Organizing Notes

Bruce Gagnon is coordinator of the Global Network Against Weapons & Nuclear Power in Space. He offers his own reflections on organizing and the state of America's declining empire....

My Photo
Location: Bath, Maine, United States

With a new administration in Washington it will be a challenge to get the 'liberals' to hold Biden-Harris to the few 'progressive promises' they made during their campaign. Biden is bringing back many of Bush & Obama's neo-cons to head his foreign policy. I'll be on this case without hesitation.

Monday, June 10, 2019

Report from disaster conference at University of Florida

Much to my surprise, and good fortune, I was invited to be one of three keynote speakers at the 2019 i-Rec conference (information and research for post disaster reconstruction) held at the University of Florida (UF) in Gainesville.  The event ran from June 5-7.

I was not quite sure what I was getting into or why I had been invited.  What do I know about academic disaster research?  But I studied the web site program and came up with my allotted 20-minute talk.  You can listen to my speech on Fazebook here.

My talk seemed to go over well and I got a good response.  I connected climate change to the Pentagon's enormous carbon boot print and called for the conversion of the military industrial complex to useable production - offshore wind turbines, commuter rail, solar power, tidal power and the like.  I also called for the conversion of the Pentagon into the 'Natural Guard' to help with disaster rescue, relief and reconstruction.

As it turned out I was impressed with the organizers of the event that drew 50 people, primarily academic researchers, from around the world including Africa, Brazil, India, China, UK, France, Italy, Ecuador, US and more.

I went to several of the breakout sessions during the conference, took lots of notes, and learned quite a bit.  The best part was clearly recognizing that the conference theme of ‘Disrupting the status quo: Reconstruction, recovery and resisting disaster risk creation’ was followed up with strong anti-capitalist critiques.

This was especially surprising since I had attended the University of Florida during the late 1970’s and I always found it to be quite a conservative place.   

I began my talk telling the assembled that I was just ready for graduation in 1978 when I got recruited by the United Farm Workers Union (UFW) during a campus campaign to get the lettuce out of the cafeterias in support of striking farm workers in California.  I was offered a job as a UFW organizer and never graduated.  I was sent to UFW headquarters at La Paz in California where Cesar Chavez and others trained the four of us who had been recruited from the UF. After our training we were sent back to Florida to work with fruit pickers across the state who were under contract with Minute Maid Orange juice (owned the Coca Cola). I was assigned to run a field office in Apopka, Florida and put on the contract negotiations team as the note taker.

I’ve been an organizer ever since.

So it was a moving experience to return to UF and sit inside the ‘hallowed halls’ and listen to academics talk about how disasters are in large part created by our global materialistic, consumerist and capitalistic system.  They repeatedly underscored that most victims of disasters are those in poverty who live in homes that are least able to withstand the forces of disaster and the vast majority of the time receive the least support from governing structures.

Here are some of the words from the program and from the various sessions I attended.  I think you will be as impressed as I was.

  • The i-Rec conference series [this was the 9th] is a long-standing forum for discourse among the disaster reconstruction and recovery research, policy and practice community.
  • Status quo practices, policies and solutions are not getting us where we need to go.
  • The accepted [conference] proposals tend to examine disasters with a root cause lens and to embed them in a nuanced understanding of a global productive system and capitalist society.  In all of this, our critical concern lies with the underrepresented, the marginalized and the oppressed who are disproportionately affected by disasters.
  • More critical discussion inside and outside academia is needed on how and why the resilience of (neo) colonial capital and, largely White, consumers effaces the resilience of local populations.
  • The main theme of the conference is to ‘disrupt the status quo’ – a status quo exemplified by the typically emotive imagery used in the media that focused on disaster as “events” and the resulting impacts.
  • Every researcher in our globalized system struggles with complicity and contradiction.
  • Mechanisms for funding tend to favour research proposals that serve a neoliberal status quo, promote interests outside of the local (studied) contexts and ultimately fall short scientifically and ethically.
  • We want our field to reaffirm that disaster research carries a political agenda that is to address the root causes of vulnerability and recognize the capacities of local people.
  • Challenges: Collecting data after disaster; Make ourselves heard; Translating research into action in the political system; Measurements are ways for those in power to avoid dealing with the problems; Language is a clear indication of disaster vulnerability. It is a basic lie that our studies will inform those in power to make changes.
  • Poverty is caused. Need a class analysis.
  • What we have is the neo-liberal capture of our language.
  • Hurricane Maria “desenmascaro” (“unmasked”) the poverty and deep challenges of Puerto Rico.
  • Our job is to promote honesty.
  • The words ‘food security’ help ensure that we no longer talk about hunger.
  • Radical interpretations of disasters: If the problems we are dealing with are a result of how systems of power operate, then we cannot have an effect to reduce the problem without understanding the root causes and changing them.
  • Funding distorts our analysis.
  • Neo-liberalism is continually dismantling indigenous adaptations to natural environments.
  • In a Neo-liberal world everyone is obliged to be a profit maximizer, downgrading social cohesion, altruism, solidarity, identity and the natural environment constituting a hegemonic cultural construct that dictates how human and environmental relations are organized and continued by corruption and privilege.
  • “Nothing can be changed until it is faced….we are called to speak the unspeakable….we must turn toward the storm and face the truth.”  ~ Keynote speaker Heidi Harmon, Mayor of San Luis Obispo, CA
"Clutter is the language of the Pentagon throwing dust in the eyes of the populace by calling an invasion a 'reinforced protective reaction strike' and by justifying its vast budgets on the need for 'counterforce deterrence.' How can we grasp such vaporous double-talk?" ~ William Zinsser



Anonymous Anonymous said...

6/10/19, 1:01 PM  

Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home