We all do better, when we all do better. ~Paul Wellstone
As an entire nation watches in shock, Houston’s streets become waterways and residents make holes in their roofs to escape rising waters. We’ve seen the videos of rescues and heard pleas from officials for anyone with a boat to consider coming to Houston to pitch in. And we’ve seen people heeding that call – driving to rather than from Houston, boats in tow.
Our desire to help one another is inspiring. It’s also innate. It’s in our biological blueprint to be predisposed to lend assistance, even if there is no clear benefit to ourselves.
The predisposition to help one another isn’t unique to our species, actually. Researchers have found that even rats will help other rats in distress – going so far as to share their chocolate reward with the rat they have freed. (I think we can all agree that sharing chocolate shows some serious altruism.) Follow-up studies showed fairly conclusively that the rats felt empathy with their trapped counterparts; they made more aggressive attempts to free them if they had previously been in the trapped rat’s situation.
So much for the “rat race.”
In describing their findings, the researchers noted that “[h]elping is our evolutionary inheritance,” and that “we don’t have to cognitively decide to help an individual in distress; rather, we just have to let our animal selves express themselves.”
In other words, we just have to get out of our own way.
As a nation, we’re pretty good at helping people who are in immediate danger. But it’s frustrating to watch compassion recede with floodwaters. Not that long ago, GOP members of Congress (some from Texas) voted against Hurricane Sandy disaster relief.
That probably shouldn’t surprise anyone – the GOP has been dis-incentivizing kindness for a while now. The GOP has attacked the Affordable Care Act, Medicaid, school lunch funding, FEMA (yes, Trump’s budget included an 11% cut to that agency), cities that try to hike their minimum wage, unions – I could go on and on. But other than being issues on the GOP chopping block, what do all of these issues have in common? They’re programs that help other people do better. They’re society’s way of providing a life raft to help people escape a very real, but intangible, flood.
Friends, we can do better. As Paul Wellstone famously said – we all do better when we all do better. That’s the endless feedback loop of kindness – when I do better, I can help you to do better, and then you can help others do better – so on and so forth until all of society floats above where it had been before.
Alexis de Tocqueville called that idea “self-interest, properly understood.”
Right now we need to fight for the lives of the people in Houston.
And then we continue our fight to help all of us – all of us – do better.
Let’s get to work.
First, because it’s awesome, I have to share this a kicky musical rendition of Wellstone’s famous quote – complete with ukulele!
Congress will reconvene one week from today, on Tuesday, September 5. Next week you can expect them to be discussing the budget and debt ceiling increase – as well as disaster relief for Hurricane Harvey.
Tuesday: Come Together and Help Texas
Let’s start by helping. Here are some places to donate funds to help the victims of Hurricane Harvey. (Vox has a great list as well.)
- Hurricane Harvey Relief Fund: After receiving an overwhelming number of inquiries from citizens and companies who want to help, Mayor Sylvester Turner has established the Hurricane Harvey Relief Fund that will accept tax deductible flood relief donations for victims that have been affected by the recent floods.The fund will be housed at the Greater Houston Community Foundation, a 501(c)(3) public charity.
- Trach Mommas/Little Lobbyists: Little Lobbyists was founded by moms of children with complex medical needs; they were front-and-center in the healthcare fight, going with their children from Senate office to Senate office so senators could see the faces of those who would be affected by their votes on healthcare. Little Lobbyists has partnered with Trach Mommas of Louisiana to help provide medical supplies for families with children with complex medical needs living in the hurricane zone.
- United Way Relief Fund: The United Way-Houston has launched a fund to help with storm recovery.
- Red Cross: You can donate funds, or blood (there’s an emergency need for blood and platelets), or both. You can donate online, or by texting HARVEY to 90999 to make a $10 donation. (Note that there has been a significant amount of criticism of the Red Cross’s response to the 2010 earthquake in Haiti. For that reason, some people are advising against donations to the Red Cross. Most experts continue to recommend giving to the Red Cross; and, because the Red Cross is on the ground right now in Houston providing shelter for victims, I’m including them in this list.)
- Salvation Army: The Salvation Army has provided shelter, food, and clothing to victims in Houston. Volunteers have also been assisting in the efforts to rescue victims. You can donate online at helpsalvationarmy.org. Or you can text STORM to 51555.
Wednesday: Tell Your MOCs That We Need Bridges – Not Walls
There’s some talk that Trump will try to get funding for his wall by piggybacking that funding on a Harvey disaster relief bill. The thinking would be that Democrats couldn’t bear to deny Harvey relief funds, so they’d be forced to pay for the wall.
The Democrats certainly see this coming – and there’s some suggestion that they will be coming out this week or next with a hardline stance demanding that the Harvey disaster relief be in a stand-alone bill. Let’s get behind that from the get-go, and let Congress see that we not only notice – but we won’t stand for – shenanigans.
Script (for all three of your Congresscritters): Hi, my name is ____ and I’m a constituent at ____. I’m calling because I am firmly opposed to funding for a border wall to be included in the budget. I’m concerned that there will be an attempt to tack funding for that wall to a Harvey disaster relief bill. In a time of disaster, it’s awful that these kinds of shenanigans are even being considered. No wonder Congress has such poor approval ratings. I’m asking the [Senator, Congressman/woman] to stand up for the people of Texas and demand that the Harvey funding be in a standalone bill. I also expect [him/her] to vote for relief for the victims of Hurricane Harvey. Thanks for your time.
Thursday: Support DACA Recipients
Let’s chat for a sec about DACA – the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. We know these immigrants as “Dreamers” – they arrived in our country as children and for all intents and purposes the United States is their home country. Among other requirements, to be accepted under DACA they have to have arrived in the United States before their 16th birthday, and have a clean criminal record.
A number of conservative attorneys general gave Trump an artificial deadline of September 5 (next Tuesday) to decide whether to retain or end DACA. Here are some resources to help you stand up for these Dreamers.
This fantastic website has a number of different resources and graphics for you to use to show your support for these Dreamers. In particular, it has a great event search tool that you can use to find a protest near you. (Note: those protests will happen on September 5, so set your calendar!)
And here’s a video of Republican members of Congress showing their support for DACA. Please share!
Finally, here’s a script for you to use to call your MOCs to let them know that you support DACA and you want them to co-sponsor the bipartisan legislation that would protect the Dreamers.
Script: (For all three MOCs – just choose the Senate Bill number when talking to your Senators, and the HR number when talking to your Rep.)
Hi, my name is _____ and I’m a constituent at _____. I’m calling to express my support for DACA recipients, and my concern about the future of that program. Dreamers are part of our communities, part of our workplaces, and part of our country. I’m asking Senator/Congressman/woman _______ to support the Dreamers and co-sponsor the bipartisan legislation that helps to protect their status. Please co-sponsor and support the DREAM Act – [SB1615 /HR3440] – bipartisan legislation that protects the Dreamers. Thanks for your time.
Friday: Harvey Will Be Expensive. Congress Needs to Lift the Debt Ceiling.
It’s not sexy, I know. But Harvey’s cost will be staggering, and federal funds are going to be needed pronto. FEMA has about $3.3 billion on hand – if they spend that money and Congress appropriates more disaster relief, that will put further stress on the debt ceiling. (If you need a refresher about the debt ceiling, go back to August 8th’s edition here, and scroll down to that Thursday’s action: Get Geeky With Me About the Debt Ceiling.)
Script: Hi, my name is ____ and I’m a constituent at ____. I’m calling to ask the Senator/Congressman/woman to vote in favor of increasing the debt ceiling. Particularly in the wake of Hurricane Harvey, our nation needs the flexibility to be able to provide disaster relief without damaging the full faith and credit of the United States. I’ve also heard that some members want to play chicken with the economy and try to get massive budget cuts. Has Congressman/woman _____ agreed to pass the debt ceiling without making additional demands?
- If no (meaning they want to extract budget cuts or something else): This is such an irresponsible move – I’m terribly disappointed that ______ would be willing to risk the United States credit rating for political purposes. I’ll remember this in 2018, and I’ll be sure that my friends and neighbors understand how ______ voted on this issue.
- If they don’t know: I can’t believe this isn’t at the top of everyone in your office’s minds right now. This is an easy lift – just agree to raise the debt ceiling and pay our bills – it’s the responsible thing to do. I’ll be watching for what ______ does on this issue.
Thank you for reading. Thank you for writing. I read and respond to every e-mail. (Really! I do!) We’re in this together.
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