Hurricane Ida Disaster Response: What Your DSA Chapter Can Do

1. Organizing: Disasters are faster, more powerful, and more erratic than they’ve ever been. Ida proved that investment in disaster infrastructure pays off almost immediately. The price tag for the new, much-improved levee system that rings New Orleans was around $15 billion in federal funds, a fraction of the total damage cost from Hurricane Katrina and likely a fraction of what costs will be incurred upriver, where towns like LaPlace were not protected by levees, or near the coast, where Grand Isle’s older levees did not hold up. The greatest failing was in the privately-held power infrastructure. What does this tell us? Climate infrastructure is a great investment, and utilities that answer to profits, not people, aren’t up to the job ahead of us.

Disaster areas no longer captivate the media’s attention for weeks on end. The Southwest Louisiana chapter knows this all too well, with Lake Charles having four federally-declared disasters in 10 months and no supplemental federal disaster funding or community block grants ever arriving. Neither Trump nor Biden delivered, nor did any of the region’s far-right congressional delegation. Can you organize with your legislators to ensure that disaster funding gets paid out to affected regions? Can you use what we learned to encourage spending on disaster infrastructure in your area? In what ways can we fight for our neighbors and for the whole working class at once? 

Further, is your chapter ready should a natural disaster hit? What structures do you have in place that will allow you to care for each other and potentially for other neighbors?

2. Fundraising: As of now, no Louisiana chapters are hosting fundraisers themselves, but are instead directing folks to (and working directly with) other local organizations who are organizing disaster aid directly within their communities. You can get regular updates and tips by following the chapters on social media (@NewOrleansDSA, @BatonRougeDSA, and @DSASWLA on Twitter), and in the meantime, organizers from the region are pointing people to the orgs listed below.

  • If you have the means to fundraise, cash money is often the most helpful thing in the immediate aftermath!
  • Avoid donating to big NGOs like Red Cross, any FEMA subsidiary, or other major nonprofits. They often have little to no accountability w.r.t. the communities they are “serving” and despite doing good work, pocket more than they give.

Give to local orgs wherever possible:

3. Supplies: Hurricanes are overwhelmingly stressors on supply chains under the best conditions. Under the worst… people starve. Gasoline, water, and non-perishables fly off the shelves as soon as the hurricane track narrows in. With city water stores taken offline by wind and water damage, people need clean drinking water. Currently, on-the-ground organizers in both DSA and partner organizations are trying to buy as much as possible locally/regionally, particularly “light” items like diapers, food, and hygiene products. If your chapter would like to send something, a better alternative is a single big-ticket item, such as a generator, a dehumidifier, a shop-vac, or a chainsaw, which can be delivered via merchant to comrades in either Southwest Louisiana or Baton Rouge to be transported into a disaster area. Reach out to those chapters directly via social media to coordinate a shipping address. 

4. Gutting, Tarping, and Clean-up:

  • There is much to be done immediately: debris clean-up, tarping, and mucking-and-gutting (cleaning out a house post-storm). If you are within a day’s drive of the area, consider signing up to volunteer through Mutual Aid Disaster Relief, who is coordinating a hub of direct action workers alongside SWLA and Baton Rouge DSA. 
  • Once the mess is cleaned, the rebuilding starts. This will be a long and slow process and work crews will very much be needed. It is likely that chapters and organizers in the area will coordinate with local or regional NGOs who specialize in rebuilding for this work, and these organizations rely heavily on volunteer labor to rebuild homes. If you’d like to consider doing a work trip with some comrades from your chapter, they will be needed for many months. 

Pick a week, start asking for time off, get vaccinations in order (COVID, obviously, but also tetanus and other basics), start assessing how many people will be in your group and what your needs are — are you willing or able to camp? Would you be okay with dormitory-style lodging in a church or similar? Do you prefer hotels? If you can fundraise or pay out of pocket to make this trip, it’ll be very useful. Come up with some soft answers to these questions on your end and then contact SWLA Co-Chair Megan R. ([email protected]) and she will put you in touch with a regional coordinator for one of the orgs accepting work groups. Note that rebuilding trips are great for team-building, great for learning some basic construction skills (that will be useful as climate change continues to wreak havoc), and good for organizational planning practice, but are unlikely to be significant sources of growth or recruitment for your chapter in the traditional sense — if you’re interested in organizing around more concrete demands, several are listed in the “Organizing” section above!