I got an opportunity to visit communities on the Gulf Coast last month. I am very grateful to the California Allegory Fellowship, which helped make it possible by purchasing a couple extra plane tickets for me – I traveled to the Bay Area by a very circuitous route!
After visiting the Earth First! Rendezvous in Ohio and participating in my first civil disobedience action of the summer, a lock-down blockade at an ICE office, and then a “Crisis Convening” hosted by Public Lab in New Jersey, in mid-July I flew to NOLA, where I saw some dear old friends and tried my best to get accustomed to the weather (to get a good sense of summer on the Gulf, imagine living in a sauna 24 hours a day, and the sauna is full of bugs and rats and without any exit).
From there I continued on to Lafayette, where I did a workshop for members of a new DSA chapter as well as the local Indivisible group. It was very well received! And I am hopeful that this energetic and excited young DSA crew will successfully integrate with other MADR organizers in Louisiana and make some big moves – they are really well poised to volunteer and assist many communities around their region.
And many communities will need their help! Especially nearby Rayne, where some brave and dedicated water protectors are fighting against the Bayou Bridge pipeline, which is the tail end of the same pipeline system that includes the Dakota Access Pipeline. I was only able to spend about 3 days at L’eau Est La Vie camp, but I did my best to be as helpful as possible, cleaning the kitchen and care-taking some kids. I also ran a few errands and I transported reinforcements to the tree-sit blockades on the frontline. I say this to remind anyone who is reading this that you do not need to sit in a tree or lock yourself to a bulldozer or even risk arrest at all if you want to help these folks who are engaged in one of the most important battles of the year. There are many support roles, and they need your help! Like right now, it is a critical moment – please consider going to Louisiana to add your power to this vital struggle.
It is extra hard in Louisiana – the oil industry practically owns the whole state. Many people are afraid of consequences that might come if they support these movements, or they are afraid that they or their family members will lose their jobs. This is a familiar story – in every extraction state, people are kept down, bullied by the threat that “There is no alternative,” and compelled to fight on behalf of the companies that are poisoning their land, water, children. That is why creating alternatives is so important. That is why talking about mutual aid is so important. It is not enough to oppose forces of destruction; we also need to propose new ideas that can bring us closer to a world of health, justice, and dignity.
I hitched a ride to Houston, where I spent a few days meeting with folks who responded to the needs of their communities after Harvey. These included Bayou Action Street Health, a street medic collective that dramatically expanded the scope of their operations in order to serve all residents of hard-hit Lakewood, West Street Recovery, a new organization that grew out of the local Food Not Bombs group but then quickly created a variety of programs according to their neighbors needs, and A Single Grain of Rice, a project by the lovely Rosie Soto who has been feeding high-quality vegan food to neighbors in need for many years, and is now looking to expand and create a permanent Mutual Aid Center in her neighborhood.
I shared a workshop with a small group at a radical library called Solidarity Houston. Most of the participants had not been involved in activism or crisis response prior to Harvey, but they were feeling very motivated to do so now that hurricane season has come around again. This was exactly what the organizers had wanted – for folks to feel reassured that we do in fact have power to respond effectively and that we all have each others backs. Even though the famously friendly residents of Houston were nothing but sweet and generous and welcoming to me, I could feel the underlying anxiety. But coming together, talking about our fears and our opportunities and skills, sharing ideas and experiences (and food!), and connecting new recruits with experienced organizers has an incredibly powerful effect, alleviating much of the worry for a moment. There is real danger ahead, and we will not deny or minimize that, but there is also real power in and among ourselves, and we want to amplify that! To reassure folks that mostly we know what we need and we know how to get it, that we can and should prepare for and respond to crises in ways that center neighbors, prioritize justice, and build community power, that we can create a better world in microcosm, between ourselves in every moment.
Many who were at the workshop were really excited about the forthcoming Curriculum Packet, and they intend to replicate the workshop in all the most vulnerable neighborhoods. Rosie is going to help translate it to Spanish, so that Hispanic neighbors can be prioritized, especially those who are undocumented. I have high hopes that their work can serve as a model for other local/regional organizers who want to build practices of mutual aid, so we will stay in touch and hopefully post some of their reflections soon.
Houston has a long, hard recovery ahead. The effects of another hurricane could be even more devastating than the last. But Houston is full of neighbors who love their communities, and they will rise to the occasion. We hope that we can be of assistance in this process.
With Love & Solidarity,
– tyler, MADR
PS: While you are here, please allow me to make a plug for my Patreon campaign – please read, share, and contribute if you are able – thanks!!