Charlottesville and Harvey Reveal the Best of Humanity

The following post, written by The Rev. Robert A. Franek, is a part of Politicus Policy Discussion, in which writers draw connections between real lives and public policy.

The violence perpetuated by white supremacists and neo-Nazis in Charlottesville and the destruction of Hurricane Harvey in Houston and throughout the Gulf Coast region gave opportunity for the best of humanity to shine in response to each of these devastating events.

The country stood in solidarity against the hate, bigotry, and violence that erupted in Charlottesville and condemned unequivocally all expressions of racial prejudice and white supremacy. But unfortunately, the marches and rallies, even CEOs abandoning President Donald Trump’s business councils do not make the racism and white supremacy inscribed in our nation’s history, culture, and statute go away.

Throughout the storm as the rains continued to fall day after day in unprecedented volume, the country stood with Texas. People came together across all divides to help one another in life-saving recovery from flooded homes. Now, people from across town and across the country are beginning to meet up to share in the work of cleaning out homes that were submerged in the flood. Gratitude for life and love, compassion and hope covers the exhaustion and grief, anxiety and sadness.

Disasters have a way of erasing all markers of division and bringing people together revealing the best of our shared humanity. Strangers are helping strangers without question and little introduction. Saving lives is all that matters. Getting people to safety is the unifying concern. Around this common goal people mobilize and give their all to help their neighbor, whoever that may be. It is this collective spirit of cooperation and reaching out a literal life-saving hand that needs to be translated from a search-and-rescue mission amid a great flood to the policy work on the House and the Senate floor.

These two events have raised many policy concerns to what seems to be a tipping point as Confederate statues are being toppled over and the need to face the ever-increasing severity of storms is on the rise.  We cannot miss this moment in history to do what is right. It is incumbent upon each one of us to use this opportunity to reframe old debates in light of new realities.

Confederate statues erected in a Jim Crow era as monuments to slavery and treason with the goal being an undisputable statement of white supremacy must come down. But this is only a single step of many in moving forward towards a more inclusive and just society. Another crucial step is addressing the systems and structures that are plagued with racial inequality. The criminal justice and immigration systems are undeniably broken and replete with racial prejudice. Vote suppression, redlining, and wage inequality are ripe for reforms. As we continue to protest these injustices and those who perpetuate the subjugation of people, we must work to turn our prayers into policies that benefit the common good of all people. We cannot let our lawmakers tweet one day that they condemn racism and white supremacy while they fail to address its systemic and structural manifestations.

Following Hurricane Harvey and knowing that no amount of foresight and planning could have mitigated entirely against its destructive deluge, can we admit that there are good reasons for regulations in city planning and knowing about the quantity and make up of combustible chemicals? Can we admit that we are seeing the effects of global warming and stop pretending it’s debatable? Can we admit in budget planning that we can’t fight hurricanes and floods with war machines? Can we admit that funds for FEMA, the CDC, and EPA are just as vital to our national security as defense spending, if not more so?

From Charlottesville to Houston and beyond our country is coming to grips in being honest about the prejudice of our past that continues to infect the present while also rising to a new accord of unity and greater inclusivity.

Perhaps while the walls of our daily divisions and debates are down and as we unite in solidarity across every divide with the people of Texas in offering signs of compassion and hope with our prayers, generous giving (especially of money which is needed the most right now), and advocacy for smart rebuilding, we can also work for legislation that has the best interests of our neighbor in mind, especially those vulnerable ones reaching out for rescue from unjust policy and prejudice whether we know them or not. In this way we will continue to shine as beacons of hope and light.