We're not the only ones who lend a hand in the wake of a disaster. There is a decently long, if not rich, history of far right organizations providing aid following hurricanes, tornadoes, and fires. And here's the thing: after your life has been turned upside down, it's hard to push away help, even if it's from a corner you might not always agree with. Which is the whole point. Disaster opens doors and minds.
Among the folks that turned out for a local government meeting in East Palestine weeks back were a group of far-right nerds representing Patriot Front and smaller-fries. In the early days of this disaster the far-right made up a good deal of the reportage and an even greater swath of the signal-boosting. This created a kind of negative feedback loop in which liberals downplayed the impact of the train derailment and right wingers were able to champion an environmental cause–which is a discrete problem from what we're discussing today.
I'm Not a Psychologist, But
Neither are you. Probably. Nor is anyone on the right, working to take advantage of folks who had their existence upended. And that's what they're doing–taking advantage of a situation which allows for the exploitation of vulnerable people. This is missionary work. You swoop into a region which you may or may not have experience with, proselytize, maybe build a house or deliver a pallet of water, and convert some souls to the cause. It's an old tactic because it has efficacy, even if only temporarily.
But let's be clear about something; pointing fingers at, for instance, the Cajun Navy rescuing folks after a hurricane because they don't hold your same political beliefs is a bit shitty unless you're on the ground too. Pointing fingers at JD Vance (I really hate to take his side, I really do) for being a shit while he tweets that something's rotten in East Palestine is not the look libs think it is, and turning the other way because the victims vote red is not a good idea, nor is it remotely moral. We exist in a society that values profit over human lives, and under a government with skewed priorities besides. Sometimes people we don't agree with are going to be victimized, and sometimes they're going to be in the right. We have to have room to acknowledge both of these things.
What's more, if we're to hold ourselves to our principles, we have to not only stand ready to help folks in need no matter their stripes, we should be engaging in a better form of aid than the right. We talk about mutual aid all the time on here, but I think that it can be difficult to contain that idea in your head without it being just another word for charity, and it's not that. Engaging in charity rather than mutual aid in instances like these, post-disaster, flattens some of our differences with the other side.
A Great Example
Last night–as of this writing–Trump visited East Palestine, beating out any major representative of the Biden administration. This morning, Pete Buttigieg made it out. That's three weeks without any face time, two of which with the story buried under a lack of major news coverage. This isn't about the failures of our current government, though, which are many–including a peeling back of regulation by the Trump administration which may have helped this disaster occur. This is about showing up. Trump did first, and in Trump fashion. He delivered a truck full of Trump Water, which is apparently a thing (and was apparently expired), and made a speech criticizing the Biden administration. He then went to McDonalds, bought some food for people, and flew away.
That right there is charity. Hell, it's barely charity. But I guarantee you Trump got votes out of it. And that's the point for him, and for the right wing. They're not so much concerned with changing the lives of the people they're helping through disaster response as they are getting something out of it. And while I won't criticize aid being virtually air-dropped into a region, because they need it and it wasn't there before, we can criticize the follow-up or lack thereof. That's charity.
We have got to do more. We not only have to be galvanized to respond to situations like East Palestine, but we have to be there in ways that presidential candidates and militias-turned-aid-workers aren't. And how we do that is by providing actual mutual aid rather than charity. We have to be focused on affecting the permanent material conditions of who we are helping–not just temporary afflictions. We have got to be thinking about building relationships, resilience, and independence. This occurs, critically, outside of the capitalist system and in resistance to it. It starts with listening to the needs of the people, and ends with their being able and motivated to help others as well.
In the vacuum of assistance from the federal government, which is bound to occur whether temporarily or not, aid will pour in from somewhere. Whether it is enough, or even what is needed, is in some ways immaterial. Trump donated expired water with his name on it to East Palestine, but he showed his face. He was there. An actual president may not have the time to do such a thing at every disaster–not that I'm trying to defend Biden–but that isn't important. What's important is that they were gaslit, ignored, and written off for weeks. That's what they'll remember. And in an ecosystem in which aid from the feds will be longer and longer coming, we leftists have got to step up. Not just to be another voice in the clamor, not just to try and keep the far right from swooping in and replicating through disaster, but because it is simply the right thing to do.
More disasters are going to occur, in case you haven't been paying attention to the content of every newsletter thus far. As climate change becomes more alarming and more devastating, as the government and our infrastructure crumble, these disasters will multiply and official response will likely shrink–particularly in ever-expanding sacrifice zones. Within those zones, if we're not there to help, droves of the far-right may begin recruiting their next generation, and begin shifting their rhetoric toward ecofascism. It doesn't take a lot to lend a hand. Whether it be in your community or elsewhere, you should be contributing.