For most of my life, I’ve thought of nature as an impartial force that didn’t judge people based on race, creed, gender, or any of those other factors that we humans use to compartmentalize others, usually to our own detriment. Earthquakes didn’t care what god you prayed to, tornadoes destroyed homes of people of every ethnicity, and hurricanes didn’t do credit checks. Then I found out I was wrong.
It started with Hurricane Katrina, when thanks to Kanye West I realized that the Mississippi River was a racist. Sure, Kanye blamed George W. Bush, but since the Dubya administration helped black people just as much as white people (ie., not very much), the only solution was that the river itself had targeted the homes of African-Americans while making sure its waters avoided the homes of poor white people (rich people of every color had the advantage of higher ground and the resources to evacuate, so we can’t really blame the river for classism). This realization caused quite a bit of cognitive dissonance for me; since the Mississippi was Jim’s road to freedom in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, I’d always thought of it as black-friendly, perhaps even a big, watery version of Harriet Tubman. I was also shaken by the possibility that Twain, one of my favorite authors since childhood, might in fact be little more than a propagandist for Big Water.
But that was just one river. Surely our mighty Ohio wasn’t as petty as its neighbor...or was it? During the recent flooding here in Western Kentucky, I found out that while the river has no apparent racist tendencies, it does discriminate based on class. But first, some background.
For those of you who don’t know, our fine city decided to go ahead with the annual American Quilter’s Association show despite massive flooding and wind damage that had led the city and many surrounding counties to declare a state of emergency. Some people worried that the show would use local resources and personnel that could be used to help flood victims. Some were afraid that traffic problems caused by a 50% population increase would slow down emergency and construction vehicles doing important work. Others were concerned about a possible flood wall breach, and what thousands of drowned quilters would do to our area’s reputation. Still others were against the quilt show even before the storms started due to the allegations of corruption regarding subsidies the show gets from the city or because quilters have a reputation for being low-tipping bad drivers with entitlement issues. The main concern about the quilt show, however, was that it fills up all the local hotels, leaving no place for locals flooded out of their homes to stay.
It’s the hotel thing that tipped me off to the Ohio River’s war on the poor. Nearly every time someone brought up the hotel room shortage on local forums, they were informed that the quilters’ aren’t taking rooms from locals because people who have lost their homes to flooding can’t afford hotel rooms anyway. This was shocking, since I’d always assumed that flood waters devastated anyone on low ground regardless of economic standing, but apparently the Ohio has chosen to bypass the homes of the wealthy. Now, I realize (thanks to many of those same upstanding citizens) that since poverty is a lifestyle choice the victims aren’t completely blameless, but I think we still need to hold the river responsible for its actions.
I think the only way to make the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers see the errors of their ways is a boycott. From now on, we’ve got to resist the urge to boat and ship cargo on them, fish or swim in them, and pump our chemical waste and sewage into them. I’d was going to recommend that we not even cross them, but someone pointed out that allegations of vampirism could harm the Anti-River Movement if we did that. Boycotting the rivers will be hard, but I truly believe it’s the only way we can teach them a lesson.