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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.

Puerto Rico teachers fight to reopen schools

Mercedes Martinez interviewed by Peter Lamphere - Socialist Worker, January 4, 2018

Months after Hurricane Maria struck Puerto Rico, leading to hundreds of deaths and devastating much of the island's infrastructure, ordinary Puerto Ricans are still struggling to put their lives and communities together--with little help from the U.S. government.

In November, Mercedes Martinez, president of the Federación de Maestros de Puerto Rico (FMPR)--a teachers' union that has organized against school closures and attacks on public education for many years--talked to New York City educator Peter Lamphere about how teachers are continuing the fight to rebuild Puerto Rico and what others can do to help.

In early November, 18 FMPR members were arrested as part of a civil disobedience action demanding the reopening of schools and drawing attention to the threat posed by advocates of neoliberalism--who view the hurricane as an opportunity to privatize public education and further weaken the power of the teachers' union.

P is For Privatization

By Camille Baker and Lydia McMullen-Laird - The Indypendent, December 27, 2017

When Nilda Sánchez and her children ventured outside after Hurricane Maria waged a direct hit on Puerto Rico, aluminum road signs were crumpled by the highway near their house and trees crisscrossed each other like slain animals in the street. The power and water were off, and remained so for six weeks. It was nearly three months before Sánchez learned whether another of the mainstays in her family’s life would be restored: her son’s education.

Sebastián, Sánchez’s 9-year-old son, had been receiving therapy for his learning disabilities at Instituto Loaiza Cordero, a public school in their San Juan neighborhood. Already the school had been shut down following Hurricane Irma’s sweeping of the island Sept. 6. For the next three months, Sánchez had no word on how much damage the school had sustained in the storms, and no inkling of whether or when it would reopen.

Their hardships multiplied. Sánchez began to worry that Sebastián, who suffers from developmental delays in hand-eye coordination and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, was regressing without therapy and the routine of school. Child support payments from Sánchez’s ex-husband — whom she left, she said, after he became abusive toward her — stopped coming, slipping through the cracks of administrative upheaval. Without anywhere else to be, Sebastián had to accompany Sánchez to the few job interviews she could find in the hurricane’s wake.

Sánchez says Hurricane Maria opened her eyes to the “cruelty” of living in bureaucratic limbo.

Climate Crisis and the State of Disarray

By William C. Anderson - ROARMag, December 2017

We are indebted to the Earth. Our gracious host has provided us with more than enough resources to live, grow and prosper over time. But throughout history, and especially in the modern capitalist era, some have let their desire for more become a perilous dedication to conquest. The urge to make other humans, wildlife and all parts of nature submit to the will of markets, nations and empires is the rule of the day. Today, anything associated with nature or a true respect for it is regarded as soft. That which is not vulturous like the destructive economics of the reigning system is steamrolled to pave the road to unhinged expansion.

This logic of expansion and conquest undoubtedly changes the relationship between humans and their environment. In this context, the “debate” over climate change actually becomes a matter of human survival. Those who entertain climate change as a question at all have already, maybe unknowingly, chosen a side. The fact is that climate change will create more refugees and forced human migrations; it will lead to the murder of environmental activists around the world and start new resource wars; it will spread disease and destabilize everything in its path — and more. Unless capitalism’s unquenchable thirst for natural resources and the fossil fuel combustion that powers it is abandoned, the Earth will be forced to do away with humans cancerously plundering the carbon energy it has stored over millions of years of natural history.

What is most unfortunate is that capitalism, which has multi-layered discriminations encoded within it — racism, sexism, classism, and so on — affects how thoroughly people are capable of bracing for the damages wrought by climate change. Though nature is indiscriminate in its wrath, the sustained ability to protect oneself from rising temperatures and natural disasters is a privilege not all can afford. Those who are already harmed under the pitiless whims of capital are doubly hurt by the lack of protection afforded to them for life in an increasingly turbulent environment. The Global South is much more likely to feel the brunt of climate change, despite contributing much less to causing it. But even in the world’s wealthiest nations, the poor and working classes are much more vulnerable to ecological devastation.

If the people who understand the gravity of the situation want this state of affairs to cease, then the system of capitalism and the egregious consumption of the so-called First World itself must cease. That which puts all of us at risk cannot be tolerated. The vast satisfactions in wealth hoarded by a few does not outweigh the needs of the many suffering the consequences every day, as the Earth deals with malignant human behavior. The systemic drive towards excess that is pushing the planet’s carrying capacity to the brink must be brought to a halt throughout the world, but especially in the empire that exemplifies excess best: the United States of America.

Organizing on a Sinking Ship: The Future of the Climate Justice Movement

By Kevin Buckland - ROARMag, December 2017

Climate change rarely comes up at the top of the list when people are asked about issues that concern them most. While this is not surprising, it is nonetheless disturbing considering the gravity of the climate crisis. Yet the key problem of our collective negligence of the climate crisis is reflected in the question itself, rather than the answer. Let us be clear: climate change is not an “issue.” Rather, it is now the entirety of the biophysical world of which we are part. It is the physical battleground in which every “issue” is played out — and it is crumbling.

The global justice movement is one of the many actors trying to maneuver on this battlefield, and the direction it is headed in is reshaping the narratives, tactics and structures that comprise it, hinting at the future of social movement organizing on a radically transformed planet. The rules of the game have changed: welcome to the Capitalocene — goodbye to “activism-as-usual.” As the climate changes, so must movements if they are to withstand, even thrive, inside the coming cataclysm of winds, waves and wars.

Movement Cultures in the Capitalocene

As our planet rockets into a new geological epoch, we find ourselves on unfamiliar terrain. The only thing that is certain is that no one knows what will happen, and no one is in control. The rest of our lives will be defined by an exponential ecological entropy that will increasingly destabilize both the economic and political foundations upon which the modern world has been built. All bets are off. The collapse will be anything but boring.

The Capitalocene is defined partly by a disappearance of spaces of refuge: there is no escaping this problem, and nowhere to hide. We’re all in the same boat. But the boat has crashed into a drifting iceberg, and is sinking fast. Our response to the climate crisis has been to rearrange deckchairs on the Titanic, but whatever we are doing, it isn’t working. It’s time to try something new. On a sinking ship, one’s logic and frames of references must change, just as the traditional frames of the left must evolve in the emerging context of crisis. The struggle is no longer to organize the deck-chairs so that we can ensure equal access for all. Rather, the most critical question now becomes: “How can we best organize ourselves to turn as many of these deck-chairs into life rafts?”

Perhaps as obvious as the climate crisis itself has been the inability of social movements to properly organize around it. For years, the climate movement has been trapped between two discordant discourses: between changing light-bulbs and global revolution. On one hand, any action can seem minuscule and ineffective compared to a crisis as big as the entire world. On the other, deep systemic change can seem far too slow for the urgency of the crisis we face. Yet one cannot “fight climate change” in the absence of such structural transformations, for the climate crisis is itself the result of an extractivist logic based upon an exploitative relationship with the world around us. Long before the industrial revolution, the emerging capitalist world-system was fueled by the exploitation of women, people of color and entire ecosystems.

The climate crisis is the ultimate symptom of this extractivist dynamic, and is an entirely new species of crisis that requires our movements to enact an entirely different logic — including entirely different values, morals, assumptions and strategies — if we are to confront it. Confronting climate change means confronting the system and the culture that has caused it, and providing a scalable alternative. More than merely constructing a new politics to confront the “issue” of climate change, the task of the left in the Capitalocene is to cultivate new processes for engagement in politics. The culture of organizing itself becomes key.

If movements in the Capitalocene are to effectively confront this crisis, it means enacting an alternative set of values and organizational principles. The legacy may have less to do with solar panels and community gardens than with incubating scalable organizing cultures that can be shared with allies, volunteers and partners in ways that improve access to justice as we move together into an exponentially tumultuous future. It may just be these cultures, being incubated now inside globally connected movements, that will write the next chapter of human history.

Cultural revolution is not only desired; it is needed. If we fail to offer scalable discursive, tactical and structural alternatives to the extractivist logic that has created the climate crisis, capitalism may itself transform the coming wave of disruptions into its own benefit, exacerbating existent inequalities for every social and ecological “issue” as it strengthens its stranglehold of the future on a rapidly destabilizing battleground. History is speeding up. It’s time to play to win.

Defying Dystopia: Shaping the Climate Future We Want

By Nick Buxton - ROARMag, December 2017

We live in an age of dystopias on demand. Whether it’s Black Mirror, The Hunger Games or The Handmaid’s Tale, there is no limit to satiating our desires for dark, apocalyptic visions of the future. Unfortunately the scariest experience does not involve the world of the imaginary; it just requires reading the latest climate science.

In one such piece in July 2017, New York Magazine managed to pull together all the possible worst-case climate scenarios in a longread called “The Uninhabitable Earth.” Through interviews with climate scientists, it painted a world of bacterial plagues escaping from melting ice, devastating droughts and floods so frequent they are just called “weather,” and biblical-like tableaus of entire nations on the move. The piece is bleaker than the darkest of sci-fi, because there is no way of dismissing it as fiction.

Facing our fears of climate crisis is one of the biggest challenges we face as activists. Not a week goes by without warnings of an “ice apocalypse” or a “point of no return.” We are bombarded with bleak visions of the future. And it’s a challenge that we continue to struggle with — one we have mainly filled with demands for action. For a long time, the answer was to provide easy actions that people could take so they could feel empowered. But it was soon evident that no amount of energy-saving lightbulbs was going to halt the capitalist juggernaut. Now the answer, from the left at least, is that we must confront capitalism to overcome climate change. Yet this can hardly be described as an easy win, or likely to allay our fears of a dangerous future.

In the anxious void, we have often not engaged or challenged the visions of the future described by climate scientists or environmentalists. And I don’t mean questioning the science, but assessing their expectations of humanity’s response to those climate impacts. Do they accurately describe how people behave in the face of disaster? Do they countenance the idea that people might respond in a way that doesn’t fit the model of the dystopian dog-eat-dog world? Is it possible that their expectations actually serve the purpose of those determined to repress alternative futures?

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.

Audio Report: Autonomous Relief In Houston Post-Harvey

By the collective - It's Going Down, December 6, 2017

Listen Here - link

In this audio report with Solidarity Houston, we talk with anarchists doing autonomous disaster relief in the wake of hurricane Harvey. While the waters have receded, in the aftermath of the storm many people have been made homeless, while others still in their homes have been unable to put their lives back together. Meanwhile, disaster capitalists have swooped in an attempt to flip houses for a profit and police have come down on those who now are forced to live on the streets.

In this interview, we talk about the kinds of ongoing programs and projects anarchists are engaged in, such as gardening and food programs, childcare, and more. We also discuss what life is like now that the storm has passed, such as the effect of pollution from superfund sites, how those who were taking shelter with the Red Cross are now living on the streets, and how various areas still lack basic services.

We end by talking about where people hope this organizing, infrastructure building, and activity can grow towards, as well as the need for people to come to Houston and take part in on the ground efforts. Towards this end, the group has also just released a call for people to come to Houston and plug into ongoing autonomous relief efforts.

Transition Is Inevitable, Justice Is Not: A Critical Framework for Just Recovery

By Ellen Choy - Movement Generation, December 20, 2017

“We are a people and a land adapted to surviving hurricanes, natural and social. We know that the broken makes way for the new, and at the eye of each storm there is a circle of calm, a place from which to see clear and far.” – Aurora Levins Morales

The disasters of the past year have filled our hearts and headlines with devastation, grief, and profound shock. We send our deepest love, compassion, and strength to those around the world who are now living in the aftermath of these disasters – rebuilding a sense of home, mourning lost ones, and making sense of their new reality. We are greatly humbled and inspired by the powerful Just Recovery work that is happening every hour of every day by people-powered organizations in each of these places. Thank you, to those on the ground for your leadership and determination. We are with you. You are not alone.

The chaos of this moment confirms what we’ve known about climate disruption – its power to devastate along lines of existing inequality is no accident, and because of that, recovery must be led by the people on the frontlines.

These crises of climate disruption are a consequence of the many crises hitting each of these communities. The acute is meeting the chronic; when disasters hit a community under attack by pre-existing systemic forces of oppression, we witness and experience explosive moments of devastation for the land and the people in those places. This begs us to recognize that response efforts cannot just band-aid the immediate damage of the disasters, but must be situated in long term vision and strategy that puts justice at its core.

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