Televangelist Pat Robertson’s Operation Blessing humanitarian organization has been working with the president of a progressive union to help with relief in Puerto Rico.
“We may be strange bedfellows, but it’s rare that people can just park whatever their political persuasions and ideology may be and try to help people in trouble, and that’s what happened here,” said Bill Horan, the recently retired president of Operation Blessing, in a Tuesday article by Rebecca Ruiz, a features writer at Mashable covering gender, sexuality and equality.
Horan was speaking of his cooperation with Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers, who, Ruiz pointed out, “happens to be a lesbian married to a rabbi.”
“If you meet people where they are, and if you work on a values proposition — that in America we care about families and we care about their health and safety — then you can work with all sorts of strange bedfellows,” Weingarten said on her part.
“It starts creating trust and lessening the divisiveness in this country.”
The two groups joined forces in the wake of Hurricane Maria last year, which devastated Puerto Rico and the surrounding region.
Operation Blessing, which was founded by CBN chairman Robertson in 1978, had been supplying residents with water filters, alongside other necessities, since power failures had stopped water treatment plants from operating.
San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz introduced Horan to Weingarten, who was on the ground looking for ways to reopen schools that had been closed due to the damage by the hurricane.
Horan and Weingarten formed Operation Agua, a joint campaign aimed at delivering 100,000 water filtration systems to communities throughout the territory, including clean drinking water to schools, so they can reopen.
As AFT explains on its website, “this unique coalition brings together relationships with manufacturers, experience providing clean water across the globe, partnerships with shipping and transport workers and corporations, and access to a regional and school-based infrastructure across the island to deliver clean water to people.”
The union group argued that the federal government has “failed in its responsibility to provide the resources, infrastructure and distribution efforts our fellow citizens need.”
It added that Operation Agua is not a “handout,” but a “hand up for our fellow Americans suffering and dying in Puerto Rico.”
Operation Blessing also promotes the partnership on its website. It notes that the American Federation of State, County & Municipal Employees, the Seafarers International Union, and The Hispanic Federation have all joined in the effort, which is aimed at helping “create safe water solutions for the hurting island.”
SIU representative Amancio Crespo, the son of a Pentecostal minister, hailed the large-scale cooperation between the different organizations.
“The job was done right because it wasn’t just depending on one agency or one group of people — everyone deserves recognition,” Crespo said. “I think we touched a lot of lives.”
Operation Blessing has been showing members of the teachers’ union how to assemble and clean the water filters, allowing classrooms to open up again. By last year, over 270,000 students had been helped by new water filters, with the group expecting to have another 6,500 filtration systems in use on the island by the end of August.
Weingarten said that the success of the effort comes down to Operation Blessing’s logistics expertise and AFT’s vast union network.
“We are a family, and caring is an important aspect of being part of a union,” Weingarten said. “We’re fighting for things like wages and parental leave, but it’s also about caring and showing up.”
Horan reflected that there was “cooperation at every level.”
“No one cares who’s voting for who in the next election when it’s that type of cooperation,” he added.
Ruiz pointed out that others can learn from the example set by Horan and Weingarten.
“Weingarten and Horan forged what they hope is a lasting bond — and a model that people on different points of the political spectrum might consider emulating to help those in need,” she wrote.