The Common Good

Hurricanes, Hype, and Hope

Did anyone else get the feeling, as we watched weather reporters wave their arms frantically in swirling motions across oversized maps of the eastern seaboard -- with their eyes bulging as they pushed out whole paragraphs without a single breath for a period -- that this was all hype?

Last weekend, as Irene passed over town after town in the mid-Atlantic, memories of Katrina did not materialize. By the time Irene huffed over New York City on Sunday morning, and the flood of the century was actually just a really big puddle in Battery Park and a floating lifeguard stand in Long Beach, my fear had transformed into complacency. From there I became cynical. By Sunday afternoon I found myself watching the weatherman's bulging eyes as he repeated the mantra of the day: "It's not as bad as we thought it would be, but it's not over." And I thought: "Boy, they'll do anything for ratings."

But it wasn't all hype.

Hours later, when most of us had turned the TV channel or trekked back to the mall, Irene forsook her name, derived from eirene, the Greek word for "peace." She pounded the riverbeds of upstate New York and Vermont, where whole roads were destroyed, homes were toppled, and communities were thrown into disarray.

Now here's the thing: I've been thinking about how easily my earnest concern transformed into hard-hearted cynicism; it took me less than 24 hours. If it's that easy for me to tune out a monstrous hurricane, how much more tempted am I toward complacency in the face of the churning mass of economic, social, and political hurricanes that are tearing across our entire country right now?

Right now, political parties and the corporations that back them (big oil, big insurance, and big banks) are not only standing in the way of policies that protect the poor; they are also chipping away at the few protections poor and working people depend on. Republicans' new target is the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which works to place limits on the toxic agents corporations spew into our homes, our gardens, our drinking water, and our air.

But Republicans are not alone. Over the last two weeks, 706 people have been arrested in front of the White House protesting the proposed Keystone XL pipeline. The State Department recently released a statement supporting the proposed pipeline, and it is now in Obama's hands to approve or disapprove it. If the pipeline is approved by Obama, it will release Alberta Canada's tar sands, the second largest pool of carbon on earth after the oil fields of Saudi Arabia, into an atmosphere already rife with the effects of global warming. Before Jim Hansen, the world's foremost NASA climate scientist, was arrested on Monday, he stated that if we start tapping these unconventional energy sources, "it is essentially game over for the climate."

Right now, posturing politicians are declaring war on the most basic American protections against abject poverty -- Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security. Think Rick Perry. Think the Ryan plan. Think debt-ceiling debacle.

Right now, state-based legislative actions are surpassing the draconian measures dumped on Arizonans in 2010. Alabama recently passed what many hail as "the nation's cruelest immigration law."

Right now, these same forces are mounting campaigns to abolish public schools -- an American invention, created to develop and maintain a robust middle class -- a necessity for any true democracy.

And right now, most of these extremist political maneuvers are being led by people who either identify with the tea party or call themselves tea party sympathizers. Also, in the updated edition of American Grace, a study of the tea party revealed that it isn't secular after all. It is actually the Religious Right resurrected in a new set of clothes.

Last week, at Sojourners' National Mobilizing Training Summit, faith-rooted organizing trainer Alexia Salvatierra challenged the group and asked: "How would our organizing change if we believed that God exists?" She was speaking of the God of Moses and Isaiah, the God of Jeremiah and Micah, the God of Amos and Zechariah, the God of Peter on the rooftop and Paul in Antioch, the God of Acts 2, 4, and 6. How would the way we organize against injustice change if we actually believed Jesus meant what he said in Luke 4 and 10, Matthew 5 and 25, John 4 and 19, and Mark 1 and 5?

Even though each of the organizers at the mobilizing training were compelled by their faith to be there, Alexia's question still stuck with us all. She had placed her finger on the one thing that's hard to come by these days -- hope.

I've watched the film Amazing Grace at least five times in the past two months. The people of William Wilberforce's day had every reason to look around at their world and feel despaired. At the time, the slave trade was as pervasive and "normal" as the IT industry is today. Imagine someone declaring that the IT industry must be abolished. That's how crazy Wilberforce looked in his day. But Wilberforce believed the God of scripture exists. As did Olaudah Equiano, John Newton , John Wesley, Charles Finney, Sojourner Truth , Harriet Beecher Stowe, Fredrick Douglass, John Quincy Adams, Abraham Lincoln and countless others. As a result, the global sale of human beings is no longer legal.

Edmund Burke said, "All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good [people] to do nothing."

Look around. The forces that come against the poor, creation, and the common good will not win. They cannot win -- because God exists.

Have hope and get moving.

Lisa Sharon Harper is director of mobilizing at Sojourners and author of Evangelical Does Not Equal Republican ... or Democrat.

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