September 08, 2005
For life is quite absurd, and death's the final word...
Despite everything, I believe that people are really good at heart. ~ Anne Frank
The good news -- the real good news to come out of Katrina is that people, by and large and at their most basic are good. They work together. They have sympathy and compassion for their fellows. There will always be the cold, the indifferent, the looters, the rapists, the occasional stains on the carpet of the world. But when pushed against the wall most line up to help, pool their pennies, offer condolence, grieve and cry and commune.
I learned this during Andrew. And amid all the horrible (and, there is so much horrible) there is STILL evidence of the good.
In this article which will make you angry, frustrated, and ready to bray tears, although the government (local, federal, in all shades and styles) failed the people, the PEOPLE came through for one another.
On a daily basis, we see rampant consumerism and human indifference and we think all's lost, but that's just we the people wrapped in our creature comforts where denial lets us crawl into our hobbitty holes and convince ourselves that even though we feel really bad about that whole environment/foreign dependency thing we really want (and somehow deserve) that SUV. Put on the spot, most Americans (and, I think most people) make the right choices and put things in the proper priority. Sure, we hide and we deny and we cut corners. Life is hard and it's natural to want as easy a path as possible. But that doesn't negate the good. It just hides a bit. Really really well.
I refuse to let this administration swallow my hope and my optimism and the tiny joys I take when I see something good happen. Even if it is in the midst of so much bad.
And it's important to remember the good when you read about how just last year FEMA cut the funding of the company it hired to plan an evacuation of New Orleans in case of a Hurricane -- when you hear the phrase "no one could have foreseen" remember the good people before you start breaking things.
And, before you give up on the government completely, there's even a story that illustrates how at least one government employee has a smidgen of common sense; someone figured out that seized counterfeit goods could be handed out to survivors.
Disasters bring out the best and the worst in people. So far the federal response has obviously been the worst. But I know first-hand that when things get dark individuals do rise to the occasion. Unfortunately, none of them appear to be on Bush, Inc.'s payroll.
In the see-saw of emotions that is this Katrina debacle, it's important to remember the good along with the bad. This is my mantra and I'm trying to stick to it.
I've been talking with my brother about some blank holes in my memory regarding Andrew. In my memory the National Guard was there on the third day following the storm, but my brother insists they didn't get to our neighborhood until the 5th day (a Red Cross group made it to our neighborhood on the third day and he's insisting that's what I'm remembering).
In my mind, the National Guard was a good thing, and I *still* believe that by and large they were. But there were apparently memories I'd tucked away under the good memories that I was reminded of sharply last night. One involved a Guardsman assaulting my brother (shoving him into a table where he banged up his face pretty bad) because he wouldn't listen to my bother explain that he wasn't stealing extra rations, but simply bringing them to neighbors who couldn't handle the walk to the encampment. Another memory is in regards to a group of four guardsman drawing rifles on me, my mother, and my brother because we were sitting in our front yard after curfew and should have been inside. The one that inspires the most anger in my memory is a horrible argument between my mother and a national guardsman who wasn't going to let us back home (after curfew) even though we'd spent six hours with my uncle at his hospital bedside not knowing if his leg was going to be amputated following an accident (he toppled off a weakened roof two weeks after the storm while trying to dry in a house; he landed on the driveway fifteen feet down, crushing one leg and breaking several other parts of his body). This incident ended when my mother (who doesn't normally say "boo" to authority figures) started sobbing, actually threw a bag of my uncle's bloody clothes at the guard and hit the gas pedal. We got home, no shots fired. It was intense, but after surviving the storm, I guess bullies seemed less intimidating.
A handful of other incidents during the time where we were under martial law and being out after dark meant that you were treated like a criminal, even though you were only a survivor of a horrible event, just trying to get some things done.
Please let me be clear. I don't believe these men were representative of the overall experience. I don't think their abuse of power, lack of sympathy, or misconduct negates all the good the Guard did. But I don't know a survivor that doesn't have at least one story like these few I'd buried in my memory. This kind of thing does happen and it's important to believe people when they tell stories of having law enforcement draw guns on them and people displaying flagrant abuses of power in stressful situations.
Don't get me wrong. I'm not one of those nuts who thinks the military uses disasters to conduct horrible acts for no logical reason.
After Andrew, I read stories written by crazies about military cover-ups where people were murdered by servicemen. I was in one of the worst-hit areas and I'm here to tell you, I don't believe any of that conspiracy crap (although I do believe more people died than were reported; it was pretty common knowledge that the "invisible" people like Homestead's huge migrant farm worker population weren't included in the official totals). Still, the nut jobs with their tall tales, shouldn't cast doubt on the smaller stories -- where one authority figure, or one small group of them, effectively terrorized people who are pretty much the walking emotionally and physically wounded.
People who crack like that in extreme situations shouldn't be put back in them. At least not around civilians just trying to survive and rebuild.
I don't believe the Guard is bad or policemen are always assholes, or that anyone in a position of authority will automatically abuse that authority. But there are always individuals in positions of authority who are abusive. There was even an incident where a National Guardsman in Miami murdered two people at FIU after Andrew.
But the answer isn't pretending the bad doesn't exist. It doesn't "demean" the entire bushel to weed out the bad apple. The answer, to my thinking, involves admitting the bad, holding it accountable, trying to put in an effort so that the same mistakes will not be repeated, and then moving on. And all this talk about appropriate timing and focusing on the bad is just a smokescreen put up to put off inquiry in hopes that the public will lose interest.
As we almost always do. Because those hobbity holes have all those creature comforts and draw our attention from the voices of our better angels.
I believe you honor the good men and women who contribute to causes like this by thanking them for their efforts and making sure you illustrate that they are NOT like the bottom feeders and bullies amid their ranks. And then you weed out the rotten so that the good people won't be burdened with them next time around.
Although in this case we can't get rid of all the trash until a new election year rolls in. Or maybe not. Can you recall a President?
*sigh* At some point, gross incompetence really is criminal, no matter what the Supreme Court ruled.
Damn. Where's that mantra?
I believe most people are good and they should be applauded. I believe some people are irresponsible and malevolent and they should be held accountable. I believe that demanding accountability does not mean forgetting to give thanks to those who've earned it. I believe most people are good. I believe most people are good. I believe...
I choose to believe.
For what it's worth.