"This is our tsunami," said Biloxi mayor A. J. Holloway.
In the New Orleans Superdome where the homeless were herded, the toilets overflow and the water rises to a meter outside; as food relief diminishes and the hospital electrical generators fail.
Remember the lesson of the tsunami. America showed its heartlessness to the world when Bush's contributions failed to match those of small countries in Europe. American volunteers flocked there in mass, only to be seen pounding their bibles and refusing food and shelter to anyone who didn't come to Bible Study.
Progressives can do better than this. Natural disasters demonstrate what we all know, progressive humanist and progressive Christian alike, that man doesn't live on his own but in the company of fellow human-beings for whom he has a responsibility. Tragedy strikes for obscure reasons, and tragedy, above all other incidents, ought to remind us of the constant peril in which each of us lives, of our need for one another to survive, of our duty to take up responsibility for the well-being of other human beings. Whatever our political philosophy, whether we think that overarching institutions or local fellowships ought to take responsibility, we all agree that responsibility ought to be taken.
Jesus said, "As you do unto the least of these you have done it unto me."
We all need to do a reexamination, facing this disaster, of how American cities rate in their responses. The New Orleans tragedy is demonstrating that we have utterly failed Jesus' commandment. Leaving the drowning city, we left behind the poor, the weak, the sick, and the incarcerated, to starve and drown among the toxic waters.
I put out a call for congregational action towards three groups that represent the least of our society. If we fail here, we demonstrate ourselves before the eyes of the world to truly have failed as a Christian nation, not even capable of caring for our own in their time of direst need:
- The poor and homeless who, left behind as their fellow-citizens have fled, have been starving in the Superdome while the structure was ripped apart. Think for a minute about those who try to plan ahead but can't, about the cramped shuttles leaving the city, about what it would be like not to have enough money for a bus ticket out when the warnings were sounded? You see doom coming, and you look around, and no one remains to help you. The city is evacuated and still you wait. Where were the churches that could have organized buses to transport the poor to safety?
- The prisoners evacuated today only after standing in rising water for hours. In advanced nations, we claim that our prisons are supposed to correct and not merely to torture. The man standing in rising water, thinking himself forgotten by his society for wrongs committed far in the past, abandoned, alone, and facing death in totally abysmal conditions -- how will he ever gain faith in society again? What could possibly reclaim him for society? Now, herding them into armored vans, transported to already crowded prisons in Texas, we sew the seeds of irredeemable anger and viciousness towards society. Church, activist, and state need to intervene to make reparations to the prisoners for the way they've been treated in this crisis.
- The sick and elderly who are in hospital, while the windows were blown out and the electric generators failed.
I am putting this out there as a wake-up call. The progressive churches of America aren't organized in a way that allows them to deal with disasters on a great scale. But we do have on our side the quick flow of information, the internet, the local networks of concerned activists, clergy, and lay people, and the growing realization in America that our government isn't able or willing to represent the poor and disenfranchised.
Share this message, I ask you, to your congregations, your ministers, your charities, and let some response be heard. The responsibility for right action in this tragedy rests entirely with progressives, Christian and humanist alike: the radical right has disowned the crisis, claiming that Florida deserved to be hit by a hurricane. Don't let their reaction of armored poison prevail as the formatted response. Theirs is a message that kills mercy, wastes the soul, and annihilates civil society.
We have a better answer than that. Let Christ's message, of putting others' needs before our own, ring through the churches of America. Let's show that progressive Christians can do better than this. The survival of a Christian message true to Jesus' teaching is at stake, in America. The survival of a civil society capable of healing the wounds of economic division is at stake.
Please visit and help us draft a solution: http://www.crossleft.org
Please say a litany for Katrina's victims offered by a friar in the Episcopal Brotherhood of St Gregory.
American newssources have tended to focus on political fingerpointing. For those concerned with keeping up with the actual effects of the disaster and counts of who's in greatest need, I highly recommend the Canadian press, which has done a remarkable job of cutting to the chase:
Canada TV on Katrina
The National Post on Katrina
Canadian blogger Jeff Wells has summarized their findings rather bitterly.