Rescuing America: A 9-Step Plan
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President George W. Bush's disastrous mishandling of Hurricane Katrina exposes what is so desperately wrong with the right-wing ideology that now controls the U.S. government. We now have a rare opportunity to make a bold case for progressive approaches to the country's problems.
Everyone can see now that we need a well-funded, functional government within U.S. borders -- not an emaciated, revenue-starved one. It is more clear than ever that over-funding the military and cutting services actually makes us less safe, not more.
It also redeems those who have been concerned about racism, poverty, climate destabilization, toxic petrochemicals and the perils of over-reliance on oil. We can see that these are not just petty obsessions of the "politically correct" crowd. They are life-and-death issues for real people.
Everyday Americans are already seeing this and saying it. Finally, after a long romance with those riverboat gamblers on the right, the country is ready to hear something sensible from our side. If we articulate a bold program of action, we can win support on a scale that we have not known for decades. By stepping forward immediately, we can fill the huge, stunning leadership gap left by Team Bush.
The following nine steps are critical:
1. Tell America that we want to fully fund FEMA -- by rolling back the Bush tax cuts to at least Clinton-era levels. The rich must help secure the country against the next disaster. Reckless revenue cuts that leave us vulnerable must be repealed.
2. Declare that Katrina's floodwaters washed the GOP's proposal to repeal the estate tax off the table. There will be no tax breaks for the mega-rich while the nation is recovering from this historic blow and preparing itself for the next one. Any revenue cuts would both impair the rebuilding effort and risk lives down the road. Let's declare the repeal of the so-called "death tax" to be DOA (Dead On Arrival).
3. Publicly demand that George W. Bush apologize to the people of the Gulf Coast for failing them, or else resign. It is time stop fearing Bush Almighty, assuming that he and Karl Rove can keep trashing the country and never pay a price. The man just impaled himself on his own arrogance and contempt for life. Even conservative reporters were outraged by his team's indifference and dishonesty. Under Bush, America abandoned our poor, sick and disabled in a crisis -- and the whole world saw it on live TV.
4. Resolve not to lose a single moment, pacing back and forth, wringing our hands and trying not to appear too "partisan" or "blaming." Of course, the Republicans are going to howl that we are "finger-pointing" or "exploiting the tragedy." What else can they say for themselves at this point? That Bush did a good job? Let them call us names. Let us stay focused on ensuring that the thousands who perished did not die in vain.
5. Insist that New Orleans be rebuilt -- under the direction of those who have lived there for generations, not at the behest of big developers or carpetbagging profiteers like Halliburton. To that end, let's passionately support grassroots organizations in the region like Community Labor United, Southern Empowerment Project and Project South. And let's help any evacuees who relocate to our areas get politically organized, so they can stay involved in the process.
6. Help rebuild the Gulf Coast on a visionary, environmentally sustainable basis. (On worldchanging.com, Alan AtKisson makes a beautiful, well-reasoned and comprehensive case for rebuilding New Orleans as a model "green city.") All of our environmental sustainability, environmental justice and eco-business networks can unite to make this happen.
7. Launch a national network of individuals to help secure from all levels of government properly funded reconstruction and evacuee support. (We are gathering signatures for such an effort at ellabakercenter.org.) Let's push our mayors and city councils to pass Sister City ordinances in solidarity with New Orleans and other hurricane-ravaged towns; to make evacuee support a yearly budget item, through the entire decade of rebuilding, if need be; to appoint a paid ombudsman to support local evacuees and to coordinate information flow with Louisiana and Mississippi officials.
8. Call for National Guard troops to be returned from Iraq, especially those from Louisiana and Mississippi. The Katrina aftermath shows how much we need our disaster relief forces to be home, in the United States. Let's tie, with a thousand strings, progressives working in the recovery effort to the anti-war movement. (The United for Peace & Justice statement, The Gulf Wars, makes a convincing case for common ground.)
9. Wage a war against forgetting. We must not let Big Media or the Right orchestrate amnesia by pushing this tragedy to the back pages. We deserve levels of ongoing media attention that match and exceed 9/11. Every writer, filmmaker and artist must share this shameful story: a hurricane came, and America left its poor, black and disabled people behind to die. We must sear that fact into the country's memory. This catastrophe and its lessons must become part of the national legend. Only then can we be assured that the mindset that permitted it will never again lead this country.
We could not save those who died needlessly on Mississippi rooftops and in Louisiana attics. But we still have time to rescue America. Taking these steps -- and dozens more like them -- are the best ways to honor the dead. Through bold action, we just may find the gift in this hideous, grievous wound.
Van Jones is the national executive director of the Ella Baker Center For Human Rights. He also serves on the boards of the Apollo Alliance, Bioneers, Rainforest Action Network, Circle of Life and the Vasconcellos Legacy Project.