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Hurricane Harvey revealed the chronic problems that challenge the working class


By Bryan LaVergne

As I write this, Houston DSA has raised over $100K and has been contacted by hundreds of people ready to volunteer with our chapter’s relief efforts. This has given me hope and further confirmed my confidence in DSA as a network that can be utilized to help our communities. But, as our work begins, some of the darker realities of the situation in our city are being revealed.

I was heartbroken talking to Martha, one of the people our team helped out on Saturday. She works for the state as a nurse in the tuberculosis prevention unit, and experienced Hurricane Harvey while just finishing knee surgery and surviving breast cancer. Her brother Roger lived with her as well. He went to the University of St. Thomas, was in the Navy, and holds a master’s degree in social work. He worked for CPS for 25 years and at some point during his time working with juvenile corrections, his oldest son was murdered. He’s now disabled and helps other veterans with PTSD. They lived in one of the poorer neighborhoods in the Houston metro area. Their home was ruined by the floodwaters and reeked of mold.

These lovely and fantastic people, regardless of how much they’ve given to society, have lost so much over the years and the storm took away much of what little they had left. It is disgusting that we live in a society where this is possible. Yes, Houston DSA members were there to help them, and many other people will be helped by other organizations including ours over the next few weeks; but what about after that? And what will happen to the hundreds of other families who will be faced with having to sleep inside their mold-ridden, rotting houses?

I remember what it was like with Hurricane Rita: the effects on many of the poorest people who survived that storm still remain. My friends and family from Louisiana can speak the same to Katrina. Harvey will be no different. The people that are affected the most have often literally worked their lives away, and can no longer sell their bodies to capitalism like they did when they were younger.

Our interactions with our fellow Houstonians so far has only reinforced how cruel our society is when it is functioning normally: when society is done with you, you will be tossed away. Our culture of disposability is not limited to the commodities we buy and throw away — but we ourselves are commodified, and thus are equally as disposable. As our own figurative batteries die, hinges creak, and bulbs burn out; we are discarded and replaced with a newer workforce, naïve to the path ahead of them in their desperation to bleed and sweat in order to succeed in our false meritocracy.

These issues are not new. This disaster is not some acute problem that will pass with time. Instead, it has briefly unmasked the ugly system that caused much of this catastrophe to exist in the first place: through unhindered, sprawling development and accelerating growth of oil and gas capital, all while people of the poorest classes further lose wealth and must be faced with the dilemma of paying the electricity bill or not going to bed hungry for another night. It is far more likely that this illusory mask — this perception that our politico-economic system is just and fair — will grow back and replace itself before houses are rebuilt and lives restored, as this is the cycle of our national attention to disaster and poverty.

So, let us be reminded that this disaster is not the time to leave politics at the door while we pick up our shovels. Instead, let us be angry as we tear down the drywall and carry the moldy boxes to the curb. Let us feel pain for those who can’t afford help in a society that demonizes the poor and the immigrant communities. Let us demonstrate the society that we want to have instead through our work in the next few months: a world that unconditionally cares for everyone, all the time.

Names changed out of respect for privacy of the individuals.

Follow Bryan on Twitter at @OGbarduk.