September 03, 2005
Helping 101: Money Now, Supplies Later
If the mortality rate seems high we must realize that Nature is a ruthless teacher. There are no second chances in Mother Nature's Survival Course. ~ William S. Burroughs
So, I'm going to try and keep this as brief as I'm able. There's a lot of emotion wrapped up in what's going on for me, but this isn't my grief to co-opt. I can't personalize this event, I can only draw parallells to how it relates to a somewhat similar event in my personal history. But as horrible as being at ground zero during Andrew was, Andrew was nothing like Katrina. I've had a lot of people say to me "well, you probably understand better than I do..." but the truth is I don't. Not really. In some ways it is harder for me to wrap my head around this tragedy than the average person. I endured something horrific; to conceive of something more horrific leaves me in a disorienting confusion between numb and emotionally wide-open. I'm in a constant state of sympathy and trying to pull myself away from that sympathy. It's the emotional equal of dragging yourself up a surf leash to help get to the surface after a wipe out while the current continues dragging you down. It gets exhausting fighting the pull of the weight of the world.
Andrew did manage to give me a sort of overflow valve for this kind of thing. I can only feel so much, listen to so much, read so much and then I shut off. I wish I could make everyone shut off a little now and then. Watching TV making yourself heartsick isn't productive. If you aren't going to volunteer, then make sure you take time to watch a movie, eat a good dinner, read a book, jerk off. The disaster will be there when you get back.
I'm planning for this to be my only entry about Katrina. It pisses me off when people offer cursory grief and polite "donate" blurbs within inappropriate forums. This is a sex blog. No one is coming here to learn about charity. If the images on television and the stories on the radio aren't convincing, nothing I say here will inspire someone to donate or volunteer. There are appropriate places for grief and my blog just isn't one of them. It doesn't mean I don't care; it means I have a certain sense of proper place and appropriate time.
The main reason I'm writing this, actually, has more to do with my surprise concerning a particular sentiment I've been hearing over and over these last few days from people who should, frankly, know better.
"How do I help?" / "What can I do?"
I'm drawn back to 9/11 when a president opted to tell Americans to shop instead of taking advantage of the opportunity to channel our nation's grief energy into positive, productive action.
Is the average American really so distanced from charity and community service that they're left completely impotent in the face of things like this? Well, that needs to stop. When I graduated high school you had to have 20 hours of community service to get a diploma. If that's not a national standard then it fucking needs to be.
Fist things first. If you want to help, if you can help, here's your priority list:
Right now, it's what they need. It may feel too casual, like coping out and giving a gift certificate in place of a real gift, but your $25, $50, $100, $500 donations are going to do a lot more than you think. Right now donating $1 gets the water where it needs to be, instead of that gallon jug you donate getting stockpiled in your local charity's storehouse.
If you can volunteer, do it. If you have the individual freedom to get in the middle of things, then call your local Red Cross and ask for orders. Where to go, who to report to, what to bring with you. Don't just head down there and get in the way. Be smart, be safe, be productive. People's lives are on the line. And don't think ground zero is the only place you can physically volunteer. Call or just show up at your local Red Cross and let them put you to work. Even if what you're doing isn't directly related to Hurricane Katrina, it's going to be necessary. Small everyday disasters don't take a break because a bigger disaster is going on somewhere else. If you show up and are able to help a local family who just suffered a house fire, then you're helping keep the home front functioning so the links in the chain don't break down.
Go to human resources at your place of work and ask who's in charge of setting up payroll deductions. Sometimes people can't part with $100 all at once, but $2 per paycheck can really add up. You might even get your company to match employee donations. If you're a church-goer, or have a book club, or are den mother for little Suzi's cupcake club, then organize food drives, clothes drives, donation drives. Get the cute little kids all dressed up and go door to door collecting checks made out to the Red Cross and giving a cupcake as thanks. Raise funds to sponsor a family's hotel bills or relocation. You'd be surprised how easy it is to actually do things.
Don't think you have to be physically carrying sandbags to help. Get in touch with an organization and ask what phone calls you can make from home, who you can solicit on their behalf. Offer to be a relay between supply and demand, between survivors and their families.
You can get out the phone book and start calling numbers asking people to make donations. Give them the number/website/address to make a Red Cross donation. Just say "My name is Bob and we're asking people to make donations to the Red Cross in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. Can I provide you with an address, phone number, or website where you can send a contribution?" You can call companies you frequent and tell them you expect they'll be making donations of money or supply to the cause. You'd be surprised how a few phone calls to the customer service line of major corporations will make them see the PR consequences of not contributing. Just call up and say "I've been a Wal-Mart shopper for 10 years and I'd like to know what your company is doing to aid in disaster relief following Hurricane Katrina" or "I'm a frequent traveler and member of Hyatt's Frequent Guest program. I'd like to know if you're offering free or discounted shelter to victims." Better yet, tell them you're writing a freelance article for a local newspaper, seeking to report on how local companies are contributing to relief efforts. It wouldn't hurt to think about writing such an article, either. If a list of who helped and who didn't appears in the paper, companies will think twice the next time a call for help is issued.
Don't help circulate inaccurate information. Rumors in this case can be deadly, or have terrible emotional consequences. People get insane in the face of grief. This isn't the time for conspiracy theories. There will be plenty of time for that later. I still read bullshit accounts of the military murdering people in the chaos of Andrew. On the other hand, if you can help circulate helpful and accurate information, then do it.
7. Secondary Supply.
The above mentioned clothes and food drives aren't going to be needed for a couple of weeks. Right now it's search and rescue and immediate need. You're not going to get anything through there before the emergency crews do. But, later on there will be people with nothing who can use clothes and food and almost anything else you want to send. Start a box of items now. Every time you go to the store buy things on sale that will be easily shipped. Make plans with your friends to go yard sale hopping and pick up clothes and shoes. Eventually there will be plenty of places to send these items. Only don't overload your local Red Cross with it now. They have limited storage space and they won't be shipping anything in that direction from local branches for a while.
Educate yourself, your friends, and your family about the realities of disasters in your local area. Make plans. What would you do in the case of a disaster in your area? How would you keep your loved ones notified. What supplies do you have ready to toss in the car. Are your important papers accessible so that you can simply grab a folder and have your insurance papers at hand? Make a list of priority items you'd want to take with you in a worst-case evacuation scenario. The best way you can help in the midst of disaster is to not become a victim in need of rescue. Find out how up to date your local government facilities are and how viable their procedures are.
You know this anger and sickness you feel? Don't forget it and don't displace it. Don't let it be re-branded and redistributed later on. Be angry at the right people and hold them accountable. After we were lectured to about the necessity for the rights stripped from us in the Patriot Act are we any safer in the face of disaster? Are you as likely to be the victim of a terrorist as you are a hurricane or earthquake? This is what government is for; aid in the aftermath of disaster is basic government obligation. WHY wasn't it there immediately? And don't just remember those who fucked up. Remember those who didn't step up. Why isn't Congress holding hands and singing on the steps this time? Where are OUR LEADERS on any side of the political landscape? In the next political primary let the question be "where the fuck were you after Katrina?"
I don't want to get all liberal touchy-feely here, but the fact is that you need to practice being just a little nicer to people for a spell. The person you're screaming at because your bank statement is fucked up could be under a great deal of stress wondering if a family member is alive or dead. The guy who just cut you off in traffic could be out of his mind with grief from media overdose and just as ready to ram into a pylon as take his next breath. It doesn't cost you anything to swallow one extra time and let things pass. Just imagine every person you're dealing with is feeling as stressed, angry, and emotionally spent as you are. If you need to vent the poisonous feelings, vent them in the right direction. Write your congressperson, your white house, your local paper with an editorial. Don't threaten to blow up anything. Do promise to remember next election who did nothing and who stood up and took action.
This is not an official list. This is based on my experience and my personal feelings right now off the top of my head. Take it for what it's worth. So long as you use common sense and think before rushing in, no effort is wasted effort.
Some Good Links To Have
"I'm drawn back to 9/11 when a president opted to tell Americans to shop instead of taking advantage of the opportunity to channel our nation's grief energy into positive, productive action."
Lots of people donated around 9/11, and then went to shop. And they did so rightly!
Donating to the Red Cross and other charities that help the Katrina victims is absolutely a good thing to do - that money goes to help people and boosts the economy in some industries (medical industry for the basic medical goods the people need, food, water, probably clothing and toiletries all see a temporary increase in sales).
But, other industries see a slump - or can. If people stay in their houses to conserve the most gas they possibly can - they don't go and look around Hot Topic or Lane Bryant and buy a few things. It impacts the mom and pop stores and restaurants in an area more - and other charities will be suffering this year since many people will be blowing their charitable wad with the Red Cross.
I am absolutely not saying that it's bad to donate or conserve gas. I'm just pointing out that it *is* good and productive to continue ones normal consumer habits - as it keeps consumer confidence up (something that's looked at when interest rates go under federal review - which ends up affecting everyone with any sort of loan or credit card) and keeps money going into national and local businesses.
Please don't forget the normal charities you donate to. The past has shown that people forget all about them in the face of large disaster like this. If they needed your money before, they probably still need it now - please try not to forget them =)
Posted by: Zgirl at September 5, 2005 11:17 AM
I couldn’t disagree with this mindset more. It’s false logic and it’s dangerous. The whole point of a disaster or national tragedy is that we should pull together and make sacrifices until the crisis is over. And if that means the local pet shelter has to make do with a little less for a month, or that Sears or Mom and Pop’s Pie Shop takes a temporary dip in sales, then that’s the way it needs to be.
The fact of the matter is, if ALL federal resources were organized and pooled for just a few weeks, then any crisis area can be stabilized to the point where the emergency is over and rebuilding can begin. I’m not saying that all resources should move in one direction until recovery is complete. I know that it took Miami YEARS to recover from Andrew and we weren’t underwater. But rescuing survivors and stabilizing the affected areas should have happened within days. Let’s say it took two weeks to effect rescue, relocate survivors and begin basic repairs. That’s not an unreasonable timetable if full federal resources are allocated and someone with a brain is in the position to organize and coordinate. I can see it happening in two weeks, but let’s say three or four. Any business that goes under because of a four week slump was going out of business anyway. Any charity that folds because people donated in another direction for four weeks isn’t well established or organized, no matter how good the work they’re doing is. The marketplace is supposed to take a dip here and there, and if it can’t bear it, then we need to take stock of the house of cards we’re standing on.
You don’t tell people to shop in order to get over a crisis – you tell them to serve their community and their fellow Americans. I’m sorry, but when consumerism replaces national pride and sympathy for those in crisis, we are in a sorry state. When a public official gets up and says “business as usual” it is a statement of horrific disrespect to those who have lost their lives, or who are struggling for survival, or those who are simply mourning.
If you’re a person who is mourning or saddened by what’s going on, you have every right to turn off the TV and go buy that new CD to make yourself feel better. That’s a coping mechanism and its natural and I have no beef with it. But that’s not what our leaders should be advocating at a time of crisis. It is a shameful, consumerist message in a time of national tragedy.
The message right now is “send money and let the professionals take care of it” (as if there were any professionals) or “hey, these people will get the help we have to give them when we get it there; they should have evacuated anyway.” And if you’re not hearing that message you’re missing it.
After 9/11 and now, the message should have been that it was okay to mourn – to take time and just let it sink in – to spend time with our families, or to take our sadness and invest it in community service. The message should have been “get your ass in gear and go help.” But all we get is “donate blood, send money,” or “on your feet, back to work, go shop.”
In my experience, people are going to normalize as soon as they can. The message shouldn’t be “normalize” the message should be to do something extraordinary. The message should have been “My fellow Americans, I am making a call for volunteers. I am making a call for sacrifice. I am making a call for extraordinary human effort until we get these people saved.”
It wasn’t. It still isn’t. And it’s criminal. There are Americans on television begging for survival in the middle of a major US city. The incompetence and indifference displayed by those who are supposed to be in charge is nothing short of murder.
We’ve seen arguably the two most devastating national tragedies in American history under Bush’s watch. Both of which his administration had warning for. Both of which were made more horrible because he placed incompetent buddies in positions of power.
There are three more years of this. If so much as a Category 1 hurricane hits New York City it’s going to be pandemonium. And I think New Orleans has demonstrated exactly what kind of national effort we can expect in the face of the next terrorist attack.
They want us to shop because they don’t want us investigating their incompetence. It’s just that simple.
Posted by: Doxy at September 5, 2005 04:20 PM