Prefigurative Disaster Organizing by The Collective Story
In times of disaster communities organize based on mutual aid. Lets organize for mutual aid first to prefigure a world without disaster.
The long term, abstract threat of climate change has failed to mobilize the deep social transformation necessary to change our path. We are already experiencing increases in the frequency and severity of extreme weather events. Paradoxically, these climate related disasters are providing the circumstances when communities do come together and organize along radically different values--mutual aid, cooperation, solidarity and love--the value shift that is necessary to actually tackle the causes of climate change. But we can't wait for the next disaster to be the impetus for organizing and change. Instead we need to prepare for these impending disasters by building organizing now along lines of mutual aid, care, cooperation, solidarity and love. In doing so we will be best prepared to survive disaster as well as prefigure a world without the threat of climate disasters.
Floods, hurricanes, droughts, tornados, mudslides, wildfires, and other climate related disasters are not abstract threats--they are our daily headlines. But most of our understanding of these events misses the compassionate and sophisticated community response to disaster. We hear about state aid and state led response, but little about what neighbors do to save neighbors, church's do to support whole communities beyond their congregation, or what businesses do for "competitors" in these trying times. The goal of this proposal is to raise up, learn from these stories of community based responses so our preparation for and survival during the next disaster is actually an act of prevention.
Category of the action
What actions do you propose?
A prominent example of community based disaster relief is Occupy Sandy--a grassroots response to Hurricane Sandy along the NY and NJ coast where thousands of volunteers have coordinated and provided essential disaster response and rebuilding. For those of us outside of the NY/NJ coastal area, this community based relief effort has made few headlines. More importantly, the lessons learned from Occupy Sandy are not being incorporated into disaster planning in other communities.
How can our own community organize the next “Occupy Sandy” before a major storm hits here? What can we learn from the experience of the grassroots responders? What will survivors and responders of Sandy or other disasters do differently to prepare for the next "one"? Can our preparations become acts of prevention? These are the type of questions that the actions of this proposal will try to ask.
Organizing the storytelling collective
If our communities were struck by a natural disaster, we could write about our own experience preparing, surviving and rebuilding. Maybe John could write and perform a song about it. Nelson next door may also write his story, but in Portuguese. A photographer might use her lens, a minister her sermon. We all have our own way of communicating our experiences, opinions and dreams. The first step of this proposal is getting as many people together committed to preparing to tell our own stories or the stories of those around us.
The Collective will
- dedicate time to improving our own story telling craft,
- learning about other disasters and those that survived and responded,
- preparing our own community to survive the next disaster,
- And telling our own stories to each other and the rest of the world.
The actions of the Collective are laid out in more detail in the steps below.
The Collective will be inclusive of as many perspectives and voices as possible. The “Who will take these actions?” section has more details.
Action 1: Organize a storyteller collective
This sounds redundant, but a good collective will never stop organizing. We must always be including more people in our collective and in our communities. We must regularly assess and critique our own practices, process and goals. We must always be developing and organizing as a group.
Action 2: Educate ourselves and each other
Engage with the stories and lessons from past disasters
How have other communities come together in the face of devastating disasters and the often more devastating failures of governmental response? We are inspired by Occupy Sandy (in response to Hurricane Sandy), Common Ground Collective (in post Katrina New Orleans), the West Virginia Clean Water Hub (after the Freedom Industries chemical spill in the Elk River) and many more. But we understand the need to broaden our perspective to include examples from throughout the world that encompass the full spectrum of collective responses to natural disasters.
Make the stories accessible
We will also make the stories and our interpretations of the stories available to as many publics as possible by developing a system of information sharing based on the tenets of popular education. This will include an online and mobile platform for accessing and submitting stories from disaster response areas.
Honing our own craft
Bands practice and writers make drafts. As story tellers, we need to find time and audiences for developing our stories and our story telling skills. Part of educating ourselves must be focused on how we are going to be able to tell the story of disaster and response while being in the midst of disaster itself. There will be practical aspects such as learning to use a readily available medium even in a time of limited resources or restricted supply chains, perhaps becoming better with ink for times without a battery charger. There will also be theoretical aspects when we learn about narrative or voice from those who have had the opportunity to devote their lives to the craft of storytelling. We will also learn from each other by being an active audience for our fellow collective members.
Action 3: Survive the next disaster
Dead people don’t talk. As a collective we have to take seriously our own physical preparations for the next disaster and those around us. Based on what we learn from the survivors we talk to, the books we read and the discussions we have, we have to but words into action. We have to act as individuals so that we can live to tell the story, but we also have to act as a community so that there is a story worth telling.
It is impossible to specify here exactly how we should prepare since it will be an iterative process. But, surely, our preparations as individuals will include trips to the grocery store and the hardware store. It might also be stocking up on notepads, camera batteries, extra guitar strings, maybe even a typewriter. As a community it is harder to speculate on good preparations. How can some of us stock up on extra food for the next hurricane season when others don’t even have enough food for today? Maybe we will find that just knowing where food, water and necessities are stockpiled for those in need is sufficient, avoiding the difficult reality of inequality. Other, less tangible, actions might be just as crucial—getting to know our neighbors or the strangers behind the cash register, finding out who on the block has a generator, an extra seat in their family car, or other things that seem uncomfortable or outside our everyday conversations that might prove to save a life in a disaster.
Whatever we learn to be best practices, we have to share with each other and our communities and assemble the resources to put the practices in place. These actions we take in preparation will also be included in the resources we make available to the public in Action 2.
Who will take these actions?
As described above, the actions of this proposal will be carried out by the soon to be formed story telling collective. So far there are two of us, each with our own identity, experience, perspective and various storytelling skills. Our first action is to expand this group to include more people with different identities, experiences, perspectives and storytelling skills.
Where will these actions be taken?
We live in the Boston area, therefore our organizing would begin here, but our collective would be open to people from anywhere in the world given the limits to technology and practice.
There will be a geographical component to any disaster organizing since the impacts of a disaster can vary across space. But without naming a specific type of disaster that we are preparing for, there is no reason to foreclose on ways in which to organize geographically. Maybe it will be within a flood zone, maybe within a power grid or sub-grid, maybe within a water supply and treatment system.
What are other key benefits?
The proposal is an opportunity to bring together radical organizers with climate practitioners, activists and academics. Efforts like 350.org and the Transition Network seem to also be born out of this type of overlap, hopefully this proposal will achieve its own goals while also being a starting point for other yet-to-be created projects.
This proposal is also an effort to create space for rethinking how we frame climate change. So far the overall response to the social, economic and ecological crisis we face due to rising CO2 levels has been inadequate. Maybe we will respond better in the face of a climate “disaster” as opposed to global warming or climate change.
What are the proposal’s costs?
The most significant cost of this proposal is in supporting people who forego waged employment to instead participate in this project as storytellers. Therefore, the cost of the proposal will be dependent on the number of participants, the cost of living in their community, their unique personal costs and their costs for producing their stories.
All participants would need access to everything necessary to sustain themselves for the duration of the project—either in cash or necessary non perishables. This is not a constant—obviously the number of participants will impact the cost—but it is also not consistent between individuals. Medical costs, number of dependents, debt payments, etc. are all variables, however, we can use the living wage for a specific community as a place holder. In Somerville, ~$26,244/year living wage for a single adult. We could also think of this as ~$140 a day to support two organizers and grow from there, adding more resources as we include more storytellers. For example, the $10,000 prize money would be enough for two members to spend the next ten weeks learning, preparing and telling our stories. Or four members for five weeks. If we spend some of that time assembling more resources, we might be able to prepare longer or be a bigger group.
The timeline in which we see our actions being phased in are much shorter than the given terms. If there is some truth to the framing of our proposal, massive change will be necessary to have a habitable planet in 100 years from now. Also, disasters themselves will impact our timeline. If we wake up tomorrow to a flood or fire, our timeline will likely speed up as we move quickly to action. If our region remains relatively disaster free for the next couple of years, we may be able to spend more time learning about responses in other communities and less time telling our own stories.
Short term (tomorrow to 1 month from now)
- Have our first Collective meeting with more than two committed participants
- Assemble one to two months worth of reading materials
Medium term (1 month to 6 months from now)
- Meet for a second and third time as a collective with more than 4 members
- Connect with disaster survivors and responders from OccupySandy, Common Ground Collective, West Virginia Clean Water Hub, and at least one example outside of the United States
- Secure a domain/online portal for collecting and sharing stories
Long term (6 months to 5 years from now)
- Meet regularly as Collective of more than 8 members
- Establish the Storytelling Collective as a known community resource in preparing for, surviving and learning from disasters in the Boston area
- Be competent disaster story tellers
- Make available to the public our own stories of responding to and surviving disasters in our own community
Really long term (5 to 15 years from now)
- Develop a global identity and perspective by having Collective members on multiple continents
- Establish community based response as an equally important response as state agencies in our own community and in the national conversation
West Virginia Clean Water Hub https://www.facebook.com/WVCleanWaterHub
Rebecca Solnit, A Paradise Built in Hell
Naomi Klein, Disaster Capitalism