Jim Wallis. (November, 2005). “What the Waters Revealed” Sojourners Magazine, pp. 8-11, 14-17.
In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, and then Hurricane Rita, Americans had their eyes opened through the images on TV, and the stories in the newspapers, on the horrible living conditions that many American citizens had prior to, and after, these hurricanes hit the Gulf Coast, specifically New Orleans. Jim Wallis emphatically stated that, “sometimes it takes a natural disaster to expose a social disaster” and this couldn’t be closer to the truth. What the floodwaters did reveal was that in New Orleans, and the GulfCoast in general, poverty in the United States is still connected to race. The city of New Orleans had an overall poverty rating of 28 percent with 84 percent of those people being African-American. Further, studies showed that over half of all the children of New Orleans live below the poverty line as well. Wallis, and others, hope that these hurricanes will ignite conversation, and political and social change so that the almost one-third of the U.S. population who live below the poverty line will no longer be “invisible.”
By paralleling these hurricanes to the tragic floods of Johnstown, PA in 1889 and the floods of New Orleans in 1927, Wallis’ goal was to show the political and social change that can come when citizens realize the destitute conditions in which their fellow Americans live. Wallis quoted John Barry (author of Rising Tide: The Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 and How It Changed America) who said that “Hurricanes come in two waves. First comes the rainstorm, and then comes the human storm.” Barry said that natural disasters often “expose the underlying power structures, the injustices, the patterns of corruption, and the unacknowledged inequalities. When you look back over the meteorological turbulence in this nation’s history, it’s striking how often political turbulence followed.” This political turbulence, Wallis hopes, will help Liberals and Conservatives have a united “strategy” to make poverty a “priority.” It is time for America to move from “the politics of blame to a politics of solutions” so that our brothers and sisters around the country have a “common commitment to the good” from an “effective government.” When these issues of poverty and racial injustice get addressed, then there will be hope of using these natural disasters as “teaching moments” that can bring redemption.
Questions for Reflection and Discussion
- What other national/historical events showed the connection of racism with injustice?
- How are the inequalities in education, jobs, health care and housing connected with the aftermath of the hurricanes?
- How are the problems like a lack of infrastructure (levees, for example) and global warming tied to natural disasters like hurricanes?
- Why are the elderly, children and the poor always the most affected by these events?
- Contact your denominational headquarters and find out what your church or youth group can do to partner with a church or youth group in the GulfCoast region to help them rebuild and to tackle these issues associated with racial injustice and poverty.
- Do an Internet search to determine your State Representative or Senator‘s views on issues connected with justice and reconciliation. Then write them a letter or call their office and encourage them to take a stronger stand on poverty in America.
- Go on a short-term service trip for a week, or encourage your students to do an eight week internship, with Voice of Calvary Ministries in Jackson, MS. This organization was started by the committed Christian, Dr. John Perkins, and students will learn about issues like racial reconciliation, redistribution of goods and relocation to the city.
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