Sunday, September 11, 2005

Flowers on Fire

Life is indiscriminate. Natural disasters do not target certain people, they can not be controlled. They strike, often suddenly, at will. In the aftermath of such a disaster like Hurricane Katrina humans do some soul searching. They try to link it to the supernatural so life does not appear to be so random and chaotic. Some will say it is the work of God. Others will say it was Satan. That will always be debatable, but there are lessons we can all learn from this event.

Katrina did us all a favor in one sense: it removed the veil that covered the plight of the poor, many of whom also live in our inner-cities. This is a pervasive and systemic problem that has been over-looked for far too long. The disconnect between those who make our laws and levy our taxes and those who struggle to live from day to day was also noticed.

Many, many people live in an America where they can climb into their SUV, pay $80 for a tank of gas, and drive off into the sunset. But just as many, far too many, can not even afford to escape the path of a natural disaster. The little they do own, they cling to even in the face of death.

And we can see, from the generous and sympathetic outpouring to charity, Americans realize that we can do better. That the slow, and—at least from TV interviews—apathetic response of our federal agencies is shameful and embarrassing. What our government could not do at first, the average American badly wanted to do. And that gives me hope.

My fear is that after people have reacted to the tragedy and given their money, they will once again turn a blind-eye onto the problem of poverty. I know that for the average person there is not much that they can do, but it can be a concern. It can be an important issue on the scale of nation building and homeland security.

We are pumping billions of dollars into military, defense, security, and where has it gotten us? A quagmire in Iraq that has paralyzed leaders and polarized voters? A slow and inept disaster recovery? Poverty on the rise?

People are not going to stand for this. Four years ago we all watched the events of 9/11 unfold. A few weeks ago we watched our own government, bloated by monies and support and power in a post 9/11 world unable to rescue stranded and starving people it was directly responsible for.

Currently we have the worst of all worlds. We have a government that wants money and power and to strip civil liberties in the name of protection. That would be one thing if that government knew what it was doing. Can it keep us save? Can it rescue us? Can it nation-build? Maybe we should error on the side of education and health care. We’re going to have to re-train many of those who lost their jobs in New Orleans. We probably should have been doing that all along. We should be outraged when so many of us are ill-equipped to survive in our society.

As one hurricane survivor said, “We had nothing before this. Now we have even less.” Politicians from New Orleans and Louisiana are trying to tell me that their great city is such a vital center of productivity. How can that be true and it also be true that New Orleans had a 30% unemployment rate, one of the worst school systems in the country, and 40% of its children in poverty? How can that city be so vital, and so neglected at the same time? Those kids are our kids. What we neglect in childhood we had to deal with ten-fold as adults. Plant a demon seed, and you raise a flower on fire.

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