OPINION: Why Lessons Of Katrina Are As Important As Lessons Of 9/11

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Every year around this time, we hear voices from the right talking about the lessons of 9/11. To hear right wing politicians and pundits tell it, the lessons of 9/11 are: Bomb Arab countries before they bomb us, racially profile people of color, the world is separated into good and evil and either you’re with us or against us.

I’d like to think that the lessons of 9/11 would be: Be extremely cautious about domestic terrorists, don’t train militant religious fanatics to fight your enemies, because they might come back to bite us and treat all threats against our country seriously.

While people in the media talk about the lessons of 9/11 very often, it is rare to hear pundits and politicians talk about the lessons of Hurricane Katrina. While 9/11 left 2,998 people dead or missing, Hurricane Katrina left 2,536 people dead or missing and displaced over one million people.

But 9/11 changed several ways the government operates in terms of foreign and domestic polices, while Katrina changed very little. After 9/11, we invaded two countries , started the patriot act and changed airline travel as we know it.

Katrina has caused no significant changes in US policy. What the world saw after Katrina, was a natural disaster inflamed by poverty, segregation and racism. While the government may not have been able to stop the hurricane, the U.S. could have definitely prevented the racism and poverty that made Hurricane Katrina way worse than it should have been.

Hurricane Katrina was an embarrassment to the United States. Despite it’s great wealth, the U.S. could not take care of its own. After Katrina, George Bush’s approval rating was 45%, half of the 90% it reached after September 11th.

Hubert Humphrey once said, “A nation is judged by how it treats its most vulnerable citizens. Congress should not ignore the plight of our nation’s poorest and sickest beneficiaries any longer.”

The judgment on George Bush from his reaction to Katrina both domestically and internationally is part of his legacy forever. Still, it seems as if the lessons of Katrina have been lost on the Republican party.

The Republicans have obviously not learned anything from Hurricane Katrina, as they continue to disregard poor, disenfranchised people, which is reflected in their opposition to health care.

Diseases, like hurricanes affect everybody. Yet, as in Katrina, the rich seem to be protected against them, while the poor and minority populations are vulnerable and often left with no help to protect themselves against them.

If the next Katrina comes as a virus (like Swine Flu), once again the rest of the world will see how America treats its poorest and sickest beneficiaries. That is why we need health care for every citizen. If America has learned anything from the lessons of Katrina, it is that America must protect all of its citizens, regardless of economic or racial backgrounds.

Katrina was a reminder of the poor people who are rarely on TV and not seen or heard. These people are Americans, not third world refugees. They are entitled to the life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness given to us in the Declaration of Independence. Just like the government is responsible for trying to help its citizens from disaster, it should be responsible for taking care of its citizens from diseases and health risks.

Protecting our citizens and keeping our country safe is no just about bombing countries that we think our threats. Not all threats come from Islamic extremists. Hunger, poverty, crime, natural disasters and diseases also threaten the safety of our country and citizens. If we can spend billions of dollars to invade other countries to keep our country safer, we should sacrifice to make the country safer for all of our citizens from natural disasters and diseases.

It is time to heed the lessons of Katrina. We are one country and all of our citizens are important, rich and poor, black and white. When a government gives an every man for himself attitude towards disease and natural disasters, it reflects badly on our country. It is the duty of our country to, not only protect its citizens against terrorist attacks, but against natural disasters and diseases as well. That’s why we need to make sure every one of our citizens has the right to health care.

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