Having just returned from a week in northern Louisiana, where I was afforded the opportunity to assist the evacuees, I have a better perspective about the essence of the human spirit. There are several areas to discuss.
1) The issues are not black and white. The media machine supporting this administration will have you believe that there is this great chasm in this country between blacks and whites over Katrina. This is fundamentally untrue. I saw hundreds of people every day and they were of every color and race. During the week I was there, I saw not one incident between residents, and certainly not one incident prompted by race. While I did see all colors and races, there was one demographic not represented in the shelters I worked in. I did not see one wealthy person. Now while this is certainly not surprising it does indicate why the powers that be want you to be arguing about race. It prevents you from discussing the problem at the heart of the issue, economic status. The planning and reaction was so poor not because the people were minority but rather because they were poor. If you seriously think that the reaction would have been this bad if the hurricane had hit Florida during an election year, then I have a bridge to sell you.
The fact is that over the past four years we have seen the impoverishing of this nation and it has been an orchestrated plan by the Bush administration. The poverty rate has ballooned and jobs are simply not being created. Real jobs are outsourced to countries that do not have our strict labor laws and incentives are provided by the administration, to continue to outsource jobs. The tax breaks have not helped the dwindling middle class and have provided a boon to the super-wealthy. The republican mantra of "everyone gets a tax break " is patently silly. Yes the middle class family may get $1,000 back from the government but at what cost? The shrinking of services from the federal government results in higher state taxes. His administration has seen dramatic rises in gas, milk, electricity, college tuition and local taxes as well. We pay more for our medical benefits, assuming we even have any. That thousand dollars we got in a tax break is spent before we can open the check. The super-rich however receive hundreds of thousands for each thousand you might get. The important thing that everyone has lost sight of is that the money has to come from somewhere. It comes from services to the lower-middle class and working poor. For every necessary service that is cut, these people will now have to pay to have those services provided. The tax cuts were originally sold to us by Bush because of the surplus that was left for him. We heard about how it was our money, we overpaid, and he was going to give it back. Well, that surplus is long gone, if it ever really existed, yet we are still being sold the breaks as necessary. In fact the Bush administration is still pushing the repeal of the Estate Tax, which clearly only benefits the richest 1% in this country. Untold billions of dollars handed back to the richest, while services are cut left and right and we are being told about the need for fiscal discipline. Nonsense. We need the rich to sacrifice their money while the poor are sacrificing their children in war. It seems the least they could do.
2) The problems that still exist are larger governmental problems as opposed to local issues. The shelters I worked in were very well run. In the main one, a local pastor started the center and was still managing it. Things ran smoothly despite over 800 beds being hosted. The Red Cross, Social Services, and people from Billy Graham all spent their days helping people. The centers were air conditioned and there was enough bottled water for everyone.
The problems however, were on a larger scale. There were people there for five weeks, since the hurricane hit and they were still waiting for their FEMA checks. Others were in and out in a matter of days for their FEMA checks, indicating a haphazard way in which the benefits were being processed. This of course led to a lot of frustration. The real problem however is planning. There are no real plans for what to do with these people.
3) The human spirit survives. No matter what these people have been through, their spirit was positive. I met with so many people who had lost everything, yet considered themselves blessed to be alive. It allowed them to develop a healthier perspective on life. Homes can be rebuilt. Possessions can be re-acquired. Lives though, well we, only get one shot. We were able to reunite families, provide counseling, and develop new employment opportunities for these people.
The children in the shelter reminded me that kids are kids, wherever they are. They would still run around and play, seemingly oblivious to their surroundings and situations. On some days, it only took one visit from a child to remind us all why the human spirit always survives.
I learned a lot in Louisiana. Mostly, I learned that God always provides. I have heard some people with political agendas claim this was the wrath of God. One group claims it was retribution for the US supporting the Gaza pullout. I heard others claim it was retribution for the decadent lifestyle found in portions of New Orleans. I say that is not only nonsense, it is not biblically supported. God does not kill indiscriminately. I am weary of hearing people use God to suit their own agendas.
God will however use this to reminds us all of what should be truly important to us. I saw an African American man with a head injury collapse and die on the food line, only to be revived by EMTs. They did not care what color he was. Do not allow people to use this tragedy to split us against each other. It is not ever, nor is it now, about race. There are only two reasons these people found themselves in these shelters. One is they lost everything they had in a hurricane and two; they did not have the resources to avoid needing to go to a shelter.
There is a growing chasm in this country and it is between the haves and the have nots. The people on the right will cry "class warfare! " Whatever. The truth will always bring out such tripe to defend against the indefensible. Louisiana taught me much. Mostly, it reminded me about the fragility of life and the importance of perspective. Coming back to New York took eleven hours due to plane delays. Most people were very upset with the infringement upon their time. Not I. It allowed me more time to reflect upon what is truly important before returning to the grind that is our lives, which we convince ourselves is somehow too busy to stop and thank God for all he has given us.