When Hurricane Harvey struck Southeast Texas this weekend, bringing torrential rain and severe flooding, scott crow (name intentionally in lower case) knew he had to get to Houston to help evacuate friends. He plans to return to contribute where he can provide relief to the thousands of people who have been displaced by the storm.
This is nothing new for crow.
In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, he and others, like Malik Rahim and Sharon Johnson, set up a system of providing food, water, supplies and basic medical aid to those in vulnerable New Orleans neighborhoods. The organization, dubbed Common Ground Collective, grew to include several health clinics and helped displaced residents move back into their neighborhoods where infrastructure had failed.
But crow and many of first responders in New Orleans and now in Houston just like him don’t come from a government or non-profit background.
Far from it, however, these anarchists and antifascists have been among the first to respond to Hurricanes Katrina, Sandy and now Harvey, doing search and rescue, providing first aid, and establishing shelters in poorer urban neighborhoods and rural communities often overlooked by larger organizations.
“Lately, Antifa has caught huge flack, but Antifa people are the people who are on the ground in Texas right now,” crow said. “Everybody’s not dressed in black bloc anarchist clothes — and they wouldn’t for this anyways — they’re the same people in the streets, like the 40,000 people in Boston that said, ‘Ya basta. Enough.’ Those are the same people who are in marginalized communities right now helping people they don’t even know.”
What makes these anarchist and antifascist volunteers particularly effective, crow said, is a scalable approach that allows the community to determine for itself what it needs. Not to mention, they’re quick to respond.
“As anarchists, our ideas put us into direct action, so we’re not going to wait around and listen to law, we’re going to go in and do the right thing,” crow said. Under these conditions, crow noted that political affiliation often takes a backseat to the “common hole” the community is climbing out of.
“When real disaster strikes, people put aside what they think about the world and begin to help each other directly,” crow said. “Many of the first responders have also been rural people with boats, who might be what’s considered Trump’s base. They can first respond, and they do, but also urban anarchist kids and radicals of different stripes, who put it all aside for common ground.”
crow — who wrote Black Flags and Windmills: Hope, Anarchy and the Common Ground Collective about his experience in New Orleans — notes how anarchists and Antifa overlap in three major areas that are essential to disaster relief:
- mutual aid, which recognizes that one person’s struggle is tied up with another’s
- direct action, which involves both confronting fascists in the streets and putting a search and rescue boat in the water, even when government issues a curfew (crow noted this also includes people who aren’t anarchists); and
- autonomy, as decentralized networks can provide a neighborhood-by-neighborhood focus that global organizations often cannot.
crow estimated that the work of anarchists and antifascists during Katrina saved thousands of lives, and that work will be needed again in Texas. He condemned attempts by corporate media to equivocate these responders with neo-Nazis and white supremacists.
“I look at actions from Antifa, like black bloc tactics in the streets, and disaster relief as all on the same spectrum of tools. That’s what needs to be sussed and if the media ignores that, then they’re not doing their job,” crow said. “You have the same people who are willing to stand up against oppression, racism and nationalism in this one way, but also doing it in these ways that aren’t necessarily as confrontational.”
But then again, this is nothing new for mainstream American media corporations.