January 13, 2010

Haiti Emergency Step One: Donations!

[Crossposted from the Freedom Road Socialist Organization website.]

As this is being written, there is no way to tell how bad the catastrophe that has hit Haiti will get. The government there is estimating the earthquake has caused an almost unbelievable 100,000 deaths!

There are important political lessons to be drawn, and already analyses and denunciations of US imperialism's culpability are flooding the left blogosphere. This is well and good--important work--but it is not the main task before us in the next few days.

Millions of folks in this country, and around the world, are filled with horror and sympathy and want to respond. When Katrina hit, people all over took up collections of food and supplies, threw everything in the biggest truck around, popped the clutch and headed towards NOLA. Communities opened their homes to the displaced. That stuff is not so easy to do in Haiti's case and the main thing people are doing, besides praying, is giving money.

Several charities have set up phone numbers one merely has to dial or text to make an automatic $5 or $10 donation. Oxfam and the Red Cross and other big dogs in what we might call the NGO-industrial complex are spamming and phonebanking like crazy. So are religious charities.

The immediate task for progressives and revolutionaries for the next couple of days is to try and capture some of those resources for the grassroots organizations of the Haitian people (and of course to do some education in the process).

One such group is the Haiti Emergency Relief Fund, established by a group of folks in the US who have been doing Haiti solidarity work since 1991, working closely with Haitians to build and support mass-based civic groups on the ground there--unions, peasant cooperatives, schools, women's organizations and more.

These groups desperately need resources to survive, to rebuild, and to organize and give a voice to the people who have been devastated by this disaster. Please encourage all of your friends, family and contacts to donate to the Haiti Emergency Rescue Fund or similar initiatives. Every dime goes to these grassroots groups and will be critical in the weeks and months ahead.

The immediate emergency response can only be handled at the state level--governments are rushing in search crews, heavy equipment, field hospitals, canteens and tons of food. What happens next is key.

The record of the big "official" international NGOs is not a pretty one. A Indonesian friend of FRSO describes what happened when she was in Aceh area immediately following the deadly tsunami there. Weeks after it hit, the NGOs were hiring relatively few local people and flying in whole teams of non-Indonesian-speaking foreign staffers, who were paid something like 20 times what the locals got. These imported crisis teams were even instructed not to fraternize with the locals, for fear of resentment of their privileges and pay. Even with the best of resources and motives, such outsiders cannot do what local people with basic organization in place and years of experience can.

To underline the urgency of the task of directing resources to the Haitians themselves, here's a blunt prediction. Given that this is not only a foreign country but one whose population is overwhelmingly Black and does not speak English, media-promoted "compassion fatigue" can be expected to start kicking in within a week. Reactionaries are already trying to stir up a backlash, blaming the Haitian people for the misery imperialism has imposed upon them. So please act and spread the word quickly--before we're back to somebody new leading off the evening news detailing what she used to do with Tiger Woods.

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