Autonomy in Tampa, Solidarity in Immokalee: Love Letter to the Future

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Thankfully, Tampa did not get “punched in the face” as much as anticipated. Still, if you are in the Tampa Bay area and need medical assistance or food/water/debris cleanup, or want to act in solidarity with your neighbors, or both! you can come to 5107 N. Central Ave, right next to St. Paul Lutheran Church. We are facilitating debris cleanup crews, providing first aid, engaging in mobile supplies distribution and more. We have cut down trees, removed debris, comforted neighbors, bought life saving medications, cleaned out fridges, put a family that didn’t have one up in a safe home. No Bureaucracy. No red tape. In St Pete, community-based relief efforts are coalescing at St Pete Community Acupuncture.  And similar efforts are underway throughout Florida. If you are coming from out of the area, you are welcome at these locations, but know that Tampa itself is back to “normal” for most of its residents – very far from an apocalyptic atmosphere. But we are using the Tampa convergence center to do relief efforts throughout the state focusing on harder hit, historically marginalized communities, including migrant farmworker and indigenous communities.

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The Mutual Aid Disaster Relief convergence center in Tampa is growing by the hour. The first aid station has grown into a wellness center, including acupuncture, trauma counseling, peer support, herbal medics, and other alternative medicine modalities. Local community members know to drop off hurricane supplies that they didn’t need. Community members also know to come here if supplies are needed. And that these supplies can be received with dignity. Here, there are no powerful givers of aid and powerless receivers of aid. We are undermining that dynamic in a process that contributes to the liberation and consciousness-raising of everybody involved. Mobile distros base out of the space, channel their inner Robin Hood, and reach across Florida with supplies, especially to historically marginalized communities. We have funneled over 10 tons of food, water, diapers, and other supplies to hard-hit Immokalee, FL. a migrant farmworker town.

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In Immokalee, we are working at the request of and in solidarity with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, a human rights, farmworker justice movement with deep roots in the community. Immokalee expects to be without power for weeks to come and food in the city is scarce. Other needs are self-standing already functional photovoltaic solar arrays, solar generators, other solar equipment, phone battery packs, large tarps, screening for windows, bug spray, mobile kitchens, and medics to staff the first aid station we constructed. In Tampa, we have partnered with Tampa Black Lives Matter, Tampa Food Not Bombs, Love Has No Borders, Islamic Relief, Suncoast Antifa, Tampa DSA, The Refuge, Tampa Bay Dream Defenders, Organize Now, POCA Clinics, Hillsborough Community Protection Coalition, and many other organizations with decades of community organizing experience in the Tampa Bay area to not only effectively and efficiently address the disaster of Irma, but also the ongoing disasters of social and economic inequality. Speaking of which, anti-refugee Floridians who crossed the border into other states to escape disaster: think about what this would be like if we weren’t allowed access to safety. That is a reality for many trying to flee war, natural disaster, and poverty. Borders are violent.

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In Jacksonville, law enforcement threatened civilian rescuers responding to flood affected areas with trespass charges if they didn’t disperse. Not only did law enforcement refuse to adequately do the needed search and rescue work, they physically stopped civil society from doing it. The state has taught us once again its irrelevancy. Distribution of wealth too need not come from an authoritarian state. Instead, we can raise a flag of mutual aid and solidarity, do the work of love – of revolution, and defy the forces that would bring us these catastrophes. And in so doing, inspire and facilitate a more just distribution of wealth from below. At least for this moment in time, this is happening in Tampa. There is a crack in their wall. And in times like these we can see glimpses to the other side of that wall. We see the end of history there, and the end of its hierarchical power. We see people living outside of time, quitting their jobs to work for something real, recognizing that young migrant farmworker children have been without access to air conditioners or fans for almost a week, is sweating, severely dehydrated and sick under the burning south-west Florida sun. And all the FEMA’s and all the Red Cross’s continue to do what they do with nearly unlimited financial means, and walk past or maybe hand a Styrofoam tray of food. Not so with us. With tears in our eyes, we empty the shelves of every nearby Walgreens, CVS, and Walmart of their Pedialyte and drive 200 miles to those children.

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There are alternatives, and there are real solutions. Those solutions come from below. They come from the power of the people, which is incredibly vast, if only we have the vision and the courage to recognize it. We need radical responses to natural and unnatural disasters. We need communities that are eager to build power, eager to adapt, and eager to serve those who are neglected by a system which empowers only those who already have the most power. We saw, in post-Katrina New Orleans, the power that We The People have when we work together. We saw the efforts of ordinary people, organized, dedicated, and listening compassionately, able to rescue schools and entire neighborhoods from the gentrifying bulldozers. And we see that same power in Tampa today.

We see multi-racial and intersectional groups in city after city rise to challenge the legitimacy of city and state government, FEMA, and the Red Cross. In disasters or other chaotic scenarios we can often make great strides in short time by filling vacancies left by “power vacuums” (when the government and other established authorities temporarily disappear). In more stable times, we can still steadily gain power by organizing, struggling, fighting, utilizing our strengths (moral, relational, artistic); by acting strategically, creatively, bravely, diversely; and by never giving up.

Mutual Aid Disaster Relief is helping the most vulnerable communities to transform their hardships, by solidarity and struggle, into movement toward such alternatives. Because in today’s world, responding to a “natural” disaster must be about more than merely providing food and water and shelter. It must be about Justice. It must be about Dignity. And it must be about Power – challenging those who have it, sharing a little bit with those who do not, and thereby aiding communities in building power of their own. Mutual Aid Disaster Relief recognizes that only people power can adequately respond to all kinds of disasters, from hurricanes to hate rallies, from mudslides to mine waste spills.

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That is what “Solidarity Not Charity” means – the inspiring vision of a shared destiny of justice and dignity, the power of direct action building a new world within the shell of the old, the realization of alternatives to this neoliberal hell. “Solidarity Not Charity” means learning, teaching, growing, struggling, advancing, and opening our eyes and hearts through this experience of radical love and compassion; it is an opportunity for transformative change for individuals and communities. “Solidarity Not Charity” is a real solution, a space of possibility, in which our instincts toward cooperation and community flourish as we build a sustainable future together.

We have learned from those who have come before us.

“Everything for everybody. Nothing for ourselves.”

P.S. You can find recent articles and podcasts of our movement(s) here:

Solidarity After the Storms

Antifa and Leftists organize mutual aid and rescue networks in Houston

Crimethinc Podcast on Autonomous Hurricane Irma Relief

Mutual Aid: There’s no way around it; we’re all in this together

Leftists to the Rescue: Where the State and Big NGOs Fail, Mutual Aid Networks Step In

More articles, books, and other material on decentralized, liberatory mutual aid and solidarity based disaster relief can be found here: https://mutualaiddisasterrelief.org/media/

P.S.S. You can also keep our work going by donating here or purchasing something from our Florida Amazon WishlistTexas Amazon Wishlist, or Louisiana Amazon Wishlist.

Additionally, you can now donate directly to farmworkers in Immokalee.

Love and solidarity.
Yesterday, today, and always.


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About the author:
Mutual Aid Disaster Relief
Mutual Aid Disaster Relief is a grassroots disaster relief network based on the principles of solidarity, mutual aid, and autonomous direct action. MADR envisions strong, vibrant, resilient, connected, and empowered individuals and communities as part of an awakened civil society that will restore hope following crisis, and turn the tide against disaster capitalism and climate chaos, in favor of a more peaceful, just, and sustainable world.