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The Lessons of Katrina

Why the government has abandoned the poor

By People's Tribune

The government abandoned the poorest of the American people in thier hour of need when Hurricane Katrina struck. The question is why, and what do we do about it?

Katrina didn't start the government's war on the poor; that war had been under way for years. Katrina just ripped the covers off a system that has no use for people it cannot exploit to make a profit.

We live under a government run by and for the giant corporations and the wealthy. They create the laws, institutions and policies they need to guarantee their profits. The government can only do the bidding of the rich and the corporations, because it is their government. We also live in a society where electronic technology and globalization is doing away with more and more jobs and driving down the wages of those who can still find a job. No matter what color your skin or your collar, nobody's job is safe, and nobody is safe from poverty.  This system no longer needs the labor of a growing mass of workers, and poverty is growing by leaps and bounds as a result.

This is why the government has torn up the social safety net. Why provide a safety net for workers you don't need? The poor on the Gulf Coast were left to the mercy of Katrina because the corporate-controlled government didn't give a damn about them. And when they finally were "rescued," they were ordered around at gunpoint and then shipped out all over the country so there was no angry mass of poor people in one spot, demanding their rights.

This is about more than Bush and the Republicans. The ripping up of the social safety net, the privatizing of public goods and services, the criminalizing of those in poverty began under Democratic administrations and has been carried out with the support of Democratic politicians. The problem isn't just Bush; we have been abandoned by a whole system that no longer needs us. And both the Democratic and Republican parties are part of that system.

Katrina has opened a door in American politics. All kinds of politicians are suddenly talking about poverty now, and debating government's responsibility for the poor. The Democrats are obviously hoping to get the poor and the rest of the working class to flock to their banner. We, the people, should be on our guard. We should seize the opportunity to educate ourselves and those around us, so we can choose a path in the interests of the people.

We need a government that represents the people, not the corporations. And we must build our own political party to help organize the struggle for such a government.

But the broader question is, what kind of society are we going to have? Today a handful of corporations and wealthy investors own society's productive property and they decide what gets produced and how much, who will work, and who will have health care, housing, education and everything else. They decide who lives and who dies.

It doesn't have to be this way. Society's productive technology, owned and controlled by the people, could guarantee a decent life for every one of us. We need much more than a new set of politicians. We need a new society, owned and controlled by the people, where no one goes without the necessities of life. This is possible today, and necessary if the majority of us are going to survive.

We must convince those around us that it is not just individual politicians, but an entire system that has turned against us and intends to destroy us. And we can have a new society. The opportunity is right in front of us, if we have the courage to seize it.

Katrina tore the fig leaf off and exposed the heartlessness of this system for the whole world to see. Those of us who are committed to building a new society free of poverty must seize the opportunity to bust the debate wide open and steer it where it needs to go.

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