Saturday, October 15, 2011

Why thinking of Haiti makes me hate the Wall Street protestors.

I went to Haiti on a volunteer trip more than a year ago, and I've only written about it once. I don't talk about it a lot, and I don't think about it as much as I should. The truth is it's easier not to. It's easier not to think or talk about starving children so grateful for even one sip of clean water, of a city center in ruins, of all the brutal stories I heard there about what it was like for those people, when in a matter of seconds, quite literally and figuratively, the whole earth fell apart. Yesterday I was flipping channels, and I came across the Haiti No Reservations, filmed after the earthquake in and around Port-au-Prince.

And there it all was-all of the confusion and sadness and shock that I took home with me. I watched those familiar images of tent cities and impossibly thin toddlers and people with such loss in their eyes, and I was reminded quite forcefully that I don't get to move past Haiti. The reason I went on this trip, the reason I know I will go on more trips like it, is to make it impossible to move on, to forget, to change the channel safe in the knowledge that it doesn't matter in the context of my life. I won't ever get over Haiti, and I don't think anyone who goes to a place like that does. There's too much visceral pain in the air in a place like that, too many ghosts.

The only negative that could ever come out of Haiti for me is if I was able to "move on", to forget. And the scary part is that there are stretches where I do, where all of the faces and the stories blur. But it's not my right to forget all that. I have the easy job. I got to leave, and now the only small part I can play, compared to the massive part others have played in that nation, and compared to the massive burden of its people, is to carry everything I saw with me.

And you know what, I haven't given those Wall Street protesters a lot of thought. I've been apathetic. But thinking of Haiti again, of everything I saw there, makes me want to walk up to those people and punch them in the face. Yeah, the United States isn't perfect. Not everything here is fair. It sucks that so many of us don't have jobs.

But dudes. GET OVER IT. If you're unhappy you have, compared to about 97% of the world, every resource imaginable to change your life. All of us in this nation are so tremendously blessed with the sheer dumb luck of being born here. And I've gone from not caring at all about these protesters to being really ticked off that they waste hours and days of their lives complaining about the unfairness of life in the United States.

We don't know from unfairness. None of us. Not a single one understand what unfair is. Unfair is a country where children die of malnutrition. We've long ago accepted that children die from starvation in this world and I can't for the life of me figure out how that happened-how this impossible fact turned into something intelligent life allows to occur. Unfair is a couple of hundred thousand people dead in a matter of seconds. Unfair is living with a government so corrupt and ineffective that you cheer when that government's main building collapses in an earthquake.

I want all of those protestors to go to Haiti. I want them to see unfair. I want them to talk to the people who lost everything, who have nothing, who have been living in tents for nearly two years, and who have no support to fall back on, no Welfare, no guarantee of treatment in an Emergency Room. And then I want them to stand there, in their hipster knit caps, with their full stomachs that have never known hunger or thirst, and complain about their lot.

I think it's good that I'm angry. I made a mistake in letting myself forget that out of everything Haiti showed me, it's the importance of anger. We can't change all the unfairness in our world. But we can sure as hell get mad enough to try to at least change some of it. Or at the very least yell at obnoxious protesters.


Dave T said...

Liz, interesting take on things. I think I understand where you're coming from on this but I have a completely opposite perspective. The Occupy Wall Street movement isn't just Americans complaining about not having jobs, it's the 99% of people whose resources and talents are being increasingly channeled to support the 1% at the top finally starting to complain about the inequity. This isn't just happening in America which is why the Occupy movement has now gone global. Places like Haiti have been exploited like crazy by their own 1% and are a perfect example of what such inequity leads to. Sure, we have it comparatively wonderful in this country. The mindset and power structures that stagnate our standards of living are robbing people in countries like Haiti of their actual lives. To me, it's the same disease, just different symptoms.

Unknown said...

Dave, I think you make a ton of excellent points. I'll be completely honest. My blog was not based on logic or well thought out points at all. It was a gut reaction, something I've struggled with whenever I've traveled to an impoverished nation and then come home. The Occupy Wall Street movement probably has a lot of great points going for at as you mentioned. My thoughts were more an internal struggle based on what I have to reconcile between what I see in a country like Haiti with what I see here. It's hard to come home, and it makes it hard to listen to anyone complain about anything here, but obviously, in the light of day, we have plenty to complain (and protest) about. I just struggle with the difference in what's immediately at stake. For us what's at stake has to do with what will happen over years. For them what's at stake is about where food will come from in the next 24 hours. It's probably, like you said, symptoms of the same disease. The perspective just shifts dramatically and I've never been very good at going from a perspective of a nation with starving people to the perspective of a nation like ours that has so much.

Dave T said...

Liz, I hear you. One of my best friends has lived in Thailand for years (not even a particularly impoverished part of Thailand) and I remember taking him to Costco a couple of years ago and he was physically ill. Just seeing the opulence we take for granted -- and knowing we can buy enough protein to feed a whole Thai family for a week for $6 -- made him sick. I think most Americans take for granted just how much better off most of us are than 95% of the rest of the world.

I am regularly grateful for all that I have and how relatively lucky I am to be an American. However, as someone whose real wages have gone down consistently for the past 4 years, I am also frustrated. As a parent who has a daughter in college who will graduate with significant debt and diminished job prospects, I empathize with the occupiers. I know too many people getting rich on the backs of others and who think that American values are essentially "get rich regardless of the consequences." I think that mindset has to change in a way that supports a larger swath of struggling people here, as well as supporting raising the standards of living for the impoverished around the world. I think / hope that's what the occupiers are fighting for.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Dave T. Because the people in the US are not willing to sit around and let happen to us what happened to the people in Haiti is a GOOD thing. Apathy kills.

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