Last week, the skies over much of the east coast of the United States were orange, red, and almost entirely blacked out in some regions. Smoke from wildfires raging up north in Canada blew down to engulf many major U.S. cities in an apocalyptic glow that left New York City with the worst air quality in the world.
For those of us in California, seeing the apocalyptic images from the east coast going viral brought us back to the many times over the last decade that we experienced the same thing — wildfires raging from northern parts of the state like the Camp Fire in Butte County that completely incinerated the town of Paradise, or the fires in southern California, or Sonoma County, or the Santa Cruz Mountains — there’s too many to really keep track of.
Here in California, one of the many impacts of wildfires that we know all too well has been the loss of power — of electricity. PG&E, the scandal-ridden investor-owned electric utility that operates much of northern California’s grid, has not only been found guilty in the last several years for some of California’s most destructive wildfires. The company has also come under scrutiny for its implementation of rolling blackouts during wildfires, which it claims it does to protect dry landscapes from power lines that could overheat and spark deadly fires. PG&E’s power lines are notoriously poorly maintained, and downed trees around power lines have been the direct cause of some of the most deadly and destructive wildfires in California’s history.
These massive power shut-offs have led to all sorts of auxiliary disasters over the years and have left millions of Californians without power during some of our most vulnerable times — amidst scorching heat wages and raging wildfires.
In this context, the People Power Battery Collective in the Bay Area launched a program to provide backup power during emergencies and increase the general understanding of energy access, consumption, and needs. On today’s show, we’ve brought on People Power Battery Collective members Kansas, Crystal, and Yasir to talk about their project in the context of climate-fueled disasters and community mutual aid.
Today’s episode is part of a new series we’re launching called “How-to-Respond” — where we’ll go deeper into the mechanics of community-led disaster response and mutual aid initiatives so that folks can replicate and adapt these efforts in other communities.
This ongoing series is a part of Shareable’s overall programmatic transition to a renewed focus on empowering people and communities to move from the point of inspiration to action. This week, we’re launching SolidarityWorks, a new program designed to “Empower Communities for Collective Liberation.” Over the coming years, we’ll join forces with a broad range of partners to create localized social infrastructure initiatives packed with creative solutions, tools for solidarity, and a deep embrace of the communities we collaborate with.
The first example of this program is actually the People Power Battery Collective. After working with them a couple of years ago on a how-to guide so other groups could adapt their model, we’ll now be partnering with them on a free course to directly support more communities to create battery collectives of their own.
And now, here’s Tom with Kansas, Crystal, and Yasir of the People Power Battery Collective, a project group of the People Power Solar Cooperative.
- People Power Battery Collective
- People Power Solar
- Emergency Battery Collective Learning & Action Cohort
- Hosted and executive produced by Tom Llewellyn
- Presented and edited by Robert Raymond
- The Response’s theme music is by Cultivate Beats
For a full list of episodes and resources to strengthen and organize your community, visit www.theresponsepodcast.org.
People Power Battery Collective Transcript
Crystal: [00:00:54] So when it comes to the Battery Collective in many ways is how are we actually creating a condition in which we are working with each other, where we suddenly turn energy into a commons? And the way that we’ve talked about it so far is like, how are we creating a condition in which we get to organize and activate our communities, the people we know, and start engaging in a situation where we can start sharing energy and meeting our energy needs that’s focusing on the people first?
Robert Raymond: [00:01:22] Welcome back to The Response, a show where we explore how communities respond to disaster from hurricanes to wildfires to reactionary politics and more. I’m Robert Raymond. Last week, the skies over much of the East Coast in the United States were orange, red and almost entirely blacked out in some regions. Smoke from wildfires raging up north in Canada blew down to engulf many major US cities in an apocalyptic glow that left New York City with the worst air quality in the world.
[00:01:55] For those of us in California, seeing the apocalyptic images from the East Coast going viral brought us back to the many times over the last decade that we experienced the same thing. Wildfires raging from northern parts of the state, like the Camp Fire in Butte County that completely incinerated the town of Paradise, or the fires in Southern California or Sonoma County or the Santa Cruz Mountains — there’s too many to really keep track of. Here in California, one of the many impacts of the wildfires that we know all too well has been the loss of power — of electricity.
[00:02:33] PG&E, the scandal-ridden, investor-owned electric utility that operates much of northern California’s grid, has not only been found guilty in the last several years for some of California’s most destructive wildfires, the company has also come under scrutiny for its implementation of rolling blackouts during fires, which it claims it does to protect dry landscapes from power lines that could overheat and spark deadly fires.
[00:03:00] PG&E’s power lines are notoriously poorly maintained and downed trees around power lines have been the direct cause of some of the most deadly and destructive wildfires in California’s history. These massive power shut offs have led to all sorts of auxiliary disasters over the years and have left millions of Californians without power during some of our most vulnerable times — amidst scorching heat waves and raging wildfires.
[00:03:26] In this context, the People Power Battery Collective in the Bay Area launched a program to provide backup power during emergencies and increased the general understanding of energy access, consumption, and needs. On today’s show, we’ve brought on People Power Battery Collective members Kansas, Crystal and Yasir to talk about their project in the context of climate-fueled disasters and community mutual aid.
[00:03:53] Today’s episode is part of a new series we’re launching called How-to-Respond, where we’ll go deeper into the mechanics of community-led disaster response and mutual aid initiatives so that folks can replicate and adapt these efforts in other communities. This ongoing series is a part of Shareable’s overall programmatic transition to a renewed focus on empowering people and communities to move from the point of inspiration to action.
Robert Raymond: [00:04:19] This week we’re launching SolidarityWorks, a new program designed to empower communities for collective liberation. Over the coming years, we’ll join forces with a broad range of partners to create localized social infrastructure initiatives packed with creative solutions, tools for solidarity, and a deep embrace of the communities we collaborate with.
[00:04:41] The first example of this program is actually the People Power Battery Collective. After working with them a couple of years ago on a how-to guide so other groups could adapt their model, we’ll now be partnering with them on a free course to directly support more communities to create battery collectives of their own. If you feel inspired to learn more after listening to this conversation, please visit shareable.net to learn more and to sign up. And for those of you listening after having already signed up, welcome to The Response. We’re glad to have you. And now here’s Tom with Kansas, Crystal and Yasir of the People Power Battery Collective, a project group of the People Power Solar Cooperative.
Tom Llewellyn: [00:05:41] Well, I’m excited to finally have the three of you on The Response. And I’m wondering if you would mind just kind of introducing yourselves to our listeners? And maybe Kansas if you want to get started?
Kansas: [00:05:51] Well, sure. So yeah, I’m Kansas and well, I go by Kansas. My name is Eric. I’ve been going by Kansas for a long time. I’m a member of the People Power Solar Cooperative — we all are, actually, which is kind of like a parent company to the Battery Collective. Or not a parent company, that’s a terrible analogy, but parent support group that facilitates the Battery Collective. And yeah, I live in the Greater Bay Area. I live in San Francisco.
Tom Llewellyn: [00:06:15] Okay, thanks. Passing it on to Yasir.
Yasir: [00:06:18] Yassir, member of the People Power Battery Collective and in the Bay Area.
Crystal: [00:06:25] Same. And this is Crystal Huang. And use any pronouns. And I too am living in the San Francisco Bay Area, proud organizer, we’re the current organizers of the Battery Collective and I too am a member of People Power Solar Cooperative, which is a multi-stakeholder Cooperative. So I’m a worker-member as well as just a general member. And right now I am currently just a general member organizing with my fellow members.
Tom Llewellyn: [00:06:55] All right. Well, I’m wondering if maybe the best way to get started is just to kind of have you explain what an emergency battery collective is and kind of how it works. Like what are the nuts and bolts?
Kansas: [00:07:06] Sure, I’ll get started maybe just with a brief introduction of that. So at Battery Collective, what we tried to build out with our project group is like a self-organized, decentralized, really grassroots-inspired mutual aid collective that was built around providing energy for people when they needed it. And our organizers work to facilitate a just and efficient method of managing and sharing energy resources among participants and by proxy, their communities.
[00:07:35] And the goal is to provide a living alternative to the existing models of energy control and ownership in our communities and our society at large. And our role is not really to organize other communities, but rather setting an example for others to imitate and create their own democratic institutions and spaces which will allow people to figure out a lot of these questions for themselves and learn how to manage these types of things well.
Tom Llewellyn: [00:08:01] One thing that didn’t really hear in there is about like the batteries themselves. And maybe someone wants to go in a little bit of detail about the fact that you’re actually using physical batteries, distributing them around to people who need them to be able to have power when there is some sort of a large electricity shut off or disaster.
Crystal: [00:08:18] Yeah. I want to say a few words about why batteries not at the center or technology is not the center, because ultimately the solution is the collective governance. I think for the listeners who’ve been listening to The Response podcast have heard a lot of theories around how we can build community resilience through repairing our relationships together. And the Battery Collective is a really great example of how we do that by meeting our material needs.
[00:08:47] And so I’ll use an example because it’s so easy when we talk about energy, we just jump right into the technology, the batteries, the solar panels, I call them the toys, and we forget about the most important thing, which is the people. And I’ll use an example because when the system does not work for us, we have to figure out what it is that’s not working and how do we repair our relationship to each other so we can create a solution that works.
[00:09:14] And I think whoever is listening right now can imagine a situation where there is a strip, a median in between the roads, and there might be a sign that says “Do Not Sit Here.” But if all the people decided to say, I’m going to sit here and eat my pizza, because right across the street there is a pizza shop and I don’t have anywhere to sit. And there’s a really nice lawn, people can just sit there and suddenly that medium became a common — commons for all of us to take care of. People are not going to litter because people are actively using it. So now the core is not the land. Like people are not here to claim the land. People are not here to talk about who owns the land. People’s action, practicing being there because we’re meeting our needs automatically creates a situation where we’re commoning.
[00:10:07] So when it comes to the battery collective in many ways is how are we actually creating a condition in which we are working with each other, where we suddenly turn energy into a commons? And the way that we’ve talked about so far is like, how are we creating a condition in which we get to organize and activate our communities, the people we know, and start engaging in a situation where we can start sharing energy and meeting our energy needs that’s focusing on the people first.
Tom Llewellyn: [00:10:35] I think that’s some really good context to get going. And one of the things that stands out to me as you were just talking about the people being at the center of this. So it’s the it’s the community, It’s the members. It’s the community at large. And I’m wondering, is that where you started? Did you start with a focus on a specific community and then try and figure out how to meet a need of that community? Or was there some sort of like a disaster or some larger thing that happened that you were responding to that and you found this as a response to a kind of an outside attack or a disruption of some kind?
Crystal: [00:11:08] Yeah. I can quickly say a few words on this. So because we came out of the People Power Solar Cooperative, which exists to create a just and inclusive transition to a renewable energy by enabling everyone to own and shape our energy future. What we’re doing is creating pathways where everyday people can start thinking about energy. When we live in a society where most people take energy for granted, the most we think about is paying the bills or thinking about where it comes from. But we don’t even think about how we consume it. We don’t even think about how we govern it, even. So, then how do we talk about commoning? How do we talk about being able to care for energy and be in relationship with energy better than the big corporations that’s doing it right now? How can we talk about that? So it’s an active conversation that we’re having within People Power Solar Cooperative.
[00:12:01] So we’re constantly engaging in thinking about what kind of energy projects can we do to get members to think about these things. And we have a variety of different projects that our members come up with to start looking at like connection between energy and food, energy and water and different projects.
[00:12:20] And for the purpose of this podcast, the key here is the People Power Battery Collective. And it came out when, in 2020, in September — for those who remembering watching the news with the Orange Day in the Bay Area, like everyone woke up, the sky was dark and it was orange in the San Francisco Bay area. And I say it’s eerie because just yesterday from the recording right now, New York City was yellow. And so that is the new normal that we’re walking into.
Crystal: [00:12:52] When we woke up to that reality, we started thinking, okay, power shut off has happened to so many people all the time. What is it that we can do to meet our needs today by investing into the people relationship so we can start contesting for what our rights are? That energy is a human right. And so a call was put out to all of our members, anyone we can think of in our network to say, Hey, we’re going to start this idea of battery sharing. It’s kind of like when the grid goes down we have people power moving batteries around because when the power goes out, it doesn’t happen to everyone all at once. It happens blocks by blocks for the most part. Obviously, when a disaster is big enough that does happen. But for the most part, you are able to find a single source that’s still on and you can move them around with literal people power.
[00:13:50] What if we can do this and see what happens? It’s just an idea. We just kind of put the call out and there were 60 people responding to it and showing up and like, we’re ready to organize. And we had two different sessions where people came in, responded to a reacted to it, and then we kind of just split up into different committees to try to figure out how do we make this work. Like the idea was put out really with the intention of how do we get people to start thinking about energy in a way that we are starting to practice owning and shaping our energy future? And that was the starting point. I don’t know if Kansas or Yasir wants to add anything?
Kansas: [00:14:27] Yeah, I mean, so the other thing that was empowering or cool for me is, so, we put out this blast email. We had a unified goal of like, hey, these power shut-offs are not cool, right? Like we should be understanding what’s going on and have more direct action and participation in our energy system. And so what you saw, though, is a lot of different people coming to the table from different perspectives and backgrounds. Some people that were interested in helping with the tech, some people that were interested in helping with the organizing, some people that were actually experiencing the power shutoffs themselves and we’re going to be the people that we’re probably going to be needing the thing. And so building that space and having all of these different types of people come together and being able to talk to each other and try to rationally think over a lot of time, you know, how can we, for our communities, best support the things that are going on around us?
Crystal: [00:15:19] I think a lot of times when we’re organizing direct action, we tend to group the so-called poor people together and to fight against the privilege. I think I see that a lot in the leftist movement in direct action. But when it comes to mutual aid work, it’s really about how can we build a line of solidarity for us to solve problems together.
Tom Llewellyn: [00:15:39] Well, I was just also thinking beyond just these disasters, which I hadn’t thought about this before. But as you were talking about it, I’m thinking about all the people that are facing power shutoffs because they’re not able to pay their bill. And that this is kind of an interesting response because in most markets, there are energy monopolies, where one company and for many, not all, but for many, especially in urban areas, it’s a for-profit company which has the ability to determine whether or not you get electricity. A very basic, and we’ve known, important need.
[00:16:15] And so there’s no leverage that an individual consumer — that if somebody’s living a person living inside that metropolitan area has against that company, it’s that company or nothing. And they’re able to rely on that. That’s one of the reasons why they’re able to, you know, PG&E in this case is able to not put their their high powered power lines underground, have them up in the air, have this higher percentage chance that they’re going to cause a fire, which they’ve been found to be responsible for the fires and the destruction and everything that’s been happening. But there’s no other game in town. They’re able to manipulate the market and to be able to force all of our hands.
[00:16:52] And what I’m hearing from you is that this is part of a larger conversation. This isn’t just about responding to a specific flood, a specific fire, a specific freeze, but it’s about the kind of larger context of energy in general and what our role is in it and can be in it — where we can assert the community back into the space. And like you’re saying, to truly make this an energy commons. And so there’s a number of different pathways to doing that. We work with rural electric cooperatives and improving the governance on that front and that participation — 56% of the United States are members of that. There’s people that are creating alternative energy networks that are being able to bring that in to be able to have some sort of local competition and get away from that monopoly power.
[00:17:42] And this on a very grassroots direct response is another level of that struggle, of that conversation about what energy means for our communities and who should and should not have it. And is it a privilege or is it a right? And how do we assert that moving forward? And that’s not something that I had really thought about before. So thank you for kind of especially grounding us to begin this conversation, to step back from the batteries, to step back, like you were saying, from the toys and focus on kind of really what’s going on under the covers because that’s where the excitement is happening. And this is a kind of a means, I often think about many of these kind of mutual aid projects are something to focus on, to be able to bring people together. And really it’s about bringing the people together.
[00:18:31] In my community I’m coming from we have these community brush days where, you know, once a month leading up to the fire season, we go to a different area, people from different neighborhoods will come together and clear brush around the emergency exit routes or, you know, different things like that. And it is very practical and functional. But the secondary impacts are that, hey, people are finding out where people live, where are people that might need extra support if there is some sort of an emergency. And we’re also getting to know our neighbors. We’re putting in sweat equity. We’re rubbing elbows with each other, not just sitting and arguing about different perspectives in a meeting, but actually doing something as a collective together.
[00:19:11] And if there is a fire, if our community is burned down, we have stronger ties to each other to then be able to do that rebuilding, to be able to push back against regulations that might say that we can’t rebuild in the community, you know, all those different things. And so there’s all these things happening at at these different levels. And the focus is, all right, we’re going to go pull some Scotch broom, you know, or some French broom, and we’re going to cut some pines that are leaning over the ways or getting close to the power lines or whatever. You know, that’s the focus. But everything else is really what’s the cake, you know? That’s just one ingredient. That’s just, you’re looking at the icing on the top and everything else is down below it. And I’m kind of hearing that similar to what’s happening with the battery collectives.
Kansas: [00:19:53] Yeah, absolutely. I mean, one thing that we definitely talk about, and it’s just terms, but we talk about it’s more reactive versus proactive type of solutions, right? And so traditionally, when people think of, at least in my experience when, say, mutual aid, people think of like a reactive response, like, I want to just stop the problem now and put a Band-Aid on it and then go walk away. What we’re trying to build, as we’ve been talking about, is more of a commons approach where we’re actually building the infrastructure. As you’re talking about the relationships, both human and logistical and that are long term approaches that aren’t spontaneous. And it’s not like we’re caught off guard by these things. Like we’re already practiced and ready to deal with problems as they come up because we’re able to experience them in different ways.
Crystal: [00:20:44] Yeah. The beauty of mutual aid is it allows us to practice the muscle that we’ve always had for millennia. All of our ancestors have done it in a way that we just help each other out. But through the concept of private property, it made us just kind of let go of understanding our relationship with a lot of things that we rely on to survive. We rely on corporations. So the apps that were sent in to us and we forget what it’s like. And when we use mutual aid, we start practicing that.
[00:21:14] And so I think it’s so important for anyone who’s thinking about doing mutual aid, and I’m sure everyone who is doing mutual aid have already felt it, that mutual aid is not just a Band-Aid. People can feel it. When you’re part of mutual aid, you realize, hold on a second, this is a different way of living. And there are so many Indigenous leaders I’ve heard say that it is easier for us to imagine the end of the world than it is to imagine the end of capitalism. But through the act of being in mutual aid, through the act of being in community and [going] through the process democratic process, together, we can start to imagine a different world where we can actually start creating a solution that will get us out of this suicide mission that our society is currently on.
Tom Llewellyn: [00:22:04] Well, kind of with this grounding, I am wondering if we can talk about, you know, some of the things that are with this part of the active battery collective, kind of like what that looks like on the ground. You know, this is, as we kind of mentioned before, this is kind of the first episode that we’re doing that’s more of the How-to-Respond, kind of looking at the nuts and bolts of how does this thing work? We talk about all kinds of amazing examples of, you know, Verificado19 down in Mexico City and the amazing response that happened there, you know, things in Puerto Rico. But sometimes it can be like, oh, that sounds really inspiring, but now what?
[00:22:43] And so we’re all going to be working together to help people to kind of replicate and adapt the model that you’ve been developing. And so just to start, I’m wondering, down that path, is to just kind of talk about some of the things that are happening behind the scenes. And so, I’m wondering how many people are actually in the collective or have been since you started? And how many of these batteries do you have in circulation? Like what is the process been like so far? I don’t know if Yasir you want to jump in, if you’ve got some of that information you want to share?
Yasir: [00:23:17] Sure, I can hop in. So I think with the numbers that have been thrown out already, you know, if it starts with a 60-person response, really the beauty of the battery collective is it is a living organism. So all of the individuals that do come, that do get involved, that do participate, just like any living organism, people come in, they give their energy, then they have to go out because life calls them for other things, which is good because we always get fresh new ideas in, new concepts, new things that we haven’t thought about. So at any given moment it can be up to 60, it could be down to three people — it’s just keeping it moving. Of course, it’s a seasonal thing as well. So when things are quiet, people are quiet. When we need people to engage, people definitely show up to engage, which is — a that’s the important thing. You guys want to add anything to that?
Crystal: [00:24:10] Yeah. In our operating agreement, on the governance document basically, we have — the leadership is not by the people, by the name, the leadership is based on participation. So I had intentionally said that we are the current organizers of the Battery Collective, but in six months it might be someone completely different as we’re cycling through, because like we are a living organism that’s moving through the season and just to take the season to a much more tangible example, like we even had a winter hiatus. Like we decided to have a seasonal leave knowing that everyone is at this moment, in a winter time and the spring time, people are mostly thinking about other things. Is it really necessary for us to make sure we stay relevant? Like the way that a lot of like social media makes us? Trying to figure out like, how can we like, stay relevant so then we can get the grant so we can do these things like, no, we’re creating a living organism where we can give ourselves a break.
[00:25:19] In the movement, we say rest is revolution and in this way the rest is revolution in a way that when we rest, we set a date to come back again in May, knowing that fire season in California is now starting like around August, now July, it’s earlier and earlier every year. So if we can start coming back again in May. We come back with fresh ideas, we really looked into a lot of Indigenous practices and took the — follow the seasons. We go away, we come back and then see who comes back, who’s here and what do we want to create. And we come together, did a little kickoff, who showed up and then see where the energy takes us and then we continue to move on based on where things are.
[00:26:02] So we’re not really trying to hold on to this thing for it, which it’s a tendency that we tend to have when we try to create something because it feels like the thing is so critical. But if we invest in the people and the relationship and how we show up with each other, it’s magical. It was very uncomfortable for me, but it was magical in the way that you’re now trusting each other, creating this thing. And okay, I guess two months, we’re not going to see each other and we have this date, we’re going to come together and wow, did not expect these people to show up. Wow, it’s been two years since I saw you. And it was beautiful. And like, it really encouraged people to just trust the process, trust the commitment we make for each other, and then we can come back again and like allow the ebb and flow to allow creativity to flourish.
Tom Llewellyn: [00:26:49] I mean, it sounds like this like many other things, the goal is the culture shift, right? Like this is a medium, but the goal is the culture shift. And so if you’re starting to see that shifting in culture, it doesn’t matter if it’s happening even within the umbrella of the thing that you started with, you know, if people are going off and sharing batteries back and forth and doing energy organizing and they’re inspired by participating to begin with, but they’re not doing it underneath this banner. Like, is that not the goal to be inspiring, continuing this? And so I totally hear what you’re saying about not falling prey to those outside pressures to be constantly providing content, to be constantly active.
[00:27:32] Because the other thing is doing is it’s causing you to — if you get stuck in those wheels, which it’s very easy to do, is it causes you not to be looking at the larger picture and to not be emergent necessarily and to be able to have the space to go and support others when that need is done. Because you’re like, Oh, I’ve just got to work on my thing, I’ve just got to work on my thing. And so having exactly that, that rest and repeat that, join new energy coming back and forth, being able to send other ideas out, you never really know what is being — it’s the mycelium. I’m just using all these different metaphors right now. But you’re sending out these different signals and other things plant and they’re inspired by the thing and they’re doing something different.
[00:28:14] And that’s one of the things that I think is exciting about this type of project is that it shows that there are other ways of doing things, that there are other ways of meeting needs that maybe have been done before and people are able to iterate and build on those models. And so I’m kind of wondering if there are some specific processes that you’ve kind of worked through to build your collective culture that, yes, are being put towards this battery collective right now, but those types of actions, those types of processes would be potentially relevant for many other groups, whether they’re working with batteries or not?
Kansas: [00:28:57] Sure. I mean, what comes to mind are the two big just like categories are just direct action, which is just like, there’s a problem, let’s get together and solve it. Forget everything else, someone doesn’t have power? That’s the first thing, it was like, one of our main things is just like, how do we just solve the problem that’s in front of us? The other one I would say is — for a broad term is more democratic processes, more consensus-based, flat, horizontal organization where anyone that wants to participate can come to the table and now has an equal say in what’s going on.
[00:29:32] And I think that actually led to a lot of the creative solutions that we had, like the seasonal break. People pointed out, hey, why are we — there’s not much battery request going on now. And we had this space where people were discussing it, right? And there was room for people to actually be like, Hey, what if I was just reading a book about this? And like, you know, our ancestors used to take seasonal breaks and migrate and stuff and they would come back for big festivals and make a big thing about it and like revitalize everything. And so, for me, it’s that space that was created. So building those democratic spaces I think is vastly important.
[00:30:06] And it’s — I’m not going to also paint it with roses. It’s a lot of meetings and a lot of listening to people. But that’s the thing. We don’t do that. What you were talking about, we live in a system where it’s a top-down, you’re given orders. And as we were talking about 24/7 service, seven days a week, it needs to be going, going, going. And we all live in that system and we’re all insanely used to thinking that way. And so having this environment and space to actually experiment and feel what it’s like to participate in the decision-making process is, I mean, I can’t even say, it’s pretty empowering and magical to just be able to see collective people come together and — not even voice their opinions, that’s the thing, it’s like you’re more empowered than your opinions because they actually matter. You actually can make a decision. So yeah.
Crystal: [00:31:00] Yeah. And it’s so important to make it fun. It’s so important to not focus on what are we trying to accomplish today? Focus on what is the output? It’s such a tendency that we really want to do it. And I speak for myself. I have that tendency of always, go, go, go, what are we going to create? And if we can just create a space, like what Kansas says, we’re like, All right, here’s where we are. It was so uncomfortable for me where we’re just creating space and just hanging out and watching so-and-so cook and have this person talk for half an hour about the best pretzel they’ve ever had. But we’re like laughing and hanging out together.
[00:31:41] It was during COVID. It was like in the thick of COVID. We started in late 2020 or mid to late 2020, and there was engagement around that. But like, how do we continue to create a space where people can just come together and be themselves and be okay, that we’re not actually getting a whole lot of things done because we know if we can’t create the space where we’re feeling comfortable and laughing, we actually ended up getting so much done. It was a very uncomfortable practice for me. I was being told like, you just need to create space. Just just make space and step back and just have people hang out. Don’t keep pushing an agenda because when people come together, they’re not going to think about agendas. They’re going to come together for solace. How are you building opportunity for people to share solace with each other? — is a really important thing that I learned from this process that allow us to create the space where people to just be with each other and continue to show up throughout.
Tom Llewellyn: [00:32:44] Yeah, I think that’s where the creativity comes through is in those uncomfortable places and like you said, providing that space for it. We all relate with each other in different ways and sometimes you have to be able to provide those flexible opening moments for people to feel comfortable and to speak up and bring forth amazing ideas that they wouldn’t otherwise. If it’s in a more formalized strict structure. And that’s something that we’re always needing to push back against because it’s not really all that natural when it comes down to it, but it’s been ingrained and so it’s hard to work against.
[00:33:18] I am wanting to just kind of bring us back towards the batteries for a minute. We’ve been talking about batteries, talking about —people when you when you talk about batteries, people think of many different connotations. You could think about little AA batteries like this one that I’m holding in my hand right now, or you’re thinking about car batteries or these different things. And so we haven’t actually talked about what this kind of looks like on the ground — what is being shared back and forth between people and kind of what systems are you using to be able to track those?
Crystal: [00:33:49] I can say a few words and then maybe Yasir and Kansas can jump in to say a little more. So I think one thing that was really helpful for us to get kick started was obviously this idea of just putting a call out and getting people really excited and then creating a space for people to figure out what the process should look like. But very quickly, if you don’t have the actual material things that people can see or touch, you’re going to lose people.
[00:34:14] So what we ended up doing was we just had actually a couple people built out a clear starting point where they just like bought three car batteries, put them in a milk crate, connected them to some inverter and some trickle charger and boom, this is what it is. It’s really heavy. But these are some things that I can charge just so people have a sense of what it looks like so we can stick together and understand what that looks like and then we can think about like, what is the next level battery we want? This is a little heavy or do we want to put some wheels on it? Do we want to get something lighter? Oh, how much more expensive is that going to be? We can start having real conversations like that. And that was that was really, really helpful for us to keep people together so that we’re not just spinning in circles with these hypothetical trade-off questions that it’s so easy to get stuck in when it comes to energy design or any infrastructure design
[00:35:12] For any homeowners or anyone who’s dealt with properties, it’s really hard to pull the trigger on even what paint color you want to choose. And now we’re talking about investing hundreds of dollars into an energy thing that you don’t even think about. You need to have somewhere to start where people can just start to be creative around. And then we even created a battery testing brigade. Now people just start trying out the battery because nobody thinks about their energy use. In fact, one of the most common response I get from people when I ask when the power goes out, what do you need power for? So then we can design the battery system that meets your need. People’s most common answer I get is they need a generator. Okay, what do you need the generator for? For power. Great, what do you need the power for? Generator.
[00:36:07] People just have so little understanding of energy that you just asking that theoretically, you’re not going to get anywhere. You have to have something that people just like, let’s do like a role play. Let’s say there’s no power suddenly — what do you need to use for how many hours? And then you can actually have this thing in your house to start moving this around and people can just start testing it out and come up with ideas to make it better.
Tom Llewellyn: [00:36:34] And one thing that I saw that you’ve done I think is really fun is you, correct me if I’m wrong, but I think you created a game for people to guess how much energy is used by different appliances or different things that might be in their homes as a way to help stimulate that conversation, to be able to figure out what is actually needed? And can you be able to break through that bit of a fog like you were saying, that wall in between the energy coming in and the energy going out and what it’s actually being used for and what you actually need.
[00:37:02] I know that in the last couple of years these backup battery generators that aren’t necessarily powered by gasoline or propane, but are just kind of like basically manufactured battery kits, like you were just talking about, have gotten really popular. And many of them are really expensive. When you look at the components what you’re actually getting from that. But I think you all have been using some of those as well, besides the ones that are being built out Or are you or have you only been using battery systems that you’ve been building?
Yasir: [00:37:35] Well, just using the ones that we built out.
Tom Llewellyn: [00:37:37] Got it.
Yasir: [00:37:37] Yeah. So I think Krystal just explained they’re basically in a milk cart. So that’s kind of how they started. We have a fancier one. The newest one that we’ve made is a lithium one. So there’s a lithium battery. It’s just in a nicer case, but essentially it’s the same thing. So the idea is to keep them small, keep them portable and to get a good workout for some of them. But yeah.
Tom Llewellyn: [00:38:01] Well, and one of the needs, I think, whilst a lot of those are — you can order something online, they’re prohibitively expensive. And so the idea that like, oh, if people just need electricity, they should just be able to buy their own thing — It leaves a whole lot of people out of that equation. And so designing systems like this to be able to share the energy when it’s needed, it’s a library of things. It is an item which can be shared that does not — You only need it when you need it. And typically for a pretty short period of time. And so as you were saying earlier, oftentimes there’s a neighborhood that goes down or a single part of the of a community, but the entire community does not go down at the same time. And so you can be able to distribute those resources if you have that network set up ahead of time. And I’m wondering if you can just kind of talk a little bit about that network — what does the communication look like? How are these batteries getting distributed?
Kansas: [00:38:57] So honestly, it was discussed multiple times. We tried multiple different systems. And everyone had their own opinion about what was the best system and everything. And at the end of the day, I mean, we did try — we’ve used Slack, email, phone trees, WhatsApp — and mean guess the real answer is it’s just varied on the people that you’re kind of communicating with and the way you’re doing it. I would say most generally though has been phone, honestly, at the end of the day.
[00:39:27] Once it’s arranged — I need a battery, the battery’s here, I’m delivering the battery. Those people usually just end up texting each other. But we’ve had ways where it was, there’s a Slack channel, people would post a notification, or they would fill out a Google form was also another thing we experimented with just being able to do a battery request. They could just go to a web page, fill out the form, and then it would send it to an email list or and or again, we tried multiple ones or a Slack group channel. So we honestly tried everything under the sun. But at the end of the day, I know we keep saying this, but yeah, it was just dependent on the people, right? And what the community kind of was used to, right? Because your community might communicate in a completely different medium and way than ours does. So but those are the general tools I think we used.
Tom Llewellyn: [00:40:16] Got it. And are you using some sort of spreadsheet system or online way of keeping track of of what items are where?
Crystal: [00:40:23] So because we were created to set out to create a condition where we can be proactive in changing the energy system instead of just — we did not get created to meet the immediate needs right away. We were created to be scalable. And so all that different ways that Kansas had mentioned was a variety of ways that we wanted to try out to create the ideal decentralized network of batteries where people can immediately know, like pull out an app or whatever it is that we can just find out where the battery is. We have so many great ideas around this.
[00:41:01] But, ultimately, it is really moving at the speed of where people are at. And we had set out so many documentations and infrastructures ready for the scale, but then we realized the easiest thing to do is just human-to-human communication. Like when it’s a small scale, we could literally just like call people up, like, where’s the battery? And the network is so small that we didn’t even need to send out a centralized number. And the number was sent out to everyone, which we also had the entire database mapped out to do stuff like that. But we realized ultimately to just start from where you are and then you can build on top of what you really need.
Crystal: [00:41:41] And so when we were trying to design something that was scalable, it very quickly felt unachievable because there’s just so much trade-offs that we needed to determine. But we are so excited to be sharing with everyone at the course to really see what are some things that we tried? And this is a great starting point. If you want to do more, here are the templates that and blueprints that we already designed and created. And right now for what we’ve learned so far, the best place to start is really just a phone tree system, like just old school, like how do they use to do it 70 years ago is really the best way today. Like you just know where this person is and go find them. Don’t let technology make you forget what human-to-human relationships really look like. And that way you can just find it. You could just call someone up, if this person doesn’t know, the next person would know you could. The phone tree is still the best way to organize today in the age of apps and tech.
Tom Llewellyn: [00:42:44] I would just say, it’s very funny, I grew up having a phone tree in a rural area with all the neighbors and everything. And it’s still working today, there’s 225 some odd people that are on that phone tree and it works impeccably well. And what’s been really funny is in the last number of years, how popular that that’s come back to a lot of emergency response groups, municipal cities, national, FEMA, everything. They’re like, oh, man, if you can if you can create a phone tree, you’ve really got something going on there and you’re just like, we’ve come this far and the phone tree is still the best, you know?
[00:43:22] But it’s appropriate technology — it’s tried and true and we can work around the edges and we can come up with all kinds of reasons why this tech is better or that tech is better. But there are a lot of things that have worked that have been really effective before these technologies have come around. And oftentimes the technology served to kind of dehumanize our connections to each other and to actually separate us and take us backwards from where we’ve come. And so it’s always important to make sure that whatever technology or whatever system is being put in place, is it actually moving us forward or not? And it sounds like you’ve done a lot of thinking about that over the last couple of years.
Yasir: [00:44:02] And then to your point about appropriate technology, it’s just starting back going back to your question, sometimes purchasing that $2000 or $3000 unit based on the needs of your community may be the appropriate thing. You know, calling I don’t know whatever company that sells it and saying, hey, drop-ship one of these to us, we’re going to start our battery collective. It just depends on the resources that you have in your community, the know-how that you have in your community that may be appropriate for certain collectives. And other collectives may say, hey, you know, 50 bucks, do it yourself, gets the job done. But assessing your needs and finding out what you want and how you want to springboard off of that is an excellent starting point.
Kansas: [00:44:42] And yeah, I was going to say, I think we’re also conditioned, if you will, to think a lot about finalizing the blueprint, if you will, where everyone’s concerned about the edge cases. Well, what if the person needs the medical device and the other person’s already charging and all these edge cases. And at the end of the day, we were just like, well, let’s just start doing stuff and then actually responding to them instead of making all these situations that we still to this day have never ran into, right?
[00:45:14] So I think that was a big learning for us, was realizing honestly to use the scientific method. Like, okay, let’s try this, let’s test what you’re saying. Let’s try to put something into practice and see if that actually leads to what we expect it to lead to. I would say that did take us a little bit of time but was also very important and that led us to the testing brigade that we came up with, which was, okay, so, fires are sporadic and people requesting batteries is pretty sporadic. What if we, just to test our infrastructure, challenge our assumptions about logistics, what if we just have people basically fake, like, I need a battery now and I want to know what it’s like.
[00:45:57] So I personally did it and I can tell you I learned so much about energy, which having that battery charge my computer and my fridge — I will never forget when I was charging my fridge and it’s like, Oh man, charging the fridge, this is awesome. And I’m like, charging my computer, this is so cool. And then I was like, I’m gonna make tea. And I plugged in my electric kettle and the battery just starts beeping. And I was like, what’s going on? And I messaged the group and I’m like, Hey, the battery is beeping at me. And everyone’s just like, Hey, actually, that’s using way too much energy. And I learned, it turns out to make heat takes a lot more energy than to sustain something, right? So and this is all what I think is very important about just doing. This is the direct action part, just experiencing. Everyone learns so much and has so much to learn in so many different domains. And again, just being able to actually experience and practice that is just amazing, honestly.
Tom Llewellyn: [00:46:51] Well, so Crystal, you kind of started going in this direction, but this is kind of acting as the entryway point to an opportunity for people to learn more about what you all have done on the ground, to go through the different systems that you’ve created and also find best practices from others as a group to be able to replicate and adapt and create more battery collectives in other communities.
[00:47:15] And so the program that we’re gonna be running together, a partnership between Shareable/The Response and the People Power Battery Collective in Oakland or Bay Area at large, we’re going to be running this opportunity starting in July for groups to get involved, and it’s going to be running over about eight weeks. There’s going to be a comprehensive how-to guide and a toolbox of processes and templates and other resources. We’re going to be working on getting kind of free and discounted batteries, going through some of these models of creating your own batteries, and also offering ongoing peer support and connecting people together that are doing this at the same time moving forward.
[00:47:57] So if you’re interested in learning more about that, you can go to shareable.net and there is a page right there on the home page that you can click on to find out more information and get involved in this work and come and join all of us to work on this together As we go to kind of close out the conversation, I’m wondering if there’s anything else that kind of we missed here that you thought about as we were talking that you would want to share with folks that were interested in creating a program like this or something else. What were some other things that you learned along the way, things that you maybe wish that you had done a little differently, or any advice that you would want to impart on others that were thinking about doing something like this?
Yasir: [00:48:36] Yeah, I think I mean, I think all of those lists are extremely long and I think we can get more into them during the training. One thing that we’ve discussed in the past is that just recognizing the need for alternatives for people. So everyone’s situation is not the same. There’s a power outage, people go to their wall switch and flip off their walls, you know, Oh, my light doesn’t work. They realize it’s a power outage. When the power comes back on, you have a certain amount of people who go flip that light, switch back on and continue their life. You have another group of people who, when the power comes back on, have to file a claim because everything in their refrigerator rotted.
[00:49:14] So if you’re identifying what’s going on in your community, we definitely suggest local or even hyper-local situations for this to really work very well. So if you’re if you have that type of community and you’re recognizing the things in your community and you’re building these for supporting your community, I think that camaraderie, that commons, all of those things come together and it’s very, very coherent process at that point. There’s a lot more that can be said but we’re probably closing. And so, Crystal?
Crystal: [00:49:47] I would also add that when it comes to preparing for disaster, there’s so many different types of disaster that is in people’s mind. And as Kansas mentioned, you’re going to get into a situation where there’s going to be endless edge cases that you don’t even know where to begin preparing for. Are we talking about disaster for a day, a week, a month, a whole year, that you have to leave town forever? The response is going to be completely different. And the most important thing that I would like to leave for any listeners, especially if you’re not planning on following up with engaging in the course, is just get into the water and start swimming. That’s the best way to learn how to swim.
[00:50:32] Start practicing, play some games with your housemates, your neighbors and your household. Do all these things. Just pretend what it looks like and then you can start practicing and seeing what it looks like. Because as Movement Generation says so, well, if you’re not prepared to govern, you’re not prepared to win. And so what we need to do is just start practicing whatever it takes for us to move together and then we can actually get into creating the living system that will actually serve us instead of relying on this other living system that is extracting from life and all of us together.
Kansas: [00:51:09] Yeah. I think that’s well said.
Tom Llewellyn: [00:51:12] So I think we can end on that note and look forward to working with you all on the project moving forward and also hopefully having some of our listeners come and join us as well.
Kansas: [00:51:23] Sounds great. Exciting.
Crystal: [00:51:25] Let’s learn, laugh and love together.
Yasir: [00:51:28] Yeah. Peace.
Robert Raymond: [00:51:41] You’ve been listening to an interview with the People Power Battery Collective. Please check the show notes to find links to all of the resources that were mentioned in this episode.
[00:51:50] As I mentioned at the top, today’s episode was part of a new series we’re launching called How-to-Respond, where we’ll go deeper into the mechanics of community-led disaster response and mutual aid initiatives so that folks can replicate and adapt these efforts in other communities.
[00:52:07] This ongoing series is part of Shareable’s overall programmatic transition to a renewed focus on empowering people and communities to move from the point of inspiration to action. This week, we’re launching SolidarityWorks, a new program designed to empower communities for collective liberation. Learn more at Shareable.net.
[00:52:29] This episode of The Response was hosted by Tom Llewellyn and was presented and edited by me, Robert Raymond. Additional operations, funding and communication support was provided by Alison Huff, Bobby Jones, and Roame Jasmine. The Response’s theme music was written by Cultivate Beats. Support for this show has been provided by the Shift Foundation, Platform OS, and tax-deductible donations from listeners like you. This is a project of Shareable, an award-winning nonprofit media outlet, action network, and consultancy promoting people-powered solutions for the common good.
[00:53:09] Please rate and review The Response wherever you get your podcasts. It really goes a long way in helping us extend our reach. And make sure to follow us on Twitter and Instagram @responsepodcast. That’s it for today’s show. Until next time, take care of each other.