What About Civil Society?
Nearly two weeks ago, as the aftermath of Hurrican Katrina became apparent, I felt the need to do something. I had recieved an email about the efforts of two pastors in my denomination (the Disciples of Christ) who were coordinating efforts in Houston. I sent an email to one pastor and he said that he needed towels. So,I was able to get several Disciple churches here in Minnesota to donate towels that were shipped to Houston to evacuees in Houston.
In these days where people are pointing fingers at which part of government bungled the aftermath, Anne Applebaum reminds us of the role that civil society has played. Churches, schools, radio stations and organizations like the Red Cross and the Salvation Army have come together to do what they can to help people. A writer for the British newspaper, the Guardian had this to say about American society. America was revealed as:
"a hollowed superpower ... a country that is not a country at all, but atomised, segmented individuals living parallel lives as far apart as possible."
To which I say, rubbish.
While our government surely does have problems, the notion that all Americans are just out for themselves hasn't been evident in the past few weeks as we have donated huges sums of money to charitible organizations to help. And don't forget the countless stories of people opening their homes or just driving to the Region to donate what they can, just because they had to do something.
This doesn't mean that we should get rid of FEMA or that government has no role in relief efforts. It does. But we should also be reminded of civil society as well. It can't alone solve problems, nor should it, but it is the grease that keeps this society moving and it should be celebrated and praised.
A vibrant democracy needs a well functioning government and in this post 9/11 age, it needs a good agency that can respond to disasters. But it also needs a vibrant civil society, made up of people who want to help their fellow person. We need to keep putting a light on the failures of goverment in this tragedy, but let's also praise those countless individuals who gave of themselves at this hour of need.