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FEMA Denies Aid to Black Tornado Victims in Minneapolis

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The Federal Emergency Management Agency ("FEMA") established to provide federal emergency aid to those in need in times of disaster, has once again refused to provide aid to black disaster victims. This time instead of black Hurricane Katrina victims, FEMA is now refusing to provide individual aid to help black families living in the north side of Minneapolis, hit hardest by the tornado on June 5. And this time the president is not George W. Bush.

Mayor R. T. Rybak of Minneapolis, a 2008 Obama state co-chair of Obama's election campaign, traveled to Washington, DC early this week to meet face to face with President Obama to plead his case for his residents. Unfortunately, the story appears to be the same despite the change in presidents and the type of natural disaster involved. And for those black Minnesotans, it's the same old song. Those hit hardest by the natural disaster are also those hit hardest by the economic disaster, with no help from the federal government agency established to dispense aid.

The story has a political side and not just because of Mayor Rybak's close connection to President Obama. It was also the topic of a question raised during a panel discussion on how to engage and get first time 2008 African American and young adult voters out again in 2012, at the Netroots Nation convention held last week in Minneapolis. An audience participant asked the panel: What do you say to those who have been hit hard by disaster and economically and FEMA refuses to help; What do you say to get those voters to come out again and vote in 2012 when the federal government didn't help them when they needed it?

Kristal High, Editor in Chief of Politic 365 had this to say: "The squeaky wheel is the one that gets the oil." ...Make people accountable and leverage that voice. We have a tremendous power if we just open our mouths and say something."

Congresswomen Donna F. Edwards, also a member of the panel, stated: Whether it's immigration or disaster response, we must hold our local, state and federal officials accountable and to call attention to the Administration's failure when the Administration has failed. "My job as a progressive is to make the President a better president {and} make federal officials better officials". We must call attention to where they've dropped the ball.

Well, who besides Mayor R. T. Rybak, will speak for these victims who are used to getting the short end of the stick and society's left overs? Victims are never at fault when a tornado or natural disaster occurs. There can be no blame shifting here to the victims. It is not their fault that a tornado ripped apart their section of town. Before the tornado hit, there were signs of economic devastation and blight on the north side of Minneapolis.

FEMA's response is that not enough families were affected for them to offer aid. But it's not just about numbers. Other factors such as demographics and whether the community was already struggling may be factored in. Well, many more were affected during Hurricane Katrina and that got practically the same response from FEMA. It's a different city, a different president this time but the same FEMA.

Although the Netroots panelists responded to the question, the answers are still unclear. What do you say to folks whose lives have been torn apart first by the economic disaster and then by natural disaster and left to fend for themselves. Progressives need to speak up and address these concerns and others of this type. Progressives should not allow their voices to be muffled. And the president also needs to clearly answer the question posed to the Netroots panel by 2012 on what do you say to folks whose government has let them down when they needed it the most.