What Do We Mean: RenegAID

One of our board members keeps reminding the rest of us to keep our focus on Natural Disaster like a focal point for a laboring mother. A focal point to distract us from the pain and fear that keeps popping into our heads. I am ever grateful for her reminders as our thoughts wonder around the landscape of chaos, expressing our opinions on what we see as haunting.

Last evening I spent time catching up on some inspiration by watching TED talks.

The one I have referenced here made me think…

Shouldn’t RenegAID be to survivors of Natural Disaster what TED talks are to inspiration and ideas? And shouldn’t RenegAID be to survivors of Natural Disasters what Burning Man is to art?

The event of natural disaster is not political. And we are about the event. In a catastrophic disaster, people who spontaneously show up to engage and help on their own volition, their own time, their own risk, their own money are called renegaid. They do whatever presents itself in the world of absolute chaos. They are not bound by policy and procedure and insurance clauses like volunteers who arrive from relief organizations such as Red Cross, etc. They are not bound by their schooling and corporate level. They are the off duty neighbors who drop what they are doing and run in to help, led by the spirit and not by rules. Rules don’t work well anyway in pure chaos. Corporations and governments exist awhile and then change but neighbors are forever.

In her TED talk, Nora Atkinson calls the Burning Man experiment in collective dreaming, off the grid, anti consumer community an “active collaborative making community.” It exists internationally year round but comes together once a year in the desert… made up of artists, scientists, welders, engineers, garbage collectors, etc. And when their time together is over, they disappear without a trace. Although the art is amazing, what inspires Nora most is why people come there again and again to make. She believes it gets to something that’s essentially human. She says that when people first come to Burning Man, they don’t know how to make this stuff. It’s the “active collaborative maker community” that makes it possible. And when artists stop worrying about critics and collectors and start making for themselves, these are the marvelous toys they create.

I loved the Burning Man people who came immediately and spontaneously to Katrina with bulldozers and tents and set up neighborhood with the Buddhist Temple. Spontaneous, engaging, willing to give of their talents and do whatever needed to be done in the moment, not worried about money or insurance. They were pretty renegaid.

Referenced TED Talk: Why Art Thrives at Burning Man by Nora Atkinson

Japanese “wabi-sabi”: bridging the two-languages divide

Eunice has spoken about the existence of two languages – the language of order and structure and the language of chaos and regeneration. The second one works with the rebirth after disaster while the first one tends to clash with the rebirth process and wants to quickly restore what was broken.

As I read this article about the Japanese aesthetic concept of “wabi-sabi” I was struck by how this dual-language divide seems to be bridged in Japanese culture through an understanding of art and an appreciation of the marks of the “ravages of time” on an object’s appearance.

The article makes the link to disaster by suggesting that it is from the necessity created by the frequency of natural disaster that folks in Japan have learned to appreciate imperfections and brokenness as an opportunity for a new kind of beauty.

Article url:


Hosting a Disaster???

The term, Hosting, is used by international government officials when describing nations who have events such as the Olympic Games. For instance, the host nation for the winter Olympics 2010 was Canada. The traditions of hosting go back to ancient cultures. It was the responsibility of the host to “equalize” the stranger. Host is the root word for hospital, a place for a “stranger” to be brought back to health. It is the root word for hospitality – the stranger is fed and lodged and basic needs are met.
Now consider catastrophe. The host is not the location where the event occurred. Nor is it the survivor. The host is the responder, whether individual, organization, government or foreign nation. As responders, what kind of hospitality are we providing?
This thought is from:
Comprehending Chaos, A Framework for Understanding Disaster, Class #12 Ramifications Part 2, What Am I Dealing With Here?

National and International Disaster Relief Tip

Just a reminder to include a few good used bikes inside shipping containers of relief and medical supplies going into catastrophic disasters. Providing a means of rapid distribution and communication for survivors is just as important as the relief supplies when dealing with broken infrastructure. Good used bikes can be purchased at stores such as Goodwill, Salvation Army, other thrift stores, used bike shops, etc. Only send bikes in good working order, with good tire tread and without rust. They must be ready for immediate use.

Bikes are a disaster response tool. They can be used immediately for:
1. Distributing supplies
2. Communicating information
3. Connecting survivors
4. Generating cell phone power.
Before sending, you can attach a label or tag to each bike suggesting these uses. Be sure to use language familiar to the survivors.

Thank you,

Mesquite’s new community garden

Check out the latest community project to come out of our neighborhood in Texas!  Raising the Bridge (RTB)  is a nonprofit working to provide resources for local youth and they are heading up the garden design, fundraising and construction.  Check out their website here.

A recent survey indicated that there are over 900 homeless students in our city’s school system (and so certainly others that we cannot track).  What RTB is doing for these kids and others is crucial.  Thus Renegaid is thrilled to be collaborating with them in developing the garden and being a place to showcase ways to grow and process medications from many of the herbs at the garden.




End of the ‘Natural’ Disaster

It’s hurricane season, where TV coverage moves from one disaster-stricken town to the next.  But these crises began well before the weather forecasts.  Thousands of communities who have recently faced catastrophe have had to endure the collapse of their economic immune systems well before they were on the news.

But consider this slower and much more commonplace trends effecting those same communities, as well as virtually every other in the country:

  • The replacement of local economies with distantly-owned corporations and franchises;
  • the collapse of the local sales tax base through consistent and reckless tax breaks to big box stores;
  • the disappearance of the middle class career and rise of the high-insecurity, no-future, low-wage temp job;
  • the lean logistics of modern businesses with no space for disaster mitigation or community support

The hurricanes were for those communities merely the latest of a series of disasters to afflict them. A sober view of disaster recovery as a profession is that it will be required one way or the other:

  • Faster in the case of floods or hurricanes;
  • Slower in the case of urban decay and the failure of aging infrastructure.

And we are really only equipped for natural disasters- “Acts of God.”  Acts of Greed, or Negligence, or Poor Planning- are off the table as far as professional disaster mitigation is concerned.  The average American town or city lasts many times longer, decades longer, than the average Fortune 500 company.  Communities are built to be conservative; stable; responsive; supportive.  And yet they are being asked to do more and more while their resources are being undercut.

Community resilience starts with community prosperity, solidarity, and mutual aid for surrounding communities.  All of those starting points are undercut when the economic foundation of a community is swapped out and a corporate skeleton crew replaces it. It’s time to recognize the value of the City or Town as an enduring and resilient community- and broaden our view of the unnatural disasters which afflict them.

Caught in the Wave

The image of being caught in a wave changed for me when I met a young mother in Banda Aceh in 2006. She had been swept into the 2004 Christmas tsunami wave that together with its preceding magnitude 9 earthquake had killed 1 out of 3 people in that city on Sumatra island, Indonesia. The official tally of deaths from that duel event was epic, so epic, that the counting stopped at about a quarter of a million. Deaths were recorded as far away as Africa.

There is another wave I want to dedicate this blog post to. It happened so long ago that it has vanished out of our collective memory. Yet if we care enough to put the pieces together, we can step by step see how we got to the place we are at today. There are two languages. Always have been. One language is our everyday language. It is the language of order, the language of power, the language of science, the language of math. It is well structured and extremely useful in the world of business to keep things straight.

There is another language. It doesn’t care about the niceties of structure. Matter of fact, it works best in no structure at all. It is plastic and can form to any situation. It is the language of survival and regeneration. Unfortunately this language has been relegated to the world of the human lower nature or a more animal or primitive nature. How that happened, I do not know. This second language is our saving grace in catastrophic disaster.

Now I am going to go way back in time… If I have my facts correct, roughly 2000 years ago, a man began teaching us about this second language. It was never to be used as a political language or as a language of structure. It was to understand what was happening in catastrophic disaster. And to be able to communicate with and help survivors. Now go forward to the time of Constantine when the language was mainstreamed into a power structure.

Then fast forward to today.
When Naomi Klein notes that we need to deal with our foundational issues when dealing with our disaster responses, I contend we need to look way farther back than 1776 (for US). A language that was meant to get us through the random catastrophic times in life, was overtaken and absorbed into the language of structure and order. It changed into a domination language. That confused humanity’s ability to see the difference between the two languages. Now we blame the Victim and see our selves as good for responding that way. We took what was suppose to be not of this world order and changed it into… of this world order. The language of survival and regeneration was suppose to be for survivors and responders of catastrophe, not for politicians. Now we can’t even understand how a single act of giving of oneself can start a disaster-destroyed neighborhood’s heart beating again.


Disaster Medicine

Note:  Renegaid is developing a new project regarding supplying health clinics in disaster which inspired this post.  I highly recommend you check out Herbalists Without Borders (Projects page) to see how they are supporting projects like this all over the world.

My mother used to give us herbal salves, tinctures and compounds when we were kids.  I remember them all tasting like grass and didn’t really take them seriously- until one serious infection in my 20s.  I had been testing water quality in one of the most impaired waterways in Missouri, Asher Creek.  In the course of wading around in the creek- I developed a painful and growing infection on my legs.  I went to a few clinics and had more than a few prescriptions for antibiotics- pills and creams- that all failed to halt the spread of the infection.  It turned out to be an anti-biotic resistant strain of pseudomonas.

I was losing sleep over this infection- it had this spiky pain anytime I brushed the skin, and a bone-deep ache as well.  It started to spread in little painful pimples in my shoulders and back.  I was out of options and expressed this to my mom one day over lunch.  Afterwards she ran me over to a healthfood store and shelled out some serious cash for a little jar of this herbal salve.  Where 6 months modern medicine failed- two weeks of this little jar kicked my immune system into high gear and I had the infection knocked out.

I’m not saying that the stuff is a cure-all. Or that all of modern medicine is overhyped.  Just that there is a balance between these styles of medicine that is not acknowledged.  Just as the shortcomings of medical trials which justify many new medicines are not widely covered as well.

SO what does any of this have to do with disasters?   A number of reasons:

  • In a community in crisis, personal health takes a backseat to other priorities- and pharmacies may be out of commission anyway.
  • This is a major time of illness and health hazards. Toxins such as black mold or asbestos emerging in the environment , and persisting through the weeks and months afterwards, when people are gutting their houses.
  • Many immigrant populations look for healing outside of conventional hospitals already- this helps create access for them.
  • Many vulnerable populations can’t afford Big Pharma rates

This was our experience in NOLA, actually.  From the  Common Ground Collective Health Clinic website:

The Common Ground Health Clinic started on September 9 , 2005 just days after hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast. (..) The clinic started as a first aid station with the arrival of “Street Medics”, which are first responders that gained notoriety through mass mobilizations of the anti-globalization movement. The clinic was originally set up in a mosque, with space being generously donated by the Masjid Bilal.

Nurses, physicians, herbalists, acupuncturists, EMTs social workers and community activists came from around the world to volunteer at Common Ground Health Clinic. Since its inception, the clinic has served more than 60,000 patient visits – all at no charge to the patient. (link)

I saw the same medicine being used in that clinic when I spent time with Common Ground in 2006.  It helped me detox several months worth of the “Katrina cough-” something all the the residents and volunteers got, supposedly from all of the mold in the air. And 12 years later, that Health Clinic is going strong- serving the same residents.  The unique toxins stirred up by floods and hurricanes may have their counterparts in herbal medicine.  Any disaster recovery organizations dedicated to mutual aid should consider it as a part of the larger medic’s toolkit.

Misunderstanding the Gravity of the Situation

Looting? Really? Less than 48 hours into a catastrophic disaster?
I don’t think so.
Yet again news providers are reporting that looting is occurring. This time within the devastation that is underway on Indonesia’s Sulawesi Island following the latest earthquake and tsunami.

The things psychologists have identified that give people resilience are all wiped away in catastrophic disaster yet survivors locate and utilize creative resources to start connecting torn up pieces of what and whom may be left after the giant and relentless eggbeater has made the region unrecognizable even to surviving lifetime residents.

Looting and its synonyms refer to violent acts. In the case of catastrophic disaster, the violent act has already occurred and the survivors are neither criminally destroying nor trying to profit from finding creative resources to help save lives and minimize the devastation within the community.

Heroes help save lives and minimize the devastation within the community of survivors.
What is really happening is Neighborhood Resuscitation.

News providers.…your premise is wrong and so is your narrative.


Building the Civic Narrative After Disasters

The needless function of disasters: They blow a hole, short lived, into the media narrative that people are selfish and stupid. That the free market solves everything. That every person is an island.

Because people step up after a disaster for a good 3-4 days, until exhaustion sets in. They react heroically, selflessly-  they share or liberate lifesaving supplies-  they coordinate critical missions to save lives. They are more than consumers; buyers or sellers; employees.  They’re part of a community.

And that’s kind of covered in the media.  But not really.  It’s mostly ignored actually.  It’s being ignored this very moment- in Puerto Rico and North Carolina and Houston..  but if you want stories on looting, price gouging, or roofing scams- that’s a lot easier to find.

It’s easy to see why.  Within 5 minutes of watching Corporate News the narrative is clear:  people are  selfish-  there are threats and disasters around every corner- this is all unfixable- so don’t bother trying- and you don’t owe the world a thing. Some stations pioneered this broadcast of mass cynicism- but at this point they’re all following suit.

Even the narrative of the reckless billionaires serves a purpose-  it tells us that if we can be useless to society, so can we.  It normalizes the abandonment of our obligations.  We don’t owe shit to our community.  We estrange ourselves to our own Main Street; neighbors; city council.

One thing is clear- this is a race to the bottom.  And when that race is over-  and the sociopaths take off with their winnings – 99% of us will be losers.  Our treasuries depleted; average household debt skyrocketed towards bankruptcy- national lands pillaged with the trees gone, oil pumped, water dried up.  That future is dead- sterile and hopeless.  Someday- we may shake our heads and call it a tragedy.  But it’s being actively perpetuated by those who could care less about the future- and who promote the narrative of cynicism as inevitable- and the narrative of of sustainability as a naïve or privileged.

True sustainability is for everyone- everything- it is a honest discussion about what we actually want in life and how we can all simplify those desires into something shareable.  It’s not about winning lotteries or being the best in the universe-  it’s about being good and a part of a solution.  That can be good enough and the rest of life’s joys and passions can still follow. That’s what I’m hoping to be a part of.

We don’t need a disaster to discover these potentials in each other.  All that violence and destruction- it should be needless.  It is within our reach to make it needless, because we can build that society without losing everything first.  And we have every reason to call on the media to showcase such selfless virtues in the stories that come out of them.   The corporate media has their narrative, but we don’t have to accept or or let it become reality.  There’s plenty of community journalists out there still.  People who share our narratives- and show us hope- and move us act.  Not just for 3-4 days after the flood until we are depleted- exhausted. But for 3-4 generations until we figure this out.