Activists are discouraging Hurricane Harvey donors from giving to the American Red Cross and urging them instead to contribute to left-wing causes, some of which are advocacy groups engaged in little if any emergency relief work.
Linda Sarsour, a prominent Muslim and feminist activist, sent out a tweet encouraging donors to give to the Texas Organizing Project Education Fund, which conducts “direct action organizing, grass-roots lobbying and electoral organizing led by working families in Texas.”
“TOP is one of many organizations on this list you can choose to support,” Ms. Sarsour said in a Wednesday tweet that included the #NoRedCross hashtag. “Grassroots orgs on ground. Long term needed.”
The Texas Organizing Project, which has fought Texas voter ID laws and supported sanctuary-state status, is part of the Hurricane Harvey Community Relief Fund, a coalition that includes labor groups such as the Service Employees International Union as well as Texas Rio Grande Legal Aid.
“Together we will organize and advocate for our devastated communities, shining a spotlight on inequalities that emerge in the restoration of lives, livelihoods and homes, amplifying the needs of hard-hit communities, and providing legal assistance for residents wrongfully denied government support,” the coalition says on its fundraising page.
The conservative site Twitchy opined, “DISGUSTING: Linda Sarsour is soliciting donations for a liberal political group masquerading as a Harvey relief fund,” while the Federalist’s Sean Davis called it a scam.
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Michelle Tremillo, Texas Organizing Project executive director, responded to the criticism with a statement saying that “every penny given to this fund will be spent on making the communities impacted by Harvey whole again.”
“We will make a determination about which relief efforts in particular to dedicate this funding after the floods recede,” she said. “Our expenditures will be dictated by the needs of our communities, and we anticipate those needs will range from personal hygiene items to legal aid and advocacy.”
Elsewhere, the website No Red Cross, run by activist Rafael Shimunov of ResistHere and the National Working Families Party, urged donors to steer clear of the 136-year-old disaster relief organization and funnel their dollars elsewhere.
The website recommends the Texas Organizing Project as well as a mix of relief and advocacy groups, including Support Black Women HOU, Black America Web.com Relief Fund, Transgender Foundation of America Houston, Corazon Ministries, Black Women’s Defense League, Houston Democratic Socialists of America, and Texas Diaper Bank.
Some of those listed, like the Feeding Texas and SHAPE Community Center, are involved in providing immediate needs such as food and shelter, while the connection is less clear with others, such as RAICES, a legal aid service for immigrants.
Why not the Red Cross? Mr. Shimunov faulted the charity for its response to the 2012 Superstorm Sandy in New York.
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“From my personal experience volunteering with #OccupySandy, we learned real quick who was there for New Yorkers and who wasn’t,” Mr. Shimunov said in a post. “The Red Cross wasn’t there for many of us. Instead, it was Occupy Sandy and a host of local, grass-roots, faith-based organizations and volunteers that changed everything.”
American Red Cross CEO and President Gail McGovern said Thursday that the organization, which has helped put 32,000 people in shelters in Houston so far, is “taking great care that we’re great stewards of our donors’ dollars.”
“On average, 91 cents of every dollar that we spend goes to our services, and we are really proud of the fact that we keep our overhead low,” she said on “CBS This Morning.” “People that are designating money for victims of Hurricane Harvey — that money will be used for the people that were impacted by Hurricane Harvey.”
The independent, congressionally chartered organization, which relies on private fundraising as well as government grants for its $2.8 billion budget, received a B+ from CharityWatch and an 83 out of 100 from Charity Navigator in their most recent assessments.
Red Cross in crosshairs
Whether the Houston Democratic Socialists are capable of doing a better job on the ground than the Red Cross is debatable, but there is little doubt that the venerable humanitarian organization founded by Clara Barton has taken a hit to its image in the past decade.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles E. Grassley, Iowa Republican, has tangled repeatedly with the charity, faulting officials in a June 2016 memo with sloppy bookkeeping and accusing the Red Cross of spending 25 percent of donations on administrative and fundraising costs in the 2010 Haiti earthquake response.
He has since introduced twice the American Red Cross Transparency Act, which would give the Government Accounting Office “complete access to the American Red Cross records for oversight purposes,” accusing the organization of limiting the scope of a watchdog review.
“The Red Cross has shown an unwillingness at times to answer questions,” Mr. Grassley said in a March statement. “This legislation strengthens transparency to help make the Red Cross more accountable to the public.”
With the notable exception of the Republican Grassley, however, most of the heat directed at the Red Cross has come from the left. Since 2014, the liberal journalism site ProPublica has dogged the charity with multiple reports accusing it of botching responses and misleading donors.
“The Red Cross’ Secret Disaster” was the headline of an October 2014 report by ProPublica and National Public Radio on Superstorm Sandy and Hurricane Isaac.
ProPublica has also disputed the organization’s claim that 91 percent of donations go to victims and questioned the nonprofit’s reluctance to partner with the “well-regarded” leftist group Occupy Sandy. The Red Cross states that it does not take sides in “controversies of a political, racial, religious or ideological nature.”
A Monday post in Slate blasting the Red Cross declared that “we need a new kind of humanitarian response,” while Democracy Now weighed in Wednesday with, “The Red Cross Won’t Save Houston. Texas Residents Are Launching Community Relief Efforts Instead.”
Scott Crow, author and anarchist who helped found the Common Ground Collective in New Orleans, criticized the Red Cross for its “very uneven distribution of relief” and “focus on economic interests first.”
At the same time, he said, a coalition of volunteers from “Black Lives Matter, the antifa and then radicals of various stripes” weren’t getting enough credit for its work in Houston.
“We need decentralized disaster relief, that smaller groups of people, autonomous communities, can actually be first responders and actually build for the longer term,” Mr. Crow told Democracy Now, “without larger governments or things like Red Cross.”
Jenelle Eli, Red Cross spokeswoman, said Thursday that disasters like Harvey “create more needs than any one organization can handle” but that the charity is working with various nonprofits “to ensure that gaps are filled.”
“Our outside accounting firm, KPMG, audits us to make sure that we honor donor intent and that those dollars go to pay for Hurricane Harvey expenses,” she said.
The controversy didn’t deter former President Barack Obama. On Sunday, he retweeted a Red Cross fundraising plea, saying, “Here’s one way you can help.”