Thinking About Turkey
I sit and watch in horror as the toll continues to rise from the earthquake in Turkey. Today they say over 12,000 dead and with 35 - 40,000 people still missing it's clear this number will grow in the coming days. The Turkish government has already ordered tens of thousands of body bags.
But the story is worse. Hard to imagine, but much worse. The earthquake's damage translates into homelessness and disease, into hunger and pain. I, along with millions of people around the world, watch the pictures of people stunned by their loss and confused about their future. It touches me very deeply.
Here I sit, a lifelong political organizer committed to fighting injustice, overwhelmed by the magnitude of this tragedy. It's not just that the earth shifted, reminding us again of the force of nature. I had a similar feeling when we learned of the death and destruction caused by Hurricane Mitch in Central America last year, and other times when natural disaster hits so hard that it's difficult to make any sense of it all.
What I do know is that the enormity of the nightmare the Turkish people face cannot be assigned solely to Mother Nature. Why was housing built in an earthquake zone that did not meet any earthquake-resistant standards? For all of the international aid going to Turkey, why are the so-called developed nations...especially our own...unable to pour in the medicines, housing, food and other resources the people so desperately need?
But now I'm sounding naive, even a little silly. How could I forget that buildings are built by land developers and contractors whose main purpose is to make money? How could I forget that stock piling bombs, building new weapon-delivery systems and indeed, new weapons of mass destruction are a greater priority than life-saving medical equipment or mechanisms for purifying contaminated water supplies?
A few months ago, a brochure announcing two mid-June conferences under the title "Business Opportunities in Global Reconstruction" was mailed to me. (Believe me, I have no idea how I got on the list of the organizers, The Center for Reconstruction and Development based in Washington, DC.) This caught my eye and I read further. To quote:
"The Balkan Assistance & Reconstruction Conference, June 15, 1999. Recognizing that lasting stability in the Balkans requires that all countries in Southeastern Europe are economically secure, this all-day conference will provide detailed information on regional U.S. assistance funding passed by Congress in May and the $30 billion 5-year regional reconstruction program discussed at the Bonn Summit on May 27th. This funding will translate into substantial business for many companies and organizations........"
The Central American Reconstruction Conference, June 22, 1999. Responding to the devastation caused to Central America by Hurricane Mitch, this all-day conference will provide detailed information on the $1 billion in U.S. funding passed by Congress in May and the $8 - 10 billion discussed at the Stockholm Donors' Conference in late May. This funding will translate into substantial business for many companies and organizations. The U.S. State Department has declared that corporate involvement in long-term reconstruction is essential......"
In fact, it's all summed up on the outside of the brochure: "Open Immediately for Information on $40 Billion in Reconstruction Financing for Central America and the Balkans and How Your Firm or Organization can Participate!"
Both conferences were to include high level government representatives of the various countries affected, as well as people from the U.S. State Department, U.S. Department of Commerce, USAID, Overseas Private Investment Corporation, Export-Import Bank of the United States, U.S. Trade and Development Agency, and just to make sure every entrepreneur has a fair shot, the U.S. Small Business Administration!
Now I await a new brochure, announcing a new conference on how your company can "assist in the reconstruction" of Turkey. None of this is very hard to understand. Disaster happens - either caused by nature or man (and I use that word very consciously) - and great money-making opportunities open up.
And, of course, this is what feeds my intense sadness as I watch those pictures from Turkey flash on the TV news. It's not just the ravages of nature...it is the greed of capitalism which is so overwhelming. No, none of this is new, and I assume the folks who read these commentaries already share this point of view. But I write about all of this as a way to deal with the news every day. Sometimes the news make me so sad that I wonder why I watch it (or read the papers). Of course I know that cutting myself off from the news won't make anything better, and it probably won't even make me feel better.
Finally, all of this leads me back to the question I seem to ask over and again...whatever the news. When do we, the left in this country and internationally, move past whatever it is that holds us back, and begin to intervene and change the world we live in? How do we grow strong enough to change priorities so housing is built that can withstand the forces of nature and rescue procedures can be as thorough and swift as military operations? When do we become serious players in the events that shape peoples' lives, whether war or earthquake or......
Leslie Cagan Decades long organizer in a board range of peace and social justice movements, Leslie is presently involved in struggles to defend Open Admissions at the City University of New York (CUNY). She is a co-chair of the National Committees of Correspondence and is on the board of the Astraea National Lesbian Action Foundation. Leslie is also part of the growing effort to re-invigorate a left/progressive presence in the lesbian/gay/bi-sexual/transgender movement.