Shareable and Free Speech TV recently co-hosted a panel discussion after the television premiere of the documentary film, “The Response: How Puerto Ricans Are Restoring Power to the People.” Panelists Susan Silber, Tré Vasquez, Juan C. Dávila, and Christine Nieves explored a wide range of topics including mutual aid, community resilience, and the impact of colonialism on Puerto Rico’s response to COVID-19.
Designed to provide a deeper context for the ongoing impact of disasters on Puerto Ricans and other communities in the U.S., panelists explored how people are working together to increase their collective resilience.
The entire discussion is available in several formats. In addition to the video recording and written transcript (included at the bottom of this post), we have also released it as an episode of The Response podcast.
The Response film is available for free virtual community or educational screenings and is an effective tool for convening local, regional, and national organizing meetings aimed at launching and strengthening mutual aid and resilience work. Sign up to host a screening at www.shareable.net/the-response-film or find out more information by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Transcript of the panel discussion:
I’d like to welcome back all of our viewers from Zoom, Facebook Live and Free Speech TV to the special panel discussion, and wish everyone a happy Earth Day. Thank you for joining us for this event. I really hope you enjoyed the film. We’re fortunate today to be joined by Susan Silber from the Northern California Resilience Network, Tré Vasquez for Movement Generation, journalist and film director Juan Carlos Dávila and Christine Nieves from Emerge Puerto Rico, and who is the co-founder of the deployment tool who you saw at the end of the film. We’re going to start with just a few rounds of introductions so you can get to know all the panelists. I would just like to start with Tré and ask if you can just share with everyone who’s watching a little bit about yourself and your work.
Good afternoon. It’s afternoon here in the Pacific time zone but for everybody on the East Coast, good evening to you all. My name is Tré Vasquez. I’m speaking to you from my home here in Southern California, and I’m here on behalf of Movement Generation (MG). So a little bit about the crux of our work for those who may not be familiar. We engage in transformative power building towards liberation and restoration of land, labor and culture. And for folks who have heard of MG before you might probably associate us with Just Transition work. MG is rooted in building with social movements led by frontline communities committed to Just Transition away from extractive economies and towards regenerative, resilient life-affirming local economies. I’m also going to speak on the just recovery work that has been in the North Bay over the last two and a half years with my family and political home at the North Bay organizing project.
Thanks, Tré. Susan, would you like to go next?
Sure. Good afternoon. I’m Susan Silber calling from Berkeley, California. Great to be here with you all on the 50th anniversary of Earth Day. I’m the founder and director of the Northern California Resilience Network. Our mission is to catalyze a Just Transition to an equitable and regenerative region by supporting and activating community-based and ecological solutions in Northern California, with a social and racial justice lens. Our evolving organization is really based on two programs. The first is our membership program, the circle of collaborators of which Shareable is member of. It’s creating a decentralized network of solution areas of grassroots organizations and conscious businesses, consultants who are really doing the on the groundwork, turning despair into action through community base and nature-inspired solutions. Working with the coalition to share best practices and promote all the amazing work that’s happening, because really, the solutions are here; we just need to scale them up. And the second program that we’re working with is the Resilient Hubs Initiative, which is really similar to the mutual aid centers in Puerto Rico, looking at sites as demonstrations for resiliency through the pillars of community engagement, disaster preparedness, and permaculture nature or nature-based infrastructure. So really, how can we prepare these sites to be ready for anything that includes the coronavirus, earthquakes, etc.
Thanks, Susan. Next I’d like to bring in Christine Nieves, if you can introduce yourself say a little bit about where you are and your work.
Hi, everyone. Good evening. I am coming to you from Puerto Rico. You probably hear the frogs in the background. My name is Christine Nieves. I was one of the co-founders of Proyecto Apoyo Mutuo Mariana, which you learned about in the documentary here in Humacao where I am still today. And now I am co-founder and executive director of Emerge Puerto Rico. It’s an initiative that is focused on community-based climate change education, and leadership development. So, a lot more to say, but I’m really excited to hear from everyone and just thank you for the space.
Thanks, Christine. And and now we’ve got Juan Dávila who is the film’s director and freelance journalist. If you can just introduce yourself.
Juan C. Dávila
Hello. I basically have been documenting social movements in Puerto Rico ever since 2010, starting with the university strike and then went on to cover social movements and, and other and other different anti-austerity movements that were happening here in Puerto Rico and eventually I started documenting the movements that started to develop. From there on, many things have happened. And one of the things as mentioned in the film, is that mutual aid centers became key. So, you know, it’s nothing that came from nowhere. You know, this is something that has been built up for years. And that has been my my work as a journalist, as a filmmaker, documenting the different social movements in Puerto Rico in the last year, and shed light into colonialism Puerto Rico, basically.
Thanks Juan. Just to give a little bit more context, we began working on this podcast about three or four years ago. When we started, it was right around the time that hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico. And we knew that we wanted to do a story, but we weren’t sure what that story was going to be. We were searching and searching to find the right journalists to work with. And we were fortunate enough to come across one who was already covering the story. So much of what we were able to document in both the podcast and then the film really came from the on the ground work that Juan had already been doing. It provided a lot of context and made it possible for us to do this.
We’re going to do a series of questions for each one of our panelists. Christine, I’d like to start with you, because you were the last one we heard from in the film. I’m wondering if you can just kind of talk a little bit about a little bit more because we heard a little bit you know about about how you were inspired to start the the center in Las Marias [correction: the center is in Mariana] and but if you could talk a little bit more about that process, about about those initial, days and weeks after, and and then also kind of how its transformed over time.
Absolutely, thank you. Well, it’s a, I’ve had a lot of time to reflect and I’ve been diving into the experience because I’m writing a book about it. The experience of my particular moment in time, coincides with my wanting to return to Puerto Rico. When everyone was saying all the young people need to leave. There’s no jobs, there’s no opportunities. A lot of my family members left. And that was, nine months before the hurricane. There’s something calling me back. I don’t know what it is. I’m going to quit my job. And I’m just going to go find out and it took many, many years to get to the point where I was, I had that moment of honoring that calling. And I moved back to Puerto Rico and fell in love. I fell in love with my now-husband, father of my one daughter and my soon to be two-second daughter because I’m pregnant. And it was that, you know, I often say I left Puerto Rico because out of fear, but I’ve moved back out of love.
And it was through this process of, yes, the personal romantic love, but actually, this deep process of decolonizing myself and falling in love, again with the island beyond the narratives that we’ve been fed and that are constantly magnified through the media. They are very much about doubting ourselves and doubting our capacity to come together and do unbelievable things. They’re unbelievable because we don’t tell ourselves stories about them being possible.
So my husband grew up in Mariana. He knows everyone here. He grew up volunteering in this association. His dad actually was a community organizer before him. His grandfather did something unusual. His grandfather said, I am not going to go to the city and he was very hard-headed. And it wasn’t necessarily that he was a visionary, but he was like, you know, the land is important. Taking care of this land is important, staying here is important. And it was that vision and that hardheadedness that turned into his father then also valuing the land deciding that he wanted to stay here, being part of a community association that’s been around for 40 years.
So as Juan was saying, This is many generations in the making, and we’re building on top of that. Every generation before us moved us further into this moment. We happen to be living in and are so grateful and fortunate to have access to this infrastructure. This is just the association in Mariana. When the hurricane happened, everything was destroyed in our home. We looked around. And there was this association that has a professional kitchen for a festival that they’ve been doing for years. There was this one important moment, and I don’t attribute it to any particular genius. But I think it was some sort of inspiration that comes from who knows, it was this moment of saying, okay, we’ve got to come together, and even though everything’s destroyed, and there’s no food and there’s no communication, and it feels like it’s impossible, we have to do this. And Louise looked at me and said, we’ve got to find a way to feed people because FEMA is not coming. It’s been two weeks. There’s nothing happening. We could hear the helicopters flying by but we were one of the first ones affected, and no one was coming over.
So then he just started to do the first most important step, which is, find someone to cook. That was the first thing and it was so basic, but it started by fitting something really basic and primal, which is food. And it turned into feeding our loneliness, feeling our sense of isolation. So that’s how it started. And now it’s sort of taken a whole process which I would love to share, but I do want to stop here because I think it’s quite robust how we got here and I and I think it’s important to share the root of so many generations before to get to this.
Thank you and you know, actually, there’s something else that I wanted to hear from you. I’m just gonna stick with you for a moment and then we’ll move on to the panelists, I want to make sure we get it. Your work has a focus on mutual aid and its relation to climate change. And I’m wondering if you can talk about how those things are intersecting for you.
Yeah, absolutely. And you will hear my daughter may be crying in the background. So bear with me, and thank you for your grace. I will say for me, the way those two are connected and it’s becoming very vivid in the times we’re living right now, is that of mutual aid. I come to mutual aid from a place of having seen how the current system that we live in doesn’t mean it’s not designed to survive any kind of extreme event or unexpected event that doesn’t somehow keep all the machines running.
And so, when everything collapsed in Puerto Rico, I was so impressed by the beauty and the sense of hope and how it was such an excellent way to to get people to move from despair, and move from paralysis and move from “we’re gonna wait for the government to come and save us” into a place of “what can I offer? What am I good at? What do I know how to do” and it just transformed. It just transformed how we relate to each other. And in a way that was beyond money, in a way that was about care. And now I see community care and how we relate to each other as what I call the invisible infrastructure, I see it as an essential part of what we need to be investing in. And depending on the context, we need to be looking at it differently in Puerto Rico. Many of these communities where centers are sprouting, there’s a lot of different generations of relationships.
You also have generational trauma, you also have generational feuds or beef between people and when everything collapses, what you know, how are you going to work with the person that you learn from your dad to hate or not talk to? It is all part of a conversation that I think we’re missing when it comes to climate change and now that we’re living in times of coronavirus I think it’s becoming you know, vibrant again, it’s bringing us to, you know to focus.
Just last week I saw a headline about the ocean temperatures being of record-breaking heat. And that means that we’re going to have a very, very active hurricane season. It just brings us to to this moment of recognizing that it is that invisible infrastructure of the centers and not only the centers, but our capacity to be able to work through their healing through forgiveness rituals; how do we deal with people that we may not want to be working within the context of Puerto Rico, which might be different in another community, and include that as part of the conversation of mutual aid.
So I think that that’s what climate change is forcing us to think about as humans is really around the emotional part, around our emotional intelligence around change. But also around the part of, through honoring, and recognizing that we have a lot of things to heal and work through that’s actually an opportunity to wake up and decolonize ourselves, not just politically, but decolonize ourselves in the biggest sense, which to me, is around our relationship to Mother Earth to our environment. So that’s, that’s how I see those interconnected And constantly in conversation with each other.
Thank you, I really like that framing, you put the community care as invisible infrastructure. We often think about physical infrastructure. The mutual aid centers really were this incredible future, this physical infrastructure that was a necessary hub that was created. But there’s also layers of social infrastructure. And those are often invisible, but can really be the key determinant in how we get through crises. Those social webs are oftentimes the determining factors about whether or not people survive or don’t, people are looking after each other and, that’s something that’s going to be becoming very clear, especially now. We are in this moment of the pandemic when we actually can’t go and be in our physical centers and connect. Coming out of this, it’s going to be something that people really, that we’re already starting to see the effects of. We talked about in the film, but, just the impact on the collective psyche.
You know, that collective trauma, which came in after Hurricane Maria is what we’re really starting to feel now, as people are losing their jobs and their livelihoods. People are losing family members, and there’s a lot of fear that’s going on. And so that social infrastructure will not only be necessary, you know, meeting, you know, climate change, which it will, but also in this present moment as well. So, thank you for sharing all of that.
I’d like to go next to Juan just to stay here in Puerto Rico, and I’m wondering if you can provide a little bit more context for just the situation as things stand now. Less than a year ago, there was this historic political uprising, which took place which led to the resignation of the governor of Puerto Rico. There has been this wave of people coming together and meeting the needs that the state really isn’t meeting around protection and testing and care during the pandemic. I know that in Puerto Rico there’s also a dearth of resources and support from the federal government. So I’m wondering if you can talk a little bit more about the context of organizing in general in Puerto Rico, and specifically about what’s happening right now?
Juan C. Dávila
Yeah. Thank you, Tom. One of the problems that all of this has generated is that we are starting to normalize the absence of the government. For example, let’s say that sometimes when the earthquakes came into Puerto Rico, earlier this year, you see a lot of people saying, the government’s not going to do anything and then the celebrities and the Puerto Rican artists reacted and then people are starting to normalize the idea that philanthropy and the artists are going to take care. And this is very dangerous because the government needs to be held responsible.
I think that’s one of the challenges that all this project of mutual aid and self-management and what is in Spanish out of history on, which I don’t, I have never ever been able to find a perfect English word. But this sense of self-management, we need to work so it doesn’t get co-opted in the way that that self-management means that people outside of the room will need to take care of this.
I just want want to say this because it’s something that the government constantly is putting out there is something that you know, that that people you hear them in the streets saying: “Oh, so the tarps after the earthquakes that were given to the people were donated by Coca Cola.” So that’s wrong. for us now problematizing how the private industry is also taking the role of the government and how dangerous that is, right? And how maybe projects like the mutual aid projects and the mutual aid centers, the message boards will be corrupt.
This is a film we did in 2018. We filmed in 2018, two years after is where we’re still releasing it and now premiering on TV. It’s always like, a weird deja vu when you see a project about two years after you shot it. You need to get familiarized and maybe even Christine forgot about the interview until they called her for this. But I think, one of the things that has happened, is that last Summer, two years after Hurricane Maria, there was, and this is widely known, I’m just going to summarize what has been happening. The former governor of Puerto Rico (the former governor, Ricardo Rosselló) was involved in a scandal where he actually, like the documentary shows. He exchanged a very insulting language with those closest to him and this was leaked, and people got very mad about this. This event was the catalyst point that left thousands of Puerto Ricans in the streets in one day, protesting against the government. Like I’ve always said, this is an accumulation of things. And this is the accumulation of the debt crisis, the accumulation of the lack of response after Hurricane Maria and Hurricane Irma and obviously a lack of response and the colonial policies and neoliberal policies that have been pushing our country for years.
Then after Ricardo Rosselló, we had a series of earthquakes in Puerto Rico at the beginning of the year. And I think what is interesting is that many of these networks that were built during the mutual aid after Maria were actually put into work again. You would see people from sociologists going to deliver aid to the south so those networks remained in place and I think that’s one of the most amazing things about mutual aid centers. They are a network that was created all throughout the island.
Then we saw a response of the people now waiting on the government, but it goes back to what I was saying at the beginning that this is in some way dangerous. That is something that we need to be careful about. Like I was saying about Coca Cola; even it’s hard for the people, this is very problematic when they are so responsible of, of extracting so many resources in communities all around the world. And then we come into COVID-19, which probably our pandemic was declared at the same time as in the U.S. in March. And now what we are seeing here is that there’s not enough testing that has been given to the people. In Puerto Rico, the government doesn’t have autonomy to negotiate tests from other countries but rather depends totally on the U.S. market to supply the test. We can tell how everything has been in the U.S. and the mess that is right now in the U.S. with testing; imagine here in the colony. So this is clearly becoming a bigger problem. There’s a case of not enough testing even in New York, and people have been being denied testing, even when they have the symptoms. The same thing is happening here. But I suppose that here, it’s more dramatic because of the lack of autonomy of the Puerto Rican government.
Today there was a protest, actually in San Juan, where they went to the Department of Health. Many of the activists who also come from the mutual aid centers were there. So that’s why I’m saying this network continues. They were actually demanding that the government supply more testing because also there’s a huge scandal here about how much the tests in Puerto Rico cost to the government versus what actually are providing. There’s a local corruption scheme within the colonial problem.
Business owners and the business people and the private corporations are asking for the measures in Puerto Rico may be more strict than most states in the U.S. right now, in regards to social distancing. We don’t have a clear idea, because people are not being tested, how many people are sick with COVID-19 here, this creates obviously a bigger problem.
Thank you for that update. I’ve got just one follow up question about something you brought up earlier. There’s a question about the tests coming to Puerto Rico potentially being more expensive, charging the Puerto Rican government more than then it’s being charged for other states. And, because of the colonial relationship between Puerto Rico and the United States, a lot of people may not know, but goods have to go through the continental United States before they come to Puerto Rico, oftentimes adding additional tax and all sorts of other things. I’m wondering if there are more conversations happening on a mainstream level, just questioning this relationship and reevaluating whether or not it would make more sense for Puerto Rico to become a state or to be its own independent country.
Juan C. Dávila
I mean, I really a, what I would say maybe Christian, you can also talk about this a is that, you know, these conversations are not happening, why in the country, I think the US have been very effective. The US have been very effective in always criminalizing the Puerto Ricans, for their own issues, you know, some of remembers me, I made me think about the book Facundo, you know, and how, you know, here in Latin America, we’re barbarians, and we all know how to govern ourselves. So I think, you know, a, obviously we have a very bad set of politicians in Puerto Rico. But I think you know, that actually, the US is using that to their advantage to put out a narrative that actually is a is the is a corrupt politician from Puerto Rico. And I think for many years, people have always Read the the, the what they are the responsibility of what is happening to the country to a local politicians. And I think you know, there’s a and of course they are very much responsible but there’s a bigger aspect of that which is us colonialism and obviously these politicians play in favor of us colonialism. But I think the conversation still stays very local and and many times Ay, ay ay ay. and I’m saying in the wider sense of the public debate in the country, as you were asking Tom do not necessarily go into into the public debate, this type of things and people are not necessarily connecting it to the relationship of the US and I think this is important for activists to constantly bring forward you know, that you know, we have a government that is very corrupt. We have a local elite that negotiates the well being of Puerto Rican so they can get a piece of the cake but on top of that, we have a US colonialism which obviously allows and pushes for, for all of this to happen so they can maintain power and control over Puerto Rico.
Thank you Juan. And just real quick before we move on, Christine, if there’s anything you wanted to specifically add for that?
I think Juan covered it. I would only add that the more we start finding the information about just learning the real history. If you try to find history about the relationship between Puerto Rico and the U.S., you will not find a lot of stories. So the more you start looking for the stories that are not being published in mainstream or history books. Which history books? Which language, English or Spanish? Who’s writing it? You start identifying traits that to me resemble more of a sort of an abusive relationship traits.
If you think about it and metaphorically between individuals where there is a lot of manipulation, there is a lot of abuse happening. And if you had a friend who has been convinced that she or he is not good enough to be on her own and she is better off or he’s better off with this other person that’s clearly emotionally abusing this person, you would definitely recommend your friend to break up. And I think to me it’s very interesting how when we talk about politics, we forget that really we’re talking about relationships of humans as well within themselves and each other. So, that’s the only thing I would add there.
Thank you. And with that, we’re going to leave Puerto Rico for a moment. And I’d like to go and invite Tré to come in. And in addition to working with movement generation, Tré was involved in the launching of the UndocuFund in Northern California after the Tubbs fire in 2017 which took place right around the exact same time that Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico. And while the film is very much focused on Puerto Rico, it really is just one example of the many communities that are being affected by climate-fueled disasters around the world, and especially these disasters are affecting populations that are already marginalized. Those that are migratory, that have undocumented statuses, those that are in historically under-resourced communities. And the undocumented community in Northern California was no exception after that fire.
So Tré, I’m wondering if you can start just by just talking a little bit about the response that you were involved with to help meet the needs of that community coming and just kind of what happened with that initiative.
Thank you Tom. I just want to appreciate y’all for putting this all together and just send some love out there to camaradas relatives over there in Puerto Rico and all your organizing work was beautiful to watch the film. I want to name just seeing it like touched my heart to see the acupuncture clinics that were happening because we were holding our own clinicas here too, and I think that simultaneously some similar things were happening at the same time. So it was very beautiful to watch.
First I want to start out by just saying that when we talk about these climate disruptions, it’s really hard to isolate them, right? We re-recognize that it’s not one or two or even 10 disruptions. It’s a line of disruptions that have been happening for many years. And for a lot of us, our communities, it’s built on a legacy of over 500 years old colonization. And so when these things happen, it amplifies the injustices that already exist within our communities. And we know colonization has disrupted our capacity to be permanently organized in the ways we were and in the ways that many of our communities still are able to be.
So I do want to set the context there and that goes for this COVID moment as well, we’re seeing it especially exaggerated. But as far as the wildfires go here, the first one that started in 2017, we say this when talking about it, there’s no way to be prepared for something like this. We knew it was coming. We know we were in an especially dry season, we had the most rainiest winter and the driest summer, so that set the perfect conditions. By the time fire season came, everything just went up at a rapid rate and scale. When we got hit, notifications did not go out in any other language besides English in terms of evacuation, so folks, a lot of particularly monolingual Spanish speaking folks, those folks who spoke many other languages in the county had no idea what was going on or didn’t know their neighborhood or area was to be evacuated or where they could go or any of that.
NBOP has been putting a lot of work since then to be practicing language. Just listen, holding the county accountable to make sure that these messages are sent out in a variety of languages and all of their recommendations are taken into consideration in response to these climate disasters. In terms of what it looked like on the ground during in the aftermath. The evacuation centers were also not a safe place or an inclusive place and in fact we’re oftentimes more harmful. Folks were experiencing discrimination in the centers, frontlines community folks experiencing racism. And on top of that, a lot of people feared going to the actual centers for fear of ICE and other military presence that was there like the National Guard, which just isn’t safe for a lot of people who are coming from black indigenous people of color communities. So that’s just to give a little bit of what the terrain felt like here.
But I will say, we knew right away many of us ourselves coming from frontline communities that we were going to have to be the ones to respond, because if we were going to wait for them to come help us, save us, they weren’t coming. And so part of that effort UndocuFund which was mentioned, NBOP played a role in the development of that with two other organizations, the Graton Day Labor Center and North Bay Jobs with Justice in developing that fund in 2017 as a form of mutual aid. And additionally the clinics that I mentioned earlier called, [inaudible] which were providing health treatments for people who had limited access and have had limited access prior to the fires, which include mental health care, holistic health care and traditional cultural health care as well. And when I say a NBOP, I’m referring to a North Bay Organizing Project, just to clarify there.
And I also just saw the common threads, with folks in Puerto Rico talking about food and joy as the center of resilience, as the center of culture and well being. The heart of cultural organizing was important. Then the UndocuFund, just to give folks an idea, in 2017 to 2019 has already redistributed almost $8 million to 4,500 people in the county. So for folks who don’t know, undocumented people are not eligible for FEMA assistance despite being impacted the hardest in many cases by fires. So people had no way of restabilizing. And not only that, people were back out working. We live in a county where one in 10 jobs are based in tourism, hospitality and people were out working in the fields within days of the fires at night, and fires were still happening and being exposed to more particularly matter in the air on top of pesticides that people are already exposed to doing agricultural work. So UndocuFund played a huge role in providing mutual aid to communities.
One of the things I really wanted to uplift in terms of general mutual aid and things I’ve heard folks mention here is just what a powerful opportunity it is for people to practice self-governance, to be in the practice of self-governance. And I completely hear the concern around these things being co-opted by government, right? And then all of a sudden we become entirely responsible for the stabilization or re-stabilization of our community when the policies in place are directly contradictory to that, and our struggles are a result of unjust policies and legacies of injustice. And so, that gets more into this conversation about just recovery as a pathway to adjust transition. But I think I want to stop right there just in terms of really uplifting the mutual aid efforts that happened here during the aftermath of the fires and that are continuing now in the COVID moment that we’re in.
And just for folks that are interested, we made another audio documentary about UndocuFund and the response to the Tubbs fire in 2017 and so you can find that on the response podcast and you can go deeper. And also the UndocuFund has, you mentioned it’s been something that was launched by three different organizations. One of the things that really struck me was just how many people supported and got behind it, recognized that there was people in their community that were being left out of that official aid. Within the first couple months of UndocuFund launching, there was $6 million raised to support the community, and UndocuFund has been able to support communities when needed, shut down and then reopen after other fires. And again, it’s open right now, as a way for folks to contribute and support people in the North Bay.
So before we leave Tré and move on to Susan, I would actually just like if you could just say a few more words about what you meant by when you say a Just Transition, about the Just Transition framework a little bit and just kind of what that word means. Because I think a lot of people hear it but don’t necessarily know what people are talking about.
Right. Sure, I can speak to it to the best of my ability, how it lives in my community. And I think that it lives in every community differently. So I want to uplift that and acknowledge that as well. But I think, central to that is really looking at the way that the economy is structured here in that it’s built, again, as mentioned earlier, for many folks, it’s built upon a legacy of colonization, exploitation of labor, of black indigenous people of color and destruction of the earth. Right? Now that we’re seeing really come to a head in the moment that we’re in.
And so a lot of work in the just transition frame, which could be its own whole conversation and workshop, but is in transitioning away from that extractive means of having economies and moving towards being in right relationship to the places that we live in. Creating regenerative means of functioning within our community. And that’s more of an overview, but I want to also name, like the way that it lived here as it applies to talking about just recovery, was that we’re really considering and wanting to stay true to the political nature of mutual aid as a means to stabilize our folks. But then we’re also creating the political shifts that need to happen so that we can restore our communities. Right? And look into what could be as opposed to just going back to business as usual. And we’ve framed it as like not just fighting the bad, but also creating the new or a new old way of being in right relationship to the earth and to each other.
I thank you. And I think that’s, you talked about also just that, the local focus and really what a just transition means can mean very different things depending on the context that you find yourself in. And I think that’s actually a really great segue to Susan and Susan’s work with the Northern California Resilience Network because so much of it really is about the development of place and going deeper about what resilience looks like from a place-based framework.
So Susan, I’m wondering if you can talk a little bit about the Northern California Resilience Network, but really dive into the resilience hubs, because I think that’s the thing that has the greatest overlap with what we saw with the mutual aid centers in Puerto Rico is that the hubs that have been being developed throughout Northern California really are the types of things that people can do where they are.
Again, want to honor the incredible work of the other panelists. Thank you so much for what you’re doing. And yeah, so again, the Northern California Resilience Network is really acknowledging that there is such an abundance of incredible solutions that are out there in Northern California. So just creating this network, this platform of groups and organizations and businesses that are rooted and community, rooted in nature-based solutions. So finding platforms to connect and collaborate with each other. We know that so many of these efforts are very grassroots and working in silos. We’re trying to work from the backend and help support these efforts, help to lift us all up so that we can create a just transition, that vibrant movement that we all know and want.
And in terms of resilient hubs, it’s really, yeah, it’s super similar to the mutual aid centers that we saw in this movie. And looking at them as permanent. What are the sites that can be the permanent mutual aid centers starting in Northern California and recognizing that there are resilient hubs all over the world. So I began thinking about resilient hubs and I noticed all the incredible work, the site based work that was happening in Northern California, the permaculture centers, the community gardens, the community centers, and started thinking about what if we merged this disaster preparedness, we have to really prepare for earthquakes out here, disaster preparedness with community engagement, equity and inclusion with sustainability and permaculture. So we started developing this program to really reach out to these sites and ask what are the projects that you’re working on and what is it that you need? And we began getting funding from a couple of sources and have redistributed about $10,000 in grants to about 20 sites around Northern California.
And we really want the work to be rooted in that community. For them to say like, this is the project that we want to work on, which is really essential. And part of the work that’s happening right now with COVID is around food because there’s such a huge need, as we know, for food security, and all the food systems are breaking down. So some of the gardens in these sites, for example, are expanding their efforts to not only grow for themselves but for community members. And then we’re also connecting with other groups in our network that are then distributing the food to unhoused populations, to vulnerable communities. So providing them with the fresh produce so that they can bend feed these vulnerable populations. That’s really the essence, is creating these very hyper-local food networks as well as the sites can be really ready for anything.
Ans one thing I want to mention is, yes, we see lots and lots of incredible mutual aid efforts happening right now, and it is an incredible opportunity to and think about how can these be permanent, how can we have mutual aid all the time? And also how can we have jobs as community organizers for these mutual aid efforts? Because most of these folks doing mutual aid are volunteer and this is the important work that’s happening is the community organizing. So in terms of, for example, the Green New Deal, let’s make sure that we include community organizing, that we include resilient hubs as part of the Green New Deal so that we have jobs, these important jobs as community organizers, and we have funding and resources for this important work.
I’m really excited to report that we’re a new partner with a national group called the Urban Sustainability Directors Network and they work directly with local governmental agencies to help create resilient hubs. And so we’ll be working with them as the community-based organization partner and working with the local governments to create resilient hubs. Not just really big multi-million dollar ones, but there should be resilient hubs in every neighborhood. So that is really our intention to help support sort of the smaller hub to also the bigger hubs that in case of an earthquake they can be distribution sites as well as sites for people can go and stay.
Thanks Susan. And I’m wondering for those that are listening and watching that are feeling inspired and wanting to create those hubs, like you’re saying, and we should have one in every neighborhood.
Are there specific resources or anything else like that that you can point people towards to help with that process?
Well, we did partner with Shareable to support a resource around creating a resilient hub and we’re working on something more specific to really map out how exactly to create a resilient hub in your neighborhood or your community center, your place of worship. So yes, we are developing those online resources, but I also feel like these mutual aid groups are a really beautiful, great start. And I hear all the time these neighborhoods for example, that are getting together and building community, even though they can’t see each other, they’re building community as much as they can.
So yeah, we’ll be providing online resources as well as Northern California. We’ll be putting a call out for any site that would like to become an a resilient hub with our network. And yeah, the intention is that we have a network of resilient hubs all over the world and I think this could be a really beautiful way to bridge the urban-rural divide where we have, for example, sister hubs in an urban area, in a rural area that really connect and collaborate with each other and get to know each other cross-community.
Thanks Susan. And now, throughout this process, we’ve been getting a number of questions from folks in the chat and I just want to make sure we’ve… I’ve tried to ask some of the most we go and some have been addressed already. So if I don’t give you credit for the question, it’s just because you’re right on par with your question and the panelists can already address them. So one of the questions I have, and this goes back to Puerto Rico, there’s folks that are on the outside that are looking and saying… wanting to contribute. And so one question is, is there a good pathway for people to come from off-Island to come offer their support and what is the best way for them to show up? And so I’m wondering, maybe, Christine, if you can touch on that just for a moment.
Sure. I always… The first thing that came up was how incredible both the outpour of support was after the hurricane, but also how much labor there was around the education process of educating people that didn’t know about the history of Puerto Rico and with very good intentions, just were wanting to learn and wanted to learn about it. But then we became both the organizers and the teachers and then there was emotional labor involved because a lot of it triggered certain emotional reactions because of lack of knowing what I refer to as a history that’s not written in books. Right? And so there’s assumptions that are made because that history is not there. And if you don’t know, then you don’t know that there’s trauma and you don’t know which trauma triggers you’re pushing. So I think the first thing that I would say is that know that we live with trauma because, precisely because it’s not easy for everyone to just find out the real stories and the real history about Puerto Rico, it’s not that easy.
There is a Puerto Rico syllabus that you can find and it’s online. It’s puertoricosyllabus.com and it is a very comprehensive reading list and that’s the first thing I would say, take your time to read about us. But the second thing is that as a result of the hurricane, there’s been an emergence of networks and organizations that are focused precisely on either educational programs and being the halfway point, the people that are basically linking to community groups. And then you as a person who wants to help you, you are paying someone who then becomes employed. As Susan was talking about community organizers meaning to be employed, this is one way of generating income for community organizers. It’s a little tricky how to do it, but I would also give a shout out to Maria Fund, mariafund.org. Maria Fund has done an extraordinary job at staying true to the realness of what’s happening on the ground in Puerto Rico, while also grappling with extending a bridge for people that want to come help from outside.
And they’re very real about saying, okay, you’re asking too much or your assumptions aren’t right or you want to try to help but that’s actually hurting. So that’s sort of the role they’ve taken, an extraordinary group of women. And I’m sure there’s a lot, and I’ve heard of a lot of different efforts at the top of mine, but I just wanted to share very vulnerably how we both now have lifelong friends from people that that just came over and were like how to help, and the ones that were both most humble, most willing to listen, most willing to allow their, what they thought we needed to collapse, their own thoughts of what we needed to collapse, they were the ones that are still in our lives. The other ones not so much.
Yeah. Thank you for that. And I think that your example of suggestion of how people should and can show up for Puerto Rico, is really a great model for how to show up for any community. There often is this big rush to help there, right where we are or when there’s a disaster somewhere else. And without having that kind of deeper context for the community you’re coming into and really that humbleness, that showing up to be in service as you are needed to serve, not necessarily as you have a preconceived notion of how you are going to contribute or what you’re going to contribute or what you’re going to do. And it does take a certain amount of humility when you show up to be able to pause and listen and assess and allow to be directed by the people that are there that are on the ground that are most impacted.
So thank you very much for that. And I would just want to thank all the panelists for joining us and just give one last opportunity if there’s anybody that’s presented that would just like to share any last resource or other event or something else like that, for people to be able to follow up with you.
Juan C. Dávila:
When I think what Christine said about the organizations, I think it’s very important to make sure for people who want to help from outside to really know what organization are you’re working with. And I think one of the ones, particularly since Hurricane Maria, has been the Maria Fund. And the Maria fund has been very key in giving funds to grassroots activists after the earthquakes in January. So I think, organizations like that. Also, I would mention Casa Pueblo is another organization that people need to really be aware of, of really where do they put their money, and that it be a grassroots organizations and foundations that are connected to the grassroots movements. And I’m pretty sure myself, and I don’t want to speak for Christine, but I’m sure that many of us activists, if you want to reach out and need anything to point to the right organization, we can help out on that.
But I think that’s very important because a lot of money, for example, has come in, for example, after Hurricane Maria. One organization, I think it was Unidos from Puerto Rico, United for Puerto Rico, that really is very questionable about how they work with the money. So, not necessarily follow the first ad that tells you, hey, you want to help Puerto Rico, here’s how you can donate. But look deeper and that actually makes a huge difference, so I really want to encourage that. I know it’s also the same in the U.S.
I agree completely with Juan. I would say one thing to really consider is ask whatever organization you’re going to give money to. Ask them to tell you the names of people that they’re working with on the ground. Where are those people based? Which towns? And you’ll see you start seeing the people that are mostly in the metro area that have the nicest websites, the sharpest newsletters generally don’t have very strong roots in outside of the metro area, which translates to their level of impact. And I think that that’s something that the Maria Fund, despite most of them being in the metro area, they’ve done an incredible job at getting out of that comfort zone. And I think that’s an important thing to consider. Are they someone based or not because it’s speaks to privilege, it speaks to colonization, it speaks to a lot of things.
I do want to put a little plug for Emerge Puerto Rico, which is an organization that we’re launching. We were supposed to launch it now in April, COVID, birthing, all these things, it’s delayed. But Emerge Puerto Rico for anyone who’s interested in a climate change curriculum, and I want to connect with Susan later on, that’s what we’re doing. We believe that the type of human traits that we’re shining through in our mutual aid groups across the Island can actually be turned into curriculum, whether it’s popular within the schools or outside of the schools. Real stories that kids start consuming from very early so that we can get the programming out of all the capitalist programming that we have to actually open up to the different restorative ways of relating to each other. So christinenieves.net and sign up for Emerge Puerto Rico for the newsletter. That’s what I meant to say. Thanks everyone.
Awesome. And Susan, would you like to just share any last resources or anything that’s coming up?
Sure, yeah. Just I’m at email@example.com if you want to reach out to me. Just want to put a plug out to all the amazing food justice projects that are in this area from the guilt track, the Permaculture Action Network, the Sogorea Te’ Land Trust is an incredible project run by indigenous women in Oakland. So yeah, find your local projects, support the grassroots. Yeah. And shout out to Tom and Sheri Belle for all the incredible work that doing and may we all find this moment as an opportunity to build resilience in our homes, in our neighborhoods, in our communities. So thank you all so much.
Thank you, Susan. And Tré?
Yeah. Just so much appreciation and gratitude to each of you for representing the work that you’re doing in your communities, your familia, your home places. I’m just really grateful to be here. I want to uplift for folks that are interested in learning more about a just transition. The website was named in the chat but www.movementgeneration.org. I also want to say, as was mentioned similarly to people who are experiencing climate disasters reoccurring, we’re looking at the potential for cascading crisis and the fact that we’re approaching wildfire season and still in being sheltered in place, and so all of the potential really scary situation that that could pose for people needing to be evacuated but being at risk, higher risk because of that.
And we are currently also building with the Reclaim Our Power Utility Justice Campaign in the Bay Area, which is organizing a body to hold PGNE responsible, who took responsibility for the lives lost, 84 lives lost in the campfire. And so we’re building to hold them accountable and also build a community-owned energy system that invests in local systems. So want to encourage folks to check that out, too, Reclaim Our Power Utility Justice Campaign as we talk about building new ways to be. Thank y’all.
Thanks Tré. And with that, final gratitude and appreciation to everybody that joined us, to our panelists and to all those that joined us on Zoom and on Facebook. Thank you for helping us celebrate this. It’s a monumental occasion of launching this film out into the world, not only to people that are in our direct community that we tend to get to talk to, but to a much larger community through our partners at Free Speech TV. So thank you all and have a wonderful evening and a great Earth Day.
Download our free ebook- The Response: Building Collective Resilience in the Wake of Disasters (2019)
This article is part of our reporting on The People’s COVID-19 Response. Here are a few articles from the series:
- Coronavirus catalyzes growing wave of grassroots action despite social distancing
- The coronavirus pandemic calls us to share more than ever
- The People’s COVID-19 Response needs you
- 10 ways to share during the COVID-19 pandemic
- The pandemic isn’t a portal, yet
- The Response: Resisting COVID-19 with mutual aid in Chico, CA
- 20 ways Shareable readers are helping during the pandemic