Dear Friends,

I'm writing to you as I travel through places full of destroyed homes,
uprooted lives, and the stark contrasts of wealth and poverty side by
side. Usually my messages to you describe my experiences working with
the International Women's Peace Service in the West Bank. This time,
however, I'm not in Palestine, I'm in the U.S. South. This week I'm
participating in a fact finding delegation on poverty, race,
neoliberalism, and the effects of Hurricane Katrina with a group of
about 50 people including folks from the Philadelphia Independent
Media Center, students participating in the Poverty Initiative at
Union Theological Seminary, students at Columbia University's School
of Social Work, and members of the National Poor People's Economic
Human Rights Campaign. I'm part of the media team and mostly working
and traveling with a group of nine people, some of whom are good
friends and others folks I'm just getting to know. We're here to talk
to people, do our homework, and produce media that matters.

Golden Opportunities
More and more I feel that the rich and powerful in our country are
figuring out ways to benefit as things collapse. 9-11 was one example
of this. No matter who you think did it, or how you think it really
went down, the point is that a lot of people benefited and it wasn't
you and me. The Bush government benefited by putting into place plans
that had been in the works for years - the Patriot act, increased
control and surveillance over massive sectors of the population, the
squelching of dissent and questioning authority, suspicion of anyone
that does. The owners of the military industrial complex benefited by
the propaganda about a future of continuous war, successfully
securing their piece of the pie for a long time to come. Anyone who
has a stake in control, of people, capital, natural resources, or the
national political culture, benefited from this disaster. While we're
fighting with each other over scraps, the elite are laying in wait,
playing their cards right, and figuring out how to manipulate the
chaos. I've got to hand it to them - they know how to turn disaster
into opportunity.

Writing to you from the South, I can say from my observations that
Katrina and to an extent all of the natural disasters that happen here
follow the same pattern. 'Natural disasters' aside (but after all how
natural is global warming) there are sectors here that absolutely
benefit from the suffering, the dying - people who have come to expect
and in fact rely on periodic disasters for their very survival. Big
developers, for example, rely on the crises that are wreaked on
average people, and the destruction of their lives, to periodically
make a killing on new construction. When we wonder why politicians
never moved to remedy situations that they knew would produce
disaster, we should think about these dynamics instead of wringing our
hands at the sorry and unpredictable state of the world.

The conclusions are mind boggling but they are also real. We all know
that people are exploited every day in their jobs, and their
communities. But when we really tally up the death toll - from
stress, exploitation, and oppression, it is plain to see that not only
are the poor the first to die as victims of circumstance, they are
actually the first to be sacrificed by those who understand what is
coming, and how global economics really works. I want to suggest
that the devastation I've seen - and I'm talking about Pensacola
Florida, Ocean Springs and Biloxi Mississippi - we haven't even gotten
to New Orleans- constitutes not an unfortunate tragedy exacerbated by
inequality - but a sacrifice on the altar of global capitalism.

Neoliberalism. The dismantling of the welfare state. Every (poor)
person fending for themselves. New markets can't last forever. The
majority doesn't have enough wealth to buy everything that is being
produced. But production has to continue and in fact it has to grow
in order to increase profits. So how can profits increase? Use new
technology to eliminate the need for human labor. Convince people
that the state has no responsibility for human welfare and defund the
social safety net. Start wars to control resources and create phantom
enemies for people to attack when they become angrier about the
collapse. Even when you've gotten all these projects under way, if
you are rich and powerful - the Waltons, for example, who collectively
control 100 billion dollars, (that's 100,000,000,000) you've still got
to realize that you have a problem - surplus poor people. People who,
for all intents and purposes, are in the way. In the way of
'development', in the way of the riches that the already rich are
trying to secure in the only industries still experiencing growth -
finance, insurance, real estate. What will happen to the
neighborhoods that were leveled by Katrina? They happen to be sitting
on prime real estate. How about that! A hurricane did what our
government won't yet do - eliminate an unwanted population.

Meanwhile, the backbone of the 'reconstruction' are semi-slave
day laborers recruited by companies like Labor Ready from as far away
as Texas and Los Angeles, and who originally come from Guatemala and
Mexico. There are poor native born African Americans and whites too,
who are encouraged to hate these undocumented immigrants for 'stealing
jobs'. The day laborers are charged for food ($10 for a lunch which
consists of a baloney sandwich), showers ($5) and $300 a month
to 'rent' a 5X5 square plot of mud on which they pitch a tent and
the right to shit in porta potties and wash their clothes in buckets.
After they don't get paid for weeks at a time, they hang on with
nowhere to go, praying that a paycheck will finally come. After they
do the most disgusting and dangerous work (cleaning out the sewage and
black mold) with little or no protective gear provided, the more
skilled labor is brought in for the photo opportunities and so we can
all celebrate the rebuilding effort.

Meanwhile, contractors party in the bars of all the towns they're
working in, toasting to the business boom. Oh yea, and of course I
should mention that it isn't destroyed houses of the poor that are
being rebuilt, but casinos like the Imperial Palace in Biloxi, MI,
where crews are working around the clock to restore the profits for
the owners, while directly across the street there is absolute
destruction. Oh and I should also mention that the FEMA office, where
people have to go to deal with trying to wrest some pennies from the
government, is located on the second floor of this casino so that
folks can forget their problems on the way down with no clocks to
remind them what time it is. Think about that for a minute. And also
think about the fact that there is a bar inside the casino that was
recently named 'Katrina bar'. I guess so that poverty pimps of all
stripes can gather and toast to the best thing that happened to them
in a while.

We've got to wake up and prepare for the long haul. The rich know
that society is collapsing. They're banking on us being convinced
that it's not. That way by the time we realize we need to be building
the leadership and making the plans to take over, it will be too late
because they will already have orchestrated the collapse down to the
last pathetic violin. The global economic system cannot hold unless
more and more of us are completely emiserated. I don't even know if
that's a word but I think you know what I mean. We have to be looking
at the whole country here, because we're in the belly of the beast.
It's the people who are going to have to move, and by the people I
don't mean the progressive, college educated, liberal left. So start
thinking big, and strategic, because you're going to have to put a lot
of the prejudices you've been nursing, against people who don't act
right, or talk right, or think right, away. As things collapse around
us, we have to learn our lessons and understand that these are Golden
Opportunities for us as well. Opportunities to educate. Opportunites
to organize, and develop leadership. We have to turn tragedy into

More later and much love,



Solidarity, Not Charity

This statement, proposed to us by many people with whom we met in the Gulf Coast region, has begun to make sense to me more and more. We didn't go down there just to lend a hand in the clean up or to offer emotional support to traumatized residents. We also went to join an ongoing struggle to end poverty, work for racial equality, and open our eyes to entrenched problems in our country. Now that we're back, I'm trying hard not to close my eyes again, or not even to squint. Because it's not about "us" here offering charity to "them" down there.

At least, I'd like to believe that it isn't about us and them. But when I try to share a bit of the story, people don't always react the way I hope or want or expect. There are differences. And who am I to judge those reactions? I'm still working to keep my eyes open most of the time.

I know that in time I'll find a way to make a contribution to the struggle for social justice. It might be listening to people's stories in a way that hopefully makes them feel heard. Or it might be something else. I don't know yet. Right now I'm still adjusting to the jarring sense of being home and feeling like part of me should be back there, continuing to listen. That listening didn't feel like charity.

Katell Zappa


The Trip Is Not Over

We set out to the Gulf Coast with a primary goal that exists now and in the future – to somehow integrate our experience into our practice, vocation, dreams and mission. These experiences affected senses of being, person and relationships in incalculable ways. This is day four after returning to New York City. I have slept; I have bathed; I have not yet put everything away. Yesterday, the students at Union met to process the experience and to begin to integrate the experience into our work. We met for a six hour period that seemed to be barely a blink of an eye as compared to the eternity of the eight days traveling. How will we fulfill our objective of effectively communicating, sharing or unveiling the realities that are present everywhere - including here - but which have been made so inescapable by the hurricane’s power in the Gulf Coast region? How, when several of us do not yet feel that we have a coherent story to tell of what we witnessed, experienced and breathed, will we ground ourselves in our current location working towards what we know to be right? Yesterday brought forward a plethora of ideas for what we can do individually and communally, both now and into the future. We are receiving requests for engagement with local communities and churches. They want to hear and relate with us. They will be transformed in the process. We can publish; we can educate; we can worship; we can build, nurture and expand the relationships that will lead us into the future. We will do each of these things in some way and at some time. This process of activity is the part of the trip that we are now embarked upon. I have not returned home to the place I was; I have returned home to a place full of opportunity for development, change and hope. It is a strange place full of people I do not yet know well or at all. But just as I did on the road in Georgia, Florida, Mississippi and Louisiana, I will set out each day with a willingness to be challenged so that I will more effectively and more meaningfully work to dismantle the systems that we are seeing cause so much destruction and pain in our world.

Hannah Hofheinz



Is this normal?

We arrived at La Guardia Saturday night at 10:30 pm and I honestly could not wait to get back to my apartment, take a hot shower, and crawl into bed. Yet this trip has somehow changed how I see “normal” life and I’ve come to realize that I don’t really know how to define what normal is any more. It seems that as I complete each “normal” activity, my mind seems to wander back to those individuals we met and to their stories about surviving the hurricane as well as the trials they are still facing today. As I walk down the populated streets of New York I think of those abandoned houses and the wind whistling through the empty streets of New Orleans in the lower 9th ward. As I unpack my clothes and do my laundry, I think to myself of how lucky I am that I have a bed to sleep in, a place to wash my dirty work clothes, and a hot shower conveniently located in my apartment. And I wonder how is it possible that five months after the storm so many families are still sleeping in their cars or are living in their toxic and unsafe houses. Is this normal or are we just accepting it as such?

It is this idea of normal which seems to plague me as return to my life in New York. I go through the motions yet the manner in which I view life has been altered. I still feel confused and disoriented as I continue through my daily activities, yet I feel need to question society’s construction of norms and challenge our acceptance of these terrible circumstances which persist among the people of Pensacola, Biloxi, and New Orleans. Why aren’t more people helping? Why isn’t the government helping? Why don’t we care?

An amazing man that we met in New Orleans told us that he felt the most important thing concerning this situation was the people. He said that when you help the people everything else would fall into place. People just need to help people. And I feel that is the ultimate goal…just to help people.

Kristin Brabender



I left my shoes behind.

Part of the briefing for our work on several projects indicated the
possibility of leaving our work boots and clothes behind. After one
day of work and only having one set of work shoes and clothes I kept
my shoes and clothes for other days. To keep them separate from my
other clothes I placed them in plastic bags and fully thought that
I would return with them to New York this way. Even after our work
day in New Orleans which included dressing in a Tivek suit along
with masks, doubled gloves, and goggles I felt that I could still
return with my shoes. While packing to leave I looked at my shoes
with traces of mud and other things not too well known to me from
the various work sites between Biloxi and New Orleans. And perhaps
there were other things on those shoes that I could not see with
the naked eye. The briefing about mold and not getting into
contact with it troubled me so that I decided to leave the shoes

On the flight home I reflected on the decision to leave the shoes
behind and recognized that it was more than just about the dirt,
the mud, mold, or other toxic substance. I was leaving behind a
path that I could no longer walk once I left New Orleans. I had to
leave behind much of the dirt that stuck to my shoes and my path up
until that point. Included in that was dirt that I had picked up in
Biloxi and New Orleans. It was the dirt that came stuck to me as a
result of the hurricane; dirt stirred up by misfortune and
injustice, brought to the surface by inequality and unfairness,
dirt that was and is the stuff of poverty. I had to leave this
behind along with an indifference to these issues, as well as the
smugness of learning about these issues third hand. Having walked
through the dirt of Biloxi and New Orleans I needed new shoes. I
need new shoes in order to walk differently with respect to
injustice and poverty, new shoes to confront the issues of racism
and disenfranchisement not from a distance but up close. These new
shoes will define a different path for my life and work and as
important and urgent as these issues are, those shoes will surely
get dirt on them. I left my shoes behind in New Orleans because I
want to walk a different path, now I need to go buy new shoes but
not in a store. I will shop for these shoes in the experiences of
the past week, in the face of stories of the people that I met, in
the scenes of destruction and desperation imprinted in my life. I
will need to purchase these shoes from the solidarity with persons
who are committed to the struggle and invested in the creation of a
more just society. I wonder what my new shoe size will be?

Steed Davidson



The Drive Home

Driving from New Orleans to Atlanta was perhaps the most important piece for myself and my companions. We traveled past the now familiar neighborhoods of destruction and despair reflecting on what we had experienced and what we had learned. At times we sat in silence reliving moments of yesterday and the days before. It was a completely surreal experience. We moved from one state to the next quietly saying goodbye to a world that we had come to know, respect, and fear.

It was a trip back in time to the beginning of the week. When we began the trip we often talked about what we carried with us – not just our extraordinary amount of luggage but also our knowledge and our past experiences, which were the only references we had to relate to what was to come.

Now as we return home, never did we expect to carry so much with us. We would like to thank all of the families and loved ones for their patience and understanding as we re-enter our daily lives.

Lauren and Kate


Day 8 - Texts for Reflection

Bob Marley

How can you be sitting there
Telling me that you care -
That you care?
When every time I look around,
The people suffer in the suffering
In everyway, in everywhere.

We’re the survivors, yes: the black survivors!
I tell you what: some people got everything;
Some people got nothing;
Some people got hopes and dreams;
Some people got ways and means.

We’re the survivors, yes: the black survivors!
Yes, we’re the survivors, like Daniel out of the lions’ den
(black survivors) survivors, survivors!
So I idren, I sistren,
A-which way will we choose?
We better hurry; oh, hurry; oh, hurry; now!
’cause we got no time to lose.
Some people got facts and claims;
Some people got pride and shame;
Some people got the plots and schemes;
Some people got no aim it seems!

We’re the survivors, yes: the black survivors!
Tell you what: we’re the survivors, yeah! – the black survivors, yeah!
We’re the survivors, like shadrach, meshach and abednego
(black survivors),
Thrown in the fire, but-a never get burn.
So I idren, i-sistren,
The preaching and alking’ is done;
We’ve gotta live up, wo now, wo now! -
’cause the father’s time has come.
Some people put the best outside;
Some people keep the best inside;
Some people can’t stand up strong;
Some people won’t wait for long.

We’re the survivors
In this age of technological inhumanity (black survival),
Scientific atrocity (survivors),
Atomic misphilosophy (black survival),
Nuclear misenergy (survivors):
It’s a world that forces lifelong insecurity (black survival).

Together now:
We’re the survivors, yeah!
We’re the survivors!
Yes, the black survivors!
We’re the survivors:
A good man is never honoured (survivors)
In his own country (black survival).
Nothing change, nothing strange (survivors).
Nothing change, nothing strange (black survivors).
We got to survive, y’all! (survivors) - /fadeout/

But to live as one equal in the eyes
Of the almighty.


Isaiah 40:1-11

1 Comfort, O comfort, my people,
says your God.
2 Speak tenderly to Jerusalem,
and cry to her
that she has served her term,
that her penalty is paid,
that she has received from the LORD’S hand
double for all her sins.

3 A voice cries out:
“In the wilderness prepare a way for the LORD,
make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
4 Every valley shall be lifted up,
and every mountain and hill be made low;
the uneven ground shall become level,
and the rough places a plain.
5 Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed,
and all people shall see it together,
for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.”

6 A voice says, “Cry out!”
And I said, “What shall I cry?”
All people are grass,
their constancy is like the flower of the field.
7 the grass withers, the flower fades
when the breath of the LORD blows upon it;
surely the people are grass.
8 The grass withers, the flower fades;
but the word of our God will stand forever.
9 Get you up to a high mountain,
O Zion, herald of good tidings;
lift up your voice with strength,
O Jerusalem, herald of good tidings,
lift it up, do not fear;
say to the cities of Judah,
“Here is your God!”
10 See the Lord GOD comes with might,
and his arm rules for him;
his reward is with him,
and his recompense before him.
11 He will feed his flock like a shepherd;
he will gather the lambs in his arms,
and carry them in his bosom,
and gently lead the mother sheep.



The Paper House

Today was a rather interesting day. I woke up feeling helpless and emotional about all I had witnessed and experienced over the last week. The last two days specifically were very difficult for me. I witnessed mass destruction and devastation in Biloxi and wasn’t quite sure how I would emotionally be able to handle visiting New Orleans. I went through the first half of my day on the verge of tears wondering if I had made the right decision in choosing social work as a profession. I mean, how could I even make a dent in all of the injustice I had seen thus far?

After lunch I was determined to get as far into the lower 9th ward as possible to do work. I felt like I needed to witness for myself the nucleus of the destruction to help me heal. How would this help me? I wasn’t sure. I guess its kind of like being afraid of heights and going to the empire state building; I wanted to face my fear head on. My heart was heavy and my stomach in knots on the way to Common Ground. I know so many people wanted to go and I also know that I needed to go so I did what I had to do to get there. I hitched a ride from Otis in our moving truck to Common Ground. Upon our arrival were told we could go into homes and help gut them or stay at the main site and help at the distribution center. Of course I chose to gut a home in the 9th ward. We were suited up in blue suits, given respirators, goggles, rubber boots and two sets of gloves. We were warned that we would encounter toxic mold and needed to sign a waiver. The combination of anticipation and fear was bubbling within me, but I knew I needed to do this. I was tired of driving past homes, snapping photos; I needed to help someone by getting my hands dirty. I needed to know I was physically looking destruction in the face by helping someone clean out.

In the van our group split again. We were able to rip out sheet rock from a home or go to the home that had not been touched since the storm. We were forewarned that house option #2 was not for the faint of heart. I knew I needed to go to house #2. Of course, everyone else wanted to go to house #2 as well, so when we arrived at house #1 and they asked volunteers to get out to rip off sheetrock, I was not moving. I allowed there to be an awkward moment where no one moved because I needed to go to house #2.

As we crossed over the bridge into the lower 9th ward, it appeared as if I had arrived on foreign soil. Homes were ripped off foundations and blocked streets and cars stood straight up in the air. This is what I always imagined a war torn country to look like. I looked out my window and said to myself “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus.” I remembered a song I know that says, “when you don’t know what else to pray and you can’t find the words to say, say the name of Jesus…”

That’s all I could say… The lower 9th ward was nothing I had expected. No creative imagination could envision what was flashing before my eyes. We pulled up to a home that was a couple of blocks from the broken levee. I got out of the van ready to face the pain and fear because I was ready to make sense of my boggled emotions. I wasn’t sure how that would happen but I knew cleaning out this house somehow would help… Or at least I hoped it would.

The echo of my breathing filtering through a 3M filter made me feel like I was in a war. I walked into this house and was overcome by a stench of rotten food, human waste and mud. The stench crawled through my filter and took up residence in my nostrils. My feet were super-glued in about 5 inches of the toxic concoction that looked like black mud. So afraid to fall into the sludge , I leaned onto a wall for support and my arm went right through it. This was a paper house. I began peeling off the walls like a peel of an orange and ripping off wood like I was Hercules. No matter how much I cleaned, the black sludge was just never-ending. I remember thinking “what’s the point? Why bother with this, just let them tear it down.” Just then I found a graduation diploma and a high school ID card.

Why be a social worker when social ills will always remain and social injustice remains integral in the way our country plays its game? Why bother when I will never solve it all? The same reason why I stayed and tore down every wall I found still standing in that house. The same reason I salvaged anything I could and for the same reason I stood in toxic sludge for an afternoon. Because when I found that diploma and high school ID card it turned this home from being just another destroyed home among hundreds to being that of a family. I put a face to a problem – life in the midst of “toxic sludge.”

I now realize that as a social worker I will never cure social ills or solve all injustice, but I will put faces to injustices and personal stories to social ills. Why? Because in the face of the “toxic black sludge” of the injustice real people - people like you and me - are the faces and the stories that are the signs of life in the sludge’s midst. This keeps me dedicated to social justice. So I leave New Orleans with a new sense of purpose. Ready to dig and shovel and tear down walls – until I find life!

God Bless,
Crystal Farre


I Didn't Go to the Ninth Ward

I was in Biloxi, MS but did not go to the waterfront. I did not see the dislocated barges or the casinos. I was in New Orleans and I did not go to the 9th Ward. Instead, I met a woman named Fay in MS and worked with my team helping to deconstruct flood effected portions of her home. Some of us returned the next day to continue to provide working hands and in addition to provide emotional support for a traumatized, depressed, and frustrated woman. In New Orleans, I worked with a team on a charming, elderly man's home. The lower level of the home was filled with water, floor to ceiling after the hurricane. When we arrived, the homeowner, Mr. Edinburgh was scooping debris off of the street with a shovel. he greeted us with a handshake and a smile. We dressed in smurf-like Hazmat suits with tough rubber gloves, goggles, and face masks. Outfitted with a variety of tools we began deconstructing the walls and ceiling in order for mold remediation to be done. Standing in the empty room was surreal - to thinkt hat it had been completely full of water is almost unbelievable. I am always amazed at how easy it is to deconstruct someone's home. In a few hours, seven of us were able to pull down sheetrock, wood paneling, base boards and the ceiling until the home was a skeleton. I had to stop and remember4 that we were not just doing a job, that we were dismantling someone's home. The homeowner left with a few members of our team while the work was being done and when he returned, half his home was not how he left it. It was gone.

I am conflicted about my experience on this trip. On the one hand, my curiousity pulls at me like a cat, with desire to see the destruction in the worst affected areas. I want to be able to say that "I was there..." but as I was standing in Mr. Edinburgh's home, I realized that the reason I came to the Gulf Coast was not as a tourist. I came to be here for the survivors of the hurricane in whatever way they needed me - and what they needed most was help to get their lives back together one piece of drywall at a time. My heart is torn between my intense desire to return home to my husband and to all of my obligations at school and the other half of my heart telling me that I should stay here until all of the work is done. I'm not sure what the message is from my experience. There are countless political ramifications of the pre- and post-hurricane conditions. My next step is to determine how I can work today to make tomorrow a little better for someone else. Do justice, love mercy, walk humbly with God.

Kristin Lupfer


Day 7 - Texts for Reflection

The Gettysburg Address

Gettysburg, Pennsylvania
Abraham Lincoln
November 19, 1863

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.
Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.
But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate -- we can not consecrate -- we can not hallow -- this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. 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 government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.


Isaiah 64:1-11

1 O that you would tear open the heavens and come down,
so that the mountains would quake at your presence –
2 as when fire kindles brushwood
and the fire causes water to boil –
to make your name known to your adversaries,
so that the nations might tremble at your presence!
3 When you did awesome deeds that we did not expect,
you came down, the mountains quaked at your presence.
4 From ages past no one has heard,
no ear has perceived,
no eye has seen any God besides you,
who works for those who wait for him.
5 You meet those who gladly do right,
those who remember you in your ways.
But you were angry, and we sinned;
because you hid yourself we transgressed.
6 We have all become like one who is unclean,
and all our righteous deeds are like a filthy cloth.
We all fade like a leaf,
and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.
7 There is no one who calls on your name,
or attempts to take hold of you;
for you have hidden your face from us,
and have delivered us into the hand of our iniquity.
8 Yet, o LORD, you are our Father;
we are the clay, and you are our potter;
we are all the work of your hand.
9 Do not be exceedingly angry, o LORD,
and do not remember iniquity forever.
Now consider, we are all your people.
10 Your holy cities have become a wilderness,
Zion has become a wilderness,
Jerusalem a desolation.
11 Our holy and beautiful house,
where our ancestors praised you,
has been burned by fire,
and all our pleasant places have become ruins.



Wade in the Water

I have been thinking about Dorothy Day the past couple days. She references her experience of people coming together after the 1906 San Francisco earthquake as a defining moment in her life. She saw everyone coming together and helping each other without hesitation, without regard for race and class. Didn’t she say that she spent her entire life trying to find that feeling she had as a young child in those weeks after the earth shook and the fires rolled through the San Francisco and Oakland? Seeing the way people are coming together here, especially the way the churches are organizing and responding reminds me of the description Day shares in her autobiography and the way Day talked about doing church her entire life. I’ll be falling asleep on the floor of a sanctuary after I am done writing this. My sleeping bag is right next to the Eucharistic table, inscribed on the side is “Do this in remembrance of me”.

Today we went through a neighborhood of what used to be houses; now it’s a FEMA trailer park. We met families who just TODAY received their trailers. We went through People mostly said, bottled war, kitchen appliances, sheets, towels, etc. The FEMA trailers are empty. They are equipped with only a stripped bed, fridge and gas stove. The other social work student I was with and I met a woman who was supposed to give birth on the day Katrina hit. She called her doctor to ask if he could keep the baby inside her until the storm passed. As the water rose higher and higher she realized her family would die if they didn’t get out as soon as possible. She, her husband, her two year old son and the child yet to be born waded in chest high water to a boat and sailed to a two story building where they found refuge until the storm past. This is only one of the countless survival stories we have heard. It’s stories piled on top of stories. One man with a bad back that renders him disabled, swam to a telephone pole and tied himself to it with an extension cord and waited until the storm past. A husband and wife climbed to the very tops of very tall trees, where they stayed for 10 hours, until the 10-12 feet deep water drained. “We lost everything “ people told us with a smile and an out stretched hand. “Thank you so much for coming.” I wore my Catholic Worker shirt yesterday, with the Dorothy Day quote, “The only solution IS love.” One of the women we spoke to today asked if the church had any teddy bears. If I worked for FEMA I would make sure the FEMA trailers were stocked with kitchen appliances, towels, sheets, blankets, a six pack and a teddy bear.

Good Night.

Sara Suman



Today was a very needed day. Setting out in pairs we made our way through downtown Biloxi meeting people and gathering needs to report back to the organizing church. They are currently working on setting up a free laundry since many people are finding it impossible to wash their clothing. There are no laundrymats and most people no longer have washing machines or dryers personally available. Simple tasks, but essential tasks, such as staying clean have become exceedingly difficult. The only way to know what these simple tasks are, however, is by listening and this is the task we are given by our host church - to meet people and listen to their needs so that they might be effectively met.

What an experience. The diversity of views, the diversity of personalities, the diversity of realities became a singular experience. The people we talked with needed to talk and we needed to listen. Hopefully things will happen because of it. The letter below is a letter written by Emily and myself to a woman we met this afternoon. Her house is moved about 45 feet back into her yard away from the stoop. All that remains in place is the front steps. She does not have the resources to move her house back over or to rebuild, but her spirit is true. FEMA brought her a gas trailer rather than an electric trailer, and being as she is on oxygen because of asbestos she remains without a home. She told us her family history, the neighborhood history and the importance of her life. We talked with her for just over two hours. She will stay with us as we continue to open our eyes to the realities that are so present in the lives of so many of our fellow people.

Hannah Hofheinz

Dear Geraldine,

We just left your house and are sitting over where the Episcopal Church used to be eating the sandwiches we brought along with us. It is just the most beautiful day today and we are so happy that you took the time to tell us some of your stories.

We know that your life is very difficult now after hurricane Katrina but your stories remind us that there are hard things to face all throughout our lives. You have also reminded us that God’s love is unending and enters into our lives even when we are frustrated, changing things for the best.

The two of us were just sitting here chatting about your stories – how spunky your family is – from the twelve year old coming to the U.S. as a stow-a-way on a ship from Britain to the tall, thin and very drunk Andrew Jackson appearing off the train to a bunch of you well-dressed youngsters. Remember you have the strength of your family behind you.

We do hope to stay in touch. Our addresses and emails are listed below. If you send something to one of us – it will make it to both of us.

Please take care of yourself; you are and will be in our prayers and hearts as we ask God to continue making Herself known in your life and the lives of all those in Biloxi.

Emily and Hannah



Airplanes. Vans. Chartered buses. Walking. We are going places. We’re experiencing so much.

Fatigue has set in. I’m not processing very much or very quickly. We walked around a large building that hasn’t been touched yet. Our conversation went something like:
Look it’s a boat
Wow, yeah

Look, there’s a car.
Yes, it is.

That’s a car.

The devastation and lack of sleep have caught up. We sat down to look at a bridge that was in pieces. Four-lane highway now in 25’ chunks. It reminded us of pictures from an earthquake. It took us over ten minutes to realize we were not sitting on the beach, but on the rubble that used to be the bridge.


We split up this morning into five or six groups and went out into the Biloxi, MS area to work on houses, in distribution centers, and canvas neighborhoods for peoples’ needs.
One woman and her son came to the church today to pick up supplies for their FEMA trailer. She said she was sick of being called “displaced.” I asked her what term she would prefer. “Homeless. That’s what we are isn’t it?” she replied. Tell it like it is, sister. It’s amazing how simple life is. So many people we’ve met have lost it all and they have been forced to get back to basics. Over and over I hear people give thanks for simply being alive.

I have not even begun to process all that I’ve heard and seen. I cannot begin to thank all the people who have shared their grief, anger, faith, and questions. Two days to go…pile back in the van…keep moving. Breathe.

~Diana Bell
Union Theological Seminary


Day 6 - Texts for Reflection

The Dilemma of Negro Americans

Martin Luther King, Jr.

The dilemma of white America is the course and cause of the dilemma of Negro America. Just as the ambivalence of white Americans grows out of their oppressor status, the predicament of Negro Americans grows out of their oppressed status. It is impossible for white Americans to grasp the depths and dimensions of the Negro’s dilemma without understanding what it means to be a Negro in America. Of course it is not easy to perform this act of empathy. Putting oneself in another person’s place is always fraught with difficulties. Over and over again it is said in the black ghettos of America that “no white person can ever understand what it means to be a Negro.” There is good reason for this assumption, for there is very little in the life and experience of white America that can compare to the curse this society has put on color. And yet, if the present chasm of hostility, fear and distrust is to be bridged, the white man must begin to walk in the pathways of his black brothers and feel some of the pain and hurt that throb without letup in their daily lives.

The central quality in the Negro’s life is pain – pain so old and so deep that it shows in almost every moment of his existence. It merges in the cheerlessness of his sorrow songs, in the melancholy of his blues and in the pathos of his sermons. The Negro while laughing sheds invisible tears that no hand can wipe away. In a highly competitive world, the Negro knows that a cloud of persistent denial stands between him and the sun, between him and life and power, between him and whatever he needs. In the words of a noble black bard of yesteryear, Paul Laurence Dunbar:

A crust of bread and a corner to sleep in,
A minute to smile and an hour to weep in,
A pint of joy to a peck of trouble,
And never a laugh but the moans come double:
And that is life!

Negro life! Being a Negro in America means being scarred by a history of slavery and family disorganization. Negroes have grown accustomed now to hearing unfeeling and insensitive whites say: “Other immigrant groups such as the Irish, the Jews and the Italians stated out with similar handicaps, and yet they made it. why haven’t the Negroes done the same?” These questioners refuse to see that the situation of other immigrant groups a hundred years ago and the situation of the Negro today cannot be usefully compared. Negroes were brought here in chains long before the Irish decided voluntarily to leave Ireland or the Italians thought of leaving Italy. Some Jews may have left their homes in Europe involuntarily, but they were not in chains when they arrived on these shores. Other immigrant groups came to America with language and economic handicaps, but not with the stigma of color. Above all, no other ethnic group has been a slave on American soil, and no other group has had its family structure deliberately torn apart. This is the rub.

Martin Luther King, Jr. _Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community?_ New York: Harper and Row (p.102-103)


Isaiah 62:1-12

1 For Zion’s sake I will no keep silent,
and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not rest,
until her vindication shines out like the dawn,
and her salvation like a burning torch.
2 The nations shall see your vindication,
and all the kings your glory;
and you shall be called by a new name
that the mouth of the LORD will give.
3 You shall be a crown of beauty in the hand of the Lord,
and a royal diadem in the hand of your God.
4 You shall no more be termed Forsaken,
and your land shall no more be termed Desolate;
but you shall be called My Delight Is in Her,
and your land Married;
for the LORD delights in you,
and your land shall be married.
5 For as a young man marries a young woman,
so shall your builder marry you,
and as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride,
so shall your God rejoice over you.
6 Upon your walls, O Jerusalem,
I have posted sentinels;
all day and all night
they shall never be silent.
You who remind the LORD,
take no rest,
7 and give him no rest
until he establishes Jerusalem
and makes it renowned throughout the earth.
8 The LORD has sword by his right hand
and by his mighty arm:
I will not again give your grain
to be food for your enemies,
and foreigners shall not drink the wine
for which you have labored;
9 but those who garner it shall eat it
and praise the LORD,
and those who gather it shall drink it
in my holy courts.

10 Go through, go through the gates,
prepare the way for the people;
build up, build up the highway,
clear it of stones,
lift up an ensign over the peoples.
11 The LORD has proclaimed
to the end of the earth:
Say to daughter Zion,
“See, your salvation comes;
his reward is with him,
and his recompense before him.”
12 They shall be called, “The Holy People,
The Redeemed of the Lord”;
and you shall be called, “Sought Out,
A City Not Forsaken.”



on the side of an empty house

Written in spray paint on the side of a destroyed house: Habbakuk 2:3


Habbakuk 2:1-4

1 I will take my stand to watch, and station myself on the tower, and look forth to see what he will say to me, and what I will answer concerning my complaint.

2 And the LORD answered me: "Write the vision; make it plain upon tablets, so he may run who reads it.

3 For still the vision awaits its time; it hastens to the end--it will not lie. If it seem slow, wait for it; it will surely come, it will not delay.

4 Behold, he whose soul is not upright in him shall fail, but the righteous shall live by his faith.


Material Possessions

I can’t stop thinking of the book Material Possessions by Peter Menzel. The book came out in 1994-the United Nations Year of the Family. It is one of those photo essays companies like National Geographic are so good at producing. Each page features a full color photograph of an average family from a different country posing with all their material possessions. I think the point of the book must have been to show the absurdity of people in westernized countries owning 4 televisions or piles of Barbie dolls while others went without what we would consider basic necessities. But what really struck me was the absence of a place to put these things. The objects and the families themselves were arranged in the yard or street in front of their homes or in a vacant lot or city block outside their apartment buildings. The house or structure that sheltered them and their things was only, if at all, available to the onlooker on the periphery but was frustratingly unavailable to the reader who had squeezed her face so tightly against the small display window in order to take in as much as available from the outside.

The photographs in this book bothered me-just as much as an empty house might bother an inhabitant who doesn’t have any way to furnish her home. It didn’t matter that one family had three cars and another only a goat (if these things are even comparable). In either case, the cars and the goat are in equal need of a place to rest-and these pictures did not show how they would be kept, how they would be used or not used by the families that kept them. Would it not have been more practical to give an aerial view of each societies system of shelter and allow the viewer to imagine what might be in them?

On our brief tour of Biloxi, Mississippi we drove by homes wet with black mold and sewage and other homes that were only piles of dusty rubble. But the ones I found most provocative were those few that had been sliced neatly in half, vertically or as was more often the case, horizontally along the slab foundations of basement-less flood country.
One house, leaning precariously to one side was sliced along its’ center seam, eliminating the doors whose hinges must have stuck out past the neat line. The cut revealed a closet full of sport coats still neatly on their hangers. The slab foundation of another house, cleared of debris after the rain and wind had passed provided a solid patio for a found table and chairs and a place to gather things once lost: Christmas ornaments, fine china, dolls, canned goods, a bathtub.

These section and plan views have the look not of something destroyed in totality but of the hurricane having dug its hands deep into the foundation in order to work the structure inside out. It is not a scene of haphazard destruction but rather a meticulously violent reorganization of structures that leaves me to squirm uncomfortably in my seat and wish again that I had instead been offered that aerial shot—a position from which I can give my imagination free reign to structure these people’s lives in an easier and more coherent way.

Emily Sieracki


Welcome to Mississippi

Wake up calls were early this morning, way before the sun rose in Pensacola, Florida. After bidding goodbye to our reliable bus driver, Ron, we loaded into our vans, headed for Biloxi, Mississippi.
What awaited us across the boarder was certainly not what I expected. I have followed the news regarding the devastation across the Gulf Coast but never did I expect to see the unfortunate circumstances I saw from my van seat. One would expect that 5 months after Katrina, the city of Biloxi would seem somewhat improved. What I witnessed today gave the impression that the storm occured much more recently.
The pastor of the church we are staying at guided us through a large neighborhood of completely detroyed, if not utterly washed away homes. Although one could never imagine people living in residences like this, individuals were sitting on their front porches, enjoying the afternoon. Most houses were labeled, with insurance companies names and numbers, but most shocking were the other statements in spray paint, such as "FEMA, where are you?", "Do not demolish", "Together we will rebuild." Christmas decorations adorned some houses, lights hanging from broken roofs, Christmas trees standing in empty lots or on a front porch, although those porches had no house attached.
After our tour we split onto worksites. My group had the opportunity to assist Ms. D and her two children with the demolition of their home. Ms. D certainly welcomed our help, she didn't know exactly where to start and was content letting us lead the way. We spent most of the day taking down molded sheet rock and baseboards. We came across old pictures and househols items, although with the condidtion of the area, who knew who anything belonged to. The homes in their community varied in level of damage, although garbage was spread across every lawn.
As I picked up garbage beside the oldest daughter we discussed her time away from school and the things she missed most when home for a month. We picked up CDs and clothing scattered across her backyard, some of which she didn't even recognize as her own family's. However, our conversation mostly revolved around pop culture and school, I could tell that speaking about her life post-Katrina was not completely comfortable for her, and discussing the newest movies was a small, albeit comforting relief.
I haven't exactly had time to process what I experienced today, attempting to describe it at this moment would be inadequate. Currently, I am extremely anxious, anxious to get back to work tomorrow and help another survivor. --Jane Nolan


Day 5, 1/11/06 Do Not Destroy, Let this House Stand

We woke up early this morning to leave Pensacola, Florida for Biloxi, Mississippi. In Pensacola, Florida we focused on the impact of Hurricane Ivan. Those folks are still recovering after 18 or 19 months out. Now we're here in Biloxi, our first time seeing the impact of Katrina on whole communities, churches, individuals. The devastation and the wreckage is incomprehensible. It's hard to believe that all the uprooted trees, crumbled, hollowed out or just plain wiped out houses have been this way for the past five months. It looks like the hurricane happened last week. The emotional impact is the same. The pastor of Emanuel Baptist Church took us around the town and pointed out various houses, telling us stories about people who had either died, fled, or swam their way to safety in the midst of the storm. The pastor began to choke up when he talked about the media underreporting the number of deaths and focusing all the attention on New Orleans. Resentment is visible else where, one sign on a building said, "F*ck New Orleans." Others directed their anger towards FEMA, "Where the hell is FEMA?" "Do Not Destroy" "Let this House Stand."

We joined the rebuilding efforts today. We were divided up into three groups. I was a part of a group that did demolition work on a families house. We met the woman who used to live there when we first got there. She said, "Hi, nice to meet you , this is my home, well it used to be home." She left and we started hacking away at the dry wall in her house. It felt eerie to knock down the home of complete stranger and we were all alone as a team to figure out what to do. We had very few tools and no goggles. Fiber glass was flying everywhere from the insulation. Just before leaving this woman's house we walked down the street to pass out flyers letting people know that Emanuel Baptist will help them rebuild. Packi and I met this wonderful woman who said, "I am doing okay, but thank you so much. I am sure you've heard this but the faith based groups have been so wonderful. I really never knew that America was like this." As I was destroying the house before I couldn't help but think that this is what bombed out houses and streets and communities must look like so I naturally though of our other Gulf disaster in Iraq. The past few days have increased my anger and sadness at my government but increased my respect for the people of this country. I am struck by the beauty of the people and the landscape but the ugliness of government neglect. It's good to be here with the people.

Sara Suman


Day 5 - Texts for Reflection

by Sojourner Truth

Delivered 1851 at the Women's Convention in Akron, Ohio

Well, children, where there is so much racket there must be something out of kilter. I think that 'twixt the negroes of the South and the women at the North, all talking about rights, the white men will be in a fix pretty soon. But what's all this here talking about?

That man over there says that women need to be helped into carriages, and lifted over ditches, and to have the best place everywhere. Nobody ever helps me into carriages, or over mud-puddles, or gives me any best place! And ain't I a woman? Look at me! Look at my arm! I have ploughed and planted, and gathered into barns, and no man could head me! And ain't I a woman? I could work as much and eat as much as a man - when I could get it - and bear the lash as well! And ain't I a woman? I have borne thirteen children, and seen most all sold off to slavery, and when I cried out with my mother's grief, none but Jesus heard me! And ain't I a woman?

Then they talk about this thing in the head; what's this they call it? [member of audience whispers, "intellect"] That's it, honey. What's that got to do with women's rights or negroes' rights? If my cup won't hold but a pint, and yours holds a quart, wouldn't you be mean not to let me have my little half measure full?

Then that little man in black there, he says women can't have as much rights as men, 'cause Christ wasn't a woman! Where did your Christ come from? Where did your Christ come from? From God and a woman! Man had nothing to do with Him.
If the first woman God ever made was strong enough to turn the world upside down all alone, these women together ought to be able to turn it back , and get it right side up again! And now they is asking to do it, the men better let them.
Obliged to you for hearing me, and now old Sojourner ain't got nothing more to say.


Isaiah 49:1-26

1 Listen to me, O coastlands
pay attention, you peoples from far away!
The LORD called me before I was born
While I was in my mothers’ womb he named me.
2 He made my mouth like a sharp sword
in the shadow of his hand he hid me;
he made me a polished arrow
in his quiver he hid me away.
3 And he said to me, “You are my servant
Israel, in whom I will be glorified”
4 But I said, “I have labored in vain,
I have spent my strength for nothing and vanity;
yet surely my cause is with the LORD,
and my reward with my God.”

5 And now the LORD says,
who formed me in the womb to be his servant
to bring Jacob back to him,
and that Israel might be gathered to him,
for I am honored in the sight of the Lord,
and my God has become my strength –
6 he says,
“It is too light a thing that you should be my servant
to raise up the tribes of Jacob
and to restore the survivors of Israel;
I will give you as a light to the nations,
that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.”

7 Thus says the LORD,
the Redeemer of Israel and his Holy One,
to one deeply despised, abhorred by the nations
the slave of rulers,
“Kings shall see and stand up,
princes, and they shall prostrate themselves,
because of the LORD, who is faithful,
the Holy One of Israel, who has chosen you.”

8 Thus says the Lord:
In a time of favor I have answered you,
on a day of salvation I have helped you;
I have kept you and given you
as a covenant to the people.
to establish the land,
to apportion the desolate heritages;

9 saying to the prisoners, “Come out,”
to those who are in darkness, “Show yourselves.”
They shall feed along the ways,
on all the bare heights shall be their pasture;
10 they shall not hunger or thirst,
neither scorching wind nor sun shall strike them down,
for he who has pity on them will lead them,
and by springs of water will guide them.
11 And I will turn all my mountains into a road,
and my highways shall be raised up.
12 Lo, these shall come from far away,
and lo, these from the north and from the west,
and these from the land of Syene.

13 Sing for joy, O heavens, and exult, O earth;
break forth, O mountains, into singing!
For the LORD has comforted his people,
and will have compassion on his suffering ones.

14 But Zion said, “The LORD has forsaken me,
my LORD has forgotten me.”
15 Can a woman forget her nursing child,
or show no compassion for the child of her womb?
Even these may forget,
yet I will not forget you.
16 See, I have inscribed you on the palms of my hands;
your walls are continuingly before me.
17 Your builders outdo your destroyers,
and those who laid you waste go away from you.
18 Lift up your eyes all around and see;
they all gather, they come to you.
As I live, says the Lord,
you shall put all of them on like an ornament
and like a bride you shall bind them on.

19 Surely your waste and your desolate places
and your devastated land –
surely now you will be too crowded for your inhabitants,
and those who swallow you up will be far away.
20 The children born in the time of your bereavement
will yet say in your hearing:
“The place is too crowded for me;
make room for me to settle.”
21 Then you will say in your heart,
“Who has born me these?
I was bereaved and barren,
exiled and put away –
so who has reared these?
I was left all alone –
where then have these come from?”

22 Thus says the Lord GOD:
I will soon lift up my hand to the nations,
and raise my signal to the peoples;
and they shall bring your sons in their bosom,
and your daughters shall be carried on their shoulders.
23 Kings shall be your foster-fathers,
and their queens your nursing-mothers.
with their faces to the ground they shall bow down to you,
and lick the dust of your feet.
Then you will know I am the LORD;
those who wait for me shall not be put to shame.

24 Can the prey be taken from the mighty,
or the captives of a tyrant be rescued?
25 But thus says the Lord:
Even the captives of the mighty shall be taken,
and they prey of the tyrant be rescued;
for I will contend with those who contend with you,
and I will save your children.
26 I will make your oppressors eat their own flesh,
and they shall be drunk with their own blood as with wine.
Then all flesh shall know
that I am the LORD your Savior,
And your Redeemer, the Mighty One of Jacob.




The stories of the clergy charged with organizing and coordinating the relief erffort were horrifying, what else would you expect. The creaking of the houses, the screaming of the children whose fear could not be tamed by family’s card games, manifold misery after the floods receeded, including the experience of “compassion fatigue”, a new word (for me, at least) to describe the burning out of helpers. And suddenly, in the midst of all this horror, a diffferent moment captured in the narrative of Pastor Walk Jones: The electiricity was gone for weeks, and they could see the stars again. There were lying in the grass together with neighbors and friends and watched the starred sky. A moment of hope, not much more as a moment.

We awake in Pensacola Florida. At First Presbyterian Church, we have occupied every electrical outlet with our charging cell phones and sleeping pads, piles of clothing, sleeping bags and pillows from home are scattered across the large linoleum floor. As Tracey Harding, our gracious host and coordinator of disaster management instructed us, we avoid the 7am men’s bible breakfast by sleeping in till 8 on our large linoleum floor.

After breakfast and our morning meetings, Tracey returns to tell us about Pensacola’s experience of Ivan. We heard how 911 operators told Residents calling from the attics of their flooded homes that help couldn’t come to them. Operators were instructed to ask for their name, address and next of kin, should the family not survive the night. A man Tracey knew survived the storm sitting in waist high water in scuba gear in the second floor of his home, watching the water level rise around him. We tour the damage, 16 months later, vacant lots and dented white FEMA trailers can still be seen in Pensacola. Harriet from the United Ministries Interfaith Coalition tells us that domestic violence and child abuse rates have rose as tension builds for families with limited resources living in 27-foot trailers. 1800 people still live in FEMA trailers.

Dr. Peggy Walker notes that in the five years after Ivan, Pensacola will search for a new normal. Ivan served as a “great equalizer” leaving all types of residents across Pensacola without power and roofs. Over time, class differences emerge. Those with insurance and savings rebuild homes and buy new furniture. Others return to rent and utility bills and no jobs.

16 months after Ivan, affordable housing has made it on to the city’s agenda. But who will advocate for low-income residents now that low-income housing residents have been forced to leave?

As we learn about the experiences of evacuees and refugees, we begin to experience taste of the strain of evacuees ourselves.

For forty something of our diverse group, travel is slow and often confusing. We are moving through the south, but we don’t always know where we are going next or how we are getting there. At points we feel frustrated and helpless, isolated and a float. We try to build systems and norms for living together, cooking, reflecting, prayer but each new place and activity brings a new set of challenges to working together.

Group living means doors are open and many people are wandering in and out. On day one we have had money and credit cards stolen. Such a theft could be detrimental to someone who has evacuated his or her home with very few belongings.
Sleeping in large groups on church floors means that many of us don’t fall asleep until the last person comes in and we wake up when the first person does. I can tell my classmates to shut their cake holes, but would I be able to say the same to a fellow evacuee who I don’t know? Though I deny it, I’ve turned to pharmaceuticals to help me sleep. A Tylenol pm helps me isolate from the group when I need to get away and ensures that I get the sleep I need. I bet real evacuees and refugees turn to available substances as well to help coop with the hardships of group living.
Eating together means that members sometimes have few options, meals may be late or unpredictable which can further strain refugees. Unlike Katrina and Ivan refugees, we have an open kitchen and can make snack runs at any hour of the night. Some of us have pledged not to leave the south without a trip to Waffle House, which seems to appear along side the road about every 1/2-mile. Stay tuned for more details.


What is natural about it?

I just finished cooking burritos and fajitas for 50. Cooking for large groups of people is a skill I have to offer these movers and shakers. Sometimes I am struck silent by the talents for organizing and mobilizing and analyzing and theorizing and explicating and remembering statistics of the others on this trip and figure one thing I have to offer is cooking for them, providing a healthy meal.

And I can offer my feelings. I’ll jot a few down.

I remember over Thanksgiving in New York, my father paid the full, suggested donation at the Natural History Museum and the total tab was a hefty $80 dollars for four of us. I said to him, “Papa, I don’t want you to pay that much! We don’t need to pay that much.” He gently asked me whether or not I felt it is our duty to pay the full amount for others who cannot. His response to me was simple and profound. This set me thinking….

It is, of course, socialism on a basic level. I love my Papa for so many reasons, one of them being this gentle reminder that what we do with our money matters.

We are on this trip to explore the ramifications of this natural disaster, but the more questions I ask and the more answers I receive, the more it becomes obvious that there is more to this disaster than just the hurricane. The disaster already existed before the storm hit and before the levees broke. The disaster is and has been deeply rooted in the blatant and systematic oppression of the poor, the working class. This disaster doesn’t exist only along the Gulf Coast, but all across this country. Lack of affordable housing, lack of legislation calling for a living wage, lack of adequate health care, lack of laws which protect all people, lack of politics which truly represent the people—these are the disasters, this is THE disaster. What is natural about it?

As someone who wants to be in ministry committed to social justice on local and national levels, I am immersed in this experience and wondering why faith communities want only to respond to a disaster like Katrina or Ivan or Rita, when the disaster of millions of people in our country are devastated all the time, every single day. How can we get our communities of faith to situate their ministries in ending the systems that oppress poor people, rather than cleaning up the death oppression delivers?

What does it mean to have no home? What does it mean to be without a home? What does it mean to be home-less? These problems we are exploring are so big. They are so huge and where do I enter in? Where will I find my work within this movement? Do I focus on health care, welfare, prison reform, environmental racism, policy writing, advocacy for voting rights, teaching, childcare, youth work, domestic violence, affordable housing, chaplaincy, where? I am so small. And while I feel small, I also feel important. It is important to ask these questions. And it was important to make that meal.

I head to bed wondering how I live a life committed to doing this work. And another prayer…

Tallu Schuyler, Union Theological Seminary


Day 4 - Texts for Reflection

The Unanimous Declaration of the thirteen United States of America

When in the Course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security. — Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States.


Isaiah 61:1-9

1 The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me,
because the LORD has anointed me;
he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed;
to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to captives
and release to the prisoners;
2 to proclaim the year of the LORD’S favor,
and the day of vengeance of our God;
to comfort all who mourn;
3 to provide for those who mourn in Zion –
to give them a garland instead of ashes,
the oil of gladness instead of mourning,
the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
the planting of the LORD, to display his glory.
4 They shall build up the ancient ruins,
they shall raise up the former devastations;
they shall repair the ruined cities,
the devastations of many generations.

5 Strangers shall stand and feed your flocks,
foreigners shall till your land and dress your vines;
6 but you shall be called priests of the LORD;
you shall be named ministers of our God;
you shall enjoy the wealth of the nations,
and in their riches you shall glory.
7 Because their shame was double,
and dishonor was proclaimed as their lot,
therefore they shall possess a double portion;
everlasting joy shall be theirs.

8 For I, the LORD, love justice,
I hate robbery and wrongdoing;
I will faithfully give them their recompense
And I will make an everlasting covenant with them.

9 Their descendants shall be known among the nations,
and their offspring among the peoples;
all who see them shall acknowledge
that they are a people whom the Lord has blessed.



Reflections from Rissa Obcemea

Sunday involved the opportunity to attend several spiritual opportunities. The beginning of the day involved a reflection of a passage from Isaiah and a discussion of how the themes of “call to crisis” applies to social work. Following that, we were able to meet with the pastor of the church that we were staying at. He was a very interesting individual, who not only was generous enough to extend us the hospitality of his parish hall, but spoke with the social workers on a very down to earth level. I was really interested in his theories of faith and fractal theory. It was refreshing to find the integration of faith and science, since those two concepts are often pitted against each other. He also had a multi-systemic view of faith and believed that the church should be more centered on the community rather than just individual faith. On a secular level, it seems like a very strong approach because it takes advantage of people’s natural desires for involvement and societal relationships. I also appreciated his desire to have a multi-cultural congregation and focus on welcoming outsiders, as I think that is necessary to gain and retain membership in all denominations of churchers.
Afterwards, I chose to attend the Baptist worship service at Ebenezer Church first, because I had never attended a service from my Catholic raised background, and second, because of the historical significance of the church itself. The reverend’s discussion of race and the culture of poverty proved very important and it was interesting to hear his perspective about class differences among African-Americans as yet another problem in the fight against racism and poverty. In light of previous discussions about class conflicts, it is necessary to synthesize on how lower class whites, and recent use of immigrant day labor has become a detriment in the movement for racial and economic equality.
Rissa Obcemea


Reflection from Sara Suman

“Vocation to Crisis”

We began our first full day in the South reflecting on Martin Luther King Jr.’s speech, “The Trumpet of Conscience,” where he takes a public stand against the Vietnam War. Shortly after we caravanned to Ebeneezer Baptist Church for an 11:00 service. The Martin Luther King Sr. gospel choir sang a song based on King’s Dream speech, “Oh Lord, where would we be without this dream?” Well, here we are. As a country we have arrived at where we would be with out the dream. We are a nation without dreams. Was it Malcolm X that said we are “sleepwalking through history.” We’re sleeping and walking but we are not dreaming and we are not making any progress. I would venture to say we’re in the midst of a nightmare, a crisis. Iraq, what do we even call that now, intervention, occupation, war, absurdity?

Preparing us for what we will see when we get to the Hurricane affected areas, a Vietnam Vet told us that the devastation is worse than anything he saw in war. We met a social work student from Georgia State yesterday at the Georgia Free Radio station presentation. We’ve both worked in inner city middle schools where the rates of asthma are astronomically high due to poor air quality. How is this not a nightmare, a crisis? The question is, what is our call, our vocation in the midst of such crisis? I am inspired by King’s call to non-violent civil disobedience. In times of crisis we have to act. In another speech King uses the analogy of an ambulance. To maintain social order we normally obey traffic lights but in an emergency an ambulance must go through red lights to attend to a crisis. Right now we have a lot of red lights to speed through to address the crises of our time: militarism and war, racism, poverty and consumerism. Last year I protested the war in Iraq with an action at the Federal Building in Los Angeles. Lives are still being lost senselessly, the call to crisis remains. Sara Suman


Synopsis of Day 2

Our first encounter today with the wide disparities of the South was neither racial nor economic, but explicitly meteorological. We woke to chilly 27 degree weather but were appreciative of both the hot coffee and delicately prepared eggs of J. Ro. Ten percent of the group had the privilege of showering before we reconvened for textual reflection led by Steed.

We read and discussed Isaiah 6 and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Trumpet of Conscience (1967) within the context of the theme of vocation to crisis. Through these texts we reflected on the political situations of ancient Israel and 1960’s America and connections to our own work. Toward the end of our discussion, we had the pleasure of meeting Reverend Doctor Paul Elliot, our gracious host and the rector of St. Michael’s Episcopal Church. Paul moved to Georgia with his wife, Beverly, from Queensland, Australia six years ago and obtained his PhD in religion and psychology from Emory University. He shared with us his integration of experience with pastoral psychotherapy, fractal theory, and community building, as they relate to his current work.

As the temperature rose to a balmy 60 degrees, we loaded into our three mini vans and departed for a church that stands as a shining monument of America’s fight toward justice, love, and equality. At 11:00a.m., we entered the grand doorways of the Ebenezer Baptist Church in downtown Atlanta, where Union Theological Seminary alumnus, Reverend Raphael Warnock, delivered a sermon entitled, “Never Forgetting Your First Love.” His message emphasized following the big “G” God versus the small “g” gods. He described the big “G” God as a God who is zealous for us. Zealous, so that we have lives that are full, have love, kindness, and liberation from the small gods that often enslave us. The small “g” gods are the things that we obsess upon: money, power, hatred, resentment, and pride. Following the sermon, Reverend Warnock took the time to speak with our group and answer our questions regarding his impressions of the impact of Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath.

At this point in the day, the group segmented and pursued a few different experiences.
A small group joined the Reverend touring the original Ebenezer Baptist Church where both Dr. Martin Luther King’s father and maternal grandfather were pastors.

Some students visited the Visitor Center, which documents Dr. King’s work chronologically, including video footage, audio tapes of his speeches, and artifacts from throughout his life. The exhibits focus on some of the most important aspects of Dr. King’s work, such as his fight to secure voting rights, his struggles with desegregation, his campaign to serve the poor, and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference that he founded. Students found that the visit was challenging to process due to the powerful nature of the content.

A handful of students accepted Reverend Warnock’s invitation to enjoy soul food at Paschal’s, an Atlanta restaurant that has been in existence for over 58 years. The hotel has historical importance, as part of the civil rights movement when children were arrested and jailed for protesting. Parents frequently waited for their children, were fed, advised, and supported at Paschal’s. The students thoroughly enjoyed the meal and were hugely grateful that the Reverend took time to talk with them more about his experience and perspective on the world.

Others ate lunch at restaurants in downtown Atlanta or skipped lunch for the opportunity to attend a church service at the Open Door Center, an intentional community of street people. The congregation included some of the people who live at the shelter, some homeless people who attend services from the streets, and other local community members. The sermon emphasized nurturing and maintaining connections with people, particularly loved ones and extended family members. Furthermore, students were struck by the emphasis on radical social change and the call for increased interconnectedness.

In addition, many of the students were thrilled to learn that the Steelers won the AFC Wildcard playoff game.

Vans returned to St. Michael’s Episcopal Church later in the evening and group members sipped wine with Paul and his wife, Bev before enjoying a meal of homemade chili, cornbread, salad, and cupcakes.

Group members spent the remainder of the night cleaning up, playing games, resting, talking, journaling, showering, and preparing for bed.

Yet another incredible day.



Jan Rehmann - Atlanta Day 1

It was encouraging for me to hear the stories of the Radio Free Georgia folks who succeeded in renting a large old school building for $1 a year for 12 years and then to purchase it at an affordable price. They were able to transform this building into a vibrant community center. What fascinated me the most was the organic connection between local rootedness and global perspectives: they consider themselves as local organizers of the World Social Forum trying to make sure that the poor people themselves become a leading factor in the movement (instead of professional NGOs).

It was a funny experience for me to be unexpectedly pushed as well as drawn into a radio interview together with Hannah Hofheinz. After some hesitations, a lively discussion unfolded as if there were no microphones standing around.

When we left for visiting the shelters, Liz Theoharis and Willi Baptist gave as an ad hoc presentation about the unholy alliance between the shelter system and the day labor system that became a crucial factor during and after the Olympics: when the shelters close early in the morning and everyone has to get out, the vans are already waiting to take the laborers to the pooling places, racially segregated.

Jan Rehmann


John Robertson - Atlanta Day 1

Jan and I went to get coffee at the airport and we weren't paying attention. They left us. We were abandoned in Atlanta. -- so after a few moments of reorganization, we shifted poor plan to take the MARTA, Atlanta's underground. There right beyond the baggage claim there was the MARTA entrance. A very helpful motherly ticket agent helped us pay our $1.75 and enter the system. Getting on the train was just like getting on any city's mass transit at the airport, a mass of bags and confused people. On the train a well dressed white woman asked Jan and I for directions, the blind leading the blind. There were many obvious Atlantans on the train but they were not well dressed White people. It was one of those moments, and so predictable. I asked a young African American man a question. He took his head phones off and gave me the information I needed.

I ride the NYC subway all the time. What struck me about MARTA at noon on Saturday was how poor the people were. Whether teens or mothers with children or men or women, everyone looked tattered and drawn. Life looked like it was very hard. We transferred trains. There were maybe 150 people on the platform. Everyone was poor. I asked people about this. They told me that in Atlanta you need a car. Only those who can not afford a car can use MARTA on Saturday. A picture of America: Very poor people left alone in a system while everyone else whizzes by in their car

John Robertson


Dr. Judy - Atlanta Day 1

Stress at the airport revealed metaphors and microcosm of our trip mission. My United flight was 5 hours delayed, causing me to be rebuked but my luggage was not and tons did not arrive with me. Baggage agents in Atlanta told me the airline would charge me to deliver which I protested as it was their fault and mistake. The agent was defensive until I showed her my destination -- to the church -- and the event mission -- visiting the homeless shelters. She was looking at our outline, headed "Race, Poverty and Class" and her attitude immediately changed, saying "I felt different knowing you're going to help the homeless -- becoming more proactive telling supervisors that they should help resolve this because I've been inconvenienced for 6 hours and no luggage. I felt appreciative but also reflected how the energy changed. Once, I assume, I changed from being some New York City fancy Lady to someone concerned about the issues of race & homelessness, it was obvious. How, indeed, we form belief systems and reactions to people based on our own belief systems or attitudes.

Another realization from my stressful trip regards power. My conclusion up front is that American Society is becoming like a third would country where people are affraid to make decisions and to stick to strict rules. The result: Customer service and people orientation, and at times humanity, are sacrificed for fear and finances. That means the agent would not send my baggage to the church without charge -- not because she didn't want to but because she'd get in trouble if she did. "If I approve that, it's an expense and the airport departments compete to have the lowest expenses."

Skipping ahead in the day, my hear was pained over visits to the homeless shelters today and the contrast. The Carpenter's House was like a 2-star hotel -- where the men are getting off drugs and alcohol and getting back to work. The Homeless Task Force center was a big dank warehouse packed with men like a meat - dirty and unkempt. Interestingly as the group of 50 of us walked through on a guided tour as of the 'freak museum' many men said "hello" and "welcome" - in efforts to humanize the situation. This was a relief.

Most distressing was the room of women, lined in rows. About 60 women sleep on the chairs we were told by our guide, as the women blankly stared in their tattered clothes and messy hair. "Some are addicts and prostitutes," he told us - as I stared around the room of haggard, tootles faces.

"Can they choose to get work and to get thier life together?" students said to each other.


Atlanta Day 1 - Schedule

January 7, 2006 - Day 1

We had a very good and a very busy day!!

6:30 - Everyone arrived at the airport

8:00AM - Plane departed

10:20 - The group's flight arrived in Atlanta without difficulty or delay.

11:20 - Everyone boarded the group's vans and packed the luggage truck and we headed out from the Atlanta Airport.

12:20-4:00 - We ate a delicious and very needed lunch at WRFG - Radio Free Georgia followed by a panel discussion exploring the community center's neighborhood's history, the radio station's history, its mission and programs and their paricipation and organizing work with the World Social Forum and the planning of the Regional Social Forum scheduled for 2007. The visit summed up with a number of students being interviewed and taped for the WRFG's programming.

4:30 - 7:45 - Visited and toured two contrasting shelters - one faith-based rehabilitation program and one city community center.

8:45-10:00 - Dinner and Reflection



January 6, 2006

The experience begins.

A multidisciplinary group of students, scholars and community groups will depart this Saturday morning to begin to work to make the invisible sights of the hurricane's reality visible and the unheard voices heard. We will be listening, working, worshipping and studying with poor people's organizations, community groups, hurricane relief efforts, churches, and - most importantly - those who have experienced and are largely still experiencing the realities of the devastation of Hurricane Katrina. This blog will be updated daily from this point forward with reflections, survivor stories, student experiences and textual reflections.



Today's pre-travel passages are Isaiah 6:1-13 and "The Trumpet of Conscience" by Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.


Isaiah 6:1-13

1 In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the LORD sitting on a throne, high and lofty; and the hem of his robe filled the temple. 2 Seraphs were in attendance above him; each had six wings: with two they covered their faces, and with two they covered their feet, and with two they flew. 3 And one called to another and said:

"Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts;
the whole earth is full of his glory."

4 The pivots on the thresholds shook at the voices of those who called, and the house filled with smoke. 5 And I said: "Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!"

6 Then one of the seraphs flew to me, holding a live coal that had been taken from the altar with a pair of tongs. 7 The seraph touched my mouth with it and said: "Now that this has touched your lips, your guilt has departed and your sin is blotted out." 8 Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, "Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?" And I said, "Here am I; send me!" 9 And he said, "Go and say to this people:

‘Keep listening, but do not comprehend;
keep looking, but do not understand.'
10 Make the mind of this people dull,
and stop their ears,
and shut their eyes,
so that they may not look with their eyes,
and listen with their ears,
and comprehend with their minds,
and turn and be healed."
11 Then I said, "How long, O Lord?" And he said:
"Until cities lie waste
without inhabitant,
and houses without people,
and the land is utterly desolate;
12 until the LORD sends everyone far away,
and vast is the emptiness in the midst of the land.
13 Even if a tenth part remain in it,
it will be burned again,
like a terebinth or an oak
whose stump remains standing
when it is felled."
The holy seed is its stump.


The Trumpet of Conscience

Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

It is many months now since I found myself obliged by conscience to end my silence and to take a public stand against my country's war in Vietnam. The considerations which led me to that painful decision have not disappeared; indeed, they have been magnified by the course of events since then. The war itself is intensified; the impact on my country is even more destructive. I cannot speak about the great themes of violence and non-violence, of social change and of hope for the future, without reflecting on the tremendous violence of Vietnam.

Since the Spring of 1967, when I first made public my opposition to my government's policy, many persons have questioned me about the wisdom of my decision. "Why you?" they have said. "Peace and civil rights don't mix. Aren't you hurting the cause of your people?" And when I hear such questions, I have been greatly saddened, for they mean that the inquirers have never really known me, my commitment, or my calling. Indeed, that question suggests that they do not know the world in which they live.

In explaining my position, I have tried to make it clear that I remain perplexed - as I think everyone must be - by the complexities and ambiguities of Vietnam. I would not wish to underrate the need for a collective solution to this tragic war. I would wish neither to present North Vietnam or the National Liberation Front as paragons of virtue nor to overlook the role they can play in the successful resolution of the problem. While they both may have justifiable reasons to be suspicious of the good faith of the United States, life and history give eloquent testimony to the fact that conflicts are never resolved without trustful give-and-take on both sides. Since I am a preacher by calling, I suppose it is not surprising that I had several reasons for bringing Vietnam into the field of my moral vision. There is at the outset a very obvious and almost facile connection between the war in Vietnam and the struggle I and others have been waging in America.

A few years ago there was a shining moment in that struggle. It seemed as if there was a real promise of hope for the poor, both black and white, through the poverty program. There were experiments, hopes, new beginnings. Then came the buildup in Vietnam, and I watched the program broken and eviscerated as if it were some idle political plaything of a society gone mad on war, and I knew that America would never invest the necessary funds or energies in rehabilitation of its poor so long as adventures like Vietnam continued to draw men and skills and money like some demoniacal destructive suction tube. And so I was increasingly compelled to see the war not only as a moral outrage but also as an enemy of the poor, and to attack it as such.

Perhaps a more tragic recognition of reality took place when it became clear to me that the war was doing far more than devastating the hopes of the poor at home. It was sending their sons and their brothers and their husbands to fight and die in extraordinarily higher proportions relative to the rest of the population. We were taking the Black young men who had been crippled by our society and sending them eight thousand miles away to guarantee liberties in Southeast Asia which they had not found in southwest Georgia and east Harlem. And so we have been repeatedly faced with the cruel irony of watching Negro and white boys on the TV screen as they kill and die together for a nation that has been unable to seat them together in the same schools. We watch them in brutal solidarity burning the huts of a poor village, but we realize that they would never live on the same block in Detroit. I could not be silent in the face of such cruel manipulation of the poor.

My third reason moves to even deeper level of awareness, but it grows out of my experience in the ghettos of the North over the last three years - especially the last three summers. As I walked among the desperate, rejected, angry young men, I have told them that Molotov cocktails and rifles would not solve their problems. I have tried to offer them my deepest compassion, while maintaining my conviction that social change comes most meaningfully through nonviolent action. But, they asked, and rightly so, what about Vietnam? They asked if our own nation wasn't using massive doses of violence to solve its problems, to bring about the changes it wanted. Their questions hit home, and I knew that I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without first having spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today: my own government. For the sake of those boys, for the sake of this government, for the sake of the hundreds of thousands trembling under our violence, I cannot be silent. For those who ask the question, "Aren't you a civil rights leader?"-and thereby mean to exclude me from the movement for peace-I answer that I have worked too long and hard now against segregated accommodations to end up segregating my moral concern. Justice is indivisible. It must also be said that it would be rather absurd to work passionately and unrelentingly for integrated schools and not be concerned with the survival of a world in which to be integrated.

To me the relationship of this (Christian) ministry to the making of peace is so obvious that I sometimes marvel at those who ask me why I am speaking against the war. We (clergy) are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for the victims of our nation, and for those it calls enemy, for no document from human hands can make these humans any less our brothers.

Delivered as a Steeler Lecture, November 1967




Counting it down: We will be there soon. Happy Holidays!

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