Sunday, December 6, 2009
Seattle 1932. The "Changing of the guards". FDR has just been elected President, replacing Hoover. The country is in the deepest part of the depression.
Both men had very differing views regarding the role of government during the Great depression.
Some say that Hoover may have been villanized during those dark years. His "hands off" approach, discouraged government aid, and relied heavily (if not solely) on the neighbor to neighbor approach of poverty relief.
Still, others claim that FDR may have invented the practice of "careless" governmental spending, thus prolonging our nations depression.
Today the debate continues. Some say aid should be provided hand to hand. Others insist on governmental intervention. Yet all can agree that something MUST be done. Whatever you believe, I pray your actions are passionately compassionate.
The following event is true. Though I have juxtaposed a few quotes from President Hoover, this is not a political piece. It is a lens with which to analyze both the personal and the collective responsibility we as fellow members of this great nation share in honor of one another during hard times. This event is true. These people really endured the tragedy you are about to read. It is my hope that in sharing this very difficult account, we would all be reminded of the responsibility we have to one another.
Empty streets, hobos huddled up together passing booze to help fight off the bitter cold. We arrive at a village of paper homes near the shipping yard referred to as "Hooverville". They are the shacks of people who have been evicted from their homes, people who lost their jobs and could no longer afford to pay rent. These “houses” have been built out of old boxes and scrap plywood, containing what few possessions people were left with.
We arrive at one family’s shack just as dawn breaks.
A bed, a crude bucket for a water basin, now frozen over. Thin blankets and old quilts cover a family sharing a single bed.
(President Hoovers voice)
“The way to the nations greatness is self reliance”
A young black man rises from the bed of his makeshift shack. It has been built from thin scraps of plywood and old cardboard kotex boxes. It is the dead of winter in Seattle. His breath shows a strong fog in the biting chill of the early morning. He hesitates as he rises, as though to brace himself for the bitter cold he is about to face.
He puts on his cap, a light jacket, and a pair of worn out shoes. Slipping on a heavier wool coat, he looks back at his wife. She is still sleeping in bed next to their two-month-old son. He drapes the heavy coat over them instead.
Two other children are also in the bed. His sons. He moves his boys close to their mother; perhaps the body heat will help keep everyone warm. He leans over and kisses his wife on the forehead. The faint sound of a tiny cough from the infant child causes him to pause for a moment. He shivers off a dreaded premonition and exits the shack.
“It is solely a question of the best methods by which cold shall be prevented. I am willing to pledge myself that if the time should ever come that the voluntary agencies of the country, together with the local and state governments, are unable to find resources with which to prevent hunger and suffering in my country…
I have faith in the American people that such a day will never come.”
We follow the man as he walks briskly down the street. His shoes are more than tattered, the soles are worn thin.
As he turns a corner, he joins a handful of men. They all seem headed in the same direction. All are poorly dressed and cold. They fall in line like a procession toward their destination.
“All the evidences indicate that the worst effects of the crash upon unemployment will have passed during the next sixty days”
As they all arrive at the docks. They join a hoard of other men in front of a building with a ‘Help Wanted’ sign. A man emerges from the building. He will choose a work crew for the day. He quickly points to five men from the crowed. The man we have been following has not been chosen.
All the remaining men leave. Imagining the doom that awaits him,the man remains motionless for a brief moment.
“We have now passed the worst, and with continued effort we shall rapidly recover”
The man walks out of a soup kitchen. He holds a roll, a bit of milk and an apple. He arrives “home” to his family. It is evening and he has found no work.
His wife mashes some bread and water into a soupy-paste and puts it into a bottle. Malnourished, her breasts have dried up and become slack. She attempts to feed her baby the mush. The infant coughs and seems unresponsive to the feeding. The mother looks up at her husband silently; she is rocking the baby on her warm mantle, humming a hymn.
The notes she hums are deep and heavy with sadness. The song vibrates within chest and seems to cry ‘Mercy’ to the heavens as though reckoning with the most high; using the voice of her soul to contest the fate of her newborn child.
A tear rolls down her face as she and her husband stare at each other, exchanging a sorrowful look.
“There is something about too much prosperity that ruins the fiber of the people”
“No one has yet starved”
The Man awakens to the sound of his wife weeping. It is half way through the night; she has awoken to find that her child is no longer breathing. The man and his wife weep helplessly together.
As morning breaks they walk down the street. The father carries a small narrow cardboard box. Their faces are blank as they pass people on the street on their way to the cemetery one block away.
(Hoover’s voice loops one final time)
“The way to a nations greatness is self reliance”