Thursday, September 8, 2011

9/11 and the Texas Fires (reposted from Blue Dot Blues)

I had a conversation last night with someone who said he understood that I was "concerned" by the fires, but it didn't follow that I had to let it be the only thing I talk about.

Last night was a good time to have that conversation, really.  The Republican primary debate on MSNBC really ate up my social media sphere - Facebook, Twitter, the blogs, all of it was consumed by the debate.  We had it on at our house, and while my husband and I worked on other things, we shouted snarky commentary back and forth across the house.  I'm a political blogger and I would have liked to sit up last night composing some thoughts on the debate, the primary field, why I don't like this candidate or that one.  And it wasn't just the debate.  There have been campaign announcements, there's a lawsuit over redistricting, there are plenty of things happening in Texas politics that would ordinarily flood this blog, as many of you know.

This morning, it was announced that 1386 homes have been destroyed in the Bastrop fire alone; FEMA is saying that 240 homes have been lost in other fires across the state since Sunday.  Late last night, around 1:30am, there were more evacuations in Grimes County as fires moved ever closer to homes there.  So far, we've heard of four deaths related to the fires - two in Bastrop, two in east Texas (where a mother and her child were found in a burned-out trailer).  It has been a little difficult to look beyond the destruction and hurt here in Texas to political banter.  Politics has a place, and it will still be there when the smoke clears.  We still have to have those discussions, we still have to care, we still have to work hard to protect our country.  Circumstances being what they are, though, we have to concern ourselves with the welfare of others in a more direct, immediate way.  If not us, who?  If not now, when?

Finally, there's 9/11.

The tenth anniversary is this Sunday.  Like a great many Americans of a certain age, the tenth anniversary holds some significance for me.  I was 21 years old when the attack occured.  My young adulthood has been informed by disaster, war, and terrible destruction.  There is a lot being written and said about the "children of 9/11," the kids who may only have fuzzy recollections of that terrible day but whose lives were altered by it.  There is less being said about those of us who came of age just as the world we grew up in was obliterated.  I have a lot to say about this, but today I have been thinking about how what happened that day directly informed how I would react to the fires in Texas.

On September 11, 2001, we did not have social media.  That term wasn't even in use.  Facebook didn't come about until 2004, Twitter after that, and blogging was in its infancy.  People were using the internet for information, but not communication, not in the way that we are familiar with now.  Think how much information might have been shared, and how quickly - yes, there would have been rumor and misinformation, as there always is when there is panic, but the years since 9/11 have proved what social media is capable of doing (some of you might have heard me talk about Twitter and the Iranian revolution - an entire country cut off from the world in every way, save that small grace).  I was on a college campus when the planes hit the towers and the Pentagon burned, and I was carpooling to and from school with a friend.  In the chaos of the campus shutting down and the confusion that spread over those north Texas acres, we couldn't find one another, because we didn't both have cell phones, and we had never had a conversation about what we might do if separated when tragedy struck.  And once we did meet up, we had to get in touch with our families and we had to find out who was okay and what was happening elsewhere.  If I am more communicative than some would deem appropriate over social media in times of crisis - that day is why.  What good does all of this technology do us if we are not using it to help each other, find each other, and keep each other informed? On 9/11, some of us learned how crucial that can be.  You might say that on 9/11, it became absolutely necessary.  That is a sad reality in some ways, but it is an important one nonetheless.

On Sunday, when the fire in Pflugerville was raging and the sky near my house was thick with dark smoke, I came home from an afternoon with a friend to find my husband pacing and nervous.  Our neighborhood has recently seen fire destroy two homes, and brush fires erupt with regularity along the fields and wild areas nearby.  So what was happening in Pflugerville rightly scared us both.  More than that, we have a great many friends in the Pflugerville area, and family across the rural areas of eastern Travis and Williamson counties.  We felt helpless, and that deep disturbing feeling of useless panic, so familiar to a generation shaped by 9/11, settled in pretty quickly.  I decided to look for ways we might help the people who were suffering, because by Sunday evening Bastrop County was wildly ablaze, Steiner Ranch was on fire, and we kept seeing photos of fire and smoke engulfing the Pedernales River and the Spicewood area.  And I wanted to make sure other people knew what was happening and where, and how they might help if they could.

In Austin, we haven't been hearing about the east Texas and Brazos Valley fires - when I discovered what was happening, I decided to keep looking for information and sharing it.  I know how the echo chamber can be - people who aren't in Texas may not be hearing much beyond what the nightly news shows choose to show, especially with so much of the east coast under water and the daily grind of life blocking out everything that isn't right in front of them.

It is important that we use our social networks for good.  Political punditry does have a place, and I feel it is a good (you may disagree).  The fact of the matter, though, is that helping each other, and keeping each other informed, is a greater good.  We have these tools.  Let's use them.

(I have been updating about the fires and fire relief efforts at Blue Dot Blues)

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