Occupy Oklahoma Relief: Mutual Aid Without the Bureaucracy
OPOK Relief: Solidarity is our strength.
A week and a half ago, when I first drove to Little Axe, Oklahoma, to take a look at post-tornado recovery efforts, the countryside was still in crisis mode. Mountains of rubble and garbage filled gravel roads and red dirt paths leading to the remains of homes. Neighborhoods that had been full of working-class houses were uprooted and dirty, unsafe tent camps were all that remained. Just 30 minutes away, the big NGOs and FEMA operated, bringing national attention to Moore – a badly struck area, to be sure. But not the only one affected.
In Little Axe, Newalla, Carney, Luther, Shawnee, and other areas, humanitarian workers at the local nonprofits complained how little had been done, despite the hundreds of millions that the Red Cross said had been donated. It was only later that everyone’s thoughts were confirmed – money sent to the big players was ending up in Washington, DC. Certainly some of it would be spent on affected people here, but the vast majority would be sent to other areas or spent on overhead, administration costs. At last count, the Red Cross was still sitting on $110 million allocated for Superstorm Sandy. While the NGOs have done some fantastic work here, our communities know their needs best. There had to be a better way.
OpOK Relief stepped in to fill the gaps as part of the People’s Response. As a convergence of Occupy groups, anarchists, libertarian socialists, Food Not Bombs folks, Rainbow Family, IWW organizers, teachers, social workers, and non-hierarchical, non-bureaucratic relief groups from out of state, our focus has been on direct action. Local and international initiatives have come together to address community specific needs. We’ve been able to assess damage on the ground, get people into emergency housing, help them secure their homes, and provide connections for outside volunteers to plug into affected communities, prioritizing the most impoverished and overlooked.
The response to our work is overwhelming; we’re getting supplies and volunteers into areas that have either been underserved or neglected altogether by the major NGOs. Horizontal organizing, based off people’s needs on the ground, is making all of this possible.
As a non-hierarchical solidarity effort, multiple people share the work load. As such, I have no worries as I leave Oklahoma tomorrow for a family gathering in Syracuse, NY. I am grateful to play a part in this work, but this is a community effort. And the community will continue to respond.
If you haven’t plugged into the People’s Response yet, please volunteer your services at OpOKRelief.net/volunteer. Get in the OpOK Relief group on Facebook and see how our teams come together. If your thing is food, consider feeding the displaced or those working to help them with Food Not Bombs – Norman, OK. Plug into our new OpOK Rideshare with your ability to transport supplies or request a ride to a worksite. Text @OKALERT to 23559 to be added to our cell loop for the latest.
Allowing residents and victims to shape the services they receive is an essential part of our disaster relief efforts. Find local organizers and community leaders on the ground in these locations, ask what they need, crowdsource and share information, and see what you can do to meet these needs.
Cooperative decision-making, participatory democracy, and mutual aid are tenants of anarchist society. OpOK Relief isn’t an anarchist group, but anarchism motivates my work within it. Anarchism is movement for a society in which the violence of racism, sexism, homophobia, capitalism, and coercion are removed from our daily lives. Anarchism is the belief in a world without war and economic poverty. Anarchism is a philosophy and movement working to build cooperative, egalitarian human relationships and social structures that promote mutual aid, radical democratic control of political and economic decisions, and ecological sustainability.
I believe that our work here today can create the kind of world that I carry in my heart. I believe that this work brings the best out of everyone involved, from the people on the ground to the people directly impacted by these storms. I believe that everyone has a part to play here, that anyone is capable of making a difference in these struggling areas.
I believe in solidarity. I believe in mutual aid. I believe in you. Join us.
Solidarity is our strength. ♥ #OpOK