By Evan Carlson
In one of the most disgusting examples of fake news yet, President Trump recently tweeted, “3000 people did not die in the two hurricanes that hit Puerto Rico…This [report] was done by the Democrats in order to make me look as bad as possible when I was successfully raising Billions of Dollars to help rebuild Puerto Rico.”
However, it was not the Democrats fabricating disasters for political gain. Rather, these statistics came from a thorough and independent study by George Washington University’s Milken Institute School of Public Health. It’s hard to believe how poorly the US government responded to Hurricanes Irma and Maria, but to add to that a denial of the resulting devastation? Criminal.
Last year’s hurricanes in Puerto Rico may seem like old news, but in reality, many Puerto Ricans are still rebuilding their lives. It is important then that we look at who — if not the US government — is behind this rebuilding and what we can learn from them in our era of climate-change-supercharged natural disasters.
A Newsweek article profiles one such group of Puerto Rican disaster responders: Proyecto de Apoyo Mutuo (Project for Mutual Aid). These anarchist organizers pooled their monetary and human resources, restoring the electric grid in Mariana two months before the government’s electric workers even arrived. Not only that, it was also a solar-powered and community-run grid. They made efforts to storm-proof these resources so that the next inevitable hurricane hopefully won’t hit quite as hard. On top of this massive project, the organizers collaborated with the Mutual Aid Disaster Relief group to provide water purifiers, food, and basic healthcare to community members who needed it. Their work is remarkable, offering up a model of mutual aid for others to follow — for instance, communities affected by the more recent disaster Hurricane Florence.
Put simply, there are no guarantees when it comes to government- funded disaster relief, especially for poor communities and communities of color. And while grassroots mutual aid tends to stretch already struggling communities’ resources, it may make the difference between life and death in the wake of a natural disaster. As such, it is vital that we engage with our communities in mutual aid organizing now. This may sound strange given that many of us live in Nebraska where the risk of a hurricane is zilch, but our middle-of-nowhere state is not immune to other natural disasters. Take for instance the 2004 tornado that nearly wiped the town of Hallum off the map, or the droughts that plague Nebraska and will likely worsen as our climate grows hotter.
There has been, is, and will continue to be a need for mutual aid here. Even if climate disaster seems like a distant future, we must prepare for it now so we can be ready when it comes. We can learn from organizations like Proyecto de Apoyo Mutuo, using their tactics for organizing, skill-sharing, fundraising, and project coordination. Whatever skill set you might have — whether cook, electrician, teacher, nurse, mechanic, or cashier — there is something you can bring to mutual aid. Moreover, even if those natural disasters never come (and let’s hope they do not), mutual aid still holds immeasurable value. Through it, we increase community, decrease suffering, and further our mission of a brighter future.