Recovery from fires-another perspective
Recovering from the fires can be done too naively. We can accidentally make a space for injustice.
I hate to be the one even to raises this need. We have witnessed the way people care for each other in a crisis and it has been inspiring. Huge donors! Widespread community action. Emergency services doing heroic sustained bravery. Churches have been in there up to our necks as usual, although taken for granted. We are going to keep going, though, aren’t we?
Several persons have given their lives in protecting us. Their families are paying a very great price going forward. Injuries, under-insurance, land recovery, animal rescue and restoration – the list goes on. I want to draw the attention of Christians with an eye to God’s restorative justice that they must now be vigilant about how that long list is dealt with.
Let me give two relevant examples, then suggest two courses of action.
Recently, in the very necessary field of community sports grants, we saw how government ministers massaged the lists of requests to fit their own self-interest. In the fires, we saw looters and scammers take advantage of people’s generosity and vulnerability. There it is, no surprises really. Human sin never goes far away, no matter how wonderful humans are – that’s our belief. Let’s go wide-eyed and two-eyed – watching organisations and individuals – as well as our usual open-hearts and open-hands into this recovery effort.
Secondly, a true story of how this can play out. After the great fires of San Francisco in 1906, the story of recovery took a nasty turn or two. Many persons had their own vision for the city, and some had the power to make something happen, but they chose to enact their own grand plans rather than restore the wounded city. In the first phase, before the smoke had cleared, the poor were shunted out, and the Chinese community were robbed of their dwelling places. It was done in the name of rebuilding the city as someone’s grand masterpiece of promenades and displays of civic wealth. You can google it to find out more. In other words, the ego-motivated plans quickly displaced vulnerable minorities. Funds that were generously given around the world for San Francisco’s recovery were quickly re-directed to some pet-projects and prejudices. This will easily happen here. We have a track record of this sort already.
After confessing that the human condition will be out in force, let me suggest two things you can do.
First, attend public meetings, even if they are not about your own personal situation. and after you have heard about what is going on ask the questions: a. ‘How will this be decided and by whom?’ b. How have you ensured that everyone is being equally considered in this plan?’ They are respectful enquiries, not accusations. Let the organisers know in advance that you have a question to ask but don’t tell them what it is in advance. This is not to ambush them – we want better workiing relationships than that – but so that they can’t ‘accidentally oops’ ignore you in order to cover their tracks.
Second, drive down the road and go ask the ‘vulnerable’, who often don’t attend these meetings, what help they have received. Their needs are often simple and no amount of big-picture planning and committees need stop the flow of help to them. But it is so frequently the case that long bureaucratic hold ups are very destructive to people on the ground. When you know who needs what, go the local government and state members and ask them directly to do it this week. If they fob you off, ask them ‘why’. Even better, support the people to use their own voice.
What else can you think of to do? Please be ready to do at least this, or something else that seems better in your situation. Find out the truth. Tell the real stories. Protect the most vulnerable. Pray for mercy to happen.
Rev Dr Ian Robinson is Alan Walker Lecturer at United Theological College