We are weary. Beat down by months of one repulsive and impulsive tweet-turned-executive-order after another. And now, horrific Harvey, which officials estimate will send 30,000 Texas residents into shelters, not to mention many other displaced thousands. FEMA notes that more than 450,000 people are likely to need federal aid in the wake of the storm. At least thirty-nine people have died, and that number is likely to grow as the rescue-and-evacuate stage is still in progress.
The storm forces us to reckon with two unsettling but important realities: human-driven climate change is making extreme weather events like Harvey more common, and profit- and racism-driven city planning means that lower-income communities, immigrant communities, and communities of color are—and will continue to be—disproportionately affected by these disasters. The Center for American Progress notes, “While many describe storms and other extreme weather as ‘social equalizers’ that do not differentiate based on ethnicity, race, or class, the truth is that these events exacerbate our underlying economic inequities” in part because lower-income Americans have fewer resources with which to guard against, prepare for, and recover from natural disasters and in part because low-income communities are more likely to live in areas with poor infrastructure and in close proximity to hazardous waste and dangerous chemicals. As Peaceful Uprising explains, “It is the least privileged and most vulnerable global citizens who are the first to feel the effects of the climate crisis, and who suffer the most damage.” For more information about environmental racism, take a look at this short video created by The Atlantic.
This means that, as Amy Davidson Sorkin explains in The New Yorker, “The challenge that Harvey presents is not simply logistical; it is political.” The good news is that Republicans seem to be recognizing this fact; G. William Hoagland, for example, whom The New York Times describes as “a longtime chief budget adviser to Senate Republicans,” noted on Thursday, “The truth of the matter is, they don’t need money to build a wall in Texas, but to rebuild the shoreline in Texas.” Republican members of Congress, too, have conceded that now is not the time to shut down the government over whether or not to provide funds for a border wall; they have also backed down from the plan to cut 876 million dollars of funding from FEMA—a spending bill initially slated for a vote next week. This momentum, as well as the impending return of our members of Congress to Washington, provides us with the perfect opportunity to reach out to our representatives and let them know how we feel. What is needed in Houston—and throughout our country—is not just funds earmarked chiefly for recovery, though those are gravely important. To ensure long-term protection of our most vulnerable citizens from our most terrifying disasters, we need more funding and regulations for building, city planning, and flood-control—the kind of funding that 45 has vowed to rollback.
1. Donate—wisely. Here are some good places to start.
- One of the organizations compiled by A Just Harvey Recovery, a collaborative project of a number of local groups in the Houston area focused on providing just and equitable relief
- The Hurricane Harvey Community Relief Fund, which is committed to ensuring “that Harvey’s most vulnerable victims have access to critical services from first response and basic needs to healthcare, housing and transportation.”
- The New York Times has compiled an additional list of organizations here. When choosing from their list, prioritize local groups. (There has been a good deal of evidence lately that some of our most trusted national organizations do not spend their funds wisely.)
2. Don’t be fooled.
Be wary of businesses attempting to capitalize on this tragedy for their own financial gain. A number of individuals and companies are currently offering a small percentage of their profits (usually less than ten percent) to hurricane relief. That’s certainly better than donating nothing—but be wary of folks who are simply trying to drum up business by promising to donate a few cents to relief efforts. Remember, the most effective way to help is to donate directly to local organizations who are doing the essential work of rebuilding and serving the most vulnerable members of our society. (On the other hand, there are companies who have committed to offer 100% of proceeds from events or sales to relief efforts—if you want to donate indirectly, this is the route to take.)
3. Call your members of Congress!
- Look them up or leave a message via Stance
- Choose an issue/script (or talk through all of them!):
- ENVIRONMENTAL REGULATIONS: “Hello, I am a resident of [CITY/STATE or ZIP CODE]. I am calling because I know that devastating storms like Harvey are only becoming more common as a result of human-driven climate change. What is Sen/Rep [NAME] doing to ensure that the United States remains committed to the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions in order to prevent our planet’s temperature from rising more than two degrees Celsius—the point at which the changes to our world will become truly catastrophic? Will Sen/Rep [NAME] promise not to vote for a budget bill unless the Environmental Protection Agency is fully funded at current budget levels?”
- DISASTER RELIEF: “Hello, I am a resident of [CITY/STATE or ZIP CODE]. The people of Texas and Louisiana who have been affected by Harvey are hurting and need support. The first thing that Congress should do when they return from the August recess is pass a disaster relief aid package. This package should provide adequate funding to respond to immediate needs, like food and water, as well as longer term needs like the years of rebuilding that will be required. Additionally, disaster relief must also take into account that communities of color have been the hardest hit, with adequate funding to help individuals recover and to make sure that the public services communities rely on every day are rebuilt fully and promptly. Will Sen/Rep [NAME] make passing such a package his/her first priority when he/she returns to Washington?” (adapted from Indivisible)
- ENVIRONMENTAL RACISM: “Hello, I am a resident of [CITY/STATE or ZIP CODE] and I am concerned about the recovery efforts in the wake of Harvey. This storm, like others before it, is disproportionately impacting low-income communities and communities of color. In order for there to be true recovery in Texas and Louisiana, there must be more infrastructure regulations for flood-planning put in place, the quality of low-income housing must be increased, relief aid must be fairly distributed access to low-income communities and communities of color, and unemployment insurance and disaster unemployment aid must be bolstered. Can you tell me what Sen/Rep [NAME] is doing to ensure that disasters like Harvey do not continue to wreak disproportionate havoc on low-income communities and on communities of color?”
- SPENDING BILL: “Hello, I am a resident of [CITY/STATE or ZIP CODE], and I am calling to make sure that Sen/Rep [NAME] is committed to directing government spending to just and equitable relief efforts in the wake of Hurricane Harvey rather than an unneeded and absurdly costly border wall. Will Sen/Rep [NAME] commit to ensuring that funding goes to FEMA and to infrastructure grants that will help cities prevent future catastrophic damage from future natural disasters and not to a border wall?”