RURAL ROUTES/Margot Ford McMillen

Hurricane Relief Tests the Nation

It is impossible -- IMPOSSIBLE -- to underestimate the Bush administration. Every time you try, they exceed expectations. Just listen to what the Prez did as Hurricane Katrina trapped thousands of poor people in Hell:

On Monday, August 29, as the hurricane made land, Bush flew to Arizona and California, pitching a new Medicare drug "benefit" to make it even more confusing and difficult for poor people to get medications while preserving profitability for the corporations. On Tuesday, Aug. 30, as New Orleans flooded, he stopped in San Diego and was photographed playing the guitar, then returned to his vacation in Texas. On Wednesday the 31st, he flew back to Washington, flying over the devastation to reassure those trapped by the muck of water and petroleum, rotting corpses and waste.

On Thursday, he brought reinforcements -- Clinton and Daddy Bush -- to announce that the recovery "is going to be a long process ... take a lot of hard work ... patience ... resolve ... money."

Let's review: A Sleazy Little Arrogant Prince (SLAP) steals an election. He changes laws to benefit his friends, orders his non-friends into a war that benefits his friends, puts the nation into unprecedented debt, puts friends into positions of power and learns to play the guitar.

Maybe he thinks the fiddle is too obvious.

Some of my friends think SLAP wants annihilation of the poor, that he sees himself as a willing tool in the hands of the judge who judges all. That the poor have done something to deserve the terror they've endured.

If that's what he thinks, he's delusional and should be heavily medicated and moved to a halfway house.

The utterly appalling scenes on TV seemed so disturbingly close, so much like our own towns and neighborhoods, that we are all touched. And enraged. And full of questions.

Where were the resources? Where was the preparation? How can our government, after warnings and wake-up calls, be so unprepared? Why do we let developers build on flood plains and wetlands? What happened to public transportation? What happened to the sense of community? 140 years after the abolishment of slavery, 40 years after the Voting Rights Act, how does such a blatant racial divide still exist?

The divide exists in all our communities. We are trained to watch for intruders, but not to take care of each other. We have no caring habit. We expect the caring to come from someone else. We expect to be care-receivers rather than caregivers.

Spokespersons vie for stupidity. Nobody takes responsibility. The cities blame the Feds, the Feds blame the bureaucracy. In FEMA, everybody found a scapegoat. But there's enough blame for everyone. Every person who drove out of New Orleans with less than a full car of family, friends, neighbors is guilty.

Could it happen here?

It IS happening here. Displaced persons will be pouring out of the devastation for weeks, needing food, shelter, medical care, bedding, clothing. In your state, your community, right now, there are survivors that need care. And the world is watching. If we are to be a caring nation, this is our chance. It's the chance for big churches with gymnasiums to shelter poor churches without anything. It's the chance to turn military bases into useful cities.

As quickly as the scope of the emergency was known, my email system was full of questions from friends from various membership organizations. Where can we donate? Who will spend our dollars carefully, get them to the people instead of bureaucrats?

Face it: This will be a long-term cleanup, and it may be the first of many. We have no idea what the rest of the hurricane season will bring -- or next year's tornado season, or any year's flood season. This cleanup will set precedents in ALL our communities, no matter where we live.

Every community will become Ellis Island, and we residents must become the people we have imagined. Generous. Smart. Brave enough to reach out to each other.

People who are evacuated are the poorest of the poor coming to areas already packed with the poorest of the poor. The newcomers will arrive in a state of confusion, grieving and depression, bringing kids who may very well grow up here. They are Americans, yes, but unhappy travelers from one culture to a new one. They will come to us with memories and expectations we cannot begin to understand.

Some of the survivors are people with skills from rural places but will have to raise their kids in urban places. Southerners will be jolted into life in the north. And our communities will have to absorb them.

After a few phone calls to friends in the black community, it was evident that they are bracing for the long term. They -- we -- know the flooded-out will have an impact on every poor community. In mid-Missouri, the NAACP is already setting up funds to care for people in our own communities. To raise money, they are beginning with the black community.

But the white communities need to jump in, immediately, and cast off the prejudice, and help. Immediately.

Margot Ford McMillen farms and teaches English at a college in Fulton, Mo. Email

From The Progressive Populist, Oct. 1, 2005

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