“There is a really great opportunity in the vacuum of disaster relief” according to a co-founder of Mutual Aid Disaster Relief, or MAD Relief for short, who goes by the name Rain. She continues on to say that “mutual aid in general, [in response to] COVID, has really helped to reinforce the idea that mutual aid doesn’t have to be just disaster response. There are living disasters every day in our communities, and so mutual aid is necessary all the time.”
With origins going back to Common Ground in New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina in 2007, MAD Relief is a grassroots disaster relief network based on the principles of solidarity, mutual aid, and autonomous direct action.
Last weekend, mutual aid organizers from all over the world gathered together for the Solidarity Summit. Hosted by Humans United for Mutual Aid Networks, the virtual event took place in order to build skills, relationships, and momentum while benefiting local work.
During the Summit, we co-hosted a 2-part session which began with a screening of our award-winning film, “The Response: How Puerto Ricans Are Restoring Power to the People,” before transitioning into a live recording of The Response Podcast which featured several organizers from MAD Relief.
Rather than focussing on the nitty-gritty, of how MAD Relief is successfully organizing with a non-hierarchical decentralized structure, this conversation illustrated 4 of the many stories of what the work actually looks like on the ground.
Listen to Produce for the People on The Response Podcast here (or on the app of your choice):
- Rain: co-founder/co-coordinator of Mutual Aid Disaster Relief focused on sustainable disaster response and rebuilding – Louisiana (transplanted from Florida) mostly responding to events in the Gulf South/SE states
- Vanessa Bolin: Richmond Indigenous Society, Community Roots Garden, madr, and The Eyes Wide Open Project – Occupied Virginia on traditional Pamunky Territory
- Siren Saricca: founder of the Michigan mutual aid coalition, a service that delivers groceries to seniors – Detroit MI
- Tyler Norman (co-host): mutual aid disaster relief (madr) – Wisconsin
- Host and executive producer: Tom Llewellyn
- Series producer: Robert Raymond
- Theme Music: “Meet you on the other side” by Cultivate Beats
The Response from Shareable.net, is a documentary film, book, and podcast series exploring how communities are building collective resilience in the wake of disasters.
Below is a transcript of the episode, modified for your reading pleasure.
Rain: There is a really great opportunity in the vacuum of disaster relief, but if you don’t have those relationships already in place from other organizing, like in Puerto Rico, they already had a lot of those relationships in place. It makes it really difficult to compete with the disaster capitalism that’s also trying to bring in their own narrative. And so, you know, I think mutual aid in general, like around Covid and things like that, has really helped to reinforce the idea that mutual aid doesn’t have to be just disaster response. There are living disasters every day in our communities, and so mutual aid is necessary all the time.
Tom Llewellyn: You’re listening to the Response, a podcast series from Shareable.net Exploring how communities are building collective resilience in the wake of disasters. I’m your host, Tom Llewellyn. Last weekend, mutual aid organizers from all over the world gathered together for the Solidarity Summit hosted by Humans United for Mutual Aid Networks or just Humans for short. The virtual event took place in order to build skills, relationships, momentum while benefiting local work. During the summit, we co-hosted a two-part session, which began with a screening of “The Response: How Puerto Ricans are Restoring Power to the People,” before transitioning into a live recording of the Response podcast. Today, we’re bringing you the audio from that event, which featured several organizers from Mutual Aid Disaster Relief or MAD Relief, a grassroots disaster relief network based on the principles of solidarity, mutual aid and autonomous direct action. Rather than focusing on the nitty gritty of how MAD Relief is successfully organizing with a non-hierarchical, decentralized structure, this conversation illustrated four of the many stories of what the work actually looks like on the ground. I’m going to hand things over to Tyler Norman, a MAD Relief organizer in Wisconsin, who co-hosted the session with us and invited all of our panelists. Here’s Tyler.
Tyler Norman: A mutual aid disaster relief network is very similar to the Humans network, the folks who’ve organized this gathering. It’s a loose collection of many different kinds of local groups doing mutual aid work and grassroots humanitarian aid and direct action crisis response. And it’s really grown hugely in the last couple of years, in part because of a combination of a really successful training and organizing campaign that inspired a lot of people. And that just happened to be a few months before record setting fires and hurricanes and fires and hurricanes happening at the same time. And then the very next year, this pandemic began and this uprising and all of this stuff has brought many, many new people into our realm. And mutual aid is such a hot topic nowadays. And Mutual Aid Disaster Relief has really grown in a surprising and startling but really beautiful way. We’ve been really through all these difficult times in the last couple of years.
We’ve been supporting each other and inspiring each other by staying in touch and sharing skills and teaching each other about what we’ve learned. Even in all our diversity, we find these common threads in values of collaboration and supporting self-determination and autonomous direct action — people thinking and acting for themselves, taking care of one another. Our favorite motto is “solidarity, not charity.” And we also like to say we keep us safe. We don’t rely on anyone else because, you know, we see it now, in 2020, we saw it in, in 2021, we see it. Nobody’s coming to save us when things go wrong, we’ve got to take care of each other. Because our time is so short, I’m just going to leave it at that. We can ask questions about, you know, some of the details about how a Mutual Aid Disaster Relief works as a network. But I’d rather focus on the stories that folks have to share. Check out the Mutual Aid Disaster Relief website, which is a mutualaiddisasterrelief.org, and see some of our core values, see some photos, check out all the resources we have. But for now, I’m just going to turn it over to our other speakers.
Rain: Hi, everyone, I’m Rain. I am a Mutual Aid Disaster Relief organizer. I live in the gulf coast south and so a lot of my organizing revolves around hurricanes, floods, not a lot of fires. And I was in Puerto Rico right after Maria hit, so I’ll have some stories about that if anyone wants to know. It’s nice to be here. Thank you.
Vanessa Bolin: Hi, my name is Vanessa. I am an indigenous artist, organizer, I do some mutual aid work and have assisted with that. I Have the Eyes Wide Open project, the Community Roots garden, and do street medic across the country.
Siren Saricca: I’m Siren Saricca, I also have some experience with street medic trainings and have also helped found the Michigan Mutual Aid Coalition in the Detroit area, and we work to get poor people food. We source food and we started this when covid-19 really got serious enough.
Tyler Norman: So, let’s start with Rain. How is the work of responding to the aftermath of a hurricane related to the work of building sustainable energy infrastructure? Two things I know you’ve done.
Rain: Ok, so one of my big focuses in general with organizing has always been the environment. And so when I got involved starting to do relief work and mutual aid, it really floored me to see the type of waste that was surrounding response. And I wanted to make sure that the response that I was doing did not involve that same sort of carbon copy reinstallment and that wasn’t working in the first place. So brainstorming around how to be more sustainable during a response, for example, in Puerto Rico, we got the modular water treatment that we took around the island and we started installing solar. Solar energy can help to make sure that water can be treated. If you’re not using something that’s fairly mechanical and that involves any kind of electrical necessities like a pump. And it allows you to be more sustainable for your community. So I think that they are tied hand in hand, because if we want to be sustainable for the next storm, we have to be prepared to stand on our own. We can’t be waiting for somebody to show up, that’s already proven to not be effective and to not be something that we should hold our breath for. So considering the next response, when we respond, so the one that we’re in at that moment, even though it’s really tempting to think in the now in the moment and the current, because there are immediate needs and there have to be some things that are not going to be perfectly sustainable because there are immediate needs. But we can also think about rebuilding in a more sustainable way. We can think about how we redo our homes and how we include more sustainable energy or weatherization or, you know, just anything that you can do when you rebuild. So I think they’re linked hand-in-hand for sure. And building that sustainable energy within a community also for the long term besides a disaster makes them more independent. So I just I think it’s imperative that it’s included in all of responses.
Tom Llewellyn: And you mentioned that you are based in the Gulf Coast and have gone through a number of different disasters down there, in addition to responding to Maria in Puerto Rico. And I know that when we think about the Gulf Coast, you know, the first thing that comes to my mind oftentimes is oil. But also throughout Louisiana with Cancer Alley, there’s a lot of kind of ongoing social disasters and health disasters and huge oil spills and all the other things that have occurred in the last couple of decades and before. And I guess I’m wondering if you can just speak to a little bit about organizing in the Gulf Coast, what that has looked like for the last couple of years and if that’s changed at all in recent time.
Rain: Yeah, so I’m originally from Florida where several of us came from, and started coming over to Louisiana for Katrina. And when I first moved out to Louisiana and started organizing out here, you would actually be surprised how many people who are long term residents or native do not know that this area is called Cancer Alley. We were talking about earlier how it’s difficult for people to see an alternative, right? What is the collective vision? So in Louisiana, where you have this environmental injustice happening all the time, it is hard for those individuals who are caught up in those jobs, in those plant jobs, that are well-paying jobs, because it is hazard pay, it is hard for them to see an alternative way that is not difficult. And they’re already living in difficulty because of socioeconomic status or racism or whatever it is that’s embedded in Louisiana.
And so it’s hard to organize when you don’t have an alternative that’s already presented, similar to how it’s hard to get people to move forward without a collective vision, with no barriers. And so I’d say for organizing the south, that’s been really difficult. When I first got here, just having to kind of realize, like where I was at with others in the area and it wasn’t, of course, everybody. But just realizing what the kind of collective understanding of where everyone who was here was at with their own situation. But after 2016, we officially got our non-profit status in 2016, right before the flood that nobody talked about in the news for Baton Rouge — decimated the area like entire homes under water. FEMA barely gave anybody money, thirty thousand dollars if you had four foot of flooding or more. So a lot of people didn’t have relief. And it was the same kind of thing that happened in Katrina. You know, a lot of people will pass down houses or live in family and then they can’t collect on the insurance.
Rain: So, in 2016, when that happened, I think it kind of reinforced the narrative that a lot of folks had moved to Baton Rouge from New Orleans after Katrina had already felt. It was the second time around and I had friends know second time around that they didn’t get help, didn’t get insurance, and were going to have to start over. And so at that point, it’s just a slap in the face and people are looking for any other alternative. And so there is a really great opportunity in the vacuum of disaster relief. But if you don’t have those relationships already in place from other organizing, like in Puerto Rico, they already had a lot of those relationships in place, it makes it really difficult to compete with a disaster capitalism that’s also trying to bring in their own narrative. And so, you know, I think mutual aid in general, like around Covid and things like that, has really helped to reinforce the idea that mutual aid doesn’t have to be just disaster response. There are living disasters every day in our communities, and so mutual aid is necessary all the time. Not just a Katrina or Maria, it’s necessary all the time, kind of like Giovanni was talking about with folks there.
Oh, and how it’s changing. There has been a lot of groups since the 2016 flood, especially after Lake Charles, there’s been a lot more organizing recently and a better network that’s been developing in the last few years for us in the Gulf Coast south. And so that’s been really awesome. And we’re getting started on putting together tool libraries down here so that we’ll be able to help out during the rest of the year, and our communities can have tools available to them. We also have rapid response ready to grow work crew tools. So since we probably won’t see a shortage of hurricanes in the near climate change disaster future.
Tyler Norman: Thank you, rain. That was great. I want to kind of put a pin in a couple of those points and come back to them, if we can. What you were saying about the sort of power vacuum that happens and the opportunities that come and the way that you ended up on these stories of folks building power and building these two libraries and these skills and abilities as a result of these disasters. I think that’s a really inspiring conversation. So we’ll come back to that later. But now we’ll turn to Vanessa. I already know the story you want to tell, and I think it’s super cool. I’m super excited about it. So I’m going to ask you kind of a leading question here. How is the land back movement relevant to disaster relief and disaster preparedness?
Vanessa Bolin: All right. So I gave my introduction and I’m just going to say this: after Standing Rock, I’m one of these people who — I have many irons in many fires. But right around the time the pandemic started, just before, a group organized and its Richmond Indigenous Society, and it’s for displaced, urban indigenous people who maybe don’t live near their tribe. So that started. And then along comes this pandemic and our local mutual aid group started passing out food and doing things. And I realized there was this underserved community of elders. So Richmond Indigenous Society picked it up and started delivering food and supplies and things to elders in retirement homes and things like that, so they wouldn’t have to go out. And then I started noticing that there were people who had jobs were able to survive, if not thrive, they were surviving. They were able to do things, and they started struggling for food. And our local mutual aid group started having to really ramp things up. And it became so busy, we started seeing other parts.
And then I noticed this piece of property that sits behind our house and it sits next to a ball field and it was covered in kudzu. And I looked at this for multiple, multiple years and thought, I would love to start a garden back there. And so I started talking about this. The pandemic comes along and I bring up this idea of this garden in this kudzu field. People said, you’re crazy. It’s never going to happen. It’s a football field size or more, it’s actually a couple of acres of kudzu. We were able to just go out and start, with some young people that came out — they heard about this thing and said, okay, let’s do it. Nobody was working, we’re going to do this. And we started in very early spring. By summertime, we had a football field garden growing that started feeding our community. I live in a part of occupied Richmond, Virginia, that is a food desert. It’s very mixed, but predominantly black. But socioeconomically it’s a mix of people. It’s starting to become very gentrified. But even these people were struggling. So we took this field and we started doing what indigenous people — I took the land back.
I literally just took the land back. Found out that most of what we had grown on belonged to the city. And we’re still clearing. Going to take more of it away because we’re taking that land back because indigenous people are good stewards of the land, we know what to do. I know everybody here has probably heard of permaculture, what that really is as ancient indigenous practices. And we’re doing that. We’re being good stewards of the land. We’re taking this kudzu field and we’re feeding our community. The thing is, we’re going to take more land and we’re going to keep taking more land until somebody comes and tries to stop us. But we’re putting up greenhouses. We’re going to put bees out. We’re hoping to get a nice chicken coop. We’re building a food forest into this. So not just a garden. It is growing herbs, both culinary and medicinal. We’re hoping to build a structure so we can start teaching people how to eat the rainbow, how to come and eat these foods. There’s a big portion of it this year, all dedicated to indigenous, and I mean indigenous to my people, plants. We’re hoping to go down into the swamp area and plant rice. So we’re taking the land back and putting it in indigenous hands, which would be myself and some other people help out, but we’re putting in the community’s hands. This is becoming a sustainable and productive piece of property that the city was letting just lay to waste. So that’s what I’m working on right now. And we’re continuing to grow. I’m super excited about it. Neighbours — this is the thing, indigenous people, the reason this is working, because sometimes community gardens just fail — indigenous people know that it’s about the we. We saw that there was a problem, that there was a need for our community, we could have kept everything in there for ourself or our family, but we saw that it was a need in our community.
It was about the we — that garden’s not about the I, it’s about the we of the people, and that’s really who we are. So everything about this community garden with so many wonderful groups coming in, there’s people from our local mutual aid group who comes in, there’s people from different organizations that come in and they just do all the volunteer…the community, were so stunned when they said, oh, who do I need to talk to to sign up? Who do I talk to about taking food? And they get really surprised when I go, you don’t have to sign up, just come work, come plant, come harvest. They go, but don’t I need a — no. Just come take what you need. And they go, well, is there like a box, do we pay? No, just take the food. So I agree with everything Rain said, that people get so ingrained in this one way that they don’t understand that there is a sustainable and better way of doing this. There is enough for everyone. Take what you need. And then leave the rest for everybody else, but do that.
Tom Llewellyn: Yeah, absolutely. Thank you for for sharing that story. And one of the things that I’m hearing from you also is that you got started with something that was an ambitious goal at a scale that you could build some momentum with, and now you’re looking forward, how do you build off of that momentum to continue to take back more and more land? And it seems like that that early success has helped to get more energy and people behind it. And I’m just kind of wondering, you know, how many people did you start with? What was the size of your group to get this project going?
Vanessa Bolin: So there were two youth, Lyra and Leo, and I looked out the back one day and they were out in this kudzu field with machetes and hoes and just chopping away, and most of the work that was done was by them. And they started inviting their friends who invited other friends. And sometimes there would be two people, sometimes there would be 20 people out there digging and chopping and doing this thing. What has happened now is enough people are grasping the concept of what we’re doing — that this is very, very different because this is not boxes. This is not just raised beds. This is real traditional gardening. Everything’s all organic. There’s no chemicals. It’s just the way it’s supposed to be. And people are hearing about it and embracing the idea. And I get hit up all the time, people are saying, hey, I’m hearing about Community Roots garden, can I come and help? Sure, when? Any time you want. Bring some friends and come on. So that’s how it’s going. People to have just heard about it. But it really started with these two beautiful young people who heard my vision and just showed up and started doing a thing. It’ll keep growing, we already know. There’s so many people stepping in and going, hey, I’ve got this idea, I’ve got this idea. Can we do this over here? I’m like, just do it. I would rather ask for forgiveness than ask permission of the ciy at this point. I just am going to do the thing and hope that the city approve. And if the city wants to do the right thing, they can just give us the damn land — or we’re just taking it back any way. Either way, it’s a win-win for us and our community.
Tyler Norman: Yeah, that’s awesome. Thanks, Vanessa. So next we have Siren. Siren I know that some of the stuff that you all are doing in Detroit has a similar attitude of like abundance and giving and sharing and all this sort of stuff. I’d love to hear you compare the different type of food work that you’re doing and also talk about how your pandemic responses have built on already existing mutual aid in your community.
Siren Saricca: Well, there a lot of similarities, like I’m hearing Vanessa and I’m just like, yeah, definitely we’re going to help people, whether the government likes it or not. Michigan Mutual Aid Coalition started in March of last year when Covid got very serious. The governor said seniors should stay home because if you have issues is your immune system, we don’t want you to get this virus. A lot of seniors that had food stamps were not able to get food because delivery costs cash. You have to pay for that. And I feel like it should be a human right. It’s just so important. It’s a human right. Everyone should have that. The similarities I’ve seen as far as like, well, first of all, what we decided to do is to start getting groceries and bringing them to elderly people, but we also saw that there was a bigger population. There are people with children to feed, people that need help, people that just don’t have transportation and can’t just get food. It’s difficult for them. And so we pretty much just like meet them where they’re at literally.
It’s really cool to hear people, kind of the idea shock to say, hey, I need food, I hear you — ok what’s your name and address? And we’ll be there at this time. Don’t we need like a sign up or an application sheet? People have actually asked us, what about scammers, what if people are just scamming you for food? And it’s like, I don’t care. What I’ve seen is that people have a very hard time asking for help, especially for the first time. They’re not used to asking for help, especially the seniors that we’ve been trying to help. And I don’t think that people have that attitude. People aren’t scamming for food and we’re all humans. We all eat and we all have a stake in this. So I think that’s been very cool to see the same excitement that people have had.
And what we’ve been doing as far as like building upon other mutual aid responses has been, like, we have a few groups out here, like we have Food Not Bombs. We have a few groups that will like kind of do community things like go to say, a bus station, and have feeds where they give help to people. We have a clinic, we have street medics. We do a lot of things. They’re just they’re very helpful for the community. You know, a lot of black people do not have a good relationship with doctors as far as they’re not they’re not believed, they’re not being taken seriously. We try to make sure that we are taking them seriously. We have a few doctors in our ranks too. And honestly, like a lot of these people like, like the Golden Pretzel in southwest Detroit, have been doing a lot this already for a few years. And it really opened my eyes to food waste and how there is has always been enough food. There’s always been enough of an abundance of being able to help. We’re not a city environment and we hear so much about how food is scarce now and because people are not used to asking for help, and it’s like the first time they’re actually getting afraid that, like, I will not be able to eat. And it’s really been very enlightening and empowering to just kind of work with these stores.
You’ve got to cleaners a lot, Foodrescue.us, we have picked up USDA boxes, but they have not renewed their contracts. So we’re stuck, you know, the USDA isn’t coming through for the next few months and we still have people that need to eat. So we had to find other resources and talk to actual stores ourselves and get food for these people. And it’s been something that I’ve really learned is so important. It’s just like the difference from charity and mutual aid is like, we all have a stake in it. We all have to put something. We all eat. We all want to be there for each other. It’s not at all this group of friends — let’s make sure that we have this group where we have an ego and a logo and a nice little website and we work on our bylaws and hat’s the most important thing. Like we really came about when we saw a need and responded to it. And that it’s just naturally evolved since it started out with just me my boyfriend. And now we’re a group of like thirty people all through metro Detroit, and it’s just really, really cool to watch.
Tom Llewellyn: Thanks, Siren. And I’m wondering if you can talk about — mutual aid is as, just kind of go into it is normal human behavior, because what I’m hearing from you is that, yes, you’re seeing a need. Other people are seeing a need. They’re responding to that need. And it’s more of a natural thing. You know, the concern around scammers, you kind of put that aside and you say, oh, there’s somebody that is expressing a need for support or maybe they’re not even expressing it, but you’re witnessing it in some way. And there is a lot of fear of helping others, of not knowing like, do they deserve the support more than somebody else or not, and a lot of those dynamics have really been called into question during the pandemic and there’s a lot of amazing examples. I mean, Solidarity St. Louis set up a really, really great mutual aid fund to support people, kind of no questions asked. They have a group people to give out money because people needed money, not just food. And so I’m wondering if you can just kind of talk about just the human side of all this.
Siren Saricca: Yeah, this it’s been really amazing. We hear, you know, there’s always that that capitalist thinking like, oh, are people scamming? I don’t care if you’re scamming, you still deserve food. I hate that people have to prove, and Vanessa also pointed out, it’s disgusting how we have to prove that we’re poor enough. Like, I level my ego by asking for help, and then we have to prove that we’re not like some crazy idea of like what being a welfare queen or something. I’ve never met anybody that’s actually like that. But yeah, it’s really just like we have these ideas that are in our head, but they’re just when they’re put into practice, like when you think about it, it’s not true. I’ve not met people that have wanted to scam. And I would rather feed people and then have too much than to miss feeding someone who’s hungry. That would be on my conscience, that would be worse. And a lot of people that I have worked with feel the same. I’ve been homeless. I know what it’s like to be really hungry. It’s terrible, it sucks. And I don’t want people to feel that. And a lot of people that have worked with us that may not have been in that position, it’s really cool to see them genuinely care. We’re always raised with this idea that if you help people too much that they’ll take advantage of you and it’s like we all need to eat, I don’t care if they’re taking advantage. I’m not in this to like, this isn’t about me getting anything except for getting to helping people eat. And hopefully one day I’ll be able to get food if I’m hungry. And that’s kind of how that is. It’s really opened my eyes to how humans really are.
Tom Llewellyn: Yeah. Thanks, Siren. You know, and I want to just take a moment to invite those that are listening in. If you do have any other questions that you want to ask of the speakers, please put those in the chat and we’ll get to them auditorily, not just writing the answers in there, just so we can make sure that everyone gets to hear the responses. You know, one of the things as we wait for questions, come in the chat, and Tyler, I think it was great that you kind of looked at some of the stuff that’s coming up. You know, like the idea of we are witnessing this age of catastrophe. We’re having one disaster on top of another that are that are layering. And now we’ve got to the point where we know that they’re coming. It’s not a question of if, it’s a question of when. And it’s different regionally, whether you’re going to be facing earthquakes or fires or flooding and hurricanes and intense heat waves and also intense freezes. We know these things are coming. And so there is a deep necessity to not just respond, but to be prepared to build that greater resilience. And it is both necessary to build out key infrastructure. And that was just kind of touched on earlier a little bit. And then also key relationships. And so for this next round of a couple of questions — and we can kind of ping pong around, we don’t have to kind of just go around, but we can as well. I’m really wonder if we can kind of focus on that, kind of how, you know, in your own work you see yourself contributing to building that physical or social infrastructure for building greater resilience moving forward. So if there’s someone that wants to jump in and start with that, please feel free.
Rain: I think one of the things that Tyler mentioned earlier was the trainings. And I think even though some of those trainings have been more focused on, like, what is the conceptual understanding of what mutual aid work is and its radical roots and not just charity — it’s not about that. It’s never been about that. It does have radical roots and letting people understand that history really helps them to understand the goal. Again, I’ll speak from my perspective, but it’s not to reinstate what was status quo, but to radically change in that moment of opportunity to something better. And so for me, like I mentioned earlier, a lot of what I do to try to work towards that sustainable future is I also try to work on food things around town. I’ve helped with food forest and stuff. But just anything that relates to localized systems, whether it’s your energy or your food source, like that’s really what people need to be focusing on, because at the end of the day, when the flood or the hurricane or whatever it is hits you, you need to know where your local resources are. You need to know who’s got what available. What are the redundancies in your area? You know, are there multiple people with tools? Is there a tool library, like who has what? Who can you trust? And so that goes to those relationships.
And so in our everyday work, we try to check in with each other when we’re actually working on something and in the interim times we do our weekly calls or we just do just random call in and check on each other. But if you don’t have those relationships — and because we’ve been so indoctrinated to not trust each other in this autonomous, independent capitalist society, we don’t ask for help. We don’t offer help. We feel like, well, you have to earn everything. And you know that in and of itself creates those levels of distrust because it boils down to a have and have not. And you’re keeping from me my basic necessities. And then you have this person against that person and it just goes down to our fundamental survival needs. And so I think building those relationships, building that trust that you can fall back on, like an affinity group, like knowing at the end of the day, like this person has my back and knowing at the end of the day, if you’ve built that in your community, that your community is going to rebuild stronger, like, you know, you’ll be able to trust each other and you know you’re going to be there for each other. So it’s imperative.
And then just to go back and circle back to the trainings. It’s not just us, but a lot of folks do with mutual aid and with free schools, like even before mutual aid became popular, like free school movement with super dope, so even with free schools, you know, people were starting to skillshare, teach each other about environmental injustice, teach someone how to do a solar installation or change their sink plumbing. Shout out to my girl who did that today over here. But, yeah, you know, I think that training each other in those skills, which also capitalism has destroyed for us because we’ve become specialized, and so now we are completely dependent on the system. Like I literally went back to school for engineering because I knew at the end of the day, like I needed to be able to treat my own water and build my own energy systems because nobody was going to do that for me. And Katrina and lots of other storms kind of taught me that. So I went back and I was like, I’m not going to be dependent on anybody. And we don’t all have to become engineers. We don’t have to grow food. You know, we don’t all have to do whatever it is that you do. But when we teach each other even the basics, then even, you know, and Vanessa can probably speak to this, that oratory knowledge, right? That historical storytelling of what our knowledge base is has to be passed down. And if we’re not passing that down and I think we can talk about these conversations in depth about what are our failures as a movement, you know? What have we failed to pass down to the next generations to make sure that they are sustainable in this movement building and in this fight in the future, in this disaster capitalism future that we’re facing? So those are the discussions that history, that knowledge, skill sharing and those relationships. Without it, we just won’t survive. We’re not independent creatures.
Vanessa Bolin: I agree with everything you said. I’m saying this: it’s about decolonizing your mind. And I’m going to use Standing Rock as a case in point. We kind of did this rough guesstimate from the medics of trying to figure out where we’re kind of guessing, thinking 135,00 people passed through Standing Rock, people got free medical care, they got free medical care. And it was such good medical care that IHA (Indian Health Service) hospitals were sending people into camp because the care they would get there was better and traditional and allopathic and free. They were able to come in and do that. People had food to eat, they had shelter, they had cigarettes, they had their basic needs covered. Nobody did without, everybody had a job. And we were so free. That’s the way we’re supposed to live. That’s the way it’s supposed to be. All of this that you’re talking about, that you are talking about, that you are talking about, is about decolonizing in your mind. And realize, I love that you went to school, that is amazing. But also, colleges are a form of gatekeeping information. That’s why I go out and do street medic trainings. Yes, I went to BCU to learn to be a paramedic. I now go out and teach people the knowledge that I gained there and I don’t gatekeep that because not everybody is going to have the privilege to be able to go and do that.
And we’re going to have to break it down in real terms. We’ve got to teach people how to grow food. We’ve got to teach people how to preserve that food and cook that food. We’ve got to teach them how to grow their own medicines. We’ve got to teach them how to make the tinctures and the teas and to do all of these things. And we’ve got to empower the people, because when we start decolonizing the mind, the government, we’re not going to need it. And they’re going to be terrified of us. They’re going to be terrified because we have each other and we take care of us. It’s like Tyler said, mutual aid says, it’s solidarity, not charity. We have to be taking care of each other. Know your neighbor. One of the first things I did was I made sure that people were knocking on doors when this pandemic started, saying, hey, let’s recognize everywhere our elders are, let’s make sure they have what they need, let’s make sure they have somebody’s phone number if they need some medicine. Hey, I’ll go out and get it. Oh, you can’t afford that? Don’t worry about it. We’ll call this group. We’ll cover it. Let’s do these things together. Together we can. If you keep doing the colonized mind set of the I over the we, it’s going to all fall apart. But once people grasp that we, and understand that, you can very easily reach out and say, hey, I’m struggling a little bit this month, can you help me out with a few bucks? Can you help me do this? Can you get me some food? Once people realize they don’t have to be ashamed of that, because that is colonizers mindset, and they get that decolonized mind, we’re going to be in such a good, good place and I’m excited to see it happening. It’s slow, but it’s happening and it feels beautiful. But thank you, Rain, and all of y’all.
Tyler Norman: Cool. I want to read a question and give a partial answer to it. Maybe some of you all have a further answer. This question from Kate says something about a post-crisis mindset. Does this framework on ongoing crisis offer opportunities to build the world we want to see? Is this the tipping point? That’s kind of a confusing question because it’s a confusing topic, but it instantly made me think of at least one thing. And maybe we can use this as a jumping off point. I like to say all the time that we need to write this phrase, mutual aid disaster relief, we need to spell it with lowercase letters because it’s not a brand, it’s an action. It’s like a verb that we can all do it. And people are doing it all the time, every day around the world. It’s normal human behavior, right? And I feel really strongly that through the action of helping each other and building things together and solving problems creatively, we transform ourselves and we grow and develop and our communities grow and develop. And this is how we evolve to the next level. And it may be that the rest of our lives are just going to be one crisis after another, after another. But also we have this amazing ability to learn and to improve and to create new possibilities. We have to be careful because sometimes our solutions cause new problems, right? That’s what we’re seeing over and over again, right? But I feel confident that as long as we’re working together, as long as we’re collaborating rather than competing with one another, that we can always solve these problems that are coming at us. What do you all think about that idea of a tipping point, a transformation in our way of being in the world?
Rain: I think that there’s forced transformation sometimes. I mean, evolution kind of requires you to either evolve, adapt or die. And I think we’re going to face some of those. I think Covid’s a good example of that, how some people are willing to adapt and others are just like, yeah, no. But I think, you know, it kind of goes back to just that general sharing of knowledge and strategies. I saw Kate put that they meant post-capitalist, but the fact that it said post-crisis and post-capitalist is really not that far apart, if you really want to break it down. And I think because the crisis was the first word that I saw and what had me thinking was kind of strategies, right? I mean, those of us who have done a lot of any kind of work that has trauma involved with it, we carry that with us.
And if we don’t have strategies to know how to manage and deal with that, then we break down and we need to have more time. And it takes longer for us to rebuild and we’re not as resilient. And so if you have any kind of training in that or you’ve had any kind of experience with the struggle of existing in this very oppressive capitalist, crisis society, then share that information and knowledge because the mental wellness of our community is so imperative for us to continue the work of this post-capitalist society. So I don’t think that we will be able to, you know, everybody be able to do well unless we share those strategies on how to do well because we are not all equipped or taught those strategies. I was not.
Vanessa Bolin: That’s where our elders come in, that’s where people who have it experience come in. Trust me, if I want to know how to make something really good for dinner, I don’t just hit up the internet. I call one of my elders. Hey, Auntie, can you tell me how to do this? How do I make this best fry bread ever? Whatever. But yeah, I 100 percent agree with you. And we’ve got to start listening to other communities, asking people — sometimes just asking somebody, hey, what. Oh, you, Rain, I didn’t know you went to school to learn all this stuff. Trust me, if I’ve got to ask a question about a water purifier or how to build a solar panel, I’m to be calling you. I’m gonna Say, oh, now I know this person who does this thing, let’s get them involved. And that’s where our skillshares is come in. Like having these weekly skillshares, just inviting everybody and teaching people how to do a thing. It’s sharing that knowledge. It’s easy for me because I grew up that way, like you said, indigenous people, oral tradition. So, yes, I believe being able to talk to people and asking questions than that one on one and learning from them is the best way. I would rather pay you some dollars and thank you for your time, then I had some institution that really is only looking at me like a dollar bill. So I think we just gotta learn how to start asking and start listening.
Siren Saricca: something I noticed in Detroit when a lot of auto workers were striking, they were saying this is not good enough for us, you’re going to treat better. This is not right. And treat us like this. Something was going on with the contract, but it’s just going to affect a lot of people’s families. And it was very emotionally charged. People would go into work, you know, I have to feed my family and I have all this stuff, I have bills to pay. In one way that’s right, but that’s why something our organization did was to walk the pickets, but we also brought food. We also brought like things to help people so that they can kind of see that, like, the community is capable of taking care of each other. And I thought that was really cool. Because you know the auto industry are like all Republicans, do it yourself with your own bootstraps. And I think a lot of people were kind of swayed. It was cool to see.
Tom Llewellyn: So we’re just coming right now to the end and we have a just a couple of minutes left And so if there was any final thoughts that you would like to leave folks that are listening today, even if they’re just, you know, 10, 20, 30 seconds, it would be great. Just any final wisdom and/or if there’s something you want to share, some sort of a resource or a project, and there is an opportunity for people to get involved. Or again, as we were talking about skilling up, to learn something new that you feel like would be useful, now’s an opportunity just to share last thoughts.
Rain: I will just say, to hold hope in your heart, think Star Wars, all the time, revolutions are built on hope, so keep hope in your heart all the time. And also know your capacity and don’t make promises that you might not be able to keep when you’re doing this work because people are already struggling and we really need whatever you might be promising. So even though you want to, you want to give everything, try not to offer things when your heart is calling to help, that you may not be able to make it happen. Just be realistic, but hold hope in your heart.
Vanessa Bolin: Just going to leave you with some humbling, and from humble lips, to your ears. Remember, you are human beings. You’re the two legs. You are very insignificant in the big circle of it all. We are only one part, but we are the two legs and we have this voice and we can affect change for the good or for the bad. As long as we remember to stay humble, and remember we’re only a small part of that big hole. We just have to work together with the four legs, the winged ones, the ones that swim under the ocean. We need to be apart so we can do this.
Tom Llewellyn: We hope you enjoyed that discussion. Find out more information about this grassroots network and mutualaiddisasterrelief.org. We would like to thank all of our speakers, including Rain, Vanessa, Bolin, Siren Sarrica, and my co-host for this episode, Tyler Norman, in addition to everyone who joined us live. I would also like to thank Stephanie Rearick and the entire Solidarity Summit team. I encourage you to check out the work of Humans United for Mutual Aid Networks by visiting Mutualaidnetwork.org.
Tom Llewellyn: The response executive produced and hosted by me, Tom Llewellyn, our series producer is Robert Raymond, and our theme music was provided by Cultivate Beets. This is a project of Shareable, a nonprofit media outlet, action network, and consultancy promoting people powered solutions for the common good. Support for this project has been provided by the Threshold, Shift, Guerrilla, Cliff Bar Family, and Abundant Earth Foundation’s. Shareable’s sponsors, including Tipalti, MyTurn, and Near Me, and tax deductible donations from listeners like you. That’s it for this week’s show. Hit subscribe wherever you get your podcasts to hear more stories and discussions like this, and please send your feedback about the show or topic and guest suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org. Until next time, take care of each other.