Just Disaster Recovery
In the status quo, low income communities of color face exploitation and oppression. This reality is intensified for women and LGBTQ folks inside of Black and brown communities.
Without a counterbalance, natural disasters tend to exacerbate the inequalities produced under the man made disasters of economic exploitation, racial oppression and gender based oppression. That is to say, in a system where the most impacted populations face the triple whammy of class, race and gender oppression, low-income Black and brown women are feeling the brunt of the effects of climate change in general and fare worse during and after hurricanes Katrina, Harvey, Irma and Mathew, in particular.
From heat waves to flooding to category 5 hurricanes, South Florida is in the cross hairs of climate change. These natural disasters are exacerbated by human behaviors that pollute and destroy our planet, our only home.
While storms and other disasters impact entire regions, low-income Black and brown women, girls and femmes are disproportionately impacted by man-made disasters, such as:
- Substandard housing that is more likely to be damaged during a storm;
- Lack of access to transportation for evacuation;
- Lack of access to emergency supplies, such as water, food and batteries, due to low income;
- Lack of time to prepare for emergencies due to requirements to work while others prepare for the emergency;
- Uneven disaster relief from the government, which favors wealthier, whiter communities;
- Attempts to evict long time residents after a disaster to make way for post-disaster neighborhood;
In addition to the fear and damage from the storm, the aftermath of the storm induces short term suffering due to the lack of assistance from the government to low-income Black and Brown communities. This suffering is compounded by the fact that plenty of assistance is available in general and the media continues to laud recovery efforts directed towards middle and upper middle class communities that are comforted by, but do not really need, the assistance.
This lack of assistance is even more severe for women, who not only lack access to shelter, for example, but often have greater shelter needs, including shelters that can assure physical safety and accommodate children in a safe and nurturing environment.
The unavailability of unemployment benefits and childcare to allow workers to resume work, reduce the income of low-income workers even more. Uncollected debris and garbage after a storm presents a health hazard that is compounded by the lack of universal healthcare.
Just as the impact of disasters are not evenly distributed, recovery efforts are not evenly distributed and often leave poorer neighborhoods behind and the vulnerable to fend for themselves.
As if that is not bad enough, the destruction of low-income communities by a natural disaster paves the way for ‘disaster capitalism,’ or profiteering from the combination of economic insecurity, low social significance and the sheer chaos and desperation of disaster. This profiteering takes the form of price gouging and low-level scams in the short term and mass scale displacement in the long term.
Natural disasters are used as pretexts for the large scale displacement of low-income communities, such as Liberty City, Little Haiti and Overtown. Plans for such a displacement are certainly already underway and, frankly, those efforts would be facilitated by intentionally denying residents services and creating chaos in those communities. The chaos would generate broader calls for a massive police presence in those communities and many residents would be willing to tolerate police violence in exchange for a greater chance at physical safety. Of course the real key to physical safety is economic security.
The Miami Workers Center is genderizing disaster recovery efforts so that those efforts prioritizes the most vulnerable and in greatest need.
In the aftermath of Hurricane Irma, we participated in a movement wide effort to provide relief supplies to under served communities and demand a just recovery from city, county and state officials.
We are also working to build the capacity of communities to prepare for and respond to disasters on their own, building community and power in the process.
Particularly in South Florida, genderizing disaster recovery is essential to ending the feminization of poverty and advancing the Femme Agenda.
Towards those ends, the Miami Workers Center is building towards a two-pronged response to natural disaster recovery, centering low-income Black and Brown women, girls and femmes: a Just Recovery and Disaster Organizing.
The overall aim of the Just Recovery is to compel city, county, state and federal officials into a just and fair recovery and rebuilding, as well as holding officials accountable for their decisions.
The Just Recovery prong includes legal support for individuals, joining in coalition to demand access to government resources and fighting for full options for low-income Black and brown women, girls and femmes. A genderized recovery is a just recovery.
In her book The Shock Doctrine, Naomi Klein argues disaster capitalism is using a disaster as a means of realizing extreme profits from the vulnerabilities of politically weak people. Disaster Organizing is the opposite: using a disaster to organize people into positions of collective political power.
Our Disaster Organizing operation intentionally centers two aspects of recovery and rebuilding: first, we center the needs of women in these impacted communities. And second, we center the leadership of these same women.
With this focus, our recovery operation is not dependent on outside relief volunteers coming to town to provide services for the victims of a natural disaster. Instead, the core of the operation is building capacity for residents to organize and lead their own recovery effort, however modest.
Of course, we are calling for donations of water, food and other relief supplies. However, instead of waiting for volunteers to staff the relief center, residents of the immediate community will both receive assistance (needs) and provide assistance (leadership) to their neighbors. These efforts are led by women in their own communities.
In the final analysis, the Miami Workers Center is not staffing a distribution center, we are building femme power.
It should also be made clear that we did not begin to contemplate disaster recovery after the devastation of Hurricane Irma, but as a result of the long term scientifically proven effects of climate change.