Today I was treated to a little bit of the worst of what America has to offer, and quite a bit of the best.
The worst started early. While desperate people dodged rapists and watched people die right in front of their eyes, wanting only some food or water to give to their families, people from the everyday hatemongers at FreeRepublic all the way up to the directors of freaking FEMA and the Department of Homeland Security blamed them for their own misery. Some said it was the victims' own fault that they didn't get out of New Orleans in time, while others just said they should get up and start walking -- the 2005 version of "let them eat cake" -- if they didn't like being surrounded by corpses, waste-filled standing water, and wandering bands of rapists. Just get up and go! How hard could it be? Isn't Baton Rouge only, like, 60 miles away? (Then, of course, there's this crap which I won't even dignify with a response.)
How can people be this elitist, this callous? How can anyone look at the agony and horror being suffered by the thousands of people at the convention center in downtown New Orleans, shrug their shoulders and say these people deserved their fate for the simple sin of being homebound or not owning a car? There are plenty of lazy people in this world, I know, plenty of people -- on both sides of the political divide -- who just expect the good things in life to be dropped into their laps, but we're not talking about fancy cars or houses here. We're talking about food. Clean water. Medicine. Apparently some people in this country believe that anyone who's too old to get around, anyone who depends on public transportation, anyone who doesn't have the money to buy and maintain a car of their own, is just going to have to go without these thins and get used to being stuck in the wasteland that is now New Orleans.
And I know I'm going to be accused of politicizing the tragedy here, but too late, because they've already politicized it to hell and back -- all the folks doing this Marie Antoinetting were right-wingers. They're the ones who claim to love this country to a degree that nobody like me could ever understand, yet I don't know if I've ever seen such lack of caring -- hell, outright hatred -- for one's fellow man. It all made me so angry this morning that I was close to putting my fist through the wall. Only I didn't, because I couldn't decide whether to do that or just cry.
Fortunately, distraction came in the form of a trip to Costco on my lunch hour. At work we got a notice that refugees from Louisiana and Mississippi had been brought to the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Center downtown, which the Red Cross had set up as a shelter, and that they needed whatever supplies people could donate -- toiletries especially, such as soap and toothpaste and toothbrushes, but also pillows, clothes, stuff for kids to play with, anything we could spare. We decided to bring in whatever stuff we could this morning and take it down to the BJCC, but we also supplemented that with a pool of cash donations from people in our office, which we used to buy a bunch of bulk purchases down at Costco -- soap, shampoo, disposable razors, even maxipads. (Yes, ladies, I bought maxipads in bulk at Costco. And I was not ashamed.)
It felt good to bring that stuff down to the BJCC, which wasn't as wall-to-wall packed as I had expected but was filling quickly. But it felt even better to see how many other cars were there, lined up on Eighth Avenue, hazard flashers blinking, with people hurriedly yanking big bags of stuff out of their trunks and running it inside. And it felt best of all to get the word from one of my co-workers at around 3 p.m. that the City Action Partnership had announced they had more than enough donations and didn't need anymore, and if people wanted to make any other contributions they should make them in cash to the Red Cross.
I was proud that Birmingham, my city, had done that. In just a few short hours we'd amassed all the stuff the refugees at the BJCC needed and then some. Granted, there are still thousands of people who weren't lucky enough to be carried off to Birmingham, but I'm confident that the people of Birmingham and the surrounding area are donating just as generously to their cause as they donated to the people seeking shelter at the convention center. And it gave me home to see all kinds of people -- white, black, wealthy, not-so-wealthy, Democrats, Republicans, old, young, everyone -- lined up at the BJCC to give what they could.
It gave me hope for really the first time all day. There are some people in this country who are all too willing to write off the NOLA victims in one big group as people who deserve whatever they're getting because they were too stupid, lazy, or poor to avoid it, but the people of Birmingham, my city, did not. There are people who have chosen to use this tragedy as an opportunity to let their innermost hatreds and basest instincts run rampant, and there are people who saw this overwhelming need for what it was, and I'm fortunate to be surrounded by them in my city, in my state.
If you haven't fired off a cash donation of some kind to the Red Cross yet, please do it now. Whether this blog makes you laugh, makes you angry, just go do it. Heck, if you've got extra space in your house there's even a site you can go to to offer it up to those whose best hope at this point is a plot of turf at the Astrodome.
We know there are people in this country whose best response to a disaster like this is, "Too bad. Life is hard. Nothing we can do now." Please don't be one of them.