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Preying for Disaster

​For most of us when witnessing the natural disasters that have devastated communities like Hawaii, California, and Puerto Rico in recent years, just to name a few, we feel a profound sense of empathy and heartbreak as we look at our fellow citizens, whose lives have been turned upside-down, destroyed, or lost. We wonder, “how can we help?” We hope that our communities will be resilient, that can come together, that lives can be restored, and that the government, as an avatar of our collective power, will step-in to protect those of us in our most dire moments and greatest need. However, not everyone is filled with this deep empathy. It seems venture capitalists and real estate developers look at these disasters not as heartbreaking moments and a time for grief and rebuilding, but rather as a great buying opportunity. A moment, when people at their most vulnerable can be exploited most easily. The most recent gruesome example of this form of “disaster capitalism” a term coined by Naomi Klein in her book The Shock Doctrine, has come in the wake of the worst wildfire in Hawaii's history. With at least 100 people dead, over a thousand still missing, thousands of homes and acres of land burned to rubble, rich developers have been offering these grieving, dispossessed people pennies-on-the-dollar for their property. It's the type of sick, macabre, and outrageous behavior that once would have been reserved for the villains of outlandish movies. Now, though, this story seems to be a central feature of America’s late-stage, predatory, capitalist economy. Those who have lost everything: from their homes to their land, to family members themselves, are left naked and exploited, faced with impossible choices during their time of grief. Hawaii was already one of the least affordable places to live in America. As an island with limited land and beautiful weather, many native Hawaiians have been driven off their lands through an explosion in housing prices, and cost of living expenses, even more extreme than seen in other areas of the country. A phenomenon only exacerbated by the recent fire. One might hope that the government seeing such a terrible tragic event would leap to the rescue. Yet the Biden Administration has so far sent only a measly $700 to residents devastated by this natural disaster, nowhere close to the cost for Hawaiians to rebuild, and leaving citizens easy marks for unscrupulous developers. This behavior, to exploit disaster and take advantage of those in need, is not a new story in America, the predation is a natural outgrowth of the supremacy of money and capital over the needs of people. Corporations, and the elites who own them, have made it clear in a thousand ways that the well-being of others is far down on their list of concerns, and certainly takes second billing to the pursuit of profit. To these amoral, profit-maximizing machines, it makes perfect sense to lie in wait, ready to pounce during increasingly frequent disasters, when their victims have few resources and fewer options. The cold logic, however, makes the behavior no less ghoulish, and has unsurprisingly sparked anger amongst the general populace. The Governor of Hawaii has responded to the outrage of the people and is calling for a moratorium on such egregious, psychopathic activity. It’s a welcome bit of support from the local government. The reality is, though, that public entreaties and political speeches will likely do little to stem the feeding frenzy of these sharks. Without combined political and economic organizing, we will see this same story in a thousand different forms play out time and again in the coming years. We must use this moment to galvanize the vast majority of Americans who believe we should have affordable housing, and a government that takes care and looks after us as its primary concern, rather than the pocketbooks of the elites. So, join us each Tuesday, in growing solidarity, as we fight for a livable future and an empathetic society which treats its citizens not as opportunities for exploitation but is individuals deserving of love, dignity, care and respect, especially in our most vulnerable moments. #DSOT #UPM

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