It is Wednesday September 4th, 2017, 11 days after Hurricane Harvey made landfall in Southeast Texas. If this is read after that date, that is because collaboration and editing was important to this.
Houston's political economy and geography needs to be understood if we are to understand the social impact of Hurricane Harvey. Houston is a "boomtown", leading in petrochemical, technology, medicine and shipping; in the abstract, certain economic trends such as recession have sometimes not affected Houston as greatly, multinational capital continues to pour into the city, while it's being pulled out of older Midwestern states, all as a part of a slow but very noticeable process. However, this doesn't prevent Houston's prosperity from being concentrated in one class; with some of the cheapest housing and lowest wages, calls for Houston to be emptied as "uninhabitable" leaves locals wondering where else even those who are making decent wages could afford to go. In a lot of places, the water has nowhere to go, and neither does the poverty.
Houston is also a city with a long history of white supremacy since its inception. It is one of America's most segregated cities. There are well over a hundred languages spoken in Houston homes. Houston is the home to the first private prison, meant to house immigrant detainees, a model which replicated across Texas, the nation, and whole prison industry. It is a vast, sprawling metropolis (the area size as cities twice its population size) and is a driving city with poor public transportation, which despite expansions in recent years, routinely fails the black and brown poor that use them the most. This means that in these neighborhoods, the poorest grow up sometimes never leaving their neighborhood, maybe sometimes for work if they are lucky, or jail if they are not. These are often "food deserts" in these areas, and also as a city known for it's great "job creation" track record, these jobs don't reach out to these places.
We were all safe as the storm passed, and although there were scares and close calls, the storm managed to mostly spare the local from impact. We were in constant contact as the storm came, making sure each other were safe. We had decided as a local upon our recent founding that we would be growing BASH (Bayou Action Street Health, a local street medic collective) alongside Houston Redneck Revolt as somewhat of a sister organization, therefore working through BASH made a lot of sense for us. We are a little over a month old, however we have quickly grown on each other. We knew we could count on being able to support BASH, while we figured out what role Redneck Revolt would be able to play in this.
We began our efforts before Harvey made landfall in Corpus Christi. Before we were able to leave our houses, we had begun gathering contacts from inside and outside of town, and consolidating local efforts between groups on social media. Members of Redneck Revolt made a Facebook group that is sympathetic to our politics and contained most of Houston's heavy lifters in terms of organizers, and that continues to be pretty effective as a center for information with quality control. We tried our best to network rescue efforts early on as well, sometimes with people we did not know, in order to circulate information, as all emergency lines were busy. Some also began doing very careful navigation of the streets in order to try to provide care on the ground in places that had not experienced flooding but might have some people walking around. Overall, Houston Redneck Revolt did not participate directly in a rescue experience, however we did our best to support others in this.
As relief volunteers began coming in from out of town in the middle of the week, we immediately got into food and supply distribution as well as housing members of other organizations. Members of Redneck Revolt from outside the city in outlying rural areas came into town, and committed to staying for a long period. We attended conference calls and had to have a lot of conversations very quickly on political questions, and which alliances we would build. We jumped right into prepping hot meals for hundreds of people, and directed supplies to shelters that were being neglected by the cross and tried to stay as knowledgeable as possible. Groups we did this alongside of, and with the help of, were Black Women's Defense League, Phoenix John Brown Gun Club, Red Guards Austin, Revolutionary Association of Houston, and the Serve the People network, and several others. We were able to purchase thousands of dollars of food and distribute a great deal more. We raised the question of how best to reach people, and we discovered that our friends in Serve the People had set up near Tidwell and Mesa near where we were in the Lake Forest neighborhood in East Houston. Serve the People were very good at politicizing this service, so we began to support them in this effort as well, and directed local donations and those in need to this center. Going through the task as a local to relate to other organizations has been a constant growing and learning process for us as a new formation, and we are very grateful to these comrades especially for agreeing to put some things off to the side and defer political questions to the course of struggle, and work where we can find unity. We also did some good networking for the organization as well, as some of these groupings have been building in smaller cities in Texas where we are currently absent.
Early in our efforts for food distribution, we met a young local in the Lake Forest neighborhood named Eduardo. Lake Forest is a mostly low-income black and brown neighborhood with no jobs in Northeast Houston. We spoke with his sister and had conversations about Redneck Revolt, race, and the oppression experienced in the neighborhood, and how Eduardo would sometimes come to the park and try to make an impression on the youth. Eduardo has consolidated his friends into an organization “DAC”, standing for “Dedicated and Committed,” and meeting Eduardo showed us that DAC is something he lives, not just a slogan. We began to distribute food with him in the neighborhood Friday and Saturday. After that, Eduardo wanted to turn to helping his friends and neighbors with the gutting and demolition process. We went where he went, and brought friends of Redneck Revolt who had come in from the Bay Area and were also knowledgeable on this process. We switched from using funds for food and supplies, and began putting more money towards tools and safety gear needed for the urgent "gutting" process. A flooded home only has a limited amount of time before damage sets in and it may not be salvageable, often material from floors and walls must be removed.
At this point, we were deepening our bonds as a local branch, and forming stronger relationships with friends and sympathizers of the organization. We were also deepening our new friendship with Eduardo. We started out helping his childhood friends and their families, mostly black and brown folks in this area, as a part of a multi-generational effort. In spite of losing everything, these folks were grateful to have each other and seemed to want to celebrate that; they have all been amazing, resilient people. Eduardo is politically minded and militant, and was also agitating his neighbors, talking about capitalism and its failures, the ineffectiveness of the cross, the importance of coming together and fighting back. At the end of the first day of the house gutting process, we emerged exhausted but were very satisfied in our accomplishments, with three houses helped along in the clean-out and gutting process.
Upon returning to some of these
houses the next day, we noticed some men scrapping some of the debris filling most yards, and we stopped and talked to them for a bit. One of them mentioned working at the airport, and how its closure meant being out of work, and out of pay, saying “we don't have a union”. He was also in a predicament with his own flooded home in the neighborhood. He said FEMA and the Red Cross had offered no assistance, and that he was scrapping metal to try to make up for how far Harvey had set him behind. We moved on, returning to some homes we had started gutting the day before, and breaking ground on several more. Overall, we assisted with about 7 or 8 different homes over the course of the Labor Day weekend.
At some point, the American Red Cross finally began to be seen for the first time in the Lake Forest area. The opinion of them around the neighborhood was not very positive. Most residents were wondering why it took over a week for the Red Cross to get out there in the first place, while many had run from their homes for their lives, or were abandoned on root tops. Many relief volunteers such as ourselves had already been out there for days. One woman, whom we met returning from her home for the first time since the storm, shared an experience from the shelters that was horrific: She could not get support from her landlord on hotel housing, so Red Cross told her to call FEMA, who in turn told her to call Red Cross. Red Cross seems to have a particular method, and it can be seen as such:
Remove relief efforts from the neighborhoods affected by them.
Shut down existing shelters in places like churches and smaller community centers
Treat people like cattle and centralize them into mega-shelters away from where their friends and family can see and find each other
Do as little as feasibly possible, while trying to maintain control as much as possible.
They have been seen refusing licensed clinicians from caring for diabetics who had not tested their blood sugar in days. The Red Cross also collaborates with HPD in order to round up people out after curfew to be arrested and taken to jail.
We have discussed what comes next with Eduardo and his neighbors, and what the needs of Lake Forest are. It is just one of the neighborhoods outlying Houston, far away from jobs and anything resembling prosperity. We are still working daily and our out-of-town friends have been a blessing, but they will be going home soon. We do know that abusive landlords are still a persistent issue in Houston, especially in places like Lake Forest, trying to still collect rent while not being responsible for making a space suitable for living. Meanwhile, many people are out of work and have lost everything, or had little to begin with. We would love to see these tenants organize into a network capable of defending themselves against these landlords using direct action tactics, but that will depend on the strength they are building together. All in all, our relief efforts have not seen their limits and at a minimum we are growing closer as a branch, networking with other militants, and building relationships with people like Eduardo. Our intention from the moment we knew we would be doing relief work was that we could not afford to rebuild the same world that produced this situation. We are committed to rebuilding a Houston that fights back.
Solidarity, Redneck Revolt Houston
At the time of this reportback being published, several other hurricanes have begun to hit the East Coast and Gulf areas. Other Redneck Revolt branches in those areas will be checking in and sharing resources and news of disaster relief in their communities as well. In the meantime, we strongly discourage making donations to bloated and inefficient NGOs such as the Red Cross, and instead recommend donating directly to local grassroots relief organizations which will put resources to use faster and with much less overhead.
To donate to Bayou Action Street Health: paypal.me/BASH2017