A potential Irma victim’s last minute letter to Peoples World readers
While some can afford to get out others have to stay behind. Tyrone Tomlinson, 27, uses a family wheelchair to ferry sandbags to be used at their home in Orlando, Fla., Sept. 7, as residents prepare for Hurricane Irma. Long lines of vehicles waited for hours to get a 10 sand bag limit at the City of Orlando Public Works. Red Huber | AP

In 24 hours of this writing, Hurricane Irma will hit the state of Florida south of where I live. It is predicted to make a direct hit on Key West, then veer north to Miami and on up the eastern part of the state. I am on the west side, but the satellite photos of this historic hurricane easily show its dimensions wider than this peninsular state.

It is not missed by me the precision with which our media cover the movement of this 15 mph hurricane. As in other times, those of us who barely passed high school science can discuss the various trajectories of these natural phenomenon. Life and death are great motivators.

Everyone in the hurricane’s range will be affected, some much worse than others. We have already witnessed catastrophic devastation to the so-called “Lesser Antilles,” like Guadeloupe, the Virgin Islands, Antigua and Barbuda.

The governor-general of one of Britain’s overseas territories made a dire radio announcement on an emergency frequency sounding much like a super power was about to invade and make his land look like Dresden after the fire bombing. Then there was news that Richard Branson, the airline tycoon and knight of the British Empire, and apparent proprietor of his own Caribbean island, reported total devastation to his personal island.

Who knew that Branson had his own personal island in the Caribbean?

But while Hurricane Irma impacts everyone regardless of class or rank, its affects vary widely, and lost in the understandable directives from state and local governments – to prepare, have your plans, or evacuate – and other wider discussions about global warming and climate change, a few obvious points cross my mind as I prepare to hunker in, with my cat, just as we had in 2014 in Hawaii as Hurricane Iselle approached the Big Island where I lived in a small cabin in the mountains.

Bourgeois commentators, reporters, and government spokes-people serve some purpose when they disseminate useful information, but this crisis mode and referral to this Category 5 hurricane intentionally misses a more vital discussion about why the varying temperaments of Mother Nature affect varying populations with drastic differences. So why aren’t we talking about capitalism?

Sir Richard Branson, a British subject, should be able to distinguish the affects of the 1992 fire at Windsor Castle on its occupants from the 2017 fire in Grenfell Tower public housing on its tenants – a fire that caused at least 80 deaths. Fire, similar to the natural forces of wind and water, cannot be determined as the main culprit impacting humans when clearly the lower you are put on the class strata, the worse off you will suffer; and the higher up this distribution chain you are, like Sir Richard or the Queen, able to muster the capital to restore your castle or your private island and move into another one of your palaces.

If I seem to be delving into the nasty underbelly of the class war, make no mistake that I am. The disaster is less a hurricane named Irma or Iselle than a social and economic system that isolates black and brown people, and people impoverished from low wages, into housing, neighborhoods, and islands where their only value is how much they can be exploited. And if they cannot be exploited, they are literally left at the mercy of the elements.

When Hurricane Andrew struck southern Florida 25 years ago, I remember following the details that the most dire impact was centered not in Miami but in the working-class areas of Homestead and Hialeah. This was because, without much discussion on the evening news at the time, many of these residents lived in substandard housing and in mobile home parks. This was only casually alluded to, usually as a background detailing the aftermath.

But no one to my knowledge discussed why these people were living in mobile homes in the middle of a hurricane alley.

Florida has witnessed an enormous population boom over the last 50 years. Like California, advanced technologies, like air conditioning to mitigate the heat and high humidity, have made this boom easier. But people didn’t flee south to Florida. Corporations in search of tax abatements and anti-union laws came here to set up. The workers followed from places where industries correspondingly went under, went abroad, or came to these right-to-work for less states in search of corporate benefits.

The majority of workers were lured into virtual shanty towns where they were asked to labor for depreciating wages.

This so-called economic boom has been a human disaster to the environment as well. These workers, their top-heavy management executives, and their families, whether they live like Donald Trump or in mobile homes, need drinking water. Those air conditioners need huge electric grids. So at the cost of everglades, marshes, and natural coastal areas – Mother Nature’s barriers to these other natural forces – these things were sacrificed to guarantee fresh water, development, and nuclear-power plants to the growing business centers.

This is why, again like California or Hawaii, when I hear talk of droughts, and yet I see a real estate lobby continuing to construct housing and condominiums, I know we are again being hoodwinked from discussing the real issue of capitalist priorities to build beyond itself for profit and into talking about manufactured crises, like a lack of rain and taking shorter showers, etc.

Science has been made into a distraction. Our rulers have us studying the direction of hurricanes with scientific precision, but never talking about how capitalism erodes every aspect of our livelihoods as well as the natural world.

Conventional wisdom is hopeless. Nature is cast as the enemy. Poor people who resist leaving are labeled stupid. But for the poor and working class, picking up and evacuating is such an impossible financial burden we must actually sit and weigh our odds against nature’s forces. We have no other castles to run to. Anyway, the proprietors who destroyed the natural coastlines to build those castles, and the system they serve, are the real enemies of the people.

I resist, despite the obvious destruction and loss of life, calling these hurricanes “natural disasters.” The disaster is of political doing. And what humans constructed, can be dismantled for better constructs. This is not only the communist project but also the human one. As George Bernard Shaw warned us:

“The power that produced man when the monkey was not up to the mark, can produce a higher creature than man if man does not come up to the mark. We must beware; for man is not yet an ideal creature. At his present best many of his ways are so unpleasant that they are unmentionable in polite society, and so painful that he is compelled to pretend that pain is often a good. Nature holds no brief for the human experiment: it must stand or fall by its results. If man will not serve, nature will try another experiment.”

 


CONTRIBUTOR

Lowell B. Denny, III
Lowell B. Denny, III

Lowell B. Denny, III, graduated with a degree in political science from Washington University, but his real political education came with his membership in Queer Nation/San Francisco, spending two months of work and study in Cuba just after the demise of the USSR, three months hitchhiking around Mexico where he got to spend a day in jail, and being affected by the sovereignty movement while living in Hawaii. He has worked in publishing, retail, and as a school teacher and restaurant waiter.

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