Our Power Puerto Rico:

Moving Toward A Just Recovery

A special report from the Frontlines in collaboration with our members from Puerto Rico.

Report Loading (approx 30 secs)

“A brigade of solidarity at a time like the one we were living in was like a miracle. It is the opportunity to practice concepts and change the dominant reality.”

– Magha García, Organización Boricuá

Multimedia Resources & Toolkits

Rapid Response Toolkit for People to People Brigades

Emergency Response Protocol for Organizations Supporting Just Recovery

Civic Engagement Toolkit

Videos from the Fontlines:

First OurPowerPR International Solidarity Brigade featuring labor leaders and agroecological farmers.

Battle for Paradise: Naomi Klein Reports from Puerto Rico.

International Brigadistas Speak Out: Black Dirt Farm. Video shot by Jayeesha Dutta.

Farm Brigades Panorama. Video shot by Jayeesha Dutta.

Agroecological Farm School Students. Video shot by Jayeesha Dutta.

Sneak Peak: OurPowerPR Farm Brigades

An Overview of Just Recovery

From Hurricanes Katrina to María, to the wildfires in the western U.S. and beyond, we know too well how communities most affected by the root causes of inequitable systems are impacted by the climate crisis. We are the ones affected first and worst by increasingly severe, frequent, and disruptive climate disasters. Unfortunately, the U.S. government has a demonstrated track record of being slow to respond, inequitable and even racist.1 This is coupled with big NGO aid efforts that are typically expensive late responders and generally out of touch with local community needs. Additionally, medium to long term water, food, housing, infrastructure and energy needs after a climate disaster, particularly for communities left out of (or without) municipal climate and Just Transition plans, are vast and can take years to address.

Intentional, mutual support networks and people-to-people solutions, like Just Recovery Brigades in Puerto Rico, are emerging as powerful climate mitigation strategies, carried out for only a fraction of the cost of the billions spent by FEMA to address disasters. Those of us on the front lines of the climate crisis have built the muscle and relationships to respond to a full system of inequalities stemming from the underlying causes of an extractive economic system, including the fossil fuel economy. At the same time, we have done so in a way that shifts political will, scales translocal organizing models and most importantly, responds proactively to the most urgent crisis of our time – climate change.

Response, recovery and rebuild efforts centering systematically oppressed communities during climate accelerated disasters form the basis of the “Just Recovery” framework. When there is a climate disruption or disaster, the Just Recovery model supports climate-vulnerable communities to rebuild around the dreams, visions, and needs of the most severely impacted, while increasing our power, agency, and self-determination so that we are better off than we were before the disaster. When the needs of those most impacted are resolved, everyone benefits.

All things around us point to an accelerated rate of climate disruption. It is no longer a question of if, but when, a climate disruption will directly or indirectly impact a community. This could be through an extreme storm, fire, drought, or extreme heat and cold. This report aims to reframe the narrative around disaster recovery. We believe this is necessary for the very survival of those who suffer the most in these increasingly severe, climate-fueled catastrophic events.

Purpose of this report

The Climate Justice Alliance (CJA), a growing member organization of 67 urban and rural frontline communities, organizations and supporting networks in the climate justice movement, has engaged locally to prepare frontline communities to center a Just Transition away from fossil fuels and a dirty energy economy to one that is local, regenerative and built on community-led solutions. CJA has supported members, post climate disaster, in their efforts to strengthen mutual support networks that uplift people-to-people solutions in both recovery and rebuild efforts. These are all carried out with the goal of creating strong, translocal networks of Just Recovery communities that build power.

Just Recovery has proven to be a powerful model that creates the foundational and relational networks and infrastructure needed to activate an appropriate grassroots emergency response for immediate recovery, and potentially a long-term rebuild that could span decades. It has also demonstrated that rapid response alone is not enough. The purpose of this report is to share a participatory model of Just Recovery as an effective and innovative tool for climate adaptation that intersects many sectors of the economy including energy democracy, food sovereignty, rural infrastructure, and community self-determination. Every placed-based disaster will have a unique plan for a Just Recovery.

Utilizing the case study of Organización Boricuá Brigades to the rural farms of the islands of Puerto Rico, this report demonstrates the need to structure energy recovery alongside food sovereignty brigades. It also shares the healing spirit of hope and the practical utility of investing in regenerative construction and community rebuilds. OurPowerPR, a national initiative launched by CJA to support Puerto Rican people’s demands for a Just Recovery, exposes the power of grassroots organizing to educate legislators and shift federal policy. It also makes evident that Just Recovery organizing can be an effective tool in building a new narrative arc around climate disasters, one that moves from a top-down, short term, rapid response approach to a more preparatory and medium to long term response that explores fortifying local living economies. This is in direct contrast to disaster capitalism, which aims to concentrate power and wealth in the hands of a few to the detriment of many.

This report was written through a participatory method and includes multiple community leaders’ perspectives and input. Shakara Tyler of Black Dirt Farm drafted the initial report on the brigades and CJA staff developed the emergency protocols and the organizational responses. CJA member group representatives Jayeesha Dutta of Another Gulf Is Possible and Jesus Vasquez of Organización Boricuá led the final drafting process while members and allies from the OurPowerPR campaign shared their learnings and recommendations for the production of a true collective process.

Since the report was authored by frontline community members themselves, the reader will see “we” written to refer to frontline communities or those most impacted by climate change throughout the report. This helps to support a peer-to-peer practical documentation style of writing and informs the utility for the report for frontline community groups around the United States and the world facing similar challenges.

The lessons from OurPowerPR have already been used by the North Carolina Climate Justice Collective and other CJA members during climate disasters. This multimedia report shares our learnings and insights to further the field of study around best practices in addressing the ongoing and persistent climate change-fueled chaos impacting frontline communities today.

Genesis of the Just Recovery Framework

The term “Just Recovery” was coined during the 2017 hurricane season as a hashtag, brainstormed by a group of Gulf South grassroots organizers participating in rapid response conference calls. The calls were convened to resource, amplify and support the needs of vulnerable communities impacted by Hurricane Harvey.

Just Recovery graphic.

“At its core, ‘Just Recovery’ was a way to incorporate what we in the Gulf South had already been doing together – a way to build upon the incredible work of so many people, particularly women of color. The grassroots network, built in the aftermath of disasters like Katrina and the BP oil disaster, has continued to stay connected and work together through thick, thin and yo-yo funding, because we know there will be continued devastation and crises coming at our communities.

A distinguishing remark from people who don’t live here is to say we are a very ‘resilient’ region, referencing how they want to help our communities and that they want to learn from our communities’ perspective who have lived through continuing disasters. However, we just want to stop having to fight every second of the day for basic human rights, for basic living conditions, for basic respect and dignity! In that process, we have come to recognize this resilience narrative continues a long history of the extraction from the South, which the fossil fuel industry also takes advantage of. The stranglehold the industry has on our region is a big reason we have become one of the most climate vulnerable regions in the entire world.

We need to not only have an immediate acknowledgement of vulnerable communities but to resource the real intentional work needed to support them after the storm to get folks to a place where they are better off than they were before the storm or disaster hit. We need to find longer term ways to rebuild communities so they can protect themselves in the future. If you rely on government, or the big NGOs – environmental, housing or otherwise – these efforts will fall short. We need to work together at the grassroots level so the most vulnerable communities are acutely aware of what could happen when disaster strikes, to build response and recovery plans into their lives, because these storms will continue, they will be more frequent, and they will be different.

Recent storms have been unique and harm places in different ways, so we also can’t apply everything we know in one place to the next. We will constantly need to update our plans, and be in a continual learning process. That’s where the Just Recovery framework is starting to grow some legs, it’s really beautiful to be a part of, and it’s really important if we’re going to survive.”

– Bryan Parras, co-founder, t.e.j.a.s. (Texas Environmental Justice Advocacy Services), Houston, TX

Building A Just Recovery Framework

Our dominant institutions follow the disaster capitalist playbook play-by-play and confirm what we’ve known about climate disruption – its power to devastate along the lines of existing inequality is no accident. As a direct result, in applying the Just Transition framework to Just Recovery, the following model of transition as it relates to disaster response, recovery, and rebuilding is in iterative development. A Just Recovery must be led by queer, trans, working class, folks of color, disabled, immigrants, and/or femmes on the frontlines.

 

 

1 https://www.npr.org/2019/03/05/688786177/how-federal-disaster-money-favors-the-rich

Our Power Puerto Rico

The Climate Justice Alliance (CJA) and our founders have a long history of utilizing people-to-people solutionary, mutual support strategies and tactics to fight extraction. Together, CJA members work to co-create and co-define a Just Transition. As a direct result, our members often become important frontline leaders in times of climate crisis and rapid response. A Just Recovery is an essential component of the deep democracy, cooperation, and the ecological and social well-being of an emerging regenerative economy.

Just Transition framework developed in partnership with Movement Generation and frontline organizations.

Background Timeline

2016

During the summer, CJA began to exercise our collective power rooted in the experience, relationships and wisdom of our membership and engaged in rapid response work.

Trillions of gallons of rain flooded Louisiana, directly impacting our members in the Gulf. CJA provided small grants to the Gulf Coast Center for Law and Policy and the Indigenous Environmental Network’s local partner in the Bayou (now known as Another Gulf Is Possible). Both were coordinating cleanup and response to the floods.

Jayeesha Dutta’s torn gloves in flood recovery work of Cherri Foytlin’s home, Rayne, LA., August 2017. Photo by Ann-Meredith Wootton.

2017

Our rapid response continued into 2017, when Hurricane Harvey hit Houston. We activated the CJA donation page to crowd-source donations and later mobilized foundations to support member group Texas Environmental Justice and Advocacy Services (t.e.j.a.s.) to provide clean-up kits for families in Manchester and surrounding regions.

In the lead up and in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, grassroots leaders including CJA members from across the Gulf South, came together to mobilize support for impacted and vulnerable communities by participating in a series of daily, rapid response grassroots conference calls. As a result of these calls, #AJustHarveyRecovery hashtag was brainstormed, a grassroots fundraising initiative launched, and we witnessed the emergence of the term “Just Recovery”. CJA member group, Another Gulf Is Possible, launched a webpage that provided a one-stop-shop for outside individuals looking to donate their money directly to frontline and grassroots groups, as well as a place to quickly aggregate information and resources for frontline communities to use. Accurate and accountable maintenance of this quickly viral webpage (hundreds of thousands of hits from every country in the world) required considerable (unpaid) labor and deep existing relationships. When explaining the emergence of the Just Recovery framework, it is essential to uncover the invisibilization of the grassroots infrastructure built upon relationships, trust, and deep mutual accountability that precedes any grant or institutional support.

CJA also supported member group, Farmworker Association of Florida, in their recovery work following Hurricane Irma by connecting them to funders and providing space on calls with membership, to raise awareness of the situation in Florida.

The final Just Recovery push that year supported member group, Organización Boricuá de Agricultura Ecológica de Puerto Rico (Boricuá), and allied local groups in Puerto Rico following Hurricane María. The devastation wrought by the hurricane and the inadequate, racist response from the U.S. government prompted CJA to launch the multi-sector Our Power Puerto Rico Campaign (OurPowerPR) in collaboration with member organizations Boricuá, engaged in Just Recovery on the ground; the Just Transition Alliance, organizing labor stateside to support the islands, and UPROSE, helping to organize the Puerto Rican diaspora. They united with Grassroots International, Greenpeace, the Solutions Project and about 25 other allied groups in support of a Just Recovery and climate justice in Puerto Rico.

Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, Jose, Katia, and María were some of the biggest storms on record, pounding Texas, the Caribbean, Mexico, Florida, and Puerto Rico in 2017. The unprecedented flooding in Houston from Hurricane Harvey wiped out as many as 40,000 homes. Hurricane María virtually destroyed agriculture in Puerto Rico and left 3 million American citizens without power for months, including some who still have not recovered electricity nearly 2 years later. Many of these locations, Puerto Rico and Houston included, have numerous Superfund and other contaminated sites that were flooded and now pose a serious threat to public health. Combine this with the recent earthquakes in Mexico, catastrophic flooding in Asia, record-breaking heat waves in California, raging wildfires across the Western U.S. and cold storms in the last year and we can only conclude: this is the new normal of catastrophic climate change.

Based on these experiences, we intimately understand that in the aftermath of crises, frontline communities are hit first and worst. For example, in Florida, approximately 50,000 agricultural jobs were lost as a result of the storms. In Puerto Rico, Hurricanes Irma and María decimated the majority of the crops of the agroecological farmers.2 This left the islands, which were already importing 85% of their food, more vulnerable than ever.3 Post-María, this figure increased to 98%.4 Also, more than 120,000 Puerto Ricans moved stateside, changing the political face of many states, including Florida.5 Similar to Houston, today Puerto Rico is still in need of a comprehensive toxicity assessment of the water, soil, and air. Residents there face considerable threats from toxic fumes, mold, and contaminated water.

As people return home after climate disasters, the uncertainties can be potentially crippling. Are homes safe to live in? Will healthcare access be impacted? Will access to information and resources be limited? What services are out of reach for those without insurance or residency documentation? Which workplaces will be compromised in the aftermath? Where can people find clean drinking water, food, and shelter?

“Standard responses to disasters leave behind more pollution, more debt, less democracy, and a weaker infrastructure. In contrast, a Just Recovery would reduce pollution, reduce debt, challenge systemic racism, deepen democracy, and leave behind a sturdier, more resilient public sphere.”

– Naomi Klein

Launching Our Power Puerto Rico

Children and farmers tending a garden.

CJA launched OurPowerPR as a national initiative to support Puerto Rican people’s demands for a Just Recovery. The OurPowerPR campaign phase initially incorporated, and continues to rely upon, a translocal strategy for supporting grassroots leaders on the islands. These include:

  • Strategy meetings with decision makers and community representatives interested in solidarity and deepened climate justice ties,
  • Delivery of Just Recovery and renewable energy and construction supplies,
  • Investment in communications and narrative-building to support frontline groups, and
  • Coordination of multiple solidarity brigades to lend direct support on the islands.

Created by Crystal Clarity

On October 11, 2017, the OurPowerPR Campaign launched as a six month campaign for a “Just Recovery and Rebuild” on the islands. To kick off the campaign, CJA delivered a petition with 12,000 signatures to Congress putting pressure on the islands’ decision makers and the United States to immediately demand: justice over the Jones Act, an end to the Puerto Rico Oversight, Management, and Economic Stability Act (PROMESA), an immediate Just Recovery Federal Aid Package, and support for brigades and donations to grassroots groups on the ground for those most impacted.

The OurPowerPR Campaign launched as a six month campaign for a “Just Recovery and Rebuild” on the islands.

Who is OurPowerPR?

  • Organización Boricuá de Agricultura Ecológica de Puerto Rico (and its members and partners in Puerto Rico) include but are not limited to 21 rural towns. Organización Boricuá is a 29 year old membership base organization composed of farmers, peasants, farm workers and community members that promote and practice agroecology to achieve food sovereignty. Organización Boricuá has a network of farms that implements sustainable agriculture practices and maintains a relationship with the community in different regions in the archipelago.
  • CJA member participants in the OurPowerPR campaign include: Just Transition Alliance, Grassroots Global Justice, Grassroots International, Movement Generation, Black Dirt Farm Collective, Three Part Harmony Farm, Soil Generation, People Organizing to Demand Economic & Environmental Rights, Black Mesa Water Coalition, Farmworker Association of Florida, Ironbound Community Corporation, Environmental Justice League of Rhode Island, Indigenous Environmental Network, US Food Sovereignty Alliance, Movement Strategy Center, Cooperation Jackson, Ruckus Society, Another Gulf Is Possible, and New Florida Majority.
  • Core allies of the OurPowerPR campaign include: It Takes Roots, WhyHunger, La Via Campesina, Greenpeace, CultureStrike, The Solutions Project, Southeastern African American Farmers Organic Network, Cuir Kitchen Brigade, Soilful City, Urban Creators, Departamento de la Comida – PR Fondo Resiliencia, PAReS, Miami Climate Alliance, Miami Workers Center, Florida Immigrant Coalition, Profesa, The Cleo Institute, No Planeta B, SEIU-FL, Naomi Klein, and Presente, among others committed to the Jemez Principles of working together and elevating grassroots leadership and solutions.
  • OurPowerPRnyc includes: UPROSE, A Call to Action on Puerto Rico, Américas Por Las Conservación y Las Artes, BombaYo, Bronx Academy of Arts and Dance, Bronx Climate Justice North, Brooklyn For Peace, Capicu Culture, Carribean Cultural Center, Center for Working Families, CHULO, Creative Justice Initiative, DeAlmas Women’s Institute, Environmental Justice Initiative for Haiti, GOLES, Justice Committee, La Colmena Cimarrona, Labor Council for Latin American Advancement, Latino Leadership Institute, Mayday, Mothers On The Move, Muevete, New York Environmental Law and Justice Project, North Bronx Racial Justice, Nos Quedamos, NYC Environmental Justice Alliance, NYS Nurse Association, People’s Climate Movement NY, PRDreams, PRLDEF/Latino Justice, PRontheMap, Science for the People NYC, siemPRresente, Staten Island Urban Center, Taller Salud, TEMPORAL Online, The Illuminators, The Point CDC, Trinity Lutheran Church, Union Theological Seminary, United Confederation of Taino People – 39 members, and more than 100 individual members.

The GP Arctic Sunrise Makes Stops Along the East Coast with Just Transition Leaders Heading to Puerto Rico

Greenpeace Arctic Sunrise Boat leaves New York.

Poster for OurPowerPR Miami event.

Greenpeace Arctic Sunrise arrives in Florida.

Greenpeace joined the OurPowerPR campaign as their vessel, the Arctic Sunrise, docked in New York. They integrated the campaign into their stops down the East coast and later invited ten Just Transition leaders from across the country to bolster Just Recovery efforts on the ground in an effort to support the many rural farmers that form part of Organización Boricuá. At various stops along the coast OurPowerPR was integrated into ship tours with popular education, cultural events and press conferences held in New York, Florida, and San Juan, Puerto Rico, to further share updates on the campaign, build awareness and raise funds.

The magnitude of the damage to the islands required a significant and thoughtful response and that is why, together with them, we developed the OurPowerPR Campaign. The campaign was initially developed to raise awareness and deliver sustainable and renewable materials including seeds, 75 solar generator units, bikes, tents, and various building materials collected around the country to support farm rebuilds. Six containers in all were delivered in Puerto Rico after many delays and setbacks due to port backups.

As the campaign developed, it incorporated extensive political and narrative alignment work to include the Puerto Rican diaspora in the U.S., led by CJA member organization UPROSE. They carried out this important work under the banner OurPowerPRnyc, who took their cues from communities on the islands. The overall goals of OurPowerPR were, and continue to be, to respond to immediate and long-term needs of impacted farming communities in Puerto Rico, and to engage the Puerto Rican diaspora, along with the general public, in reframing the narrative around disaster response. In light of the continued devastating impacts from climate change, we also demand fair and just policies that advance Just Transition, food sovereignty, and energy democracy in Puerto Rico. These are not only for the short term, but for the medium and long term, to better prepare communities to respond to climate disasters.

JT Leaders arrive in Puerto Rico and Hold a Press Conference with PR Allies including Basura Zero, AFL-CIO-PR, Departamento de la Comida, Amigos del Mar, and Organización Boricuá.

OurPowerPR Demands * 2017

Justice Over Jones Act Banner on Greenpeace ship. Photo by Crystal Clarity.

  1. Self-determination: the people on the ground make their own decisions. Puerto Ricans should be involved in the planning, implementation and evaluation of their recovery. This includes implementing a transparent community engagement, governance, and assessment strategy for Puerto Rico by Puerto Ricans.
  2. Full elimination of PROMESA (Puerto Rico Oversight, Management, and Economic Security Act) and cancellation of the $74 billion debt. The people of Puerto Rico are not responsible for this debt. To recover, the islands need grants and assistance, not more loans.
  3. Justice over the Jones Act.
    • Eliminate punitive taxes, fees and barriers to imports of basic needs that have historically added economic burden and that undermine people’s recovery.
    • Enforce workers rights and protections in the Act, especially for workers on the islands.
    • Support the New York Labor Council for Latin American Advancement’s resolution on the Jones Act
  4. Assessment of PR’s infrastructure and a plan for climate resiliency.
    Federal recovery aid packages and post-disaster rebuilding need to address the urgency of climate disaster-prone areas and populations to be best prepared in the face of frequent and intensified disasters. This is key for the upgrade of infrastructure and systems that include housing, food, energy, transit, healthcare, and environment.
  5. Farmers tending to a garden.

  6. Prioritize equity and environmental justice.
    The most vulnerable communities need to be prioritized and aid/recovery should reach all people on the islands in both urban and rural areas. There are 23 toxic Superfund sites that have been flooded and unmonitored since 2013, resulting in many bathing and drinking contaminated water from these sites. People deserve a recovery free of toxins so they can be healthy; agencies should ensure they are putting ample resources to work to protect these vulnerable communities equitably.

Street art activism in Puerto Rico.

An example of the Puerto Rican Organizations Engaged in OurPowerPR at different stages of the Campaign:

AFL-CIO PR
Amigos del Mar
Basura Cero Puerto Rico
Brigada PDT (Puerta De Tierra)
Casa Pueblo
Centro Cultural Naborias Naranjito
Colectiva Feminista en Construcción
Corporación Piñones se Integral (COPI)
Cuir Kitchen (Queer)
IDEBAJO
Eduardo Larregui/Coco de Oro
El Hormiguero, Centro Social Autogestionado
Finca Don Luis Centro de Apoyo
La Perla Garden
Organización Boricuá de Agricultura Ecológica de Puerto Rico (Boricuá)
PAReS (Profesores Autoconvocados en Resistencia Solidaria)
Proyecto Rizoma
Y No Habia Luz

Screen-printed posters created on the Greenpeace boat, November 2017. Photo by Crystal Clarity.

2 https://www.thenation.com/article/can-farming-save-puerto-ricos-future/

3 https://www.nytimes.com/2017/09/24/us/puerto-rico-hurricane-maria-agriculture-.html

4 https://www.sciencefriday.com/segments/in-puerto-rico-farmers-still-grapple-with-the-effects-of-hurricane-maria/

5 https://centropr.hunter.cuny.edu/research/data-center/data-sheets/new-estimates-135000-post-maria-puerto-ricans-relocated-stateside

Spotlights

Relational Networks & Diasporic Engagement

It is critical to invest in relational network building with time, money, and energy, well in advance of disaster, to ensure an adequate rapid response that reflects the needs, demands, and particular attributes of impacted communities. Time and time again, we witness how people figure out ways to help each other when large institutions continually fail those who need their support the most. We believe a more intentional and structured approach to developing mutual support networks, infrastructure, and systems is necessary to meet the challenges of the increasingly insecure and climate disaster- prone future we are facing.

Famers gathering around a garden.

In that same vein, through the OurPowerPR campaign, CJA member UPROSE, based in New York, the U.S. city with the largest stateside Puerto Rican population, took the lead on strategic support and engagement of the Puerto Rican diaspora in demanding a Just Recovery for Puerto Rico. Forming the OurPowerPRnyc campaign, over 200 organizational members raised awareness of disaster capitalism and the U.S.’s unjust response to Hurricane María in Puerto Rico. At the same time, they amplified stories of climate disaster impacts and people-to-people Just Recovery grounded in food sovereignty and energy democracy.

A mosaic of photos from Just Recovery activity in Puerto Rico.

OurPowerPRnyc social media graphic.

This included multiple town halls and community meetings, arts and healing spaces, press conferences and rallies, social media campaigns, articles and speaking engagements. UPROSE also led periodic, public commemorative events to lift up the ongoing suffering, struggles, and unacceptable conditions in post-Maria Puerto Rico and to continue to elevate the demand for a Just Recovery. These included the 100 Days Since María: Still in the Dark community event, strategic messaging and participation in the National Puerto Rican Day Parade, and a community gathering to honor the one year anniversary of Hurricane María’s strike on Puerto Rico. The latter featured a rally and speakers including Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, continuing to call for debt relief for Puerto Rico, repeal of the Jones Act, rejection of the privatization of essential services, and a rebuild process that is led by Puerto Ricans. A light show was also projected onto Citibank in Union Square with demands such as: Just Recovery for Puerto Rico, We Need People-Powered Recovery, Climate Change is Killing Us, Hurricane María: 4645 Dead, Stop Privatization and Stop Disaster Capitalism.

OurPowerPRnyc social media graphic.

Other examples of diasporic engagement outside of OurPowerPR include the work of Defend Puerto Rico, a grassroots media collective founded by two diasporic sons of Puerto Rico, Eli Jacobs-Fantauzzi and Mikey Cordero. Both have moved to the islands in the aftermath of María to help communities share their own visions and stories of recovery. They are committed to building the media making capacity of young people in one of the hardest hit regions, Comerio. They hope this will enable youth to become community media makers and storytellers in order to create their own narratives around what happened, what is happening and what they want to see occur in the future.

Energy Democracy

Solar panels on a farm in Puerto Rico.

“As Hurricane María struck Puerto Rico and private sector, large environmental organizations, and other white-dominant and US based charities swarmed and raised millions, it was refreshing for The Solutions Project to model what solidarity partnerships between more traditional power centers (white, philanthropic, celebrity) and frontline leaders can look like. We were well positioned to draw down more resources from our philanthropic partners to then deploy in trusted relationships with CJA and CJA members UPROSE and Boricuá, as well as purchase and fill containers with support materials.

Our vision of 100% clean energy for 100% of people must be rooted in the sovereignty, resilience, and brilliance of those most impacted by climate change – in this case, Puerto Rican community leaders on the islands and in the diaspora.

Food, water and energy are quite literally that which powers our lives. They are also what connects people to the land and to each other. Partnering with CJA and Boricuá meant that our contribution of grant dollars and solar generators were a part of this connected ecosystem as a means for greater security during a time of unprecedented chaos for the Puerto Rican people.”

– Sarah Shanley Hope, The Solutions Project

The solar equipment donated by the Solutions Project was essential for the immediate, medium and long term support of farmers, peasants, farm workers, and community members in different regions of the island. This equipment provided electricity to address the needs of many families in their homes and also provided the necessary energy for mutual community support spaces and community kitchens. During the reconstruction phase the equipment has also been used to provide the electricity needed for construction tools.

The solar equipment donated by the Solutions Project was distributed to all the family farms and agroecological projects of the membership without access to electricity located in the rural towns of Utuado, Orocovis, Naranjito, Jayuya, Aibonito, Cabo Rojo, Lares, Ponce, Mayagüez, Manatí, Dorado, Cayey, Cidra, Aguas Buenas, Arroyo, Isabela, Toa Alta, Vieques, Las Marías, Cayey, and Culebra.

In many of the towns listed above, more than one of the farms were a part of the membership. The vast majority of the farms of the network of Organización Boricuá are family farms where at least two people live and work the land. All of them are part of rural communities and the farms themselves are integrated within the community. The farms produce a diverse variety of fruits and vegetables. Most of the members work on forest regeneration, stewardship and animal husbandry. The families that were supported with the solar equipment work with food as a healing element, and incorporate educating others about the power of choice in food while providing economically accessible nourishment for the community. Most of the supported farmers also work with their communities and farmers interested in the agroecological transition to fully sustainable farming. The majority of Organización Boricuá’s members protect and share their own seeds among their communities and propagate culturally appropriate seeds for the Caribbean.

Spotlight: Labor & Just Recovery

“The Just Transition Alliance is proud to report that recent participation and collaborations in Puerto Rico have spurred the awareness of local organizations and community leaders to seek our leadership in engaging in Just Transition models on the islands. Beginning with our initial involvement in the Just Recovery efforts on the islands conducted by the Climate Justice Alliance, JTA participated in three press conferences to first bring attention to the Jones Act in Miami, Florida and subsequently later in two other press conferences on the islands of Puerto Rico. JTA helped to unload containers with crucial supplies and we were also able to distribute them to organizations that we have been allied with on the islands. JTA is also very excited to report that our actions have been instrumental in bringing together the presidents of five major service sector worker unions in order to collaborate, with the intent of helping aid in the recovery process throughout the islands.

Furthermore, we are confident that opening these discussions is a major move forward in bringing a Just Transition to the communities in Puerto Rico, we will continue to work with these new alliances on creating training models that communities and workers will be able to implement as they strive to bring about a Just Transition from otherwise unsustainable industrial practices in their communities. We have been asked by the above referenced unions to return to help them craft a process to bring their rank and file up to speed on what a Just Transition entails, as well to help them draft a position on Just Transition that is inclusive of affected communities. Drafting a position is monumental in addressing the rift in relationships and helping to build an inclusive movement.”

– Jose Bravo, Just Transition Alliance

The Just Transition Alliance took the lead in the production of a short documentary film that captures exchanges of labor leaders and agroecological farmers during the first OurPowerPR International Solidarity Brigade.

Spotlight: Art, Culture and Healing

Created by Crystal Clarity.

Just Sustainable Puerto Rico participatory banner created at the welcome event for the Greenpeace boat in San Juan, November 2017. Photo by Crystal Clarity.

“Art saves lives. There’s a powerful role that artists play in disaster recovery. Artists can be first responders because they are often trusted members of the community and have an inherently creative resourceful nature.”

– Jayeesha Dutta, Co-Founder, Another Gulf Is Possible

Institutional disaster response fails to value culture and cultural assets. In fact, the arts are commonly disassociated from disaster recovery in meaningful ways, although cultural expressions are key to communicating and healing post conflict and trauma. There is also a severe lack of support in the community arts field for responding in times of crisis. This is even more pronounced when community artists find it difficult to access and meet their basic needs on a day to day basis and are often one of the last sectors to recover. Yet, it is common practice for community-based artists to provide psychological and emotional support, build trust, and even provide direct relief during times of disaster without institutional funding or support. One of the first brigades on the Greenpeace boat united commissioned performance artists (Y No Habia Luz), musicians (Colectiva Feminista en Construcción), and many other artists who healed anxiety and created a much needed community environment for over 200 people through a healing space only months after the Hurricane hit. Reports two years later point out that “1000’s of kids continue to experience PTSD, trauma and fear after Maria.”6

Participants creating banners during San Juan Greenpeace ship welcome event. Photo by Emma Cassidy.

Given this, we believe there needs to be more inclusive financial resourcing and consideration for cultural response in Just Recovery, including the overhead and maintenance of cultural spaces that serve as disaster response centers. Proactive creation of a disaster arts fund that intends to promote culture and community in times of peril, with the lens of “artists as first responders” to disaster recovery and rebuild processes, would be an incredible asset which could be deployed any time a community is facing climate catastrophe.

Eli Jacobs-Fantauzzi, among others, participating in banner creation during San Juan Greenpeace ship welcome event, November 2017. Photo by Crystal Clarity.

“There needs to be a focus on the narrative and helping to take the moment of response to elevate a different narrative – a community-driven response and solution instead of the government and big NGO response. From the banner on the Greenpeace ship to press conferences in NY, Miami and San Juan – we were making sure to be clear on talking points, consciousness on the speakers and perspectives and visions moving forward by putting frontline and climate justice voices at the forefront. There is also an importance of seeing culture as a grounding force – making sure there is space for culture at the forefront.”

– Hannah Strange, Greenpeace

Crystal Clarity and Tito Kayak at Greenpeace ship welcome event in San Juan, November 2017. Photo provided by Crystal Clarity.

“My favorite memory was the arts and culture night with folks in Puerto Rico the night when we docked. When we were rolling in, the “kayaktivists” Amigos del Mar greeted the Greenpeace ship with the black and white Puerto Rico flags. We gave the artists, activists, and organizers who met us these posters we’d printed on navigational charts from the boat which ended up looking cool, but really we’d used only because we didn’t have the right materials.

Tito Kayak took his shirt off his back to give me in exchange for the poster because he liked it so much! Here’s an activist legend, who climbed up to put the Puerto Rican flag on the Statue of Liberty – literally giving me the shirt off his back. I realized that wow, these really are my people. It was a really dope moment of being a Boricua artist and feeling like I was coming home. I had never been to the islands in this kind of solidarity with folks who are fighting for justice.”

– Crystal Clarity, artist, New York City

Spotlight: Women Shifting the Narrative

Left: Poster by Agitarte, Right: Book by Naomi Klein.

The Climate Justice Alliance sponsored the first meeting of JuntaGente in Formation, an intersectional group of social and environmental justice and working class groups on the islands post disaster.

Battle for Paradise Video that includes footage from a scheduled trip around the Island with Elizabeth Yeampierre of UPROSE and author, Naomi Klein.

6 https://earther.gizmodo.com/hurricane-maria-left-thousands-of-puerto-rican-children-1834450309

Brigades As Meaningful Work

Streetlights, power lines, and trees cover the streets of Puerto Rico after hurricane strikes.

Puerto Rico Context

On September 6, 2017, a Category 5 hurricane known as Irma, passed just north of the archipelago, bringing widespread power outages to more than one million residents of Puerto Rico. A mere two weeks later, on September 20th, Hurricane María—now known as the deadliest storm to hit Puerto Rico in over 100 years—covered the entire archipelago as a barely-diminished Category 4 storm with winds of 155 miles per hour. The result was severe devastation that impacted the homes, landscape, industry, and infrastructure of Puerto Rico. Residents were left with no way to communicate (telephone, internet, radio, or television), no water, electricity, or cash flow, and an overburdened infrastructure system that led to massive flooding with sewage waters, landslides, and heavily polluted air and water. Over 90% of the forests in Puerto Rico were defoliated overnight, and agricultural production for industrial agriculture was destroyed almost absolutely. This, combined with a shutdown in the ports system, led to a massive lack of capacity to access food.

Organización Boricuá members passing supplies in a human chain over a flooded river.

Organización Boricuá

Meanwhile, Organización Boricuá—a 30 year old farmer, peasant, farmworker and food sovereignty activist organization, with a membership base and network of agroecological farms in Puerto Rico, was on the ground coordinating with other decentralized mutual support efforts grounded in Just Recovery. Organización Boricuá’s main mission has always been to promote agroecology as a pathway to achieve food sovereignty on the islands. Boricuá considers itself a vehicle of transformation to work and live in a Puerto Rico rooted in justice, sustainability and freedom. Directly following the passing of the hurricanes, Boricuá members provided direct and immediate support to address the needs of food, water, health and shelter. They organized weekly agroecological and solidarity brigades to rebuild and replant agroecological farms throughout the islands, rebuilt houses and farming infrastructure and supported the organization’s infrastructure to continue the struggle for food sovereignty locally.

Organización Boricuá members sowing fields in a community farm.

Boricuá understands food sovereignty as a key part of the fight for self-determination and social justice, bringing together rural and urban communities at the local and international levels. Food sovereignty is the fundamental right of all peoples, nations and states to control food and agricultural systems and policies, ensuring everyone has adequate, affordable, nutritious and culturally appropriate food. As such, they understand that in order for this to happen people must have the ability to exercise the right to define and control methods of production, transformation and distribution, both at the local and international levels.

“The idea of food sovereignty is very key in a place like Puerto Rico where people have been denied political sovereignty… By struggling for food sovereignty we’re also struggling for social justice and by struggling for social justice, we’re able to reject climate injustice. So everything comes together and it comes together in a real clear way when we are able to get together and let our struggles pollinate one another, which is what this kind of brigade allowed us to do.”

– Nils McCune, Asociación de Trabajadores Campesinos de Nicaragua

Person helping to tend a garden farm.

Boricuá understands that agroecology is the option for today and the future. Peasant agriculture, artisanal fisheries and herding remain the source of most of our food. Agroecology is a social and ecological system encompassing a great diversity of technologies and practices that are culturally and geographically rooted. It removes dependencies on agro-toxins, rejects confined industrial animal production, uses renewable energies, and guarantees healthy food. It enhances dignity, honors traditional knowledge and restores the health and integrity of the land. In the future, food production must be based on a growing number of people producing food in more resilient and diverse ways. Agroecology defends biodiversity, cools down the planet and protects our soils. Our agricultural model not only can feed all of humanity but is also a way to stop the advancement of the climate crisis through local production in harmony with our forests and waterways, enhancing diversity and returning organic matter to natural cycles

The agroecological and solidarity brigade is the heart of Boricuá

Members gathered in a circle and talking.

For 30 years, Organización Boricuá has been working and moving through the archipelago of Puerto Rico. From farm to farm, garden to garden, land to land, they have been planting, exchanging seeds, sharing the “jibaro” peasant knowledge and organizing as a decentralized network of mutual support for continued food sovereignty work.

Boricuá’s brigades provide a training space for learning. Those who attend not only have the opportunity to get to know an agroecological farm in Puerto Rico and the people that are doing the work, but also educate themselves in agricultural practices. These can range from how to raise beds for planting vegetables in various landscapes and making ditches for water management in diverse agroecosystems, to participation in workshops on how to build tool, based on local peasant wisdom. The brigades are also known for providing a space of dialogue around topics crucial to the agroecological community like access to land, cooperation, political education and climate justice.

Boricuá uses brigades as an organizing tool that provides a collective work experience rooted in hands on practice, education and liberation that benefits farmers, peasants, agricultural workers and food sovereignty activists. The organization uses the brigade as a space where members can catch up with each other, do outreach to more communities and plan collectively to address their needs. At the core, brigades are intergenerational and co-learning exchanges where people support each other in deep and meaningful ways.

Brigades are also often the first experience for many to engage with agroecological work. For some farmers, brigades are a methodology that provide the support to make it possible to continue farming and carrying out the responsibilities of maintaining a farm. Brigades are also an ideal space for many to join the organization and become part of the family of Boricuá. In fact, they have been the main source of knowledge of the agroecological sector in the country and function as a Moving School of Agroecology where a horizontal methodology of “campesino a campesino” is used and where ancestral knowledge is recognized, valued and shared. In this model, the classroom where everyone belongs is the farm, garden or occupied land. By participating in these kinds of activities, people can learn and understand the context and particularities of different regions and communities in the archipelago.

Moreover, brigades allow participants to accumulate a series of pertinent and applicable agricultural skills and practices for various landscapes and agroecosystems. This type of activity allows Boricuá to understand and recognize the global context of work in the defense of land access and enforce peasant rights that networks and movements like La Vía Campesina emphasize.

In a brigade a lot of work gets done. What would normally take a farmer two weeks of intensive work to accomplish, a brigade could do in a single day, thanks to collectively organized solidarity work.

Organización Boricuá classifies their agroecological and solidarity brigades into three categories:

  1. Ordinary: brigades to address the needs of members in different regions
  2. Extraordinary: brigades that address the needs of allies or potential allies outside of its membership.
  3. Emergency: brigades that serve to support members in terms of urgency and need.

After years of Boricuá’s brigades, this methodology has become a central tool for other movements, organizations and communities in Puerto Rico and beyond. Post-Maria, pulling from this tradition of getting work done and organizing, Boricuá held International Solidarity Brigades with allies such as Black Dirt Farm Collective and Climate Justice Alliance, of which they are a member.

Brigades in Times of Crisis

When hurricanes Irma and María hit, Boricuá members across the islands used brigades in order to respond to the crisis. Brigades became a practical instrument to simultaneously achieve Just Recovery and respond to the dominant narrative with community-rooted solutions.

“Agroecological and Solidarity Brigades have been key to remind us that we have each other and that we can replant and rebuild by ourselves without having to wait for government aid. Boricuá has been a central piece because it has been through the hard work of organizing a multi-regional base, that has taken us years to build, that we can harvest true mutual support among the people that we consider family.”

– Edgardo Alvarado, founding member of Organización Boricuá de Agricultura Ecológica de Puerto Rico

OurPowerPR International Solidarity Brigades

OurPowerPR International Solidarity Brigades effectively responded in an emergency moment by leveraging the campesino a campesino methodology: a farmer-centered pedagogical strategy for international alliance building within the context of agroecology, rebuilding and climate justice. It is a people-to-people learning and work exchange rooted within a broader context of social justice and grounded in the support of a community in need. It is driven by three main pedagogical principles: technical work (i.e. hands-on/field work), political and critical dialogue, and shared reflection. This methodological triplet reinforces the goals of learning, building and transforming with an intentional emphasis on technical work. The brigades are based on a farmer-to-farmer methodology where farmers dialogically exchange ideas to promote transformation from the inside out. Rooted in sustainable horizontal communication, the process utilizes real experiences and revalorizes the interdependence of human work interactions.

Brigadas De Apoyo flyer.

From January 22 to February 12, 2018, 45 representatives from the U.S., Canada, Mexico, Nicaragua and Indigenous territories in the U.S. representing food sovereignty and environmental justice organizations, descended upon the islands to offer their hands, hearts and heads in solidarity with the people of Puerto Rico and St. Croix. The brigade participants had been building relationships, solidarity, respect, and mutual support for over five years through La Via Campesina and the U.S. Food Sovereignty Alliance. With decades of brigade-planning experience, Organización Boricuá immediately mobilized after the storms and planted the seeds for a global network of peasants and small farmers to water through a political and educational process of inter-organizational collaboration.

A political coordination team comprised of three main organizations formed to organize the three-week brigade. In conjunction with CJA, Boricuá de Agricultura Ecológica led the local coordination efforts by identifying suitable host sites and procuring material and financial resources for rebuilding. The Black Dirt Farm Collective (Black Dirt), a collective of young Black agrarians from the Mid-Atlantic, led the recruitment of brigade participants in collaboration with CJA and Boricuá. Compared to the large-scale resources typically necessary to rebuild many farms devastated by the hurricanes, this particular brigade achieved a lot with very little. The political power and people power proved indispensable in comparison to other types of support that came in the form of fluff-filled relief packages from FEMA and other emergency response institutions. While military-style rations and FEMA boxes filled with Skittles, processed meats, and Cheez-It crackers were distributed, the agroecological farming community began to rebuild and replant in order to feed their communities real food. According to Angela Adrar, Executive Director of CJA, “Our development of and ability to provide a rapid response mechanism began with the organization of a brigade to Standing Rock, where CJA members and allies stood in solidarity and in resistance to more than five centuries of colonialism.” Learnings from Standing Rock carried over to the mobilization of the OurPowerPR International Solidarity Brigade. Rather than parachute in to provide support through money and other resources, the people-to-people effort expounds on the relationships built to synergize and exponentially transform communities when those members return to their localities. Through this people-oriented solution, the results are felt and experienced in a different way.

Farmers participating in a group activity.

Responding to the call for rapid response meant looking in the mirror and understanding the intimate connections between the conditions of our lives, experiences and struggles toward liberation. Stanley Morgan, a brigade participant, member of Soil Generation, and farmer with Philly Urban Creators was motivated by the spirit of “Ubuntu”, a South African Zulu proverb which means “I am because we are.” He stated, “It was important for us to be there because I needed to know how to react in a crisis if it was to happen here… when we spread out our spirits, we heal.”

Today, Boricuá members recognize the importance of the brigades at this critical moment in history:

“Given the impact of the 2017 hurricane season on the Caribbean, it is now more important than ever for small-scale farmers and food sovereignty activists to have the opportunities
to learn from and support each other across local and coastal boundaries. People in the Caribbean are at the frontlines of climate change in countries where the devastating impacts are being felt first. Our vulnerability to climate crises is shared and we have a common responsibility to help farmers strengthen agroecological practices, expand their web of support, and mobilize communities to demand a Just Transition towards sustainable living conditions.”

– Georges Félix, Organización Boricuá de Agricultura Ecológica

Solidarity Brigades’ Goals, Objectives, and Elements

International Solidarity Brigade Goals:

  • Support Boricuá’s multi-regional base of farmers, peasants, farmworkers and food sovereignty activists after the recent impact of Hurricanes Irma & María.
    Advance agroecological activities and production on farms on the archipelago of Puerto Rico.
  • Help re-establish farmer, peasant and farmworker economies through mutual support and solidarity.
  • Rebuild work structures and homes of farmers in rural communities.
    Continue discussions and the “formación” process around the struggle for food sovereignty and agroecology with the input and perspectives of an international delegation and local participants.
  • Create the necessary spaces of reflection to provoke a shared analysis within the context of on the ground experiences.

International Solidarity Brigade Objectives:

Person serving drinks to community members.

  • Get to know each other and share a common space through agroecological and rebuilding work.
  • Exchange tools from different organizations and countries about organizing, farming, education and activism.
  • Visibilize the revolutionary potential of agroecology.
  • Live in community in harmony with Mother Nature.
  • Learn about the history and current context of the communities where the work is being done.
  • Exchange and share Puerto Rico’s culture and traditions.
  • Exchange and share the culture of the delegation participating from different regions and countries in the camps and activities.
  • Get to know the work of other collectives, farmers and activists who visit from abroad.
  • Demonstrate solidarity and form strong people-to-people alliances with participants and collectives who visit.
  • Promote the “diálogo de saberes” (dialogue of knowledges, which respects there are many ways of knowing) and the exchange of ideas with unity of purpose.
  • Create space for continuity on work and keep up with communication and updates.
  • Reflect and evaluate the process and experience.

Person standing next to an over 500 gallon container of water.

#OurPowerPR International Solidarity Brigade Elements:

  • Led by the Jemez Principles of Democratic Organizing.
  • Emphasize mid to long term regenerative recovery and rebuilding.
  • Deliver low to zero waste Just Recovery supplies and transform our response to climate change to include micro-grid solar emergency units.
  • Help build a strong and unified climate justice narrative among Puerto Ricans on the islands, their neighboring islands, and the Caribbean diaspora in the U.S.
  • Politically advocate for attention to environmental justice and equity concerns on the islands.
  • Work toward a Just Transition to energy democracy and food sovereignty, informed and led by frontline communities.
  • Build solidarity as a crucial part of building political power for Puerto Rico and the U.S.

“Historical and personal connections run deep between grassroots groups and social movements in the U.S., Latin America and the Caribbean, due to the shared history of colonialism, occupation, and slavery that characterizes the Caribbean region and the development of the global agricultural sector. The group’s efforts served to strengthen relationships and knowledge exchange between farms as a regional resiliency strategy that embraces the campesino-a-campesino methodology and combats the physical, social, and emotional isolation that can characterize reconstruction and recovery. The brigades serve to not only speed up production preparations and infrastructure reconstruction, but to re-energize farmers and those who support them to continue the work that is now more urgent than ever.”

-Hortencia Rodríguez, Organización Boricuá de Agricultura Ecológica

“Puerto Rico are islands divided by many different histories but also united because of them.”

– Katia Avilés-Vázquez, Organización Boricuá de Agricultura Ecológica

The impressive work that occurred during the brigade is an example of the manifestation of our big picture ambitions to feed the world in the most sustainable ways. We know “agroecology feeds the world” and it is a primary way to achieve food sovereignty. Chloe Henson, CJA Membership Engagement Coordinator, expressed how important the agroecological work is to the climate justice movement when she said, “What really hit home for me was how the farmers were really impacted by the storm but were also some of the most resilient to the impacts of it. They were the ones who were organizing the community and who were getting food and all that back to people before the government responded. It stands to reason that the best cure for helplessness is … helping, being a participant, rather than a spectator, in the recovery of your home, community, and land.” As large of a task as it was, the farmers could not do it alone. Armed with agroecological armor, brigade participants traveled to five regions and six farm projects to plant, weed, and rebuild, in order to clear a new path forward.

Organizations, Alliances and Movements That Participated on the International Solidarity Brigades:

Black Dirt Farm Collective, Indigenous Environmental Network, Black Mesa Water Coalition, Asociación de Trabajadores Campesinos de Nicaragua, US Food Sovereignty Alliance, Soil Generation, Three Part Harmony Farm, Farmworker Association of Florida, Environmental Justice League of Rhode Island, Union Paysanne of Canada, Movement Generation, Grassroots International, La Vía Campesina, Southeastern African American Farmers Organic Network, Cuir Kitchen Brigade, PODER, Reclamations Natural Building, Grassroots Global Justice Alliance, and It Takes Roots.

OurPowerPR International Solidarity Brigade Farms

Farm Brigades Panorama. Video shot by Jayeesha Dutta.

“With Dalma Cartagena’s unique school, which the government has tried to shut down several times, Cartagena is determined to prove that this dependency on outsiders is not only unnecessary, but a kind of folly. By using farming techniques and carefully preserved seed varieties adapted to the region, she is convinced that Puerto Ricans can feed themselves with healthy food grown in their own fertile soil — as long as there is sufficient land available for a new and existing generation of farmers with the knowledge to do the work.”

– Naomi Klein, author of Battle for Paradise and Shock Doctrine

Botijas I Agroecological Farm School Program, Orocovis

Children enjoying carrots on the farm.

Botijas I Agroecological Farm School Program is part of a public school in a rural community. Children and youth from diverse backgrounds participate in this school program that has existed for more than 15 years and is organized and led by Dalma Cartagena, one of the founding members of Organización Boricuá. From a very early age rural children and youth are encouraged to embrace agroecology as a tool of liberation. Students practice all of their skills on the school farm where they also harvest the food for their families and community.

Greenhouse being built on the farm.

Agroecological Farm School Students. Video shot by Jayeesha Dutta.

“Our lives are so emotional. Working with farmers and working in the agrarian context is, by nature, emotional work because the earth is an emotional being. If our work is grounded in the earth, then our work is grounded in this really profound emotional experience. All of our humanity depended on participating in the trip. Whether we knew that coming in or not.”

– Blain Snipstal, Black Dirt Farm Collective and Earthbound Building

Finca La Jungla, Orocovis

Farmers sowing in the fields.

Finca La Jungla is a family farm project growing and raising a variety of vegetables, chickens and rabbits. For the past 5 years, the farm has served as a community center offering agroecology workshops to neighboring farmers. Josue Lopez-Colon and Pamela Paoli-Garrieo moved from the city to the countryside to start the farm. Proudly, they identify as farmers involved in a re-peasantization process, which consists of people returning to rural communities to live a life rooted in sustainable principles. With no paved roads, sloped land and minimal resources, the odds seem stacked against them, but they have prevailed. Their motto is, “if we can do it, everyone can do it.” Hurricane María destroyed 90% of their farm and the brigade repaired the house, hoop-house and cleared and planted the land.

Finca Cinco Elementos, Naranjito

Farmers building a greenhouse structure.

Finca Cinco Elementos is an agroecological farm based in the mountains of Guadiana in Naranjito. José Ricardo Cruz has been farming and growing fruits and vegetables, engaging with the community and providing educational experiences in Finca Cinco Elementos agroecosystem for the past decade. The brigade dismantled hoop houses that had been damaged by the hurricane winds, weeded planting areas, planted crops such as peanuts, and pruned branches from trees to replant on the slopes to prevent soil erosion. In the spirit of cultural land knowledges, José Ricardo Cruz-Ortiz (“Ricky”), a farmer and founder of Finca Cinco Elementos, shared about the machete and everything it symbolizes traditionally, from the “jibaratos” to it being a basic tool for agroecologically maintaining the land. The entire brigade split into base groups to maintain the cleanliness of the space, cook the meals and complete farm tasks.

Finca Conciencia, Vieques

Fresh vegetables growing on a farm.

Farmers in Vieques consider themselves “rescuers” of the land from the colonial siege of the U.S. Navy that occupied the land for 62 years. Finca Conciencia is a 6-acre diversified fruit and vegetable farm in Monte Carmelo, Vieques, named in honor of Monte Carmelo, an activist and beekeeper. He strategically used bees to fight the land occupation of the U.S. military by positioning bees in concealed boxes to swarm when soldiers would come invade homes for land occupation and displacement. Finca Conciencia is a “rescued” land from the U.S. Navy occupation and is a reflection of the grassroots resistance to environmental and food injustices in the area. This island within the archipelago of Puerto Rico is allotted what is left over after the exported food is distributed on the mainland. With minimal fresh food, the farm began as a solution to food insecurity.

Sejah Farm, St. Croix

Farmers harvesting vegetables on a farm.

Boricuá, Black Dirt Farm Collective and the Climate Justice Alliance extended their solidarity work within the brigade methodology to the islands of St. Croix, as well. They engaged with Sejah Farm, a diversified vegetable and livestock farm within the Southeast African American Organic Farmers Network (SAAFON). Established in 1998, the farm spans fifteen acres, consisting of eleven acres for grazing sheep and goats, three acres for vegetable crop production, and three-quarters of an acre for poultry production.

The communion of Puerto Rico and St. Croix farmers proved to be necessary and fruitful given the similar agricultural and colonial contexts. The brigade planted swiss chard and built a variety of needed infrastructures such as fences, bee-hive boxes and benches for the bee-hive boxes, a chicken coop, and an all-wood greenhouse with recycled telephone poles found on the islands. With generous donations from island residents, the farmers were able to pour their energy into the dignified work of rebuilding the farms rather than focusing on how to pay for needed resources. The island’s most popular chef cooked all the meals, which fostered a cultural learning through the palate in addition to the hands.

“It was great to share with farmers in the Caribbean and to see how farmers were organized there. It was a learning experience for us and it was great to be there right after the hurricane because you have farmers that are going through the same thing you are and being able to build with them was a great experience. It’s important to this farm to build those connections with other Caribbean islands, to share with other farms our historical experiences – like trauma we carry from generation to generation. It also provided introspection for how we build in the Caribbean such as using telephone poles to build, how to water, how to plant, how to do fencing and to do the greenhouse. Now, we are organizing a formación or training on Caribbean building after hurricanes because it is different than anywhere else. Special things like building with telephone poles and how to position the nails so they stay in case of a hurricane are really important.”

– Ana Elisa Pérez Quintero, Finca Conciencia and Boricuá de Agricultura Ecológica

International Solidarity Brigade Lessons and Reflections

Understanding that solidarity rebuilding efforts disproportionately lean towards rhetoric over concrete action, any significant social and ecological transformation must be predicated upon hands-on work. Like a spider weaving a web for communal habitation, solidarity brigades facilitate meaningful work and learning while building internationalist alliances across agroecological communities in Puerto Rico and beyond.

Farmers working together.

“The brigades worked because of the accumulated leadership of people who represent different sectors and different countries but who bring together leadership and were able to work in the name of their organization. So, I didn’t feel like we were 30 gringos in Puerto Rico or some group of random people. We were Black Dirt. We were Boricuá. We were LVC. We were PODER.”

– Nils McCune, Asociación de Trabajadores Campesinos de Nicaragua and La Via Campesina

Folks holding banners.

Rather than look to an external person, place or object for answers, the farmers recover the knowledge within themselves through meaningful work with others. It becomes meaningful through farmer-to-farmer knowledge production and exchanges. Solidarity is built through the understanding of emancipating the light within each of us to, in turn, emancipate the light within others. This is solidarity, and through solidarity the world changes before our eyes.

International Brigadistas Speak Out: Black Dirt Farm. Video shot by Jayeesha Dutta.

1) International alliances provide organizational pollination that supports movements in these moments of emergency and crises.

Person digging hole.

“The scale and scope of the brigade was possible purely because of Boricuá’s organizational relationships, in existence for nearly 30 years. Pre-existing farming networks in a rural area are the foundation of people supporting each other with no form of prior communication.”

– Blain Snipstal, Black Dirt Farm Collective and Earthbound Building

2) Material transformation through collective work situates the rebuilding process within a unified group work ethic.

People working together.

“[A] solidarity brigade needs to be based on real life experiences of a community and not someone’s backyard project… because it’s not about the work that is produced but the internal transformation that happens because of the work we’re trying to produce.”

– Blain Snipstal, Black Dirt Farm Collective and Earthbound Building

“Producing food now, in these days, is a political responsibility, communal responsibility, social responsibility. It’s a knowledge system that transcends humanity. It’s basically a methodology of social transformation and Boricuá has been precisely doing that for years. It was our responsibility to be there with them, share their struggle and learn.”

– Pierre-Olivier Brassard, Polyculture Farm Cooperative and Union Paysanne in Province of Quebec and La Via Campesina

Solidarity Brigade Pedagogy via Agroecology Schools

“I’ve learned on this brigade, that the logistical is political. And so it’s not always a question of having sort of a political coordination team and then having people who work on the logistics, because in reality the logistics matter to people and because they matter to people they become political issues. We transformed the logistical questions into political ones in order to organize ourselves to answer those questions.”

– Nils McCune, Asociación de Trabajadores Campesinos de Nicaragua and La Via Campesina

3) “Convivencia” or living together, centers humanity in the international alliance building context and material transformation.

People preparing farm food.

“We are seeing the International Brigade become a tool we can use for other places and we don’t need to wait for disaster to happen to do hands-on work. There are a lot of political dimensions that happen when we do hands-on work… We saw how all the issues were the same with colonization and displacement. So, we wanted to do an exchange for people that come from different worlds and are similar in a way. We know to never abandon the social dimension of agriculture. It’s all interconnected.”

– Jesús Vázquez, Boricuá de Agricultura Ecológica

“Definitely we were like hives you don’t go to do something like that for your individuality. We got stuff done because we were like bees.”

– Cynthia Mellon, CJA Policy Coordinator

Difficult Conversations: Gender, Race and Sexuality Dynamics

Elements of the Brigade Building Toolkit.

People holding banners.

“People having access to food and having it locally grown and controlled is really important for climate resiliency, and really important for people having self-determination and to survive the impacts of the climate crisis.”

-Chloe Henson, CJA Membership Engagement Coordinator

4) Action based on current realities and dialogue can build the foundation of resistance and revisioning efforts grounded in the intersections of justice, sustainability and equity.

The International Solidarity Brigade underlined that systemic change and Just Recovery work requires global coordinated action. This type of international experience brought opportunities for learning from our allies’ strategies and has enabled joint political analysis and strategic planning for years to come.

Farmers working together and one person playing flute music.

Community dance performance.

Accountability And Disaster Philanthropy

“Just Recovery resists disaster capitalism at every step – from the disaster collectivism that models people-powered, heart-centered, socially just relief to the long-term organizing and actions that reclaim the right of peoples to define their economies and govern their communities. By organizing directly to meet our needs, particularly in these moments, we exercise our rights, demonstrate our resilience, and resist the imposition of neoliberal policies at every level. We are inspired by those asserting Just Recovery as a vision and practice in the wake of disaster, and who are forging a path we must all learn to travel.”

– Taj James, Movement Strategy Center, fiscal sponsor of Climate Justice Alliance

One of the more devastating aspects of the disaster capitalism machine is its companion effect within nonprofit industrial capitalism: disaster philanthropy. The cycle of disaster philanthropy has detrimental effects on impacted communities that are long lasting and extraordinarily harmful. Essentially, it eliminates any potential progress the funding may have enabled or accelerated in the first place. The relational infrastructure repeatedly referenced throughout this report is critical in activating networks of mutual support that can sustain and even resist disaster capitalism.

Unfortunately, despite the best intentions of well-meaning philanthropists to provide funds to spur “innovation” and support solutions in the midst of crises, there has emerged a pattern of disruption to the trust built in the lead up and immediate aftermath of disasters. An unresolved issue within the Just Recovery framework, undergirded by scarcity mentality and competitive territorialism fostered by the dominant capitalist system, rests in how to adequately resource the work in accountable solidarity to the communities we seek to support during these moments.

Maintaining integrity and deep alignment to the principles and praxis of our stated missions and intentions sometimes becomes difficult in the face of a fierce sense of urgency, needs, and energetic chaos that surround times of disaster. For example, we unintentionally caused a rift by including several local organizations recommended by our membership in a grant concept paper for Just Recovery, without allowing the time necessary for these groups to first communicate thoroughly and explain and share more about the concept of Just Recovery with their contacts. In this instance, while CJA didn’t receive the grant after all, the process resulted in relational harm because of the nature of rapid response to support critical work. Movement wide, it is essential to address this pervasive issue because the unintentional harm we’ve referenced here barely scratches the surface of the types of conflicts disaster philanthropy has inflicted upon long standing working partnerships, collaborations, alliances, coalitions, and other formations.

Even worse, there has emerged a pattern of providing substantial funding in critical moments after a disaster, which then disappears after a year or two, leaving new entities, initiatives, organizations and other projects struggling for survival. The “shiny ball” syndrome of the nonprofit industrial complex machine, run by the whims of philanthropy, has incredibly deleterious consequences as it relates to people who are in the long-haul process of rebuilding. Additionally, funders often ask for a degree of detail which can be difficult to provide on a tight turnaround, particularly in crisis and emergency environments characterized by uncertainty and ambiguity. Funders should provide general support with few strings attached and omit onerous financial reporting with outcome orientations, particularly in rapid response situations.

Conscious, progressive, and committed funders can find ways to counter and predict these patterns by following a Just Recovery model within their philanthropic planning. The first step in this would be to ensure having a long-term approach in providing funding to communities that are in crises. Those funders committed to climate issues might even consider rethinking their entire strategic planning so funding can be intentional and “in it for the long haul”. Further, maintaining transparency and accountability practices of grantees would assist in building trust instead of fostering suspicion, such as the sharing of grants, amounts awarded, reports, and other best practices within progressive philanthropy. A next step could be to develop checklists and toolkits around these best practices to be circulated amongst funders who are committed to transformative philanthropy, aimed at rapid response needs toward a Just Recovery. Finally, a significant amplification of resources for transformative justice, cultural strategies, and trauma healing in times of crises is needed. This could be an area that philanthropy takes a principled and strong stand on to support the communities they are committed to in profoundly deep ways and which may not show up in a report, photograph, or metric.

Addressing Challenges and Assumptions

Infrastructure Needs: Building Rapid Response Administrative Systems

Just Recovery as part of a rapid response situation has compounding challenges. This includes everything from finding creative ways to share resources when most needed, building capacity to move from immediate to more medium to long term recovery efforts, building trust, and coordinating the careful logistics of multiple and overlapping brigades with limited communications infrastructure to the transportation of goods, materials, and people when transportation, energy, food, and housing structures are down.

CJA developed a rapid response timeline and recommendation toolkit for other organizations and groups planning to use people to people brigades for recovery that details the preparation and planning necessary to create brigades of 15-50 people. CJA also developed a Final Emergency Response Protocol to respond in a more systematic fashion to the multiple and increasing requests they have processed for Just Recovery since 2016. CJA membership has developed a Just Recovery Working Group and we continue to build with Organización Boricuá to develop a loan fund and expand their organizational capacity to develop self governance and determination that includes both the prep for climate disasters, and planning for climate justice plans that can help adapt to increasingly chaotic climate disasters.

“Through the MSC-Innovation Center we have the honor to partner with CJA and the OurPowerPR campaign to support a Just Recovery that can provide the foundation for a Just Transition for the people and land of Puerto Rico. The merchants of disaster capitalism use climate chaos to claim further control over our lives and lands and at the MSC-Innovation center it was an honor to support communities who were coming together to mourn, reclaim and rebuild in ways that deepen community-self determination and ecological restoration.

At the MSC-IC we support organizations and communities who bring together people most harmed and excluded by our current systems of power and domination. We have worked over the years to find ways to leverage and adapt the resources available through the non-profit structure to support innovative power building work. Responding to our partners’ needs to support family during a moment where the systems we usually rely upon to move resources from place to place had broken down required us to find creative ways to make sure that resources could be gathered easily and moved quickly to where they were needed most.”

– Taj James, Movement Strategy Center

Accessibility: Considering Disabilities, Language Justice, and Childcare

A common assumption about an emergency brigade environment that needs to be challenged is that participants must be young, fit, childless, English-dominant and able-bodied in order to be of service. This is, of course, not the case. Rather, proper attention and resources should be thought of in order to be as inclusive as possible. Accessibility needs must be considered in the logistical planning, interpretation and translation that is provided (and budgeted for.) Likewise, childcare needs should be integrated into the scope of brigade strategy.

Navigating Cultural Understandings and Differences

One of the most beautiful aspects of organizing a brigade can also become its most challenging: bringing people together from a variety of backgrounds, identities, geographies, political ideologies, orientations, and a multitude of other differences. While discovering and learning more about people who aren’t like you is one of the most rewarding aspects of an environment such as this, it can also invite unintended misunderstandings that are at odds with the intention of the brigade experience. In particular, during the OurPowerPR International Solidarity Brigade, U.S. based cultural norms came into conflict with Latin American ones, so it was necessary to guarantee spaces of reflection and dialogue. A certain amount of conflict is, of course, to be expected when placing folks of differing perspectives and cultural experiences into close proximity with each other for extended periods of time, under unpredictable outdoor conditions. Harm reduction strategies can be employed in advance of brigade deployment to minimize the relational issues that could occur.

Next Steps and Recommendations

When there’s a disaster, the Just Recovery model supports vulnerable communities so they can be rebuilt around their dreams, visions, and needs in order to build their power, agency, and self-determination. This ensures they are better off than they were before the disaster. We need long term cultural changes, planning, partnerships, investment, and infrastructure to build intersectional models and alternatives for communities hit first and worst by the catastrophic impacts of climate change.

Now more than ever, it is critical that we build the foundation of resistance and revisioning efforts around the intersections of justice, sustainability and equity. Some of this can happen through the following steps:

  • Ensure philanthropy adheres to the Jemez Principles, and that funding and grant dollars are a part of an interconnected ecosystem as a means for greater security to build energy democracy, food sovereignty and self-determined futures for the long haul.
  • Provide open-source infrastructure scaffolding of a one-stop-shop for outside individuals looking to donate their money directly to frontline and grassroots groups, as well as a place to quickly aggregate information and resources for frontline communities to use.
  • Figure out the easiest and quickest deployment of resources for frontline groups that are already trusted and known to do good work in their communities. Ask them what they need, and provide it as simply as possible, ideally with no strings attached.
  • Utilize multiple tactics for supporting grassroots leaders, such as fundraising support, convening representatives from different groups, ensuring space for members and allies from directly impacted communities on funder briefings and at public events, sending shipments of supplies, and coordinating multiple brigades to lend support on the islands.
  • Build a more intentional and structured approach to developing mutual support networks, along with the infrastructure and systems necessary to meet the challenges of the increasingly insecure and climate disaster prone future we are facing.
  • Create more inclusive financial resourcing and considerations for cultural response in Just Recovery, as well as resourcing the overhead and maintenance of cultural spaces as disaster response centers.
  • Develop training models that communities and workers can implement as they strive to bring about a Just Transition from otherwise unsustainable industrial practices in their communities.
  • Craft a process to get rank and file up to speed on what a Just Transition is and help them draft a position on Just Transition that is inclusive of most affected communities.
  • Design cultural campaigns, toolkits and narratives to popularize Just Recovery, including the organizations, leaders, and hardest hit regions centering this work.
  • Partner with organizations who have built the capacity to do recovery logistics with experience and knowledge around the logistical aspects of just disaster recovery.
  • Keep the brigade model below in mind when developing Just Recovery strategy and replicate when possible:
    • International alliances provide organizational pollination that supports movements in these moments of emergency and crises.
    • Material transformation through collective work situates the rebuilding process within a unified group work ethic.
    • “Convivencia”, or living together, centers humanity in the international alliance building context and material transformation.
    • Action based on current realities and dialogue can build the foundation of resistance and revisioning efforts grounded in the intersections of justice, sustainability and equity.

Acknowledgements

“With Just Recovery, we are not rebuilding the same system that created our problems in the first place. Our goal is systemic change, starting with our own communities and territories. We’re going to the root of the problem. For us, this work is resistance, as well as the solution we are seeking at the same time – and people are already doing it in different parts of the world.”

– Jesús Vázquez, Organización Boricuá de Agricultura Ecológica

Brigade volunteer carrying supplies at Escuela Botilla #1 in Orocovis. Photo by Jayeesha Dutta.

“System change starts with us, it’s rooted in the relational trust we build in community. That is the core of a Just Recovery.”

– Jayeesha Dutta, Another Gulf Is Possible

About the CJA Recovery Report Writers

Jayeesha Dutta, Another Gulf is Possible

Jayeesha Dutta is a tri-coastal Bengali-American multi/interdisciplinary artist, activist, and strategist. She is a co-founding core member, space activator, and people convener for Another Gulf Is Possible Collaborative, galvanizing the stories and experiences of brown (indigenous, latinx and desi) women from across the Gulf South to the Global South working towards a just transition for our people and the planet. Jayeesha developed and maintained the Just Harvey Recovery webpage, as well as the first iteration of the Just Florence Recovery website. Jayeesha is an avid traveler, home chef, live music lover, and adores being near (or in) any body of water. She was born in Mobile, raised in New York, aged in Oakland and is deeply grateful to call New Orleans home.

Shakara Tyler, Black Dirt Farm Collective

Shakara Tyler is a returning-generation farmer, seedkeeper, educator, researcher, artist, and community organizer. She received her PhD from Michigan State University studying agroecological education and Black agrarianism in the Department of Community Sustainability. Her life praxis is rooted in participatory and decolonial research methodologies and community-centered pedagogies in grassroots movement building. She is a member of the Black Dirt Farm Collective in Maryland and a board member of the Detroit Black Community Food Security Network (DBCFSN). She works with communities to explore Afroecological and agroecological pedagogies as tools in building community self-determination and anticolonial realities.

Jesús Vázquez, Organización Boricuá de Agricultura Ecológica

Jesús Vázquez is an activist, organizer and lawyer who is part of the Sustainable Agriculture and Agroecology Movement of Puerto Rico. Jesús Vázquez, works with public policy and advocacy around environmental justice food sovereignty issues. He also coordinates different activities to support the network of local sustainable farms in the different regions of Puerto Rico. Jesús gives priority to organizing tasks to strengthen the local movement for food justice. He is a member of the National Coordination Team of Organización Boricuá de Agricultura Ecológica de Puerto Rico.

The copy editing team from Climate Justice Alliance was made up of Angela Adrar, Holly Baker and Olivia Burlingame.

Digital report designed and developed by Story 2.

Special Gratitude

We express special gratitude to the people of Puerto Rico and to those organizations who make up OurPowerPR—especially UPROSE and Organización Boricuá, whose food sovereignty and climate justice leadership on the islands continues to inspire us to believe that another world is possible. We also appreciate members of CJA’s Steering Committee, staff, CJA member organizations, and all who continue to engage the Puerto Rican diaspora around human rights and Just Recovery, exemplifying fierce solidarity through their unrelenting demand for justice.

Deep appreciation is extended to individual donors and foundations who have supported our Just Recovery work and the OurPowerPR campaign specifically. This report was made possible in large part by the support of Climate Advocacy Lab.

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