- krisKeymasterNovember 24, 2018 at 6:32 pmPost count: 4
Hello & solidarity from some foggy corner of the world. My name, well, it’s right there on my profile, but I gotta scrub that so just call me Tanuki’s left hand man.
This thread is about non mutual aid efforts in disaster relief. Our personal experiences with these organizations, first, and their objective practices, capability, and positioning. I’m hoping the welcoming tone of “Share your thoughts!” offsets the nasty taste y’all spat up upon hearing “State & Nonprofit”. The reality is: MADRelief, the grassroots seeds we work with, and even all the autonomous individuals who never hear their name praised — all of us together still represent just a fraction of the time, energy, and material put towards disaster response. How small is that fraction? Not sure, but you bet I’ve been reading reports, published by the smallest collective or lumbering state, and will crunch those numbers in the coming weeks so we have some idea of the hard numbers involved in our response, and how they compare to other orgs.
Right now, I’ll just share my personal experiences with some of these organizations. Please, whether you have worked in disaster relief, interacted with them as part of autonomous relief efforts, or had to rely on their services, share your thoughts. Ask the tough questions. Keep your skin thick. We got this.
I started in Disaster Response with AmeriCorps FEMA Corps. I’d be happy to share more about either if you’re curious, but the big insight came from our project assigned to the Red Cross. After Louisiana’s historic rainfall and flooding in ’16, my team experienced many humanizing moments and positive memories. One hardcore woman stood out for taking care of eight older, neurodivergent, dependent men, and having lungs that could somehow ring over the cacophony of 1,200 displaced persons. In the chaos, their luggage had been waylaid. We took a couple days to find it, but the gratitude and kindness she had was rewarding. There was also the gentleman who called us up a couple months after our reassignment; our Team Leader urging him to stick with FEMA’s bureaucratic nightmares had gotten him, and his family, $9000 (what the hourly rate works out to, I don’t wanna know). And of course, simply being able to supply people with necessities, or a listening ear and a shoulder to cry on, made us & them feel valued and appreciated.
But, throughout it all, there were lingering doubts in my head. I couldn’t quite muster the same enthusiasm as my teammates when they talked about all the good we were doing, all the difference we made. Shelter residents were cut off from hot food outside set meal periods, but I could wander away from my post an hour or too later (and I frequently did, cuz I was working hard) and help myself to plate from the break area. That was when these thoughts got the loudest. Why was I privileged with this quiet space, when none of the residents could hear themselves think? Why was I privileged with this hot food, when they were cut off? And, on the way out, my attention always turned to the National Guard – a security force for a desperate people, idling, hands on their phones or their holsters. Why didn’t they ever pitch in with the massive labor of moving hundreds of people’s personal effects, or sorting donations? My place in the hierarchy was obvious — if you were too thick to notice the subtle social currents, the uniforms would cue you in.
If you’re reading this forum, you’re well aware of the mechanisms and effects of hierarchies, imbalanced power relationships, and “givers” vs “takers” in traditional disaster response, so I won’t belabor the point. But I want to emphasize the loss, the opportunity cost, burdening everyone staying in a shelter.
There are no classrooms to strengthen their minds. There are no gyms to strengthen their bodies. No sports to learn teamwork and share friendship. No social spaces – not fire pits, corner stores, or lunch rooms – to connect and bond with each other. There aren’t even kitchens or laundry facilities to handle the most basic needs, to have some measure of power over your own fate.
I imagine time passes for them much like it did for me when I was homeless: mind numbingly slow while you’re living it, with nothing to do except idly browse the internet (I don’t think our shelter had wifi, though). But when you look back, it went by in a snap, because nothing came of it. No memories you’d want, no growth, no change. Living in a shelter isn’t quite hell; it’s purgatory.
Unfortunately, more and more people will have to live through this reality if the course of state-sponsored disaster response does not change, and/or mutual aid networks are not able to fill the gap.
After AmeriCorps, I got away from disaster relief for a little while, but this year have started again with several organizations: All Hearts and Hands, Team Rubicon, and of course, Mutual Aid Disaster Relief.
AHAH and TR are both very young organizations, and operate quite differently from the Red Cross or FEMA.
All Hearts and Hands
All Hearts is aware of the shortfalls and savior complex in traditional humanitarian efforts. When they spin up a response in a community, they stay for years, and look for feedback from community members to address their immediate needs. They are more effective than the State in many cases (not that comparing a first-world-based international non-profit to a third-world state government used as a tool by first-world states is any contest); for instance, in Dominica, the first two schools to resume operations after Hurricane Maria were repaird by All Hearts.
But, while we didn’t put people in dehumanizing shelters with AHAH, there were still lingering doubts and questions in my head during my deployment in Puerto Rico. Most often we were welcomed with open arms. Call it the ‘island life’, the spirit in the vein of ‘Puerto Rico Se Levante”, or just mutual aid & solidarity, but we almost always saw smiles everywhere and hot lunch for our efforts.
But why was the wife bustling around the kitchen while the husband, beer in hand, sat on the couch and watched TV? If you have time to do that, don’t you have time to fix your own damn house? It’s difficult having these thoughts as a volunteer. You came to do good, not criticize people who are undoubtedly far less privileged, and far more traumatized, than you. But after hearing and dissecting the ideas of solidarity and mutual aid, it’s the obvious answer to these doubts and questions. Puerto Ricans – and everyone else – deserve better than to have foreigners come in and fix the problems (that we created, or exacerbated, in the first place). They deserve to lift their own hands and tools, feel that strength and sureness of purpose, lift themselves out of the aftermath — and be empowered by it.
Team Rubicon is another young pup in disaster relief. We’ve been criticized for not sticking around to see a response through to the finish – Houston Rebuild is our first project lasting more than a few months – but what do you expect from an organization founded by, and dedicated to, veterans?
There’s three things I want to highlight about TR. First of all is our decentralized nature. City chapters across the state are expected, and empowered, to reach out to their own local emergency managers, create their own contingency plans, and coordinate their own training and projects. This framework enables far quicker responses, tailored for the local situation. Obviously we all can agree that’s an improvement over the top-down process used by FEMA, the Red Cross, etc.
Second is the culture of TR. The second purpose of the group, besides disaster response, is to re-integrate veterans into civilian life. Obviously, vets suffer incredibly from PTSD, mental illness, homelessness, difficulty finding employment, etc. TR believes their combat skills can be repurposed for disaster response, and the organization can provide them that sense of family they’ve been missing. Huge emphasis is placed on mental wellness, including regular suicide intervention training. I find that highly progressive. Additionally, while the membership is overwhelmingly right wing, you can be openly queer or leftist without any harassment (that I’ve seen). I myself am (somewhat) openly anarchist and have had conversations about antifa, climate change, etc. without having to end any friendships or being ousted from the group.
Third is TR’s unfortunate reliance on corporate partnerships. This point was really driven home to me after a newsletter went out about a ceremony wherein we honored AT&T for their ‘contributions’ – just days after I’d had a conversations with other members of the TRibe about how Verizon was throttling fire fighter’s data plans while they were in the middle of an inferno. Sure, different companies, but can’t you see how the telecom lobby is trying to strangle all of us, including your brothers in arms?
This point only serves to illustrate the contradictory relationships between state, capital, and us, the people. Understanding these relationships, and the methods and effectiveness of different disaster response groups, is critical to building dual power.
The State is not prepared to handle climate change, and even less prepared for the millions, potentially billions, of climate refugees coming down the pipe. They’ll stick us all in boxes, feed us soylent green, and blow the budget on fancy weapons — if we don’t come up with a better response, and take the power back from the power-mad.
But we are nowhere near that point yet. We don’t have the infrastructure, the material resources, or the public support and awareness.
Everyone reading this thread has been doing incredible work. You’ve been organizing, mucking and gutting, laughing and crying, living and loving. Leading full lives that aren’t micromanaged or coerced by some authoritarian blowhard with no idea of the situation on the ground. It’s a beautiful thing, and I hope that fire continues to spread.
So let’s understand what we’re up against. How the big dogs do it. What techniques we can take and repurpose and what to avoid at all cost. So again, please share your stories. And particularly if anyone has first hand experience with the Centros de Apoyo Mutuo, I would love to hear about that, as my time with them was far too brief.
- krisKeymasterNovember 26, 2018 at 12:33 amPost count: 4
Hello all. After that call, I’m fukken fired up.
What I want to drive home with this thread is that there’s a lot of potential here. A lot.
People are hungry for something more, something to lift them out of this national — global — funk we’re in. Some way to fight back against corporations, the alt right, the administration (or regime if you want), and against our own alienation and apathy.
Mutual Aid is more effective and honorable propaganda of the deed than any bombing, protest, or agitprop. It is real & concrete; flesh and blood.
States cannot handle climate chaos, or the flood of refugees. Their knee jerk reaction (arguably the knee jerk reaction of humanity, which makes our work all the more important) is to shoot the problem till it stops moving.
We can present a better alternative. Now is the time.
That said, we cannot afford to ignore the huge body of research and work out there, just because they come from institutions we ideologically disagree with. “Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” Nor can we talk some mad fire and brimstone without acting. So to close out this post with just a lil’ more substance, here are some works I’m reading through atm. Would love to have a discussion once I’m finished.
Beyond Cash: Making Money Work in Crisis — Analysis from Mercy Corps contradicting the “savior complex” mentality of traditional NGOs. While they don’t even question the effectiveness or validity of capitalism, they do not back down from the idea of empowering individuals and communities from a local, bottom-up direction.
The Resilient Social Network — Of course you’ve heard of this from the training crew. Now is your chance to read it! Watch as Homeland Security Studies concludes that grassroots, horizontally organized relief work is more effective than lumbering bureaucracy (FEMA will file your comments “under consideration”).
First Year of g0v.tw — Direct reportback from a grassroots collective in Taiwan aimed at integrating public, state, and corporate decision-making processes. Yeah, looking at China’s social credit system, that sounds terrifying to me too, but I’ve heard they actually produced results that worked for everyone. In any case, they are on the front lines of innovative social change — worth checking out in my book.
Not trying to overwhelm anyone with this, just want to keep the ball rolling. Again, this thread is for any experiences with organizations outside the Mutual Aid network. And we’re not expecting academic papers with spotless references — just share your thoughts.
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