Thursday, September 01, 2005

Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses...

It was appropriate in the 19th Century, and the opening seems appropriate right now.

The response to the hurricane has been rather astounding. Colleges and elementary schools have opened their doors, shelters have opened all around the country. People ask where they can donate. The place to start looking might be here. This is humanity at its best.

But I would like to talk about New Orleans for a minute, the violence and the looting that goes on in the wake of the hurricane. These are not your middle-class or affluent people. These are the poorest of the poor - the ones who COULDN'T leave, the ones who were forced to hold on and hope. They were also prisoners, released from jail but not relocated. Homeless, wandering around aimlessly, often without the medication they require. New Orleans is rife with them, and it should not surprise anyone that when order collapses as so often does after a natural disaster, this demographic doesn't react in the most positive way.

However, it does surprise people. Newscasters, bloggers, politicians, cousins, friends, passers-by are all shocked and outraged by what they see. "How can something so tragic bring out the worst in so many?" they ask. I can't answer that. I've not been stuck in a city that is under water before. I've not had to spend three days hiding and hoping that someone will come to rescue me. I've not been without food, water, toilets, beds, and clean clothes for any appreciable amount of time. I've never watched news crews motoring by on boats talking about how much they wish they could help these "poor people," while shoving a camera at them and turning down the next street. I would hope that if I were confronted with a similar situation, I would act with a little more composure, but I can't say that I certainly would, and I doubt anyone else could honestly say so, either.

Let's get something straight. This is not George Bush's fault. It's not Congress' fault, it's not the fault of the Governor of Louisiana, or the Mayor of New Orleans. Nature happened. We as a people did not have the time or the resources to move so many people in such a short amount of time. It makes me ill to hear people use the tragedy and the aftermath for political gain. What would you have the President do? Get a hose and siphon the water out by himself? Sure statements like "We'll be stronger as a nation for seeing our way through this" sounds trite, but it is not something people should attack (New York Times). There is difficulty getting military to the area. Guess what? We're at war. We can't call the Iraqis and Taliban and ask them for a time out while we go mop up. Our resources are stretched thin, we need to do what we can with what we have. If you are so critical about the size of the military, then enlist. They are taking applications. If you are unwilling to support the military, then find another way to help. Look at the link above.

This is a trying time for so many; and for a lot of people, the amount of damage done has yet to sink in. This is not the time to criticize, despite any inclination to do so. This is the time to help. We've got the rest of our lives to criticize people from our desks and easy chairs; there are thousands right now who won't if we don't help.


Gramma said...

I am so proud of your eloquence and your compassion toward those frightened, abandoned people. I am sickened by the horror and my own helplessness. Those who are looting and shooting are very likely those who never have been able to live past "today" in their lives. God help them; God help us all.

Michelle said...

I'd expect the looting from prisoners, not from the homeless. The homeless are usually frail, frightened, and are used to surviving with nothing. The looting usually comes from the lower middle class, as you said, social order collapses. I find it so disgusting that some human beings can stoop so low.
I agree though, its not a situation that is to be used as a political tool.

Weary Hag said...

Finally, a clearly thought out and well written piece.
I will admit that if I allow my own emotions to take over, I can feel myself start to point fingers and make unattractive, unintelligent conjecture. It can happen in cases such as these when we sit feeling helpless in our cozy living rooms, all the while just wanting to pass a bottle of water off to any one of those desperate beings among the masses.
More than ever, it's time to stop and think ... listen and learn ... but good God we need to listen to all sides, and learn from EVERYone... not JUST the media, not JUST the government and not JUST those who could be in their final hour of desperation.
Let's reserve judgement ~ of everyone.

Mark said...

Hi. I found your site thru Michael Whitts place. You are absolutely right. I was so angry about the politicizing of this disaster that I posted quite possibly my longest post ever about it, and I still didn't say all I wanted.

Cassie said...

It is so easy to sit back in our clean dry homes with plenty of food and clean water for our children and criticize the actions of people in situations we could never imagine.
If it were a few people stranded in a small town that was cut off from the outside world we would not judge them for breaking into stores or abandoned homes to get the supplies they needed to survive. The situation in New Orleans is a million times worse than that but just because it's more people in that situation doesn't mean that we have any right to judge them. This speaks only to the "looting" not to the violence. I can't condone violence but what would we really do in that situation? Until we've been there we have no right to judge. And is anyone taking into account the mob mentality? Where does that fit into all this?
We need to contribute to helping the people in New Orleans and other areas and stop being armchair critics.