Help, I need Somebody

Other than linking to a few things that made me sad, I’ve avoided spewing any political commentary on Katrina. There are far more who can do it far better than I.

But the “donation war” is is really revving up – should we give? Should we not? To Katrina? To other charities? How much, if anything?

I don’t pretend to have all the answers, but I wanted to weigh in, since I seem to be smack dab in the middle of the camps for and against reactionary donations in the wake of the disaster.

Here’s what I did: I stopped procrastinating on my next blood donation and I re-evaluated my personal charitable giving plan to make sure it was still on track with my desire to help. I also found it in my heart and wallet to kick in an extra chunk of change to the Canadian Red Cross – though not specifically for Katrina, I donated under the “wherever it’s needed most” category. I figured if they needed the extra funds for Katrina, my dollars would make it there, and at the very worst, they’d still help ease the suffering of someone, somewhere.

But I didn’t want to give to the Katrina victims the same way I wanted to give to the Tsunami ones. The Tsunami was just such a sudden, violent, unexpected phenomenon that we’ve seen more of in armageddon-themed movies than in our day-to-day. The loss of life was staggering, and the cries for help were so powerful, I gave, and gave, and gave again. Always wishing I could do more.

Katrina was different. I started off thinking that people would be evacuated. That people would be safe. That nobody could be left behind in such a volatile environment. In my naieve Canadian way, I believed there would be a social safety net to take care of every citizen. And I was oh so wrong.

And when there were people left behind, and the levees broke, I thought “It can’t be that bad. They had warning, they knew. Nobody would let people stay if they didn’t absolutely insist on it. That’s the beauty of living in a first world country – the resources are there to take care of people!”

But the resources had been diverted and denied. And so very many were left behind. For five long days. And nobody did a damn thing about it – even though people and agencies wanted to help, they were turned away. And I saw red.

And though it pains me to admit it, I did think that I couldn’t be bothered to donate to a nation who refused to help its own. America needed to learn a lesson! I would not contribute to an agency that would do America’s dirty work for her. If she couldn’t be bothered to take care of her own, I certainly wasn’t going to step in and fill the void.

And after a few days of being angry, I realized that the people who were suffering weren’t going to do any better by waiting out a politically charged hissy fit. Politicizing things at this point would just prolong their suffering – as global citizens, they deserved my help as much as anyone else on the planet, and I can only hope they’d do the same for me if/when the “big one” hits the Pacific Northwest region.

But there’s still that part of me that can’t quite fully sympathize with the Gulf Coast without that bit of “I told you so” nagging in the back of my mind. Not to the many residents of the area whose government failed them, but to that government for failing its constituents.

If I were closer to the area, I’d be in up to my elbows in rebuilding efforts, or opening my home for people to stay. Or cooking for people in the Superdome, or the Astrodome, or wherever they are hurting and hungry. Or offering any jobs I had to the displaced whose livelihoods have been wiped out by Mother Nature. I’d really want to help rebuild that which we suspected Katrina would take anyway.

But my bottom line says I can’t feel comfortable giving money to help contribute to the billions of dollars it will now take to rebuild New Orleans and her people, when just a fraction of that spent responsibly by a government that cared would have prevented much of the suffering, death, mayhem and madness that resulted.

Unfortunately, from where I stand now, money’s all I have to give – so I gave to an organization that’s there to do the work I can’t. And say a little prayer for those who were abandoned by their government, but so obviously not by their country and their neighbours. And thank the powers that be that I had the fortune to be born into a first world country that treats ALL its citizens as such.

Update (Sept.13/05): I know, I broke the cardinal rule of blogging, by not linking anyone. I meant to, and forgot. So with a bit of egg on my face, I’ll just note that this post was inspired by this article in the Tyee by Travis, which was originally a post on his blog in reaction to a post by Darren.

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4 thoughts on “Help, I need Somebody

  1. dearheart

    Did you see the Oprah show where she blew the lid off of what was actually happening in the Superdome? Very sad. Apparently there were gang members inside, shooting and raping people, and security wouldn’t let anyone out of the building. And, of course, the electricity was out, so everything was dark. I can’t imagine anything as scary.

  2. gillian

    I figured that the point of donating to the Katrina relief effort at this time was just to provide emergency services to the victims, in terms of rescue, food, water, shelter, medical attention, and so on. The US clearly sucked at providing this, but I did know that they were allowing the Canadian Red Cross into the area, so I felt the best thing to do was to give to them.

    As for helping the US rebuild the city, I agree with a lot of people that it’s up to them. I just really hated (and still do hate) to see pictures and read about the people who were abandoned, suffering and starving these last few weeks. Just because they’re in “the richest nation in the world” doesn’t make what they went through any less terrifying.

  3. Shizgirl

    Very well said. I made a donation, but was still very disgusted at the suffering and the lack of action after the storm. Personally, I blame the entire Bush administration, but that’s a whole ‘nother rant, in and of itself.

    Thanks for a great post.

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