From David Beito, reason.com
The tornados of April 2011 cut a destructive swath through Tuscaloosa, Alabama and surrounding areas. Whole neighborhoods now resemble bombed out post-war Tokyo or Berlin.Read More.
But this devastation was only part of the story. Tuscaloosa also became the scene of an inspiring, highly decentralized outpouring of volunteers and donations. Many of these arrangements could best be described examples of what Nobel prize-winning economist F.A. Hayek called “spontaneous order.” As Hayek put it, spontaneous orders result from the countless actions of individuals, who coordinate their actions through extended systems of voluntary cooperation, rather than the design of a single planner.
Instead of going home for break, for example, students in the Greek system at the University of Alabama and at historically black Stillman College stayed to cook more than 7,000 meals per day. Local churches assembled armies of volunteers and vast stores of goods, ranging from dog food to child car seats, and dispersed them with no questions asked at large “free department stores.” Everyone in the devastated areas knows from personal experience how neighbors, often without homes themselves, traveled from house to house to clear downed trees, offer food, and give shelter.
Much of the strength of Tuscaloosa’s extensive mutual aid came from an unlikely source: right wing talk radio. For more than two weeks after the tornado, the four Tuscaloosa Clear Channel stations preempted their normal fare of Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, and top 40 songs to serve as a clearing house for relief efforts. Gigi South, the local market manager for Tuscaloosa Clear Channel, says that it was her decision to begin, and continue, the relief-oriented simulcasts.
It would have been hard to do otherwise. Employees saw demolished neighborhoods outside their windows and the desperate calls for help were coming in almost immediately. Because many residents lost power and were unable to charge cell phones, car and battery-operated radios often became their only form of communication with the outside world.