Supporting Our Fellow Americans
On August 14, 2016, the San Francisco 49ers stood for the playing of the National Anthem prior to the start of their first preseason game. In the background, Colin Kaepernick chooses instead to remain seated. He will repeat this silent, unseen protest before the second preseason game. And once again before the third preseason game- though this time, he starts to get noticed. Two days after Kaepernick’s third protest, he spoke with the media about his reasons for protesting and to explain his thoughts on the matter: he didn’t feel that he could stand for a flag and country that has refused to uphold the basic rights, liberties, and freedoms of people of color.
When I started writing this blog post, I had every intention of discussing the protest that Kaepernick started. But that’s not what I plan to use this post to talk about (if you are curious of my thoughts on the subject, my Facebook wall has plenty of posts/commentary- this isn’t something I plan to ignore). When I sat down at my computer, I had to plug it in of course because I usually forget to keep it charged. I then opened up over a dozen tabs of articles related to the protest and started brainstorming a structure. After getting a drink of water, I then was distracted by none other than good old Facebook. I started scrolling through my feed when I came across a post made by a former baseball teammate of mine at Cornell College about his home island of Puerto Rico (I’ll come back to his post- I want to end this article with his words, not mine).
If I were in Puerto Rico right now, assuming that I had survived the hurricanes that battered and devastated the island, I would not be able to have done any of the things I described in the paragraph above. Those actions would be impossible because Puerto Rico is almost entirely without power, water, and basic supplies, and likely will be for many weeks, if not months. So, of course President Trump used the full power of the presidency to send aid to Puerto Rico and to advocate for swift action by Congress, just as he did for Texas and Florida after they suffered devastating damage from hurricanes. Not exactly.
Just one picture of the devastation in Puerto Rico- National Geographic
What we have instead seen is that Trump took days to even address the state that Puerto Rico is in and once he did, he pointed out Puerto Rico’s economy-crippling debt owed to Wall Street banks, an issue he said must be dealt with. As I type this, a massive humanitarian crisis involving U.S. citizens (yes, Puerto Ricans are natural-born citizens just like anyone born in a state) is rapidly growing. And in the same breath Trump takes to acknowledge that much of the island has been destroyed, he feels the need to insist that Puerto Rico’s dealt must be dealt with.
One key issue has been the Jones Act and whether it would be temporarily lifted for Puerto Rico. The Jones Act, originally passed in 1920, requires that ships must fly a U.S. flag to transport goods between U.S. ports. It is meant to provide security protections and support American shipping interests. An important effect of the law is to raise the cost of shipping goods and supplies, which in this case means higher costs for providing relief to Puerto Ricans. Trump temporarily lifted the Jones Act for ports in Texas and Florida following Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, but it took more than a week, and significant pressure from across the political spectrum, before Trump lifted the Jones Act for Puerto Rico’s ports (Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico on September 20; Trump lifted the Jones Act on September 28). On September 27, the day before Trump would temporarily lift the Jones Act, he seemed to indicate that U.S. shipping interests might take priority over providing cheaper relief to Puerto Ricans. He told reporters:
“We have a lot of shippers and a lot of people that work in the shipping industry that don’t want the Jones Act lifted.”
To be fair to Trump (not a sentiment he has frequently deserved), the Jones Act is but one problem Puerto Rico is dealing with. Probably the most significant issue is the devastation to Puerto Rico’s infrastructure, such as its roads and electrical grids. Without proper assistance to repair those, getting relief supplies to harder to reach parts of the island is and will continue to be a real challenge. What this requires is further commitment and action to make a real difference.
Instead of acting as I have suggested above, Trump has felt the need to defend himself from criticism of his lack of meaningful actions. Instead of pledging to do more to help our fellow Americans in Puerto Rico, he returned fire on San Juan’s mayor, Carmen Yulín Cruz, and Puerto Ricans themselves, charging that “[t]hey want everything to be done for them when it should be a community effort.” Meanwhile, Trump is playing golf.
San Juan’s Mayor, Carmen Yulin Cruz, wades through floodwaters with a bullhorn while assisting with relief efforts. – Twitter
Trump has gone golfing this weekend while relief efforts are under way in Puerto Rico. – CNN
*Note- this photograph is not from this weekend.
As long as our Commander in Chief fails to be the leader he is supposed to be, it is up to ordinary people to step up and do our part to help the people of Puerto Rico, our fellow Americans, as we would anyone else in desperate need of aid. For those who choose to criticize Kaepernick’s methods instead of simply supporting the cause he is trying to raise awareness about: there are American citizens who are without power, water, and other basic supplies. If you are as patriotic as you claim to be, now is your chance to show it with more than empty words.
Here’s a simple and easy first step: donate to Unidos Por Puerto Rico. Doesn’t much matter the amount; it can be $5, $50, or $500. We all have different means, and I understand that, but the time to act is now, and thoughts and prayers won’t save the millions of Puerto Ricans who are simply trying to survive. Here’s my “matching” offer: for every person who donates to the cause, I will donate $10; and for every person who shares my Facebook post with this article, I will donate $5. All you have to do is take a screenshot or a picture of the “thank you for your donation” page and send it to me via a private message on Facebook messenger. If you share this post and others donate, I will also give $10 for each of their donations- just make sure they send me a picture/screenshot of the “thank you for your donation” page. In total, I will donate up to $250 to Unidos Por Puerto Rico. The simplest way to make a big difference and help spread the word is by compounding both the message and the donations; so please do your part- share this post and donate.
I want to close with a poem by Marcelo Tanon, a former baseball teammate of mine at Cornell College. He and his family are Puerto Rican.
My Beautiful Island
My beautiful island
The one that always keeps me smilin’
That one place that always stay shining
With its beautiful people, delicious food, and rich culture
Now my island is destroyed like a corpse being eaten by a vulture
The only thing we can do is start all over and make a masterpiece like a sculpture.
Like how we had it before.
Before all of the stress
That Maria and Irma put my little island in all of this mess.
But you know, we’re in a difficult time.
People losing their homes, just trying to keep strength in their mind.
It’s just sad to see, that even 45 is not doing anything for my family.
Too busy watching the NFL worried about people that go down on one knee.
No disrespect on what my black brothers and sisters are doing.
It’s just hard to watch the president of this country tweeting tweets and just cooling.
You know we are American citizens too.
So can you just please send help with your whole naval crew.
Because the people over there are losing time and don’t have any supplies.
Y’all really need to start getting woke and recognize.
That this non helping bullshit shouldn’t even be a surprise.
They never cared about us Puerto Ricans.
Thinking about all the things they’ve done to us, always tweaking.
But I’m not gonna get into all of that.
Because this isn’t a rant about them stabbing us in the back.
It’s a cry for help, because we don’t want to start to backtrack.
Other countries wanna see us bounce back,
But we can’t even accept the help, as a result of the Jones Act.
Crazy how colonialism is at large,
And we can’t even simply just take charge.
No electricity, no signal, no connection, no power,
just waiting until the day that we blossom like a flower.
All of the Puerto Ricans that are in the states are heartbroken, crying and hurting.
Trying to see if their families are okay and if they are, searching.
Searching for help and searching for supplies
And searching for bodies that we think will never find.
This is just so devastating.
All we can do is just hold hands together and keep praying.
Praying for the loved ones. Praying for our homes.
But especially, praying for my beautiful island,
The one that always keeps me smiling.