They loot tax-funded FEMA, designed to keep us safe during natural disasters, to pay for ICE, which separates, deports, and dehumanizes people. Now it’s up to us to save one another.
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Tall pine trees splintered like toothpicks and are strewn about the landscape. Houses are blocking the roads, after being torn from their original resting spots and dropped in rubble by raging winds and rains. People are starving, looting, dying in the streets. Help cannot make it to them. They are alone in darkness after the ravages of Hurricane Michael.
“There is [sic] still areas north of Panama City and Mexico Beach that was not depicted in the news that needs food, supplies, hygiene, etc., and no one has got supplies to them,” Leah Tedder, a nurse, posted on Facebook from a pop-up clinic on the ground in the area. “People are now in starving mode and are looting!!!”
She is just one of the many volunteers coordinating citizen volunteer efforts to aid those left behind by the Trump administration. Indeed, we only need to look as far as this natural disaster to see what this administration thinks about its own people. Funds have been taken from FEMA, which helps people and keeps them safe and together, and redirected to ICE, which separates, deports, and dehumanizes people, to put them in camps, and throw them in jail for simply trying to live. And now we see the other side of that coin: Americans suffer in darkness with no food or shelter, and the government has nothing left to help them.
We’ve seen this before, as this administration time and time again plays at helping victims of natural disasters for photo-ops while withholding federal funds, and mismanaging what remains. With the head of FEMA under criminal investigation for misuse of government vehicles and staff for travel, it’s clear where the priorities lie within the Republican White House.
Puerto Rico remains devastated more than a year after Hurricane Maria tore through. Thousands of deaths, many of which our president straight out denies, and those who survived denied aid due to paperwork loopholes and red tape. An entire people left to struggle alone for months in the dark, no way to contact loved ones, no way to salvage their society. With their infrastructure wiped out, Trump uses the colony status to create division, instead of supporting all the citizens of this country.
Hurricanes Matthew, Florence, Harvey, Irma and more have left areas of the states of Texas, North and South Carolina, and Florida in ruins. People are begging for help from their leaders. But they’re not getting what they need. Because their leaders aren’t there for their people. They are there for the money.
FEMA is just one of the agencies caught in this shell game where money is looted from one and funneled to another, as if United States’ tax dollars are play money on his Monopoly board. Or real money used to enhance the Trump brand: military force, buttressing ICE, pushing coal and fossil fuel, cutting into our national parks … everything Trump funds is meant to other the very people and things the agencies were put in place to protect. That othering leads to anger, distrust, and hatred, and those feelings fuel Trump’s agenda. And around the circle goes.
Meanwhile, the collateral damage is human lives. Our government has sacrificed its people’s lives, futures, and livelihoods for the monetary and political gains of the few.
The government has failed so spectacularly that ordinary citizens have taken matters into their own hands, banding together and organizing to help their fellow human beings when the government says no.
Hundreds of pilots—750 to be precise—have signed up for Operation Airdrop, to fly supplies into storm-ravaged areas where the roads cannot be navigated. This time, the volunteers—who give their time, fuel, airplanes and money to do this—descended upon Gainesville Regional Airport, where local volunteers awaited them with thousands of pounds of food, medical supplies, sanitary items, cots, tarps, tents and more.
“This is a labor intensive endeavor, but when you think about what you are doing, it’s so important,” said Erin Porter, marketing manager for Gainesville Regional Airport, who spent her days navigating the volunteer space while airport business piled up on her desk.
“I’ll get to all my work, but this takes precedent right now,” she said. “I might be exhausted, but at least I can go home and take a bath and sleep in a bed that hasn’t been destroyed.”
Local residents, and even those as far as four hours away, drove in donated supplies. Volunteers sorted them by weight, size, and type, then loaded them onto the small planes, which left immediately for the impacted areas.
“We monitor hurricanes, and when landfall is imminent, we zoom out to a 200-mile radius to see which airports might be able to support us,” said Doug Jackson, the founder and president of Operation Airdrop. “It all comes down to local networking. We can bring the pilots, but we need the ground support that comes from the region itself.”
The pilots made trips back and forth between Gainesville and the Panhandle, including Destin, Panama City, Marianna, and Mexico Beach, which has been completely obliterated.
“The planes were flying in food, water, supplies,” said Anthony Stevens, who coordinated food transfer in some of the hardest hit areas, like Port St. Joe. “We were feeding 5,000 to 7,000 people a day; they lined up and we were able to hand them ready-made meals, still hot, because the flights were so immediate.”
Operation Airdrop is no amateur hour, even though its loose organization flies in the face of what we typically think of when we think of institutional help. Started after Hurricane Harvey by Jackson, who is a Texas native, the group attains members through its website, and through calls for action via aviation forums and Facebook.
Banner-towing pilot Jordan Wolff from West Palm Beach joined the group as soon as he found out about it. Then he rented a plane for the weekend with his own money and just showed up, making seven trips in three days.
“The people who fly are so passionate about it, and I’m glad to use my passion to help,” he said.
Those who can’t fly donate supplies and money through PayPal and Amazon. The internet giant has actually partnered with World Hope International working with Operation Airdrop to donate its own supplies to victims.
“We started working with them in North Carolina,” said John Lyon, president of World Hope International. “This time, they asked for lists, then delivered what we needed straight here, right from corporate.”
The American people, local companies, large corporations, and frazzled individuals have now learned that we cannot depend on our government to help those in need in our country. We have to step up and do the work ourselves.
It doesn’t stop with natural disaster aid, either. Residents of this country are learning firsthand the hard way that we can no longer depend on our government for even the most basic of help. Groups of people are being defined out of existence, health care is under full attack, judges are being appointed who clearly have no sense of bipartisanship or even a calm demeanor, families are still being separated and children detained, and there is a constant attack on the press to where violence against reporters is being glorified—to name just a few of the atrocities. The country’s fail-safes are being dismantled. On purpose and with cynicism.
Until we can wrest the country back from those who use its power structures to enrich only themselves, citizen angels dropping supplies from the sky will be a beacon for the good left in our country’s ordinary people.
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