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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Book of Matthew: On Tea Parties, governments and week-long floods

Published: April 9, 2010
Section: Opinions

GRAPHIC BY Ariel Wittenberg/The Hoot

Perhaps this will sound a bit vindictive, but a part of me—a rather large part, actually—hopes that at least one Tea Partier was caught in the recent New England flooding.

That’s right, I’m talking about you, Tea Partier. You with the American flags draped from your windows and the “Drill Baby, Drill” bumper stickers. You with the multiple copies of Sarah Palin’s book displayed prominently on your living room coffee table. You wearing that colonial three-cornered hat and marching to the center of your town with all your friends, denouncing the evils of “Big Government” and throwing used tea bags at local officials like you’re firing the first shots of a new American Revolution.

I hope you spent half of March knee-deep in water and cursing the never-ending rain. Because, Tea Partier, if there’s anyone in this country who needed to go through that experience, it was you.

Let me tell you a story. When I arrived in my hometown of Clinton, Massachusetts for spring break, I quickly discovered that the place was a complete mess. Only two weeks previously, continuous rainfall had overflowed the nearby Nashua River and Coachlace Pond, resulting in an outflow of debris that blocked access to an underground culvert and subsequently caused the flooding of a portion of Main Street.

The damage was significant and, even worse, unexpected. Main Street became impassable by car, and the water level slowly snuck up on the apartments and businesses that lined the road.

One local grill, which was located right next to the blocked culvert, lost its kitchen to the flood. Farther down the road, the surging Nashua submerged everything that was too close to its banks—including a storage center whose garages held the personal belongings of hundreds.

Water also found its way into houses close to the culvert. On Nelson Street, the water flowed off Main Street and into back alleys, destroying parked cars.

Basements that belonged to people who had been told long ago that they did not live in a flood zone suddenly accumulated four feet of water that destroyed walls and appliances and rendered sump pumps—the only available defense in most cases—all but useless. One resident surveying the gaps where his basement walls had once been remarked that he didn’t think it possible to ever rebuild fully.

Luckily for affected residents, they had plenty of help from the local, state and federal government. Police and firefighters worked tirelessly to pump areas dry and evacuate residents if necessary. When it became clear that the rain had no intention of stopping, the National Guard was called in to place 10,000 sandbags along the Nashua and at the corners of several downtown streets.

Some big name politicians also came to town for a visit, like Senator John Kerry and Governor Deval Patrick, who took some time to declare a state of emergency. Even President Obama made a trip up to Massachusetts, and though he didn’t stop in Clinton, he did issue a Major Federal Disaster Declaration that allowed residents to apply for FEMA assistance, and as a result a FEMA center was just opened in Lancaster, Massachusetts.

The rain, of course, has since stopped. The past few days of good weather have caused rivers and lakes to recede and the floodwaters to dry up. Though many New England towns, like Clinton, are still pothole-ridden, repairs to roads and buildings are well on the way.

No, Tea Partier, I do not wish you harm—bodily or otherwise—in hoping that you had to suffer the flooding. I wish the opposite, in fact. I hope the timely actions of rescue workers allowed you and your family to get to safety. I hope they were able to stop the water from further damaging your property. I hope you were able to receive FEMA aid and successfully apply for one of their disaster loans.

In short, I hope you will look into the giant eyes of the government you despise and realize that they are not looking to enslave you, but rather to help you and protect you from the random, unpredictable, and often times unavoidable hardships of life.

It’s wishful thinking, I admit. I recently read that a group of Tea Partiers is planning a march in Boston on April 15, the deadline for filing tax returns. I imagine, Tea Partier, that you will be unable to resist the urge to attend.

And that’s okay. Free speech is sacred, regardless of whether I or anyone else agrees with its content. But maybe, as you wave your bright yellow “Don’t Tread On Me” flag in front of the state house and scream into your bullhorn, you will at least remember to be thankful that you live in a country that still tries to protect its citizens.