I remember driving away from the New Orleans airport and seeing cars on the highway. Thousands of cars. But, the strange thing was there was no one on the road. Cars were packed on top of each other, upside down, on their side, standing straight on their head. It almost looked like a weird art show, but unfortunately it was the gruesome aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. I was there to visit my girlfriend’s grandmother, whose home in Waveland, Mississippi was thought to have been destroyed. It was just seven days after the devastating storm hit. “Tita,” as she is known in our family, a woman in her 70s who barely speaks English, had evacuated in her small car to Biloxi and then ultimately Tallahassee, because she thought that she would have priority if she was first to make a claim at the All State Insurance headquarters. We had convinced her to return to Waveland, as we promised to take her back to her home for the first time since Katrina made landfall. When we arrived in her neighborhood, I had never seen anything like it. Her home was just a block from the beach, and every single home was destroyed. Shock and awe. Bunker buster. Lebanon. Baghdad. Kabul. These places must have looked like Waveland or the Ninth Ward when the bombs dropped. Nothing left. Houses blown apart by waves and water that ferociously destroyed everything in their path. Tita’s home was on the ground. Literally, the roof was on the ground. Flattened like a pancake. Her entire life was buried somewhere beneath the rubble, and we spent hours upon hours just trying to find one photograph of her wedding or the plates that were passed down from her mother or the jewelry she wanted to give her grandchildren. We left with just a small box of mementos that Tita used to decorate the FEMA trailer that she would live in for the next two years.
Seven years later, another hurricane brought America to its knees and once again, our fellow citizens needed our help. When we asked the young couple if they needed help cleaning out their destroyed home in Staten Island, they politely declined. But, the look on their face made me ask again. Everything in their home was to be thrown away. Eight feet of water had occupied their small, two bedroom house, just two blocks from the beach, while they sought refuge on the North Shore of the fifth borough of New York City. Computers, couches, televisions, dishes, clothes, clothes and more clothes, video games, baseball cards, a bunk bed…we stuffed garbage bag upon garbage bag of their belongings and left them on the chaotic Staten Island street for the garbage trucks to pick up. Me, my girlfriend and a few friends, went out to Staten Island just a few days after Hurricane Sandy to help whoever we could, as we knew that just one salvaged photograph or one special family treasure could put a smile on someone’s face, who otherwise might have forgotten that they would once again have the ability to feel joy. The former Marine and his wife who worked as a nurse in the local hospital had not been back to the house since the storm. Their young teenage son was too distraught to step foot in his home, as he was still in a state of shock that he lost everything. My girlfriend sat for hours on the deck in the backyard pulling photo after photo from their family albums, drying them one at a time, and placing them in a small tin box. After eight hours of cleaning, we handed the family the box full of dry photos…wedding photos, baby photos, vacation photos, christening photos, birthday photos, photos of parents and grandparents who are no longer with us, thousands of photos. I will never forget the words of the man of the house, a hardened marine turned NYPD cop, as he wiped away tears from his eyes, “Thank you so much for helping my family. You have restored my faith in humanity.” We left their home and have never seen them again.
We have endured some very difficult times in this country. Natural disasters are not expected, not planned and certainly cannot be prevented. During these tough times, Americans from across this nation have shown their compassion and their generosity, in ways that are often unexplainable. However, the people cannot recover alone. We need the help of our local, state and federal governments to deliver the aid to those in need, as taxpayer funds far outweigh any dollar amount that can be raised by individuals. Ten days after Katrina hit the Gulf Coast, the United States Congress delivered a SIXTY BILLION DOLLAR relief package that was critically needed to help families who were still struggling to recover. Nine weeks after Sandy hit New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania and Connecticut, the United States Congress has delivered ZERO DOLLARS to those in need in those four states. The Senate has passed a $60 billion package, but the House of Representatives, under the leadership of Republican John Boehner, canceled a vote last night that would have helped thousands of families, like the one we met in Staten Island. Without explanation, he walked off the floor of the US Congress, after promising to have a vote, and went home. Every single Republican politician should be forbidden from raising money in New York or New Jersey, until they vote for Hurricane Sandy relief.
The betrayal of the Republican leadership in the United States House of Representatives is beyond comprehension. It is a stab in the back, not just to those who were directly affected by Hurricane Sandy, but to every single citizen of our nation. We are ALL Americans. When one suffers, we all suffer. Speaker Boehner, your party may not understand that in these UNITED States of America, we leave no one behind. We take care for those who are most vulnerable. We uplift those in need. We do not judge them based on their political affiliation or geography or race or religion or economic status, WE SIMPLY TAKE CARE OF OUR OWN. The victims of this horrible disaster are being left out in the cold because of your utter failure. You have failed our country. You have failed the people of this great nation. You have failed our humanity. When we remove the bloody knife from wounded skin of our back, we will never forget your shameful, disgraceful decision you made last night to sneak out of the House without taking care of your own.
Michael Skolnik is the Editor-In-Chief of GlobalGrind.com and the political director to Russell Simmons. Prior to this, Michael was an award-winning filmmaker. Follow him on twitter @MichaelSkolnik