I’ve spent the last few days in quite a bubble of privilege. I have had the opportunity to move across country (3000+ miles) with an animal, in comfort and ease only being required to do the last 419 miles of actual driving myself; and even that was a sentimental choice based on wanting to see my father before I start my ministerial journey. I have been able to rent and outfit an apartment in one of the most prime locations in the world for someone with my career and personal goals and I am now within 10 – 25 miles of some of my most cherished family and longtime friends. I am healthy, I have a personal vehicle, total and easy personal mobility and an entire community of people eager to meet me. If this is not privilege, I don’t know what is.
At the same time, I know some people think of moving as an incredible burden. They get frustrated by the idea of packing and things maybe getting lost or broken. They get angry at airplane schedules or deliveries that don’t happen on time. They are confused by cable vs internet or bundle, cel phone carriers, utilities and how to register to vote. In the end, they stand there looking at all of their belongings once they are unloaded and think “it will never happen.”
Here in Cambridge, MA I am surrounded by a mix of these different energies. August and September are times in the United States when people move and transition. It is the beginning of school for many people. I have several friends who are with their children as they begin college in other parts of the country. I have others who are experiencing that very first and sometimes tearful day of school as the small being who was only a couple of years ago too young to use the bathroom themselves, waves goodbye for the first time. But all of these, the ability to move, to change jobs, to begin new learning…the actual day to day manifestations of freedom…these are the principle privileges in which we live in the United States. This is why some people still risk everything to get here from abroad and why others risk everything to stay here despite a history that continues to leave them behind or erase them altogether.
Right now in Texas, people are suffering. Rising water (the very element we need to survive) is threatening life and property and will change people’s lives for years to come. What is more, too many of these people survived the horrors of Hurricane Katrina as well. But the real disaster is not just in the rising water. The real disaster is that it took Mother Nature to wake the rest of us up (again) to those people who don’t have insurance, or ways to escape, or healthcare to heal the injuries and illnesses and their every day suffering. Why do we only justify providing help to people in need when the help meter reaches our distress threshold? Why aren’t we listening to these communities in the first place?
I’m sick of rehashing the election, but Trump didn’t win Harris County, Texas for a reason. The city is 67% non-white with a median household income of $56k. If he was really interested in making a difference in this “disaster”, he wouldn’t have done what amounted to a campaign stop before the worst of the impact was known or had even hit. Instead, he would wait until the water recedes and then go to the places where people who had the most to lose by having the least to begin with actually are. In the meantime, he’s much better off making sure his government is functional enough and listening closely enough to people on the ground to actually mobilize useful rescue and medical teams to make a difference. No tragedy is about baseball caps and stilettos, it is about real life and real death.
As I sit here enjoying a last few days of my privilege bubble giving deep gratitude before embarking on the most difficult and rewarding career of my already wonderful and blessed life, I’m making a list of strategies and priorities that I hope to publicly hold our elected officials to. Top of the list is demanding that government be aware and accountable to the most vulnerable before that vulnerability has a chance to be fatal. The number is not yet as high as Katrina, but even one life lost due to the bare vulnerability of poverty in the path of increasingly extreme weather, is too many. It is our great shame to dishonor any of the people who die from neglect or politicized agendas by simply showing up for a photo op and then turning away once the sun comes out. We need to address the problems of poverty and housing as the disasters that they are before a hurricane or earthquake makes them catastrophes. We have the tools in our legislative process and we must use them.
The closing words of Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address seem a fitting reminder for the principles we as a nation are called to defend:
“It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that the government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth.” – Gettysburg Address, November 19, 1863