Special Report: How Decentralized Mutual Aid Networks Are Helping Houston Recover from Harvey

2 months ago
https://democracynow.org - We end today's show in Houston, Texas, two weeks after Hurricane Harvey caused historic flooding and left residents to coordinate ...

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JUAN GONZÁLEZ: We end today’s show in Houston,
Texas, two weeks after Hurricane Harvey caused
historic flooding and left residents to coordinate
with each other to rescue thousands of people
who were left stranded when officials were
overwhelmed.
Now that volunteer spirit of mutual aid has
continued in the storm’s aftermath.
AMY GOODMAN: Democracy Now!’s Renée Feltz
joins us now with a report from her home town
of Houston on how—some of the many Houstonians
who formed decentralized networks to clean
out flooded homes, feed thousands who lost
everything, and offer much-needed counseling.
Welcome back, Renée.
Why don’t you set up this piece for us?
RENÉE FELTZ: Thanks, Amy.
It’s great to be back in New York.
Like many people who live in Houston, in the
Gulf Coast, I feel like I’m going through
a bit of PTSD.
I did have a good time.
It was good to see people down there.
But it’s a long-term recovery situation.
And part of what I was happy to see and excited
about was the fact that people that helped
each other, neighbor to neighbor, are now
helping each other in the long-term relief.
And so, we spoke with a woman named Mary McGaha,
and she’s going to introduce us, in this
video, to her home that was destroyed.
And then we’ll meet some of the volunteers
that are helping to clean it out.
We’ll also meet people helping to serve
meals and to do counseling.
AMY GOODMAN: Let’s go to Renée Feltz’s
piece, just back from Houston.
MARY McGAHA: When I walked in the doorway,
we see lots of muddy water, furniture tipped
over.
Everything was very wet.
RENÉE FELTZ: could you tell how high the
water got?
MARY McGAHA: It got about four feet.
I had a contractor came, worked there for
a while.
Then I couldn’t afford to pay him, because
I hadn’t—I ran out of money.
Then I got the volunteer through my niece.
She had some people—I don’t know how she
found the volunteers, but she’s bringing
them to me.
So they came over and started helping me.
JAMES CLARK: Hi.
My name is James.
It’s a lot of work gutting the houses, taking
out all the drywall, all the insulation, all
the furniture and belongings—basically,
everything that’s, you know, below four
feet on the house, and then cleaning it out,
doing stuff to remediate the mold, so washing
the studs down and the floors down with bleach
and everything.
And this is at least the third day that groups
of volunteers have been out at this house.
RENÉE FELTZ: That noise we hear sounds like
a vacuum.
Looks like the bottom part of the walls is
ripped out on the drywall in the living room
where you walk in.
MARY McGAHA: This is my kitchen.
And this is my microwave.
And I had a cooking top, and I had a built-in
oven over here.
Actually, this is my sink.
RENÉE FELTZ: There’s no sink here now.
MARY McGAHA: There’s not?
I thought I saw a sink there.
No, I’m just kidding.
RENÉE FELTZ: Just pipes.
I see pipes only.
MARY McGAHA: It’s just pipes only.
Right now, you’re in my master bedroom.
And right over to my right here is my bed.
They had to tear everything out here.
So this was my comfort zone right here.
Right now, it doesn’t look much like a comfort
zone, but it will be.
I figure, when you’re going through something
like this, you just don’t realize it ’til
you go through it.
RENÉE FELTZ: I’m so sorry.
MARY McGAHA: I didn’t cry 'til yesterday,
through all the ordeal.
And it's just hard to talk about.
Like I said, I wouldn’t wish this on my
worst enemy.
I can’t explain how you would feel, but
I know how I feel: devastated, to know that
everything that you worked for all your life
is gone.
JAMES CLARK: You know, I think the effort
in Houston is going to be a long-term effort.
It’s not something that you’re going to
just clean up in the next couple days.
And I think one of the biggest challenges
is sort of keeping it on people’s radar.
You know, I think it’s important to question
like why the state is so eager to be outsourcing
these functions.
And I don’t think it’s an issue of wanting
the state to like reassert its control over
relief efforts, but to sort of question the
legitimacy of that entire approach to begin
with and why—you know, why we’re not better
off in many aspects of our lives sort of self-organizing
and decentralizing these tasks and, you know,
organizing around concepts like mutual aid
and solidarity and sort of basic human dignity
and decency.
RENÉE FELTZ: We’ve just came from visiting
with a woman whose house was being gutted
by volunteers.
The house had no stove, no appliances, no
cabinets to put any food in.
You can see how hard it would be hard to prepare
a meal there.
We heard about the Midtown Kitchen Collective,
and we’ve come to see how they’re preparing
prepared meals to share with people like we
just met.
MATTHEW WETTERGREEN: My name is Matthew Wettergreen.
And we’re here at the Midtown Kitchen Collective,
and we’re running a site called IHaveFoodINeedFood.com.
So we built this site that’s just two forms,
two Google forms, that ask you to describe
the food that you have, whether it was prepared
in a commercial kitchen, the quantity, when
it’s ready, and then another set that’s
the need side for people to describe what
type of food they need, how much they need,
where it’s going to—first responders,
evacuees, things like that.
So, we’ve either arranged or picked up or
cooked ourselves over 200,000 meals in the
last week.
JONATHAN BEITLER: I’m Jonathan Beitler.
RENÉE FELTZ: We’re going to walk over to
a station here, where it looks like they’re
preparing...
JONATHAN BEITLER: Sandwiches, yeah.
We have been preparing sandwiches for the
past week.
We’ve had hundreds of people making literally
thousands of sandwiches.
RENÉE FELTZ: Now we’re in a bustling kitchen.
JONATHAN BEITLER: Yeah, we’re using the
commercial kitchen space here at SEARCH.
We’ve had dozens and dozens and dozens of
chefs come in, donate their time, using product
that’s also been donated, and to create
hot meals that we are giving out to people
all over the city and including outlying areas
like Beaumont and Port Arthur.
You know, it’s one thing to give them sandwiches,
and that’s very much a necessity when you’re
talking about dealing with a lot of people.
But the ability to provide neighborhoods and
communities and shelters with hot food that
they can sit down and sit around the table
and talk to each other over a hot dinner,
which many of the people that have been affected
by the hurricane haven’t been able to do
in weeks now, has been—has been incredible.
We’re working really hard to make sure that
we’re cataloging what we’ve done and making
it available for other communities.
Other people should have this system and be
able to have it set up in place prior to a
disaster happening, so that once the disaster
does happen, it can be activated immediately,
because it’s an innovative approach, utilizing
technology, utilizing social media, and really
everybody coming together to service a need
that’s not been fulfilled by entities like
the Red Cross or FEMA in immediate disaster
response.
RENÉE FELTZ: And now we’ve made it into
the Fifth Ward, where we’re stopping to
speak with...
JULIA WALKER: Julia Walker.
I have an organization called World on My
Shoulders.
We’ve been here mostly distributing goods.
We’ve engaged with the public a little bit
and tried to figure out how best to serve
their needs.
We’ve got another partner out and—with
Black Women’s Defense League.
They’ve been demoing houses the last few
days, but all of those houses are places where
I went to before and found out, by saying,
you know, "You need water, you need this,"
and then they’re like, "Oh, actually, there’s
another layer: Our house if full of mold."
As more crews have gotten out and started
distributing goods and started showing up
to demolition houses and doing other things
like that, I felt like I could do less of
that and more of my unique skill set.
And so, I’ve been directly peer-to-peer
counseling every single day.
I’m trying my best to make sure that we
work on actual total care, and I think that
a large portion of that is dealing with the
trauma and dealing with the multilayered trauma,
because these are people who were already
in trauma zones and were already living fully
in crisis mode, and now have lost all of their
assets on top of it.
People are still being ignored actively.
Because they’ve been passed by by someone,
because someone has handed them a thing, they’ve
decided that all their problems are fixed.
And that’s not possible under late capitalism.
It’s not possible to just say that because
we fed people today, that they will be OK
tomorrow.
It’s giving them the tools, fixing the immediate
needs, giving the tools, and then, long term,
staying with them, so that they can help build
and then be the example for the next.
AMY GOODMAN: Special thanks to Democracy Now!’s
Renée Feltz and to Tish Stringer for that
report from Houston, Texas, and to Austin
Airwaves always.
That does it for our show.
Juan, tonight, you’re going to be in Washington,
D.C..
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Yes, I’ll be there soon.
AMY GOODMAN: Juan is continuing his book tour
with his new book, Reclaiming Gotham.
He’ll be at Busboys and Poets at 5th and
K in Washington, D.C., speaking with?
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Speaking with Joe Davidson,
the columnist at The Washington Post.
AMY GOODMAN: And then moving on Thursday to
Changing Hands Bookstore in Tempe, Arizona,
at 7 p.m.
On Friday, Juan will be speaking in Austin,
Texas, at 5:30 at the Workers Defense Project.
And in the weeks to come, he’s headed to
Newark, New Jersey; Kansas City, Missouri;
College Park, Maryland; and beyond.
You can check our website at democracynow.org.
I’ll also be traveling through Canada in
the weeks to come.
Check democracynow.org, our speaking events.