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S1E32 – Jimmy on Mutual Aid Disaster Relief

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Episode Notes

Summary

You can find more information about Mutual Aid Disaster Relief, including the zines and resources Jimmy mentioned, a list of mutual aid networks, and social media pages, at https://mutualaiddisasterrelief.org/.

The host Margaret Killjoy can be found on twitter @magpiekilljoy or instagram at @margaretkilljoy. You can support her and this show on Patreon at patreon.com/margaretkilljoy.

Transcript

Margaret
Hello, and welcome to Live Like the World is Dying, your podcast for what feels like the End Times. I’m your host, Margaret Killjoy, and on this episode I’ll be talking to Jimmy from Mutual Aid Disaster Relief. And we’re going to be talking about what is involved in setting up and maintaining a mutual aid network and also what disaster relief looks like. Because, obviously, that’s something that’s on people’s minds for some strange reason. And this podcast is a proud member of the Channel Zero Network of anarchist podcasts. And here’s a jingle from another show on the network. Da duuuuh!

Jingle
What’s up y’all? I’m Pearson, host of Coffee with Comrades. Coffee with Comrades is rooted in militant joy. Our hope is to cultivate a warm and inviting atmosphere, like walking into your favorite coffee shop to sit down with some of your close friends and share a heart to heart conversation. New episode premier every Tuesday, so be sure to smash that subscribe button wherever you get your podcasts so that you never miss an episode. We are proud to be a part of the Channel Zero Network.

Margaret
Okay, so if you could introduce yourself with your name, which I guess I already said, and your pronouns and I guess your affiliations as relate to disaster relief.

Jimmy
Yeah, my name is Jimmy. I’m with Mutual Aid Disaster Relief, any pronouns are fine. Um, and yeah, I’ve been part of Mutual Aid Disaster Relief since, you know, about five years ago. Um, and Mutual Aid Disaster Relief is a people-powered disaster relief network based on the principles of solidarity, mutual aid, and autonomous direct action. And we work with communities especially, you know, the most marginalized, to assist folks in leading their own recoveries. And this network is a permanent network from below to respond to disasters, building off of the history and the legacy of Common Ground in New Orleans after Katrina, Occupy Sandy in New York after Superstorm Sandy, and other solidarity-based mobilizations. And we, we seek to provide some level of continuity for the larger movement of which we’re only a small part. And then also, um, you know, continue to build off of the lessons learned so that we can, um, you know, build off the successes and avoid the mistakes of previous iterations of doing this type of organizing.

Margaret
Okay, could you give some examples of situations that you all respond to?

Jimmy
Sure. Yeah. So, you know, this last year we’ve been responding to COVID. You know, before that, um, you know, a lot of hurricanes, floods, tornadoes, fires, things like that. And we also, to a smaller extent, respond to what we call invisible disasters. So, you know, even though, you know, for example, on the Pine Ridge Reservation, it’s not a hurricane that knocked out power or made it so people don’t have heat to run their homes, it’s the legacy of colonialism, you know. So, um, you know, we’ve tried to respond to disasters like those as well as the very visible climate-related disasters of hurricanes and fires and floods and things like that.

Margaret
Okay, so y’all are nationwide then?

Jimmy
Yes, we are.

Margaret
Cool. Um, I guess, so, I want to ask—one of the things that comes up a lot when people talk about, well, mutual aid networks, especially ones that are, say, nationwide rather than, like, specifically rooted in the communities where the disaster is happening, what does that look like for you all—like, are you outsiders coming in? Are you invited in? How do you all navigate that kind of tension?

Jimmy
Um, so yes, we, you know, we are—we’re national, but we’re also local. You know, so all of us are from local communities and involved in local mutual aid projects and movements, you know, for justice and liberation in our own local communities. You know, so Mutual Aid Disaster Relief, rather than trying to supplant or replace local spontaneous manifestations of mutual aid, whether organized through a local mutual aid group or just, you know, the people impacted, you know, assisting each other, we try to amplify that and support that and provide, you know, this ongoing organizing and backup for those, you know, for those mutual aid efforts. So this can look like, um, you know, um, uh, you know, like getting bulk supply donations, or help with clean up, solar infrastructure or water infrastructure. Um, you know, wellness, you know, either wellness checks or setting up Wellness Centers after disasters. We try to be really flexible and adaptive to whatever the self-determined needs of the impacted people are. We borrow the Zapatista principle of leading by obeying, you know, so, you know, both to, you know—we listen to impacted people directly, and respond to their self-determined needs, and we listen to, you know, local mutual aid groups or local solidarity base, you know, justice-ro0ted efforts, and listen to them, you know, and go from there and respond to, you know, and assist however, we can. However, we can leverage our ongoing organizing, and, you know, we have a number of different mutual aid survival programs, um, you know, so we have, you know, like, the Rebuilding a Better World which involves, like, debris cleanup, or, um, you know, cleaning up flooded homes, you know, that’s our—we, with our local partners on the ground in Michigan are doing that right now, with the floods up there. Um, you know, with COVID most recently a lot of our efforts—we have been responding to impacted people directly when we’re able to, when they reach out to us. But a lot of our focus with COVID has been supporting local mutual aid efforts. There’s been a beautiful outpouring of mutual aid globally with COVID-19. And so Mutual Aid Disaster Relief has, uh, you know, supported and amplified and backed up those local mutual aid efforts whenever possible and however, we’re able

Margaret
To take a step back, what is mutual aid? That’s just charity but done by young idealists, right?

Jimmy
No, charity is top down. Charity doesn’t question—it takes for granted the unjust power relationships in our society, and it at most provides a band aid. Whereas mutual aid or solidarity, it addresses the immediate survival needs of the people while simultaneously raising consciousness and advocating and being a part of these movements for long-term structural changes. So it both meets the survival needs of the people, and in that way, you know, um, you know, we get out of our silos and echo chambers and meet the people where they’re at, you know. And also it’s connected to a long-term vision for radical social change. And so mutual aid and solidarity, it’s about sharing resources, um, but it’s also about sharing power. You know, so people who are impacted by disasters, or—you know, whether it’s, you know, climate-related, or the disasters of capitalism and colonialism—they have more at stake in their own survival and wellbeing than well-intentioned paternalistic givers of charity. And what we’re all longing for, you know, when a crisis hits, is to be part of a communal recovery. And that’s part of our healing process, part of how we cope with crisis or with extreme events. And so, you know, just because somebody is impacted by a disaster doesn’t mean that they are passive consumers who are just like empty vessels to be filled with blankets or canned goods, you know. People, you know, have skills, have networks, have, you know, a lot to offer. And so one thing about mutual aid is that it’s reciprocal. There’s no this for that, there’s no requirement, but it’s, you know, we’re giving what we can and receiving what we need. And all of us are, you know, whether it’s, you know, people who are supporting, you know, or people who are impacted. And also those two, you know, are not mutually exclusive, they’re usually overlapping. You know, so, um, you know, like, one thing that I’ll often do is drive around a box truck with, you know, pick up supplies and drop them off in neighborhoods that are impacted. And so, you know, I’ll be, you know, going all day, you know, passing out water, food, cleaning supplies, whatever I can get my hands on. But then also, you know, the local community, you know, they’ll see that I’m, you know, in go mode, and they’ll, you know, come out with an ice cold water, you know, which, you know, after a power outage and nobody has a fridge, it’s like gold, you know, and, you know, and so, you know, that kind of mutuality, is, you know, really a key part of mutual aid. And also, there’s also a component that I didn’t learn until looking into other people’s language and experiences around mutual aid and solidarity, is that, you know, with charity there’s this emotional distance. There’s, you know, like, oftentimes, you know, it’s like a traditional, you know, client/service provider relationship, you know, and with mutual aid that is overturned. That, you know, there’s an authentic relationship, there’s authentic friendships, you know, that—you know, we’re not isolated from each other and we get to know each other, we get—we become friends, we become, you know, close to each other. And when we understand, you know, that, you know, predatory landlords are, you know, evicting our friends, you know, we, you know, we join with them and resist, you know, and, you know, mutual aid is also about relationships. And so, um, you know, it’s—and relationships are where power is. You know, oftentimes people think in terms—with regards to disasters—in terms of, you know, stockpiling or hoarding, you know, that’s the popular imagination around disasters. But in reality, what almost unequivocably happens in almost every location after disasters, people come out of their houses, sometimes meet each other for the first time, and spontaneously come together to meet each other’s needs. And oftentimes building off of the relationships that already existed before the storm—or before the disaster. And so, you know, one thing that we talked about a lot in our popular education trainings is that community organizing is the best form of disaster preparedness, and disaster relief is just another form of community organizing.

Margaret
You know, one of the things that we talk about a lot on this show is that even if sometimes I can get focused on like, you know, here’s gear, or here’s skills to learn, or whatever, is that people are the best resources and relationships are, like, not only one of the most important things to stockpile or whatever, but more than that just like being around people is actually really good in times of crisis and, like, which is the opposite of the right wing prepper mindset, you know. And, with the solidarity and mutual aid stuff, one of the things that—I’ve been trying to think about things more and more in terms of—so a lot of communities are extracted from, right? In the same way that a colony is extracted from, resources are extracted from it and brought to another place. A lot of communities are extracted from on a regular basis and therefore, like, need help, right? And charity is this way of like bolstering the extractive process. It’s like this way of, like, watering the plants that you plan on harvesting, you know, it’s a way of making sure that the extractive process can continue. And the way that I’ve been more recently thinking about mutual aid is this, ideally, a method of beginning to like reverse the extractive process instead of buffering it up. I don’t know.

Jimmy
Absolutely, no, at its root mutual aid is radical care, you know, it is loving each other. And in a patriarchal capitalist colonial white supremacist and other, you know, innumerable forms of domination and oppression, to love each other, to love ourselves and to, um, you know, take care of each other is a radical act.

Margaret
Yeah. Could you talk about—I really like hearing, like, more, like, specific examples like what either, you know, like specific examples of disasters that you all responded to and how that worked, or just specific examples of when you felt like you knew that you were doing mutual aid instead of charity, like, not just like necessarily, like, gratitude of people, but in terms of what it looks like to have a mutual aid organization, if you could give more specific example.

Jimmy
Yeah, um, so one thing that I want to highlight, you know, just to begin with, is you don’t have to have it all figured out all in the beginning. You know, so, um, you know, there’s a story that Rebecca Solnit talks about in A Paradise Built in Hell, her book, that, you know, after the San Francisco earthquake, people started a community kitchen with one can and one spoon, you know, and then it just grew from there. Similar to that, you know, we, um, you know, sometimes it can feel impossible to start a hospital or a whole Wellness Center. But if we just set up a first aid station, and then have people rolling in and out, and then somebody says, “Oh, yeah, I’m a massage therapist.” “Oh, yeah, I’m an acupuncturist.” “Oh, yeah, I’m a nurse.” “I’m a medic.” You know, then it snowballs and takes on a life of its own. Same with, you know, like, maybe the idea of a whole warehouse of supply distribution seems far off, but if we start with a community fridge, or community pantry, just, you know, taking what’s in our cupboards and sharing them with our neighbors and then giving, you know, making sure people have the awareness that they can put in too, that they can share as well, you know, that can easily you know, blossom and grow into something a lot larger. You know, Hurricane Irma and Maria hit Puerto Rico, pretty bad. And, um, you know, there was this colonial occupation that—I mean, Puerto Rico’s been occupied for, you know, a long time—but it was ramped up, you know, after Hurricane Maria. And there was a beautiful explosion of mutual aid organizing throughout the island. There’s [inaudible] that are still active that, you know, they took over a governmental buildings that were part of the Oversight Board, the Promesa. Former schools, former government buildings, and they turn them into mutual aid community centers. And out of these centers they have acupuncture, they have computer access for the kids, they have food kitchens, and one thing that we have assisted with for the last couple of years is the solar and water infrastructure. So especially solar, we’ve been able to access, you know, solar panels, and then, you know, the inverters, charge controllers, battery backup, and help install solar infrastructure at these mutual aid centers to bring them, you know, with, you know, our partners down there, to help with autonomous infrastructure and sustainability. And so one thing that we did in the beginning, um, you know, soon after Maria hit, you know, we were in Florida, we had already had active mobilization for Hurricane Irma in Florida, and so many people who were involved in that mobilization, you know, some of them had family ties and friend ties down to Puerto Rico. And so a delegation went down there. And one thing that we noticed real quick was, you know, our teams down there, was supplies were sitting in FEMA warehouses and not getting out to the people. So one thing that our folks did was they rolled up to the FEMA warehouse and said they’re here for the 8am pickup. And the person that the the windows said, oh, we don’t see you on the list. And they just insisted, we’re here for the 8am pickup. And eventually they were allowed in, they flashed their Mutual Aid Disaster Relief IDs, and they were allowed in and were able to pick up a box truck and carloads full of supplies, and then get that out to the people. And then also, you know, before they had—before they left the island, we made Mutual Aid Disaster Relief badges for local community organizers so they could continue that supply hook up and, you know, continue to try to, you know, liberate those supplies, you know, from sitting in warehouses, to get to the people where they’re actually supposed to go. That’s one example of how, you know, through our ongoing organizing and just being willing to take risks, we can leverage, um, you know, our access to resources or status as Mutual Aid Disaster Relief, to support survival of the people, but also the local mutual aid organizing of the people as well.

Margaret
Okay, and welcome back, which you all won’t even notice as a cut. But we lost connection for a moment. And it’s funny, because one of the reasons that I don’t know how the sound quality is going to be for the listeners, we have a good audio engineer, but I’m no longer—I recorded most of these at home. But now that the trees, now that the leaves are really coming in it blocks my antenna on the top of my house that boosts my cell phone signal enough to do a hotspot enough to do interviews. So now instead I have to go into town near a noisy office and road. So I just think it’s ironic. There have been a couple interviews that I haven’t been able to do because of my internet at home getting suddenly so much worse. But anyway, so that’s why there’s a strange break in the conversation. Do you want to talk about the history of mutual aid, whether the history of it like using that word, or the history of it as like a concept, and/or where ya’lls specific lineage comes in. I suppose those are three different questions, but if one of those appeals to you.

Jimmy
So mutual aid is—there’s, um, I think—called Kropotkin who wrote a book called Mutual Aid. And it was kind of written in opposition to the Darwinian theory of, you know, like, survival of the fittest, that was misused by people. So what Kropotkin did was articulate and give voice to an organizing principle of life. Um, you know, like, what Kropotkin saw with plants and animals, with, you know, like indigenous societies, was that how people survived and thrived was not through competition, it was through cooperation. As far as Mutual Aid Disaster Relief. Um, you know, I personally, and other people who are also involved and helped found Mutual Aid Disaster Relief, were part of the organizing in New Orleans after Katrina, when Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans and surrounding areas. And there was a call from Malik Rahim, a former Black Panther, in the neighborhood of Algiers. There were white vigilantes that were roaming the streets shooting and killing unarmed black men. And Malik Rahim had a history of organizing in that community, you know, through the Black Panther Party, and then later through other, you know, movements for peace and justice and environmental justice. And, you know, so at this time it was, um, you know, there were these white vigilantes and also, you know, people stranded out the Superdome. People were trying to cross the bridge to safety and dry land from the east bank to the west bank and they were stopped by Gretna police to turn them back with rifles. And in this context, Malik sent out a call—Malik, you know, and Scott Crowe and others—you know, sent out a call for solidarity and support. Many of us who were involved in movements like Food Not Bombs, or street medics at global justice demonstrations, or indie media, radical independent movement-based media, um, you know, we had some experience with setting up community kitchens, we had some experience with, you know, doing medic work at demonstrations or setting up media centers, you know, for these, you know, big mobilizations against global capital. And many of us responded to that call. There was a blending of the wisdom and legacy of the Black Panther Party, you know, through Malik Rahim and the survival programs. You know, there’s the most famous of their programs was the free breakfast program, but they had numerous survival programs. They were doing pest control—community-wide pest control—they were doing a free ambulance program. They did sickle cell anemia testing and education. You know, across the board they were meeting the survival needs of the people, and that’s actually what made them the biggest threat to the FBI and to colonialism. They did have an armed component, but what was really the threat was that they were mobilizing the people in a mass way. And Malik Rahim continued that legacy and and then that was translated and melded with the legacy of the global justice movement, you know, where, you know, we were active with, whether it’s Food Not Bombs or street medic organizing, and, um, you know, that coalesced in New Orleans after Katrina with, you know, a lot of vibrant mutual aid efforts, and it gave our movements some cohesion. You know, so even people as ideologically far apart as say, like, Michael Moore, the documentarian, or the writers of The Coming Insurrection, they could see what was happening in New Orleans after Katrina and be like, that’s actually what we’re for. That’s what we’re about. That’s what the world that we’re trying to build. And, you know, there were, you know, there was a at least one agent provocateur FBI informant who used his position of power to undermine the organization and take advantage of women. You know, there’s a lot of conflicting feelings for many of us who were involved in that in that effort. And we saw again after Superstorm Sandy, you know, where Occupy Wall Street transitioned to disaster response. And again, this solidarity-based network model outperformed the top-down charity model.

Margaret
Can you explain that? Like, in what ways does Mutual Aid Disaster Relief do better than than top-down intervention?

Jimmy
So Naomi Klein talks about this term disaster capitalism. Disaster, capitalism refers to this idea of how the powerful will use shocks or disasters or crises to reinforce their privilege and power. They put in transformations to the economy or society that reinforce their privilege status. And in parallel to this, there’s disaster colonialism. So after a disaster, there’s a lot of guns that show up. And, you know, there’s, you know, authorities, you know, with guns, the army, the National Guard, Blackwater, you know, similar mercenary type groups, and their general response is not, how can we help the people survive? Their general response is, how do we maintain order and keep people in their place? The nonprofits, the top-down nonprofit industrial complex, goes hand in hand with that militarized authoritarian response. The nonprofit’s, they undermine local spontaneous manifestations of mutual aid and make it into this thing that is not reciprocal, that is not participatory, that is not power sharing, where people just wait in line and receive a few items and then, you know, are, you know, go back to being oppressed by their landlords or, you know, the, you know, police or the, you know, the state authorities.

Margaret
But what would you say to someone who, like, isn’t ideologically committed to mutual aid and is looking for the most efficient response to disaster. Like, regardless of the—I mean, I believe ideologically in mutual aid, but I think that it’s worth pointing out the ways in which the the actual just like straight up efficiency of decentralized movements can be so much greater and I was wondering if you can talk on that part of it.

Jimmy
Yes, absolutely. Um, a story I heard about with Occupy Sandy, that, um, you know, there were some people involved with FEMA that, you know, they got—they heard about this elder And they didn’t have heat, they, you know it was getting cold and um, you know, these people, you know, in the FEMA organization had their hands tied because it’s, there’s so much bureaucracy, so much red tape, so much hoops to jump through. Even though they wanted to help this person, they could not do anything because the top-down nature of it is not participatory, is not liberating for those impacted or those, you know, involved in the relief efforts. So what they did, these people involved with FEMA, was they reached out to people with Occupy Sandy and people with Occupy Sandy weatherize the house, got them—got the elder situated and, you know, what they needed to survive. And then also, after that mobilization, the Department of Homeland Security issued out a report highlighting how movements like Occupy Sandy that are decentralized, that are people powered, network based, solidarity based, are actually more effective than their command and control top-down model. And these are the same people who regularly infiltrate our movements and undermine almost everything we try to do through infiltration, through agent provocateurs, you know, and even they, you know, have owned up to the fact that their top-down model is not as effective as our mutual aid model.

Margaret
Yeah, there’s a—it’s been going around Twitter lately—a leaked or, you know, declassified document about how to infiltrate leftist organizations and, you know, the behaviors that make leftist organizations less effective. And one of them is like, basically, like, put everything to committee. And like, basically try to stop autonomy within the organizations, try to stop people from acting on the organizations without, like, putting everything to the larger organization and everything to little subcommittees and shit like that. And I thought that was really interesting, not that the people who do that thing are inherently, you know, agent provocateurs, or whatever. But we always have this conception of infiltrators as these people who are, like, go there to like break things or instigate or escalate, right? And that does happen. But it really was telling to me that the main way they know how to fuck us up is to go in and get us stuck in endless meetings and get people to not just do things. And the thing that is our strength as people who practice direct action and people practice mutual aid is our capacity to just do things and then coordinate about the things we’re doing rather than centrally plan all of the things that we’re trying to do.

Jimmy
And that is the organizing principle of Mutual Aid Disaster Relief is almost everything is done through affinity groups, through working groups, rather than through centralized planning or organizing. We have, you know, regular, you know, signal threads and conference calls and things like that. But it’s mostly to provide updates with each other, um, rather than to do the nuts and bolts organizing. We, similar to the Zapatista principle of leading by obeying, there’s this idea of subsidiarity, which means you devolve decision making to the localest scale possible. And so, with our organizing, we encourage everybody to be involved in, you know, affinity groups and local collectives and local mutual aid groups, and then partner with Mutual Aid Disaster relief. And, you know, oftentimes, you know, like, if your local affinity group or your local mutual aid group is unable to cover something after a disaster, maybe Mutual Aid Disaster Relief could, or vice versa. You know, there’s some things that a local collective or affinity group or mutual aid group could do that Mutual Aid Disaster Relief couldn’t. you know. And so, we kind of work in tandem and hand in hand, you know, and we combine both collective decision making and checking in with each other with respect for autonomy and direct action and self determination.

Margaret
I mean, it sounds good. And I’ve seen some of the work that folks associated with you all have done in eastern North Carolina and have always been impressed by, yeah, the non top-down structure organizing, but still the ability to get a lot of stuff done. To go back, there was like thoughts I was thinking about—I was like taking notes as you’re talking about mutual aid and, you know, I remember reading this article in a science magazine in probably like, 2008 or something like that about mutual aid and gay birds. And it was—there had been this like thing that—I actually, as far as I understand, Darwin would not have appreciated social Darwinism, or maybe even didn’t appreciate social Darwinism, like, the like, survival of the fittest thing, like, wasn’t even the Darwinian concept of evolution. But then Kropotkin was, you know, most famously an anarchist. But well, at the time, he was also very famously, I believe, a naturalist and a scientist. And, you know, all of his work was around saying, like, oh, no, animals just take care of each other. Not always, right, there’s like, you know, I mean, obviously, animals eat each other and shit too and like, there are animals that fuck up each other’s like chances of reproduction or whatever. But people would sit there and they’d be like, why gay birds? Like, why are animals gay? And, I mean, I think, me as an animal know I am gay. But, you know, this is the kind of thing that rightwing thinkers will bring up all the time, right? And like Alex Jones, like, always freaks out about the gay frogs or whatever. And this article basically points out that it was like, well, the gay birds like do an incredible amount of service for the larger community of the animals and therefore, like, continue to propagate the species as a whole, even if they don’t individually reproduce. And it was basically this realization that science was finally catching up—and maybe it had—pop science, at least, was finally catching up to the fact that Kropotkin was right about evolution and the, like, mutual aid theory of evolution is, like, as far as I understand it, predominantly the theory within evolution at the moment, and that it’s not this, like, you know, war of one against all that people present. But—sorry, this is a rant I’ve been thinking about for a while. I do appreciate that it’s like, mutual aid wasn’t invented by kropotkin, right. And like, Kropotkin didn’t think mutual aid was invented by Kropotkin. He was observing it, and he was observing it in, you know, the animal kingdom, plant kingdom, and also in the human, like, all, you know, different human societies all over the world have been practicing mutual aid largely before, essentially, like, various forms of colonization including, like, the internal colonization of Europe and things like that.

Jimmy
Mutual Aid predates anarchism. And it also is not a European ideology. It’s how life survives and thrives. And it’s something that, you know, mutual—Kropotkin noticed and gave voice to, you know, in his book. But also, you know, like, um, there’s also a vibrant indigenous mutual aid network that has been growing, you know, over the last year plus. And I feel like their approach to mutual aid and solidarity organizing is also somewhat an antidote to the Eurocentric or ideological-based, you know, European-centric, you know, mutual aid organizing, you know, more broadly, that all of us, you know, involved and devoted to mutual aid and a better world, you know, should be engaging with and learning from and communicating with. Because, you know, indigenous people on this continent, Turtle Island, have centuries of experience surviving catastrophes and living through apocalypses. And there’s a lot of wisdom there that those of us, you know, in the cities or, you know, involved in, you know, mutual aid that doesn’t have that focus, you know, there’s a lot that we can learn from, you know, there’s a lot of interchange that can be, can be had there, that we can be attuned to.

Margaret
Yeah, and even anarchism as a concept. You know, one of the things that really interests me about this mutual aid revelation from Kropotkin’s point of view is that anarchism, as a concept, as a Western concept, was basically just Western people figuring out, like, rediscovering something that so much of the world already knows. And so it wasn’t like—anyone who presents like anarchism or these ideas as invented by the people who called themselves anarchists in France and Russia or whatever, right? It wasn’t an invention, it was a rediscovering and an applying of things. You talked at the beginning about lessons that you’ve learned. So I’m really interested in how you all are providing continuity across—hm, how to I want to say this? It’s like there’s been this huge explosion in mutual aid groups in the past year since COVID started, right. And that’s actually the most hopeful thing about the whole fucking crisis, from my point of view. And, you know, it’s like the only thing at the beginning of it all that was giving me hope, was watching this mainstreaming of mutual aid. And obviously, with mainstream comes a lot of danger and a lot of people calling things mutual aid that might not be mutual aid. But on the other hand, that also seems to me the only hope because, I mean, I believe in a society that the economic system is essentially mutual aid rather than, you know, anything else. But you—I—one of the reasons I wanted to talk to you all is because you all predate this current explosion of mutual aid. And I was wondering if you could talk about what that explosion means, and like lessons that you’re able to bring to people who are coming in this, like, newer group of mutual aid organizers, but also things that you’ve learned from the newer people who might be coming from a less ideological position, or just are younger,

Jimmy
We’re totally inspired. And we’ve been, you know, sowing the seeds, you know, of mutual aid and watering them these past several years. And we all—we would always talk about how, you know, like, if we have a hope for survival, it’s not gonna come from the state, it’s not going to come from the nonprofit industrial complex, it’s going to come from each other and these relationships of support, you know, that are horizontal, and participatory and, you know, from below. And I think still, though, even though we were already responding to disasters, and, you know, there’s still an element of, you know, like, that, you know, we’re talking about the future survival of humanity, you know, with this explosion of mutual aid with regards to the COVID, there’s been over 600,000 people killed just in the United States alone, you know, from COVID. And, um, you know, there’s evictions looming, mass evictions looming right now, I feel like we’ve all lost loved ones or lost, you know, or have friends or have family who have lost loved ones, and for both the climate and, you know, the pandemic, the future is now, you know. There’s overlapping constant disaster, one crisis after another and, you know, these local mutual aid groups are, you know, they’re carving out laboratory spaces and coming up with new ideas about how to meet people’s needs, articulating their vision for social change. And it’s hard work. So there is, you know, some stumbling in the dark while we—while people figure it out. And that’s normal and that’s to be expected. You know, with Mutual Aid Disaster Relief, one thing that we’ve, you know, oftentimes—you know, previously with a hurricane, or a flood, or a fire or tornado, a lot of our efforts were in person, direct to people impacted, um, you know, face to face. You know, going to the neighborhood that was impacted and, you know, dropping off supplies, and then seeing what else they need, you know. And then, um, you know, with this explosion of local mutual aid groups it’s, um, you know, shifted things somewhat of how Mutual Aid Disaster Relief has responded in that we are still meeting people’s needs directly, you know, when needed or when we are able, but these local mutual aid groups are rooted in the community and they are able to respond in ways that, you know, sometimes a national network is not able to. You know, we’ve learned a lot, and one thing that we try to do to provide some level of continuity for this larger movement is be a clearinghouse of information and resources. So if people go on the website mutualaiddisasterrelief.org you can see a ton of resources, both about mutual aid in general, how to start a mutual aid network, what is mutual aid, you know, disaster response, and, you know, report backs from different mobilizations, different zines, news articles about the mutual aid responses for disasters. And so, you know, there’s 1000s of different resources on there, and some of them we created, but many of them, you know, others, you know, local mutual aid groups, partner organizations and networks created and we, you know, help share because we see that that wisdom is valuable and needs to get elevated and out there more. So we try to, you know, offer a library online about disaster response and mutual aid, you know, for the larger movement. On there, one resource specifically that we put out last summer is our Lessons Learned zine. And so people can visit that, there’s a dozen different lessons learned both, you know, like, ideas like moving at the speed of trust and at the speed of dreams. Um, you know, and also things to be aware of, you know, such as the savior complex or disaster patriarchy, and ways to, you know, maintain our principles and values while being responsive to the needs on the ground of those most impacted.

Margaret
Okay, let’s like take some of those. You know, the moving at the speed of trust and the speed of dreams, what is what does that mean?

Jimmy
Yeah, so the speed of trust, you know, refers to this idea of, we need to be building bonds with each other. One of the most revolutionary things that we can do is find each other and build meaningful relationships, you know, that are, um, you know, based on care, based on mutual respect and a shared vision and affinity for that better world we know is possible and are trying to build. Um, it’s hard to, you know, as a mutual aid network, whether local or national, to act if you don’t have a level of trust and a level of connection, and affinity and love for each other. That basis of trust, um, is the foundation, you know, that we can build off of. We encourage people, mutual aid groups, to, you know, if you don’t already have core values or guiding principles or foundation, like principles of unity, something like that, to take the time to come together and articulate that collectively. You know, there’s so much that is, you know, adaptable and, you know, flexible, you know, in disaster response, oftentimes we need, you know, some principles or some core values to go back to ground ourselves. And, you know, like that, for us in Mutual Aid Disaster Relief that was, you know, a key part of building that trust initially, um, you know, so that we are coming at it from—we know that we are coming at it with a shared vision of what we’re doing and where we’re going. And then also this idea of the speed of dreams, it comes from, you know, the Zapatistas. It’s this idea that when we put our hands and hearts and bodies in service of our dreams, they can manifest themselves exponentially. Far from being, you know, something that, you know, like, we plant seeds and then, you know, generations, they sprout and grow, we see the effects by moment to moment, you know, day to day and year to year when we are true to our principles and values and we, you know, are devoted to an ethic of solidarity and justice, it can be almost disconcerting, you know, how quickly our dreams can manifest into reality. It’s that, you know, snowball thing I was talking about earlier is, you know, we can start with just the tiniest bit of liberated space or mutual aid, you know, organizing, and then as we cultivate it, it’s amazing, you know, how quickly that can grow and blossom in 1000 different directions.

Margaret
Yeah, I mean, it’s interesting that—one of the reasons I’ve always loved direct action as an organizing principle—sorry about the siren in the background if you all can hear it. One of the things I’ve loved about direct action as an organizing principle is that it involves actually like starting to solve problems. Like, you know, thinking of these examples that you talk about, about like Occupy Sandy going and winterizing someone’s house. We often get so caught up, like, especially right now, when all of this bad shits happening, right? When we think, how do we stop climate change? And in some ways, how do we stop climate change is the wrong question because, while we need to stop climate change, it probably looks like solving specific problems along the way. It might be, how do we create a microclimate in this environment that is more resistant to the fires that are going to come? Right? Because we’re not going to actually stop climate change. You know, we can stop the worst of it. And so it reminds me of one of the problems that I see lock up a lot of people in general is any given thing that you have to do, it’s really hard to be like, well, I’m thinking about the entire problem and how do I solve the entire problem? So you just don’t do anything. You know, whenever people are like, well, how do you write a book? And like any writer who’s written books is like, I don’t know, you start writing a book, and then it’s shit so you go back and change things. And then the third time you write a book you, like, plan it out ahead of time better because you know what you’re doing. But it really just starts with doing it. You know, there’s the whole anarchist cliche that the secret is to begin. And that’s one thing I’ve always loved about mutual aid organizing is like, yeah, I don’t know how we—you know, people are always like, oh, what do you anarchist want or whatever. I’m like, look, I can’t tell you everything about the economic system of the society that I want to create. I don’t even think that would be a good idea. Because what I want to do is feed myself and feed the people around me who I care about, and then build up from there. And so that’s one thing I really like about the work that you all do is that focus on, you just start doing it. And it’s what, as you were saying, that’s what people do is they’re like, oh, shit bad’s happening, I guess we should do something, you know?

Jimmy
Absolutely. And our mutual aid organizing his movement infrastructure. So, you know, there’s this idea of dual power, to be simultaneously, you know, building up our own prefigurative resources and institutions and, you know, power from below, while also challenging, you know, the forces of oppression and occupation and colonialism and capitalism and contesting. You know, there’s an element of mutual aid organizing that is, you know, all of us are involved simultaneously in mutual aid organizing and the other movements that are contemporaneous for, you know, the movement for Black Lives, or for the Stop Line 3, or the Dakota Access Pipeline, you know, and so, you know, when we build power from below for mutual aid, we’re also building power from below to resist extensive resource extraction or, you know, attacks on indigenous sovereignty or on, you know, homeless sweeps. Mutual aid organizing is fertilizing, you know, the movement of ground beneath us to be stronger the next time, you know, we need to be out in the streets or be in front of the bulldozers at a pipeline camp.

Margaret
Yeah, and they all tie together, right? Because the only way that we can like really consistently save ourselves is by also stopping the machinery of destruction that is destroying the climate and destroying communities. Because it’s like, well, we can, we can provide tents, to people who are currently without houses, but we also need to, like, stop the people who are stealing their tents and stop the system that leaves them without housing in the first place.

Jimmy
Exactly. And, you know, one thing that we talked about in our popular education is audacity is our capacity. You know, so, you know, oftentimes we’re just limited by our imaginations, you know, we think something is not possible, so we don’t try it. You know, but as soon as we shake off that sense of powerlessness and act, then, you know, we’re filled with the sense of possibility and then, you know, things that were impossible, or we thought were impossible, are no more.

Margaret
I really liked that. And I think that might be a good note to end on. Besides, of course, the obvious joke about audacity as the primary thing that podcasters use that is suddenly spyware. So I’m avoiding making that joke. And you all should be very appreciative of this inside joke I’m not making that only—anyway. What—how can people find out more about your work or support you? Or are there other things like either final words, or, you know, plugging all this stuff that you all do and how people can support it?

Jimmy
Yeah, so people can go to mutualaiddisasterrelief.org to check out our website. We also have on there links to many other local mutual aid groups that you can also be involved in, we encourage people to do both—be involved in Mutual Aid Disaster Relief, and be involved in other locally-rooted mutual aid projects and organizations in general. We have a Facebook page, we have a Twitter, we have Instagram, Mutual Aid Disaster Relief, you can find us on all of those. And also, um, we often share a quote from Buenaventura Durruti. Durruti was an antifascist during the Spanish Civil War. And one thing that he said was that our opposition might blast and ruin its world before it exits the stage of history, but we’re not in the least afraid of ruins because we carry a new world here in our hearts. And all of us who dream of a better world are carrying that new world in our hearts. And we’re going to create it, it takes takes lifetimes. Um, but you know, we’re a part of that growing world and we know your listeners, you know, everybody listening to this is part of that growing world. And we’re excited to see what we’re able to build, you know, together.

Margaret
All right. Well, thank you so much. Thank you so much for listening. And I hope you enjoyed this episode. And also, you know, after we hung up Jimmy pointed out that basically everyone doing, you know, Mutual Aid Disaster Relief is not as much an organization as it is a movement and that all of you listening who are working on preparedness and are working on mutual aid and things like that are all part of this thing we’re all doing and just wanted to extend that thanks. And I would also like to extend that thanks. Not just for listening, but for talking, not just about this show, right, that’s a tiny part of it all, but but talking about this stuff with people around you. So thank you so much. And if you’d like to support the show, you can do so by supporting me which will soon be supporting Strangers in a Tangled Wilderness which is an old zine collective that is now kind of rebooting to also do podcasts and YouTube channels—YouTube shows and all that shit. You can do so by supporting me on patreon@patreon.com/margaretkilljoy. And in particular I guess I’d like to thank Nora and Hoss the dog, Kirk, Willow, Natalie, Sam, Christopher, Shane, The Compound, Cat J, Starro, Mike, Eleanor, Chelsea, Dana, Hugh, and Shawn. And also tell people that there’s now a YouTube show of Live Like the World is Dying. So far there’s only one episode, if you want to see me talking about the emergency kits that I make and distribute, I determined that video would be a better format for that than doing a whole podcast where I just like talk to myself or Jack or someone about, you know, and then in my kit is a whistle. And, you know, like, I think that the video format worked better for that. And it’s been a good reaction. So don’t worry, I’m not gonna abandon the podcasting format. I personally listen to podcast more than I want YouTube because I like listening. Everyone’s always like, “Oh, I don’t have the attention span for podcasts.” And I’m like, “I don’t have the attention span for video.” It just depends on your own mindset and also like where you like to consume content, I think, which is definitely stuff you were wanting to know my opinion about. You really wanted to know my opinion about the difference between podcasts and YouTube. So let me tell you more about—no, I’m not gonna tell you more about it. I instead want to say, again, thank you, and do as well as you can. And I hope that all of the things aren’t so overwhelming. And if there’s one lesson I’m going to remind myself from this conversation, it’s that start with the small things, you know. We—it’s so easy to get overwhelmed thinking about the magnitude of crisis that we’re all in, everyone on the planet Earth is in and to various degrees, of course, I’m not trying to claim that my position is as bad as many, many other people’s positions. But all we can do is we can take something we can do, we can think about what can I do? What can I do today? You know? I can go get hot hands, like hand warmers, and have them around or distribute them. Or I can learn how to build a campfire, or I can go talk to my neighbor that I don’t talk to much and kind of get a sense of who she is and how we could support each other if things go wrong. Or we just do things one at a time and hope that collectively—because there’s a lot of us on this planet, and if we all do things—well, we all did lots of little things and that caused the destruction of everything. So what have we all do lots of little things in the other direction? And I’m not talking—god, this sounds like I’m fucking talking about straws and shit, like fuck straws. I don’t care one way or the other about individual consumerism that causes this issue. Anyway, I guess I’m done with the podcast. Thank you for listening and I will talk to you all soon.

Find out more at https://live-like-the-world-is-dying.pinecast.co

S1E31 – Guy on Heat-related Illness

Margaret talks with an experienced wilderness first aid trainer and guide heat-related illness with an experienced wilderness first aid trainer and guide about heat exhaustion, heat stroke, dehyrdration, and more importantly, over-hydration.

S1E30 – Parks on Disaster Relief

[audio src="https://pinecast.com/listen/48f34a6f-b718-4379-a1f3-253a4dcc3666.mp3" preload="none"]

Episode Notes

Margaret talks to Parks from Appalachian Medical Solidarity about disaster relief, what kinds of medical interventions are often needed after a disaster, and how to both respond to and prepare for them.

Guest info and links

The host Margaret Killjoy can be found on twitter @magpiekilljoy or instagram at @margaretkilljoy. You can support her and this show on Patreon at patreon.com/margaretkilljoy.

Transcript

49:54

SPEAKERS
Margaret, Parks

Margaret  
Hello, and welcome to Live Like the World is Dying, your podcast for what feels like the End Times. I’m your host, Margaret Killjoy. I use she or they pronouns. This week I’m talking to Parks, who is a medical professional who works with Appalachian Medical Solidarity. And when I say this week I mean I recorded this interview at the very beginning of starting this podcast, which was just before the pandemic. I started this podcast in early 2020 when I had no real reason to think that COVID was going to become COVID in the way that it did. So this episode about, you know, medical things and disaster situations didn’t really seem like it made a lot of sense. It’s not what a lot of people were thinking about when it came to disaster and medical issues throughout all of 2020. But I actually, I still think this information is really important. And there are so many other crises that are happening now and will continue to happen. And so we talk a lot about, well, just what it means to be a responder to disaster, especially from a medical point of view, and I hope you get a lot out of it. I know I did. This podcast is a proud member of the Channel Zero Network of Anarchist Podcasts and here’s a jingle from another show on the network.

Jingle  
One to two one two, tune in for another episode of MaroonCast. MaroonCast is a down to earth black radical podcast for the people. Our host hip hop anarchist, Sima Lee the RBG, and sex educator and crochet artist, KLC, share their reflections on Maroons, rebellion, womanism, life, culture, community, trap liberation, and everyday ratchet. They deliver fresh commentary with the queer, transgender non conforming, funny, Southern guls, anti imperialist, anti oppression approach, poly add and bullshit. Check out episodes of MaroonCast on Channel Zero Network, Buzzsprout, SoundCloud, Google, Apple, and Spotify. All power to the people, all pleasure.

Margaret  
So, welcome to the podcast. 

Parks  
Thank you. 

Margaret  
Do you want to introduce yourself with whatever name, pronoun, and affiliations that you would like to be known for for this podcast?

Parks  
Sure. So my name is Parks, I use he/him pronouns, and I’m affiliated with Appalachian Medical Solidarity.

Margaret  
Could you maybe start by talking about what Appalachian Medical Solidarity is, like what you all do?

Parks  
Sure. Appalachian Medical Solidarity is a group that is centered in Asheville and the southern Appalachian area. And we provide disaster medical interventions, particularly after hurricanes and things of that nature. And we’re working on other projects around the area, we do a lot of education in the area. For example, we taught a CPR certification class this weekend, and a Naloxone class.

Margaret  
So one of the reasons I wanted to talk to you is that you told me once—you went through the list of how people design die and natural disasters and how it’s not what people think it is. And clearly preparing or understanding how natural disasters work is, like, comparable to understanding how larger disasters work and things like that. So I was wondering if you wanted to talk a little bit about disaster and what the actual, like, kind of threat models are?

Parks  
Sure. So there are several kinds of disasters and natural disasters, as you and your audience are likely aware. One that my group deals with specifically based on our geographic location is hurricanes. In developed countries, or countries with well-built infrastructure such as buildings and roads, deaths from hurricanes tend to come after the event itself. So the hurricane may kill less than 10 people—I’m not, I’m making up numbers there—but a small number of people will be killed by things like wind and falling trees and powerlines coming down and, you know, maybe a tree falling through their house and hitting them, that type of thing. More people die in flooding during the event than anything else. So most people don’t die from being hit by a tree or blown away. They die from drowning and flooding, particularly when trapped in houses or when trapped in their cars, situations like that. So in places like the United States, those fatalities tend to be low. More people die in the few days after the hurricane. So as the power is out and infrastructure is down and people start to do things to cope with the infrastructure being down, part of the issue in developed countries is people are not accustomed to the infrastructure being down, so they’re not necessarily aware of safety precautions to use when using things like grills or propane heaters or other non-conventional items, or in non-conventional areas. So people tend to die of carbon monoxide poisoning when they’re using devices that need to be used in a ventilated area indoors, such as propane heaters, gas grills, things of that nature. They also tend to die after those events from chainsaw injuries, that’s pretty common one, or from improper use of chainsaw, so trying to cut down trees and people being untrained to do so and having the tree fall on them. In that scenario, that type of thing. That’s a much more common way to die in developed or over developed countries after disasters. People also die from food poisoning after disasters as they eat things out of their refrigerators and freezers that are going down. That’s not as common, but it does happen. Sometimes people have issues with the spread of contagious illnesses inside of shelters. But here again, that’s not usually causing a lot of people to die, it’s causing a lot of people to have colds.

Margaret  
So would you say that one of the better ways to prepare is more about, like, knowing how to use your emergency equipment—like knowing, like, chainsaws and propane and all that or?

Parks  
I would—yeah, absolutely, absolutely. Knowing how to use equipment without, you know—knowing how to properly use a chainsaw, knowing when and where to properly use a propane heater. The other thing I would suggest is simply not using those items if you’re not trained or unsure. You know, after a hurricane event, if you’re a little cold, you know, put on extra layers if that’s an option. If you can eat crackers and peanut butter instead of trying to, you know, make some kind of makeshift stove inside your house, then do that. You know, wait till it stops raining and you can move your grill outside. So use a little bit of common sense and forego small what are, you know, small luxuries essentially like cooking your food indoors or heat if you can, if you can live without it. 

Margaret  
I want to ask you about Appalachian Medical Solidarity and your experiences with it and like what you’ve seen, or what people who are part of AMS have seen or like, I know, for example, when we had the conversation before we did this interview that you talked about while you’re a medical professional, and you’re often not using your, you know, surgery skills or something like that on the ground.

Parks  
That’s true. You know, with Appalachian Medical Solidarity, I am a medical clinician and I don’t end up using my medical skills very often after disasters. We occasionally will see things like people having to use insulins—types of insulin they’re not accustomed to and they don’t know how to do the calculation to identify the proper dose. So sometimes people need help with things like that. And upper respiratory issues. They’re not usually—what we’re seeing at as a volunteer community group are not the kind of issues that people are going to the hospital for. The hospitals tend to still be in place, people go to the hospital. So the things we’re seeing are relatively minor as it comes to medical issues. What we’re seeing more is people needing help mucking out their houses, needing help cutting out drywall, needing help getting trees out of the road or off their houses. So mostly what we’re seeing is a great need for cleanup and also a need for supplies to get into certain areas. So it can be difficult with trees down and powerlines down and flooding and roads washed out to get things like clean water to certain areas or food that people can eat. So a lot of transporting supplies and the, you know, one to three days after a disaster before FEMA is able to come in ends up being something that we see a lot.

Margaret  
That’s one of the kind of advantages that I found that—or at least people talk about, like autonomous and anarchist disaster relief and mutual aid—how this is about like the ability to mobilize quickly and maybe, like, without some of the inefficiencies of large organized structures. And I’m wondering if you want to talk about how you all organize, to get supplies and aid to crisis areas?

Parks  
That’s a great question and it’s one that we’ve been working on. I think we can improve our dispatching capabilities and how we identify different areas and need. At least in our recent experience, one of the things we’ve run into is a need to pre stage before disasters when we know a disaster is coming. So that’s not always possible. But with hurricanes, we tend to have a sense that that’s maybe going to hit, so getting closer to the area—or as close as you can to the disaster zone and stay safe so that you’re not just adding to the, you know, people that need to have supplies brought to them. So staying in an area that’s near the disaster area where you’re still safe. And so you’re able to quickly mobilize supplies and able to mobilize personnel into areas that are hardest hit is an important thing. We mostly do it through cell phones and, at times, driving around randomly, honestly, and looking for people. We’ve also watched flood maps online to see where flooding is the worst and where places might be isolated. News media pretty quickly starts to cover and tell people where isolated pockets might be, like this town is cut off, or that town is cut off, or, you know, these highways are washed out. So you can use that information to try to dispatch your personnel to those areas and to dispatch supplies to those areas. But I think that could be improved upon. So pre planning is certainly a helpful thing, you know, trying to come up with who is going to be a dispatcher, who’s going to watch the news, who’s going to watch the flood map, who’s going to be pre staging, all of those things are important. And one of the points I think, also is that specialized personnel aren’t necessarily needed in these cases, you know? Just having people who can drive, having people who have vehicles that, you know, like trucks or trailers that can move a large quantity of water. And just having people that can drive back and forth supplying water and food to certain areas is invaluable. You know, it’s nice to have a nurse, it’s nice to have someone who can use a chainsaw. But it’s, that’s not the majority of people that are really needed.

Margaret  
How do you get into isolated areas?

Parks  
That’s a great question. There was one hurricane in which we teamed up with some private pilots to be airlifted into those areas. I’m not sure if airlifted is the right word, we weren’t jumping out of the planes, but small planes that could land and fields or could land in small airports and rural areas would take two or three personnel and a quantity of supplies, and they were able to fly back and forth and bring supplies into places where roads didn’t have access for several days. And that was invaluable. So that’s one of the more fancy ways that we’ve been able to access folks who are cut off. Other ways are, you know, tall four wheel drive vehicles. So just having the kind of equipment or having the kind of vehicles that can withstand those kind of conditions and get into places. You know, if you have a small two wheel drive hatchback car, it’s not going to make it. So having somebody available, who has the type of vehicle that might be able to get into more challenging environments. 

Margaret  
One of the things that I’m interested in is sort of the cultural bridging that happens during disaster and crisis. And I’ve heard stories that there was kind of an interesting cultural difference between the types of folks who own small airplanes and the types of folks who organize anarchistically bring supplies places, is that something you feel like you can talk about it?

Parks  
Sure, that’s absolutely the case. And I think that’s a major issue in people signing up to be personnel after disasters, you know? I think people who initially are going into these areas in the first two or three days need to be people who can interface with all kinds of people, who can withstand being insulted, who can withstand, you know, different things like that, like it’s not a—it’s not as safe and supportive working environment in any way. You know, socially, the people who were operating the private airplanes, for example, tended to be wealthy individuals, often were white males who were wealthy, a lot of them—or possibly all of them—were Republican, these kind of things. So folks who feel uncomfortable interfacing with those folks, or feel uncomfortable building bridges with those folks, you know, there’s a need to be polite, there’s a need to reach out, there’s a need to work together, there’s a need to problem solve with people who are very different from yourself, who, whose ideas of, you know, even who should deserve help are very different than yours. So, being someone who’s very diplomatic is very valuable in those scenarios. And folks who aren’t as diplomatic or who don’t want to interface with people, you know, that are very different than them, are possibly better suited to roles like doing dispatch, or gathering supplies, or, you know, there are plenty of roles to do. But it’s important to consider that folks are going to have to interface with a lot of different people who are not necessarily being their best selves, and who are very different than them and have a different idea of reasonable politeness than they do.

Margaret  
Yeah. I mean, that’s kind of one of the things that sort of interesting about disaster scenarios and apocalypse and all that kind of crap is that you get into this idea of a lot of different types of communities having to pull together in order to survive. And one of the things that I’m kind of trying to explore with this podcast is the sort of idea of the opposite of—instead of like a nationalist approach to disaster, where you like bunker up with your friends and you have yours, fuck you—like this, like, internationalist approach of, like, working together with diverse communities and things like that. And so it’s just fascinating because usually when I think about, like, working with diverse communities, I don’t think of, like, right wing libertarian types, you know? And yet, I mean, there’s a certain amount of, like—and maybe I’m being overly generous—but like, okay, yeah, they may be a rich Republican, but they’re willing to fly into storms and small planes in order to give people things for free. So that’s kind of what we want from people. You know?

Parks  
I absolutely agree. You know, there’s something called the disaster bug, which is where people go into disaster zones, and they, they get really fixated on it, or they really enjoy it, and they seek out that scenario again. And part of the reason for getting that disaster bug in my opinion is, you know, people are at their worst at times, but really overall people are at their best. You know, people are ready to collaborate, people are willing to do things they wouldn’t normally do, like, help people, they wouldn’t normally help, things like that. So watching communities draw together, watching people, you know, go to their neighbor’s houses and see if they need anything, is beautiful and a wonderful thing. And, you know, you get to meet all kinds of people that you wouldn’t normally get to meet—or I get to meet all kinds of people that I wouldn’t normally meet. And I really value that and my experience. You know, I think it’s interesting to meet the rich Republican dude that wants to fly people into a difficult flight situation and deliver food to people they might not normally think about. I think that’s great. You know, it expands their horizons potentially, it expands our horizons, and, you know, ultimately it helps people and that’s really the purpose. But I personally think that’s great. But I also recognize that that can be a challenge for some folks.

Margaret  
Yeah, that makes sense. I want to talk about how have you—and if you don’t we can cut this part out—have you had to do sort of disaster triage or like—like, in what way has like your—as a medical provider or whatever, how do you plan for medical care, specifically in disaster situations, or especially if you’re preparing for a situation in which hospitals weren’t available, but even in preparing for situations in which hospitals are harder to get to and things like that?

Parks  
Sure, that’s a reasonable question. And I don’t have a great answer to it, actually. You know, hospitals and paramedic teams and those kind of groups already have triage processes in place. So there are, for example, toe tags or tags that medical personnel will put on individuals indicating the severity of their illness. And then they will decide based on the number of casualties and the number of people needing medical care what order to treat people in when they can’t treat everyone at once. So those kinds of organizations already have a system for that. I can’t say that my group has had a need to triage people in that way because we simply haven’t seen large numbers of injuries at once, which is fortunate. 

Margaret  
Yeah.

Parks  
It would be good for us to prepare for that perhaps I haven’t really taken it into consideration. But, you know, a lot of what we’re seeing is needing to assist people using their own medications. So needing to help people find their inhaler in their ruined house, or find a neighbor who uses an inhaler that they can borrow, or calculate a new dose of insulin based on what insulin might be available to them. So getting people supplies, getting people on medications that they already take, you know, having people—helping people to find the medical equipment that they already have that they need, those things are helpful. And prior—you know, certainly prioritize people with medical needs in terms of transporting them to shelters or transporting them to hospitals, things of that nature. But we have not been responding in the—well, I should say, I have not been responding in the minutes and hours, you know, few hours right after a disaster during which time people may need things like swift water rescue, or may need things like airlifting out situations, where there may be people who are injured enough that they require getting to a hospital within a few minutes or within an hour. Those would be done by—those kind of rescue things will be done by specialized teams and we’re certainly not trained to do those.

Margaret  
Okay, and maybe also the people who are more immediately already on the ground?

Parks  
Correct. So not only people with specialized training, but people who are already on the ground, you know. I would certainly advise any group to be well aware of what I would call scope of practice. So be well aware of what you can safely offer and what you cannot safely offer. And don’t go outside of that. Don’t try to offer something that you aren’t trained to do, don’t try to offer something that you’re not prepared to follow up with, that you’re not able to do all the way through. You know, don’t offer someone transport to the hospital if you’re not sure you can get them there, or if you’re not reasonably sure you can get them there. You know, because you’re delaying their getting into an ambulance, you’re delaying their getting into a medical fight helicopter if you’re offering something you can’t follow through with, if that makes sense.

Margaret  
Yeah, that’s actually a really interesting concept. And, like, could apply to a lot of situations, but even gets back to the, like, the chainsaw use for example of, like, you know—I’ve only recently started actually training with a chainsaw and I always thought it was just a matter of, like, making sure you’re not in the way of the blade. And like making sure that, you know, if it bucks back, the blade won’t hit you. And that’s, like, that’s a big part of it. But then I’m like learning that there’s, like, a lot of stuff about the way trees hold tension and that apparently what kills a lot of chainsaw operators is just, like, releasing the tension on a tree and having everything go crazy. And so the scope of practice, that’s a useful phrase I hadn’t heard before.

Parks  
Absolutely. And I would say, you know, do what you can. A lot of people don’t do what they can, you know? Step up, do what you can, decide you’re going to help. That’s the first thing. You know, assess the situation, decide you’re going to help, and then help in a way that you’re able to. And of course if you set up in a truck, you don’t know if you’re going to come up to a washed out road. And if you do, that’s okay, you know, turn back, don’t try to cross, you know, a flooded area you can’t cross or anything like that. Don’t try to offer medical care to someone who’s more hurt than you can really help them with or—or do what you can, you know? If what you can do is hold their head still while the EMS gets there, great, do that. You know, do it, you can. Absolutely step up and do what you can. But don’t try to do things that are outside of your abilities. And don’t take risks. In a scenario where it’s difficult to get people in and out of a situation, if you are a relatively healthy person who’s going in to help and you get hurt, you are delaying care for people who are already hurt, you know, you’re clogging up the system. And, you know, you’re also getting hurt, which is a problem. But not only that, but you know, you’re clogging up the system, you’re making one more casualty for medical personnel to deal with, you’re making it worse. You know, one of the first rules in medical care is do no harm, right, don’t make it worse. And it’s really easy to make it worse. It’s a lot easier than you think to make it worse. You know, don’t go in and say you’re going to sterilize water and you don’t know how and you poison someone. You know, don’t go in and think you’re just going to figure out a chainsaw and get hit by a tree. You know, there’s lots of things that might be trickier than you think. 

Margaret  
Yeah. 

Parks  
So go and help but sit and think a while before you take on a project that you might be unprepared for and might be dangerous.

Margaret  
What are some—if people are interested in doing either disaster response or preparedness within their own communities for potential disaster, what are some of the skills—especially like first aid or medical type skills—that you think people can and should develop? Like in a more generalized sense, like what should people be learning and focusing on?

Parks  
Basic medical care at home is a good thing to focus on. So the number one thing that I see people not doing enough of is washing their hands and washing their hands properly. That sounds really basic, but people really don’t do it enough. So learning how to wash your hands, washing your hands for an adequate amount of time with clean water, with soap, and doing it consistently when you need to. You know, if you’re touching a person and you go touch another person and you haven’t washed your hands, you’re spreading, you know, potentially you’re spreading all kinds of pathogens from one person to another and to yourself. So learning how to wear gloves, when to wear gloves, how to take them off without contaminating yourself, you know, how to wash your hands in a way that’s effective. I would start there. I think those things are really important. Recognizing an infection is a helpful thing. You know, being able to look at a wound and say, within reason, if it’s obviously infected or not. I mean, that’s—that can be a specialized skill, but there are some things that, you know, a regular person might be able to learn in advance that may be helpful. So those things are important. I would say also water is a big thing after any kind of disaster that’s gonna affect infrastructure. So focus on getting enough water, storing enough water, knowing how to sterilize water, knowing water from—knowing what source to get your water from, you know, you don’t want to use flood water, for example, that’s very difficult to impossible to sterilize in a way that’s going to be accessible after a disaster. You know, there might be people out there with specialized skills who know how to do that, but most people are not, you know, that’s not a good idea. You know, finding a stream is going to be better, collecting rainwater is going to be better. There’s lots of different, you know, water sources that you can identify that might be better choices for you. So if you want to get fancy or do a little more, you might identify water sources near your home, for example, you might find out where your nearest stream is. If you’re, you know, if you’re living in a place that might have the kind of disasters where your water infrastructure might go down, and that’s more likely in some places than others. But first and foremost, I would say water. 

Margaret  
What, um, can you talk more specifics about, like, for example, what kinds of places the water infrastructure is more vulnerable and also, like, how people might, yeah, get water, filter water, sterilize water, whatever they need.

Parks  
The CDC has some good guidelines on that. As does as FEMA actually, so FEMA’s website has good instructions on what kind of sources to look for after a disaster. Firstly, knowing about storing of water is helpful. It’s not great to store water in your empty, you know, gallon water jug that you got from the, you know, from the store, unless you’re able to sterilize it. And you can sterilize it by using a mix of bleach water, I don’t remember the ratio, but shake that around in your container, empty it out, rinse your container, and store water. So prior to events know how to store water if you’re going to use your own containers and know how to store it properly. And, you know, be wary of glass containers because they can break. And if your water supplies on glass containers and it breaks, you know, you’re out of luck. So first of all know how to store water beforehand. And if you’re able to do that, you can avoid having to find sources of water afterwards, which is ideal. You know, sterilizing your tap water is something that may be accessible to you if the tap water is not contaminated. The other thing to do is to know how to turn off the main—the water mains to your house. So if there’s an announcement that the water is contaminated, you would turn off the water main to your house, empty the faucets, and you can typically still use the water that’s in your hot water heater if you have one. So—and a lot of this is geared toward people who live indoors, obviously. So if you don’t live indoors that’s going to be a different scenario. But if you do live indoors, using the water and your hot water heater can work. And there’s a, usually there’s a way to empty it. There’s like a faucet at the bottom of the hot water heater or something like that. You can use the water in there. You’d probably want to add bleach to it. But look up the proper ratios of bleach to water and, you know, have some bleach in your house that’s fresh. Bleach goes bad after about maybe six months or a year. So make sure you have something that’s unopened and not flavored or scented or—I guess not flavored, but whatever. Not scented and without like additional cleaning agents. You don’t want to use, like, a tile cleaner with bleach. You need to use, you know, the regular bleach in a bottle that that’s all that’s in there.

Margaret  
What about like the kind of water purification tablets and things like that?

Parks  
Iodine water purification is not generally recommended. Generally bleach is recommended because it kills more of the pathogens that you’re going to be encountering after that kind of disaster. You know, if that’s all you have, then that’s all you have. But in terms of pre planning and what to get, I would recommend bleach.

Margaret  
Are you talking about, like, maybe you’ll get Giardia or like maybe you’ll, like, die immediately? Or like what’s the—what’s the threat model from contaminated water like floodwater or whatever.

Parks  
That depends. I don’t have a great answer for that. You know, in eastern North Carolina, in floodwater, there are millions of dead animals floating, you know, stuff from septic systems can be in there. So any kind of fecal oral type pathogen could be in there and, you know, think of water with, you know, human waste in it as well as rotting pigs. You know, sometimes the wastewater pits overflow, like from coal fired power plants have wastewater pits, and those can get into the groundwater or into the floodwater. So there’s not just bacteria in floodwater. There’s also toxic chemicals that can’t be filtered out, that can’t be removed with bleach, for example. So that’s one of the reasons why flood water is not going to be a good option. If you can find a stream that’s not contaminated heavily, you know, that’s not a strange color, that’s not covered with floodwater, that may be an option. Collecting rainwater is an option. You can remove salt from salt water by like taking a large pot with a—that has a lid with a handle, turn— flipping the lid over so the handle is facing inside the pot, suspend a mug or a cup from the handle inside the pot on a string. Put saltwater in the bottom of the pot, boil that for 20 minutes or so. The condensation will collect on that upside down lid, drip down the handle, and drip into your mug. You can probably find diagrams of that and your listeners might already know how to do this kind of thing. 

Margaret  
Home distillation. 

Parks  
Right. But some some knowledge of home distillation might be helpful. You know, I’ve never been in a situation where that was helpful, but I’m sure people have been.

Margaret  
Yeah. You mentioned how some—a lot of the advice that goes around is more helpful for people who live indoors. Do you want to talk about—do you have any information about either how to help people who are, or people who are themselves not living inside in disaster situations?

Parks  
If you know does that stress coming, it’s good to let people know who might not already know. So some folks who live outdoors are certainly going to be in the know about, you know, things that are happening in their community. But it can be helpful to spread that information. So let people know that there’s a hurricane coming, let people know that flood—flooding is going to be happening so that people can, if they have encampments, they can move them uphill, you know. I live in a mountainous area so, you know, in this area moving uphill as an option. That’s not necessarily going to be an option in a lot of places. But seeking shelter, securing whatever, you know, materials that you have for housing or trying to keep dry, all of those things are going to be important. Letting people know where security—or where like emergency shelters are in case they want to go to emergency shelters can be beneficial. Just making sure people are aware in advance. You know, somebody who—I live inside, so somebody who lives outside might be able to—might be better able to provide information on preparedness and that scenario.

Margaret  
Off the top of your head—or, what are some of the common myths about disaster survival that that irritate you?

Parks  
I don’t think this is a myth. But I think people are both underprepared and over prepared. Okay.  Sometimes people prepare for like situations that sound more interesting, rather than situations that are more likely. For example, people might have wilderness survival skills that involve starting a fire with sticks or, you know, distilling water in strange situations or, I don’t know. And while those things might come in handy at some point, things like washing your hands and knowing how to store your water reasonably safely, you know, knowing that expiration dates of foods or how to tell if your meat is spoiled or not, you know, those like less romantic, I guess, skills are actually going to be far more important and far more useful and far more likely to be utilized. So I think it’s easy to prepare for, like, what are we going to do if civilization collapses? And while living in the woods, like we need all these skills on like, you know, do you—like, do you really—like in what situation are you going to, like, need to go and kill a deer because you really can’t get literally anything from the grocery store?

Margaret  
Yeah.

Parks  
You know, that might, I don’t know, maybe that happens. But you know, in the United States that’s really unlikely to be—depending on where you live. You know, maybe if you live rurally and you already depend on killing deer or killing animals for your food then, of course, you know, you’re going to continue to rely on that food source. But for people that don’t already rely on that food source, you know, developing those more specialized skills is interesting and cool, but don’t neglect the less interesting skills and preparations. Like it’s good to have a radio that runs on batteries. It’s good to have extra batteries. Do you need 100 guns? Probably not. You know, guns are really overrated. I think after disasters, you know, most people are very kind to each other after disasters. You know, if people are looting, it’s generally because they need the stuff. And if you’re the kind of person that wants to shoot people because they’re stealing items from a store, I don’t know what to tell you other than, you know, you might reevaluate your life. But, you know, I don’t know how useful it’s going to be unless you’re planning on hunting because that’s something you already rely on. You know, for a lot of folks like myself who don’t rely on hunting, live indoors, you know, a gun is not actually going to be helpful. I don’t think, you know, having social skills, having the ability to talk to people that aren’t like you, you know, knowing how to wash your hands, I really can’t say it enough.

Margaret  
That’s gonna be the title of this episode: Wash Your Fucking Hands.

Parks  
Wash your hands and do it right. You know, using hand sanitizer—this is an important one—using hand sanitizer after you go to the bathroom is not effective. You need soap and water. 

Margaret  
Okay.

Parks  
The kind of pathogens that are spread from the oral fecal route, so to speak, are not cleaned off your hands by hand sanitizer.

Margaret  
What is hand sanitizer good for?

Parks  
Hand sanitizer is good for anything that gives you a stuffy nose. Anything that gives you diarrhea, you need soap and water. 

Margaret  
Okay. 

Parks  
Not anything in the world but, you know, that’s a rough estimate.

Margaret  
Well, okay, so you talk a bit about risk analysis. I’m really excited about what I think hackers but maybe other people coin threat modeling. And like people talking about, like, you know, okay, your internet security might be really good, but based on the wrong threat model. And, you know, a gun for example is a good tool for certain threat models, like someone specifically trying to kill you.

Parks  
Right.

Margaret  
But a very bad tool for a lot of other threat models. And so it sounds like kind of what you’re talking about is that people have sort of poor threat modeling when they think about preparedness in general.

Parks  
I think that’s a great way to put it, you know, just like if you’re writing and knowing who your audience is, you know, know what you’re preparing for and be fairly reasonable about that and don’t, you know, skip things that you think are obvious or skip things that you think are boring. So, you know, if you’re preparing—I don’t know, if people prepare for earthquakes, I’m not sure how on earth you would do that. You know, they hit randomly and horrible things happen. But if you’re preparing for a hurricane, if you’re preparing for flooding, you know, prepare for that in a way that makes sense. And do some research, you know, it doesn’t take very long if you have access to the internet or a library to do a little bit of research, and don’t discount, you know, government websites. Really, the CDC offers good information and FEMA offers good information on preparedness. You’re going to have to tailor that to your own specific needs of course. You know, if you use insulin and needs to be kept in a refrigerator, you need to focus on being able to refrigerate that. 

Margaret  
Okay.

Parks  
You know, if that’s not with a cooler, ice, or whatever, you need to prioritize ice if that’s your situation. Other people are not necessarily going to need to prioritize refrigeration after that kind of event, for example. Or, you know, as I was saying, if you’re planning to live in the wilderness with no contact with any kind of “civilization”, then, like, your skill set certainly needs to be different than if you’re trying to survive, you know, an urban setting that suddenly has no infrastructure. You know, one of the main issues—well I don’t know about main issues—but one of the issues after Hurricane Sandy in New York City was people in high rises who couldn’t flush their toilets and didn’t—and lived, you know, on the 10th or 12th floor of a building and were unable to haul water up and down the stairs because of physical issues. And that quickly became a very, very dire problem. 

Margaret  
Yeah.

Parks  
 So, you know, and that’s a problem that’s specific to a certain physical scenario. 

Margaret  
Yeah. 

Parks  
So preparing for your physical scenario and preparing for the actual threat and having some sense of, you know, maybe over prepare slightly. But you don’t necessarily need, like, a year’s worth of food for an event that’s probably going to take a week or two to stabilize.

Margaret  
Right. Well, if you have a year’s worth of food than you have, you know, 300 peoples’ day’s worth of food.

Parks  
That’s true. And there may be, you know, scenarios in which that makes sense. But in that scenario, it’s still a week’s worth of food, you’re taking into consideration the number of people. Yeah. And if you want to be able to feed your whole town, that’s awesome. You know, is it necessary? I don’t know. 

Margaret  
Yeah. 

Parks  
You know,

Margaret  
You once said something something to me that was one of the best examples of risk analysis that I actually use fairly often—I came to you with a medical concern and I said, am I going to die because of this or that thing? And you said to me, well, I can’t tell you that—because you’re honest to a fault—you’re like, I can’t tell you that you won’t die because that’s completely possible, you could also be eaten by a shark today in Asheville.

Parks  
Right, I remember that. Yeah, and I think those things are reasonable to keep in mind, you know, you’re not likely to be killed by a chainsaw if you’re not using one after a disaster, so I don’t know.

Margaret  
So I’m not gonna wear my chops all the time.

Parks  
Right, so you don’t need to wear your chainsaw chaps all the time necessarily, unless you’re just like them maybe, look, I don’t know. But yeah, you know, think about what’s likely and think about what’s important. So if something is unlikely to occur but will definitely kill you, if it does you may want to be—have some preparedness for that, within reason. 

Margaret  
Yeah.

Parks  
You know, if something is not likely to happen and not going to be a big deal if it happens, you don’t necessarily need to prepare for that. Like, how much do you need to prepare for boredom, you know, maybe a little bit, but that’s not super important. You know, it’s not that likely that you’re going to be stuck in your house more than a week. But if you were and you didn’t have water, you could die. Humans can survive a fairly long time without food, but we can’t survive more than a few days without water. So, you know, that’s why I emphasize that too.

Margaret  
So eat peanut butter and crackers rather than tainted meat if you’re only stuck for a week?

Parks  
Sure, yeah, you know, if you have the ability to cook, you know, if you have a grill, if it’s not raining, you know how to use the grill, it’s the first day after your freezer has gone down, absolutely cook all your meat, you know, and eat it and share it and all those things, that make sense. But if it’s been a week, and your freezer has been off for a week, and you’ve got meat left, you know, and that’s it, don’t eat it. If it’s been sitting out, you know, unless it’s jerky or something like that, you know, you don’t want to risk a diarrheal illness or a vomiting illness if you if your water supplies are scarce, particularly. 

Margaret  
Probably final question: So we talked a little bit about the the kinds of people that you’d be working with to go into disaster areas. But in terms of going into communities, often as outsiders, what does that look like in terms of not been more trouble than you’re actually worth, in terms of making sure that it’s like sort of a consensual relationship with the people? I know, I was talking to someone who’s from a Caribbean island and he was talking about how, you know, non official organizations showing up to help are often just in the way and doing all the wrong things. While, of course, also most people I know are also very critical of the official organizations who go into help because then they take resources and centralize them and disempower people and cut people out of agency and things like that.

Parks  
Yeah, don’t go to a disaster area unless you have truly something to offer and you’re able to get yourself in, supply for all of your needs the entire time you’re there, and get yourself out. If you can’t do those things, don’t go unless you’re already there in your chapter with other people, then respond accordingly. But, you know, if you’re not already in a disaster area that hit where you are living, don’t go on vacation to see how bad it is, you know, don’t drive around in an area to gawk at the damage. There’s, that’s rude. Don’t do that. And it’s not helpful. You know, if you have, like, two power bars and one 16 ounce bottle of water, don’t go into a disaster area and think you’re prepared because you’re not. You’re going to be a drain on resources. You know, there are going to be a lot of people who already have skills in an area, you know, if an area in the United States is hit by a hurricane or, you know, some kind of disaster, there are already medical personnel there. You know, there are already people there who know how to use chainsaws, there are already people there who knows how to hunt or, you know, various things. So, to some extent, you know, keep your ear to the ground, see what people need. If you can, you know, ferry water to the edge of a disaster area and give it to someone who is already networked to distribute it or something like that, that may be very helpful. And it may be boring to you to drive, you know, 100 gallons of water from, you know, where you live to the edge of a disaster zone and then go home again, you might be tempted to like, dive in and drive around, go be helpful. But you know, driving water to the edge and going home is really helpful in certain scenarios. You know, driving in with a bunch of food that you don’t know where you’re going to leave it, and you’re just driving around trying to give it to people who don’t, you know, you don’t, I don’t know, you don’t know where the need is. That’s not necessarily as helpful. Yeah, don’t become a drain. Don’t go and need to be fed or housed or clothed or need water in an area that’s already strained. You know, the more people that there are in a strained situation with limited resources, the less those limited resources are able to go around. So be realistic about what you can contribute and be realistic about whether what you can contribute is going to be better than what you know the people—the skills that people already there have, if that makes sense. 

Margaret  
That does. If someone wants to learn more about either Appalachian Medical Solidarity or other mutual aid disaster relief organizations, do you have a place to point them to or anything like that?

Parks  
I’m not sure. I think AMS has a Facebook page. I don’t actually know. 

Margaret  
Okay. 

Parks  
Yeah, I’m not sure. If you’re in the Asheville area, you know, we do put out announcements for classes and things that, you could certainly come and talk to us. There is a team with AMS, with Appalachian Medical Solidarity, that does stuff on computers and social media. 

Margaret  
And you’re not on that team.

Parks  
I’m not, and I’m not on that team. And I don’t use computers outside of work if I can help it because I don’t like them. So I’m sorry, but we could probably find that information and add it.

Margaret  
I’m going to add it, yeah. I’ll do an aside.

Parks  
Thanks.

Margaret  
Okay. Well, thank you so much for doing this interview. Is there any—Is there anything I missed, any like final takeaway, besides wash your hands?

Parks  
Just have water, wash your hands. Those are really important. Decide to help, you know, I think is what I would say, decide to help and realize what helping is and realize what not helping is in any given scenario. You know, don’t let your worry about, you know, being a burden or not knowing how to help or not having specialized skills, don’t let that stop you from helping. Decide to help, but help within reason. Usually—you know, find out what people need, find out what people don’t need, don’t guess what people need and just start sending a bunch of crap to an area, it’s not helpful. You know, but find out where you can plug in, try to get reliable information on what’s needed. And if you have the ability to meet any of those needs, then do it. Absolutely. But don’t go outside of your scope of practice, don’t go outside of what you are actually able to contribute. Contribute what you can, don’t try to contribute what you can’t. Okay.

Margaret  
Okay. Thank you so much. 

Parks  
Yeah, absolutely. 

Margaret  
Thank you so much for listening. If you enjoyed this episode, please tell people about it. Please tell the machine overlords about it—or rather, tell them to tell other people about it by liking and subscribing and posting and following us on social media. We have—you don’t even have to just follow me on social media now. Live Like the World is Dying has its own Instagram page and Facebook page, although Facebook is, besides being terrible for the world is also really terrible in terms of engagement for projects. It’s actually just a garbage fire that is trying to get me to buy advertising. And then turns down my advertising? I finally like gave in and tried to give it some money to, so that people who like the like the redesign page actually see Live Like the World is Dying posts, and I was rejected. And well, fuck you, you don’t like me, I don’t like you either. And clearly, that’s my only problem with Facebook or the algorithms that run the world is that they didn’t like me personally. Anyway, you can also tell about it in person, that’s even cooler. And if you want to support this podcast more directly, you can do so by supporting me, which will soon be supporting the Strangers in a Tangled Wilderness publisher. But you can support us on Patreon—or currently me on Patreon—later us on Patreon, depending on when you’re actually listening to this, at patreon.com/margaretkilljoy or patreon.com/I-don’t-know-what-I’m-going-to-change-it-to. But I’m sure you can find it, you clever people. And there you can support us. There’s a zine that goes out every month. It’s very behind, but it’s going to become less behind now that it’s a collective project, and all kinds of good stuff. Also, if you don’t have any fucking money, don’t give me any fucking money. It’s totally fine. We’ll give you all of our ship for free. If you message me on any social media platform, I’ll give you access to all of our content for free because money should go from the people who have more money to the people have less money and not the other way around. In as much as money is a useful construct, which is a different argument for a different time. In particular, I would like to thank Sean and Hugh and Dana and Chelsea, Eleanor, Mike, Starro, Cat J, The Compound, Shane, Christopher, Sam, Natalie, Willow, Kirk, Hoss the dog, Nora, and Chris. You all make this possible and I am endlessly grateful. And I also am grateful to everyone else. Because now that people actually like pay attention to this shit we have a fucking chance, right? Like, we can all like take care of each other and like live happily ever after unless everything’s on fire—we’ll figure it out. Right? We’ll figure it out. Okay, be well.

Find out more at https://live-like-the-world-is-dying.pinecast.co

S1E29 – Shane Burley on Confronting Fascism during the Apocalypse

Margaret talks with author and organizer Shane Burley about fascism: what it is, why it comes up during times of crisis, and what we can do about it. They discuss the ways that we organize as anti-authoritarians to confront the ultimate authoritarianism.

S1E28 – Liza Kurtz on Disaster Studies and Elite Panic

[audio src="https://pinecast.com/listen/336afba8-4c59-4b7f-a16c-007e3df32196.mp3" preload="none"]

Episode Notes

In this episode, Margaret talks to Liza Kurtz about disaster studies and elite panic.

The guest, Liza Kurtz, is a a PhD candidate in disaster studies who studies the impact of disaster on society, specifically how class and other antecedent conditions make people vulnerable to disasters. She is @semihumanist on twitter, and you can email her at liza.c.kurtz@gmail.com.

The host, Margaret Killjoy, can be found on twitter @magpiekilljoy or instagram at @margaretkilljoy. You can support her and this show on Patreon at patreon.com/margaretkilljoy.

Transcript

1:07:41

SPEAKERS
Margaret, Liza Kurtz

Margaret  
Hello, and welcome to Live Like the World is Dying, your podcast for what feels like the end times. I’m your host, Margaret Killjoy. I use she or they pronouns. And this week I’m talking with Liza Kurtz, who is a PhD candidate in disaster studies who studies essentially the impact—well, the impact of disaster upon society. And we talk about a lot of stuff, we cover a lot of ground in this episode. But primarily, we’re talking about the ways in which people do and don’t respond to disaster. And basically, are trying to kind of bust the myth of that everyone runs around and, you know, murders each other or whatever. And also we get to talk about elite panic which is the idea that basically the people who are invested in the system are the ones who panic during times of extraordinary crisis. This podcast is a proud member of the Channel Zero Network of anarchist podcasts, and here’s a jingle from another podcast on the network. Da daaaaa.

Jingle Speaker 1
Kite Line is a weekly 30-minute radio program focusing on issues in the prison system. You’ll hear news along with stories from prisoners and former prisoners as well as their loved ones. You’ll learn what prison is, how it functions, and how it impacts all of us. 

Jingle Speaker 2
Behind the prison walls, a message is called a kite. Whispered words, a note passed hand-to-hand, a request submitted the guards for medical care. Elicit or not, sending a kite means trusting that other people will bear it farther along until it reaches its destination. Here on Kite Line we hope to share these words across the prison walls. 

Jingle Speaker 1
You can hear us on the Channel Zero Network and find out more at kitelineradio.noblogs.org.

Margaret  
Okay, if you could introduce yourself with your name, your pronouns, and then also just kind of, like, what you do, like, what do—you know, why did I bring you on this show?

Liza  
Sure thing that sounds great. So my name is Lisa Kurtz. I am a PhD candidate at Arizona State University. I use the pronouns she and her. And my research really focuses on specifically heat and power outages in the southwest. That’s what my dissertation will be about. But in general, I am grounded in disaster sociology as a discipline, looking at it from sort of a conflict theory lens, which is a fancy way of saying, I look at class struggle and how antecedent conditions of disaster make people vulnerable to what we perceive as these, like, natural events that cause great harm.

Margaret  
Okay. What does that mean? That last part. 

Liza  
Sure, yeah. That’s a good question. So basically I think we have a tendency, and certainly there’s a tendency in popular culture and in the media to perceive any kind of disaster as—the term you’ll hear used in legal circles, and sometimes in the press, is an “act of God,” right? Like something no one could have predicted that just happens, that’s nobody’s fault. And it causes great suffering, but that suffering often isn’t really drilled down on to see why did this happen. And so what disaster sociology and disaster studies try to do really is pick that apart and really trouble the implication that these things are just natural and just happen. Because they don’t. And so if you look at who suffers most from disasters, if you look at why disasters happen at all, really all they are these natural events make a lens that that focuses and amplifies what’s already going on in society. So if you have inequality, you have injustice, disaster brings all of that to the fore. But there’s a temptation to think of it as coming out of nowhere, when in reality, we create the conditions that make suffering happen during a disaster. So Katrina is a great example of this. You can say, “Oh, it was, you know, a hundred-year storm, nobody could have predicted a hurricane that large.” And there’s some element of truth to that, but there’s more elements of truth to how we built the city of New Orleans reflects, like, the racial injustice of its history and the poverty that we’ve allowed to flourish there. And all of that can get hidden behind the idea that this storm just happened.

Margaret  
Yeah. It’s interesting, because one of the things that I focus on when I pay attention to disasters is actually the almost—the inverse consideration as far as it goes, as far as class—not in terms of like, clearly, people who are oppressed in society along numerous axes are far more likely to suffer during disasters. But I guess I like, I put a lot of my energy into thinking about how people come together during disasters. And the main thing that I’ve been learning slowly and I kind of want to talk to you about is this idea that, like, everyone except the elite come together and, like, work on shit together during disasters. Is that—

Liza  
Oh, man.

Margaret  
Is that true? Is that, like—that’s my conception, right.

Liza  
That is certainly. Yeah, that’s pretty spot on in a lot of cases. Yeah. And you’re right certainly that people who suffer disproportionately during disasters, the folks who are vulnerable, who take the hardest hit, whether that’s health or money or property damage, that doesn’t make them not incredible at self-organizing and incredible at building community and responding to those events. It just makes—means they take a disproportionate amount of damage. And yeah, you’re super right in the sense that we see—so, to really talk about this I’m gonna have to backup, and maybe this isn’t that interesting, but I hope it is. I’m not sure if you know anything about the history of disaster studies.

Margaret  
I do not.

Liza  
Okay, so a lot of disaster studies came out of World War Two, like, civil defense ideas. The idea that there might be air attacks or even a land invasion of the United States by Axis forces or, right afterward and during the Cold War by Russia. And so there was this—oh, yeah, of course. Like it all goes back to the Cold War if you look hard enough, right. 

Margaret  
Yeah. 

Liza  
So there was this enormous interest in what the civilian response would be if something like that happens, and how we can encourage regular civilians to take the stress off of military forces that might be forced to respond by becoming self-reliant. So that’s where you see this, like, advertising in glossy magazines about, like, build your own fallout shelter kind of thing. All the stuff that you see in video games now, all that was super real during the Cold War, and before that it was it was air raid shelters during World War Two. And it was really to take the pressure off of military and humanitarian forces who might be forced to respond. The idea was, you didn’t want to be part of the problem. And so there was this massive wartime militaristic interest in what civilian populations would do and how we could train them to be self-sufficient. And so part of that was a ton of interest in and research into—that was funded by the military and a lot of cases—into how people would behave if something went really, really wrong. Like, would they panic? Would there be mass chaos? Would they turn on each other? And the perception that still lingers to this day in the media, if you see any bad disaster movies, and they’re pretty much all bad—although some of them are bad and fun and some are just bad. If it’s got the Rock, I’m there and I don’t care.

Margaret  
Yeah, no, that’s just natural.

Liza  
Yeah, so the perception and the expectation was that civilian populations would panic. That if there was an air raid, or a bombing, or something went wrong, there would be this mass panic. And then, as you get researchers starting to look into this, what they find actually is that people are usually pretty good at self-organizing in response to an immediate crisis. And so even though the perception is still, in the media, that if anything goes wrong it will be immediately a Walking Dead kind of scenario, as one of my interviewees put itrecently—that’s not really true. Especially not among, like, middle class and lower class communities that live side-by-side with each other all the time. And we’ll go into elite panic a little bit more. So that’s where there started to be the seed of dispelling the myth of disaster panic was then. And that research happened in the 70s and the 80s, and the late 60s a little bit. And that has since been borne out by most of the available data, that people are really good at self-rescuing, that the real first responder is your neighbor most of the time or a family member, and that folks are pretty good at making the best of terrible, terrible situations and making life easier for each other. Now, where you see that start to fall apart is in elite panic, which is when affluent communities or communities that tend to be racial enclaves—like all-white suburbs, and things like that—get that fear of the other bite, because their perception is that as soon as anything breaks bad, it’s going to be a Walking Dead scenario and everyone is going to come for their stuff. And I don’t know what goes on in their head. It seems like a very, like almost a wild west, like, take your wives and children kind of mentality. Yeah. Which is really, I mean, the more you unpack that and really think about it, the more fucked up it gets. Um, and so the elite panic can be super dangerous.

Margaret  
I mean, on some level, I might be coming for their stuff.

Liza  
Yeah, well, fair. Yeah, absolutely. 

Margaret  
Like, I might come for their stuff. I mean, you know, they have too much of it and they’re not sharing. I mean, not to tie into their own fears. It’s just, you know, the billionaires of this world like…

Liza  
No, that’s real. I’ve never confirmed this. But there’s anecdotal reports in the Balkan Wars of people who stockpiled supplies because they sort of saw things going poorly becoming extreme social pariahs and sometimes even the targets of violence because of their, their hoarding tendencies, stockpiling goods in advance and keeping other people from getting them. So apparently that was like a severe social crime at the time, although I’ve never confirmed that in the literature. I’ve just heard that anecdotally. And it’s, it’s easy to understand why, like, if you’re taking it and not sharing, then I can certainly see something similar happening here. I mean, I often tell preppers—when people ask about preppers in my work, I tell them preppers are going to die alone in a bunker full of goods because it’s great you have all that stuff, but there isn’t much you can really do with it if you don’t have the social connections to make social life happen. I think prepping in particular is a particular—a particularly elite and American form of the myth of individualism taken to the most dramatic extreme

Margaret  
Well it’s interesting thoughbecause it—if it comes from this idea of us being asked to self-rescue, us being asked to be resilient, you know—I know maybe it’s like I’m always, like, trying to, like, salvage what I can out of prepping because in my mind, yeah, like the the bunker mentality—which I talk shit on, and probably every single episode—because I basically find people who are, like, functionally know a lot about prepping but don’t call themselves preppers for a lot of good reasons. The bunker mentality is obviously just going to get you killed, whether it’s by disease or, you know, there’s like—but, but it’s interesting when this idea of like being resilient, being prepared, rather than being like “a prepper” maybe. I don’t know.

Liza  
Yeah, absolutely. And I want to draw the distinction here between what I would probably call if I, in academic speak, like the practice of prepping, which is the knowledge and the goods and knowing how to do basic survival tasks if needed, and sort of the classic American dominant culture of prepping, which is that hyper-masculinized, hyper-muscular Christianity, like, it’s just going to be me and my family and my guns and a bunker full of food kind of thing. So when I talk about prepping in a derogatory way, I definitely mean the culture and not the practice. Yeah, no, I think—I have a really complicated relationship with the idea of resilience because, on one hand, I think resilience can be used to recognize how incredible some communities are at self-organizing and taking care of themselves in the face not just a disaster but of tremendously difficult conditions. Like, it is truly astonishing what people can do to find ways to survive. And here especially we see that a lot. In Phoenix, air conditioning—which is where I am—air conditioning is really not a luxury like it is in many other places. It is 110%, a survival skill or a survival tool because it is not uncommon for summers to be 115 here, which is, if you can’t cool off that can be extremely detrimental to health. And so the people who have to live without air conditioning, in my work, have a tremendously creative number of strategies. Now, should they have to use them? No, of course not. They should, they should be able to have access to air conditioning for equity and health reasons. But that doesn’t make the things that they do any less creative or impressive in doing so. And what’s interesting to me is that sometimes we talk about prepping and the failure of systems or natural hazards can sometimes invert the relationship of who is most—how would I put this—of who is, like, doing the best in the sense that in my work in Phoenix, people who live without air conditioning are far more prepared for blackouts. So they may be more at risk in the everyday scenario as opposed to having air conditioning, but if the city’s grid failed, they already have the culture and practice of staying cool without access to air conditioning down in a way that somebody who like me, honestly, who can afford air conditioning and uses it all the time really doesn’t.

Margaret  
Just as a tangent that I’m curious about, what do people do without AC in severe, like, in severe heat. Like what do you recommend to people in power outages in the southwest? 

Liza  
Oh, boy. Well, yeah, that’s a complicated question. But we’ve been very fortunate here in Phoenix to never have a truly widespread power outage. And so generally when there are smaller scale outages here, it’s possible to seek indoor cooled shelter in another part of the city. But my dissertation focuses on asking residents what they would do during a three day power outage where the entire metro area does not have power. And I think I definitely ruined some people’s days asking them that because it’s one of those things that’s uncomfortable to consider, for sure. But people who don’t have power really talk about very, very smart ways. And what’s especially interesting is they tap into knowledge that was present prior to the city having electricity. So these really old practices of things like hanging wet blankets over doorways so that your humidifying the air that comes into your house for greater evapotranspiration is one of them. Fairly straightforward things that most of us might think of, like wearing lighter-colored clothing, or staying out of the sun. But then also some really amazing stuff like knowing, you know, knowing which structures in the town are adobe and were built prior to air conditioning and are designed to stay cool. So if you’re in a modern house in Phoenix now when you don’t have AC, the temperature inside the house will rise very quickly. But many adobe structures were built prior to air conditioning or even, like, swamp cooling which is another thing we use here which is basically a giant humidifier prior to those being accessible. And so adobe structures will stay cool significantly better than modern buildings.

Margaret  
Yeah, I like—then you also have the problem how dry it is because, yeah, the thing that immediately strikes me as evaporative cooling, like, I would be like, oh, can you like, you know, I don’t know, build, like, water catchment on the roof that holds water on the roof so it evaporates instead of transferring heat or whatever. I don’t know. But that’s dependent on a very different ecosystem. And also just some bullshit that I made up right now.

Liza  
I mean, if you think about it, that’s how all survival strategies started, right? Like, hey, I wonder if this works? Yeah, no, water is a huge, a huge cooling strategy here. And it’s funny because I’m originally from Tennessee, and I literally until I moved here did not know it was possible to buy humidifiers. I’d never seen anything but dehumidifiers. And so when I got here I was like, why would you want to put water in your house? And then my first summer I was like, oh, I get it. Yeah, water is hugely important in everyone’s cooling strategies here. And that’s another issue with blackouts in particular, because certainly if you go and ask many people who are responsible for critical infrastructure systems, they will tell you that power outages will not cause water treatment and pressure issues. But if you look at the history of citywide blackouts, the United States, there’s almost always somebody who is having to cope without household potable water at the time. And so it seems like these systems are not as resilient as we would like in terms of critical infrastructure. And here, if you don’t have access to household water, a huge number of your cooling strategy is, like, you know, just slam dunking yourself in a cold bath if you need to—suddenly become less tenable. And that can be really, really a problem.

Margaret  
Yeah. Let’s talk about—I kind of accidentally derailed you or intentionally derailed you while you’re talking about elite panic. But I’m really interested in that, because I’m really interested in this idea—like, again, the the working understanding that I’ve had, just from my my layman’s perspective or whatever, is that during disasters, overall, people like essentially self-organize—not in a utopian way inherently, but often in a way that people kind of miss when things go back to normal. But then when everything gets really fucked up seems like when the existing power—the previous power structures attempt to reassert themselves. That’s like been my observational understanding of, like, talking to a lot of people involved in disaster relief and things like that. But it seems like that ties into elite panic, this idea that people who are actually invested in the previous power relations, and especially property relations, are maybe the ones who can’t handle the idea of everyone suddenly taking care of each other and shit.

Liza  
Yeah, absolutely. I think that’s spot on. And I think you really see this sort of that—well, you might almost call it like a pivot point, or an inflection point where things could turn one way or the other in the immediate aftermath of a disaster. And you really see that reflected in the practice of disaster capitalism. So I think sometimes we overlook—because it seems so inevitable—that disasters have poor outcomes, and they do for many people. Disasters can also be an opportunity to say, “Hey, business, as usual, is what got us to this outcome. How can we do things differently?” Because there’s sort of a shock to the system, whether the system is you as a resident or the household or the town or the county or the state, like, they’re really, they’re a shock point. And so they provide an opportunity to stop and say, like, okay, business as usual—the everyday practice of how we run things—got us here? How do we make sure this doesn’t happen again? And if you really start engaging with how does this not happen again, that means transforming those everyday practices that got you there. So I think you’re spot on with that idea that elites and people on the top who have an interest in preserving the status quo see the inflection point and sort of grab it and pull as hard as they can in the other direction. And so it’s not just that there’s, I think, a desire to go back to the way things were and preserve the power structure and the property relationships and everything else of the place before the disaster happened. In a lot of cases, they’re perceived as opportunities, which is extremely messed up and amoral, but it’s true that really these things are seen as, here is a great opportunity to restructure things towards a more capitalist, a more stratified, a less just system. And one of the things that I think you can see right now with that is because COVID closed public school systems, which is a good thing, like, kids don’t need to be spreading COVID. Like, I’m broadly supportive of the public health need to close school systems. It provided this vacuum for all these alternatives, and these think pieces to crop up, etc. And these companies to start pitching like, well, do we really need public schooling anyway? 

Margaret  
Oh, shit, uhuh. 

Liza  
Can this be replaced by a different system that’s more private, that’s more controlled by capital, that’s less interested in the public good, that is more about profit. And that’s a classic, classic example of what’s called disaster capitalism, where something goes wrong and suddenly it becomes an opportunity for someone somewhere to restructure things so they can make more money.

Margaret  
Yeah, and that’s, I mean, you know, Amazon, Jeff Bezos, all that shit. Like, with COVID now, everyone buys everything online. I buy everything online. I’m terrified of COVID and I work from home. So, you know—and then you’re like, I don’t know, just watching. society restructure itself to buy everything online. And online is kind of, it—I don’t know whether it’s naturally or it’s designed that way by evil people. But, like, overall, the internet is so good at decentralizing things and yet in terms of, like, commerce, it seems like it’s really good at centralizing. It’s like really good at having the everything store. You know?

Liza  
Yeah. And I don’t know enough about the architecture of the internet and economics therein to say, like, if that’s by design, or just a function of the way it works. But yes, it does seem to be—seems to be so good at creating monopolies in that way.

Margaret  
When you’re talking about adobe houses, you know, and how, okay, the old houses are actually built with adobe or whatever. You know, it just—it really strikes me about how completely arrogant the colonial and industrial system is, in that it’s like, well, whatever works in New England is what should work in Arizona. And it’s so baffling to me, you know, because it’s like, well, there’s so obviously, like, a steep pitched roof exists that way to shed snow, you know, and then people were like, “Oh, we’ll just put these steep gables everywhere.” And like—

Liza  
Right.

Margaret  
It’s just… I mean, I say that as someone who lives in a a-frame somewhere where there’s no snow—well, not no snow, but not much snow. But in my defense, I actually just built it that way because it’s the cheapest and most structurally sound way for someone who doesn’t know how to build a house to build a house is have fewer walls, more roof. I don’t know, it just, it—it depresses me to think about.  Yeah, no.  This the centralizing urge. Go ahead.

Oh, I just, I think you’re so right. And I think it’s, it’s—maybe there is something to the idea that accelerated consolidationist capitalism makes everything sort of a bland universalism in much of the way that Amazon is a bland universalism. Because I do think one of the things that we’ve really lost that is super helpful in the practice of preparing for disaster is local knowledge. Just localization in general is such a huge thing. Whether it’s knowing where in your landscape the water is, or knowing what kind of house does best without AC. And certainly here in Phoenix I have been known to just, like, scream a little bit in my car driving around because there is a massive fad for pulling out old, beautiful 50s Ranch homes and putting in—I’ve heard them referred to as “McModerns.” So houses that take up the entire lot, that look, like you say, very much New England-y. They’re often two storeys which is dumb in the desert, they have no green buffer around them at all to help cool anything, they’re made of, like, the cheapest possible, like, wood and sheet rock and very little insulation, very large windows that face, you know, like east and west, often. And so you just look at these buildings that are literally the worst possible choice for this environment. And they are building them constantly and it really like it is tremendously painful to see in these beautiful neighborhoods that were originally orange groves. And so when people started building houses there, they would leave the orange trees around their houses, and so there was significant shade and food in your front yard, and then they will just rip them all out and replace them with these. And what really gets me—and this is like such a classic example of a thing people think they’re doing for a good reason that is actually worse —s many of them have astroturf lawns, which I understand from the perspective of not wanting to use water or like your grass always being green. But you’ve replaced, like, not that I support suburban lawns, but you’ve replaced something that is at least a plant, even if it’s a monoculture, with plastic. And sure it doesn’t use water. But the thing that gets me the most is my colleagues study surface temperature, and astroturf is the worst thing you could put down for heat.

Margaret  
Yeah. Okay. 

Liza  
Like, it’s worse—you might as well have paved your yard.

Margaret  
Yeah.

Liza  
And it’s also carcinogenic. And so there’s this, like, pseudo-greenwashing that’s actually just absolutely the worst thing you could do for everyone involved, all these horrible McModerns that are the worst thing you could build for the desert. And we have—and I think it really all just comes from a desire for, I want to live in a place that looks like every other place. And we’ve come so far from, like, the localized knowledge of knowing adobe is better and xeriscaping is better and all of that.

Margaret  
Xeriscaping?.

Liza  
Oh, sorry, X-E-R-I. Xeriscaping is desert landscaping. So it’s the practice of planting your yard in a way that is congruous with, like, the natural environment of the Sonoran Desert that we’re in here.

Margaret  
Yeah, it’s this arrogance that I almost can’t handle. Because it’s, like, if you build your life around, I assume that I will always have a gas line and a power line and, you know, I will always just have as much electricity as I could possibly want. You know, it’s like, now that I live somewhere where I generate my own electricity—I mean, a solar panel generates the electricity for me. It, which isn’t, you know, carbon neutral, either, you know. But I’m so aware of, like, how incredibly not necessary wasteful AC is, because you kind of need it in a lot of circumstances. It’s not a waste. But it’s not exactly this, like, low power device. You know? And, I don’t know, just the things that we take for granted, it confuses me sometimes.

Liza  
For sure. And you shouldn’t have said solar panel, because in my head it was just you biking furiously on like a bike generator to keep the computer on while we do is so you could have had me there. No, absolutely, I think—yeah, I mean, an AC is one of those things where, I don’t know, it’s almost like putting a band aid on a bullet wound here a little bit in the sense that I’m not going to argue that centralized air conditioning is the single most effective intervention for saving people from dying from heat, which is a huge problem here. About 500 people in the state died last year from heat-related causes last year, which is not an insignificant number. And actually, extreme heat kills more people in the United States than any other weather-related hazard. So you know, when you worry about hurricanes or tornadoes or things like that, it’s really heat that’s the major killer of people. And so I would never say, like, don’t have central AC for ecological reasons, because it is a huge and immediate public health intervention that saves lives. But also, it doesn’t solve this fundamental problem which is, part of the reason we need AC so badly is we built the city in a really stupid sort of 70s-thinking kind of way, which is there’s tons of uncovered pavement, and really tall buildings that, you know, like, the urban heat island here is very, very real, it doesn’t cool off overnight. And so the need for AC is great, but the need to think beyond AC and think about how do we look into the future and actually reduce the need for this, like, immediate public health triage of just get in a cool environment so you don’t die right away?

Margaret  
Well, okay, so the the need to fundamentally restructure huge parts of our society seems very apparent and increasingly apparent to more and more people, especially as, you know, climate change barrels down on everyone, even if you were willing to ignore all of the systemic oppression that people face. And I think sometimes—and I know I do this, and I wonder whether—you talk about how capitalists look at disaster as opportunity, and that’s a problem. And I’m like, so do revolutionists, and so do people who want society to be fundamentally different. Because you have this, some level of like wiping the slate clean, and there’s a certain amount of opportunity to restructure society. And it seems like very often capitalism is better at this than us. But there are also these, like, you know, like watching mutual aid networks pop up all over at least the United States last year in a way that like—and I wouldn’t, you know, I don’t want COVID to have happened, right? But when people look at that and say, well, we actually need to learn how to take care of each other and build these, like, networks by which to take care of each other. To me, that’s the beauty of it. But then it’s—now I wonder whether I’m doing the same kind of ambulance chasing that capitalists are. Do I let myself off the hook just because I think what I’m doing is good and what they’re doing is bad, right? Like, they think the opposite. But I’m right.

Liza  
Well, yeah, I mean, I don’t think it is—if it’s ambulance chasing, you’re only chasing the ambulance, to help stop the bleeding as opposed to charge the patient. So I think that there’s a fundamental value difference there. And so yeah, no, you’re you’re absolutely correct in the sense that they’re are opportunities, and there are opportunities, whether we want them to be or not, so we might as well seize them. But I think part of the problem is about how—not just in media, but even to each other-how we storytelling around disasters as, like—it’s very hard to hold the tension in your mind. Like with COVID, it’s very hard to hold the tension in your mind between so many people, particularly people of color and otherwise vulnerable folks have paid this horrible price for our inability to cope with an epidemic. And at the same time, this sort of—and that’s, there’s nothing good about that, that is massively negative. And at the same time, we are being presented with this opportunity that could allow us to build something better, like these mutual aid networks that you mentioned. But it feels–it’s very hard to talk about, in a way that feels respectful and honorable—to say like, this is an opportunity for something better to be born out of the ashes of this enormous tragedy. And so I think it’s easy for those conversations to get derailed, one because of how we talk about disasters as, you know, like always negative with the panic and everything like that—the mythology around disasters makes it hard. And then two, the difficulty of respectfully talking about this. But I would certainly argue that if we want especially—and I’ll use COVID, as the example here—if we want to honor the people who died unjustly of COVID, there is no better way to do so, than taking this opportunity and seizing it to make a system and a world where that won’t happen again.

Margaret  
Yeah, that’s a—that’s a good way to put it. And I wonder, you know, it’s like, I mean, what we should be trying to do—and what people do try to do is just that the systems of power we’re up against are rather good at what they do of maintaining their power—is do this anyway. You know, it’s like, there’s been mutual aid networks for—well, ever, obviously—just assigning a word to it in the 19th century, or whatever. But, you know, we need to restructure things anyway. And if you were to take Phoenix as an example, it’s like—I mean, I kind of, I have to admit, I look at Phoenix as like this just grand arrogance in the desert, that, like, probably shouldn’t be there. And I know that that’s not fair to the actual individual people who live there, you know. And so I don’t want to be like, get rid of Phoenix or whatever, right. But like—but instead it’s like, well, probably the slow, hard work of restructuring needs to happen anyway. Like the slow, hard work of figuring out how to rebuild the city in such a way that it isn’t just, like, waiting for disaster. I don’t know.

Liza  
Oh, yeah. I think you’ve touched on something there that I always try and challenge people with when they talk about Phoenix as a grand experiment in inevitable failure—building I think at this point the fifth largest city in the United States—or the fifth largest metro area, actually—in the desert which is—I don’t necessarily disagree that that is not an immediately intuitively good idea. But now that it’s here, I like to think of Phoenix as the perfect testbed and sandbox because it’s the hottest large metro area in the United States. And if we can turn this thing around, and we can make Phoenix in the next 30 years cooler and more livable and more just and more sustainable, than it can be done anywhere. We’re the edge case, and so this is the perfect place to find those solutions, and then take the lessons learned and the things that worked and export them to less extreme environments where they might be useful. So in that sense, even a little victory in Phoenix might be a big victory in somewhere else.

Margaret  
Yeah. Okay. So, to go back to disaster studies, we’ve talked about how the mainstream, like, certainly the media conception of disaster is, you know, the Walking Dead scenario is the everyone running around, like, you know, everyone for themselves scenario. And—but, but disaster studies, it seems like even though it came from this, you know, kind of shitty background, it seems like—have the people who study disaster academically, have they kind of known this entire time, that’s bullshit? And if so, why isn’t that getting out? Like, why aren’t more people aware of the fact that everything we know about how people respond to disaster is wrong?

Liza  
That is a great, great question. And I’m not sure I have, like, a perfect answer for you. But I can certainly offer some thoughts. So yes, you’re right that disaster studies, even though it came out of this very militarized and military-funded background, really starting with a wonderful scholar named E. L. Quarantelli who was active in the 60s to the 90s really started questioning those views and pushing on this idea of panic and other things like that. And so, disaster studies in general as a field—not all of it, but for a long time—has been very justice-oriented in its approach. So if you’ve heard the words “social vulnerability,” a lot of that is coming out of disaster studies. If you’ve heard the words, you know—or heard talking about the concept of resilience as applied from the top down being a way of almost victim blaming—which certainly it can be, you know. Like, why aren’t you—it’s a repackaging sometimes of the idea of like, why aren’t you self reliant? Why are you making us help you? Kind of thing. All of that is really coming out of a disaster studies. The problem is, unfortunately, that you almost have two separate silos of disaster studies, because disaster scholars are not the people who respond to disaster. They’re not the people preparing for it. They’re not the people deciding what mitigates it. Those people are part of what I would broadly call sort of the emergency management class, at least here in the United States, they are. And many of them are emergency managers, but that also includes things like crisis communications and information officers, or Public Information Officers, and fire chiefs and firefighters, and EMS first responders, and in many cases public health officials as well. And that is a professional class that has existed for a long time—and this is slowly starting to change—that has really stayed rooted in that military idea. So it’s not directly connected to the military, although sometimes it is. But it’s a militarized service. It’s very about hierarchy—so I was a firefighter, I was a volunteer firefighter in Tennessee for about two years. So you have a commanding officer, you know, it’s structured like the military, basically. In a lot of cases it works very closely with law enforcement and the military, like National Guard, for instance. Here in Arizona, I think it’s very indicative that our agency is DEMA, which is the Department of Emergency and military affairs. And how you became an emergency manager, or fire chief, or someone who is really directly involved in the world of preparing for and responding to disasters, was you started as, like, a frontline law enforcement, frontline fireman, frontline-and I say men because they generally are, although starting to change too—and you worked for 20 years. And eventually you worked your way up the chain, much like the military, to becoming someone who was making all of these strategic decisions, etc. And so, disaster studies has a very hard time talking across the gap to practitioners. And it’s a little disheartening sometimes how white and male disaster practitioners still tend to be, and how stuck in a particularly militaristic frame of mind. And that’s something that’s really been troubling me lately and something I’ve talked about colleagues with because—I don’t know if I’ve said this publicly yet but I’ve certainly said it to colleagues—as a queer woman with a trans partner who is deeply interested in racial and social justice, even though my degree sets me up for it, I don’t feel like at this point I can, in good conscience, take a standard Emergency Management job. 

Margaret  
Yeah.

Liza  
It’s too wrapped up with law enforcement and militaristic ideas of what disaster response means and who deserves what and why people do things and where aid goes. And it’s just—and, you know, like, FEMA is still housed in the Department of Homeland Security, which is a whole other issue that we could talk about for another hour—which really no one who studies disasters is—or very few people—really support that model. It offers tremendous problems. And so you have this gap. And so that’s part of the reason these things still exist is the practice of emergency management really looks pretty similar to the 1950s in some ways, and the study of disaster is much more radical, much more diverse thing.

Margaret  
Okay, so hear me out. If already in terms of disaster management you have the militaristic system, the official governmental system, and then you have these, like, incredibly complex and interesting disaster relief organizations—especially the, like, the nonhierarchical, the mutual aid focused ones, right. So you all should just get up with those peoplea nd basically, like, I don’t know, I get really excited about this, like, okay, so like, create a counter structure, right? Like, and these—that already is starting to exist increasingly. And so I think we call if y’all got up with them, and maybe you all already do. Yeah, one of the—okay, so like thinking about the terrible ways that people manage disaster, like the government’s managed disaster or whatever, I am curious if you know of this: I’ve been hearing this phrase from people I know who do disaster relief, especially coming from anarchist spaces, that there is a specific written thing that the priority of the government in disasters above all else, including the actual rule of law, like the application of laws, is COG—is continuance of governance. Basically, like, this is the justification for like shooting looters and things like that, because it’s absolutely illegal to shoot looters, right. Like, by the existing right structure. But the reassertion of control as, like, the absolute baseline priority. Does that hold up with your understanding? I know it’s now in a different silo than your silo but…

Liza  
Yeah, so I would be surprised if that is specifically written down anywhere in that way. Certainly Continuity of Operations as it’s called—COOP plans—and Continuity of Governance—COG plans—exist. And they play a very important role in how, on paper, we prepare for disaster as, like, large government institutions prepare for disaster. It is certainly not supposed to be held above rule of law. Now, is it? Probably quite a bit. And things like shooting looters is really hard to unpack because you have things operating on so many different levels. So first off, people who—like you have the personal prejudice level of the people doing the shooting, right? Like that particular person or police officer or resident might be especially racist, as you saw in Katrina. And it might be, like, if a Black person comes through this neighborhood, I’m going to shoot them. Certainly that happened a lot. You also have policy that structures itself in ways that we know is not necessarily reflective of reality. So you may have contingency plans that place law enforcement officers to prevent looting, for instance, when actually law enforcement officers need to, like, exacerbate the situation, right? And so you end up creating these situations which lead to other bad situations. So really, there’s so many operational—and then you have the storytelling mythology level where, like, because even among people who do this professionally, you will still find the myth that mass panic is going to happen. You have the drive of, like, well I’m expecting it and therefore I overreact when I see something that might be it. And that’s even leaving aside the category of who is a looter and who is resourcefully scavenging resources. There’s been a lot of studies done—again, mostly Katrina, but in other contexts as well—about how media presents people taking survival requirements like water and food from stores and how the economic status and skin color of those people really determines the headline they get. Which is, you know, perhaps not a surprise, but it’s good to have that data. So you have all these things building on each other to create—if you’ll pardon the disaster-related upon—sort of a perfect storm situation where everything works to prop up the system. But whether there’s a single origin point of policy pushing for that in writing, I don’t know. And I would be surprised if there is. I think it’s more complex than that.

Margaret  
Okay. Yeah, that—it makes sense to me if, like, basically, like, a COG or continuous governance or whatever was like part of this larger framework, and then just gets exaggerated. One of the things that gives me hope is all of the, like, the weird human element parts of it when it actually hits the ground of, like, you know, I remember hearing from a friend who worked with the Common Ground Collective in Katrina in New Orleans basically talking about how, like, National Guardsmen would, like, give the anarchists supplies. Because they would be like, well, if I take this where I’m supposed to take it, it’s gonna sit in a warehouse for two weeks, and it’s needed right now. And it’s just like, I don’t know, I get—the things I’ve talked about before on the show—the stuff that makes me like the most hopeful is when certain unbridgeable chasms are bridged between different types of people. And—

Liza  
Yes.

Margaret  
But then on the other—you have the exact opposite of the, like, yeah, the people who seem to go wild. The people who seemed to go the wildest in Katrina seemed to be the white racists. But, yeah.

Liza  
Yeah, I think there is… Man. And it’s hard to talk about and frustrating to talk about incremental progress, because I think there has been some recognition in the system that things are not working, and that you need to rely on local expertise and local knowledge and local abilities to get things done—which is sort of the bigger scale version of the guardsmen giving supplies to anarchists because they know they’re going to sit in a warehouse and anarchists can get them into the hands of people who need them right away. The problem there is, it’s a little bit like being, I don’t know, like a mouse trying to steer an elephant. Like we have built this system of disaster response that is so large and so cumbersome, that it’s really beyond any single person’s ability to fundamentally change. And so there’s a lot of attention being paid—or more attention than there has been previously anyway, I don’t know, but a lo— to the idea that we need to be supporting communities at, like, the higher level institutions—that macroscale institutions need to be supporting communities and the work that they’re already doing. We just need to enable the anarchists to have more stuff to go out and distribute that kind of thing. Now, whether or not that’s going to make a significant difference in the long run definitely remains to be seen. But certainly there seems to be more interest in that. Now I personally have some mixed feelings about that because in a lot of cases here in Phoenix when we’re talking about especially like heat relief, or disaster relief, or who’s going to help you pay your power bill if you can’t, there’s been a significant—I think we all know that since the 80s, there’s been a significant replacement of state services with more localized things. And there’s nothing inherently wrong with that. But a lot of the localized assistance now is through churches. And to me that raises some troubling questions about, like, who gets helped? Who gets left out? What are the conditions of help reliant upon? And so we’ve sort of replaced this ineffective state aid with this may be more effective but differently discriminatory aid that’s at the local level. And so I think you really have to pay close attention to the idea of localism as a panacea as the remedy for all injustice because sometimes localism just means enacting injustice on a smaller scale. Like handmade artisan home grown fuck you instead of like a fuck you from the state.

Margaret  
Okay, well, so that ties into something you were talking about earlier at the very beginning when you’re talking about the history of disaster studies, was kind of to create a culture of prepping—as in, to get people away—to take the power—take pressure off of the elites who, like, ostensibly should be providing our needs, by having us provide for ourselves, but in a way that doesn’t actually fundamentally free us. It’s kind of an interesting trap around—it’s something that I’ve seen mutual aid groups struggle with for years is like, well, we always say, we’re mutual aid not to charity, right? And like Food Not Bombs, you know, with it’s, like, free food program that’s been going on for decades. And now, I think that, like, there are just ways to do that local level stuff without like—like Food Not Bombs, like, unlike a, most church feeds that, you know, I’m aware of—most church feeds it’s like, take a number, stand in line, like, you know, it’s very—it replicates a lot of disempowerment, right. And, you know, like Food Not Bombs is ostensibly more like, it’s a picnic in the park and you’re invited, because you exist. And of course it’s gonna have its own informal problems, right? I’m not trying to claim it’s perfect. But there’s always this worry about how much do activists make—like, how much do we empower oppression just by solving the problems that oppression creates? You know, like, if we’re feeding—

Liza  
Oh, boy. 

Margaret  
Yeah. And if we’re feeding people without fundamentally challenging the system that has left people without food… I don’t know. For me it’s just, like, you just—I think that the answer is that the problem with this bespoke oppression that you’re talking about, the localist oppression, is it just needs to be tied into challenging things at a larger scale. Wh I say just, it’s easy. Everyone could just do this, it would fix everything. No problem. No one will have any.

Liza  
This is a problem I’m intimately familiar with on a personal level because when I graduated from undergrad and suddenly the stress of college was no longer upon me, I discovered that I am a stress junkie and I needed something to do because I was going out of my mind. And so I joined the local volunteer fire service thinking, like, oh, this will be, like, I’ll learn skills, I’ll be able to help people, and I’ll be stressed out enough to be happy. It turned out even that was not enough and I had to go to graduate school, but that’s a story for another time. And this is like the fundamental tension of a volunteer fire service. I mean, think about what that means, right? So the city I was in had a professional fire service because it was considered a population density sufficient enough. But the county, which is a very large and populated county, was all volunteer-run. And it’s sort of the same problem, like, you don’t want people’s houses to burn down, so someone needs to go put them out. But at the same time, if you’re rural, you are fundamentally getting a worse class of service than the professionals. And the volunteer fire department enabled its own perpetuation by the fact that eventually most people’s houses got put out. And I always used to joke, like, don’t have a house fire between the hours of 8am and 5pm when we’re all at work. Because it was one of those things where, if people’s houses had just burned down, there probably would have been significant push to have a professional fire service. But at the same time, then you have a bunch of people’s houses burning down, and maybe they die in the fire too and that’s awful. But because there is sort of an ad hoc fire service, there wasn’t the push to have a professional one. Even though—andI don’t think people knew this, right. But we were using equipment that was out of date, that hadn’t been tested. I think our jaws of life for rescuing people out of car wrecks were like some of the first models ever made from the 80s because we didn’t have funding. And it’s like, you know, we were saving lives but also perpetuating the system that was probably really harming people. So what’s the trade off between, like, that long term harm and the short term, everybody’s house burns down, but people get a professional fire service in the end? And I don’t know what the solution is besides, as you said, sort of making sure we’re plugging into troubling the larger structure and advocating for larger structure. The fire service is a particularly tricky one because people’s lives depend on it so immediately. For something like Food Not Bombs I would say it’s possible they’re already doing some of that work by having people show up and having that picnic in the park feeling and just letting people know that receiving assistance doesn’t have to be total drudgery and shame. And so maybe for things like that, where there can be joy and comradeship and true connections on social scale, maybe the next person that—the next time that person needs to go to a church handout line or an unemployment office, there is that seed of like, well, why isn’t this like that? I think sometimes you can really—you can plant the revolutionary seed in people by showing them joy just as much as by showing them tragedy.

Margaret  
Yeah, that’s a really good note I think maybe to kind of wind down on—to think about. What—I guess the questions I want to ask to kind of close this out. One, I kind of want to ask, what do you worry about personally? What do you prepare for? What is—how is working with disaster studies—how has it influenced your own life?

Liza  
Sure, yeah. Well, I will say I worry much more about long term trends than I do about any particular single incident. So for Phoenix, I’m worried about what the temperature profile of the city looks like in the next 50 years, because I might—I might be like one of the few people on record ever saying this—but I really love Phoenix. I think it’s got a really cool art scene and there’s wonderful people here. And it has a surprisingly revolutionary spirit and a fighting spirit for being a blue town and a very red state. And also, it’s nice to be in Arizona, because in many ways, we’re at this political tipping point. So if you’re here and you’re willing to get engaged, you can really make a difference. So I don’t want to see Phoenix fail. She like there’s a lot of people who do to sort of make a point about climate arrogance, but I’m not one of them. And so for me, I worry about these really boring things that unless you’re in the weeds, you probably don’t think of. So I worry about what are our overnight temperatures going to be in the next 50 years, because we know that overnight temperatures have a significant effect on human health, they’re a really good indicator of the urban heat island. And one of the things that’s hopeful is that thus far the science shows that if we really buckled down and redesigned the way we did the city of Phoenix, we would be able to offset most of the regional and global climate warming in the region through localized efforts. So Phoenix in 50 years could be cooler than it is today. There’s nothing that’s stopping us from doing that. But we have to raise the political will and reach out and seize that opportunity. I don’t worry as much about our regional—or rather a city-wide blackout, even though that’s what I talk to people about—partially because I know our utility companies and how they function and that is something they’re thinking about. It’s—I worry more about it in areas that don’t think about extreme heat on their grid. Like, we have it so often, it’s regular here, that I think we’re better prepared than many other places. So in that sense, extreme heat could be worse in, say, like, the Northeast of the Northwest than it could be here because those grids are not regularly stress tested in the same way.

Margaret  
Right.

Liza  
And then I also worry about—and this kind of ties back with what we’re talking to you about disaster panic—I worry about—its maybe—and this is—at the end of the interview is the wrong time to bring this up, but this is fun. It’s not completely true that there’s never violence and looting after disasters. 

Margaret  
Right. 

Liza  
It does happen, and primarily where you see it happen is after some blackouts. And it tends to be blackouts in cities that are already have a very wide divide between rich and poor and are undergoing a lot of racial tension. And you can really see, like, why. One is they aren’t perceived in the same way as an act of God because blackouts—it’s easier to see human culpability. Like, the electricity company that I pay to maintain my power has failed in their job and I am angry about it. And then also, they’re perceived as an opportunity of, like, the system is failing us, we should go out and express that it is failing us and we are angry about it and take advantage where we can of the opportunity to gain more resources. So it’s all extremely understandable. But I really—I worry about our next disaster—next major US disaster—acute disaster, I should say. Because COVID is a disaster, it’s just a slower moving one. Our next acute disaster response, because of growing injustice, because of factionalization in society, because of this awakened beast of white rage in the nation—I worry that our next disaster response is going to look more like the cops at Black Lives Matter protests than mutual aid groups.

Margaret  
Yeah, I bet it’ll be both.

Liza  
Probably. And yeah, of course mutual aid groups will be they’re doing what they can, but I really worry that we’re creating a perfect storm for disaster response to be hyper militarized because cries for justice are perceived as unrest. 

Margaret  
Yeah. No, it’s interesting. And yeah, there’s a lot to dig into with you more some time. Okay, my final question is just, where can people engage more with your work? Or do you even want or have any kind of public profile around the work that you do?

Liza  
I do. I am on Twitter. I’m at semi humanist, S-E-M-I-humanist on Twitter. I love chatting with people about my work and things like that. Everyone’s also free to email me and you can put this in the show notes if you like at liza.c.kurtz@gmail.com. I do speak at academic conferences. But if anyone is listening and really wants me to come talk a little bit in a digestible way—hopefully about what disaster research says—to a mutual aid group or an anarchist book club or any of those fun venues where knowledge can be a little freer than stuffy academia sometimes, I’m really always happy to talk to those folks. I think probably the most important work I do is closer to things like this than academic publications, which circulate to other scientists, which is very personally satisfying to engage with other scientists, but not—probably not tremendously socially helpful. And it’s also just a great check of, like, I think it’s easy as an academic to get wrapped up in such a way that you can talk to other academics but not people in your field. And I try hard to avoid that at all costs.

Margaret  
Yeah. I found everything that I’ve—you know, from talking to you before we did the show—very approachable. So I highly recommend anyone who’s listening to take Liza up on that. Alright, well, thank you so much for being on the show. 

Liza  
Oh, yeah, no problem. Thank you so much for having me.

Thank you so much for listening. If you enjoyed this episode, please tell people about it. Tell people on social media. Tell people about it in person from six feet away, unless both vaxxed or whatever. Tell people on—by liking and subscribing and writing reviews and all of that algorithmic shit, because it has a wildly disproportionate impact on how things get viewed. And if we’re trying to make our content and our media reach more people, that is an unfortunately effective way to do it. So tweet about it and stuff. Also, you can follow us now on Instagram instead of just following me as Margaret Killjoy, there’s now actually a live like the world is dying Instagram because—oh, that’s the other fun thing. Live Like the World is Dying is becoming an increasingly collective project and pretty soon you’ll probably hear more than just my voice on the mic, although at least for now I’m going to probably continue to be the host. But Jack is now the, essentially the producer of the podcast, and is doing all the audio editing. And it’s really fun to talk about people when you’re recording, when you know that they have to listen to you talk about them, and then edit it. But you can’t edit this part. You have to leave this in. Anyway. If you want to support the podcast more directly, you can do so by supporting me on Patreon. My Patreon is patreon.com/margaretkilljoy. But that money actually does go out collectively to the people who are helping make this possible. And, well, to people who are putting in the direct labor to make this possible. The people who are making this possible though are you, the listeners, who write about it and review it and tell their friends about it, and also who support me on Patreon. And if you can’t afford to support me on Patreon, don’t do it. If you live off of less money than I make on Patreon, don’t give me money on Patreon. There’s some content that is, like, paywalled there or whatever. But if you just message me, I’ll give you access to all of the monthly zines and all of those things for free. But if you would like to support us, please do. And in particular I would like to thank Chris and Nora and Hoss the dog, Kirk, Willow, Natalie, Sam, Christopher, Shane, the Compound, Cat J, Staro, Mike, Eleanor, Chelsea, Dana, and Hugh. Your contributions sustain this. They pay for the transcriber, they pay for the editing, and a lot of the other costs associated with this content. I’ve gone on way too fucking along about the money involved in this project now. Hooray! Well, I hope you’re doing reasonably well. If the weather’s getting warmer in the part of the world that you live in, I know that I really enjoy watching the leaves come in, even if it means that the sun will no longer dry my clothes on the line because the sun will no longer reach my close line because I built my house in the forest because I’m a very intelligent person. It has good passive cooling qualities too, though. And that is definitely not what I’m supposed to talk about. What am I supposed to talk about? I think I’m supposed to end the episode. So thank you so much for listening, and I hope you’re all doing as well as you can with everything that’s going on.

S1E27 – Kylie on Aquaponics and Small-Scale Food Forestry

Margaret talks with Kylie about how she designed her backyard aquaponics setup and how she developed a small-scale food forest in the front yard of her house.

S1E26 – adrienne maree brown on Emergent Strategy

[audio src="https://pinecast.com/listen/473ed173-c412-4df7-90ec-13dc7d998b81.mp3" preload="none"]

Episode Notes

The guest adrienne maree brown can be found on twitter @adriennemaree and instagram @adriennemareebrown. The book we are discussing the most is Emergent Strategy.

The host Margaret Killjoy can be found on twitter @magpiekilljoy or instagram at @margaretkilljoy. You can support her and this show on Patreon at patreon.com/margaretkilljoy.

Transcript

Margaret 00:14
Hello, and welcome to Live Like the World is Dying, your podcast for what feels like the end times. I’m your host, Margaret Killjoy. I use she or they pronouns—and I’m sorry that it’s been a minute since an episode has come out and it’ll probably stay a little bit slowed down for a little while, it might be an episode a month for a little while. It’s not that I’ve run out of people to interview or subjects that I want to cover, it’s that it’s hard for me to get anything done right now, which I think might be something that might—you might identify with, as well. I’ve kind of said that the only thing I’ve managed to accomplish so far in 2021 is talk shit on the internet and not die. And I’m doing very good at both of those things. I’ve have honed my talking shit skills, and I’m reasonably good at not dying. One thing that people don’t talk about enough with off-grid life and things like that, I spend an awful lot of my time just maintaining the systems that sustain me. I spend a lot of my time trying to fix broken water pumps and learning that—the thing is, when you do everything DIY and you’re not particularly skilled, the first time you do something you probably do it good enough, but good enough often means that it will fall apart before before too long. So I’ve rewired my electrical system probably seven or eight times. It seems to be holding good now. My plumbing system, I’m going to be crawling under my house and rewiring my plumbing system a lot. I’ve had a lot of things freeze and break. And there’s just a lot of—a lot of uphill learning curve, especially to do alone. This week’s guest is Adrienne Maree Brown and I’m very excited to have her on the show. We talk a lot about—well, about Emergent Strategy which is a conception of strategy, of political strategy, that embraces change and embraces the fact that, well, you can’t have one strategy now can you? And we also talk a little bit about her work as a podcaster with the podcast How to Survive the End of the World, which is, yeah, as she points out that maybe the closest thing there is to a direct sister podcast or sibling podcast to this show. This podcast is a proud member of Channel Zero Network of Anarchists Podcasts, and here’s a jingle from another show on the network.

Jingle 02:48
One two one two, tune in for another episode of MaroonCast. MaroonCast is a down to earth black radical podcast for the people. Our host, hip hop anarchist “Sima Lee The RBG” and sex educator and crochet artists “KLC” share their reflections on maroons, rebellion, womanism, life, culture, community, trap liberation & everyday ratchetness! They deliver fresh commentary with a queer, TGNC, fierce, funny, Southern Guhls, anti-imperialist, anti-oppression approach. “Poli (Ed.) & Bullshit”. Check out episodes of MaroonCast on Channel Zero Network, Buzzsprout, Soundcloud, Google, Apple, and Spotify. All power to the people, all pleasure.

Margaret 03:40
Okay, so if you want to introduce yourself with your name, your pronouns, and then I guess kind of a brief introduction to you and your work, especially around Emergent Strategy.

Adrienne 03:51
Okay, my name is Adriennne Maree Brown, I use she and they pronouns. I am based in Detroit and I’m the author of five books including Emergent Strategy: Shaping Change, Changing Worlds, and almost everything I’ve written is in some way inspired by Octavia Butler or in touch with Octavia Butler, including Emergent Strategy. So, yeah.

Margaret 04:18
Yeah, that was one of the—one of the many reasons I wanted to have you on this show was that if there’s one book that keeps coming up over and over again on this show—and pretty much anyone vaguely on the left who cares about what’s going on in the world—it’s a Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler. And one of the things that really struck me about your work with Emergent Strategy the—not just the book, but the kind of the concept of emergent strategy that I want to talk to you about—is basically, the thing that I loved—I mean, I loved a lot about Parable of the Sower and Parable of Talents. But the idea of creating this essentially religious way of interacting with chaos and change and like embracing those things and learning to use them as our strengths, whether because it’s nicer or because it’s our only choice, it really appealed to me. And then learning that someone was taking that out and developing it further into essentially a strategy both for like political change, but also personal development. I got really excited about it. So I was wondering if you could kind of introduce the basic concepts to listeners who might not know what the hell I’m talking about.

Adrienne 05:31
That’s great. Yeah, so Emergent Strategy is, it’s rooted in many, many things, I think it’s the way that the world works. I feel like it’s strategies for getting in right relationship with change. And once you understand that change is constant, and that you can either be thrown about by change and see it as a, you know, wild chaos that you can never get your footing in. Or that you can partner with change, you can begin to shape the changes that happen in your life or in the era that you live in. Emergent Strategy is for people who are ready to be responsible for shaping change around them. And some of the key lineages of it are the scientific concepts of emergence. So emergence is the way patterns and the way—like basically all these patterns arise out of relatively simple interactions. And they’re very complex patterns, but each of the interactions or each of the relationships are relatively simple. So I think of like a flock of birds, a huge murmuration of birds, moving through the air, avoiding predation. And it looks like the most complex, choreographed, beautiful thing. But it’s actually this simple system where each bird is paying attention to the five to seven birds right around it and following the subtle cues that they’re sending each other: it’s time to move, left, dip, rise, move, right. One of the core questions of Emergent Strategy was, what would it look like if our movements and our species could move in that way? What would it look like if we could murmur it together? How would we have to trust each other? So adaptation is a big part of that, is what does it look like to adapt with intention. Not just react to the chaos, but really adapt in ways that keep moving us where we want to get to. And then there’s a lot about interdependence: what is the quality of relationships between each of the parts of our systems? Between you and my, between the people in our communities? How do we attend to the relationships? How do we think about decentralization? And I feel like one of the big lessons I’ve had, both in recent years and in looking back at movements throughout history, is that those that centralize are those that are not able to live as long as they need to live in order to do their best work. The centralization—something about gathering everything around one mind, one idea, one way of being—actually weakens us as a species. And nature shows us the biodiversity and creating more possibilities is actually the way to survive. And so now I think that’s a lot of my work is, what does it mean for us to be biodiverse in a fucund and world? What does it mean for us to decentralize how we hold power and how we hold responsibility for what happens in our communities? How do we adapt well?

Margaret 08:28
I love all of it. I just eat up all this stuff. I’ve been thinking a lot about what you’re saying about murmurations and the way that—the way that animals move in nature and the way that, you know, flocks move, and things like that, I was thinking about—I’ve been having some conversations with a couple people around the riot or the insurrection or whatever the hell people call it on January 6 at the Capitol, and the way that the rightwing crowd moved. And it’s so funny to me, because like, there’s like jokes on Twitter where it was like, we know it wasn’t Antifa because there wasn’t, like, a group of gay folks handing out sandwiches. And like, there wasn’t a medic tent set up and stuff. And people present it kind of as a joke, but I realized I was looking at it and I was like, I’ve been terrified of people being trampled at demonstrations. I’ve been in militant demonstrations a lot of times, and I’ve never seen it happen. And watching that happen, I was trying to figure out what it was. And I think it has to do with what you’re talking about, about our side at its best embraces interdependence and chaos and change and, like, and isn’t there as a group of individuals. Like people talk about—sorry, this is something I think about way too much recently—

Adrienne 09:40
Yeah, no, go off.

Margaret 09:42
People have been talking about—I grew up being told the left is like The Mob. It’s like the big mass action where everyone loses their individuality and it’s bad chaos and everyone gets hurt. And then that just hasn’t been my experience at all in large demonstrations. And then I look at what the right wing does when they all gather to go try and do this thing, and that’s what I see. So I don’t know. Yeah, I just, I’ve been thinking about that emergence stuff a lot as relates to that.

Adrienne 10:10
Yeah, I think that your—what you’re speaking to is, like, extremely important distinctions which is, when a group comes together who have all been deeply socialized and have bought into their own supremacy, right? Supremacy is a disconnecting energy. It’s like you can belong, as long as you play along by these rules, which are that we are better than everyone else and we’re constantly reinforcing that betterness. But better, you’re—then you have to constantly be reinforcing and finding new ways to be better than, better than, better than—even to the point that like, I’ve got to get to the Capitol door before you do, even if that means stepping over your body in the street. And you pair that with capitalism which is also the constant growth, constant bettering, constant one-upping, right? Constant showing what you have. There’s so much—trying to think if you have—what the word is—like that sense of, like, this is just ours. This is mine, this is—you know? And I feel like when you go to spaces that the left has organized, there’s such a care at the center of it. Like we’re there not because we’re just, like, I’m here to fight somebody, or I’m here to dominate, but we don’t even necessarily believe it’s like our way is “the right way.” It’s more like, we want to find a way to be loving and caring with each other. We don’t think we’ve ever gotten the chance to experiment with that at scale, as a species. At the current scale that we’re at, everything we’re doing is constantly trying to defend ourselves and care for ourselves under the conditions of oppression. And it means that when we come together—I always see the same thing. I’m like, are we going to be safe? But then people are taking such care of each other, from the street medics, to the people who are watching after the kids, to people who are like, I brought for extra signs so everyone would have something to carry. People—I always notice is that people bring extra water and extra food and, like, one of my favorite things, and one of the reasons why I’ve always been such a stan for direct action is that those spaces tend to be such active spaces of love and care and precision and, like, let’s attend to each other and attend to the work we’re up to. And, you know, we can go overboard with how attentive we are to everything. Because I think is part of our responding to the trauma of living in a society that’s so actively does not care for us. And so watching those people who actively don’t care try to come together and assert themselves as victims and, you know, it’s not funny. It’s actually quite sad, you know. It’s just sort of like, you have so much power, you abuse it—so much so that you end up abusing yourselves and you’re you’re continuously cutting yourself off from what is the best part of being alive, which is the nature of togetherness. That’s what I want to study is like the scholar—I’ve called myself a scholar of belonging. What does it actually look like to belong, to be part of something larger than yourself, of ourselves? And in that belonging, to take responsibility for our survival, for how we do—how we be with each other?

Margaret 13:20
I’m so glad I brought this up, then because you just managed to finally articulate this thing that me and my friends have been trying to wrap our head around for—since we saw it happen on January 6th. So you mentioned trying to—trying to do this at scale, and how that’s something that’s somewhat unprecedented by human society and that—go ahead. I just want—how do we—how do we do that? And one of the things that really interests me about your work and about the work that I care about, is that it’s embracing diverse strategies, rather than saying, like, this is the one way that we do it. So obviously when I say, how do we do that? I don’t mean because you are our leader, but you know, instead—yeah, like, how do we—how do we learn to weave different strategies, different ethical systems, different ideas about how to change things? How do we weave that into a coherent force?

Adrienne 14:17
Yeah, I mean, this is the question of our lifetimes, I think, you know, is like, how do we do this thing? This is why I’m, you know—when Walidah Imarisha created that term visionary fiction I was like, “Yes, that’s what I’m about is trying to figure out how we do everything that we’ve never really experienced in our lifetimes.” The best I have so far is what I witnessed when bringing people together for the Emergent Strategy immersions, or bringing people together for a process of, like, how do we do community together? Beloved community. Like, what does it actually look like to practice that? And some of the elements of that are that people are really invited to bring their whole selves into wherever they are. That there is a sense of organized care. That we don’t just leave it up to, you know, hoping everybody just figures it out. But there’s a—there’s a real ability to name, here are the needs in this community: the access needs, the food needs, the water needs, the timing needs—we need breaks, we need gender-liberated bathrooms—here’s all the things that we need in order to fully be here. And then we have to let people unleash what they have to bring to the table. And this is where I think, you know, when I started writing Emergent Strategy I was onto something that I’m not sure I even had articulated fully to myself. But it was my critique of how movements and Nonprofit Industrial Complex was playing out, which is, we were often trying to bring people into space where only a portion of them was welcome. And where we weren’t asking them to truly bring their offer. Like we were like, “Can you just come be a number in the strategy that we’ve already figured out? Or can you come play your position?” Like you show up in the debate exactly as we expect you to, and we’ll say what we expect to say and we’ll move forward with the lowest common denominator of a solution, which no one’s actually passionate about, and like, nothing will actually change. Philanthropy will keep paying us. It’ll go on and on forever and ever. And for me, I was like, I’m really not interested in playing the game anymore. I really want to see what happens when you unleash people to come together. And what I see is—what I’ve witnessed is people very quickly are like, how do we hold really authentic, effective accountability processes in real time together? How do we offer each other the rituals we need to really relinquish harm and trauma that has built up in our community? Here, we have tons of ways to care for each other. We created this exercise—and when I say we, it was one of the groups that was participating created this exercise that became something we did at everything else we ever did. And it was healing stations, where we just said, everyone gets 10 minutes. Go to your bag and pull out whatever you find to be healing, and create a healing station with your small group. And 10 minutes later, the room would have transformed into this place that felt like we can do anything, because we’ve got vibrators and cigarettes and Tarot decks and incense and medicines and tinctures. And like, anything, you know—and I was like, y’all just walk around with everything you need. So many books, you know, so many ways that people are like, this is how I care for myself and I want to offer it, I want to leave it here for other people to access and have contact with. That kind of—those moves, watching how quickly community did know, not only how to take care of itself, but how to hold each other accountable, and how to stay together. I was blown away. So I think a lot of the answers, we need to actually be willing to get into smaller formations and really practice being with each other. And let that proliferate, right? I think so often we’re oriented around, like, how do we build a mass movement that’s all thinking the same way to strike and to have this impact. I really love the idea of united fronts where people are all in their political homes united around some common organizing principles, but allowed to be their own weird, magical way of being and care for themselves where they need to. So that’s why I identify as a post nationalist because I do think that the American experiment is literally at a scale that doesn’t function. Like there’s, it’s—the scale is too big for there to be any kind of real, you know, something that’s not just a brand of togetherness, but that’s an actual practice of togetherness. You know, 70 million people or whatever are committed to voting for white supremacy in the country.

Margaret 18:50
Yeah.

Adrienne 18:50
Like, that’s not, you know, that’s not a viable strategy for how we move forward at this point. I love the idea of secession radical secessions. I love the idea of the Zapatistas claiming territory within territory with indigenous leadership would be like, a dream come true to me. I love, you know, people who are living off the grid and finding ways to divest from the American experiment already. So, you know, I think all of those are some of the ways.

Margaret 19:21
Yeah.

Adrienne 19:21
And I think right now with the pandemic unfolding, I think a lot more of us are like, “Oh, I do need, like, literal community.” Not social media community, not conference community, but I need, like, literal people I can call on, that I could walk to their house, that I can count on to hold boundaries around safety. Like, we need those things. And I think that’s the answer. I always think community is the answer.

Margaret 19:47
No that—that makes sense. And that’s one of the main focuses on like, the—one of the main points of this show is to talk about how preparedness is more of a community thing than an individual thing.

Adrienne 19:56
Absolutely.

Margaret 19:56
So one of the things you were saying about—

Adrienne 19:58
Yeah, cuz individually, we just hoard.

Margaret 20:00
Yeah no, totally. Yeah. One of the things you’re saying about—because earlier pointing out that direct action is a really good way to create a sense of belonging. And that’s something that I’ve been watching happen in a lot of people who’ve been kind of radicalized to the left within the last year, since the uprisings last summer started. And what you’re talking about, about creating these moments of belonging, I definitely, I think for my own experience, it has been those moments of, you know, facing down a very powerful force together and the way that—the way that you figure out who has your back when, like, literally—just to tell a random bullshit story, at one point I was, like, part of some march and, you know, the cops wanted to arrest me because I may or may not have been burning an American flag and things like that. And I thought all my like—yeah, I thought all my, like, punk friends were going to protect me. And then half of them were just gone. And then all of these people I’d kind of written off as like—this is a while ago, I was young—I’d kind of written off as hippies. Like some of the, like, older—I was like, oh, they’re probably liberals or whatever—just surrounded me and were like, “Hey, just so you know, we’re here to physically protect you from the police arresting you. They’re definitely talking about arresting you.” And it was just this nice moment of, like, realizing that in moments of conflict or even not unnecessary conflict, but moments of tension, you find out what community looks like. And maybe that’s what COVID is unfortunately doing for all of us about how we have to suddenly develop mutual aid networks at a scale that we never did previously in the United States.

Adrienne 21:40
Absolutely. I absolutely agree with that. And I think that Octavia Butler taught us this. In all of her works it was like, you’d never know who you’re going to be in the apocalypse with. Like, you have plans, you think you know what they look like and feel like, but you really don’t know who’s going to have your back under that pressure. And in some ways, I think it’s because people don’t even know themselves if the—what they’ll be capable of under the pressure. And, you know, this pandemic has revealed for people so much about what they’re like under pressure, because some people under pressure have really turned inward and disconnected from community and are, you know, really in a deep, lonely, isolated place. And I see that happening with people that I didn’t expect it from, you know. And then I see other people who are really finding ways to weave themselves into community. And there’s not a right or wrong here. It’s just very fascinating to see who turns towards others and who doesn’t. And what we need, right? I thought—I was like, I’m a loner, I like to be by myself you know, I’m a—that part of Octavia Butler’s life always appealed to me because she just was by herself, like, just chillin and writing sci fi. But I spent a few months all alone. And I was like, I don’t like this, I want to be with the love of my life, I want to be with my friends, I want to be with my parents, I want to, like, be with people who can lay hands on me when I’m sick. And, like, have my back, you know, physically rub my back.

Margaret 23:08
Yeah.

Adrienne 23:09
I just was like, I—that part, physical touch felt so important to me. And I’m watching our communities now. I’m like, there’s mutual aid but there’s also just, like, the need of being a body alive in this time. And like, what do we—what are the very fundamental needs? Which I also love about Octavia’s is writing. Like, what—there are some very fundamental human needs that we share. And then there are beliefs, destinies that pull us forward. And what you’re looking for in your community is the folks who can balance those two things, who are like, we can find ways to attend to the very non-negotiable physical needs. And we can align ourselves around a destiny. And it doesn’t have to be a perfect alignment where we all say the same words and we’re all coated out. But there has to be substance of like, oh, I want to be in communities that hold each other accountable. I want to be in communities that are abolitionists where we’re not trying to dispose of or lock anyone away. I want to be in communities that really love the earth, like, at a primal, this is home level, you know? And so on and so forth. And I’m like, I meet those kinds of people, actually, more often than you think. And writing books has been my way of, you know, go “Hoo de hoo!” Like, who is out there that is potentially my people? I feel very excited right now by, like, just—I’ll say this: the other day was Valentine’s Day. And I often, like, ignore that completely, capitalism, whatever. But this time I was, like, you know, there’s a lot of lonely people out there. Let me just try something. And I had a dream about it that was like posting a “looking for love” post but it was basically like for Emergent Strategists anP pleasure Activists and people who, like, really are like riding on this like Octavia way, right? And it was like over 1000 people wrote in and they’re like, “I’m looking for love and those are the kind of principles I want at the center of it.” And it made me so excited because I was like, this is what we—there’s enough people now that are at least looking at each other, like, I may not, you know, stamp Emergent Strategy on my forehead, but I do want to be in right relationship with change, and I want to be in accountable relationship with pleasure, I want to claim, you know, my power in this lifetime, I want to take responsiblity for community. I’m like, there’s enough of us now that we can fall in love with each other and, like, have, you know, radical families, and like, all that kind of stuff. Just, you know, we are a generation too. Like, we come from generations that held the ground for something outside of capitalism, something outside of nationalism, something outside of colonialism, militarism, all those things. And now we’re that generation. It’s just articulating ourselves again, and again, and again. Like, we’re here, we love each other, we’re taking care of each other. And as this added—you know, I think our folks are so brilliant, because they’re like, this is not the first pandemic. This is not the last pandemic. You know, like, we have our folks who came through the HIV AIDS pandemic and are now here and teaching us inside of this moment, and we will teach people the next one and—

Margaret 26:12
Yeah.

Adrienne 26:13
Right? Like, we keep going.

Margaret 26:16
Yeah, one of the things that people I’ve talked to have brought up a lot that I’ve been really excited about is—excited about is the wrong word—but the fact that, like, the apocalypse isn’t an event as much as like this cycle, ongoing process, thing that comes and goes, like, you know—and actually, I mean, even just to talk about Octavia Butler’s work again from a fangirly point of view, like, one of the reasons that her work was so important was, in my experience, I’m not incredibly well read, it was the first slow apocalypse in the kind of still recognizably an apocalyptic story of people leave their homes and go on the road and figure out how to start a new society. But it was a slow apocalypse. And that’s something that I think we need more of just out of—one of the hardest things that I’ve struggled with, in my personal life is—and this is awful, because I sound like Chicken Little—but it’s trying to convince people that we are in an apocalypse. Like we are in a slow apocalypse right now.

Adrienne 27:17
Exactly. We’re in it.

Margaret 27:18
Yeah. And people are waiting for the bomb to drop. So they’re like, “Oh, it’s not the apocalypse.” And I’m like, well, but what—what do you need? Like, failed infrastructure? You know?

Adrienne 27:31
How badly does it have to be? Yeah.

Margaret 27:33
And I’m actually curious.

Adrienne 27:35
Yeah.

Margaret 27:35
I’ve been meaning to try and ask people—well, actually, no, I want to bring it back to the Octavia Butler stuff and then—you also write fiction, and you also focus on—I’ve seen a lot of your work around trying to present visionary fiction and present futures. And that’s something and‚I’d like to hear more about. I’m just always trying to ask people about—because obviously it’s very close to me personally—but how do you—

Adrienne 28:03
Well you write them.

Margaret 28:04
[Chuckling] Yeah. What it—like, what is the—what is the importance of writing futures? Like, what is the importance of imagining futures?

Adrienne 28:15
Yes. You know, I just listened to—I got to read a bunch of Octavia Butler’s work for this NPR Throughline podcast. And they include a lot of interview with her. And she’s talking about how important it was for her to write herself in. She was like, “I wanted to write myself into the narrative, into the story.” And I think for so many of us, when we look back, we can see either stories of our trauma or stories—or like the gaps, the erasure, where our story should be, and they’re not. And I live in Detroit, and Detroit, you drive around and if you know what you’re looking at, right, if you’ve seen like maps or pictures of what it looked like 40 years ago to now, you can see that it’s a city full of gaps, full of spaces where there used to be homes. Like literally on a block it’ll be like, “Huh, this is kind of random. There’s just two houses on this block.” It used to be seven, right? But time and the economic crisis and other things disappeared those homes and I feel like history can look like that for those of us who are queer or trans, Black or Latino, Indigenous, etc. can look back and be like, “Where were we? Where were we?” And white supremacy and nationalism, other things, errased the full story of us so that we are left with just the trauma that we’ve been able to unveil. And so writing futures—writing ourselves into the future—is to me a way that we go ahead and stake a claim. Like, we are here now imagining ourselves. And in the imagining, we are creating room for something different to exist. And whenever I am engaging in fiction writing as a practice, I really feel like I am up to something that—the biggest thing maybe that I’m ever up to, is understanding that the whole world that we currently live in came out of someone’s imagination. All of the constructs, the way that I experience my own gender, the way that I experience my skin, the way that I experience my size, the way that I experience my desirability, my worthfull—worthiness, you know—there’s so many fundamental aspects of myself that are just miraculous, because that’s what everyone is. But they’ve been so complicated, and I’ve had to fight to feel like I deserve to exist. And that fight is because someone imagined that I did not. And they imagine that, you know—I was this morning thinking about all the Black children that we’ve lost to police violence, and like, they’re all dead because someone imagined that they were dangerous, you know. Imagination is a very, very powerful drug, a very powerful practice. And, to me, I’m like, if we want something new, we have to actually imagine, what does it look like? When I say defund the police, what am I imagining happens when there’s a domestic violence incident on the street? And does that mean—am I imagining myself willing to go down and intervene? Am I imagining myself calling community mediators to come on over right now, something’s going on? You know, what do I imagine happens? Because if I can’t imagine it, I’m definitely not going to be able to invite tons of people who are used to the putative system to come join me on another path. The imagination to me is how we create the future that we want to be, and how we make sure that we’re not absent from it. So—and I have to give a lot of props here to Disability Justice communities because I feel like I’ve just now starting to understand how much I learned from Disability Justice communities around this. But they’re like, if we’re not in the room and y’all plan something and it doesn’t have a wheelchair ramp, and it doesn’t have an accessible bathroom, and it’s like chemical scent overload or whatever, it’s because we weren’t in the room. So you didn’t even imagine us there. You didn’t not imagine us, you just didn’t think about us at all. We were just not part of it. And as a facilitator, the number of times that happened was like, “Oh, I’m sorry, like, I just didn’t.” And it’s like, no, that’s not acceptable. Like, now I’m like, how do I make sure that people are in the room where imagination happens? How do I make sure that they’re in the pages where imagination happens? And because then you end up with a future that is accessible, that is equitable, that is pleasurable, and is sustainable, right? Because we’re all there dreaming it.

Margaret 32:37
Yeah, the—this happens sometimes when I interview guests and I’m like, instead of having like a good—especially my year of reasonable isolation, I’ve lost some of my social skills. So people say things, and I’m just like, thinking about it. You know? Instead of having like, an immediate response.

Adrienne 32:52
I’m like—I would love to do a study on the social skills we’ve all lost.

Margaret 32:56
Yeah.

Adrienne 32:57
Because I just like, yeah.

Margaret 33:00
Yeah. [Laughing]

Adrienne 33:01
I’m also having—I have that experience all the time these days where I’m just like, everything moves slower now.

Margaret 33:06
Yeah.

Adrienne 33:06
And I’m thinking about it.

Margaret 33:07
Yeah. And then, you know, in some ways I’m, like, glad because I’m like, well, I don’t have an immediate response to what you’re saying, because I’m just thinking about it. I’m like, I just want to sit with that. Like that’s, you know, that touches on something that I’ve thought about before, but I haven’t—and I’ve tried to address in my own work, but I haven’t succeeded at yet. And I haven’t given enough attention to.

Adrienne 33:28
Yeah.

Margaret 33:28
To talk about something else. I very embarrassingly, after I named my podcast Live Like the World is Dying, googled—I was like, “Well, what if I called it something like How—” Because I always do things that are like “how to” or like, you know, whatever. Yeah.

Adrienne 33:42
How To… [Laughing]

Margaret 33:42
And um, do you want to talk about your own podcast with a very similar title?

Adrienne 33:47
Yes. I mean, our podcasts are definitely siblings in the territory of content.

Margaret 33:51
Yeah.

Adrienne 33:53
Yeah. So I have a—I have two podcasts. Actually now I have three podcasts.

Margaret 33:56
Oh wow, okay!

Adrienne 33:57
I’m an unstoppable podcast machine. So I really love the art of podcasting. You know, there’s something beautiful about just sitting and having a conversation, listening to a conversation. So my first podcast, my longest running one, is called How to Survive the End of the World. And it’s with my sister Autumn. And we’re both just obsessed with Octaviam obsessed with apocalypse and like how do we turn and face the fact that we are in apocalypse, and that we have been through many, and that apocalypse is actually a moment you can harness for change. And it’s actually quite a powerful portal if we harness it that way. So there’s a lot of philosophy and theoretical conversations mixed in with, like, hard skill offers. So that one is is kind of a blast, you know. It—for me it felt very liberating to just turn directly and face apocalypse and just get to be in conversations that are all, like, related to what is. And then I do the Octavia’s Parables podcast with Toshi Reagon where we’re reading the Parable of the Sower chapter by chapter. We just finished that first season. Now we’re going to head into the Parable of the Talents, and then we’ll keep going with Octavia’s work just—we’re like, even though only two of her books are called parables, they’re all parables in a way so. And then Emergent Strategy Ideation Institute just last week launched our podcast, which is the three kind of core collective members take turns interviewing different people who are, what we see is like living Emergent Strategy in the world. And we’re just examining, like, building basically a set of audio case studies for people to listen to. Like, what does it look like to practice Emergent Strategy and all these different realms of movements?

Margaret 35:46
Okay. I admit the How to Survive the End of the World one—people have been, you know, that—more and more, I think, people—for some strange reason everyone’s really into prepping right now. It’s hard to figure out why. But I actually—

Adrienne 36:04
No idea why. Mysterious.

Margaret 36:07
And I like that there is—that there is other stuff out there. And I was wondering if you had—

Adrienne 36:13
Oh, yeah.

Margaret 36:14
—your own thoughts about, like, where people can find stuff about whether individual community or social preparation? Or like, how else people can get—

Adrienne 36:23
So we have brought on a series of guests. Last year, I was away on sabbatical and my sister did, I think, the best episodes of the entire podcast without me, which were—it was apocalypse of survival series. And each of the guests are people who have their own work and their own lives. But there’s a group called Queer Survival—Queer Nature. They basically blew our minds. Blew our minds. And it was just very tangible stuff on, like, how do you think under the pressure of crisis? And they do trainings, they do offerings. And then Leah Penniman came on from Soul Fire Farm and was really talking about, like, how do we reorient our relationship to food? Because, you know, what happened when the pandemic went down. Everybody was like, run to the store, buy everything frozen and canned, stick that in your house. And like—I’m like, so basically, you’re prepared to give up even having access to any organic, fresh food. And that’s your plan for how you’re going to survive. Like, what does that mean? Right. And I feel like, listening to someone like Leah Penniman, it’s like, what is it instead look like to begin to organize ourselves around farms, around food growth, around the cycles of planting and gardening and growing. I’m hoping that that becomes one of the next iterations that emerges from this pandemic crisis is that people are like, okay, we were not fully ready to actually be growing and thinking about food as a community. That’s something we want to be orienting ourselves towards. I know that for me that’s something I’m thinking about is, do I have the first clue about how to grow my own food if I wanted to? [Laughing, inaudible] How would I do that? You know? So I just started, I’m now growing cilantro and lavender, which is not something I could survive on but it is, like, a move in the right direction. And I have aloe and I have other things. But I’m like, what does it look like to actually, like, think about a season and put things in the ground? And how much food would it take for me and my partner to live? How much will we be able to contribute? One of the things I love, that I feel like I learned from the conversations with Leah, but with other farmers, Black farmers—Derek Cooper, other folks—is like, everything that we grow is actually immediately abundant. If you’re doing it, if you’re in right relationship with whatever it is you’re growing, you end up with more than you could ever need. And that’s why so many farmers end up doing all kinds of cooperative efforts of sharing their food out to other people, because you get so much. I love that as a problem and as a challenge for us. It’s like, could we deal with the abundance that would come if we actually all gave a portion of our time and attention to growing food directly from land? So that’s one of the things I’m—that’s like one of my next horizons is, like, inspired by this Soul Fire Farms community is, like, what does it look like to actually get our hands dirty in a different way.

Margaret 39:23
Cool. Yeah, I um—when all this happened I was like, I live on land that is technically a farm. And I consider myself to not have a green thumb at all. And—

Adrienne 39:36
Yeah.

Margaret 39:37
—and I’ve like, you know, the few times I’ve tried to grow food, it’s failed. So I’ve convinced myself that I will never successfully grow food. And so—

Adrienne 39:43
You’re like, see, I can’t. [Laughing]

Margaret 39:44
Yeah, exactly. Which is funny because I think that I’m capable of, like, almost anything because I’m so obsessively DIY that I like—I’m, you know, in a house I built and I’ve learned plumbing and electrical since the pandemic started so that I could make my house meet my needs and, and all of these things. But I’m like, I’m convinced that growing food is entirely just magic that is beyond me. And what I’ve decided to do personally is I’m going to start mushroom cultivation because I’m like, well, this fits my like, “I live in the forest.” Everyone else lives in, like, you know, elsewhere in the sun. And I’m like, “I’m in the forest, everything is dark and rainy.” And, you know, trying to play to my strengths while still—but then there’s the thing where it’s like, I don’t even envision—as much as I talked about my isolation, I still live with land mates, right? I’m, and I imagine that, come crisis, we continue to help each other. And so I’m like, well, I live with people who know how to grow food. So— I will focus on learning how to fix the rainwater catchment and things like that.

Adrienne 40:36
Exactly. Exactly. Like there’s a way to be of use. And I mean—well, two things are happening right now. One is, I have my first mushroom log out on my deck. So we, you and I are mycelium familia. And I’m very excited about it. But same thinking is just like, I can grow mushrooms, like, I’m in a place where, like, there’s enough condition for mushroom growing. And then I feel the same way, right? That I’m like, even if I never get great at growing food, if I’m in community with people who do grow food, but I have other skills to bring to the table, then that’s great. And one of the things I’m always worried about is like, is my only skill talking? Like, do I still do I have other—you know, like—and then, you know, like, no, facilitation is a skill. Mediation is a skill. That’s something you can offer to a community. I do doula work, that’s a skill. But I’m always looking at like, you know, I’m of value in the current conditions, how would I be a value in future conditions. And I want to make sure that whatever I’m developing myself, I would be a community member that people would be like, “you’re of value to us.”

Margaret 40:44
Yeah. Yeah.

Adrienne 41:47
And not just because of what you do, but how you show up how you are, right?

Margaret 41:50
Yeah.

Adrienne 41:51
Like, I would love to have such value to my community that even if I can’t do anything—because I have arthritis that it’s just getting worse and worse and worse and worse—so Toshi and I talked about this often that, like, if the community all had to run for it, we wouldn’t be running for it. So we would be like, okay, we’ll sit and hold down the fort and, like, distract them and point them in another direction and that’ll be our usefulness. Or whatever it is, like, you know—but be—I think everyone should be thinking about that question. How can I be of use in community? How do I understand my usefulness? How do I understand the relationships I’m in? Not transactionally, but in a sense of mutual aid and a sense of, we all need, we all have to give, how do we do that well with elegance, with grace? Yeah.

Margaret 42:34
Yeah, the usefulness question, it comes up so much when we talk about disability and the apocalypse, like you’re talking about, and I really liked the way that you phrased—you phrased it, how you come to interactions is also part of our usefulness. And, you know, and—and then there’s even stuff around like, you know, I’ve friends who, through like, sort of, like no fault of their own, or whatever, have… let’s go spiky personalities. Right? And yet, we—I think it’s like, partly it’s a challenge to figure out how we can be useful, but it’s also partly a challenge to figure out the usefulness—like, what people around you bring to you. And so like, for me, it’s like, okay, my friends who are, like, maybe really hard to get along in a facilitated consensus meetings because they’re opinionated and angry. And like, often because the world has done horrible things to them. And yet, like, for me, I kind of secretly enjoy, like, learning to help those people point themselves. Be like, ah, you have all of this anger. Here’s this institution that needs destruction. How would you go about destroying it? You know.

Adrienne 43:09
Like, how would you do it? I love that, Margaret, because I—I just turned in the final draft of my next book, which is called Holding Change, the Way of Emergent Strategy Facilitation and Mediation. And there’s a whole section on there, like, quote/unquote problem participants. And one of the things I was noting in there is like, every single person who shows up in the space as a problem—whatever kind of problem they are—if you can harness the energy that they’re bringing in, they’re often the most effective people. They’re coming to the space. Right? You should be able to harness and move that energy somewhere. But particularly the grumpy, grouchy, curmudgeonly, flat, you know, this isn’t working. Often those are the most visionary people in the room. And what’s happening is that they are hurt by how it’s all going down. You know, they’re like, why are we not free yet? Why is it going like this? Like, why aren’t we doing a better job? And like, harnessing that energy could free and save the world, right? So I always keep a couple of curmudgeonly, grumpy people close by. [Chuckling] Just keep me honest and to keep me like motivated.

Margaret 44:47
I think we’re running up on time. How can people find out more about your work?

Adrienne 44:55
You know, go to akpress.org to buy the books there. I prefer people buy them straight from AK, which is an amazing people’s press. And I’m on Instagram, that’s where I’m like a person, you know, on social—the place where I—I mostly put pictures of things that I think are beautiful or cool. And then I have a website, adriennemareebrown.net, where I blog and I keep an archive of the interviews I do. So this will eventually live there. Yeah.

Margaret 45:31
Thank you so much for listening. If you enjoyed this episode, or any of the other episodes, please tell people about it. Like, first and foremost, the way to help the show is to tell people about it in person or online. And, you know, I always go on about the algorithms that run the world and how we can influence them. And, you know, and that’s kind of shitty to just sit around and try and influence algorithms. But if you like, or subscribe, or post about this, or review it, or whatever, on whatever platforms you listen to it, it helps far more than it should. It helps bring it up into other people’s feeds and it helps people more find—more people find out about it. And all the support that I’ve been getting for the show, especially seeing people post about it on social media and things like that. And, you know, people I know telling me that they like it is kind of the reason that I’m continuing going with it right now. I’m very low energy these days, and that’ll swing back around, I’m sure. But hearing that it’s useful to people is—matters to me and it makes me feel like I’m not wasting my time. So thank you all. And also you can support the podcast more directly by supporting me on Patreon. My Patreon is patreon.com/margaretkilljoy. There’s not a ton of stuff that you get, like, that exclusive, except that I do ostensibly a monthly scene that I mail out to people. It’s also very far behind. I point to, you know, the world, and hold that up as my excuse which is getting kind of old for myself, but so it goes. And I do try and post up there as much as I can and also try and send out presents to my Patreon supporters as much as I can. In particular though I would like to thank Hugh and Dana and Chelsea and Eleanor, Mike Satara, Cat J, The Compound, Shane, Christopher, Sam, Natalie, Willow, Kirk, Hoss the dog, Nora, and Chris. I—I’m overwhelmed by the amount of support that I’ve been getting. And I’ve been able to use that to hire a transcriptionist. And now also potentially get more help, like the show might end up collectivizing, who knows, we’ll see how it goes. In which case, me having bad mental health times won’t be as much of a hold up. And that’ll be good for everyone. And so thank you to my supporters for helping that make—helping that look like it might become a possibility. Anyway, I hope you all are doing as well as you can with everything that’s going on and I’ll talk to you soon.

S1E25 – Cici and Eepa on radio

I talk with Cici and Eepa from the Javelina Network about communicating across the globe using autonomous radio.

We’re All Preppers Now

We’re all preppers now. Whether we want to be or not. It’s hard to think about, but we’re just in the opening credits to the apocalypse movie. As I write this, we’re in the calm before the storm. This is your moment to get ready. We can get through this. Remember: most people survive the collapse of their way of life, most of the time. The end of the world isn’t always, or even usually, the uh… end of the world.

S1E24 – Philip on Security Culture

I talk with Philip about security culture: the idea of creating a culture of security so that activists and revolutionaries don’t get caught.