Congresswoman Barbara Lee called for donations to Haiti to aid in recovery efforts after an earthquake devastated the island nation last week, during a vigil held Monday night in downtown Oakland.
The evening was filled with Haitian drumming and those in attendance held up signs and lit candles in a show of solidarity with the millions of Haitians impacted by the quake.
Lee held the event in collaboration with the Haiti Action Committee, a Bay Area-based network of activists supporting a country already struggling with poverty and weak infrastructure before a 7.0 magnitude earthquake struck Jan. 9 in the capital of Port-au-Prince.
“I came because I heard the outcry for peace, unity and solidarity,” said Mills College senior Marlene Hurd, who was among about 100 people to gather in the courtyard of the Ron Dellums Federal Building despite the cold night air. “I am concerned that troops are going before aid.”
Hurd’s concerns were shared by members of the Haiti Action Committee who held signs asking the U.S. government to send aid, instead of troops, to help Haiti.
“We need to give aid and get it to the people most in need. They need aid, not to militarize,” said Berkeley resident Charlie Hinton, who has been involved for eight years in the organization. “You cannot prevent an earthquake, but the situation in Port-au-Prince has been more desperate by the economic policies of the United States, [International Monetary Fund] IMF, and has created massive poverty.”
Richmond resident and fellow Haiti Action Committee member Marilyn Langlo also spoke about the needs of the Haitian people. “We hear that in the most impoverished areas, there needs to be more food and medicine, basically the needs that need to be addressed immediately.” Aid to the country has been difficult with limited airport runways and damaged telecommunication systems to coordinate efforts. As of now, aid organizations are asking for monetary donations from those wishing to help.
“Haiti needs money first and foremost to aid recovery efforts,” Lee said to the crowd. “The people of Haiti need money for medicine, food and shelter.”
Langlo said she was pleased with the support pledged Lee, who has visited the country several times in the past. “There are so few in U.S. government that understand the needs of the Haitian community.”
J. Alfred Smith Jr., pastor of the Allen Temple Baptist Church, also spoke to the crowd about the long-term poverty that has historically burdened Haiti.
“The needs of Haiti did not begin with this disaster,” he said. “They have been struggling with international and the United States’ neglect. We have to be with Haiti not only in this hour, but for the long haul.”
Residents of Oakland’s small but closely-knit Haitian community were also in attendance, holding the country’s red and blue flag throughout the vigil.
“I just hope Barbara Lee can help us out here who are doing things to support us,” said Ifonia Gelin, who came with her cousins to the event. “Barbara Lee is a good and strong friend of Haiti.” Gelin had family in Haiti at the time of the earthquake. Her younger brother was among those killed, and her father lost his home.
The Red Cross has estimated that up to 50 thousand may have perished in the disaster. Many in the U.S. are struggling to contact loved ones in Haiti, and news organizations have teamed up with Google to share data in a centralized people finder.
Lee compared the compassionate works of Martin Luther King, Jr. as parallel to why it is important to support and stand in solidarity for the people of Haiti.
“I would ask on his birthday, what would Martin Luther King do? Let us honor Dr. King by showing support for Haiti,” she said. “People of Haiti have always weathered the storm, but we must not fail them.”
In a question and answer session following the event, Lee said of her alma mater that “Mills can raise money, work with the Haiti Emergency Relief Fund. You can work with organizations that are already working there, and coordinate with them. And tell my sisters at Mills, I am very proud of them.”
Lee introduced a House resolution  on Jan. 20, expressing condolences and solidarity with Haiti and urging the international community to forgive Haiti’s debt as it struggles to recover. The resolution  passed Jan. 21 with a vote of 441-1.
For updates on the situation in Haiti visit Democracy Now at http://www.democracynow.org/tags/haiti 
For breaking news and information about Haiti visit the New York Times online at http://topics.nytimes.com/top/news/international/countriesandterritories/haiti/index.html?inline=nyt-geo