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Sep 10, 19

A Discussion on Autonomous Responses to Hurricane Dorian

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In the past week, Hurricane Dorian has devastated the Bahamas, leaving close to 20% of the population homeless and lashed the Eastern Seaboard. Compounding the disaster is Trump’s racist attacks on refugees combined with the fact that many in the Southeast and in Puerto Rico are still recovering from previous hurricanes.

In the face of Dorian, Mutual Aid Disaster Relief and wider anarchist and autonomist networks have mobilized a web of autonomous hubs and supply chains, which are funneling medical supplies, food, and toiletries into impacted regions, including the Bahamas.

Wanting to know more, we recently spoke with several people participating in autonomous disaster relief efforts (note, this interview is edited, and includes the voices of multiple individuals) about how the network of autonomous hubs and supply chains are functioning and how they might be utilized in other struggles and situations.

IGD: What was the idea behind building a network of hubs and supply chains?

We reflected on past experiences responding to disasters and realized that we helped foster community and contributed to people’s survival and self determination in impacted areas. And this, for good reason, has been our focus.

“The level of coordination is the best I’ve seen yet.”

Meanwhile, supply drives in other communities took place, but were sometimes haphazard or invisible and not cultivated as much as they could have been. This is an effort to be more intentional about strengthening bonds across the regional networks and encouraging people to self-organize around collecting needed supplies in their own locales, even if their community is removed from the zone of impact.

“This is an effort to be more intentional about strengthening bonds across the regional networks, and encouraging people to self-organize…”

In addition to making a direct impact on affected communities, this approach fosters community and contributes to people’s self-determination and survival in impacted and non-impacted communities. Only in rolling up our sleeves and engaging in action, do we learn the logistics, grow the skills, and make the connections that can sometimes be necessary to feel confident diving in to autonomous disaster response. The Southeast learned a lot about networking hubs during hurricane Florence. There was also a regional conference this year for Mutual Aid Disaster Relief so people were quick and ready to respond faster to hurricane Dorian. A key piece of this is engaging non-affected communities in supply gathering and bringing people aid to help with rebuilding, (both of which we still need help with wink, wink).

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IGD: How does this model differ from previous years of autonomous disaster relief efforts?

I wouldn’t say this model is new. Humans have always self-organized in their own communities to aid neighboring regions in times of need. All the while knowing they would do the same, were the tables turned.

In a lot of ways, the Dorian Response Autonomous Supply Line (DRASL) model is not dissimilar from what we were building last year during our response to Hurricane Florence, and previously during other storms. Our work has also been informed from what we have learned from supporting communities in crisis such as at Standing Rock, and during the Ferguson and Baltimore Uprisings. To me personally, this is much the same work with a different flavor. In all these situations people are facing threats to their very lives, State violence, and there are open calls for support. As anarchists we should step up, plug in, and do work to aid others in the struggle.

“The difference is the level of preparatory labor from dispersed non-affected locales, and an increased effort in intentional coordination across teams…”

The difference is the level of preparatory labor from dispersed non-affected locales, and an increased effort in intentional coordination across teams spread out over the Eastern Seaboard, Appalachia, and Gulf Coast. We had several supply collection hubs operational before the storm even hit, and several more by the time it was working it’s way up the East Coast. On top of this, because of past experiences working together we were able to come together quickly, make a plan that agreed with each of our local organizing efforts, and implement it. The level of coordination is the best I’ve seen yet.

IGD: What are some experiences with running these hubs?

Organizing in this way has already made our solidarity efforts more effective. One example of this is how we connected with Bahamians in the diaspora while organizing remote supply hubs. Because of these new friendships were able to get needed supplies directly to impacted individuals in a matter of hours instead of waiting days or weeks navigating queues and hoops that shift supplies from warehouse to warehouse. Remembering the rule of slow is smooth and smooth is fast is crucial when connecting hubs as this work realistically takes months to years. It can be easy to panic in the first days of a disaster and having a coordinated effort helps relieve that anxiety and prepare for a long haul.

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IGD: How are these supply lines coordinated? Is this better than a super decentralized system of hoping that people either donate or bring supplies to one set location? What do we gain by having more hubs?

It’s decentralized, but coordinated. So we are moving autonomously, but together. Each supply collection hub organizes itself and pitches in on the logistics of the whole, like spokes on a wheel. This gives more people opportunities to plug in, skill up, gain valuable logistics experience, and strengthen community ties, even if they can’t take off work or other responsibilities to be on the ground 24/7. We certainly gain more supplies by having more hubs because each community is unique and knows how best to reach their folks and what they might have in supply or skill that another hub does not. Adding more to a supply line means more robust and diverse solidarity.

IGD: As of now, what are some of the areas hardest hit by Dorian?

In the Bahamas whole communities have been decimated in the Northern Bahamas islands of Grand Bahama and Abaco including The Mudd and Pigeon Peas, what were the homes of Haitian migrants.

“…The devastation is very severe. Its been described as apocalyptic.”

The Outer Banks along the coast of Eastern North Carolina were also hit, including the towns of Ocracoke and Hatteras and the surrounding islands. Even though Hurricane Dorian was downgraded to a category 1 storm by that time, it still caused flooding, power outages, trauma, and other impacts that will take a long time to recover from.

IGD: What is the current situation in the Bahamas? How bad is it?

A category 5 hurricane slammed into the Northern Bahamas and for almost an entire day stalled completely in place so the devastation is very severe. Its been described as apocalyptic.

Tens of thousands of people have been made homeless, many with nothing but the clothes on their backs. In addition to the hurricane, people now have to navigate other disasters as well: global apartheid’s limits on migration, the nonprofit “help” that often sees the need to guard donated supplies instead of distribute them.

“To build response mechanisms but also resiliency. To expand the realm of anarchist activity. A decentralized regional network supplied with autonomous supply chains and hubs could be similarly utilized…”

There are many missing loved ones and the death toll is slowly but steadily rising. But also, in the midst of this tragedy, people in the Bahamas and Bahamians in the diaspora are calling up the best within themselves and being there for each other when it matters most.

IGD: What material support have people engaged in, in regards to the Bahamas?

We have been funneling flashlights, n95 respirators, solar cell phone chargers, toilet paper, and other supplies to both Bahamas-based organizations and to trusted comrades from the Bahamas.

We have had some, but limited due to various constraints, contact with folks doing water rescue, etc. This is very difficult terrain comparatively because many of the ways onto the islands are severely destroyed and the hurricane’s “stall” created a scenario (and caused more destruction) with major time constraints as people were waiting out the stall and then waiting out the storm slowly crawling through the Southeast.

IGD: As the storm passes, what will the work look like? What kinds of things will people be doing?

Everything is always in flux post-disaster. And part of the strength of a solidarity-based model is that we are very fluid and can adapt quickly to whatever arises. Hopefully, we will find and be better connected to more justice-focused, local to the Bahamas mutual aid efforts (something akin to the Centros de Apoyo Mutuo in Puerto Rico) that we can both support and direct others to support.

We often assist with supplies distribution, do wellness checks on people, set up wellness centers, and assist with cleanup and rebuilding. And in general, respond without bureaucracy to whatever the self-determined needs of survivors are post-disaster. Also, in Eastern North Carolina, there are still families that have their homes destroyed from Hurricane Florence or even Hurricane Matthew – disasters from years passed. Rebuilding often takes years.

“…Solidarity has no expiration date. We aim to build meaningful relationships that last the test of time.”

Another strength of Mutual Aid Disaster Relief, is that we are constantly organizing on this subject and meeting needs of disaster survivors long after the dust settles and the mainstream media has moved on to other things. We, of course run up to capacity limits at times. We cannot be everywhere every time, but solidarity has no expiration date. We aim to build meaningful relationships that last the test of time.

IGD: Now that this model of supply chains and hubs has been implemented, what are people’s thoughts on it?

It’s impressively flexible but also gets things done in a timely manner which is very important in the constant flux of disaster. It’s been able to sustain supplies for months in several communities following hurricane Florence, namely in Lumberton, North Carolina, due to mutual aid supply chains.

IGD: Could this model be utilized for other things, other than disaster relief?

This model can absolutely be utilized for other things. The same connections, skills, and knowledge gained from doing this can be put to use to keep a pipeline blockade supplied, antifascist response, or meeting the needs of people experiencing the disaster of capitalism in our own communities.

“The same connections, skills, and knowledge gained from doing this can…absolutely be utilized for other things.”

Some folks in the Mutual Aid Disaster Relief network have been talking about building Mutual Aid Centers in our own communities. The idea being to do mutual aid work in the face of both the daily crisis of capitalism and the ongoing disasters. To build response mechanisms but also resiliency. To expand the realm of anarchist activity. A decentralized regional network supplied with autonomous supply chains and hubs could be similarly utilized, and the more Mutual Aid Centers doing this work the stronger and better off we would all be.

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