"On the Front Lines”: Spiritual Activist Collective Rebuilding Mind, Body and Spirit.
Welcome to our New York after Hurricane Sandy. Welcome to Humanity after any war, disaster or trauma that is witnessed, experienced, lived, told, and passed down through generations.
“Self-determination is the response, “I know what to do, and can do it myself.” When the government in place does not respond because I am Black, because I am poor, because I am Brown, because I am an immigrant, because I am a womyn, because I’m Queer,, I am an elder, I am a youth, I am differently abled, i am unemployed, I do not have to wait. I can create what I have been asking for. Self-Determination begins when people meet their own needs for survival. Therefore, when the government does not, our needs are not forgotten.” Casa Atabex Ache
Autonomy is the foundation of self-determination. As people of Color, activists, organizers, educators, artists, community folk…we are involved in the daily possibility of creating the world we want to live in, of the legacy we want to leave for future generations to come. Poor people of color in NYC are in crisis. We have been hit hard and currently dealing with the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy.
Our families, friends and neighbors have been separated by the hurricane without ample access to the current relief efforts. Already under the siege of insufficient wages, economic inequality, high rates of unemployment, poverty, dis-ease, lack of health care, and geographic isolation, our communities have been laid bare and re-traumatized. We no longer feel safe. Home is no longer our sweet refuge. Shaken at the core by this disaster, we have lost our sense of choice, autonomy, and community, leaving us to stand in the place of uncertainty as we fight to rebuild.
I know that when this is all over, it will sink in- What I have been through, what I have had to see, the stories I have heard. Right now, I know that if I take a moment to stop I will not get back up. So I am going to keep going until I can’t anymore. I am so tired. Damaris Reyes, GOLES/ Executive Director
Today, I want to cry, I have been out there every day since Wednesday (two days after Sandy hit) and the people look an ashen shade of grey, getting darker every day. I am concerned for our staff and for the community people. We have had no relief and this is nowhere near over. People need mental health support, someone to talk to. I am raw and so tired. Anna Ortega, Redhook Initiative/ Director of Health Programs, MSW
There’s CRAZY Tension right now, all over, with anyone who is taking time to process that there are about 7 different New York Cities right now. The areas where business is SO usual its creepy. The areas that look completely decimated. And then areas that, when you go during the day, you can’t tell people are without electricity, or water, or that their hallways are pitch black and that at night they lock themselves in for fear of whatever is in the dark and walk around their houses in flashlights (if they have them).
There’s tension between these cities. There’s tension inside people who are trying to do good work and struggle between the immediate needs of people who JUST found themselves in these situations NOW…and those who have ALWAYS been without, or at least with much less than. What will happen with these tensions?? How will we work through them? Will we? Sigh. And plugging on in the midst of all of this and more… Heidi Lopez, RISE Organizer
After spending ten days in conversation, volunteering, and witnessing the impact of Sandy in our communities, it is clear to me that the work was not before nor during, but what it will take to restore and rebuild communities mind, body and spirit, after. I have heard the stories of executive directors of “not being good enough, feeling like they had to wear two hats,” worried about funding and feeding the people as they saw the water rise in the same building they lived in. I saw executive director’s working on the front lines, volunteering with community when they themselves had not eaten or taken a bath. They where- the first responders putting it all aside to make sure that their communities needs were met and that people found food, safety, and shelter.
“There have been blackouts in new york in the past, there have been hurricanes even, so what makes this one so different?” asked Damaris, Executive Director of GOLES
The Answer: “This time you where in it. You sat and saw the water rise and recede leaving debris, sewage, feces and rodents that you had to walk over. You were scared for your life, a loss of security, felt helpless, watched people die, no way out, no power only darkness, cold, not knowing what was next or how to get out. This time “you” where impacted and became a participant of your own organization.”
According to the New York Non Profit Press, approximately three-quarters of local nonprofits are providing services to clients impacted by Superstorm Sandy.
▪ 39% are providing mental health services;
▪ 29% are providing community prevention programs
▪ 22% are providing food access
“Since the storm organizations have not been able to serve approximately 144,318 clients. This does not include programs that run in schools, which have been closed since Monday of the storm. More than half of responding organizations expect an increase in the number of people seeking help due to the Sandy. Over 60% of respondents plan on shifting the focus of their work in response to the storm. And, 63% are not serving populations that have been evacuated.”
However, the organizations responding to recovery and disaster relief have also been impacted by the storm, experiencing loss of power, internet, closures, and no communication via cell phones/computer. Their staff, executive directors, participants, board, and volunteers have also been severely impacted. Yet, they still they have opened up, via generators, handed out copies, flyer’d in the most devastated communities, walked up flights of stairs to provide safety and communication to the community. They have provided shelters, water, safe spaces, clothing, and much needed love and humanity efforts during a time when mainstream disaster relief is not available.
For those on the front lines it has been a challenging week of putting their needs to side to support their communities and continued invisible areas of NYC. It has been 10 days and still there are communities with no power, no relief, no food. It is cold in New York City and hyperthermia and other dis-eases will start to develop over the next couple of days if they haven’t already. We just had another storm and the winter hasn’t yet arrived.
Front liners have been exposed to trauma on many different levels, from feeling hopeless or helpless, to wishing they can do more, hearing the stories of their communities, thinking about their own staff or their own lives. Young and adult women have been raped and sexually assaulted; elderly have been forgotten and not-for-profit volunteers and front liners are running thin in their economic and spiritual capacity.
The latest disaster study on life After Hurricane Katrina 2005 by the Center for Disease Control states that the highest prevalence of PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) was found among survivors and first responders involved in rescue & recovery and cleaning efforts. This is doubled if they too are victims of the disaster with an increase susceptibility to mental health illnesses, increase in domestic violence, addiction, stress and depression. In addition, you will see the seven stages of grief for all those involved in losing their homes, food and personal possessions, loss of family members and friends, forced relocation, violence in shelters, immediate risk of life. In waves of emotions they will feel denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance sometimes a couple of times a day resulting in inevitable exhaustion.
So what is there to do?
People of Color, activists, organizers, educators, artists, community folk and all those on the front lines need our support the most, as they are coming to disasters from already traumatic events of police brutality, institutional oppression, and other personal trauma & social injustice issues they work with and in. The evidence of PTSD among front liners exposed to disasters day in and out is substantial and needs immediate attention to reduce long term impact.
So what is there to do on the short and long term?
1. Short Term: Organize a meeting to evaluate our efforts so far (what worked, what could be done differently and evaluate the needs moving forward) and create a disaster relief guide for social justice first responders. With your support In Bold Rebirth will put together a team of organizers/activist and holistic healers—acupuncturists, massage therapists, healing circle facilitators, practitioners, herbalists, naturopathic doctors, artists and more to join our healing team and;
Offer post traumatic stress relief by going to the organizations and offering counseling support and holistic mental health services with healing circles/somatic awareness and emotional release.
Create a safe space to release emotional trauma and pain regarding the loss of loved ones, homes, access resources, participants and geographic communities
Share resources to deal with the impact of internalized oppression (self medication, drugs etc) and create healthy people to rebuild healthy communities. Providing trainings & explore issues of power & oppression in safe space.
Coordinate a systematic relief effort, which is political and radical—a part of a larger global movement for self-determination and autonomy.
Put together a disaster relief guide for social justice first responders.
2. Long Term: In Bold Rebirth is putting together a Grassroots Healing Trauma and Crisis Response Team for Young and Adult Wom(y)n of Color on the Front lines and LGBTQ Relief Through the People.
Develop the “On the Front Lines” a spiritual activist collective
Organize Self-sustainable Community Support Groups within the hardest hit communities.
Create a Disaster Relief Fund to provide self care and alternative , natural medicine , self healing support that mainstream health care does not offer.
Set up Community run Neighborhood Hubs with Disaster Relief, Resources & Responders.
Coordinate Emergency Preparedness & Education workshops and Trainings.
During this crisis not for profit and grassroots organization are having to make tough choices about their love and commitment to their organizations, movements and social justice issues they are working on and their self sustainability. They are having to take care of not only their own lives but those of their staff and all of the community that sustain from the organization. I have been in conversation with wom(y)n on the front lines who are making tough choices, closing down or creating different strategies to take their love for the movement to the next level and create alternative systems of sustainability and self care in the process.
As a result, In BOLD Rebirth is creating “On the Front Lines” a spiritual activist collective committed to creating healing spaces globally by bringing healing, spirituality and cultural tools and practices to social justice towards a journey of self healing and leadership that is sustainable.
In Bold Rebirth has organized and participated in creating delegations to Haiti earthquake and hurricane relief, hurricane Katrina Self-healing retreat, and organized the first Women of Color Delegation comprised of 21 young women activists and leaders to Chiapas, Mexico to show solidarity with the Zapatista Movement in building liberated/autonomous communities that have womyn of color and children at the forefront.
Support our efforts by donating today! We are raising $10,000 by Dec 1st.
Donate with PAYPAL-Fuerzagoddess@gmail.com.