?

Log in

Previous Entry | Next Entry

The First Day of the Rest of Your Life

I'm astounded by the sheer volume of reaction to last week's post -- not so much because of the outpouring of emotion (both supportive and scornful, here on LJ and via email), but because it actually seems like I was telling people something they didn't already know. What? Poor people? We've got those here? And they have problems? Holy shit, you jest!

Obviously, some of you know all too well what I was talking about. And some of you were genuinely appalled, because the practical difficulties of poverty simply hadn't occurred to you. Others thought I was overstating the case, or being sympathetic towards lazy welfare bums, and giving too much credit to looters and vandals. Some of you asked gently (but cluelessly) why all the car-less poor people just didn't walk out of New Orleans when they heard the bad weather was coming ... and bless your hearts. If I seriously need to explain the logistics of that to you, what a precious and sheltered life you must lead.

Perhaps an object lesson is in order: I'd like to take you, all of you "walking escape" advocates, into a dense urban area in the middle of a thunderstorm ... and turn you loose on the street carrying bottled water, some food, your children, your wheelchair-bound grandparents, your pets (if you have any), and tell you to get the hell out of Dodge within the next day or two. And ... go! I sure do hope you're in a superhero state of health, because otherwise you ain't getting far.


As the news continues to pelt us with grim information, more "buts" come out -- that is, "I would have left, but." But my mother was bedridden, we had no car, and I couldn't leave her. But my grandparents live alone and are housebound, and we couldn't leave them. But I was watching my sister's kids and I couldn't find her, so I couldn't leave without her. But the shelter wouldn't take my pets, and I couldn't leave them.* But my neighbors are disabled and they needed help, so I stayed. But the hurricane hit at the end of the month, right before our paycheck/disability check/welfare check was supposed to come, and the car was out of gas so we couldn't go.

And now, of course, you're seeing more and more people who don't want to leave now that the worst appears over.

Who can blame them? What idiot in his or her right mind would - at this point - simply trust a government official in a boat? Come with us! We'll take care of you! Like hell you will. Thanks, we'll stay put. No water? No food? Well, at least we're home with no water and food, and not crammed into camp conditions in federal custody.

I'm not saying it's the best approach, or the right approach, or that they shouldn't leave -- I'm just saying that I understand why the stragglers are hanging on so hard. It's something worse than fear of the unknown; it's the certainty that their government has failed them in a spectacular and deadly fashion.

And that's the thing about low-income communities like the ones so hard-hit in NOLA -- they already know that their government isn't really there to help them, and that's why so many who could have otherwise left, did not. Who was going to look after the children? The old people? The disabled people? The animals? Should they rely on Uncle Sam, because this time things will be different? Of course not. You stay and take care of your own if you can, because God knows nobody else is going to.


So look at the demographic that arrived first on the scene, while government officials were wringing their hands and shoe-shopping. [Do understand that what follows is generalization, and I am aware that exceptions exist.]

First, of course -- came the press, members of which began roaming more or less freely while rescue efforts and supplies were still conspicuously absent. Next, the hideously overwhelmed local officials dove back in. And after that, along came the local authorities and other poor people from distant areas.

These were people who couldn't really afford to be there, but they went rolling in anyway -- with beater trucks and battered fishing boats -- because they were the ones who best knew how close they themselves were to such a situation. They came because they were only lucky, and they were acutely aware of it; and they too were pretty confident that if they were in NOLA's situation, government officials would be equally slow to act. Small churches and rural schools organized drop-offs of goods, and collected donations on street corners.

The people who had the least to give gave first and fastest, because they knew exactly how much they had to lose.

Shortly afterwards came the big organized charity groups, the blue-collar people and emergency medical people, people whose employers were donating equipment and manpower to the cause as it became increasingly clear that the infrastructure (both federal and local) was shot to hell and that official help was going to be slow in coming. And then the corporate donations gushed forth, because the eau de desperate urgency was beginning to waft the way of the white-collar world. What? You mean a bunch of poor people might have some sort of impact on the existing social, political, and economic structure? Who knew?

And last of all, as we all now know, came the feds -- the bloated, nebulous entities farthest removed from reality, and from poverty, and from the immediacy of the situation. There they go -- finally, grudgingly ... bringing up the rear and passing out blame. Wasting and under-utilizing available resources. Getting in the way.**

I don't know about you guys, but I'm so proud of my government that I could just burst.

* * * * *

Helpful Links:


* Scoff if you like, but this would've been me.
** According to the local relief official on the Today show this morning.

Comments

( 78 comments — Leave a comment )
Page 1 of 3
<<[1] [2] [3] >>
miss__mischief
Sep. 6th, 2005 03:49 pm (UTC)
Very very well said.
*applauds*

Mind if I link to this in my journal?
cmpriest
Sep. 6th, 2005 03:49 pm (UTC)
Anyone and everyone who wants to link is welcome to.
erzebet
Sep. 6th, 2005 03:53 pm (UTC)
And that's the thing about low-income communities like the ones so hard-hit in NOLA -- they already know that their government isn't really there to help them.

Amen. That says it all right there. No one from those communities in their right mind is going to trust the government.
speck
Sep. 6th, 2005 03:56 pm (UTC)
* Scoff if you like, but this would've been me

Ayup.

valkyrii
Sep. 6th, 2005 04:07 pm (UTC)
And me as well.
(no subject) - newroticgirl - Sep. 6th, 2005 04:25 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - kayselkiemoon - Sep. 6th, 2005 04:37 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - riot_grrl - Sep. 6th, 2005 05:31 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - yonmei - Sep. 11th, 2005 09:48 pm (UTC) - Expand
ladytabitha
Sep. 6th, 2005 04:01 pm (UTC)
* Scoff if you like, but this would've been me.

And me.
lisavollrath
Sep. 6th, 2005 06:22 pm (UTC)
I go, my dog goes---or I don't go.
(Deleted comment)
cmpriest
Sep. 6th, 2005 04:07 pm (UTC)
Thank you. It's just been awhile since I had something to say.
aimeempayne
Sep. 6th, 2005 04:04 pm (UTC)
Amen on staying with the animals. Domestication has made them incapable of surviving on their own. My dogs trust me to take care of them. That's part of the responsibility of pet ownership.

slave2tehtink
Sep. 6th, 2005 04:05 pm (UTC)
It seems to me that the poor of the South have held on to the "Southern Hospitality" ethic when the wealthier social classes have just let it slide. I know my grandmother was dirt poor her entire life, but if she were still alive right now she'd be sending every penny she couldn't spare to help out in NOLA and on the Gulf Coast.

People like to make fun of the dumb rednecks down here, but that was Bubba in his Chevy Blazer with 200,000 miles on it, dragging his 20 year old aluminum fishing boat, the backseat packed with supplies that were supposed to take him on his annual deer hunting trip, burning up his vacation time (carefully hoarded for that same hunting trip). Let all the Yankees mock the rednecks, but when Bubba sees that he can take his chainsaw, his fishing boat, and his Blazer and do some much needed good, he'll go. And he's a hell of a lot more effective than the feds, in this case.
cmpriest
Sep. 6th, 2005 04:07 pm (UTC)
Preach it. We sent some outstanding Bubbas from Tennessee, I'll tell you that. A couple of times every hundred years the TN River overflows and floods downtown Chattanooga -- once to the point that riverboats were tootling down Market Street.

There but for the grace of God and all that jazz ...
(no subject) - cmpriest - Sep. 6th, 2005 04:12 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - dancingwriter - Sep. 6th, 2005 05:18 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - seastormwitch - Sep. 6th, 2005 05:47 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - seastormwitch - Sep. 6th, 2005 05:42 pm (UTC) - Expand
retrofatale
Sep. 6th, 2005 04:06 pm (UTC)
If you want to just add fuel to the fire go to ultraluxe's journal. She just got to a computer and has been writting about what it w3as like down in NOLA from before the storm hit on...it's horrible.

I'm raising money in my LJ here to send to her if you know of anyone who wants to help.
riot_grrl
Sep. 6th, 2005 06:06 pm (UTC)
Wow..thank you for the link.
I will be donating something to help her as soon as I can.

I think more people need to read that journal.
serene_orange
Sep. 6th, 2005 04:13 pm (UTC)
well said
nishar
Sep. 6th, 2005 04:14 pm (UTC)
Brillianttly written, maybe you should dabble as a writer for a newspaper or magazine. Your arguments are better than most of the crap I read in those papers.
cmpriest
Sep. 6th, 2005 04:19 pm (UTC)
Thanks, hon. And the first magazine or newspaper that steps up and offers a paycheck has got my dabbling secured.
jobroni
Sep. 6th, 2005 04:15 pm (UTC)
Thanks for the link to Noah's Wish. It just breaks my heart to see all those animals waiting to be rescued. Just so sad. :(
damedini
Sep. 6th, 2005 04:18 pm (UTC)
You express what's going on so well. I am sending your blog's URL to various non-LJ friends who will spread the word.
cmpriest
Sep. 6th, 2005 04:19 pm (UTC)
Thanks - feel free. I'm just venting, here, anyway.
metaphorge
Sep. 6th, 2005 04:19 pm (UTC)
Perhaps an object lesson is in order: I'd like to take you, all of you "walking escape" advocates, into a dense urban area in the middle of a thunderstorm ... and turn you loose on the street carrying bottled water, some food, your children, your wheelchair-bound grandparents, your pets (if you have any), and tell you to get the hell out of Dodge within the next day or two. And ... go! I sure do hope you're in a superhero state of health, because otherwise you ain't getting far.

The "walking escape" advocates are getting to me as well. Good deconstruction of that position.
cjsmith
Sep. 6th, 2005 05:15 pm (UTC)
Amen!

Some people might indeed have been able to walk out. One dog, teenage kids, no wheelchair-bound grandparents -- maybe so. But I started to get into it with one guy who insisted he would "never have let" himself "be in that position, no matter how poor or infirm" he was. I said OK, it's two days before landfall and you're penniless and in a wheelchair: what would you do? We had several exchanges, him full of bluster and testosterone-laced verbiage, and he couldn't come up with a damn thing. He just kept insisting he'd have "planned". Ugh. Ignorance is one thing; wilful ignorance is something else.
(no subject) - damedini - Sep. 6th, 2005 05:41 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - sleary - Sep. 6th, 2005 06:46 pm (UTC) - Expand
firecat
Sep. 6th, 2005 04:26 pm (UTC)
This post and the previous one (which was linked somewhere on my flist, which is how I found your journal) are wonderful in their simple honesty and compassion.
riverheart
Sep. 6th, 2005 04:29 pm (UTC)
Scoff if you like, but this would've been me.

That would have been me, too. If I couldn't get out with all my family, I wouldn't.

In mid-August, we had a small pasture fire. Had I not been home, it would have been a much larger fire, and quite likely put my critters at risk: 3 dogs and (at that time) 3 cats. My first thought about being home was "OMG, I could have lost all the animals!" rather than "OMG, my house could have burned down!"

Financially, the house is the only thing of substantial monetary value I own in all the world, and it contains everything else I own. But that mattered a great deal less than Taz, Sky, Raven, Jasmine, Huck, and Tom.

This is why my offer on several Katrina-housing websites says 'bring your animals'. We have three dogs (all friendly) and five cats now, as two rescue kittens arrived over the weekend. We can take more of either. We can foster some until their owners can get them back, and we know that could be a long, long time. (I just won't tell the county.) That's why I have contacted animal-rescue sites and asked if we can foster; what if it were my guys?

And we are working poor, but we've been poorer, and we have a house, and we're therefore going to do whatever we can to the point of major financial pain for ourselves. Goddess knows if a major quake hits here, it could be us, and I don't see a shelter taking us in with three dogs and five cats.
riot_grrl
Sep. 6th, 2005 06:07 pm (UTC)
You're good people <3
We need more like you out there.

lacey
Sep. 6th, 2005 04:30 pm (UTC)
Hey there!

I friended you awhile, and left for some damned reason. I miss your eloquency. Can I come back? Pretty puh-leeze? :)
cmpriest
Sep. 6th, 2005 04:34 pm (UTC)
It happens ;-)
Welcome back! The more the merrier, I always say.
(no subject) - lacey - Sep. 6th, 2005 04:36 pm (UTC) - Expand
greendalek
Sep. 6th, 2005 04:38 pm (UTC)
What idiot in his or her right mind would - at this point - simply trust a government official in a boat? Come with us! We'll take care of you! Like hell you will. Thanks, we'll stay put. No water? No food? Well, at least we're home with no water and food, and not crammed into camp conditions in federal custody.

I'm not saying it's the best approach, or the right approach, or that they shouldn't leave -- I'm just saying that I understand why the stragglers are hanging on so hard. It's something worse than fear of the unknown; it's the certainty that their government has failed them in a spectacular and deadly fashion.

And that's the thing about low-income communities like the ones so hard-hit in NOLA -- they already know that their government isn't really there to help them, and that's why so many who could have otherwise left, did not.


Very well said. *applauds* I can only hope a broader awakening is going to occur to the rest of the nation in the wake of this horror --maybe the cast majority of folks will finally wise up and grok what the NOLA folks now know in their bones --government AIN'T your friend, and it AIN'T gonna help you.

"I said, 'government is powerless to protect you,' not powerless to punish you." -- Chief Wiggum, The Simpsons
thestarshine
Sep. 6th, 2005 04:39 pm (UTC)
I've just added an update in my LJ about the pets, a subject I feel so strongly about as a catowner. I would not leave my beloved cat I would stay put, her fate is my fate, we live together, we die together, and I can't think of a better 'person' to go with!

On a seperate note, Wicked_Wish I've added you to my Friends list so I can read your updates as they are so well written and informative.
(Anonymous)
Sep. 6th, 2005 04:40 pm (UTC)
I haven't commented in awhile and the post you referred to, well I wanted to kind of avoid saying anything because quite honestly it breaks my heart. Here I am just scraping by myself. The idea of being poor has never been something I wasn't accustomed to. I grew up with an Asian mother who didn't always have it as good as she does now. (She's one of those lovely American success "roads paved with gold" kind of stories at this point.) Though, had I known when I was a child the situation I would face when being an "adult" with my fancy degrees, I'd probably wouldn't be here at all, for reasons far too numerous to begin to even go into.

That said, it never ceases to amaze me how truly ignorant the public can be about, well, poverty in general. And how we have more problems here in our "land of the free" than we care to admit at times. I'm not one to say our foreign policy is crap, though living the life of unemployed and virtually destitute, I certainly wouldn't mind a bit more help. And the help we have, it's not really something that is exactly easy to get. I'm amazed - I'll spare the sob story I went through to NOT get help with paying my rent. After being on a waiting list for over a year and living on next to nothing, I was told I'm in fact TOO poor to receive help. Got to love that, I'm so poor the government feels help is out of its capabilities.

Yet, rather than sympathy from these people paid to try and get you out of a situation like this, you're shooed on your way and given no avenues to pursue. It's a world where you wander around blindly trying to get help. And watch as the bystanders not in your position criticize you for anything you could or couldn't do to change it. As if it were only that simple.

*ahem* That was incredibly babbly...Sorry about that Cherie. :) The cliff notes: I get it, I get it all too darn well. And it doesn't make it any less upsetting.

~ ceo [http://ceo.wordpress.com]
damedini
Sep. 6th, 2005 05:48 pm (UTC)
Oh, Honey, I'm with you! A few years ago I had been between jobs for several months, with no UI (I'm an IT contractor) and no other income. I was at teh end of my rope, a single mom, having sweet talked my utilities as long as I could. It was a cold October and I was about to lose my gas. I finally bit the bullt and asked for help.
The "Share the warmth" charity said they didn't help with gas bills til December. What, it's balmy til then? In Canada?
Welfare refused me. I only needed a little lift for one month, max. I *knew* I'd get something, I just needed a little more time. I own a house you see (way cheaper than any rent would be - I bought at a good time), so I'd have to sell it first, then they'd require me to pay back every cent they gave me. Hello?!? I've been working anf paying in since I was 13. And I can't get one month's help.
My response was "no wonder people stay on for life - who could afford to get of if they have to pay it back?".
Both our countries need major reforms.
zarq
Sep. 6th, 2005 05:08 pm (UTC)
Well said, and thank you for saying it. :) I'll link to this post a little later.

There's one other factor that only just hit my eye this morning. Some poor people in LA believe they will be asked for an unaffordable payment in order to be rescued.

From: http://www.cnn.com/2005/US/09/05/scene.blog/index.html (Second Item)
"Rescue 'ticket' (CNN's Drew Griffin in New Orleans, Louisiana)
I am stunned by an interview I conducted with New Orleans Detective Lawrence Dupree. He told me they were trying to rescue people with a helicopter and the people were so poor they were afraid it would cost too much to get a ride and they had no money for a "ticket." Dupree was shaken telling us the story. He just couldn't believe these people were afraid they'd be charged for a rescue.
mslulu
Sep. 6th, 2005 05:39 pm (UTC)
Wow. That's initially shocking, and baffling, until you stop and think about how badly these same people would get hit if, under normal circumstances, an ambulance was required to save their lives in a medical emergency.

It makes perfect sense that they would assume a life-saving helicopter ride was going to leave them in debt for the rest of their lives.
enjae
Sep. 6th, 2005 05:10 pm (UTC)
the stuff of nightmares
I think too many people don't grasp how close they truly are to being flung over that line between Have and Have Not. One catastrophic disaster (illness, Mother Nature, job loss, partner's death, et cetera) and there-but-for-the-grace-of-god-goes-I becomes reality. Maybe it's because I've got small children, and hideous worst-case scenarios are part of having kids. Maybe it's because I grew up listening to stories of my dad and his 7 siblings growing up poor. Maybe it's the knowledge that two generations ago, it would have been my grandparents and their kids who wouldn't have been able to get out. Whatever it is, I get it. I get it too well. Change just one or two things in my life to date, relocate me to NOLA, and my kids and I are on the other side of that line and stuck in the Superdome waiting for help that's taking too long to come, or worse.

What I don't get is why so many other people are having such a hard time grasping this.
kaasirpent
Sep. 6th, 2005 05:13 pm (UTC)
Over the weekend, I visited Amazon and read the excerpt they have there of your novel. I pre-ordered it based entirely on the fact that after the tiny taste I got, I wanted more.

You have The Gift(tm), and this post shows it incredibly well. You said...what was in my head. And more eloquently than I could ever have done. Keep saying it. Maybe somewhere, someone will hear and finally "get" it.
cmpriest
Sep. 6th, 2005 05:53 pm (UTC)
Thanks darling - I appreciate it.
[BTW: that excerpt is from the old edition. New edition will be somewhat different, probably.]
archlotus
Sep. 6th, 2005 05:19 pm (UTC)
Mother nature happened to expose the underbelly of our society. You shone the light on it and it blinded some people, opened the eyes of some, and turned some away in indignation for being told the truth. Its natural. Sad, but natural.

Light is a wonderful disinfectant, however and I have no doubt what has happened in New Orleans has opened the eyes of many (including myself to some degree).

Many in our great society don't like to see proof that a rising economic tide fails to lift all(actually most) boats. Especially those who lack a boat to begin with.

I was a little surprised at the response as well, but I suppose its further evidence of how sadly divided our country has become. Thanks for adding your light to the mix regardless.

Doc
confessional__
Sep. 6th, 2005 05:30 pm (UTC)
Damn but you give me hope for this world.

Beautiful entry, just... beautiful. Thank you for writing it so I can stop trying to say it.
flewellyn
Sep. 6th, 2005 05:40 pm (UTC)
It's always good to see that, when the chips are down and the nation is really counting on him, President Bush can be trusted to look after Number One, to the exclusion of all else.

Yes, thank you, Dubyah. We're all very glad to know that, in your estimation, it's not whether we win or lose, but how you lay the blame.
Page 1 of 3
<<[1] [2] [3] >>
( 78 comments — Leave a comment )