What the waters revealed: sometimes it takes a natural disaster to expose a social disaster.
Hurricane Katrina Editing of this page by unregistered or newly registered users is currently disabled due to vandalism. destroyed entire cities, the lives of more than a thousand people, the homes of hundreds of thousands, and the confidence of millions in the government's commitment and ability to protect them. Then Hurricane Rita Hurricane Rita was the fourth-most intense Atlantic hurricane ever recorded and the most intense tropical cyclone ever observed in the Gulf of Mexico. Rita caused $11.3 billion in damage on the U.S. Gulf Coast in September 2005. reflooded New Orleans New Orleans (ôr`lēənz –lənz, ôrlēnz`), city (2006 pop. 187,525), coextensive with Orleans parish, SE La., between the Mississippi River and Lake Pontchartrain, 107 mi (172 km) by water from the river mouth; founded and caused millions to flee their homes in Texas, including many who had already fled there from their homes in New Orleans. Much of New Orleans was emptied of its people, and broad areas of the Gulf Coast in Mississippi, Alabama, and Texas were devastated dev·as·tate
tr.v. dev·as·tat·ed, dev·as·tat·ing, dev·as·tates
1. To lay waste; destroy.
2. To overwhelm; confound; stun: was devastated by the rude remark. . More than 1 million Americans are now displaced across the country, and their fellow Americans around the nation are trying to take them in, perhaps for a long time.
But the waters of Hurricane Katrina also washed away our national denial of the shockingly high number of Americans living in poverty and our reluctance to admit the still-persistent connection of race and poverty in America, and perhaps even eroded the political power of a conservative anti-social services ideology that, for decades now, has weakened the idea of the common good.
The pictures from New Orleans stunned stun
tr.v. stunned, stun·ning, stuns
1. To daze or render senseless, by or as if by a blow.
2. To overwhelm or daze with a loud noise.
3. the nation. They exposed the stark reality of who was suffering the most, who was left behind, who was waiting in vain for help to arrive, and who is now facing the most difficult challenges of recovery. The faces of those stranded in New Orleans were overwhelmingly poor and black, the very old and the very young. They were the ones who could not evacuate; had no cars or money for gas; no money for bus, train, or airfare; no budget for hotels or no friends or family with room to share or spare. They were already vulnerable before this calamity; now they were totally exposed and on their own. For days, nobody came for them. And the conditions of the places they were finally herded to ("like animals," many testified) sickened the nation. Those left behind in New Orleans had already been left out in America.
From the reporters covering the unprecedented disaster to ordinary Americans glued to their televisions, a shocked and even outraged response was repeated: "I didn't realize how many Americans were poor."
"We have now seen what is under the rock in America," said a carpenter in Washington, D.C. The vulnerability of the poorest children in New Orleans has been especially riveting to many Americans, especially to other parents. Many say they had trouble holding back their tears when they saw mothers with their babies stranded on rooftops crying for help or jammed into dangerous and dirty places waiting for help to arrive.
As a direct result of Katrina and its aftermath, and for the first time in many years, the Years, The
the seven decades of Eleanor Pargiter’s life. [Br. Lit.: Benét, 1109]
See : Time media were reporting on poverty, telling Americans that New Orleans had an overall poverty rate of 28 percent (84 percent of them African American African American Multiculture A person having origins in any of the black racial groups of Africa. See Race. ), and a child poverty rate of almost 50 percent--half of all the city's children (rates only a little higher than other major cities and actually a little lower than some others). Ironically (and some might say providentially prov·i·den·tial
1. Of or resulting from divine providence.
2. Happening as if through divine intervention; opportune. See Synonyms at happy. ), the annual U.S. Census poverty report came out during Katrina's deadly assault, showing that poverty had risen for the fourth straight year and that 37 million Americans were stuck below the poverty line. Such people were the ones most stuck in New Orleans.
Katrina revealed what was already there in America: an invisible and often silent poverty that most of us in the richest nation on earth have chosen not to talk about, let alone take responsibility for. After the storm hit, we all saw it--and so did the rest of the world. It made Americans feel both compassion and shame. Many political leaders and commentators, across the ideological spectrum, acknowledged the national tragedy, not just of the horrendous storm but of the realities the flood waters exposed. And some have suggested that if the aftermath of Katrina finally leads the nation to demand solutions to the poverty of upwards of a third of its citizens, then something good might come from this terrible disaster.
THAT IS WHAT WE must all work toward now. Rescuing those still in danger, assisting those in dire need, relocating and caring for the homeless, and beginning the process of recovery and rebuilding are all top priorities. But dealing with the stark and shameful social and racial realities Katrina has revealed must become our clear, long-term goal. That will require a combination of public and private initiatives, the merger of personal and social responsibility, the rebuilding of both families and communities--but also the confronting of hard questions about national priorities. Most of all it will require us to make different choices.
The critical needs of poor and low-income families must become the first priority of federal and state legislatures, not the last. And, the blatant inequalities of race in America--especially in critical areas of education, jobs, health care, and housing--must now be addressed. Congressional pork-barrel spending that aligns with political power more than human needs must be challenged as never before. That will require a complete reversal of the political logic now operating in Washington and state capitals around the country: A new moral logic must reshape our political habits.
In the face of this natural disaster--and during a time of war, with already rising deficits--new budget cuts to vital programs such as food stamps and Medicaid, and more tax cuts for the wealthy, in the form of estate tax repeal and capital gains and stock dividend reductions, would be both irresponsible and shameless shame·less
1. Feeling no shame; impervious to disgrace.
2. Marked by a lack of shame: a shameless lie. .
The nation is starting to realize that the weakness of the nation's infrastructure is not a problem limited to the levees of New Orleans, and that restoring the Gulf Coast will require an environmental reconstruction as well. We can no longer neglect the loss of critical wetlands that once offered some protection from flooding, or deny the fact that increased water temperature in the Gulf of Mexico Noun 1. Gulf of Mexico - an arm of the Atlantic to the south of the United States and to the east of Mexico
Golfo de Mexico
Atlantic, Atlantic Ocean - the 2nd largest ocean; separates North and South America on the west from Europe and Africa on the east stokes the strength of tropical storms--such negligence is irresponsible and will only produce more disasters.
Katrina has also focused new attention on Iraq. The growing human and economic costs of a war in Iraq that more and more Americans believe to be a terrible mistake has also become an increasingly controversial issue as the current disaster has unfolded. Resources diverted from urgently needed levee levee (lĕv`ē) [Fr.,=raised], embankment built along a river to prevent flooding by high water. Levees are the oldest and the most extensively used method of flood control. repair in order to pay for war, the diminished availability of National Guard troops and first responders on tour in Iraq, and the embarrassing comparisons between poor planning and implementation for war and the ill-preparedness and incompetence of the national response to Katrina have all raised new and deeper questions about the nation's foreign policy and political leadership. A bad war, bad financial choices of how we spend our resources, and a bad strategy to combat terrorism are now inextricably in·ex·tri·ca·ble
a. So intricate or entangled as to make escape impossible: an inextricable maze; an inextricable web of deceit.
b. linked in the minds of many to a bad natural disaster strategy, or lack thereof. The war in Iraq hasn't made us more secure; Katrina's aftermath has made that even more clear.
THERE IS HISTORICAL precedent for natural disasters provoking a re-evaluation of our social thinking and political direction. In 1889, a great flood in Verb 1. flood in - arrive in great numbers
arrive, come, get - reach a destination; arrive by movement or progress; "She arrived home at 7 o'clock"; "She didn't get to Chicago until after midnight" Johnstown, Pennsylvania Johnstown is a city in Cambria County, Pennsylvania, United States, 60 miles east of Pittsburgh and 46 miles (76.6 km) west-south west of Altoona, Pennsylvania. The population was 27,906 at the 2000 census. , trapped and killed hundreds of people, most of them poor. Some of the blame fell on the Pittsburgh millionaires whose private fishing pond overflowed onto the destitute des·ti·tute
1. Utterly lacking; devoid: Young recruits destitute of any experience.
2. Lacking resources or the means of subsistence; completely impoverished. See Synonyms at poor. . The tragic event helped to catalyze cat·a·lyze
To modify, especially to increase, the rate of a chemical reaction by catalysis.
to cause or produce catalysis. the already growing popular anger against the new industrialists who seemed so callous cal·lous
Of, relating to, or characteristic of a callus or callosity.
of the nature of a callus; hard. to the suffering of people around them. The flood, many historians feel, helped to prepare the way for the turn of the century progressive movement, which focused on breaking up the powerful corporate trusts that had come to dominate the country.
In 1927, another flood visited destruction on the city of New Orleans. In his provocative book Rising Tide Noun 1. rising tide - the occurrence of incoming water (between a low tide and the following high tide); "a tide in the affairs of men which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune" -Shakespeare
flood tide, flood : The Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 and How It Changed America, historian John M. Barry describes how the disaster revealed both racial and economic inequalities. The response to the disaster by local authorities directly exposed the brutal inequities of race and class and provoked a deep populist anger. People demanded new responses from the federal government, and the 1927 flood helped pave the way for the New Deal. Citing both Johnstown and 1927 New Orleans as examples, columnist David Brooks David Brooks is the name of:
New York, Middle Atlantic state of the United States. It is bordered by Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and the Atlantic Ocean (E), New Jersey and Pennsylvania (S), Lakes Erie and Ontario and the Canadian province of Times immediately following Katrina, "Hurricanes come in two waves. First comes the rainstorm, and then comes what the historian John Barry John Barry may refer to:
The science that deals with the phenomena of the atmosphere, especially weather and weather conditions.
[French météorologie, from Greek turbulence in this nation's history, it's striking how often political turbulence followed." Such natural disasters, says Brooks, can become "civic examinations."
Interviewing Barry on Meet the Press, Tim Russert Timothy John Russert, Jr. (born May 7, 1950) is an American journalist who has hosted NBC's Meet the Press since 1991. He is the Washington Bureau Chief for NBC News, and hosts Tim Russert, a weekly interview program on MSNBC. asked, "Do you see the same thing happening now in terms of the re-emergence of class and race and poverty as political issues?" Barry replied, "I think it's certainly possible and maybe likely. But it's obviously too early to tell." The storm "ripped off the cover" from America, said Barry, revealing what happens to people without resources. The question, said the historian, is whether Katrina would cause a "shift in public thinking" about our collective responsibilities to people in need.
That shift in thinking cannot just be the reassertion Re`as`ser´tion
n. 1. A second or renewed assertion of the same thing.
Noun 1. reassertion - renewed affirmation
reaffirmation of old social and political agendas that seek to take advantage of the current moment of opportunity. The truth is that our failure of the poor is a collective one: Both conservative and liberal agendas have proven inadequate and left us with a very large underclass of poor people--adults, children, families--in America. Both sides have important insights that must be factored into any real solutions, but both have fallen far short of providing real answers. Many, even most, poor people work hard, full time, yet are still forced to raise their children in poverty. That should be unacceptable in America. To change that, we will need a new commitment, a new approach, and a new alliance to overcome poverty in America.
THERE ARE TWO obstacles to making real progress against poverty: the lack of priority and the lack of agreement on strategy. The poor have been near the bottom of our priority list, if they are on the list at all. It will take a moral and even religious imperative to change our priorities, but the time has come to do so. But we have also been paralyzed par·a·lyze
tr.v. par·a·lyzed, par·a·lyz·ing, par·a·lyz·es
1. To affect with paralysis; cause to be paralytic.
2. To make unable to move or act: paralyzed by fear. by the debate between liberals and conservatives on what solutions to pursue, with the Right favoring cultural changes and the Left endorsing policy changes.
We must be disciplined by results when it comes to poverty reduction. It's time It's Time was a successful political campaign run by the Australian Labor Party (ALP) under Gough Whitlam at the 1972 election in Australia. Campaigning on the perceived need for change after 23 years of conservative (Liberal Party of Australia) government, Labor put forward a to move from the politics of blame to a politics of solutions. Liberals must start talking about the problems of out-of-wedlock births and about strengthening both marriage and parenting, and conservatives must start talking about strategic public investments in education, health care, affordable housing, and living family incomes. We must focus on making work really work for low-income families. Those who work hard and full time in America should not have to raise their children in poverty--but many still do. Together, we must end the debate that's limited to the choices of large or small government and forge a common commitment to good and effective government.
This is indeed a teachable teach·a·ble
1. That can be taught: teachable skills.
2. Able and willing to learn: teachable youngsters. moment, but one that will require good teachers. What have we learned, how must we change, where will we transform our priorities, and when will we commit ourselves to forging a new strategy that actually might work to defeat the cycle of poverty?
Restoring the hope of America's poorest families, renewing our national infrastructures, protecting our environmental stability, and rethinking our most basic priorities will require nothing less than a national change of heart and direction. It calls for a transformation of political ethics and governance, a move from serving private interests to ensuring the public good. If Katrina changes our political conscience and reinvigorates among us a commitment to the common good, then even this terrible tragedy might be redeemed.
Jim Wallis The Reverend Jim Wallis (b. June 4 1948, Detroit, Michigan) is an Evangelical Christian writer and political activist, best known as the founder and editor of Sojourners Magazine and of the Washington, D.C.-based Christian community of the same name. is editor-in-chief of Sojourners. Visit www.sojo.net to sign the Katrina Pledge, a commitment to overcome poverty in the United States Poverty in the United States refers to people whose annual family income is less than a "poverty line" set by the U.S. government. Poverty is a condition in which a person or community is deprived of, or lacks the essentials for, a minimum standard of well being and life. .