(NNPA) - I thought I had seen it all during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina when thousands of people waited for days at the convention center for a drink of water, where some of them died in the hot sun and the rancid water, where thousands more were holed up in the Superdome in conditions that rivaled foreign prisons, and where many who were looking for food in order to survive were accused of looting and subsequently shot down like stray dogs. I thought I had seen it all when people were herded off to places unknown, into other stadiums in other cities where, according to Barbara Bush, things were "working very well for them." I thought I had heard it all when those affected were referred to as "refugees."
Well, little did I know that I had not seen nor heard it all. The latest event, one that really caused me to think about this country and the government entities that control it, occurred in Atlanta's East Point, where an estimated 30,000 people showed up to get housing assistance vouchers. In addition to the 62 persons who were injured in the crush, the scene was exactly the same as the ones we see on television in far off third-world countries.
Folks standing in the hot sun with babies and small children, reaching their hands out in hope of getting a sheet of paper that would provide assistance to them. That reminded me of the many times I have seen crowds of people reaching out for food, water, flour, and other items in India, Africa, and more recently in Haiti after that devastating earthquake. Only this time it was in Atlanta, Georgia.
This time it was not a result of an earthquake, tornado, or hurricane. This time it was not a result of some tyrant who commandeered all the riches of his country and left the poor to fend for themselves. This time it was sheer desperation, fear, poverty, and what I would deem as a total disregard for human dignity on the part of those who organized this horrible event.
You would think that someone would have said, "Hey guys, it's too hot, and there will be too many people trying to take advantage of this for us to simply go to a parking lot and stand on cars to hand out vouchers." You would think that someone would have considered the risks of having folks stand in record heat for hours, pushing one another, and vying to be one of the chosen few to receive a voucher.
Just what kind of country has this become? Have we reached the tipping point in our society where the gap between the haves and have-nots is insurmountable? Are we so unconcerned about certain segments of our society and unmoved by their plight that we would cast them aside? Have we moved to the edge of self-destruction as a society?
Throughout history all empires have fallen. Are we witnessing the beginning of America's demise? The arrogance displayed among some in this country, outlandish wealth and greed juxtaposed against abject poverty, and the disregard for the "least among us" are foreboding signs of a disintegrating society. Can you imagine sections of this country suffering in third-world conditions? We don't have to merely imagine it; it is happening right now.
What shall we do? As many have said before me, beneath everything you will find economics. Black people especially must come to a better understanding of that principle and act upon it by collectively working our way out of this quagmire. Regardless of what happens in the government or big business, we must work together to empower ourselves and move away from the futility and danger of waiting for government officials and corporate moguls to "do right by us."
Take it from Malcolm X. "We must be re-educated to the importance of controlling the economy in which we live, by owning and operating the businesses in the community we live in and developing some industry that will employ our people, so we won't have to boycott and picket other people in other communities to get a job. We must understand the importance of spending money in the community in which we live."
Third world neighborhoods, right here in our country, are wake-up calls for us to change the way we conduct our affairs, especially our economic affairs. I pray we get it together before it's too late. The clock is ticking, brothers and sisters.
James E. Clingman, an adjunct professor at the University of Cincinnati's African-American Studies department, is former editor of the Cincinnati Herald newspaper and founder of the Greater Cincinnati African American Chamber of Commerce. He hosts the cable television program, ''Blackonomics,'' and has written several books, including his latest, Black Empowerment with an Attitude - You got a problem with that? To book Clingman for a speaking engagement or purchase his books, go to his Web site, www.blackonomics.com.