Activism

Dozens of Local Groups in Puerto Rico Are Helping Neighbors and Rebuilding Economy After Hurricane Maria

Donations are sought for recovery and building a new economy that doesn't repeat the past's mistakes.

Photo Credit: www.youcaring.com/comitedialogoambientalycoquisolar-739871

Imagine a Puerto Rico recovery designed by Puerto Ricans—not by Congress, nor the federal government nor disaster capitalists like the Montana firm with two employees from the Interior Secretary’s hometown that was given a $300 million contract to repair fallen power lines (before bad publicity killed the deal).

Dozens of community groups across Puerto Rico are focused on many dimensions of a recovery effort that includes feeding people, purifying water, installing solar power, getting building supplies into the right hands, and restoring community centers and schools. There’s more, including social services, such as support groups for women, LGBTQ individuals, and finance-oriented non-profits collecting money for future loans to worker co-operatives and other community-oriented businesses.

These grassroots efforts are not just a striking counterpoint to the centralized relief effort Puerto Rico’s governor and federal officials have launched; they are an alternative economic vision that does not revive systemic inequities and offers a model for what the government’s recovery efforts should support now and in the future. That’s because the recovery will take years, as Hurricane Katrina showed in New Orleans.

“It is the responsibility of the federal government to respond to its residents in the aftermath of disaster,” Collette Bichon Battle, an attorney with U.S. Human Rights Network, said in a recent conference call hosted by the New Economy Coalition that looked at innovative responses to communities hurt by hurricanes and wildfires. Yet federal disaster relief prioritizes middle-class and well-off Americans, Battle said, recounting her frank conversations with FEMA officials after Hurricane Katrina.

“That was a factual statement which begs the question, what happens to the millions of Americans, the millions of residents who live below that middle-class income line, in places like Puerto Rico, in places like the Gulf of Mexico, in places like the Pacific Northwest,” Battle said. “These are things we should be thinking through. What is our federal response? And if there are alternatives being put forth, if we have an alternative system being created, and an antiquated system that creates more problems and privilege for certain groups of people, then perhaps we can do a better job of what should go and what should replace it for the better.”  

Puerto Rico’s recovery got off to an inept start because it was repeating past mistakes seen in other recent major hurricanes, such as centralizing all aid, said Pablo Benson-Silva, a Puerto Rican native and spokesman for the New York City Network of Worker Cooperatives. Still, dozens of grassroots groups are taking action and making a difference, he said, and the real work will begin after the mainstream media turns its attention elsewhere, as it already has.   

“Thinking about Puerto Rico, there are new economy efforts,” he said. “There are community land trusts in one of the most impacted neighborhoods in San Juan… and they have been able, thanks to this, to garner a lot of resources in an effort to improve all the work and projects they’ve been working on for years.”

“Here’s another example,” Benson-Silva said. “Casa Pueblo has been electrifying the mountainside with solar panels. And actually they have done an amazing job… People now see that solar is a more resilient alternative to the crumbling grid that monopoly utility we have been using up until now… Suddenly you see there’s an opening for all these community-led projects to take off.”

What follows is a list of 12 projects in Puerto Rico showing the resilience of the affected communities. The list was compiled for a briefing from the New Economy Coalition. Some projects involve participatory budgeting, in which local forums decide how funds are spent. Some involve mutual aid networks with locals supporting each other, including loaning money to start small businesses. All of the following projects are seeking donations for their work. The accompanying descriptions are taken from their websites, Facebook and GoFundMe pages, where English language text accompanies the Spanish. At the bottom are links to more Spanish-language websites and pages, which fill out the picture of creative and locally driven solutions. 

1. Colectiva Feminista en Construcción. As a feminist grassroots organization active since 2014, Colectiva Feminista en Construcción reiterates our commitment and struggle for the well-being of the most vulnerable communities in Puerto Rico. We are raising funds to support the established #CasaTomada, a grassroots-organized space in Río Piedras that works as an oasis, meeting and gathering point and distribution center of resources to alleviate the most urgent necessities of women, LGBTQ people, non-binary folks and other people and communities in resistance.

This space also organizes #BrigadasFeministas (feminist brigades) that will distribute the collected resources. This funding campaign also intends to raise awareness regarding the real roots of the catastrophe Puerto Rico is going through. This catastrophe was caused by the deteriorating conditions of poverty we have been subjugated to for decades now. The incompetence of our government, local as well as federal, in serving its people only goes to show what we've been saying for years: this disaster is not a natural one. The acts of violence of the political-economic system are the ones that have left our country in abject poverty, well before the hurricane hit. We refuse to obey the curfews and the false calls for peace that only seek to depoliticize the causes of this emergency. From La Colectiva we reaffirm our commitment to de-naturalize the acts of violence generated by a capitalist, racist and heteropatriarchal system that keeps us colonized. (Donate here.)

2. Casa-Taller Cangrejera is AgitArte's community and cultural space in Santurce, Puerto Rico. For the past 10 years, Casa-Taller has been a space for artists, organizers and community members of Santurce and beyond to gather, collaborate and build cultural projects, grow our own food, and educate ourselves and our community. In the first phase of this campaign, we asked our supporters to help us bring Casa-Taller back to full capacity so we can again operate as a community hub and as a post-storm relief center after Hurricane Maria.

After an incredible response from our community and reaching our initial goal of $30,000, we launched a second phase of the campaign with a higher goal and larger impact beyond our immediate community. In this next phase, we will provide support to local mutual aid groups, expand the equipment and capacity of our collective kitchen at Casa-Taller, and purchase and distribute aid to those desperately in need of food and supplies through our grassroots networks in Puerto Rico. Here’s how donations are being spent:

• Solar Powered Dynamo Radio & Cell Phone Charger: $60: The entire island of Puerto Rico is currently without power, making it very challenging for us to remain in contact with our loved ones and stay informed on the relief effort. We will need to purchase non-battery operated and solar-powered radios and cell phone chargers to remain in communication with our people.

• Water Filters: $80: Though running water has been restored to Casa-Taller and other parts of Puerto Rico, we are concerned about the quality of the water and need filters to clean out harmful materials before drinking.

• Wellness Medicine Kits: $150: In collaboration with our Boston partners, Seed of Our Ancestors, we will be offering Wellness Medicine Kits to support the mental and physical wellness of the many suffering from trauma in Puerto Rico.

• 1 Week's Worth of Food & Water for our Collective Kitchen $500: We need support getting our Collective Kitchen up and running again to provide meals and water for our neighbors. Because of damage to our huerto (food garden), we must rely even more on store-bought food to feed our community. A donation of $500 will cover 1 week's worth of food and water for 15-20 people at Casa-Taller.

• Solar Generator + Portable Solar Panel $1,500: On top of charging smartphones and other devices for communication, we also need to be prepared to be without power for several months. Our community will need solar generators and charging panels to power larger machines like power tools for construction, and even AC to provide some relief from the heat.

3. Puerto Rico Recovery Fund. The fund focuses on three strategic and interrelated areas: Addressing immediate humanitarian needs; Advocacy efforts in San Juan and Washington DC, to ensure maximum federal support and efficient resource coordination; Medium and long-term economic development with a focus on resiliency. The extensive devastation caused by Hurricane Maria on Puerto Rico battered an already struggling island hampered by a massive public debt burden and a lack of socioeconomic opportunities. Rescue and relief efforts have begun, but the scale of the crisis will require massive amounts of support from individuals and organizations in Puerto Rico and beyond. The Center for a New Economy is collaborating in the ongoing assistance and recovery efforts by leveraging our coordination capabilities, on-the-ground knowledge, strategic support networks and policy advocacy skills. We are aware that doing so will require taking on new roles and responsibilities, but our commitment to rebuilding and retrofitting our physical and socioeconomic infrastructure is steadfast.

CNE has championed the cause of a more productive and stable Puerto Rico for over 20 years, as an independent, non-partisan think-tank with a reputable track record. As one of the most credible and influential voices on Puerto Rico’s economy, we are ready to tackle this new challenge. We’re here, on the ground, amidst the destruction, and so we know where the need is greatest and where your donations will achieve the most good.

4.  Red De Apoyo Mutuo Para Puerto Rico. A volunteer-run decentralized network coordinating rapid response and longterm mutual aid with Puerto Rico in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria. We are an open platform coordinating decentralized efforts to communicate, collaborate and coordinate relief. By prioritizing the input of those who are most directly impacted, our efforts are immediately responsive to changes in needs on the ground. Some have lost their lives; many have lost everything.

While hierarchical and centralized structures have limitations in rapid response, struggling to adjust nimbly to emerging conditions, decentralized self-organized networks benefit from the knowledge of those communities on the ground and effectively mobilize resources. As relief efforts continue many people remain without medicine, water, power, gasoline or communication. Our commitment is to foster a more efficient rapid response and facilitate equitable long-term recovery.

5. Cano Martin Pena Relief Fund. The situation is critical for the entire island, but even more so for its most vulnerable communities. The 26,000 residents in the Caño Martín Peña communities live in a flooding-prone area in substandard housing. Many houses have been partly or completely destroyed during the hurricanes.

Mother Jones has published a great article about the Cano Martin Pena, highlighting all the work they are doing to rebuild in the aftermath of the hurricane.  Al Jazeera reported a story about the dangers that lie ahead as developers may seek to use the hurricane as an opportunity to displace the residents of the Cano Martin Pena. Rolling Stone magazine just published a story about the Cano Martin Pena and the good work of Proyecto ENLACE. (Contact the fund.)

Residents are now working with volunteers, architects and engineers to rebuild the neighborhood in a way that can reduce their vulnerability and ensure equitable development. Money is needed to help rebuild. The Champlain Housing Trust is acting as our fiscal agent, and will make sure that 100% of funds raised for relief will go to the residents through the G-8, the group of community organizations led by residents of the Caño Martín Peña communities. Money will be spent on buying construction materials and replacing furniture and white goods for those who have lost everything. The Caño residents won last year's United Nations/BSHF World Habitat Award for their Community Land Trust, joining the Champlain Housing Trust as a past award recipient.

6. Corporación Piñones Se Integra (COPI)Corporación Piñones Se Integra is a community-based non-profit organization committed to finding alternatives to the social problems that deteriorate the community of Piñones, in order to improve the quality of life of residents, families and visitors. COPI is focused on strengthening Piñones through numerous sustainable development initiatives, recognizing the peculiarities and necessities of community residents and its business community.

COPI tries to promote an authentic process of community participation, empowerment, and mobilization through social improvement actions and micro-enterprise development. COPI offers different cultural and ecotouristic services: Bomba workshops and classes, Afro-Puertorrican music shows (Bomba y Plena) the second and last Friday of the month, the Folkloric Ballet Majestad Negra, micro-enterprises like CicloNatura bike rent and AcuaNatura kayaks rent, tours through the mangrove forest, and others services.

7. Habitat for Humanity Puerto Rico. Habitat builds homes for Puerto Rican families with limited economic resources on land donated or acquired through monetary donations. Habitat selects families through non-discriminatory criteria and requires each family to contribute with four hundred hours of work that are distributed between the construction of their home and their participation in educational workshops. The selected family pays an interest-free mortgage with no gain for Habitat for a period of 25 years. The real cost of housing is subsidized by Habitat through donations of materials, services and/or monetary contributions of individuals and corporations. Habitat is an affiliate of Habitat for Humanity International, a global entity with more than 2,000 chapters in the United States and ninety-three additional countries. (Contact Habitat.)

8. Hurricane Relief Fund for Trans & Queer Boricuas: The purpose of this fund is to provide direct cash assistance to trans and queer Boricuas whose lives, homes and/or property have been impacted by Hurricane Maria. As a trans Boricua man living in the diaspora, I feel the pain of witnessing friends, family and community in Puerto Rico suffering the devastating effects not only of Hurricane Maria, but of the sociopolitical conditions surrounding the aftermath. Traditional emergency and disaster response systems do not always address the real needs of trans and queer people, are set up with barriers (ID requirements, policing of our bodies and representations), and risk exposing us to additional trauma and violence. Traditional systems of care often limit or deny our access to critical support. 

Funds raised will be given directly to trans and queer folks who request it. Funds may be used for anything from food and water to clothing, phones, medication/hormones, or whatever needs people self-identify. We seek to provide this support based on self-determination and an honor system. We are proactively raising this money with the intention of distributing it as soon as stable communication systems are re-established with the island. We will engage in networking with our trans and queer communities in Puerto Rico to assess where funds are most needed. Updates will be posted periodically.

9. Institute for Socio-Ecological Research: We are committed 100% to the emergency relief effort in Puerto Rico. All donations will go to the folks affected by Hurricane María. The donations will help to build a sustainable and resilient Puerto Rico. We are currently focusing on western Puerto Rico, especially on the hardest hit coastal and mountainside communities. Please consider making a donation that will help fund the relief effort. Scroll down to find the donation link. Thanks for your help!

ISER Caribe is a research, educational and outreach organization in Puerto Rico and in the Caribbean. We expect that our work will aid in the transition from centralized governmental management into community-lead stewardship of natural resources within social ecological systems. We promote healthy and sustainable livelihoods, by endorsing a model that is economically viable and oriented towards the preservation of the environment and the empowerment of the local people.

10. FuenteCo for Puerto Rico. Thanks to your amazing support, we have raised $5,750 for La Gran Provision! We’ve made the first money transfer to Myta Diaz and her team this past Friday, and she was able to purchase and give away desperately needed supplies. With your help, Puerto Rican families in need after Hurricane Maria now have access to free groceries and toiletries. (Contact FuenteCo.)

Although we’ve reached our goal, we’re keeping the fundraiser going. The need for relief is far from over, and we're so grateful that your donations are still rolling in! Each $50 donation provides a week's worth of groceries for another family, so please keep helping and sharing! We're so happy we’re able to keep this grassroots relief effort going at the time where it's needed the most. Thank you, again, for all your help! 

11. Puerto Rico RisesPuerto Rico Rises is a registered Florida non-profit organization formed by a volunteer group of Puerto Ricans living in the U.S. The intention is to collect food, water and first-need items, and immediately distribute them directly neighborhood by neighborhood, barrio por barrio como debe ser! We are recruiting and coordinating the efforts of volunteers and city coordinators both nationally and internationally.

Our mission is not only to provide for the needs of our people, but to do our best to ensure that all donations are delivered directly to the people who need them the most. We look forward to sharing all the support and generosity being bestowed onto our island live on all social media channels from every city that is supporting this effort from all around the world. We want to let nuestra gente know that help is on its way. (Contact Puerto Rico Rises.)

12. YouCaring: Solar Energy. The situation post-Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico is horrible and nearly unlivable. The island is expected to be without electricity for months. People are waiting in lines all day for water, food and other necessities, including filling up individual gas containers for fueling transportation and additional needs. People requiring life-saving medication that must be refrigerated are especially vulnerable to the lack of power on the island. But we have hope. Prior to Hurricanes Irma and Maria, members of the Jobos Bay Eco-Development Initiative (Iniciativa de Ecodesarrollo de Bahia de Jobos) were partnering with professors from the University of Puerto Rico-Mayaguez and from the U.S. diaspora to create the first community-organized and -implemented solar community in all of Puerto Rico. The urgency for this project has never been greater. (Donate here.)

Spanish Language Websites and Community Organizations

• La Cucina 135

• Brigada Solidaria del Oeste

• Centro para el Desarrollo Político, Educativo y Cultural (CDPEC, Inc.)

• Casa Protegida Julia de Burgos

• Casa Pueblo

• Centro de Periodismo Investigativo

• Centro Mujer Barranquitas

• Centros de Apoyo Mutuo

• Proyecto ENLACE del Caño Martín Peña

• El Hormiguero - Centro Social Autogestionado

• Fondo Legal de Emergencia – Huracán María

• Iniciativa De Ecodesarrollo De Bahia De Jobos

• Proyecto Matria

Steven Rosenfeld covers national political issues for AlterNet, including America's democracy and voting rights. He is the author of several books on elections and the co-author of Who Controls Our Schools: How Billionaire-Sponsored Privatization Is Destroying Democracy and the Charter School Industry (AlterNet eBook, 2016).

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