Prepping for Change: disaster preparedness as a toolkit for Liberation and Justice

I grew up in what people would now call a “prepping” house. That term wasn’t in vogue for most of my life, but that’s basically what my parents did and as such, influenced how I was raised. Nothing like the Doomsday Preppers made famous by the show of that title (mostly because most of those people have a ton of money and we don’t), but some basic emergency preparedness with a little extra thrown in. We had/have shelf stable food, a generator, two way radio, and the like.

Transitioning into adulthood as someone who took to foraging, wilderness survival, and similar pursuits, and even taking it as far as teaching some of these things professionally, it was no surprise that I was the one of my siblings who most continued prepping and easily took it further than my parents had. It’s not inaccurate, then, to say I’ve been a lifelong prepper.

Found in my parents’ collection. We survived Y2K, did you?

There’s a lot to be said for why the prepping community as a whole is problematic, and that’s all valid. The preparedness community as a whole suffers from a lot of social issues, but chief among them is that almost all discussion and literature related to preparedness do so from a viewpoint of simply maintaining or reestablishing normalcy. This is true even among the growing segment of liberal preppers. Generally, people who write about prepping are looking for what Martin Luther King referred to in his Letter from Birmingham Jail as “negative peace”, the simple lack of whatever is disrupting your normal.

My biggest problem generally with the wider prepping community is the almost unwavering dedication to prepping just for individuals and families (almost always assumed as the classic nuclear family). Community or collective good is rarely mentioned at all, and where it is the idea of creating a world that isn’t based on private property never comes up.

Despite these problems, the main thing that emergency or disaster preparedness strategies do well is important to those of us trying to build radical movements for change: prepping aims primarily to create redundancies in the infrastructure required to meet our needs, and to build dual power in the struggle against empire that’s exactly what we must do. Planning certain number of future meals, knowing how long certain foods last and how make them shelf stable, getting water and making it drinkable, having the ability to improvise shelter and produce heat; all of these are useful for both acute and prolonged disaster. Widen that out to communities, and we call that dual power.

Everyone else stores dry goods in sealed, food-safe buckets, right?

Further, we are currently living through a mass extinction event and potentially catastrophic climate chaos, and of course the ongoing disaster that is capitalism and settler colonialism. Every day living in capitalism is a crisis, felt more by some of us than others, but a crisis all the same. As a major part of our mutual aid projects, my comrades and I will regularly organize free stores and wellness/safety patrols for people experiencing the worst of the disaster that is capitalism. These programs are only necessary because capitalism fails people by design. And if you’re working poor, racialized, and/or LGBTQ, we’ve learned that we cannot depend on governments to help us with acute disasters do strike.

What did we learn from Katrina?

Hope you can swim if you’re waiting on FEMA.

– Dead Prez, What If the Lights Go Out

When building dual power to care for our communities without and beyond capitalism, a whole hell of a lot of the strategies, tools, and equipment utilized by preppers are useful to us. Many are not economically feasible for everyone to pursue on their own, and as such it makes the collectivization of preparedness even more important.

The most immediate utility of prepping on the individual level is more or less like an oxygen mask on a plane; parents/guardians are told to get their own mask on first in the case of an emergency, so that you can actually help your child and others. Having even some basic preps allows you to have a more stable position of your own from which to help others in an acute disaster, rather than being in the same crisis mode yourself.

5 B’s, a prepping shorthand for essential preps: beans, bandages, bullets, batteries, and bullion…wait you meant precious metals? I prefer soup.

Immediately in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, residents and volunteers organized and helped people on the principles of mutual aid and dual power using what is essentially disaster preps as their physical basis. What grew quickly into the Common Ground Collective was people coming together to horizontally and democratically provide food, medical aid, shelter, and when needed, armed community defense. That legacy lives on in the organization Mutual Aid Disaster Relief.

We should consider the strategies, skills, and equipment involved in preparedness as giving us potential options that we wouldn’t otherwise have when we’re building a better world. We will almost certainly need these things regardless of how far our movement grows, as we live through climate chaos and the everyday disaster that is capitalism. And while there is certainly value in individuals and small families taking measures to prepare themselves for disruptive events, we must also grow it out from there if we intend to foster a culture of justice.

As we go on with our projects here in occupied Nipmuc land, I’ll be including preparedness topics occasionally, particularly when they overlap with the sort of homesteading we intend to practice.


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