Sunday, August 31, 2008

The Fire This Time?

I'm sitting in the lobby of the Mall of America Ramada in Minneapolis, blogging in a lobby equally divided between Republican delegates and anti-war veterans.

As I write, news is coming in that President Bush has cancelled his scheduled speech here tomorrow and the Republican Party is considering shortening their National Convention as Hurricane Gustav is poised to hit New Orleans.

Last night, Jeremy Scahill reported that Blackwater mercenaries are already being dispatched to New Orleans to "maintain order" in the streets as battered partially reconstructed neighborhoods are subjected to a mandatory evacuation order. Meanwhile National Guard troops who signed up to help in natural disasters remain tied down in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The full story of what Blackwater did in New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina remains unknown. The image of a city under the control of heavilly armed paramilitaries fresh from combat defending islands of wealth in the midst of poverty brings to mind my brief time in Barrancabermeja in Colombia where the Army and the death squads rule the streets and the Chamber of Commerce celebrates the fact that there is order in the streets. The repression we have enabled and sponsored in the Global South has come home with a vengeance, the distinction between citizens and non-citizens eroded as the poor are pushed around at gunpoint with impunity.

Meanwhile though, systems of control are unravelling. The U.S. military remains unable to impose "order" in Iraq and Afghanistan, and Venezuela, Bolivia, and Ecuador have seized the moment to take charge of their own resources and their own destinies. Mexico seems again and again to come to the brink of a civil war our billions of dollars of weapons and training may not be able to prevent. And in the ranks of the U.S. military, disssent and resistance grow. On Wednesday, just after I flew out of Denver, Iraq Veterans Against the War led a march of 10,000 people to the Democratic National Convention, demanding that Barack Obama make a real commitment to bring all their sisters and brothers home from Iraq, give them the care they need when they get home, and pay reparations to the Iraqi people.

The center cannot hold. Increasingly friends have been passing around Starhawk's The Fifth Sacred Thing -- a novel where people nonviolently defend autonomous zones carved out in a country placed under martial law after an alliance of corporations and theocrats rose to power and privatized food and water. Every day it reads more like prophecy.

From my time in Bolivia and Oaxaca, I know that there is only so far people can be pushed before their desperation becomes stronger than their fear of death. The waters will soon be rising in New Orleans. But they may be followed by the fire this time.

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