About a year and a half ago, the good folks at Solidarity Houston hosted me for a short visit. I’d never been to #Houston before, and was struck immediately by both the city’s dystopic qualities and how in spite (or because) of that, people had deep community as well as a hospitable warmth. For instance, the lack of zoning laws made for chaotic sprawl and simultaneously meant that people could build all sorts of “tiny houses” anywhere they wanted (backyard shacks, haphazard add-ons, structures atop garages, etc.) to house additional family members who’d just crossed the border, say, or people who’d been foreclosed on or evicted from gentrifying areas/cities.
My hosts took me for at least two tours of various parts of Houston. On one tour, I was shown the neighborhood that had become home to many thousands displaced from Hurricane Katrina. On another, my guide contrasted some upscaled parts of the Houston, including fancy arts institutions sponsored by the oil industry, with the profound ecological devastation. They mentioned that the reason people in the Bay Area, for example, can have all sorts of environmentally friendly packaging for their expensive takeout food and pressed juices, soothing their consumption guilt, was because Houston was the dumping ground for waste products, eco-friendly and toxic, from California, while materials like styrofoam were produced and/or used in Texas. They gestured to the 40 or 50, or more, miles of oil refineries, with lights and smoke and smells belching out from this city within a city.
What I most recall, though, besides my tour guides both underscoring how much they loved living in Houston, was the comment (to paraphrase): “If there’s ever a hurricane like Katrina here, we’ll likely all be killed because of all the hazard materials produced, stored, and disposed of here.” The way they described it to me, it would be like a big toxic soup of death.
As I read and try to comprehend stories, media and personal, of waters everywhere, waters rising, waters forcing evacuation, waters filling homes and buildings and cars and streets, I can’t stop hearing in my mind “water is life,” and yet knowing full well that in Houston, as in increasingly so many other places stolen and then abandoned, “water is death” — as fury and flood, as poisonous elixir and, if one can now afford it, profitable plastic bottled water (itself leeching toxins), all manufactured by #DisasterCapitalism.
(Photo: #ArtOfResistance, Ann Arbor, MI, July 2017.)