Americans can and will help compensate for government's incompetence with millions of acts of individual enterprise and charity, as Katrina has shown. But that's not enough. We must ask tough questions: Will this generosity and compassion last in the absence of strong leadership? Will this Administration only ask for sacrifice in a time of crisis? Has dishonesty in politics degraded our national character to the point that we feel our dues have been paid as citizens with a one-time donation to the Red Cross?I worked the hurricane relief trailer yesterday and today dropped off eggs, vegetables, and dog food at a sick co-worker's because I know he's out of sick pay. No lights, no fanfare, just doing what needs to be done. Hurricane relief was all about eye contact; say hi to everyone you know and see if they stop and chat and maybe donate, or if they just say hi and keep walking. My favorite were the people who stopped on their way into the store, asked what was needed, and then bought it. I never demanded much, maybe an extra box of cereal or some Tylenol or diapers. It all adds up.
Today, let's you and I acknowledge what's really going on in this country. The truth is that this week, as a result of Katrina, many children languishing in shelters are getting vaccinations for the first time. Thousands of adults are seeing a doctor after going without a check-up for years. Illnesses lingering long before Katrina will be treated by a healthcare system that just weeks ago was indifferent, and will soon be indifferent again.
For the rest of the year this nation silently tolerates the injustice of 11 million children and over 30 million adults in desperate need of healthcare. We tolerate a chasm of race and class some would rather pretend does not exist. And ironically, right in the middle of this crisis the Administration quietly admitted that since they took office, six million of our fellow citizens have fallen into poverty. That's over five times the evacuated population of New Orleans. Their plight is no less tragic - no less worthy of our compassion and attention. We must demand something simple and humane: healthcare for all those in need - in all years at all times.
Oddly enough, people kept thanking me. For what? I sat outside of the grocery store on a beautiful September day and packed boxes while chatting with people. I felt guilty at spending a pleasant afternoon while others are struggling to put their lives back together.
The relief effort has gotten much press, in Detroit Free Press and the Leelanau Enterprise. The concept is simple, based on a reaction to news reportsof the New Orleans diaspora. Two people who owned trailers saw the potential for providing immediate help by simply parking their trailers next to the local groceries , collecting donated food and supplies, and then driving south to where people were hungry. The plan was simplified somewhat when International Aid of Spring Lake, Michigan agreed to take our county's donations into their very efficient system. Our donated food was in the mouths of hungry people in Mississippi a mere 36 hours after the trailers left the county. When the need was most urgent, trailers were filled as fast ans they could return. In three weeks we have sent out about 40 tons of supplies.
Yesterday was the last day, for now, as it seems that more traditional ways of feeding people have finally kicked in. I saw my trailer of yesterday at Van's garage today; the driver was filling up with gas. They will take this last run directly to Louisiana, where they will meet up with the Veterans For Peace group working in Covington. God speed.
Mortal Jive, the poet dreamer, describes a similar relief road trip from Los Angeles to New Orleans.