This morning while perusing my newsfeed and Facebook feed I came across a message from a neighbor who got flooded out. My community is a very Conservative area, Kingwood, in Houston. She was expressing an ire towards FEMA and implicitly the government. I felt compelled to respond and use her complaint to make some important points.
My neighbor came across the article titled "Homeowners May Lose Potential Federal Grant Aid After Applying For Disaster Loans, " and it justifiably enraged here. She wrote the following in a Facebook post.
It's hard to keep a positive attitude when it seems almost every morning you get kicked in the gut with this kind of news. We are the definition of "damned if you do, damned if you don't." The overwhelming sentiment of my friends and neighbors is that this flood will set them back 10...15 years. Some might have to declare bankruptcy... a few will walk away entirely... leaving our neighborhood with homes literally boarded up and abandoned. For us, we will be cashing in most of our assets (assessing 1000s in penalties) and depleting every ounce of our savings - and we are the lucky ones. We don't have time to wait for FEMA or our "Disaster Relief Loan"... looks like it's not worth waiting for anyway. #FUHarvey
Hurricane Harvey will hurt many. What is worse is that most people in our area do not have flood insurance which will make life that much more challenging. I have never lived in the defined floodplain in Houston, but have always purchased flood insurance. I've never had to use it, but this time it was very close. I had to think twice about my response. I could have gone into personal responsibility and government dependency, many here hate the government. But, I needed to frame the message in a manner I hope was digestible, and that would use the Harvey Hurricane disaster to change minds. Just maybe somebody reading it would help move us towards more progressive policies that help us all.
Here is how I replied to my Conservative neighbor.
First of all, I am so sorry for what this storm has done to all of my neighbors here in Kingwood. I empathize with what you are going through. I am sorry for all of what Texas, Florida, and many other states are going through and will go through with these storms that are and will continue to batter us. I am trying to do my part to help out my friends and neighbors. In fact, I have a flooded out family that has moved in with us.
As bad as it is in Kingwood, it is worse in many underserved communities in Houston. I visited a few and have been thankful to see the help individuals and organizations like Indivisible Houston and Black Lives Matter: Houston has been doing to help gut homes from people who have nothing, no insurance, no hope, and no media coverage to leverage all the help coming into the city.
I thought many times before saying this. But I believe it is the right time. I believe it is in these times that many who are not able to be empathetic mostly because of our corrosive dialogue in the country, can replenish that virtue.
We, America, are all a community. Bad things happen. For many in Kingwood and throughout Houston it is a flood that will bankrupt many. As the author of this post said, it will deplete the savings of many. Just by the luck of the draw, many people's lives will be forever changed for the worse.
We have a society. It should not be so. Maybe all of us or none of us are responsible for some of these natural disasters. The same can be said for many disasters that afflict many of our fellow Americans, sometimes disasters we choose not to consider as such because it does not affect us, the lack of access to health care, poverty, the lack of access to good education, a polluted community that relegates its inhabitants to a life with cancer (our neighbors in Pasadena & Baytown).
Just like many are angry for what they will lose, whether already realized or not, from these storms, note that this is the existence of many. And most of the people under stress in our country are not in that condition because they are bad, worthless, or less deserving. They are in bad conditions because of the luck of the draw. My positive outcome from the disaster that was Harvey was the luck of the draw. My friends and neighbors who got flooded, many, the luck of the draw.
We should want a society that mitigates these events, not only floods, natural disasters, etc. but one that prevents or attenuates disasters that we do not always see as such.
Many in the private sector profit from all these disasters that afflict us. Building in floodplains, building on the coasts, keeping segments of our society locked up, keeping segments of our society poor to ensure there is always a pool of cheap workers, and so on. Ironically, we ask government every time to clean up the messes created or instigated by many profiteers in the private sector while in every other instance we are urged to demean, belittle, or destroy government.
These issues are all intertwined. If we saw it as we should, we would learn how to vote in a good government, and we would design a real economy that works for us all. We would have a plan that ensures disasters of every kind in our country do not leave anyone unwhole. Our current government and economic system are human-made, it can be human fixed. Let's all work on this going forward.
Do you think I made the point succinctly enough? What would you say differently? Do you agree? I think we should use events when possible, in real time, to make our message relevant on a personal level.
Also published on Medium.