The following is a report back from the North Valley Mutual Aid group, which is organizing an autonomous response to the Camp Fire from Chico, CA:
WHO WE ARE
We’re North Valley Mutual Aid (NVMA). As you’ve probably heard, the Camp Fire that started on November 8th is the deadliest and most destructive fire in California’s history. What you should also understand is how connected the people of the north valley are, and the impact this disaster is having on everyone here.
There are many relief efforts but ours is different. We are operating on a set of values defined by a national network known as Mutual Aid Disaster Relief (MADR). What’s important to know is that we are rooted here, are all volunteer, we offer solidarity instead of charity, and our group seeks to break down the top-down model of powerful givers vs. passive receivers of assistance—we recognize disaster survivors’ rights to determine what their needs are and how best others can assist them. We place a strong emphasis on the emotional and physical needs of survivors. We currently have six working groups and a loose network of around 100 community members participating—but this number is increasing daily.
Our immediate priority is to assist victims of the Camp Fire but recognize that our ideas, energy, resources, and organizational values will still be in demand down the road and in many contexts. By working with, listening to, and supporting impacted communities to lead their own recovery, especially their most vulnerable members, we build long-term, sustainable, and resilient communities. The town of Paradise and the surrounding communities are generally low-income, with a largely elderly population. We will support these community members who are going to face a stiff headwind in their efforts to rebuild their lives from bureaucrats, developers, and institutions like FEMA.
As this disaster is emergent, we will be on the ground to listen to the voices of the impacted community to understand where we can best be of service.
WHAT WE HAVE DONE
We have begun organizing around the core values and principles developed by Mutual Aid Disaster Relief (MADR). We have open group meetings which have given rise to several working groups taking action here every day. These groups include a central hub/organizing space, emotional and physical first aid, clean-up and re-build, navigating bureaucracy, child care, supplies and distribution, and outreach and media. These groups are emergent and fluid and may merge, change or dissolve as events unfold, and new groups may arise as needed.
The first week was spent reaching out to those folks directly impacted by the fire, especially those with the least resources. This included finding sources for donations and supplies and matching them to needs. We began distributing masks, clothing, tents, food and other essential items to folks in need, mostly around the encampments that began to spring up around Chico.
We made herbal medicine, food and teas and distributed them. We practiced deep listening for people who needed to talk and offered emotional support when asked.
We secured a dedicated space with a commercial kitchen and have started a Food Not Bombs kitchen which is collecting food, cooking, and distributing meals daily. The space is also being used as storage for supplies and tools.
We began offering child care to parents and caregivers.
We began collecting and distributing information on resources and how to navigate the bureaucracy faced in receiving aid from state and NGO orgs.
We are also not making a distinction between ‘displaced’ and ‘homeless’ persons. There has been a lot of discrimination against those perceived as long-time homeless with assistance being denied.
WHAT WE ARE DOING NOW
The town of Paradise and the other affected areas are under blockade by National Guard and law enforcement, effectively keeping everyone out. Homeowners are being arrested for trying to come back into town to see the destruction for themselves. This means that any cleanup and rebuild is likely still weeks away, so our efforts remain focused on the people who evacuated to the Chico area and how to support them, while planning for future cleanup and rebuild efforts.
We have rain and storms in the forecast and this is potentially going to create a new set of problems for our relief effort.
We are continuing to support the folks who have chosen to remain in the camps despite growing pressure from outside forces to leave and resources being taken away. We believe in the right for everyone to make these decisions for themselves. There are many reasons why someone might not want to be placed in a shelter situation, especially when their only option at this point seems to be being bused out of the community.
At the Walmart encampment we have been helping fortify tents with pallets and tarps and have set up a NVMA tent with info and resources. We have also been keeping overnight vigil to keep an eye on the police and ‘security’ presence and have created a rapid response network to mobilize in the case of forced evictions.
Outreach, meals, medicine-making, child care and emotional support are ongoing.
We are working with environmental orgs to help shore up some of the most vulnerable sections of the watersheds and creeks before the storm which will potentially create landslides and erosion.
Working groups and individuals are outreaching and meeting daily to assess and discuss the needs of the community with an eye towards the emergent and the long term. This disaster is going to change our community forever and we need to have a voice in shaping what that change is going to look like.
We are working on being able to facilitate out-of-area volunteers and organizations who wish to help with the project of Mutual Aid and step up the scale of what we are able to do together.
HOW YOU CAN HELP
- We’re collecting donations on our GoFundMe page.
- You can also help boost our Amazon wishlist. (Please make sure the North Valley Mutual Aid address in Chico is selected for delivery at checkout!)
- And if you’re looking to help volunteer in person, we ask that you first read our mission statement (below) and our core values. We also ask for your understanding in that we are building this organization starting from scratch and so our resources and capabilities are still getting up to speed, but we are learning and growing fast! Some of the projects to plug in to could include outreach, emotional first aid, Food Not Bombs, construction projects, transportation, media, and more (and we are always open to your great ideas!).
Also please know that this disaster is emergent and ongoing, and our commitment here is for the long term. As things on the ground change, the needs for help will change as well. We will need support and solidarity down the line.
That said, we can use your help! If you would like to come to Chico and volunteer with NVMA please let us know the following by emailing us at [email protected]:
HOW MANY ARE YOU?
DO YOU HAVE A VEHICLE? WHAT KIND?
DO YOU NEED A PLACE TO STAY?
HOW LONG CAN YOU STAY?
ANY SPECIFIC SKILLS OR EXPERIENCE YOU WANT TO SHARE
ANYTHING ELSE YOU WOULD LIKE TO TELL US?
ANY QUESTIONS FOR US?
The mission statement and core values are based on the collective organizing being done by Mutual Aid Disaster Relief.
The mission of NORTH VALLEY MUTUAL AID is to provide disaster relief based on the principles of solidarity, mutual aid, and autonomous direct action. By working with, listening to, and supporting impacted communities, especially their most vulnerable members, to lead their own recovery, we build long-term, sustainable and resilient communities.
NORTH VALLEY MUTUAL AID envisions strong, vibrant, resilient, connected, and empowered individuals and communities as part of an awakened civil society that will restore hope following crisis, and turn the tide against disaster capitalism and climate chaos, in favor of a more peaceful, just, and sustainable world. Whether future disasters become focal points for the powerful to entrench policies that uphold their privilege and political, social, and economic control or whether they become opportunities to build more empowered and resilient individuals and communities that strengthen our movements for radical social change is up to us and the choices we make.