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Lucy Perkins

The Red (Double) Cross


The first time I wrote this column I was going to say that despite the brief spurt of humanism and compassion we've experienced in the wake of the September 11 crises, it's still a capitalist, big corporation kind of world out there. I was going to go on to point out that the ironic proof for this was provided by the American Red Cross. I think I had planned to mention something about irony, cynicism and materialism being the traditional American way.

Obviously, I can't say these things with the same vehemence anymore because, in a move that utterly shocked me, the Red Cross completely changed their policy and decided to use the $543 million dollars collected in the wake of September 11 to aid the victims of the attacks.

But I can still say a little something about irony, cynicism and materialism.

To back up a bit, the Red Cross collected all of that money from hapless contributors who wanted to help out in a time of national crisis. The poor suckers -- they took the Red Cross at its word when it promised to help the victims of the September 11 attacks on New York and Washington, DC. But that was two months ago when we were feeling all scared and patriotic and stuff. Two months later and we were feeling scared and angry and poor, and we wanted to know where the hell our money was, at least the part we gave to the Red Cross.

Of course, the Red Cross itself began the controversy by announcing (announcing!) that since they had so much money, they were going to be saving some of it for later. They were so naove, they hadn't yet learned the way to handle a situation like this (i.e., lie to the American public). The American people, however, didn't want to hear about the Red Cross' abundance. After all, we, the American public, had pretty much lost our savings in the stock market in recent weeks and we had no patience for someone (even a charity) saving our donated cash. I mean, that's why we gave it away in the first place, so we wouldn't have to save it!

I'm being somewhat facetious, but naturally, people were mad about this! They should have been! The Red Cross was trying to pull a good, old-fashioned scam and they simply expected us to fall for it because they're a charity.

If a salesman calls a little old lady and asks for money to help the victims of the attacks on America, then after receiving the cash absconds with it, we call it a federal offense. Last week, the Red Cross was under the impression that, if they pulled the same scam, they'd get a reprimand and would be allowed to simply announce: "If you want your money back, call and let us know."

The Red Cross, in fact, insisted that they never said they were going to give that money to the victims and their families. But, come on. Did they really think people just randomly started mailing them donations to put in their general fund? Or that after watching graphic replays of the two towers falling over and over again, not to the mention everpresent scenes of the wreckage in New York, people then said to themselves, "Hmm. What I want to do right now is ensure that the Red Cross has high quality computers in their office building"?

As if.

And lest we forget, there was the whole blood fiasco, too. The Red Cross, as you may remember, encouraged everyone to get out there and give blood in the days following the attacks. There's no way they could have foreseen that there would be little need for blood in New York and Washington, simply because there were so few survivors. That some of that blood would be lost stands to reason. The figures I've heard note that 10 percent or perhaps even more of the blood given after the September 11 attacks had to be thrown out. Yet, the Red Cross is still out there right now asking people to come in and give blood "for the holiday season." Giving blood isn't exactly hard, but it's not what I'd call fun either. So asking people to continue giving blood when so much was wasted so recently is problematic, to say the least. I'm not discouraging anybody from giving blood; obviously, giving blood is the right thing to do. This is more a critique of how horribly the Red Cross handled the situation. No doubt their behavior is going to make people less willing to give.

The Red Cross, then, found itself trying to defend the indefensible. If the terror attacks hadn't happened, people wouldn't have sent that money, right? Therefore, money sent was clearly earmarked for the relief efforts. What American in his or her right mind would send money to the Red Cross just so they could stockpile cash for tragedies on down the road?

But just because they were in an indefensible position didn't mean the Red Cross had to back down. There have certainly been enough examples in recent American history to prove that people can stand by their bad decisions long past the time for apologies and still be President of the United States, just for an example. The Red Cross probably could have hunkered down and waited until the outrage blew over because, in fact, outrage usually does.

But they did the right thing. All the donated money is now going exactly where it should: to the victims and families of victims of the destruction in New York and Washington. Certainly, that's the important thing. And it shows that the compassion and community spirit of the past few months hasn't already evaporated.

Yet, there's still a bittersweet tinge to our happiness over the money finally being directed to the right place. After all, the Red Cross is supposed to represent the best side of people. Did we really have to pressure a humanitarian organization into helping people? Yikes.

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