Should volunteers help flood victims with the means to move?

Each year it occurs, the fight against flooding in the Fargo Moorhead area becomes more of a class war.

Earlier this week, radio gadfly Ed Schultz said Fargo was using “slave labor,” because kids are let out of class to help sandbag. Most people dismissed the comments as the kind of things radio and TV talk show types say when they need people to call their shows.

But Andrew Lindner, of Fargo, says he’s got a point, though the term “slave labor” was ignorant. He’s a sociology professor at Concordia, one of the schools encouraged to cancel class so the students can help keep the Red River from overwhelming neighborhoods.


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.

Lindner writes that when he moved to the region a few years ago, he felt differently. Then he found himself sandbagging around “McMansions.”

(h/t: Nate Minor)

  • Rachel Torgerson

    I agree with Dr Lindner to a point. I am an alumnus of Concordia, attending between 2008-2012. I helped with sandbagging efforts in 2009 and 2010, and there’s no doubt in my mind that many people were overwhelmingly thankful for the help from the college students. I’ve seen multiple homeowner attitudes as well; in one instance, I was sandbagging with the homeowners who were so grateful they fed us and thanked everyone personally. Yet at a different home, (a “McMansion”, to use Lindner’s term) we were mostly ignored, and it felt like we were expected to be there.

    Overall, my experiences fighting the floods were positive. Let’s not let the negative anecdotes overshadow the fact that every year we come together as a community to support one another.

  • Meg Lindholm

    I think the decision as to whether to help with sandbagging should be up to individual students. If they want the experience along with the sense of helping their community, then fine. But I don’t believe it should be required. Dr. Lindner makes some good points in that regard.

  • Jay Nelson

    I worked with FEMA and observed the insanity first hand… and Minnesota is much better than any other place. People are building homes in the heart of a flood plain, so as one can guess, bad public policy must be close at hand. If you subsidize something, you get more of it. Creating public policy to assist residents live in a flood plain causes — as I hope one could guess — more people to live in a flood plain. Let them live where they want, but don’t assess the bill to those smart enough to live on a hilltop. Let bad decision makers suffer just consequences which includes paying for flood protection, and leave the rest of us alone.

  • kennedy

    After the flood in 1997, the city of East Grand Forks made plans to build a permanent dike to contain the Red River. People with houses inside the dike were offered a buyout. A small few held out, wanting to keep their houses (or a better deal). The dike was built anyway, with some houses still standing inside the dike. A few months later, all the houses were gone. I’m not sure if those that held out got the same deal initially offered.

    Since the dike was built, the city has been safe from flooding and has not required any sandbagging.