After the Earthquake, We Must Address Millions of Social Tremors

Having experienced the 1994 Northridge and 1989 Loma Prieta earthquakes, I recall most clearly the physical sensations of ground erupting beneath me and the stark difference in economic capacity to recover all around me. In the first few moments, everyone is the same. At first it is random luck. One building collapses, another doesn't. One last-minute decision to run an errand or stay home proves felicitous or fatal. The immediate solidarity of being united in our common humanity brings us together. In these first 72 hours, hope remains for rescue and reunification. Critical water, medicine, and amenities make a difference to all they reach in makeshift shelters populated by all regardless of age, gender, race, creed and class. At this time, swift response is vital; our phenomenal military and civilian assets will literally make the difference between life and death. Each of us can make a difference in Haiti as simply as texting HAITI to 90999 for the Red Cross or YELE to 501501 for Wyclef Jean's foundation.

But in the aftermath of a tragedy, we are very different. After the physical earthquake, millions of social tremors reverberate. The earth stops shaking but society doesn't. Once the dust settles and the shock wears off, hunger and disease set in, and differences re-emerge. The ability to heal divides sharply along class lines. We saw that in the Gulf Coast after Katrina and Rita, and in Indonesia after the tsunami. Families mourn their dead and attempt to rebuild in a "new normal" but the echoes of injustice remain. In the longer term, the social tremors have deep impact. While many rebound after tragedy, some are forgotten. As we applaud the rush of aid and surge of support for Haiti by President Obama, the US Congress, and thousands of caring citizens, let's not forget that we need a long term commitment to rebuilding there, and a renewed commitment to rebuilding here at home. It's understandable to forget -- after the rush of a major event we move on and pay attention to the other demands of family and work. But ultimately the true measure of a natural disaster is not just in the havoc wrought by mother nature but in the social justice performed with the better angels of human nature.

How we address those social tremors will reveal who we are as a people and how deep our resolve to truly heal each other. So by all means let's volunteer help now for Haiti. And while our hearts and minds are open, let's also seize this moment to look at the long term, volunteer in our own communities, and address the social tremors closest to home.