Activism After Harvey: The Democratic Socialists of America Respond

By Christopher Kessinger

Houston’s Democratic Socialists of America chapter came together to help Houstonians after Hurricane Harvey. The volunteers helped out in people’s homes and raised money, which they used for cash cards to help those in need. Photos courtesy of the Houston Democratic Socialists of America Facebook Group.

Before Hurricane Harvey made landfall, Houston Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) chairs Amy Zachmeyer and Nick Bunce began to consider the organization’s next move. They started a fundraising effort on the now- defunct website YouCaring, hoping to raise a few thousand dollars to buy supplies to distribute to the hardest-hit. With the storm still pouring trillions of gallons of rainwater over Houston, they found themselves with an unexpected problem: the fundraiser was a massive success. All in all, they raised over $120,000, far more money than they knew how to distribute. “We start[ed] panicking because our treasurer had just been using their personal bank account to cash out stuff in the past. We had raised, like, $300 here and $200 there — you know, small amounts of money,” Zachmeyer explained.

Before they could even touch the money, the small political activist group had to legally incorporate. One of their members was a lawyer, and he filed the necessary paperwork online. That was the easy part. As the storm finally departed the region, they had to find a way to put that money to use.

Zachmeyer and Bunce contacted a member of the DSA’s Oklahoma City chapter who worked in disaster relief. Charitable organizations would already be inundated with donations of food, water, and clothing, he told them; buying more would be a waste. People have individualized needs — everything from medication to car repairs that charities do not provide because it is hard to purchase those things in bulk. The financial burden for these items remains on the storm survivors, so what they needed most was money.

The DSA had a three-part plan to help Houstonians. The first step they took was to purchase prepaid cash cards, after which they distributed them $200 at a time to anyone who asked. That was not much per person, but it added up quickly. Zachmeyer pointed out, “We didn’t have enough money to furnish entire homes. We would have helped three people if we had done that. So instead, we decided to spend smaller amounts.” They made specific purchases for a few individuals a mattress here, a child’s car seat there — that would not be covered by the $200 card, but on the whole, they found that people knew what they needed, and a lack of money was their only obstacle.

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Amy Zachmeyer (volunteer) talks about training activists to become organizers in their own communities.

To learn more about the Houston chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America, check out their website and Facebook page.

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