Unnatural Disaster: What’s the Right Response? (Sep 05)

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First and foremost in my life I am a mother. As all of my close friends know, I could not stand to be separated from either one of my children when they were babies. I found them unimaginably beautiful in every way. As infants, they both ended up with the same illness requiring major surgery and when they had to be in the hospital, I refused to leave their cribs. I still feel that way about them even as resourceful, healthy adults. They are precious gifts to the world to be protected by the rest of us, as we deserve to be protected and valued by them.

So when I read in yesterday's New York Times about the babies who had died of dehydration in the Superdome and Convention Center while FEMA was holding truckloads of water nearby for completion of paperwork, the full human import of this historic and in my opinion man-made (through neglect) disaster hit me. Babies died in the arms of their mothers while the very disaster response systems that the government claimed to have been focusing on during these past two administrations malfunctioned in every conceivable way.

Yesterday's New York Times was full of stories of people bypassing official incompetence to save lives. This was the full and beautiful enactment of the best of the spirit of the people in this country confronting the most cynical extremes of a system that has lost touch with what the country needs to know and trust about its government. We need to be about restoring that trust by making sure this can never happen again on our watch. That means holding this Administration accountable AND ensuring that families affected by this abomination are made as whole as possible as soon as possible.

I have included links to four articles with this letter (see Features section below). But I want to call your attention to another emerging strain of consideration and that is "the right of return" for residents of New Orleans that want to reestablish their communities and themselves in those communities.

This is where we can make ourselves heard. New Orleans could easily turn into a Disney version of itself built by Halliburton. How do we ensure that residents are engaged in the planning and rebuilding of this community in a way that allows them to become vested owners of the whole?

In my mind, there are at least three major concerns beyond the humanitarian response we–as the nonprofit sector carrying out its crucial watchdog role — need to follow through on:

* Holding this administration accountable for its failures and looking particularly carefully at other places where cronyism may be weakening and driving public policy

* Making sure that the replanning and rebuilding process has the input of all the residents of that area who wish to participate and that any contracting is transparent and free of federal (or local) cronyism.

* Making sure that the increasing wealth gap, poverty rate, and marginalization of citizens due to poverty and race is addressed centrally in political discourse. This is absolutely critical if we are to make ourselves whole as a nation.