When the images started flooding in last week from New Orleans, a city under 3 metres of water, its people helpless, homeless and starving, I was almost ashamed of how hard it was for me to face the early fundraising efforts. "Oh, please, don't ask me for money. I just can't do it," I muttered back at the TV screen. The United States is too rich, too powerful, too able to take care of itself to get my cash.
My politically aware friends, appalled by my ambivalence, have been trying to bring me on side. How could I let ideology and not my humanitarian instincts lead my thinking? Why wouldn't I extend some help to these victims of deep poverty and America's history of slavery.
They do have a point. The United States in these moments looks no different from poverty-stricken India after the monsoons or rock-strewn Guatemala after the earthquakes or AIDS-ravaged Africa, where children struggle to take care of their families.
There is no Third World, only one world hopelessly stratified by class and race.
But only in America could former presidents Bush and Clinton raise many times more money in one week for American flood victims than they were able to do during their entire tsunami relief campaign last year. Wal-Mart president Sam Walton has already pledged $23 million, more than twice as much as the Clinton/Bush team generated for tsunami refugees.
Keep it comin', guys. We know the dough is there.
As for the rest of us here, many conscious, generous souls point to the grassroots, low-income activists and people-of-colour-led hurricane relief efforts they intend to support. (Check out www.sparkplugfoundation.org/katrinarelief.html
But though I really want to do the right thing, I'm still having a hard time with it.
Why bother when America's got a perfectly designed system of fundraising that makes an act of greed look like an act of giving. When is a cash donation really a cash grab? When the main interest of a corporation like Wal-Mart in lavishing all these funds is really branding and optics, and when the donor knows that a good hunk of the money he gives will wind up being spent at his own store.
But nature is not like economics. You can't fool with it. I know that there were warnings and signs and predictions that something terrible was inevitably going to happen when Katrina hit.
But a part of me thinks that you cannot plan when it comes to the planet's brute forces. They can hit at any time, and hard. Toronto lost a bridge when the teeny-tiny - by comparison - near-tornado hit here two weeks ago. We got lucky.
That's how I'm feeling now - grateful, grateful for what I have, grateful for the roof over my head, grateful for simple things.
In the wake of this catastrophe, I see now that nature does not discriminate and that poor people in America are no different from poor people anywhere in the world.
So the hurricane has moved me to open my wallet.
But I'm making my cheque out to the Stephen Lewis Foundation.