Reflections on the Earthquakes in Turkey

Some of you may know me as one of the hosts of [email protected]'s All Things Co-op. What you may not know is that I am Turkish and I grew up in Turkey; therefore, this topic is very close to my heart. The unprecedented earthquakes that struck Turkey and Syria have wrought unimaginable destruction, resulting in the death of more than 40 thousand people. 

While there have been many challenges with relief efforts, the Turkish Government has coordinated over 100 thousand personnel from all branches of the government, military, civil society and international search and rescue organizations to help the communities devastated by the earthquakes in 10 provinces in southeastern Turkey. Moreover, people from all walks of life across Turkey have come together in a tremendous display of solidarity to mobilize critical resources to help those communities that have been devastated by the earthquakes.    

As we grapple with the scope of devastation, many of us ask, are we prepared for the climate disaster befalling the US and the whole world? Zac, a [email protected] listener, posed this very question to us and I’d like to respond to it. 

To get a sense of what a disaster response would look like in the US, we can revisit what happened with the COVID pandemic. With only 5% of the world’s population, the US accounted for close to 20% of the world’s deaths from COVID, more than 1 million people. The US did not stockpile virus protection gear and other supplies to prepare for COVID or any other pandemic for that matter, because it was not profitable to do so. The profit driven health industry failed to provide adequate care to those most in need, and global vaccination campaigns were bottled up by efforts to protect pharmaceutical companies’ intellectual property rights and profits. 

The reality is, under capitalism it is just not profitable to increase public funds to prepare or prevent natural disasters. In the past 40 years there has been a historic redistribution of wealth and income from the bottom and middle segments of society to the very top, resulting in massive income inequality in the US and across the globe. Through regressive taxation and privatization of public services, public agencies no longer have sufficient funds nor the capacity to adequately respond to emergencies. Consequently, as we have seen with the COVID-19 response or extreme weather events like Hurricane Katrina, the US is not in a position to help poor and working people weather a disaster.  

Despite the best efforts of this system to break down our humanity and distill our interactions to calculated self-serving exchanges, it is part of human nature to support, sacrifice and help one another. This has been demonstrated by how Turks and people around the world have come together to help the victims of the earthquake. The people of war ravaged Afghanistan, one of the poorest countries in the world, raised $6M to help the victims of the earthquake. It just breaks your heart to see this type of solidarity. For mutual support to have any lasting impact we also have to have public institutions that reflect and reinforce our impulse to help one another.  

If we continue to organize we can create a new and better system, one that goes beyond the narrow confines of the profit driven capitalist model. After decades, there has been a reawakening in this hope around the world. Workers are getting organized and forming unions across sectors and states where unionization drives have been actively resisted in the past. In the United States, we should take courage from what workers are achieving at Amazon, Starbucks and the rail transport sector, and understand that these crucial gains can lead to democratic control of our workplaces. In collaboration with leftist political movements, these labor struggles can then translate into broader based political mobilization for systems change that places the needs of people and the environment before profit. When people do this around the world, we can help each other respond to disasters like the earthquakes in Turkey,  except with the full strength of our resources.

I encourage everyone who can to participate in the ongoing disaster relief effort. While by no means an exhaustive list, the following examples may be good places to start. Monetary contributions are often advantageous due to their ability to adapt to quickly changing needs. Make sure to research the mission and practices of any organization before donating to ensure reputability. These organizations and many others are accepting earthquake-related contributions:

Those who are unable to assist monetarily or materially, expanding recognition and acknowledgement of the crisis is immensely valuable. Make sure your networks are aware of what they can do to help, and support those within your circles who may have been personally impacted by the earthquake. No act of kindness is ever too small.

In solidarity,

Cinar Akcin

Democracy at Work

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