Runnin' on Empty
Today's motif from mrtl is "Travel." I just told y'all about my vacation, so I didn't have too much fresh to say on the topic. Then I saw that my friend, Hoss, had posted a fancy map showing where-all he'd been, and I liked that, so here you go:
create your own personalized map of the USA
Not too shabby, I think, as far as domestic travel goes. I am definitely within doable range of visiting all 50 states. So I shall aspire to that.
For the past week, my heart has been with those who are travelling, not by choice, but by necessity. The people displaced by Katrina. There has been discussion of what to call them. The word, "refugee" has been used often. I used it myself. To my knowledge, it meant "a person who needs refuge." And I thought it was a good word, because it brings to mind a desperate, a very serious situation, and I thought someone needs to GET that this is a desperate situation, requiring all of our efforts to help.
Then I learned that some people were offended by the use of the term. And I was puzzled by that. Then Shoshie visited and asked that people stop using it. So I went in search of its true meaning. Your basic grade school dictionaries do define it as "a person seeking refuge." However, the word, as we use it today, is from the world of international law, and it has a very specific meaning that is definitely not applicable to our Gulf Coast citizens:
Generally, a refugee is a person who has fled his/her country because of fear of persecution. The Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, adopted in Geneva in 1951, defines a "refugee" as a person who:
Owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country; or who, not having a nationality and being outside the country of his former habitual residence as a result of such events, is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to return to it.
Though the language varies somewhat, U.S. law incorporates the refugee definition contained in the Convention. Specifically, Section 101(a)(42)(A) of the U.S. Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) defines a "refugee" as:
Any person who is outside any country of such person's nationality or, in the case of a person having no nationality, is outside any country in which such person last habitually resided, and who is unable or unwilling to return to, and is unable or unwilling to avail himself or herself of the protection of, that country because of persecution or a well-founded fear of persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.
So, there you have it. By definition, a citizen of the United States of America can never be a refugee, thank God. Because, by definition, the United States of America will not persecute its citizens for their race, religion, etc. Right? We have to make sure that is true.
"Evacuees" or "displaced citizens" or any such description works just fine.
I saw on the news yesterday, when Mayor Ray Nagin was asked where the most recent evacuees to leave the Convention Center by bus, were going, he said, "I don't know. They might be going to Houston, maybe San Antonio, I don't know where they're going." Later I saw another reporter, at the Superdome, where we were told everyone had left. Turns out not everyone did. Because some of them wouldn't get on those long-awaited busses. Because when these human beings, citizens of the United States of America, asked, "But where is this bus going?" no one would give them an answer. Just get on, we don't know where you're going.
A little "Golden Rule" application would be in order here. Even a, "We're not sure where you will ultimately be taken, but first we're going to Baton Rouge (or any, true, specific place name), to get you registered, and cleaned up, and fed." In my opinion, there's been too much criticism and too little working together already, so I truly don't mean to add to that. But please, local, state, and federal leaders, have a PLAN. Even if you didn't have it before, make it now. And tell these people, these human beings just like you and me, what the plan is. They've had enough uncertainty. They need something to hold on to. If your word were something they could hold on to, that would be a wonderful thing right now. This situation is the worst of the worst. We need the best of the best, from all parties, races, genders, to come together to make short- and long-term plans, and to follow them through.
Those travellers, not refugees, but American citizens, have a right to know where they're going.
Late last night, I saw another interview with Mayor Nagin. And heard some new information, among the most horrendous stories I've heard yet from the whole disaster. He said that when people arrived at the Superdome, not all of them wanted to stay there. In fact, many of them wanted to begin walking out of town. Due to bridges being out, there was only one route out of the city. ONLY ONE WAY OUT. The mayor explained this, and told them they were free to go, to try and make their own way if they chose. He told them that by taking that one and only way, they would eventually meet up with all those busses that were on the way to rescue them. Hundreds of them went for it. Some at the front of this group turned out to be criminals. They left the city limits and they stole and destroyed property in the neighboring parish. And by the time the next wave of evacuees arrived at the city line, law enforcement from the parish met them there with machine guns drawn, and forced them back into the city. I can barely even type this now. Forced these brave travellers back into the city. Because some who came before them had been criminals. Forced them to turn back, cut them off from the only way out. Back to the Superdome. And you know what happened there.
As Mayor Nagin said, they put protection of property ahead of protection of people. They put property before people. What did they have there in that parish that was more valuable than those people's lives? I teach my child, in just these words, "People before things. Always." It doesn't matter what the things are. And it doesn't matter who the people are. People are always to come before things. Somehow those law enforcement officers, or their bosses . . . someone in that chain of command, missed that rule. People before things. Always. I think we are all going to need to keep that in mind in the months to come.
And on a somewhat lighter note: Did you hear Aaron Neville singing Louisiana 1927? Do you still mock me for loving the man? I rest my case.