Solidarity Not Charity
The day before yesterday [March 18], a friend contacted me who wanted to send emergency aid supplies to Sendai, and I had just posted them. I sent them to a Sendai NPO called the “Sendai Yo-mawari [Night Watch] Group.” Usually, they support the needs of the homeless, but right now, within the city of Sendai, they are providing food for victims of the Tôhoku Kantô Earthquake. I packaged up imperishable canned goods into cardboard boxes 30cm square and addressed it to general delivery via Sagawa Express Delivery (for details on how this works, see here). I was happy to do what I could to ease the hunger of people there, and the very act of sending the supplies helped ease my own feelings of helplessness, at least a little bit, feelings that had bubbled up within in me as I watched the footage of the devastation wrought by the earthquake and tsunami, thinking What to do? What to do? What to do?
SOLIDARITY NOT CHARITY
In a society like contemporary Japan, it is incumbent on us to support groups that have always worked toward overcoming the injustices and inequalities that plague us in the best of times, that do not think that this society has been “healthy” or “peaceful.” Support for enormous organizations can be left to celebrities; we must work to prevent efforts to “get things back the way they were” from reinstating pre-existing injustices. And it is in that sense that we emphasize the slogan SOLIDARITY NOT CHARITY.
SOLIDARITY NOT CHARITY is the slogan of the Common Ground Collective, which formed a week after Hurricane Katrina battered New Orleans.
On [March 18], David, from Iowa, conveyed to us the message, “During Katrina, I was unable to help as much as I would have liked, so I want to make sure to volunteer as much as I can to aid those in need due to this earthquake,” and this made me remember the fantastic precedent for action that Common Ground represents for us as we attempt to help people in these disaster-affected areas.
Common Ground Relief is a volunteer-run not for profit organization based in the Lower 9th Ward of New Orleans. We run a diverse range of projects, from New Home Construction, to a Free Legal Clinic, to Wetlands Restoration, Community Gardening and the education of school children about Food Security and Environmental Science with our Garden of Eatin’ Program
Common Ground Relief’s mission is to provide short-term relief for victims of hurricane disasters in the gulf coast region, and long term support in rebuilding the communities affected in the New Orleans area. Common Ground Relief is a community-initiated volunteer organization offering assistance, mutual aid and support. The work gives hope to communities by working with them, providing for their immediate needs and emphasizes people working together to rebuild their lives in sustainable ways.
Common Ground Relief rose out of the immediate crisis created by Hurricane Katrina when tens of thousands of residents lost their homes, their possessions and their way of life. In the Lower Ninth Ward where approximately 14,000 people lived and 4,800 homes were located, this devastation represented the loss of a community where over 54% of the residents had lived at 25 years and roots in the neighborhood had resulted in the highest percentage of African American home ownership of any city in the United States. The loss of these homes represented the disappearance of a family’s major asset, economic livelihood and, as a result, their future.
Through Common Ground Relief, we have provided a vehicle for nearly 25,000 people of all ages and backgrounds to volunteer in the recovery of the area. We have gutted over 3,000 homes, provided for the basic needs of thousands of New Orleans residents and founded a, now independent, health clinic and women’s shelter. We meet the residents who need help in rebuilding their flood damaged homes and offer assistance for new construction at our Anita Roddick Advocacy Center. The Center also houses our free Legal Clinic, staffed with law school student volunteers and supervised by a Louisiana licensed attorney, we continue to provide free legal services that now encompass wrongful demolition, succession documentation, mortgage application assistance and contractor fraud.
Additionally, we strive to re-create historic levels of agricultural self-sufficiency in the Lower Ninth Ward through the fiscal sponsorship for and as co-founder of the Lower Ninth Ward Urban Farming Coalition. We conduct soil testing, build raised garden beds for residents, organized a local garden club and provide gardening advice throughout the community. Our Wetlands Restoration program, combined with an educational partnership with Martin Luther King, Jr. Charter School, strives to rebuild the destroyed buffer of wetlands of coastal Louisiana and create awareness of its historic importance to local residents. We have established a tree farm in a partnership with Nichols State University, the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry and Bayou Rebirth to grow hardwood trees and grasses for wetlands plantings and landscape plants for the yards of returning residents.
Finally, our Job Training program is teaching construction skills to residents and at risk youth. This salaried program provides gainful employment and training that will lead to successful careers for the participants.
With your support, Common Ground Relief will continue to provide grassroots, environmentally aware and politically conscious assistance to this beleaguered community and allow us to help this important area not only survive, but thrive.
Thank you for your generous support.
There are so many all around us who want to do something to help those in the affected areas – it would gladden us if articles like this can serve as food for thought, and encouragement, for them.
And, speaking of Katrina, it may be worth mentioning (at the risk of self-promotion) that Irregular Rhythm Asylum is involved with this. Solidarity can take this form as well.