Over the next month, Luis, Christine, and ARECMA, took over the group’s storm-ravaged hilltop center and set up the Proyecto de Apoyo Mutuo (Project for Mutual Aid). I flew back home to New York before I could see it open. They began by feeding hundreds of people a day, with rice, pork and beans, rather than the MREs and tropical-flavored skittles provided by FEMA and the military. Then they added a weekly health clinic. Classes in chess and bomba dance for bored kids (the vast majority of schools remain closed). A free meal delivery service for the elderly. Potable water. Even Wi-Fi. Their Proyecto is one of a rapidly growing network of autonomous, self-managed Centros de Apoyo Mutuos (CAMs), which now also exist in Caguas, Río Piedras, La Perla, Mayagüez, Utuado, Lares, Naranjito, and Yabucoa. Each offers a communal dining room, with delicious free food. They distribute goods donated both by locals and those abroad, and they organize brigades to clear roads with machetes and axes. The CAMs are established by and for their communities, and in the course of providing aid, they create spaces for discussion and political organization. In theory and in practice, they resemble the solidarity networks that left-wing Greek activists used to survive their country’s financial crisis. In the words of AgitArte, a radical San Juan art collective deeply involved in the CAMs, they don’t exist just to address urgent needs, but “to combat the onslaught of disaster capitalism and its henchmen.”
I consider myself an anarchist, in part, because I believe that each of us has a responsibility to everyone around us to help each other as much as we can. In my view, we can’t rely on the state, churches, or corporations to improve our communities. We need to work together in a direct and personal way, independent of the current systems, if we ever hope to truly change the status quo in favor of something better and more beneficial to everyone.
Reading about the efforts of these mutual aid associations in Puerto Rico and the YPG in Syria genuinely give me hope for the future and motivate me to start organizing in my own community to make life better for all of us.
Puerto Rico’s DIY Disaster Relief by Molly Crabapple