A series of essays in the Episcopal Church
[Note: Michael Myers is Senator Kennedy's Chief aid. -- LC]
It was good to talk with you and to share some thoughts about how the Congress might address the crisis facing the Louisiana and Mississippi Gulf Coasts, and New Orleans in particular. Senator Kennedy brought a breath of fresh air to those of us who met with him during his visit last Friday, and while I felt terribly privileged to be invited to a private lunch with the Senator I am especially honored that he wanted you to take note of what I had to say. The gist of our conversation follows.
First, I am confident that the faith community will do our part and I know the people themselves will pull together to help one another. That is part of the American character and I consider it a special part of the spirit of New Orleans. However, this administration must not rely on the faith community and other private entities to do the job of government. The best thing the church and other faith communities can do at this time is to serve in an advocacy roll, that is, to tell you in the very name of God to do your job, and to do so by paying special attention to issues of justice and the common good. The relationship between the ministry of the church and the governance of the state has always been complicated and I do not wish to be glib; the best way for each to work with the other in this situation requires serious dialogue. Nevertheless, it is clear to me that the faith community must not be tempted or co-opted into taking a role it cannot and should not fulfill.
No serious rebuilding can be addressed unless certain big and long-ranged decisions are made. The most important of these is to restore and adequately protect the wetlands. For whatever reason, the federal government has failed over years to do what is necessary, not only to avoid the sort of tragedy we now suffer, but to serve the ecological health of the whole of North America. What can people have been thinking? In the aftermath of the storm there has been much bickering over who is at fault for poor decisions, with the discussion focused on pitting local and state officials over against the administration and the federal government. Let us simply acknowledge that we would be facing the same overwhelming task even if the local officials and FEMA had made no mistakes whatsoever. Even if the human misery and loss of life might have been lessened, and specific judgments about that can be made in timely fashion, the reality is that it is the flooding that caused the destruction we must now address. That flooding could only have been prevented if the wetlands had been properly protected over the years and if realistic and long-term decisions had been made and properly funded for the Mississippi River and its extended levy systems. The people of the nation, and our leaders, must be educated about what the loss of the Louisiana wetlands is costing the rest of the country. The price tag will be big (I understand it would take as much as one half of what it is costing to restore the wetlands of Iraq.) but there would be no better use of money since the Louisiana Purchase. Alternatively, as I believe the commercial said, “pay now or pay later”.
I think it is very important that “the folk” have a voice in the decisions about rebuilding. It is already time to give some focus to the future and especially to the rebuilding effort. It will be a major morale builder to have people who have been displaced start to think in positive terms about their future in the rebuilding of their homes, neighborhoods, and communities. They need to identify their needs, what they think must be maintained, and what they feel must be improved. We must not rely entirely on experts and on those who will benefit financially from the rebuilding. The decisions will be better and the wellbeing of the community much higher if the people themselves are heard from and their voice is taken seriously. They need a forum.
Finally, poverty is newly revealed as the great enemy; the nation must not rest while people live in the conditions so vividly exposed in the images of the trapped poor being rescued. It is worth noting that the hurricane struck on the same day the media carried the news that poverty had climbed again last year, just as it has in every year of this administration. Surely, while some organize to permanently abolish what they call “the death tax” (It would be more accurately termed “The Tax Cut for Aristocracy”) Americans should be more aware of the concrete implications of the growing gap between those who live in poverty and those who have so terribly much more than they can possibly need, of the fact that today a greater amount of the wealth of the United States is held in the hands of a smaller percentage of the population than was true of England at the time of the American revolution.
If I can be of any further assistance please do not hesitate to call on me. As we told Senator Kennedy, we are depending on him to be a special voice for us in the Senate. Perhaps that is particularly appropriate since he is married to a native daughter of Louisiana, and a first rate politician.
[-- Joe Doss, Retired Bishop of New Jersey]
[-- Joe Doss, Retired Bishop of New Jersey]
Bishop Doss's follow-up to Louie Crew on October 4th:
If there is anything I hope people around the nation hear, about which they
could become politically helpful, is the issue of the wetlands. That really
is the big decision that has never been made and without which everything
else is nonsense. Costal restoration at the mouth of the Mississippi is not
just for Louisiana and New Orleans, but for the ecological health of all of
North America. Failure to act has been one of the most blatant and absolute
failures of the federal government in my lifetime. And it is something
everyone throughout my lifetime has acknowledged. This is a reality, or a
need, about which it is necessary that the American people come to
understand. The money it would have taken to prevent the Katrina/Rita
tragedy would have been a drop in the bucket compared to what it is now
going to cost. The wetlands and protection systems could be put in place
for one half of what it cost us to do this for Iraq. Don’t get me
started, especially about this shameless administration.
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