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Mutual Aid Disaster Relief (MADR)

Mutual aid will help us survive the Biden presidency

By Dean Spade - ROAR Magazine, November 20, 2020

Biden and Harris are not going to stop the crises we are facing — mutual aid projects are essential to survive and build the world we want to live in.

The only thing that keeps those in power in that position is the illusion of our powerlessness. A moment of freedom and connection can undo a lifetime of social conditioning and scatter seeds in a thousand directions.

Mutual Aid Disaster Relief

Many people are feeling great relief that Trump has been voted out and are rightly celebrating the efforts so many people have undertaken to make that happen. But even as we celebrate, we must ensure we do not demobilize, hoping that the new administration will take care of our problems. Unfortunately, we can be certain that the Biden/Harris administration will not address the crises and disasters of climate change, worsening wealth concentration and poverty, a deadly for-profit health care system and racist law enforcement.

Biden and Harris have built their careers off of criminalizing people. In response to the killing of Walter Wallace Jr. in October they promptly issued a joint statement focusing more words on admonishing protesters than acknowledging police violence. They have made crystal clear that they will not oppose fracking, and if they return to Obama-era climate policies, we are certainly doomed. Biden has a wretched pro-war record, and has expressed unconditional support for Israeli colonialism.

He recently tapped oil and gas industry booster Cedric Richmond as a top advisor and a third of his transition team comes from think tanks funded by the weapons industry. Under the new administration, even if they roll back some of Trump’s worst policies, our communities will still be witnessing worsening crisis conditions.

Trump’s policies and rhetoric were extreme, openly racist and sexist, climate change- and COVID-denying, which helped mobilize many people to question the legitimacy of the police, military, border enforcement and capitalist economy and join social movement work to oppose those systems. While we are all tired from four years of fighting Trump, nine months of urgently responding to the pandemic and all the loss and devastation it has caused, and the bold efforts that so many have undertaken to fight the police in the streets and organize an historic uprising against white supremacy, we cannot risk demobilizing now.

We must continue the momentum that Black Lives Matter, No DAPL, Not 1 More Deportation, Abolish ICE and other campaigns have built exposing the utter failures of the Democratic party to oppose racism, war, the oil and gas industry, criminalization and wealth consolidation, and the necessity for bold direct action in the face of mounting crises. More than ever before, we need to organize and sustain mutual aid efforts, both to survive the crises we are facing and to build our movements for change.

When Flood Waters Run Dry: Hurricane Harvey, Climate Change & Social Reproduction

By Camilo Torres - contracted social reproduction. With hurricane season just ending, this essay will reflect upon and analyze why Harvey had such a deep impact on Houston, how contracted reproduction is being executed, identify the strengths and weaknesses of relief efforts and/or mutual aid organizing, and lay out ideas to advance future struggles around climate disaster.

Contracted Social Reproduction

For the purpose of this piece a brief explanation of contracted social reproduction is necessary. The lived experience of contracted social reproduction is a common one in many core capitalist countries of the west. Roughly, since the early 1970s, in order to stay afloat, realize value, counter working-class revolt and stave off crisis, the capitalist class has implemented austerity, broken up the production process, dismantled unions, and cut real wages.

The breaking up of the production process was a necessary move by capitalists for a number of reasons. For one, in the US, this helped to disrupt and undermine unionization efforts and workplace organizing by physically relocating the means of production to Latin America, East Asia and other parts of the world. Furthermore, capitalists were able to cut costs by finding cheaper proletarians and reducing or eliminating benefits offered to workers. This last point is significant because it prompted the lowering of the total social wage for proletarians globally. The non-reproduction of the class has plunged more proletarians into poverty and forced previously stable workers into precarious and deskilled work. This has resulted in increased exploitation and has generalized immiseration for many working-class people.

This reality continues as proletarians are increasingly taken out of the production process due to advancements in the forces of production that require less living labor. Capital is able to produce immense amounts of commodities, but through competition capitalists outpace one another as newer and improved technologies emerge, resulting in cheaper commodities. Yet, in capitalist society living, human labor is the key source in actualizing value. The expulsion of human labor from the production process causes the rate of profit to fall and crisis to ensue. As the rate of profit falls, capitalists must drive down wages below their values and reduce the cost of reproducing the working class. In order to do this, capitalists have to loot existing private fixed capital (machinery, buildings, etc.) as well as the means to reproduce labor power, like education, housing, and healthcare. This also includes public capital, such as roads, water infrastructure, bridges, etc. Nature is also a free input that capitalists use up as a means to boost their diminishing revenue streams. Coupled with this crisis is the emergence of proletarians confronting capitalism in the form of mobilizations against degenerative living conditions. 

How contracted social reproduction unfolds globally is uneven and varies regionally. Still, this serves as a basic summation of its central elements. Contracted social reproduction isn’t a subjective choice made by greedy capitalists, but an objective reality of this current period of capitalism. Now, let us look at how contracted social reproduction changed concretely before and after Hurricane Harvey. 

What is Mutual Aid?

By staff - Big Door Brigade, March 2020

What do we mean by “mutual aid”?

Mutual aid is when people get together to meet each other’s basic survival needs with a shared understanding that the systems we live under are not going to meet our needs and we can do it together RIGHT NOW! Mutual aid projects are a form of political participation in which people take responsibility for caring for one another and changing political conditions, not just through symbolic acts or putting pressure on their representatives in government, but by actually building new social relations that are more survivable.  Most mutual aid projects are volunteer-based, with people jumping in to participate because they want to change what is going on right now, not wait to convince corporations or politicians to do the right thing. A few critical concepts are inside this:

  • “Charity” is a framework that often means rich people giving a little bit to poor people to make themselves look better in the eyes of God or other people. Usually there are lots of strings attached to what they give: e.g., giving only to mothers, only to children, only to sober people, only to people of faith and other “deserving poor” models. This means that charity is often a strategy for controlling poor people. Charity also frames people in need as morally lesser than rich people—as if poverty were the fault of the poor rather than the fault of systems of racism, heteropatriarchy, ableism, land theft and labor exploitation that make some people rich and keep other people poor. Charity looks like generosity from rich people, but actually upholds the systems that make most people poor for the benefit of the few.
  • Charity is the frame used for most social services delivery. Most social services blame poor people for poverty, operating on the idea that there is something wrong with people in need—they need to get sober, they need to get “housing-ready,” they need to take parenting classes, they need to work harder. In reality, poverty is a result of capitalism, and people of color and women are the poorest people because of sexism and racism. Social service agencies typically employ middle and upper class people, often with race and educational privilege, and put them in the role of judging, punishing and controlling poor people. Sometimes they put “empowerment” in their name or mission statement, but the power dynamics are usually the old standards.
  • In recent decades, charity and social services have been privatized and contracted out to what critics call the Non-Profit Industrial Complex. Non-profits compete for grants from corporations or philanthropists to address social problems or serve poor people. This means that rich people and corporations get to decide what strategies should be funded. They also get to protect their money from taxation if they give it out to non-profits. Non-profits are mostly run by rich white people with graduate degrees, they have steep pay scales in which upper class people and white people get paid more, and the people most effected by the issues they claim to address have no say in what they do or how they work.

Mutual aid projects depart from these norms of charity, social services and non-profitization in several key ways that often include:

  • An understanding that it is the system, not the people suffering under it, that creates poverty, crisis, and vulnerability
  • Governance/control by people who are most effected (can mean having a membership base of those most effected, or being formed in ways that ensure those providing the aid are from the same group as those giving the aid, or models that allow allies to participate but focus on accountability to those being served)
  • Transparency about how they work, any money they use or manage (many mutual aid projects are not funded and are all volunteer run)
  • Open meetings and pathways for new people to join and participate
  • Political education within the organization to help those working in the project to expand their awareness of experiences that are not their own, to build solidarity, and to make the project supportive and welcoming to marginalized people
  • Humility and willingness to accept feedback about how to make the project more useful to the people it serves
  • Long-term commitment to provide the aid the project works on
  • Connection to and solidarity with other mutual aid projects and other transformative work
  • Commitment to dignity and self-determination of people in need or crisis
  • Consensus-based decision making rather than majority rule

Protesta Y Propuesta: Lessons from Just Transformation, Ecological Justice, and the Fight for Self-Determination in Puerto Rico

By Brooke Anderson and Jovanna García Soto - Grassroots International and Movement Generation, February 2020

“De la Protesta a la Propuesta” (“From protest to proposal”). That’s the slogan that watershed protectors used when they successfully stopped open pit mining in the heart of Puerto Rico’s mountains then brought those same lands under community control. For those of us looking to build just transformation in place, we have much to learn from Puerto Rico’s social movements which are at once both visionary and oppositional, centering sovereignty and self-governance.

Just transformation, or just transition, is the work “to transition whole communities toward thriving economies that provide dignified, productive, and ecologically sustainable livelihoods that are governed directly by workers and communities.”

In the U.S., the term just transition was originally used by the labor movement to demand that with the phaseout of polluting industries, workers would be retrained and adequately compensated rather than bear yet another cost from working in that industry. Environmental justice communities on the fenceline of these polluting industries then built common cause with workers for a just transition that would not put the environmental or economic burden on workers or communities. In the U.S., the term has since further evolved to capture systemic transformation of the whole economy. While U.S. frontline groups often use the term just transition, some Puerto Rican social movements use the term just transformation—especially as a way to capture the necessity of achieving decolonization and sovereignty as part of any transition. As such, we’ll be using just transformation in this report, as well as other concepts such as self-determination and ecological justice.

Read the report (Link).

The Response: Building Cllective Resilience in the Wake of Disasters (Shareable)

By various - Sharable, 2019

When disasters occur, the majority of news coverage teeters on the edge of “disaster porn” at best, emphasizing the sheer mass of destruction in the affected area while celebrating a few token “heroes.” At its worst, the media perpetuates harmful stereotypes, casting survivors as looters and justifying the extrajudicial murder of people of color by the police and mostly white vigilantes, like what occurred during Hurricane Katrina.

But in both scenarios, news reporting routinely underplays how local communities come together to recover from the immediate devastation and collectively rebuild the community, often on a new foundation of sustainability and justice. It’s a good thing that people collaborate instead of competing during a crisis because all signs point towards an increase in climate change-fueled disasters in the coming years.

This kind of collective response is worth celebrating, but there’s no better way to respond to disasters than to anticipate them happening and prepare before they strike. And there’s no better time than right now to build resilience together. While a little preparation today can save a lot of trouble tomorrow, it can also create immediate benefits like stronger community ties, increased civic capacity, and the joy that comes from accomplishing things together.

Read the report (PDF).

Staying Above Water-Migration as adaptation in the face of the climate crisis

By staff - Rising Tide, March 18, 2019

More than 30 years ago leading scientists from NASA began warning policymakers that global temperatures were warming as a result of the emissions of carbon and other greenhouse gasses. By the early 1990s, there was a broad and growing consensus within the global scientific community that human emissions of greenhouse gasses were causing significant changes to the global climate.

In the following decades, fossil fuel companies and corporate interests would continue to deny the mounting evidence and even the policymakers who recognized the potentially devastating impacts of global climate change would fail to take decisive action to curb the emissions of greenhouse gasses. At the same time, super storms like hurricanes Katrina and Sandy and Typhoon Haiyan would devastate entire regions, killing thousands and causing hundreds of billions of dollars in damages, providing dramatic examples of the gravity of the risks caused by climate change. Slower onset consequences including multi-year droughts in Somalia, the Sudan and Syria would destabilize entire regions fueling civil conflicts that displaced millions.

After decades of inaction and neglect, the climate crisis is here. Already the rapid warming of the earth is causing changes in weather patterns, increases in both the frequency and occurrence of extreme weather events, sea level rise, floods, droughts, wildfires, and increasing desertification of farmlands [1].

Together, all of these environmental changes are contributing to localized food shortages and conflict over increasingly scarce resources. Around the world, people are being forced to adapt to the changing environment, fortifying homes to withstand superstorms, changing crop patterns and seeking new sources of food and water. As the effects of catastrophic climate change continue to emerge, it is clear that some of the places that people are currently living will become uninhabitable and others will not be able to support current population levels. In the face of the climate crisis, tens of millions of people will likely use migration as a strategy for adapting to climate change, seeking shelter and sustenance in other parts of the world.[2]

Mutual Aid Disaster Relief Marks End of Convergence Center

By Mutual Aid Disaster Relief - It's Going Down, February 4, 2018

This following report from Mutual Aid Disaster Relief marks the closing of their autonomous space in Florida. To hear more about the community center and free clinic that they organized in the wake of hurricane Irma, check out our podcast interview with them here.

Last week marked the end of our Tampa Mutual Aid Disaster Relief Post-Irma Convergence Center, the space was generously offered to us by St. Paul Lutheran Church. This space was artful, accessible, warm and creative. Like larger social experiments where collectives have free reign to create, projects zipped in and out, ideas flourished and plans were encouraged to fruition.

From prisoner letter writing nights, to documentary screenings, to food prep, to the hundreds of care packages sent out from on site, to reportbacks, to workshops, to skillshares, to group meetings, to open mics, to radical caroling practice, and of course, the launching of relief teams doing disaster mutual aid to Puerto Rico, Immokalee, the Keys, Apopka, Jacksonville, and even refugee solidarity work in Belgium and France. We used those four walls to break down other walls and it worked. The space was opened for houseless friends to shower, do laundry and even for a houseless couple to have a romantic anniversary dinner.

We shared the space with Tampa Food Not Bombs, Love Has No Borders, Tampa Bay DSA, Restorative Justice Coalition, Black Lives Matter Tampa, Tampa Anarchist Black Cross and other liberatory movements. The space held a free clinic, a free library, a children’s playroom, a community kitchen, and an open space for people to share art and literature. The walls held revolutionary Zapatista quotes, portrait-stories, other messages of support and solidarity, and photos in memory of Andrew Joseph III, Meg Perry and Alonso Guillen – people we have lost along the way. The clinic treated emotional and physical trauma, provided acupuncture, reiki, massage, herbal teas and tinctures, diabetes care, treated dehydration and launched many, many mobile clinics.

Hakim Bey, the originator of the term temporary autonomous zone says they are “like an uprising which does not engage directly with the state, a guerrilla operation which liberates an area (of land, of time, of imagination) and then dissolves itself, to re-form elsewhere/else when, before the state can crush it.” The goal of these zones is not permanence or confrontation, and its lapse is not defeat, but a seed planted that will be carried to another time and place to be recreated again.

The aim is to spread these autonomous zones far and wide, so that everywhere and every-when, not just in disasters, people share goods and services freely, connect deeply and authentically with one another, have agency, self-determination and meaning in their chosen work, live in the moment, and are free to imagine with minds, but also with hands and feet, the better world we know is possible. These moments, when our bodies are sung electric by the possibilities taking wing inside and all around us, need not be fleeting. Most of human history has been spent in communities whose foundation was mutual aid, and our future can be likewise if we have the strength and courage to follow our vision through to where it leads.

Another example of temporary autonomous zones are the 12 Centros de Apoyo Mutuo (CAMs) located throughout Puerto Rico. These constitute an intricate web of people-powered, locally rooted recovery efforts that are proving revolutionary self-governance is not a utopian dream, but can actually be a natural response to the absence of authoritarian, statist means of control. We are currently raising funds to get the CAM in Caguas its own micro-grid solar photovoltaic system – an autonomous alternative to the bankrupt and perhaps, soon to be privatized, Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority. You can donate to this project here.

Some of us are still in Puerto Rico assisting with projects whenever and wherever we are needed and plan to continue doing so for the forseeable future. Some of us are busy preparing for a multi-state tour. And look forward to seeing many of you in person over the coming weeks and months and strategizing on how to build the movement for mutual aid together. To check out locations, visit our website. If we aren’t making it to your town yet, we apologize and thank you in advance for your patience. We have had far too many requests to meet them all at once, but we will continue booking spots for the Fall.

Dandelions lose their minds in the wind, and spread their seeds in a thousand directions. We are a result of one of those seeds. And we know that every end is a beginning. Wherever you go, may you carry a piece of a liberated zone with you. Wherever you stand, may you be the heart and soul of that place.

Until next time.

Building the Movement for Mutual Aid: Spring Tour 2018

By Mutual Aid Disaster Relief - It's Going Down, January 18, 2018

The following statement comes from Mutual Aid Disaster Relief, and announces their spring tour in 2018 across parts of the US. 

Friends,

I am so excited and grateful for this opportunity to organize our first “Building the Movement for Mutual Aid” Training Tour!  This is a critical moment for developing a skilled and empowered standing network of organizers and volunteers who can help communities respond to climate chaos as well as “unnatural disasters” brought about by exploitation, violence, and extreme resource extraction.

We are still confirming dates on this far-ranging Spring Tour, but we can tell you now that we will be on the road March-May in Tennessee, North Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia, New York, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, and Minnesota.

In each of the 30 locations on our route, we will explain how natural storms turn into unnatural disasters through dangerous new forms of disaster capitalism and how everyday people are using principles of “Solidarity, Not Charity” to engage in d.i.y. disaster recovery.  A two-day workshop will include both an easy introduction accessible to the general public, and a deeper participatory training for those who are ready to get involved.

Check out the schedule!  It just went live, moments ago, on our shiny new website!  If you have not seen it yet, please check out the front page and read some of the many excellent articles written by members who are bringing direct action humanitarian aid to communities in Puerto Rico and elsewhere.

This tour is the first step in a strategic capacity-building training campaign. Due to an outpouring of requests (over 100 so far!), plans are developing for a Fall 2018 Tour in the West, additional regional tours in 2019-2020, and a variety of follow-up trainings that will strategically and progressively build necessary skills and shared knowledge in local groups that are a part of the rapidly-growing MADRelief network. If you would like to invite us to your community, please place a request.

MADRelief envisions a new, participatory and empowering form of humanitarian aid that can become a big tent under which many diverse movements can find common ground and shared experience.  One that can overcome natural and unnatural disasters – from hurricanes to hate rallies, from mudslides to mine waste spills – and transform tragedies into opportunities for collective liberation.  One that we build in collaboration with all of you.  This tour seeks to strengthen our network, diversify our base, and increase our skills and knowledge, together. Please join us!

 

 

Dreaming With Our Hands: On Autonomy, In(ter)dependence, and the Regaining of the Commons

By Mutual Aid Disaster Relief - It's Going Down, January 9, 2018

“It was like an atomic bomb went off” a local Boricua, as people born in Puerto Rico are often called, is saying about the view of the mountains the day after Maria passed. “Every branch, and every tree, was torn apart and broken, and scattered everywhere. Every green area was gray and brown.” The view now, almost three months after las tormentas, is eerie. The greenery is back, but the forests are very bare compared to how they were. Things can appear to be normal, except for the 60 foot telephone pole hanging over the edge of a cliff here, or leaned over at 45 degree angles onto a building there. As long as they still carry power to their destinations they’re left alone, even doubled over, to triage the other downed poles that are actually causing disruptions in the grid. These remnants of devastation can be seen everywhere, and everywhere there are people getting by and adapting to the changes Irma and Maria left behind with whatever limited tools are at their disposal.

I, a Brooklyn born Puerto Rican, arrive in Puerto Rico, or as the native Taíno people call it, Boriké, and meet up with a small team of two traveling partners. Our visits to Caguas on my first week were breathtaking, getting to know people, and watching the amazing projects that communities here are putting together. The town itself is very old, largely abandoned and magnificently beautiful. The streets in the pueblo are narrow and the buildings made of cement, painted bright pastel colors, with old Spanish architectures. Everywhere lay murals with sayings of hope, independence and resistance. In our short visits, we were able to glimpse how people here have begun rebuilding their lives, coming together to reimagine the kind of world they want to create.

Since before the hurricanes, the downtown neighborhoods were losing their small shops and local markets to the incurring large chain stores that sprouted up less than a mile away. Still, one immediately gets the sense that this town is full of cultural life and spirit much different from that felt in wealthier neighborhoods, like the gated community in Guaynabo we stayed in. In traveling to different parts of the island, we can see houses on the coast of Aguadilla that were cut in half by mini landslides, and traffic lights and highway signs stashed beside the roads with the piles of detritus and branches.

We’re on the northwestern part of the main highway that encircles the island now, and traffic comes to a halt for a half hour. It was raining for only 20 minutes, but it left a 4 foot deep puddle along a large stretch of the often overcrowded road. As we finally reach the end of the bottleneck, we see the flooding is being manually fixed by a single worker in swamp boots unclogging the drainage holes with a broomstick. I get the sense this is an example of how the municipalities in Puerto Rico aren’t equipped to properly handle the crisis.

In speaking with people, it comes as no surprise to them either that the government isn’t doing much to resolve the problems here. As many non-Boricuas are only now discovering, the island’s government has been suffocated with public debts, issued and purchased by predatory Wall Street hedge funds. Aligning with what has now become a global custom with these kinds of debts, Puerto Rico’s creditors are forcing the island’s government to enact austerity measures on the population, with help from the US and its Fiscal Oversight and Management Board. This Board is an unelected entity established by the US Congress to decide how Puerto Rico spends the tax revenue collected from its people.

“They don’t serve the interests of Puerto Ricans,” Maritza, a local community organizer says, “They serve the interests of Wall Street.” She explains how the Board members assign themselves their own salaries. “The chair of the Board decided to make $625k this year, and overall the Board costs $300 million to operate, paid for by Puerto Rican tax dollars.” It’s their job to make sure Wall Street hedge funds can keep getting payments from Puerto Rico’s unquenchable debt, and in the process, ensure that Puerto Rico never has a prosperous and self-sufficient economy. By gutting funding for healthcare, education, food assistance, public sector jobs and critical infrastructure development, this policy instead ensures a continually collapsing economy. Maritza describes the Board as wanting “to keep us like a banana republic, a place with only low-wage jobs for corporations to profit off of,” and I believe her. FEMA and the Puerto Rican government failed in meeting people’s basic needs after the storms, but in their absence, I’m told old and new community organizations took the lead and saved many lives.

2017 Reflection: Unafraid of Ruins

By Mutual Aid Disaster Relief - It's Going Down, December 27, 2017

2017 has been a busy year for us. We saw unprecedented disasters, both climate related and political. The storms are increasing in intensity and frequency, but so is our diverse movement’s power from below, our capacity to bend reality to will and to present viable alternatives. In the face of growing fascist threats, we know a simple return to the politics of economic austerity, endless war, and the slow breakdown of authentic social relationships is not enough to stem the tide against authoritarianism. What we need is a radical restructuring of our social ties, based on mutual aid and our shared vision of the future.

In addition to meeting people’s immediate needs for survival post-disasters, this is what we are building. Every hurricane, every fire, every earthquake, mudslide, flood, and every other disaster, is a space of profound suffering, but in these ruins, there is an opportunity to rebuild a better world in the shadow of the old.

In the words of the revolutionary Buenaventura Durruti: “We are not in the least afraid of ruins. We are going to inherit the earth; there is not the slightest doubt about that. The bourgeoisie might blast and ruin its own world before it leaves the stage of history. We carry a new world here, in our hearts.”

If we are to survive the coming storms, it will be through mutual aid, through manifesting into reality this new world we carry in our hearts.

In 2017, we created a clearinghouse of resources available for free at MutualAidDisasterRelief.org for people engaged in people-powered relief efforts to safely clean up flooded homes, provide psychological first aid, and engage in every aspect of relief and recovery safely and sustainably. We activated thousands of new volunteers who became involved in debris clean up, prisoner advocacy, mobile kitchens, providing medical assistance, building autonomous/sustainable energy and water systems, and distributing hundreds of thousands of pounds of food, water, and other supplies, as well as countless other acts of solidarity.

As we write this, many of our volunteers are in Puerto Rico assisting the centros de apoyo mutuo that operate as beacons of sustainability and communal solidarity. Many more volunteers will continue to trickle in over the coming weeks as they have over the last couple months. The people of Puerto Rico knew as we know too, if we wait on the state or the large institutions to save us, we would not survive. There comes a time when compassion, mutual aid, solidarity, and taking initiative are not luxuries but necessities of survival. In the words of a friend at Centro de Apoyo Mutuo in Mariana, “This is it. Or there is no future.”

We look ahead to 2018 and building the movement for mutual aid through a speaking and training tour, spreading the diy disaster relief ethic, and carving out a future through mutual aid, solidarity, and direct action.

As a new year approaches, we look forward to continuing to build and support civil society alternatives, prefigurative movements for humanity, for survival, and against neoliberalism, fascism, and climate chaos.

Thank you for walking this path with us.

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