Lately I've been talking a lot about 'community'. I've been talking about how important it is for us to take care of each other, and to make our scenes as positive, helpful, and aware as possible. These beliefs are the logical result of independent, anti-corporate punk ideas, as well as feminist theory.
I started listening to punk because it addressed social issues. The Sex Pistols whined about feeling cheated, The Clash more eloquently addressed the struggles of the British working class and militarism in the 'Third' World, Bikini Kill talked about institutionalized sexism, and epidemics of rape and domestic violence. I got involved with punk because I wanted to do something, to make a difference, to call attention to these issues and demand that people act. And I'm sure I'm not the only woman who started listening to and making this music because of this.
So why, then, do I feel so conflicted about helping Haiti?
Haiti's story -- hit by earthquake, major damage, needs help, let's go -- might seem straightforward. Let me tell you why it isn't. Unlike some assholes (David Brooks, Anne Applebaum, Paul Shirley), I know Haiti's history. And I know that long before this earthquake, Haiti, the poorest nation in the Western hemisphere, was in a desperate situation.
Haiti's poverty is the result of imperialism. People like Brooks, Applebaum and Shirley -- wealthy Anglo 'First'-world citizens -- want to blame Haiti's culture, for being 'progress-resistant'. Really? So the culture of the nation that gave us our first successful slave revolt, the nation that waged a revolution against Napoleon and won, the nation that rebuilt itself with no help from Western powers and almost succeeded, and has continued to survive despite crushing debt, US military intervention, and US-installed dictators is 'progress-resistant'? Really? That's Haiti's biggest problem?
What people don't understand is that Haiti was colony. And the colonial relationship is, in effect, the ultimate abusive relationship. Even after a victim of abuse escapes her abuser, that victim is left with serious trust and self-esteem issues that are painful to work through. The abuse victim is very vulnerable, and want to repeat patterns, and experience more abuse.
And as deeply as strongly as I feel about Haiti's current problems being rooted in previous broaches of their national sovereignty, my bitterness and cynicism made me want to refuse outright to help Haiti. As I see it, the United States, France, and the US-dominated World Bank and International Monetary Fund are responsible for Haiti's poverty, and that I don't really want to help them to "help" Haiti. (For the record: I wonder if there are other politically active punks who feel this way. Is anyone else out there looking at this situation from this perspective?)
Despite these feelings, I went to a Forum on Haiti sponsored by my university. I went mostly because some professors in my department were scheduled to speak; one colleague took down David Brook's aforementioned article point by point and placed it within an on-going racist and ethnocentric Western discourse on Haiti and its problems and another colleague spoke about the long history and contributions of Haitian Americans. Still other professors spoke about different, less-known charities and activist groups they've worked with in Haiti, since long before this January's earthquake.
It will sound cheesy, but I left that forum feeling truly inspired by professors and their friends who have been working to solve Haiti's long-term systemic problems. I left feeling really appreciative of my colleagues, and their expertise, and their strong convictions about the racist treatment Haiti has received since its independence in 1804. I left wanting to do more for Haiti than contribute to earthquake relief, and wanting to encourage others to do more, as well. Whether or not you have money or resources to donate, here are some supplementary activities you and your friends can do for yourselves:
1. Donate smart. There have already been reports of fake and phony organizations swindling generous people out of money; make sure that you're helping a reputable group. But just as importantly, try to give to groups that are interested in Haiti in a long term way. Haiti needs immediate help, yes -- but it also needs help with building a new and better government, new school systems, and a new health care system, and that's just to start. Consider getting involved in Haiti's rebuilding efforts as well as earthquake relief.
2. Learn about Haiti. Some of the bloggers and writers I mentioned in this article are treating Haiti like some lump of land populated by savage, stupid animals rather than human beings. Haiti's culture is under attack, so if you can, fight the power by reading about Haiti and its art, and its religion.
3. Learn about colonialism. If you do nothing else, or learn nothing else from what's happened to Haiti, please: donate your own intellectual energy and time to the important task of learning about the forces that made Haiti the way it is. You don't have to learn or read particularly about Haiti; you can just as easily read about Africa, South East Asia, or Latin America. You can read about Puerto Rico, which is a colony right now, as we speak and read. Learn about the way the so-called 'Third World' was made. It's the only way we can learn to resist, for ourselves and for others.
4. Fight the Shock Doctrine. The history of neo/colonialism in our world is intimately linked to right wing, US-dominated economic institutions. Do not, under any circumstances, support the policies of groups like The World Bank or The International Monetary Fund. They are attempting to use this natural disaster to force fatalistic austerity policies on an already over-burdened island. Go to No Shock Doctrine For Haiti to learn more.
***This post is dedicated to my friend Kitty, and her strength and courage. Thanks for being a great professor and friend to us all.***