Detroit Just Like Port au Prince
by David Rambeau
In the 70s Gil Scott Heron in one of his lyrics sang, "Detroit just like Johannesburg." His was a political analysis. He also said, "The revolution will not be televised." It is being televised, on cable television and the Internet. Times change.
Today we can say, "Detroit just like Port au Prince." Mine is a social or cultural analysis, which includes politics and economics. No doubt the devastation in Detroit is comparatively smaller in size, elongated instead of instant, a 50 year end of an era instead of an earthquake, but still quite similar.
In Detroit the homeless measure about 10,000 persons instead of one million as in Port au Prince. Here 100,000 people have lost their electricity and water over the last five years; 50% are unemployed in Detroit compared to perhaps 85% in Port au Prince, all indices of a difference in quantity, but not in the quality of the social catastrophe. So if we talk about Haiti, we talk about Detroit. If we understand black Haiti, we understand black Detroit, Highland Park, Flint, Pontiac, Chicago, and New York.
When we see the tv news programs, we see row upon row of collapsed buildings and people milling in the street. But we never hear in-depth comments or analysis about why this happened. Where are the interviews with the architects, the builders, the seismologists? Where are the interviews and analysis from Haitians, from Haitian-Americans? Why would the UN occupy a 5 story cinder block building built on an earthquake faultline? Whoever made that decision should go to jail for 20 years. People were rescued from a five story super-market. Why would anyone build a 5 story building without reinforced structures? Why did the walls fall out into the street instead of inside the stores or houses?
What is needed now, and in the past, is low technology. They (and we) need brooms and shovels and plastic bags to clean up the debris. They need picks and rakes and sledge hammers and wheel barrows to demolish damaged buildings and to haul the concrete piles away. They don't need the large trucks, the earth-movers, the steam shovels. They need to put one million people to work with low tech tools and machines rather than have a few huge machines brought in to do 99% of the clean-up and reconstruction, while one million unemployed, idle people stand around and watch.
They need their own indigenous architects, builders and inspectors to design low tech one-story buildings with ample courtyard space that takes into consideration the after-shocks and the next earthquake that is inevitably coming, as well as the coming hurricanes. They need defensive construction in tune with nature.
They need security. The U.S has sent in 9,000 troops. Over a half century ago Marcus Garvey asked where is the blackman's army? He could ask the same question today, and get much the same answer. Where are the black medical professionals from the U. S. (40 million Afro-Americans), Brazil (90 million Afro-Brazilians), Haiti (10 million Afro-Haitians), the Dominican Republic (10 million Afro-Dominicans)? There are more Haitians practicing medicine in the U.S. than in Haiti. Why?
They need food, and yet I have never seen any video that relates to their farms, plantations or fisheries. They need water and yet they are part of an island surrounded by water. How does this occur? We offer prayers when they need plastic water jugs. They can pray for themselves.
They need sustainable development, production and distribution; they need trade as well as aid. They will need food, water, medical supplies, doctors, dentists, architects, builders and more for the foreseeable future. Have you considered this? Has anyone? And recognize that long-term aid from any entity regularly includes self-interest and exploitation. Nevertheless, do what you are interested in and capable of doing. Some jugglers can keep three balls aloft. Others can handle a dozen. Do what you can; it's all good.
Haiti needs energy and yet I have seen no mention of solar or wind or bio-fuel production. At one time the island had huge sugar cane plantations that today could produce all the bio-fuel the island would need, much like Brazil is doing. Why in what was France's richest colony are the people now the poorest in the hemisphere? Why in black Detroit which was the richest internal colony in the U.S. are the people now the poorest in the nation?
When you watch tv what do you see? What do you hear? What do you understand? Study the video; study its contents. Analyze the comments, the innuendos. Consider and compare, for example, the temporary shelter (tents), the clothing the people wear (or don't wear), the absence of experimental architecture instead of just cinder block construction found everywhere. Notice every detail. Consider them as process, not merely as end results.
Detroit hasn't had cataclysmic natural phenomena, (I don't consider them disasters) to disrupt the civilization (unless you include water, land and air pollution and climate change). We've had social phenomena of a cataclysmic nature: the exodus of the auto industry, automation, robotics, drugs, institutional gambling, incinerators, financial institutional fraud, organized crime and corrupt and inept government. The results have been much the same: wide-spread poverty, unemployment, family disintegration, ill-health, population migration, abandoned and dilapidated buildings, and government deficits. While we look at Port au Prince we ought also to look at ourselves.