Some observations from Houston on...

A Natural, Environmental, and Social Disaster

by Travis Morales

September 2, 2017 | Revolution Newspaper |


The correspondence that was posted at, “August 31: Hurricane Harvey’s Cascading Social and Public Health Catastrophe; Getting the Demands into the Hands of the People,” overall had some good exposure in the first three paragraphs of what people are confronting with the flood and the explosions at the chemical plants. However, I think the sections on what the masses of people were saying was a bit one-sided. It is true that there are different areas hit by Hurricane Harvey where people are getting very little help and feel abandoned. But this is not the same as Hurricane Katrina. Over 200 shelters have been opened. The George R. Brown Convention Center in downtown Houston was opened as a shelter on Sunday with food, water, clothes, and medical care, very quickly after Harvey struck. People were encouraged to go out and rescue those stuck in the floodwaters. Many, many people were rescued by volunteers and the authorities. Yes, some/many people may not trust the government. But many people, at this point, are grateful for the aid and said they were being treated well. And a number of people that read the Demands that were issued at said this is what is happening, now, meaning they are being helped. I do not doubt that people were telling us what is reported in the correspondence, but it is not so simple. The situation, and people’s thinking, is more contradictory.

The state—that is, the ruling class—summed up some things from Katrina, where leaving people to die created a huge political crisis. But also, in this case, for the rulers to turn their backs on the suffering would have meant turning their backs not just on poor and mainly Black masses, as in Katrina, but a huge number of people of all strata. This could have quickly created political upheaval among a cross section of people, including many among the Trump/Pence regime’s social base. The devastation covered a huge area. Masses of people, including a lot of good ole boys, were determined to go out and save others.

Contradictions Let Loose by Hurricane Harvey

Harvey has created a natural disaster, an environmental disaster, and a social disaster. This comes through in looking at all the contradictions this hurricane has let loose. Not only did the anarchic capitalist-imperialist system lay the basis for this disaster with global climate change and the unbridled economic development in a flood plain, with no real preparation for devastating storms in an area with a history of severe hurricanes, but the imperialists have no good answer for the masses of all strata whose lives have been upended and ruined.

The scenes are incredible: 120,000 people trapped in Beaumont, east of Houston, with no running water for the foreseeable future and the Neches River still rising. This is a recipe for a major health crisis. The mayor described Beaumont as an island. The mayor of Houston went on TV and told everyone west of Gessner Road with water in their homes to evacuate. The aerial scene was like a large lake with hundreds of houses neatly arranged throughout it. And these are not small rundown houses, but in an area of prosperous-looking two-story large homes. This is a huge area, and people have water in their homes because the spillways for the Addicks and Barker reservoirs have been opened in fear of water breaching the earthen dam. But at the same time, leaving the spillways open for two weeks could compromise them, according to an expert on TV. People were told they would not be able to return for weeks to months.

A chemical plant exploded from chemicals not being refrigerated because there was no electricity. And more explosions and fires are expected at the same plant. The “solution” is to let 500,000 pounds of toxic organic peroxides stored in eight containers explode and burn and enforce a mandatory evacuation 1.5 miles around the plant. A man living near the plant and interviewed on TV said, “Day one I was worried about people getting out. Day two I was just waiting for information. Now, I’m frustrated and getting angry because no one from Arkema [owners of the plant] will help us.” One report said, “In its [Harvey’s] wake, more than two million pounds of hazardous chemicals have been released into the air, according to filings reported with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality...” Two million pounds!!! And the worst may yet be in store.

The Only Program That Speaks to What the Masses Need in This Nightmare on the Gulf Coast

All of this is in the context of the Trump/Pence regime moving to quickly consolidate fascism, day after day, relentlessly taking one horrific step after another. On Friday, September 1, the horrific anti-immigrant Texas state law SB4 was scheduled to take effect, until it was put on temporary hold at the last minute by a federal judge. This law would confront undocumented immigrants at every turn with arrest and deportation. An estimated 600,000 undocumented immigrants, out of a total population of six million, live in the greater Houston area. There are 80,000 DACA recipients (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or “Dreamers”) who live in the greater Houston area, and the status of DACA is very uncertain. And this is coming on top of the devastation of Harvey on the lives of undocumented people.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has claimed they are not going to raid shelters and aid centers, but they have sent an additional 200 ICE agents to southeast Texas. While FEMA (the Federal Emergency Management Agency) has said that undocumented people can receive emergency shelter and food, they are not eligible for long-term aid such as money to rebuild their homes or replace destroyed belongings. Many, many immigrant families, even if they are undocumented, have purchased homes. Without FEMA assistance, those whose homes were damaged or destroyed will lose everything, their lives even more devastated—even if they were renting but lost everything, they will be ruined. Already in the barrios signs have gone up that say, “We buy flooded homes.”

More could be written, but I will end for now. The situation here, while not immediately calling into question the legitimacy of the system in the way that happened in the wake of Katrina, has the potential to do so much more powerfully. What are the imperialists going to do with all these people who lost everything? In Harris County alone, 136,000 structures were flooded. So far, 440,000 people in Texas have applied for federal assistance. One news article raised the question of where will the workers that are necessary to rebuild come from, and pointed out that 100,000 Latino workers came to the Gulf Coast after Katrina to rebuild. How will this intersect with the horrors coming down under the Trump/Pence regime on the undocumented? What will the immigrants themselves do, and what about all those who hate what the Trump/Pence regime is doing? The chemical plants and oil refineries are far from being under control and stabilized. A major environmental emergency could develop.

Getting out the Demands and the Nine Ways This Is a Crime of this System can play a big role in what people understand and what they do. The Demands very concretely put forward what is in the interests of the people and what is needed. No other program is being put forward that in any way speaks to what the masses of people need in this nightmare on the Gulf Coast.




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