I believe the true terrorism in our country is poverty. This belief has been central to my thinking for as long as memory serves me, but it was crystallized with Katrina.
Lubbock, Texas received 400 evacuees from the Lower 9th Ward. We had these Americans sleeping head-to-toe and side-by-side calling an old airplane hanger “home.” I remain proud of our City’s volunteers, agencies and response. As a Red Cross volunteer I had access to our “survivors.”
They brought tragic stories from New Orleans. We had the lady who fought her way to Lubbock and during a physical was sent to our local indigent hospital. This survivor died of lung cancer weeks after her arrival.
We had a man and sister who felt their brother was still alive as he was a good swimmer until several months after Katrina and a few weeks before the unclaimed body was to be cremated.
And a lady who was on the phone with her sister and two young nieces when the levees failed and water crashed in. We received a call from the authorities a few days later telling us they had placed GPS collars on the bodies so they could be found later as the search for survivors was too intense to deal with the dead. The surviving sister asked a haunting question, “Don’t poor people matter too?”
Every single person in our shelter was a person without means. The “haves” generally got out; like Senator Lott they’ll argue with insurance carriers. The “have nots” did not. The have nots are the people left over, forgotten, invisible who brought a face to poverty in America.
Some died. Some had their families torn apart. Some lost pets. Some lost life-long homes. Some lost livelihoods. The only thing not lost was their poverty.
I began asking questions: “Why is it in the richest country in history do we allow poverty to exist?” “Why in our world do we allow 38,000,000 people to die of starvation and preventable disease?” “How could a country based on ‘life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,’ rights guaranteed to all Americans, allow such a catastrophe? But the central question remains: “Don’t poor people matter too?”
Solving the issues of poverty in our world will take $70,000,000,000 to $80,000,000,000. As a world, to arm ourselves against one another we spend approximately $900,000,000,000 ($400,000,000,000 for the U.S.).
I have come to one inescapable, incontrovertible conclusion: Poverty is not a product of limited resources, but a product of priorities—nothing could be a sadder legacy. Katrina changed my life. I can no longer remain silent and must ask questions. And, I must find answers.
With Katrina, I have learned nothing earth-shattering, but simply that the true terrorism in our world is poverty; the true terrorists are a lack of education and opportunity; the true terror is hopelessness. And, I don’t know that one person can make a difference in this fight on this terrorism, but I believe I must try.
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