Sojourners: What did Katrina, and the government's response, reveal for you about the state of America?
Alice Walker: I was introduced to the situation by television, as most of us were. Overlaid on the devastation itself was the media's notion that somehow the people deserved it, because look at how they were looting stores and rampaging and hurting people. I just knew it was a lie. I'm not saying that there weren't some people doing that, but I knew that to slander all of the people was just racist and wrong.
I decided that I would try to go there, to make clear to the people who were suffering so deeply that the slander of them was just insufferable. We couldn't get into New Orleans, but we got as far as the Astrodome in Houston. We took money, books, and things for an altar—we created an altar in the Astrodome.
That was my way of responding to the spiritual needs of the people in that situation. If that had happened to me, I would want people to come and say, you are very dear to me, and whatever they say about you that is hurtful and damaging, I am here to nullify that impression. And I know that I would want to read, so I brought books for the children and books for the grownups. And candles and dolls and whatever we could stuff in a trunk.
It was the joy of my life to walk around and hand out envelopes with money in them, because this is what you do with money—you give it to people who really need it. We had a wonderful time—in the midst of all the devastation—talking to people, hearing stories, eating oranges.
My feeling is that the government failed us. It failed humanity. Not just black people, not just poor people, but it's a failure of who we could be as a human family.