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

It's interesting — one of the pervasive reactions to the aftermath of Katrina was that New Orleans and the other areas affected "looked like a third world nation" and that it was unbelievable that this was happening in the U.S. — initially, at least, Americans' reaction was to think of the hurrican survivors as "us" rather than as "them."

I think that it is always a challenge to keep peoples' awareness focused on issues like poverty and inequality and social justice, once a catastrophic event like Katrina is pushed off the front pages. It is all too easy to look away from the entrenched problems that contributed to the situation, whether it is because you are unwilling to see them, or because they are so big that it is hard to imagine your own actions making an appreciable difference.

It is one thing to look at a situation from the comfort of one's living room and think "something should be done" and another thing altogether to actually get up and do something. I think it is exceptional and admirable, not only that you have done something, but that you are also committed to finding a way to continue to do something in the cause of social justice. It is so much more that most people do, myself included.
I am glad to have found your comments on poverty and race and ethics, and of course, Katrina. When I attended Union, it was the homeless, former mental patients many figured, who hurled us into the streets in solidarity and confused our otherwise normal lives and hopes and expectations. Last year, after finding myself in Schenectady NY, I had jury duty. The rich poor us them dichotomies exist here pronouncedly. And there are few meeting grounds where they interact. One would expect though, in a city that is 40% non white, a jury pool would reflect those stats. The young black make accused sat centered in a room that held about 200 people, including staff members, cops, court officials and prospective jurors, one of whom was a light skinned Afro American. One of 200. 40% would have elicited in random sampling 80 of 200. I tried to rouse some interest, some notice, but the case had to do with drugs and they are the cause that just leaves many cold. Once we begin to see, there is so much to see, and the task of restoring some balance seems so difficult to grasp. We do our one thing, our one small thing is a vacuum often. I hope you will continue this blog. Many of us cannot afford to be the us who throw money, but we have enormous vision as to the depth of the problems.
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