We are the help until Help arrives. That's what FEMA's website says. And that has been true in my experience. During the flood of 1996, the electricity went out in our entire neighborhood. It also went out in many other neighborhoods. It took days for the electric company to restore power to most places and weeks in some areas. School was closed and my mom couldn't go to work because her downtown office building was a scant few laps of water away from becoming aquatic.
Everyone from my building gathered in one neighbor's apartment. We kept her fireplace going, put on sweaters and blankets, and cooked meals together over a propane camping stove. We played games and shared stories and discussed whatever news came in from friends who dropped by. This was before smartphones and social media. We didn't have much, but we used what we had to take care of each other until the waters receded and the power came back on.
In the winter of 2008, feet of snow appeared overnight bringing the entire city of Portland to a complete standstill. Tri-Met even shut down completely for two days, which never happens. We were lucky that we happened to go to the grocery store the day before, so we were well-fed and enjoyed a couple snow days. We shoveled walkways for folks who couldn't manage their own and had a slip-sliding snowball fight with the folks next door and across the street.
After several days, just as it looked like it might finally begin to thaw, even more snow arrived. This time we were out of food, so we had to venture out for supplies. We teamed up with a human down the block who had a big truck with massive chain-adorned tires. We dug out his wheels and made our way very slowly to the only grocery store that was open for many miles. We returned just as slowly with provisions for anyone who needed it. We took care of ourselves by helping each other.
Just six days into 2021, a different sort of storm struck in Washington DC. Trump supporting extremists stormed the Capitol while their Idol in Chief refused to dispatch the National Guard. They ransacked offices, took selfies, clashed with law enforcement, pee'd on things, tried to steal art, broke stuff, and a few folks ended up dead.
Watching videos from that day of madness, it dawned on me: these people did not realize they would have to save themselves. The system is usually on their side. The police are usually on their side. A stark contrast from the experience of anti-fascist and BLM protestors who have been demonstrating against un-checked police brutality since George Floyd was murdered last May.
These protestors bring their own medics. They bring their own security and traffic control. They bring pop-up hot food kitchens. They know they have to take care of themselves because they are standing up against the system. They are standing up against the police. The system does not help them so they have to help themselves. They know no one else is coming to save them.
I hope regular folks at home are realizing that even they will likely have to save themselves during the next calamity, whatever form it takes. The movie Save Yourselves! is a poignant cinematic portrayal of this grim reality. When aliens invade and the world is ending, no one swoops in to save the main characters from certain doom. They have to try and save themselves. Just like real life.
FEMA recommends all households have emergency supplies for at least three days and a disaster response plan. And three days is the soonest FEMA can respond. We all remember it took much longer for help to arrive after Hurricane Katrina. The Trump enthusiasts announced quite publicly they were coming to DC on Jan 6th and even explained exactly what they planned to do. And then they showed up and the government was woefully underprepared.
That might be how it is in the future too. The federal government has not fully reckoned with the scope and magnitude of climate change, so chances are currently high that they will be flabbergasted by a major climate calamity. When the invaders left the Capitol on the 6th, they announced plans to come back on the 19th. We shall see whether the appropriate parts of the government take that seriously.
The good news is that we don't have to wait on the government to get our collective shit together. We can put together our emergency plans and gather our supplies. We can even start practicing taking care of each other now, before disaster strikes. We can feed and house and heal each other. And we need to do it because our societal systems are failing a whole lot of us. Imagine how little help they will be in an emergency.
In Neal Stephenson's novel, Snow Crash, the government is all but nonexistent; just another corporation acting entirely in its own interest. One main character has to save herself after being kidnapped. She is a courier and when she activates a signal, all the other couriers come to her aide.
In order for that kind of collective response to work, we have to forge those relationships and build that trust and that community ahead of time. And we have to prepare our community ahead of time for what we want to do when disaster strikes. It's a whole lot easier to build skills in the calm before the storm. We need us. Now and in the future. We have to save ourselves, so let's do it together.
Information and Inspiration
Jaydra is a human in-process, working to make the world a better place. Sharing thoughts, feelings, and observations about the human experience.