People Coming Together — why doesn’t the left respond en mass to natural disasters?

by on October 26, 2007 · 19 comments

in Media, Organizing

During the first days of the fire storms, after Qualcomm was opened up, the first volunteers appeared at the stadium ready to do what they could to help those evacuated. In the end, the stadium held approximately 12,000 San Diegans and their pets, and hundreds of volunteers had swarmed the football center (I never saw a final figure for their numbers) to help out. There was a genuine outpouring of compassion and sympathy for the unfortunate ones. Local politicians, the media and President Bush made much of this solidarity showing “San Diegans comin’ together to help one another.” I saw a few interviews with the volunteers and they were truly kind hearted people.

Then I saw an interview with a young, clean-shaven man, hair slicked back, with a badge on his chest that read “volunteer” and realized I had seen this guy before in front of cameras. That’s it, I knew the guy. He was a well-known, right-wing, media-hog, and new darling of the establishment – who I also believe is running for city council. I immediately switched the channel. (See comments on TV Coverage of the Fires below.) I knew this guy, and he was only there for his own personal and political publicity – yet there he was on TV masquerading as someone with a heart.

That got me to thinking. How is it that the right jumped on the volunteer bandwagon, whereas the progressive community in San Diego sat on our collective yams – although many of us had personal involvement with the fires and evacuations, etc. Why doesn’t the left respond all together when there are wide-spread disasters like the firestorm that hit San Diego County this week? We could. We could have all appeared at Qualcomm in peace, “no war” tee shirts or with buttons, and without pushing our collective agenda, we could have all collectively responded to the storm together to show that we do care for people. It would have given us an outlet for our frustrations at doing nothing while watching thousands of our fellow citizens suffer.

Actually, back in the eighties, I had heard of a large group of Italian activists that did something very similar. They responded to floods and other disasters together – all wearing the same tee shirt with their logo.

We are the ones with the hearts, friends, that’s why we are on the side of peace, justice, the Constitution, and why we care for the disadvantaged, for the environment, and for the rights of all.

{ 19 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar Tanja Winter October 26, 2007 at 4:40 pm

The collective T shirts is a good idea. But you underestimate what progressives are doing, beside helping friends in need. They truly help without the posturing or publicity.
It is so nauseating to watch Bush, Schwarzenegger,Sander blowing their own horn. People I know want to help the underserved communities. We went to Chicao Park to support folks there who are stugglling to serve the underserved. They get harassed by police & minutemen. We can see where all the energy is, at the Stadium. They dont need us. Corporate donors are happy to donate in return for the publicity.
Rubbing shoulders with the gov is not my bag.


avatar Thea Weedman October 26, 2007 at 5:41 pm

I know plenty of liberal progressive types who were quietly volunteering at the stadium and elsewhere. This just wasn’t the time or place for political statements and the fact that the right wing is trying to use it for their own aggrandizement is in really poor taste.


avatar John Rippo, ESPRESSO October 26, 2007 at 5:59 pm

Frank, Nice going. You missed the volunteer efforts that Border Angels, the AFSC, USD and many others are undertaking for relief. This is not your fault. Except for ESPRESSO’s November issue soon to hit the streets, no one covered them, but they did get hassled by the cops.


John Rippo, ESPRESSO


avatar barbara cummings October 26, 2007 at 6:03 pm

“whereas the progressive community in San Diego sat on our collective yams”

What an insult. This statement is so unfair and untrue. All one had to do was listen to KLSD and then go to KLGO. The righteous right couldn’t wait to start blowing their own horns and patting themselves on the back. As Tanja stated earlier, the progressive community was out there QUIETLY doing the work that no one else wanted to do. Just as today we were quietly trying to get the massive excess left at Qualcomm to Chicano Park where it was desperately needed. The county (right wing supervisors) and sheriffs were all but not allowing this aid to get where it needed to be. Donna Frye, Toni Adkins and Lori Saldana greased the skids and we can only hope that these supplies finally move to where they were so needed.


avatar Frank Gormlie October 26, 2007 at 6:12 pm

To Barbara – key word in my statement was “collective”. Many of us did do volunteer work or assist family / friends / neighbors, but as a GROUP, we didn’t jump on the opportunity to show our fellow San Diegans that the progressive community — as a group — is with them.


avatar MaoTzu October 26, 2007 at 6:13 pm

John’s comment is true. Not only were they harassed by the cops but also the Minutemen.

On your topic Frank, the left in SD can’t even come together for a peace rally or march. With so much factionalism and infighting it’s no surprise to me that we couldn’t come together for this issue.


avatar Rick Jahnkow October 26, 2007 at 7:51 pm

Very nice to see the blog.

The question you pose about why the peace movement doesn’t respond collectively to natural disasters applies to certain sectors of movement, but not all. There has been quite a national mobilization of antiwar activists to aid Katrina victims, for example, and organizations like the AFSC have always mixed antiwar organizing with relief work.

I think the local peace movement was not at Qualcomm Stadium in part because it is under the influence of a syndrome that causes people to think almost exclusively on a reactive tactical level and rarely strategically. Part of the reason for this is the influence of groups that are locked into an old belief that mass marches and demonstrations constitute organizing for change, and consequently all their energy goes into pushing the tactic of protest. They have little ability to step outside the box and see that protest is merely one tactic, and to be useful it must be strategically relevant. It’s like they expect to be able to harvest crops without first figuring out the mechanics of preparing the soil and planting seeds.

Sometimes, tactics other than protest are more effective for reaching segments of the population that are really important strategically but don’t turn out for the typical antiwar march or park rally. For example, youths from low-income families who are being targeted by recruiters as cannon fodder for Iraq are in a position, by resisting recruitment, to speed up the end of the occupation and prevent war with Iran. The best way to reach those individuals is to go out to schools to counter recruiters and simultaneously offer youths information on alternatives for college financing and job training. But that type of work, which organizations like COMD ( and Project YANO ( have been struggling to do locally for many years, is currently starving for support and gets relatively little attention from activists who say they want to end the occupation and stop the U.S. from invading other countries.

I’d also say the same about the importance of reaching out to military members by going out to base entrances and places where they hang out. While an occasional GI finds out about and attends an antiwar protest, a hell of a lot more could be affected through patiently working on direct outreach. But the local peace movement expects GI’s to magically materialize at rallies.

People who are in a position to affect the direction of the local peace movement have a responsibilty to develop and communicate ideas for long-term, strategic vision. As long as they continue thinking short-term and pursuing the same reactive approaches, the local movement will not understand the relevance of your question.

Rick Jahnkow


avatar Citizens For A Better Veterans Home (founded 1998) October 26, 2007 at 7:54 pm

The internal ‘compas’ of post WWII anti establishment movements seems wedded to the idea of selectivity and rejection and sure fire ‘losing’!
In the 1960s and 1970s it was the lack of use of the national banner. This allowed the ‘right wing’ to wave the red white and blue with out competion and then to continue to woo the massive middle.
Since the 1990 Energy War I, the three bladed wind mill electricity generating fan has been available for the 21st century peace symbol: supplanting the ‘hippie’ versions of yester year.
Locally, any one but certified ‘Lefties’ is frozen out of the March weekend rallies at Balboa Park.
Democrats and GOP are evil, but left, right and center, the various varieties of the ‘Loyal Opposition’ are stupid!


avatar Pat Flannery October 26, 2007 at 7:58 pm

Frank: you are right; we need to think about what happened at Qualcomm. It was a slam-dunk for the right. The left does not do media well. If they do it at all!

Carl DeMaio was down there within minutes, wearing his “Volunteer” badge. Donna Frye was there incognito! The right has an instinct for publicity. Why was Mike Aguirre and Donna Frye not filmed serving happy meals? Because they have no clue about self-promotion, yet they have to compete with world-class self-promoters like Sanders and DeMaio.

Hopefully your new blog will help balance the ship. It is listing badly to the right lately.

I am honored to be able to comment on your very first day. I started my blog on November 23, 2004
Note that one of my first documents was the Voting Instructions used to invalidate Donna Frye’s election as Mayor. The fight has not changed. It never will.
Good luck. Welcome to the blogosphere.


avatar David G. Urban October 26, 2007 at 10:03 pm

It’s usually the conservatives, as individuals, who donate more time and money in these types of events, and generally overall. The right wants less government and more individual participation; the left wants more government, and less individual participation.


avatar Jackie McElveny October 26, 2007 at 11:01 pm

Okay, a little comic relief and then I’ll get serious: I KNOW the right-wing nut-job you mentioned who seeks various elective offices because I’ve seen him on television several times and in person once. I also cannot place his name — so forgettable — but I know that I’ve deemed him a “puke” (sorry, non-PC maybe….) This is a very small diatribe that i sent to friend of mine Wednesday night:

Another news conference tonight, fronted with the banner: Breaking News. Another self-congratulatory, aren’t-we-wonderful fest. We’re obviously building up to the next election……

There was one last night (i think last night, it begins to blur) which was actively hostile — so much jockeying that people were actually slamming other people or trying to cut them out — well, just generally behaving like a bunch of vultures who’ve just found fresh road-kill. You know, I actually like that metaphor a LOT!

BTW: Rich Jankhow makes SO much sense……


avatar Natalie Gude October 27, 2007 at 7:43 am

The most effective place we found to make donations was at the Chicano Park drop site. Qualcomm was impossible. And the only way we knew about this site was through the emails from Carol Jahnkow (San Diego Coalition for Peace and Justice list), not mainstream media (granted, this reflects my bias for email over television). My point is, the left moves in its own way, you just have to know where to look. If you want to get involved, plug in. What’s more important: being on TV or getting the job done?


avatar Citizens For A Better Veterans Home (founded 1998) October 27, 2007 at 12:29 pm

Read between the lines of your own words Natalie:

“the left moves in its own way, you just have to know where to look. If you want to get involved, plug in. What’s more important: being on TV or getting the job done?”

Well Dearie, Politics is primarily public realations, and many lefties do not want to be part of the middle or the right!

Politically, this is a solution for failure. Results count most in Public Administration. Image is paramount in politics. Remember Ronald ‘Do Little’ Reagan, the Great Communicator, of steer manure!


avatar David G. Urban October 27, 2007 at 6:47 pm

“We are the ones with the hearts, friends, that’s why we are on the side of peace, justice, the Constitution, and why we care for the disadvantaged, for the environment, and for the rights of all.”

Who is “we?”

This type of elite thinking simply promotes a “us vs them” philosophy that gets nowhere. Many, many people also care about these things and yet hold different views about how to achieve the best solutions. Claiming the moral high ground ignores the basic fact that there are always different approaches and ways of thinking about things.


avatar Eric Parish October 27, 2007 at 8:48 pm

I believe Qualcomm was swarming with cops and other authority figures. You guys might be comfortable with them but sorry, I and many others are not. Must be a leftover ’60s thing.


avatar Frank Gormlie October 27, 2007 at 9:49 pm

This article really touched a nerve with our readers! The varied responses produced many thoughtful comments and good arguments that have pushed the discussion of this issue further along than I imagined when writing it.

The Left does need to be imaginative and creative in its approach to winning over the hearts and minds of Americans. There is some consensus there. Also, we heard about some efforts by volunteer activists in assisting fire victims.

And in some ways, this thinking outside the box can cause us to question ‘what is left?’ and ‘what is right?’ (That discussion is way beyond the scope of this article.) Maybe we shouldn’t call ourselves “leftists” if it confuses people. Since the eighties, after Reagan made “liberal” a dirty word, many leftys called themselves “progressives” — including yours truly.

But as Bush & Co. has now dirtied the right, perhaps we on the left — it’s an objective standard — can reclaim our roots while acknowledging our most recent past. We are the ones who care about the our fellow citizens, the environment, the Constitution, and the earth and all of its peoples; and importantly our actions reflect this philosophy.

C’mon, we need all these discussions!


avatar David G. Urban October 27, 2007 at 10:01 pm


By the way, your blog is really laid out well. I hope it does well. I’m a big fan of Pat Flannery, and Don Bauder, and perhaps your blog will also become popular.

I look forward to future posts.


avatar Frank Gormlie November 3, 2007 at 7:44 pm

Tanja, Thea, John, Barbara, Jackie & Natalie – –
You’re right and thanks for helping to point this out – that there was some level of left response ‘en mass’ to the fires and their victims, mainly in individual & silent volunteerings down at Qualcomm, and the assisting by peace activists of Barrio Logan residents setting up a relief center at Chicano Park. Still, I maintain that we could have done it better, and responded ‘en mass’.

MaoTzu –
There’s more accounts of the harassment and intimidation by police and the Minutemen on people attempting to provide relief to immigrant families displaced by the fires. (See posts on Mike Davis, Border Angels.)
You raise the issue of divisions within the left preventing us from even agreeing on when to demonstrate against the Iraq war. The left has always been “plaqued” by divisions — however, that’s what allows us to be more flexible, creative and democratic. The left is not a monolithic structure. We’re not real good at developing sustainable organizations. And right now, we in San Diego, don’t have any one particular forum to make any collective decision-making. The left is infrastructure-challenged. I would hope that natural disasters would force us together. And we cannot rely on mainstream, corporate media. Any ideas?

Thanks for reminding us of national efforts by anti-war activists to aid Katrina victims.
You encourage leftists to step outside the box and see “protests” as a tactic and the need for long-term strategy. Okay, but we need both: we need the ability to react — say for specific government actions – such as the invasion of Cambodia by President Nixon in 1970, the call for a national draft by President Carter in 1979, the support of wars against people’s movements and governments in Central America by President Reagan in the 1980s, … and we must continue to demonstrate against the Iraq war and occupation.
We also need to plan & act strategically, and not soley be reactive. During the sixties, for example, sds (students for a democratic society) sent out organizing collectives into major cities in the Northeast to build an “Inter-Racial Movement of the Poor” – which had reverberations throughout that decade and into the next. The United Farm Workers sent people into large metro areas to develop a national boycott of lettuce — and it was successful.
The left needs to employ a variety of tactics in a strategy to change this country. From protests, to door-to-door, workplace, campus organizing efforts, electoral campaigns, boycotts, strikes — ; you’re right, Rick, we just don’t have a single forum or mechanism to work all this out.

You’re right about the left not using certain symbols — like the flag — during the sixties & seventies. Part of this was a distain by anti-Viet Nam war activists to wave what was perceived as the symbol of American Imperialism; in comparison, the 1930s movements for trade unions and the earlier progressive movements before World War I had no problem with using the stars & stripes. Recent anti-war demonstrations about Iraq have a few American flags. Many on the left have a genuine love for this country and its peoples. This is not to be mistaken for empire nationalism. In our fight against the empire and for our democracy, let’s not let the right monopolize those symbols of our history, checkered as it is.
The peace symbol is now a time-honored and universal sign that is as American as apple pie in this country, and recognized around the world. Actually, it grew out of the disarmament movement in Britain during the fifties and early sixties. The peace movement adopted it and rightfully so!
And you’re right, we need to reach out beyond the ‘certified lefties’. But we can’t simply broadbrush everyone as ‘evil or stupid’ — we’d never get anywhere.

Thanks for the encouragement and support! Your point that the left is not into self-promotion as much as the right is, but needs to be, should be a topic of discussion as we figure out our strategies and tactics.

Your comments are a true sign of encouragement, thank you.
But I disagree with your statement ,”the right wants less government and more individual participation, the left wants more government, and less individual participation.”
The right, like the left, is divided. There’s the libertarian, individualist-minded, “less-government” sectors, but there’s the corporate sector. The corporate sector is in power; they want more government, in the end, larger military, larger police departments, more prisons. These are the forces that are placing video cameras up in more and more public places. These are the torture people, the secret people. For them, government is a control feature, to control the populace. They don’t want individuals to participate!
Historically, the left has been for less government – ask an anarchist – and for more individual participation and decision-making in society — that’s what makes us leftists. But the problem, of course, is that those societies that generated leftist governments have tended to strengthen the structures of government, not lessen them.
That’s why, during the early sixties in this country, there developed the “new left” – a native left that rejected the old left of the Soviet Union and China, a left that was into grass-roots organizing for change. This new left was instrumental in the civil rights movement, the anti-war movement during Vietnam, the women’s movement, in communities striving for control, and in countless organizing efforts — one of which the OB Rag was and is proud to be part of.


avatar Goatskull December 20, 2013 at 1:00 pm

I’m sure there were plenty of liberal and progressive activists who were there but simply didn’t want to politicize it.


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