American Friends Service Committee
Pat Farren, Founding Editor
2161 Massachusetts Ave.
Peacework has been published monthly since 1972, intended to serve as a source of dependable information to those who strive for peace and justice and are committed to furthering the nonviolent social change necessary to achieve them. Rooted in Quaker values and informed by AFSC experience and initiatives, Peacework offers a forum for organizers, fostering coalition-building and teaching the methods and strategies that work in the global and local community. Peacework seeks to serve as an incubator for social transformation, introducing a younger generation to a deeper analysis of problems and issues, reminding and re-inspiring long-term activists, encouraging the generations to listen to each other, and creating space for the voices of the disenfranchised.
Editorial material in Peacework is published under a Creative Commons
Views expressed are those of the authors, not necessarily of the AFSC.
Peace in Action on the Gulf Coast
Lisa Graustein is a Boston-area educator and Quaker youth pastor.
During the first week of December, I spent a week helping with Katrina relief work along the Alabama coast and in New Orleans. I worked with a number of different organizations -- groups of local residents, national church groups, and Habitat for Humanity. Every place I went, I was instantly put to work, the need for volunteers with any kind of skills -- from carpentry to care management -- was so desperate. Three months after the flooding, tent and trailer villages were common, elders with disabilities struggled to get in and out of FEMA trailers, and garbage was piled high along roads. In much of the area, water was undrinkable and there was no electricity.
Yet the model of rebuilding that is happening at the grassroots level, often supported by national church disaster relief workers, is one of peace in action. Here are the successful principles I saw at work.
Resources reach people immediately
Mama D, a New Orleans community activist who never left the house her grandparents built despite four-foot-deep waters, runs a community rebuilding project out of her basement. Neighborhood residents can come by any time to get cleaning supplies, food, water, clothing, housewares, news, volunteer labor, or a meal. There is always a place to sit and get warm by the fire. There are no papers to bring, forms to fill out, lines to stand in, or proof of anything required. People are treated honestly and with respect. In a decimated and empty neighborhood, Mama D's provides respite and security. It is central, accessible, and respectful, and in turn creates safety, order, and hope. In my short time at Mama D's, I saw almost as many people bring resources as come to take resources.
Workers respect local authority
Most of the volunteers I worked alongside were white. Most of the people running the organizations and efforts we were working for were women of color. There was an understanding that we were there to work and the women in charge knew best what that work was. I heard no one question, challenge, criticize, undermine, evaluate, ignore, or disrespect these women. This meant that work happened effectively and efficiently.
Long-term survival is the focus
I spent a day doing site assessments for the Lutheran Disaster Service in Bayou Le Batre, Alabama. These workers instructed me to catalogue all needed repairs, irrespective of what was Katrina-related and what was not. The goal was to work with people to improve the quality of their lives and their ability to care for themselves and each other. In this particular area, the entire local economy (which was based on shrimping) is now destroyed, and it is adequate and healthy housing which will determine people's ability to survive.
People reach out to one another
The other volunteers I met came from all over the country, ranging widely in age, background, and experience. Everyone brought their own skills -- carpentry, case management, physical strength, pastoral counseling, organizing, cooking, prayer -- and all were put to use. We learned from each other. The message was clear that while our government and media had forgotten the Gulf Coast, the people of this country hadn't.
While we cannot control the weather, we must change the systems that kept people in the Superdome, that allow for unpotable water and no electrical supply in some neighborhoods months after a disaster, and that push all this quickly from the front page of national news. Poverty, racism, and classism are rampant in all our communities. Those of us who are white or moneyed have a particular responsibility to get over our race and class blinders and privilege, and work in cross-class and interracial coalitions fighting for justice and equality in housing, education, and the criminal justice system.