Thursday, September 01, 2005

Katrina and "the Poor"--Part II

Hurricane Katrina ravaged the poor.

Almost 30% of the population of New Orleans lived below the national poverty line before she hit.

As is usually the case, the poorest citizens in the city lived in the worst places in terms of vulnerability to a storm like Katrina.

Compounding that reality is the fact that the poor couldn't leave the city. Many chose not to leave their homes.

Undoubtedly, most of the loss of life will be among the poor.

ABC News, via America On Line, reported a comment from Joanne Murphy, a resident of New Orleans who knows poverty by personal experience:

"It's just a thing that always happens. The ones that has the least, get hit the most."

The people hit the hardest already were burdened with extreme circumstances on a daily basis.

Limited transportation.

Low paying jobs.

Sub-standard housing.

Inadequate nutrition.

Few truly accessible healthcare options.

Inferior educational options.

Isolation from the larger community of opportunity.

Segregation by class, as well as by race.

The problems on the ground in New Orleans before the storm only complicate the situation there today.

Again, according the ABC News--are you ready for this?--over 700,000 people in the Gulf Coast region live in mobile homes.

Katrina should serve as a wake-up call to the nation concerning the on-going plight of the poor in America.

The most vulnerable among us live fragile lives.

Things could be so much better. Our weakest citizens could actually be so much stronger than they are today.

But we have lost our national will to attack poverty and to overcome it.

We've opted for an approach that simply cuts people loose to manage for themselves with few resources and limited options.

Then, when a relative handful are successful against great odds, we crown them poster children for the "American Way," forgetting the 99% who never have even a chance of making it out of such crushing poverty.

Only when disaster strikes do we mount efforts to intervene, often when it is too late to save the unnecessary loss of life that always seems to occur.

For years now on the annual National Day of Prayer, we have quoted the famous call and promise recorded at 2 Chronicles 7:14.

The promise is taken from a recounting of the dedication of Solomon's Temple. It was written during the post-exilic period, possibly by Ezra, sometime between 450 and 400 BCE.

It is interesting that people during the time of Ezra dealt with many problems associated with justice, fairness and the rebuilding of a nation.

Normally, when we read these words as a call to the nation to pray and seek the guidance of God, we link needed national repentance to sexual sins and the fear associated with immoral media, a lack of religious expression in the public sector, etc.

Politicians and preachers take to the stages of America to pray and to pronounce.

The following day the poor continue to suffer.

Just once I wish we were honest enough to link this call and its promise to our out-of-control materialism, to our systemic national injustices and to our failure to care for the weakest among us.

Such an emphasis would certainly move us much closer to what the writer of the passage had in mind.

". . .if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land. . ." (2 Chron. 7:14)


Anonymous said...

"We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America."

There is a long and ongoing debate in this country on the role of government. In general, one party claims that people should pull themselves up by their own bootstraps. It is the role of government to simply get out of their way. Their consistent voices call for cutting taxes, and they argue that it is not the role of government to help people in their personal struggles.

This party has been in charge of our government for the last few years. Poverty has gone up for four consecutive years. Needs are great.

We are mandated by our constituion to "insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence; to promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity." Look at New Orleans -- the chaos, the loss of all that is precious, and simply ask -- has the style of government by those in power worked? No, I do not blame them for the hurricane. But, with too few helicopters, with too few Guardsmen, with too many poor people unable to heed the call to evacuate the city, the general welfare is an shambles.

It hurts my heart. And it is pain that is very, very real to too many.

Randy Mayeux, Dallas

Jana said...

Larry - Thanks for your constant reminder of those in need. You, your blog, and your thoughts (representing Jesus') are holding me accountable...

Anonymous said...

it's eye opening that my 7 year old daughter understands the needs of the people at her ripe young age. she put it so simply, "why don't we just take care of each other?" She hurts for those hurting, as she cries while watching the news. We all do. Maybe if we expose our little ones (with great care) to the mess we've all created here on earth through our selfishness and materialism, they'll grow up making a difference! not hindered by age, color, or income (or lack of). God bless all that suffer and may we all act and not just talk about what needs to be done. Thank you, Larry for your views.

Larry James said...

Tom, so good to hear from you. Your family means so much to me. Stay in touch.

Anonymous said...

Here's a different view of New Orleans:

Click Here

Randy, nice attempt to vilify the Republican Party. But you are ignorant. You have set up a straw man and then easily knocked him down. Congratulations. You seem to be good at that.

I know of no Republican who believes that the government should not "help people in their personal struggles."

I see Republicans bending over backwards to help with the Katrina disaster. What are the leftists doing? Trying to find someone to blame (for an example, see This Column by Robert F. Kennedy Jr. What an idiot.)

Instead of playing politics, why don't you find a way to help out, Randy?

J. Murphy

Michael said...

So, what do we do? What is your plan for rearranging America into a place of justice for the poor? Why does it sound to me (perhaps, capitalist brainwashing) like so much communism?

If you're drawing a breath you've earned the right to food and housing and a meaningful occupation. At the end of the day we pool our earnings and we split the pot evenly because we're all humans and we're all valuable because we're alive.

What is the plan? Is it to tax the "haves" until the "have nots" have enough?

I really want to understand your vision. I trust your sincerity and believe your interpretation of the scriptures here so... what would you do if you were King for a Day?

Larry James said...

J. Murphy, well, there are a few cheap shots here that I will gladly ignore. Let me just get to the facts--not too well reported by your link, I might add! For the past twenty years, at least, Louisiana has been pleading with the national congress and every administration of both parties to fund levee reconstruction in the city. That is all a matter of public record--ask Marc Morial, former mayor. I lived in the city when his dad, Dutch Morial, was mayor. Dutch tried. But no go.

The fact is if Westchester County, NY or the Hamptons or South Beach in Miami needed levees, the politicians would have found a way.

So, here is a suggestion for what you can do and I will join you--advocate that poor communities and their basic infrastructure be treated the same as more well to do communities. That is a start. I promise you that if you live in a major American city you have lots to work on just there.

Larry James said...

Michael, thanks for your comments. I appreciate your honest struggle with the complexity of the issues involved here.

Let's begin by saying that capitalism can be adapted to be supportive of communities and community development. I am not suggesting that everyone in the country have the same income.

What I believe is a spiritual value to be pursued is that everyone be given an opportunity that approaches some measure of equality.

It is wrong to give the wealthiest persons in the nation a tax cut and then pay for that and an international conflict by cutting programs that benefit the very weakest and lowest placed persons in the nation. It is immoral.

Housing, health care, education, basic services, employment training, child care--you name the sector--in the past 25 years all of these have taken huge hits. In the past 5 years there has been a determined effort to shift even more away from the bottom toward the top. That is just a fact. There are even idealogues who will admit to attempting to "starve the beast" of federal government so that no level of government support can be offered outside the military and a few other basics (i. e. Grover Norquist and his so-called "Americans for Tax Reform," et. al.)

I am not arguing for communism. I am arguing for decency, fairness and at least a tip of the hat to equity.

Come talk to the kids who we work with you can't get loans for their college education via Pell grants (which has been cut back already) due to bad credit on the part of their very, very poor mothers and fathers.

Come talk to inner city housing developers who no longer can make affordable housing deals work because the Section 8 voucher program for housing has been frozen.

Come talk to my friends who qualify for and receive Medicaid, but have to wait up to 3-4 months for gall bladder surgery because so few doctors and even fewer hospitals take Medicaid patients.

Come talk to young kids who get arrested for drug abuse, who need treatment, not prison.

No, I'm not talking communism here. I am talking basic human rights under a democratic, consitutional government that is supposed to be at least in some manner civil and dare I say "godly"?

We need to moderate the severity of our present form of capitalism and its resultant public policy that has the gap between rich and poor growing at an alarming rate.

Larry James said...

Ed, you cannot know how much I appreciate your opinion. Thanks for posting here. I agree with you. I would add that we need a new political class with backbone and values. Wouldn't that be refreshing? The church needs to get out of its dream world and come to the world as disciples of the real Jesus. I am encouraged by you and your life.

Anonymous said...

Your writing about the poor is tremendously important. I'll link to you on this topic in my Jewish environmental and social justice blog. Thanks.