10 May 2006

Hurricane hits me

In the Target parking lot today, I encountered a woman who had lived in New Orleans when Hurricane Katrina hit back in August. She was pregnant, looked dead tired, and had some sort of bruise on the side of her face that had been stitched up. She carried a manila file folder, and in it she had her medical records for her and her children, and a few photos. She had several children, one of whom she described as having been swept out of her window by gushing water before she could get to him. She managed to find his body, and showed me the death certificate. She had thought her mother was dead too, but apparently got a call a few days ago to let her know that her mother was in fact alive, and living somewhere in Texas, I think. This woman was simply asking for $5 to help buy the bus ticket to get her mother up to DC so she could be reunited with the family. I didn’t have any cash on me, and felt horrible. She was so sweet, and so tired, but at the same time so respectful and calm. She had been through a huge catastrophe, and was just trying to survive it.

As I said, I felt horrible for not having anything on me. I don’t usually give money to people on the street, but she had a legitimate need, and even had the paperwork to back it up. I hope she can raise enough. She only needed a few more donations to get the ticket.

But as I roamed the aisles of the grocery store across the street, I grew increasingly angry. Not at her, because I could never do that. I was angry at my country.

The United States is the richest country on earth. The State of California is, by itself, the fifth largest economy in the world. The U.S. Department of Agriculture actually pays farmers to not grow anything.

And yet this woman who lost everything, including one of her children, in a massive natural disaster on our own soil, has to beg for money. That’s an injustice if I ever saw one. But it’s not just hurricane victims this country neglects. Veterans, people with AIDS, senior citizens, and even teachers struggle to get by, and government assistance is insufficient. The unemployment rate has declined only marginally. There are whole families that spend the night without food or shelter. There is a whole swath of the population, including children, that is simply neglected by our government and our society.

It’s not just wrong. It’s criminal.

Granted, there isn’t much I can do about it. In spite of the tremendous privilege I enjoy – I’m currently sitting in an air conditioned, fully furnished apartment typing on my relatively new computer with my car parked right by the door of my building – I go into debt at a huge rate each year, and can’t give to all the causes I would like to give to. In fact, in the past year, I don’t know that I’ve really helped anyone with anything. I guess I should be careful to not be hypocritical. But still, one day I hope to be able to give back tons to the world, and not just monetarily.

We need real relief for those who survived the Gulf Coast hurricanes last year. And we need real social programs that actually help people. Paying farmers to not grow corn so the price can be kept low for corporations is ridiculous. We could pay those farmers to grow that corn (or something else), and use it for humanitarian aid, while still keeping prices down for the corporations.

Instead, this country takes its wealth and blows stuff up. What a painfully childish use of resources. We can and must do better.

1 comment:

Scott said...

thanks for writing this. i'm really proud of you and happy that you'll do so well this summer