Two experiences over the weekend have given me hope. One was watching a documentary on the catastrophic 1911 Triangle Waist Factory Fire in New York, and the other was a seminar I attended on the state budget crisis.
Debacles can be good for us.
The documentary made an argument that the sheer horror of the Triangle Fire, in which 146 human beings perished in 18 minutes, may have been the spark that eventually gave us labor reform and the New Deal.
The lecture I attended was given by F. Scott McCown, executive director of the Center for Public Policy Priorities in Austin. I wasn't taking notes, so I don't want to attribute anything too specific to McCown. But in broad terms he painted a picture of potential catastrophe if the Rick Perry Republicans get their way on the state budget.
Only one aspect of it -- Medicaid -- has the potential to create scenes of suffering and despair this country hasn't seen since the Great Depression. McCown pointed out that the cuts in Medicaid under discussion in Austin will shut down a substantial portion of the nursing home industry, meaning nursing homes will put people out on the street and close their doors.
Many of those people are helpless -- chair-bound, deep in dementia, incontinent and unable to feed themselves. As McCown pointed out, many have outlived their families and have no homes to return to.
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And Medicaid is only a part of the picture. Many other forms of support and sustenance for the least among us are on the chopping block.
McCown hopes Texans will rally somehow before it's too late and stop this cataclysm from engulfing us. I do too. Of course.
But I can also see that there are moments in history when only a cataclysm can turn the tide. This may be one. Maybe when public education is ruined and we see wheelchairs behind the Dumpsters, maybe then the tide will turn. And turn hard.
Short of that, I don't know what it would take to get the message across. Maybe social conscience will only rise again when it gets some help from horror and wrath.