September 23, 2005

Commentary:

Katrina’s Wakeup Call to We the People

by Ernie McCray

You know, we can be so beautiful, at times, like right now. Just look at us, human beings of all colors and sexualities and creeds and beliefs and affiliations reaching out to the many battered souls who survived Katrina’s devastating visit.

Our outpouring of love seems so natural, so spontaneous. Each gesture seemingly inspires our next move like words bursting into verses in a freestyle poet’s mind, our motions like poetic phrases flowing to a steady beat until a story has been well told. We are a sight to behold.

Oh, what if we could just love and understand each other like this all the time? Just think, if we had cared this much about each other before Katrina came through, most likely no levee would have been breached no matter how hard she blew. We would have, long ago, made sure that the levee at Lake Ponchatrain could endure the winds of the fiercist hurricanes. But we didn’t and, alas, when all the fingerpointing is said and done as to who is at fault for this tragedy in our lives, we’ll realize that we’re to blame. Yes, us. We the People.

“Hey, what about the mayor?” you say. Well, maybe he could have hustled up a bus or two but isn’t that about all he could do to move people to higher ground?

“And the governor?” Who was she going to call on except a National Guard that’s low in number because some of their units are in Iraq, far from their hometowns?

These officials were, figuratively speaking, like so many people in so many attics and on so many rooftops. They needed far more help than they could give.

“FEMA?” Well, even though they’re supposed to keep us safe, we can’t blame them because they are part of the Department of Homeland Security. That’s an agency created by President George W. Bush, a man who talks non-stop about “keeping people safe” but mostly hasn’t gone beyond the sounds of his words to do anything about such a promise.

So FEMA basically, like their ultimate chief, didn’t have a clue as to what to do. But we can’t blame the president either. We the People elected this man in a free election (we think), knowing full well that he doesn’t give a rat’s ass about anyone other than the “haves and have mores.” And we sit around talking about people “looting,” as they desperately struggled to survive Katrina, while the leader of the free world “loots” a chunk of our paychecks every payday so that he and his high rolling friends can live rich and fancy free.

If the wealthy and powerful had been stranded in the muck there would have been helicopters and rescue boats as far as the eye can see.

All it takes is a 6th grade education to know where low and middle income folks stand with this administration. To them poverty is out of sight, out of mind. And it has nothing to do with race. It’s all about class. They exist to sustain the higher class while most of us find ourselves mired in a rapidly shrinking middle class, not really caring any more than them —other than when tragedy strikes— about those who compose the bottom of our class system. So how can we hold this administration responsible for the Gulf Coast tragedy when we haven’t given them anything approaching a “mandate” to care about us.

But maybe more of us are now on the right path. Maybe Katrina has enabled us to finally recognize that, in a democracy, it’s really our responsibility to look out for our own collective best interest.

Oh, there’s so much for us to consider in these troubled times. But if We the People don’t find ways to love and reach out to each other, in our daily lives, as we have in helping Katrina’s victims, then she will have blown in and out of our lives in vain. Her wrath was a wakeup call, ya’ll.

Ernie McRay is a San Diego resident.

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