Guest Columnist

We shouldn't have to raise money for disaster relief

Mutual aid is important but it's no substitute for fully funding public services

A trailer is seen having been crushed by falling tree limbs from the Aug. 10 derecho storm at Edgewood Forest mobile hom
A trailer is seen having been crushed by falling tree limbs from the Aug. 10 derecho storm at Edgewood Forest mobile home park in Cedar Rapids on Thursday, Aug. 20, 2020. (Andy Abeyta/The Gazette)

On Monday, the Iowa City Catholic Worker announced it had handed out $10,000 in financial aid to 26 immigrant families in Linn and Johnson Counties, in partial relief for damages suffered during the derecho natural disaster.

A total of $25,000 in direct aid relief came from an Oregon-based foundation called Western States Center. It was disbursed to Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement and regranted to Catholic Workers and Advocates for Social Justice. ASJ was founded to win community control of the police and hands out thousands of dollars worth of in-kind food, water and emergency supplies across Cedar Rapids on a daily basis. To date, ASJ has spent an additional $9,000 directly on disaster relief efforts.

Together our organizations launched a matching fundraiser, to double derecho disaster relief from local, small-dollar donors, which has already passed $13,000 raised in less than a week.

This joint relief work is vitally important to the countless families we have collectively served who are struggling to recover after the superstorm. Like most climate change survivors, many are disproportionately Black, Latinx, immigrants or refugees, and poor. Some are still reeling from the COVID-19 crisis. Undocumented immigrants, for example, did not receive an economic stimulus check this year but often work our nation’s most essential jobs.

Mutual aid is important because it helps alleviate suffering and models the world we want to see. As individuals, we lived through the derecho and experienced its negative impacts. Through the Works of Mercy, we’ve witnessed firsthand just how widespread the destruction really is.

The truth is, we shouldn’t have to raise money to rebuild our neighborhoods and communities after an unprecedented natural disaster like the derecho. What Cedar Rapids really needs is strong state intervention by a good government that puts people first. Disaster relief with a preferential option for the poor means:

• Full coverage financial assistance for the hardest-hit communities, including undocumented immigrants.

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• Bust up utility and internet monopolies like MidAmerican and Mediacom and replace them with community-owned and democratically-controlled alternatives.

• Rebuild Green, with affordable housing, good jobs and clean water, to end the cycle of disaster capitalism and ensure the poor receive what is, in justice, theirs.

• No outsourcing or privatizing relief efforts except to local companies and cooperatives with verified union contracts.

President Donald Trump and Gov. Kim Reynolds have started to take a few half-measures and baby steps to mitigate the aftermath of the derecho disaster in Iowa. Overall, the government response has been slow and inefficient, with too much going to agribusiness and commercial interests and not nearly enough going to real people and workers.

Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden and Cedar Rapids Mayor Brad Hart need to start showing some real leadership too, and figure out a way to shake loose the federal and state purse strings. There’s too many people in dire need to wait, and we can’t do it all by ourselves.

Juan Manual Galvez Ibarra is a Catholic Worker and the editor and publisher of El Trueque Media. Tamara Marcus is a Ph.D. candidate in Environmental Science and a co-founder of Advocates for Social Justice.

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