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The possibility of doing things different the next time

My World's on Fire
The possibility of doing things different the next time
By Colleen Hagerty • Issue #61 • View online
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A few months back, I wrote about the topic of climate migration and the imperfect language we have to describe it. I focused in particular on the experience of tribal members along the Louisiana coast, who have had to irrevocably shift their lives and communities due to land loss. For those who still live in this area, Hurricane Ida dealt a serious blow, as Halle Parker of The Times-Picayune/New Orleans Advocate described in this detailed dispatch surveying the storm’s impact.
After disasters like Ida, there’s often a lot of talk from officials about how communities can “build back better,” but they rarely mention those who cannot or choose not to do that after storms, despite the fact that government-funded buyouts are happening right now across the country.
Like Patty Ferguson-Bohnee of the Pointe-au-Chien Indian Tribe said in my previous newsletter, “We have had whole communities that already moved, and nobody talks about it, nobody mentions this destruction.”
The Anthropocene Alliance (A2) is trying to change that. The organization, which bills itself as “the nation’s largest coalition of frontline communities fighting for climate and environmental justice,” is compromised of members across the US that are impacted by extreme weather and disasters.
In collaboration with The Climigration Network, A2 convened a series of roundtable discussions this year with a diverse group of grassroots leaders around the topic of resettlement. They’ve now published some key points from these conversations in hopes of helping shape what migration protocols and policies look like moving forward.
I reached out to A2 to learn more about this call-to-action and organizers put me in touch with Frances Acuña, one of the leaders involved in its creation. Acuña is the Climate Resilience Lead Organizer for Go Austin/Vamos Austin, a role that stems back to her personal experience living in a flood-impacted community. For her, the topic of buyouts is personal and painful, having watched her own neighbors go through them. 
“The processes for those residents weren’t as fair as they should have been,” Acuña told me by phone Tuesday. “By raising awareness, we’re raising the possibility of doing things different the next time.”
Acuña said she had just come from a meeting with local officials, during which a resident who had been displaced by flooding cried while sharing his story. The show of emotion surprised the officials, according to Acuña, since seven years had passed. As she described the scene to me, her voice trembled.
“I go, ‘Of course he’s gonna cry. He’s going to be crying 10 years from now, because nobody has taken the time to deal with the trauma that losing your home—almost your family—what that brings,’” she said. 
“So I told them, ‘You need to be patient with residents, you need to make sure that we understand the language, that we understand the process, that we understand how to do things. How to grieve, because we don’t know that. And, you know, to be able to forget. After seven years, you need to tell us how to do that. It doesn’t happen.’”
Her experience in this meeting speaks to a common thread throughout the A2 document—the need for officials to take into consideration the unique concerns of a given community and include their perspectives in recovery processes. According to the organizers, that means paying attention to the ways a community’s opportunities are dictated by income, race, and gender, and reworking policies that don’t give each of these populations a fair shot. It also means removing barriers that can make it difficult for people to access available options, like prohibitively complex language or processes that require residents to be tech-savvy. And it means creating a structure that allows them to resettle successfully instead of leaving them hanging with no place to call home.
I mentioned to Acuña that I had just finished watching President Biden’s visit to New York City, which offered its own slew of buyouts after Hurricane Sandy. I was interested in hearing her perspective on the official response to Hurricane Ida so far and how it compares to the goals the group has laid out.
“I think all the disaster preparedness plans—they have everything except the community,” she replied. “I always think policies for the people without the people, they’re ineffective.”
If you haven’t already, I definitely recommend giving the discussion document a read, which includes guidance but also quotes directly from organizer conversations to provide context behind why each of these tenents was adopted. As we continue to learn more about the resources and aid available for survivors of this summer’s many disasters, these words are important to keep in mind.
As always...
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It also means the world to me when you post about it on social media like Scott Gabriel Knowles did:
Scott Gabriel Knowles
An important observation about the absence of disaster anniversary coverage in the midst of COVID by @colleenhagerty--we discussed it today on #COVIDCalls.
Now, here’s a little something for reading to the end.
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