Why Ed is Kind of, Sort of Right about Sandbagging

By Andrew Lindner

Ed Schultz is saying that Fargo-Moorhead is using middle school students as "slave labor" for sandbagging. First, allow me say that "slave labor" is simply an ignorant choice of words. In no way do I agree with any sort of analogy of the volunteer work of fairly privileged mostly white students to slaves. However, here is what I wrote on Facebook on March 16, 2010 when Concordia students were in an uproar over the College's decision hold class in the face of an impending flood. I stand by what I wrote.

Why We Should Have Classes
Rivers flood. It’s a naturally-occurring phenomenon that will not change until the next Ice Age. A river flooding is not a problem in itself. What is a problem are people living in a flood plain. And, in the grand scheme of things, it is easier to move the people than to stop the river every year. So, that is my most central point: sandbagging should not be necessary because the people should not live there.

The majority of people living within the 100 year flood plain in Fargo and Moorhead are either middle class or wealthy. We’re not talking about impoverished Bangladeshi people who lack the resources to move in the face of flooding. These people could move less than a mile away and not require sandbagging every year. In Fargo, the City even bought people out of their homes at 30% above market value! Some people were so stubborn they didn’t take it! Moreover, their obstinate refusal to move prevents Fargo and Moorhead from erecting more permanent dikes that would protect other homes.

Okay, okay, you say, but they do live there, shouldn’t we help them? Sure, we should! I have several friends who live in the flood plain and though I wish they would move for their own good and the good of the community, I have gone over to help throw sandbags. I am not saying that in the case of individuals we shouldn’t help.

However, as a matter of policy, expecting college students to help is a bad idea. What Fargo and Moorhead ought to do is play hard ball with these stubborn homeowners. They should say “accept a buy-out or we will assess the costs of the flood fight to you in property taxes.” They could then pay work crews to protect the homes of the people who insist on staying (creating jobs along the way). Instead, the Cities have chosen to levy a one cent sales tax (shifting the burden disproportionately to the poor) and rely on volunteers to protect the homes. Think for a second how outrageous it is that the City of Moorhead’s policy for dealing with floods is to ask Concordia to cancel classes and give them free labor. The students of Concordia spend a lot of money to be educated. We have a responsibility to provide an education – no matter how much less fun than all pitching in class is.

Now, perhaps, you would point out the pedagogical value of contributing to the community in a practical way. I agree! I think regular community service ought to be an essential part of a Concordia education. However, we don’t do that on a consistent basis, do we? And you don’t see us cancelling class to help out the poor. We cancel class to help middle class homeowners! If what we want to do is provide a community service experience to every student, then there are better ways to go about doing it.

I moved here last year and felt that we ought to cancel class and sandbag until every house was safe. But then, I spent five days protecting McMansions. Then, I saw a year go by and watched as the local government did very little and most of the homeowners did nothing. This year, I feel very differently. For these reasons, I think we should go back to class tomorrow. It would send a message to the stubborn homeowners and the politically cowardly City Council that they need to do something differently. And that’s to say nothing of the value of what students might learn in class.