FutureWire - futurism and emerging technology

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Through Katrina, Will America "Rediscover Its Poor"?

The one positive thing that Hurricane Katrina may do for the US is to mobilize us to engage our national problems of race and poverty. The images that we have all seen over the past week, combined with local, state and federal governments' inept response, have shocked and outraged us. More importantly, the disaster has forced us to acknowledge the uncomfortable truth that too many Americans are poor and therefore powerless.

Peter Canellos of the Boston Globe writes, "The searing images of New Orleans -- including the sight of sick and elderly patients literally lying on a conveyer belt at Louis Armstrong airport -- could well mark America's rediscovery of its poor." Canellos notes that catastrophic flooding in the Mississippi River region in 1927 marked the first time that the US Government was held accountable for disaster relief. As with now, the brunt of the disaster fell on poor blacks, and the President (Calvin Coolidge) was roundly criticized for failing to comprehend the scope of the calamity. Also, like now, the general public of the Jazz Age was self-indulgent and largely indifferent to poverty, especially in the South. Yet that attitude changed after the disaster.

How our current rude awakening will affect us socially, economically and politically in the months and years to come remains to be seen. But it could be dramatic. According to Canellos, many historians believe the Republican administration's lack of response to the 1927 flooding played a large role in shifting Southern blacks' political allegiance from the Republicans to the Democrats. And, as 9/11 spawned a new sense of patriotism and a greater awareness of world events, Katrina could inspire Americans to do more to combat poverty, whether by donating more to charity, volunteering, or campaigning for public policy reform.