Yesterday's New York Times's Sunday Styles section had a story about those of us called Katrina, and how we are handling the fact that we share a name with a Hurricane which has caused such enormous suffering and destruction.
The article notes how angry I was that Rush Limbaugh stooped so low as to link me to this human suffering. (He referred to the catastrophic storm as "Hurricane Katrina vanden Heuvel"). The Times reporter says that I dismissed the personal attack "and wheeled the issue into more comfortable terrain" by raising serious questions about the disaster in a recent piece.
Yes, I did raise questions about the shamefully inadequate response to the worst natural disaster in US history. But what the Times article didn't report were my personal reactions to the suffering. Nor did it convey my abiding hope that out of this tragedy--which has so starkly exposed our country's racial and class divide--will come a renewed understanding of the positive role of government in building a more just and equal America. Nor did it mention my search for how to most effectively help those hardest hit, spurred on, in part, by letters from many Nation readers asking our advice on the best ways to help.
On behalf of The Nation--and my colleagues who care so deeply about supporting grassroots relief efforts--I have made contributions to each of the following organizations listed below. I encourage Nation readers to consider these and other grassroots efforts in making your own gifts. Our website has also collected information about other ways you can help. (Click here for additional info.)
ACORN is a national, grassroots, dues-based organization of low-income people with 175,000 members. It's been highly effective in the campaigns for living wage-ordinances in 100 cities. Its headquarters was in New Orleans, and the group needs funds to establish temporary offices in nearby cities. More than 9,000 ACORN members lived in New Orleans before Katrina hit. Donations are going to locate missing members and provide housing for those who have been found. ACORN is holding town hall meetings around the country to discuss the hurricane response, and in the coming months, decisions about how to rebuild the city will take place. ACORN is one of the best hopes to ensure that the voices of those most affected by the hurricane are heard.
For more information: acorn.org
To donate: groundspring.org
Southern Mutual Help Association was founded in 1969 to help develop strong, healthy, prosperous rural communities in Louisiana. Working alongside southern Louisiana's fishermen and farmers, it is an advocate for preserving threatened livelihoods even as it assists in the process of change towards more sustainable futures.
Katrina has devastated the communities in which SMHA works. Louisiana's commercial fishers, the thousands of very poor families whose livelihood depends on fish, shrimp and shellfish from the bayous, have been virtually wiped out by the hurricane. Boats, docks and other infrastructure were destroyed, and the very waters they depend on have filled with salt, silt, and pollution, damaging and destroying fisheries. SMHA is still assessing the situation: It already knows the Acadiana region around Lafayette will have approximately 150,000 refugees looking for places to stay during the wait to return home (likely to be lengthy), and wondering how to recover and rebuild their future.
People throughout these fragile bayou communities will need long-term assistance, especially in the form of loans. But first SMHA must help stabilize the situation. SMHA has the commitment to be there for the long haul, and its mutually-trusting relationships with local communities will enable it to be effective in responding to local needs.
For more information: southernmutualhelp.org
To donate: southernmutualhelp.org/RuralRecoveryFund
Federation of Southern Cooperatives was established in 1967 to work with African-American rural communities in the South to save Black-owned land. In 1990 it successfully led efforts to pass the first "Minority Farmers Rights Bill." This membership-based organization can make sure aid is used not to deepen dependency, but to rebuild viable rural livelihoods. Their on-the-ground networks and local knowledge make them good candidates to loosen logistical bottlenecks and navigate complex politics; something national or international aid organizations cannot match. FSC is a member of Via Campesina, a global coalition of small farmers' organizations struggling for resource rights from the Mississippi to the Mekong deltas.
For more information: federationsoutherncoop.com
To donate: federationsoutherncoop.com/relief05.htm