to give money, give it locally... for example a secular organization sending volunteers from your area. Or, at least give to an organization that comes with a referral from someone other than Nancy Pelosi! You can also buy non-perishables, sanitary supplies, etc. yourself and give them directly to donation stations. The actual items have a much higher likelihood of arriving intact than money given to buy them! And of course, if you know of a group with an extra seat on the plane, let me know...

Attempted (and failed) rescue. The Dog would NOT leave its house.
Note the water lines on the van...