As another election year spectacle has come and gone, and as we inch closer to irreversible, cataclysmic shifts in our climate, we are reminded that our hope is in each other, in relationships of mutual support that bind us to each other.
Many of us have very differing opinions about engaging with electoral “democracy” and its (f)utility, but we find common ground in voting everyday with our bodies, putting our whole weight towards our dreams and desires, rather than merely one strip of paper or button on one day. In Florida, as another proto-fascist (DeSantis) ascends to power, we continue to plant the seeds that we know can take root and bring the fortress down.
These seeds look small: cleaning supplies, baby items, rides, medical care and companionship for a birthing immigrant mother and her family; diabetes care, paying for prescriptions, tree-cutting, supplies, and assistance finding a temporary shelter for an extended family that knows what it means to weather a storm; tarping roofs, clearing debris, checking on prisoners, distributing harm reduction kits, rescuing animals, resisting illegal evictions, applying legal pressure. We are finding, voicing, and building something together that is deeper and truer than the mirage of power authoritarianism offers.
Many tenants in numerous public housing facilities have successfully resisted illegal evictions, remaining in their homes while awaiting repairs or relocation. Community barbecues and make-shift stoves have emerged as landlords shut off electricity and gas to force tenants out. One woman shouts from across the street, “You with us, you may as well eat too.” We take a break from helping a new friend move to savor the food and the moment.
The state demonstrated its inability (or lack of will) to respond to climate catastrophes at a public town hall meeting. FEMA representatives deflected questions from an audience comprised primarily of low-income residents of color. The FEMA representatives responded robotically, patronizing the residents who sought answers about housing and financial aid. FEMA claimed that the state of Florida requested trailers on the 23rd of October but couldn’t answer to where they were or if they would even arrive at all. Residents shared their difficulties in locating housing in hotels and rentals even with the aid of vouchers and rental assistance. The nearest available housing is between 2 to 7 hours away, rendering it inaccessible to those without transportation and those with jobs, children, or families with disabilities. To this concern, a FEMA representative responded that there are three shelters available. The town hall attendees quickly corrected her, pointing out that there was only one, and it was at capacity.
Disaster Capitalism meets Disaster Bureaucracy. Top-down, bureaucratic institutions and predatory, exploitative landlords both impose their “solutions” and “participation” is just a smokescreen for coercion. Real participatory efforts necessitate sharing power, something the state and predatory capitalists avoid like the plague.
As the weeks pass, visual reminders of the destruction of Hurricane Michael are still ever present. But we have learned to listen. Even with the weight of governmental inaction, landlord abuse, and newfound homelessness for many, people recognize a different way of being as possible and desirable.
“I know my neighbors better now than I have for the past 14 years.”
“People are at their best when things are at their worst.”
“There is always good that comes from tragedy.”
This is what we hear from disaster survivors in Panama City. And we echo it.
When the grid fails, when roads are impassable, amid the profound suffering and loss, we see clearly that all we have is each other — that relationships are what matters — and when things fall apart, people come together.
We listen to our hearts, to each other, to strangers quickly becoming friends. We listen to the unspoken words and warnings in the winds. We listen to a world slowly dying — or being born. We are not sure which. We think it is still up to all of us and the choices we make. A movement elder taught us that we will be either the most loved or most hated generation; that we will be known as the generation that either saved or squandered life as we know it.
A just recovery and a just transition are necessities for our collective survival. Now is the time to experiment with ways of living that give us the flexibility and freedom to do what we know needs to be done. Now is the time to gain practical skills and knowledge that can be used to further people’s survival in crisis and beyond.
Storms are coming. Let’s be ready. Humanity, liberation, justice, belonging and, yes, paradise will never be on the ballot. But if we know where to look, we can still find them — in each other.