Words matter. Last week, I chided someone for using the word "tragedy" to describe the walkout by Indiana House Democrats, which entered its fifth week yesterday.
The walkout is harmful to Hoosiers and damaging to democracy. It could even be called a travesty, but it's not a tragedy. The unfolding crisis in Japan is a tragedy, and it's important we keep things in perspective.
Indiana has many close ties to Japan, including more than a dozen sister city relationships. The "Bridges to Japan" exhibition was a highlight of last year's Indiana State Fair. One of the organizers of the exhibition was the Japan-America Society of Indiana.
A page about the exhibition on the society's website summarizes Indiana's strong relationship with Japan: "Indiana is the only state with three Japanese auto assembly plants, and has over 220 Japanese facilities in Indiana employing more than 43,000 Hoosiers, making Japan the clear front-runner among the state's international partners."
Since the massive earthquake and tsunami that struck Japan on March 11, the society's focus has turned to disaster relief.
"The Japan-America Society of Indiana joins with individuals, communities, not-for-profit organizations, universities, and businesses in expressing its heartfelt support for the people of Japan. The threefold catastrophe of the magnitude nine earthquake, the tsunami, and the uncertain condition of the Fukushima nuclear power plants is unprecedented in history," reads an introduction on the society's website, www.japanindiana.org. It continues:
"The crisis in Japan will be ongoing for some time. It is difficult to fathom the degree of devastation to the country and the personal suffering of millions of Japanese. Not only does the impact of the natural disasters deeply affect the country at every level, it also extends to all of us who have family, friends, and partnerships in and with Japan."
The society has established a statewide relief fund. Donations may be made on the society's website; at any branch of Chase, Fifth Third, Old National and PNC banks; or by mail. Make checks payable to the "Japan Earthquake Relief Fund." The mailing address is: Japan-America Society of Indiana, 39 W. Jackson Pl., Ste. 50, Indianapolis, IN 46225. Donations to the society, which is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization, are tax-deductible. The society will distribute the funds to carefully selected and recognized Japanese relief organizations assisting the affected areas.
Several leading Indiana businesses have set up matching employee gift programs for the relief fund, and universities, communities and other not-for-profit organizations are also partnering with the society in their respective fundraising efforts. For more information, contact the society's executive director, Theresa Kulczak, at 1-317-635-0123 or by e-mail at email@example.com.
The society's website describes what the organization does in normal times:
"The Japan-America Society of Indiana (JASI) is a not-for-profit cultural and educational organization whose mission is to serve as a bridge of friendship between the people of Indiana and Japan. The Society is supported by a diverse membership of individuals, families, businesses and academic institutions.
"Founded in 1988 by community, business and academic leaders, membership in the Society includes over 1,200 individual and corporate representatives located throughout the state. Annually, the Japan-America Society of Indiana reaches more than 10,000 individuals through its programs, outreach activities and services.
"JASI sponsors a wide range of cultural events, networking receptions, business briefings, and public affairs presentations that explore current issues in the Japan-U.S. relationship. JASI's outreach programs help to provide Indiana's youth and communities throughout the state with educational experiences of Japanese culture and enhanced international understanding. Family events and social gatherings serve to bring together the people of both countries.
"The Japan-America Society of Indiana is a member of the National Association of Japan-America Societies, headquartered in Washington D.C., which includes over forty societies nationwide."
For now, there's an "Earthquake" link on the home page of the society's website. Click on "Current News" for a list of links, including a Google Crisis Response page. The direct link is www.google.com/crisisresponse/japanquake2011.html. The page offers a wealth of disaster-related resources, including various interactive maps.
Amid tragedy there is hope, as my wife, Amy, experienced personally last week. Amy teaches Japanese, among other languages. Rescue volunteers in Japan found several young children, cold and shivering, under a damaged barn in which the children had been playing before the earthquake. Their parents were nowhere to be found. Scared by aftershocks that continued to shake the barn, the children sought shelter in a muddy crawl space. A frightened 3-year-old girl - the youngest in the group - had crawled into a small, inaccessible hole, and neither the other children nor the volunteers - a group of college students from the United States - had been able to coax her out. With the temperature below freezing and the stability of the barn uncertain, the situation was critical.
The students' Japanese was limited, and they couldn't get the traumatized little girl to come out of the hole. They called home looking for help. Apparently through an Internet search, a contact in St. Louis found Amy. The time was around 4 a.m. in Indiana when Amy started talking and singing to the girl in Japanese via a Google Talk video connection on a laptop computer. By a miracle of technology, they could see and hear each other, and, after 20 minutes, the girl crawled out of the hole and into the arms of the rescuers.
The hole in which the Indiana legislature now finds itself may seem deep and dark, but it's all relative