I borrow that immortal title from Emile Zola, who wrote the accusation in a newspaper article against the French military and political establishment in 1898. The public debate aroused by Zola’s newspaper article eventually led to the exoneration of Alfred Dreyfus, an innocent military officer wrongly accused and court-martialed because he was Jewish.
It is time to look coldly at the political reality in the United States of America, and make some objective judgements. I was appalled by what Hurricane Katrina revealed about our nation’s lack of political will to assist largely poor and black regions. I was disgusted by the apathy and willingness to tolerate the poor response and the totally unacceptable statements by people such as Barbara Bush! I cannot believe that we don’t have rioting in the streets right now.
But what has made me most sick at heart is what Katrina revealed about New Orleans itself. I knew from a visit there on a look-see for a possible job at Tulane that New Orleans was more like a foreign country in many ways than part of the U.S. What made it so distinctive, for good and for bad was the fact that there was such a huge discrepancy between the rich and the poor. This was largely caused by long-term political corruption tolerated at all levels of government, we are now told. There was a lot of money siphoned off from welfare projects that never got to recipients, I guess, and lots of tolerated crime that took more off the working poor, too. The media makes it sound as though New Orleans was a unique example.
I am here to tell you that it is not. It was certainly the most extreme. It was lovely and unique in lots of ways, but in this way of grinding the poor and making of their bones a bread for the wealthy to eat, it is not at all unique.
I lived in St. Louis for ten years, and it is similar, in that it is a tough town, with a lot of crime and a lot of desperate people. There are a lot of wealthy folks who left the city proper when forced busing came in for integration. They took their money, and figure that the city schools are not their problem. They figure the felons being dropped off without any job training or half-way houses when they finish prison time, are not their problem. So, if you live in the city of St. Louis, you have these gracious old houses sort of crumbling, and the desperate folks left in the poorest districts would come in the broad daylight to steal your original copper downspouts and stained glass windows right off the house while you are inside. There are lots of hard-working, honest folks in St. Louis, and lots of reasons to like the city, but this extreme disparity between the city and the county, the wealthy and the poor with hardly any middle class, is TROUBLE.
In Baltimore, they are having a problem right now with very organized thieves stealing aluminum street light poles off the streets, in broad daylight and at night, too. See the exciting story at N<span style="font-style:italic;">ew York Times, Nov. 25, 2005, Sect. A, 26, “Light Poles are Vanishing and Baltimore’s Police are Baffled” by Gary Gately (2005 WLNR 19017298). This is another American city with a crime problem where the folks with money have left the center city to its own devices. Other similar cities that spring to my mind might be Atlanta, Philadelphia, Washington, D.C. and lots of the boroughs of New York to name a few.
What do I hope to accomplish with this little essay in a little-known law librarian blog? Well, probably, I’m just spitting in the wind and need to take a chill pill. But I DREAM that I could start a debate, like Emile Zola. I HOPE that enough people would become outraged at the way our country is failing more and more people. Honest people are working their buns off and still not being able to make ends meet. They are devoting their lives to a company that casually tosses them in the ash-heap when they find they can out-source to China and make the product for peanuts. We continue to educate people for a world that is passing away and will be gone before they graduate with the huge debts we are loading onto them. And Congress has changed the bankruptcy law so they cannot shrug off their student loans without shedding a pint of blood, sweat and tears first. And all this is in aid of making the tiny percent of very wealthy people even more obscenely richer. We invade Iraq to keep people from thinking about that and to ensure oil profits for the companies most closely allied to those merchants of death.... Is this democracy or what?
Then at least let us unplug from the televisions that lull us into dreams that we might win a lottery or fame as a star on TV. Let us begin the task of thinking for ourselves. Let us throw off the spells of the lotus-eaters and take our destinies in our own hands. What kind of society do we want to have? What kind of world do we want to live in? We have more power than any people before in history to make our destinies, and we have let ourselves be lulled and confused. Wake up! Wake up! Do not go on down this path! We are all Americans together. If we let them make us fear each other, we make a very big mistake. Get out of your SUV and sit down and talk to somebody who is a little bit different from yourself. Chances are, you will find that they care about the same basic things as you do – they want their kids to be safe, to go to a decent school, and to have nice parks to play in. They want to have a job that pays enough to make ends meet. They want convenient, decently priced food stores with safe food. They want to be able to walk in their neighborhood in safety, and with their heads up, without fear or shame. This is what we all want, and should be the minimum for all Americans.
Monday, November 28, 2005