Back Story: Disaster Everywhere We Look!

A couple of years ago I wrote a book that included in the title – and a long section of the volume – “the lessons of disaster.”

After Katrina in New Orleans, we learned these lessons every day. One thing worth remembering from our school days though is that we only really learn the lessons that are being taught, if we actually pay attention in class, or at least read the book, and do the homework.

Looking at the disaster of President Trump’s anti-immigrant policy and the “natural” disasters delivering one punch after another from rains, floods, wind, and storms, it is clear that even if these disasters are not linked, the recovery and what should be the lessons they teach, are. Not that the White House or President has noticed.

Trump is all wall and no cattle, all quick relief and no permanent cure, all about governing from his narrow base and ignoring the consequences reverberating throughout America. After the Harvey deluge, he visited Texas several times. He wants to establish that his administration can actually walk and chew gum in dealing with the disaster. He misses the problem of the recovery, because of his bias against immigrants and their labor, at least those not working at one of his hotel or golf properties. After Katrina, President Bush implemented a “looking the other way” policy about immigrant, undocumented labor that was critical to the recovery of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast. Immigration enforcement was effectively suspended, because every willing worker was desperately needed, and those willing to rough it, sleep in camps in City Park, and make do, were especially prized. New Orleans had always enjoyed a diverse Latin American population, but mainly from Central American countries like Honduras, El Salvador, and others with a very small Mexican presence. After Katrina the Mexican migrant footprint was huge. At one point it seemed that they were putting up every new roof in the city.

Houston has low unemployment, so does Florida and much of the beleaguered South that is caught in the wake of Hurricane Irma. There is a critical shortage of skilled labor especially in the construction trades. Talking to organizers in Houston, the immigrant population in the city and the state is huge, yet they are now being twisted in the wind by Trump’s tweets and tantrums. Not suspending enforcement in the recovery area means that construction will be delayed and costs will go through the roofs that need fixing all over path of the storm.

Median income is up for the second straight year – over 10% in the last 2 year period. Unemployment is down. Immigrants are not taking jobs away from anyone, and in fact jobs are going wanting.

We’ve had government for the 1% for so long, that government for the 30 or 35% hardcore Trumpsters is a shocking and unsettling experience. When it was all about lining the pockets of the rich, it was possible to have an analysis, learn the lessons, and close the book and hope for a new chapter and another class. With Trump, nothing is connected, nothing learned, feint and jab, and cut our own noses off to spite our face. He loves the dreamers he says. We need him to love the workers, too!

Will we ever learn?

Wade Rathke is the Chief Organizer of ACORN International, Founder and Chief Organizer of ACORN (1970-2008), and Founder and Chief Organizer of Local 100, United Labor Unions (ULU).