West Street Recovery (WSR) is a horizontally organized grassroots mutual aid group, which aims to use the Harvey Recovery to build community power. Our driving principle is to work together with community members, not for them, or on their behalf. Our work is rooted in an understanding that certain communities were disproportionately impacted by Harvey because they lack access to resources and power, and that the same actors and forces which produced these inequities cannot be expected to adequately support these communities in recovery. We believe that the communities who were most harmed by Harvey are the people who best understand what can protect them in the future. As an interclass, and interracial organization we are uniquely positioned to create these connections and help residents improve their neighborhoods in they ways they see fit.
West Street Recovery began as a few friends with a truck and inflatable kayak ferrying folks across the flood waters and sheltering those who couldn’t make it to family members in our own homes. We spent another three weeks coordinating and distributing tens of thousands of dollars in supplies and meals to residents in the Kashmere Gardens, Trinity Gardens and Lakewood neighborhood, an area that the larger aid organizations were slow to reach. After immediate survival needs were better provided for, we were able to move on to gutting over 60 homes. Recently we have focused our efforts on rebuilds and case management. We are thankful for the volunteer network that we’ve had the pleasure to develop alongside and to all the folks that have come out to lend their time to distribution, mucking and rebuild efforts.
OUR CURRENT PROJECTS:
- Case Management: WSR is currently providing stipends to three community members who are managing over 150 different addresses in the Lakewood area on a case management basis. We strive to connect those families with the monetary, supply, medical and legal resources that are available to Houstonians but that can be difficult to navigate or find out about.
- Rebuilding Homes: We are working to provide as many families as possible with the materials needed to build out at least one bedroom, a bathroom and their kitchen. The majority of the donations we receive are going toward these materials and tools necessary for rebuilds. We also work to secure donated and low-cost materials and access resource banks for appliances and furniture to distribute to homes in need.
- Advocating For Neighborhoods and Supporting Community Organization: West Street Recovery has maintained engagement with the network of recovery efforts working across the city and witnessed how the bureaucratic structures of corporate charities and the governmental organizations to Hurricane Harvey has made for a rigid, inefficient, and out-of-touch approach to recovery. We have relayed the stories, needs and desires of the communities we are working with to these organizations and strive to make to an impact on their perspectives of and response to this crisis.
PRINCIPLES OF OPERATION:
We seek to follow the Jemez Principles for Democratic Organizing.
#1 Be Inclusive
If we hope to achieve just societies that include all people in decision-making and assure that all people have an equitable share of the wealth and the work of this world, then we must work to build that kind of inclusiveness into our own movement in order to develop alternative policies and institutions to the treaties policies under neoliberalism.
This requires more than tokenism, it cannot be achieved without diversity at the planning table, in staffing, and in coordination. It may delay achievement of other important goals, it will require discussion, hard work, patience, and advance planning. It may involve conflict, but through this conflict, we can learn better ways of working together. It’s about building alternative institutions, movement building, and not compromising out in order to be accepted into the
#2 Emphasis on Bottom-Up Organizing
To succeed, it is important to reach out into new constituencies, and to reach within all levels of leadership and membership base of the organizations that are already involved in our networks. We must be continually building and
strengthening a base which provides our credibility, our strategies, mobilizations, leadership development, and the energy for the work we
must do daily.
#3 Let People Speak for Themselves
We must be sure that relevant voices of people directly affected are heard. Ways must be provided for spokespersons to represent and be responsible to
the affected constituencies. It is important for organizations to clarify their roles, and who they represent, and to assure accountability within our
#4 Work Together In Solidarity and Mutuality
Groups working on similar issues with compatible visions should consciously act in solidarity, mutuality and support each other’s work. In the long run, a
more significant step is to incorporate the goals and values of other groups with your own work, in order to build strong relationships. For instance, in the long run, it is more important that labor unions and community economic development projects include the issue of environmental sustainability in their own strategies, rather than just lending support to the
environmental organizations. So communications, strategies and resource sharing is critical, to help us see our connections and build on these.
#5 Build Just Relationships Among Ourselves
We need to treat each other with justice and respect, both on an individual and an organizational level, in this country and across borders. Defining and
developing “just relationships” will be a process that won’t happen overnight. It must include clarity about decision-making, sharing strategies, and resource distribution. There are clearly many skills necessary to succeed, and we need to determine the ways for those with different skills to coordinate and be accountable to one another.
#6 Commitment to Self-Transformation
As we change societies, we must change from operating on the mode of individualism to community-centeredness. We must “walk our talk.” We must be the values that we say we’re struggling for and we must be justice, be peace, be community.