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Monday, September 05, 2005

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.

26 heads are better than one . . .

Blogger Andrea said...

FIRST! Don't know if I've ever been first here, not for a long time anyway.

It's been a long week. For us. For them. I can't imagine going from one uncertainty to another. No wonder they don't want to get on the bus. I'm sure they are thinking to themselves, "The devil you know is better than the devil you don't know."

Is it ever going to end??

Blogger JessicaRabbit said...

Wait, we were mocking you and I missed it?

Well this sure isnt the right post for it.

Sigh, fine. I can bide my time and be serious and hopefully for all the people who have escaped that horrible mess and hope they all find their loved ones.

But someday, you'll post something silly, and mock you I will Miss Susie, this I vow.

Blogger mrtl said...

I am truly ashamed of our country.

Blogger Susie said...

andrea the first, I thought exactly the same thing about "the devil..." We have to be more sensitive to dignity. It is going to end, but not for a very long time. My friends told me some things I can't even write here, too gruesome. They probably aren't talking about what happened in those schools because they may hope to use those schools again, and well... A lot of the people left behind were drug addicts; or maybe it's more accurate to say, most of the city's drug addicts were left behind. So now we've dumped thousands of addicts into other cities, and I haven't heard of one city in our nation that has adequate drug treatment for its own, much less for a sudden influx of evacuees. Somebody needs to step up, to start working on these problems honestly. So, I don't know where it ends. As my friend said, life will never be the same. For any of us. We have to respond.

jess, your self-control is touching, and frankly, shocking!

mrtl, we'll do better. We will, now.

Blogger RitaPita said...

preash it susie!

this was a great post and i really enjoyed it, even though the subject matter is so freaking depressing.

not many bloggers have been able to get a handle on this with as much grace.

we can only hope it will gt better. it can't get much worse.. right?

Blogger RitaPita said...

eh, that was supposed to be preach it.

preash.. preach with a lisp.

Blogger Susie said...

ritapita, now how did you know I lisp when I preash? ;) I do, I really do.

dr. bucky, did you perform a blog-lift?

Blogger Squirl said...

I've been sitting here trying to think what to say. Florida gets hit by hurricanes and we hear about for a week or so, and it IS horrible for the residents, I don't want to take anything away from that.

But this one is so different. In Florida whole cities don't end up totally submerged in water. The water comes in, the water goes out. People don't have to leave the state. But New Orleans, so different, so terrible, so sad. I just don't even have words for what those folks must be going through. Thanks for your continuing coverage, Susie.

Blogger Nina said...

I went back and changed where I had used the word "refugee" and replaced it with displaced residents and evacutees. Because well you know what it made sense these people are not "refugees" but American Citizens.
My heart is with them as well those forced to travel, not by choice but by need.
It has been a rough week ~ all I could think of is we have to have HOPE, FAITH, and LOVE ~ it is the only way we can get through this. The only way we can get the victims of Katrina through this.

Blogger dashababy said...

It truly is a sad state of affairs. I can hardly believe what my eyes are seeing here in our country. I always believed that people pull together in times of crisis to help each other and I still want to believe that. But what Ive seen so far makes me lose faith in the human race a little. The looters and people that caused more pain and destruction, I just dont understand. To kick someone when they are already down or need a hand, is unforgivable.

Blogger OldHorsetailSnake said...

Yes, some bad stuff going on.

(Look how far Louisiana is from Oregon. But we are going to get a thousand or more evacuees starting Wednesday. Good for us.)

Blogger Susie said...

squirl, yea, I must admit to being obsessed. Partly because of my friends, partly because I love that city, and then just because that's how I am about such things. I just keep thinking there's something for me to DO. I've given money; I don't see a way to GO there right now. If evacuees end up near here, I'll definitely go to help. I'm still trying to discern what I'm supposed to be doing.

nina, faith, hope and love. That's pretty much what's needed, everything else will come from those three. I am glad Shoshie got me thinking about that word. On the one hand, "refugee" does point out the seriousness of the situation, but I think on a less-conscious level, it distances "us" from "them," you know? And they're not distant. They are us.

hoss, I still need to visit you, as you can see on my map. And I do have your address now. Do they have stalking laws there?
The whole shipping of the evacuees is such a bizarre thing. On the one hand, it is so right, and good and generous for all these far-away states to extend an invitation. On the other hand, I wish they could all go to nearby places. It just seems to me that if you loved NO, then Cape Cod, or wherever, would be like moving to the moon. I pray for the evacuees and for those places and people that are welcoming them. HUGE adjustment for everyone concerned.

Blogger eclectic said...

How to heal the wounds gashed open by Katrina? There don't seem to be enough sutures to do the job. My neighbor and close friend has just been sent with his helicopter forest-fire fighting crew to spend the next 3 weeks retrieving bodies in N'awlin. His fiancee' tells us that in just 24 hours he's been reduced to a quivering mass of grief just being there. And he has a way out, and a home to return to. My heart just aches, and aches, and aches.

Blogger _Summer_ said...

Susie, I've taken a small comfort in the fact that you don't know what you should be doing. I'm feeling the same way. I've given money. I've asked J to ask his folks to open up a vacant house they own for an evacuated family. I've curbed my consumption of gas. But what else?

It's frustrating. But nice to know I'm not alone. That it's okay to feel this way...

Blogger eclectic said...

Hey! You haven't been to Washington State?? And I've known you for how long? And you still haven't come to visit? Hmmmph! We'll see about that... I'm going to have to bribe your travel agent.

Blogger LadyBug said...

Nothing clever or witty here. Just wanted you to know I dropped by.

Love and hugs.

Blogger Weetzie said...


ps. your page is coming up funny on my browser...anyone else seeing this?

Blogger Von Krankipantzen said...

Well, I just learned something. I totally notice it now when they use the tern 'refugee' on the news. Somebody need to educate them.

Blogger jac said...

Wonderful Susie.

Blogger August95 said...

Hi Susie, sad is the word I feel the most about New Orleans. Thank you for writting this. I don't have much to add that others have not said but I wanted to thank you for your help recently and let you know I had stopped by. :)

Blogger Susie said...

eclectic, I know. God bless your friend. From what I hear, as graphic as the news coverage is, we really have no grasp on what it's like there. Your imagery is so right, gaping wounds.

summer, I think that's where faith comes in. This is not a short-term problem. Let's have faith that if we have spirits of availability, we will know when the time and place are right to do what we're called to do. This is so huge, has such far-reaching implications for all of us, no one alive here now will finish this life without encountering some direct effect from this tragedy.

eclectic, yea, you and greenie get together and send me a ticket! ;)

ladybug, hello, darlin'. Glad you stopped in.

weetzie, thanks. As best I can tell, the map has made my blog drop, when viewed in IE. Is that what you have? In Mozilla, it looks normal.

kranki, yea, I am really glad Shoshie said something. But now enough people are complaining that you'd think the media would check themselves. Oh, yea, nevermind, they don't do too much of that.

jac, thank you.

august95, thank you for stopping by. Sad, indeed.

Blogger Thomas J. Brown said...

I'm terribly troubled that anyone would refer to the law, international or otherwise, to define a word. Call me old-fashioned, but aren't dictionaries supposed to serve that very purpose? I understand that "basic grade school" dictionaries might not be as comprehensive as we'd all like, but referencing one of them is as errant as referencing the law. A proper dictionary, on the other hand, should have the correct definition (Merriam-Webster does, I'm sure the OED does, and even the oft dubious dictionary.com came up with the right denotation).

Not that I disagree with your post, I'm just troubled about from where you're getting your word definitions.

Blogger Susie said...

TJ, I surely did not intend to trouble you, or anyone. And to trouble you terribly, well, I would never want to do that. As I have advised others this week, if something is just too troubling for us, we would do well to stay away from it.

Blogger laurenbove said...

Love Aaron too much. His voice is absolutely amazing. I hope he gets to sing in New Orleans again in the not too distant future.

Take care for now. I'm feeling too blue to think any further and my darling hubby's not sleeping anymore which of course means, neither am I.


Blogger Ern said...

You must come West, young woman!

Blogger Closet Metro said...

Come to Minnesota and make it a "red state."


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