Doom and the Working Poor – Resilience

_ People _

September11, 2010

Today is the ninth anniversary of the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.  We will do what we can, both openly and in our hearts, to remember those who died on that day, or as a result of that day, and the families who still grieve their losses.  It would be wise to remember, however, that not just white, Christian Americans died that day.  Americans of every race, religion and moral belief died in both attacks, as well as citizens of 80 different countries who had business in what was, after all, the World Trade Center.

We would also do well to remember that the 9/11 attack, as terrible as it was, was not an attack on the America of we, the people, despite what we were told.  It was an attack on the American Empire of over 800 military bases and intelligence enclaves spread like tentacles across 90 countries around the world and on the global American financial system that supports it by spreading disaster capitalism (in the name of democracy) in its wake.  That is why, a few days after 9/11, the then-President of the American Empire went before the nation and told we, the people, the best thing we could do against the terrorists was to go SHOPPING.

Looking back, I see 9/11 as the beginning of the end of that American Empire.  The Empire’s response – rushing into two large and costly wars abroad, in addition to the several hidden wars against neighboring countries, the setting up of a costly and intrusive security apparatus here at home and the shenanigans of the government and financial network in coming up with ways to carry it all out without paying for it – has brought the Empire to bankruptcy and slow collapse.  The onset of peak oil and the increasing scope and frequency of natural disasters brought on by climate change are likely to be the economic deathblows.

Whether the America of we, the people, survives depends, I believe, on us.  Human beings are naturally resilient, resourceful and adaptive.  We are also, for the most part, social animals.  If we can use our resourcefulness to make ourselves and our communities more resilient and adaptive as circumstances continue to deteriorate, it is entirely possible that our America can survive.

Before we start, since I’m writing this for the working poor, we might look more closely at that term.  Most people who don’t see themselves in that category look at it as the “working POOR”.  The truth is, unless you are a member of that elite 1% of Americans who are multi-millionaires or billionaires, who collectively own 40 % of the wealth – and are therefore exempt from “work” – you, too, are the working poor. You just don’t know it, yet.  Whether you call yourself wealthy, upper middle class, middle class, lower middle class or working poor, you go to work everyday at some type of job to earn an income.  And, as collapse progresses, you are liable to – slowly or rapidly – move down the economic ladder with it.  How well you are able to handle that transition depends on how resourceful, adaptive and resilient you become, now.

Last week, I recommended reading Chris Martenson’s Post Carbon Reader as a help in organizing your thoughts and actions around preparation, no matter what rung of the ladder you are currently on. (http://www.postcarbon.org/Reader/PCReader-Martenson-Preparation.pdf )

Having been, and lived among, the working poor most of my life, I don’t worry too much about their resourcefulness or adaptability.  After all, these are people who can furnish an apartment or an entire house in Early Salvation Army and Yard Sale Chic, piece together a chair cover and window curtains for a child’s bedroom out of a couple of old sheets and know forty different ways to turn $20 worth of food into a week’s worth of meals.  Some of them can even take their dad’s old hunting rifle and a box of ammo and turn it into meat for the winter.

However, using Chris Martenson’s definition of resiliency as having multiple sources and systems for a needed item rather than depending on a single source, it’s often resiliency they lack – especially for the long term.  Yes, we have a social safety net in this country, (no matter how much some of you resent having “your” taxes support it,) but trying to navigate its many bureaucracies while balancing work hours and child care can be, to put it bluntly, a bitch.  Missing a day or half day of work to do that navigating can turn your carefully worked out budget upside down when you’re already living paycheck to paycheck.  But, for the time being, it is a resource many of us working poor have depended on from time to time.  In emergencies such as Katrina, that net sometimes falls apart just when it’s needed most and in the Long Emergency that we’re facing now, it will be the first part of the budget – state and federal – chopped to pieces.  There are church groups, food banks and other non-governmental organizations that can help, but as we’ve seen in this economic collapse, with more people slipping down that ladder every day, some of those resources are now overwhelmed.  It will only get worse over time.

So where do we start?

The Necessities – Food, Water, Shelter and Warmth. I know Chris added electric, but let’s face it, I occasionally had to make the choice as a single parent between having food for the month, taking a sick kid to the doctor, or paying the electric bill. I’ve done without electricity.  I also did without it for a couple of weeks in our last disastrous ice storm.  I consider it a luxury that I won’t be able to afford in the long emergency and, so, am planning accordingly.

He also lists 6 steps which I have filched, reworded and reordered somewhat and to which I have added a first step, which I’ll talk about this week …

Organize your thinking. The first thing I did was start a notebook.  For most of us, when an emergency hits, there’s a moment of panic when the brain freezes and you can’t think of what to do.  An emergency notebook can help jump start your frozen brain.  In the short term emergency that was the ice storm, it helped me organize what I needed to do, where I had put things like candles and matches, my battery operated camping lantern (and the batteries),  my “shake-it” self-generating flashlight and the hand-cranked emergency radio.  In a long-term emergency, I suspect it will be just as important in what I do for my family and myself and in working with the community.

I’ve organized the notebook into four sections – 1) ideas; 2) food and water (and I would add medications); 3) shelter, warmth and sanitation; 4) community – with each page of each section divided into “short term” and “long term”.

Next, I spent some time going through my house, room by room, looking at what I had on hand and what I might need in a short emergency (we’re blessed with tornadoes and ice storms around here, your region might have earthquakes and wildfires) and jotted things down in the ideas section.  For example, if you’re depending on a store of canned goods to get you through the loss of electricity in an ice storm, but you only have an electric can opener, jot down manual can opener.  If you’re depending on candles or an oil lamp for lighting, don’t forget matches.  Look at how you might handle the biggies like food, water, shelter and sanitation, but think about them in terms of those small details, too.  This is an ongoing process and I still find myself jotting down things I hadn’t noticed or thought about before.

After that first run-through, I sat down and prioritized my needs and ideas to meet them.  Under each of the other sections, I listed what I had on hand and what I needed to have in the order of the priority I’d given them and set a goal of meeting the first level of priorities. Then, I jotted down realistic ways I might meet those goals. As I said, I geared that first run-through to the short-term emergency.  What would I do if the electricity went down for a few days (common in both tornado type storms and ice storms)?  I can’t afford a generator, or the fuel to run it, in the best of times.  Since I had non-electric lighting, shelter, heat and water taken care of – I have a gas cook stove and wall heater – my main worry was food that might be in the refrigerator/freezer.  If you live in an earthquake zone, where water and gas lines may be disrupted, too, you’ll need to plan for that, as well as sanitation while the water is off. If disasters in your area frequently cause evacuations, you may need to put together a bug-out bag. I’ll talk about that later in this post.

As it turned out, when the ice storm hit, I put the items from the refrigerator into a camping chest I had, with a dollar bag of ice from the convenience store next door.  The food in the cross-top freezer fit neatly into the five-gallon decorated popcorn tin I’d been using as an end table by my living room chair (part of that Yard Sale Chic décor I talked about earlier).  Since the weather was below freezing for several days and nights, it stayed nicely frozen in a shady spot on the porch until I and my three guests (who had no heat in their homes) ate it.  During the day, we checked on, or helped various neighbors and friends and carried out what business the storm and its aftermath allowed.  In the evening, we sat around the living room by candle light, telling stories or listening to the news on the crank radio before bedtime.  Similar scenes went on across the city where I live.

Yes, there were people who were unprepared and had to take their chances with last minute shopping or spend several days in other people’s home or in emergency shelters, but churches and businesses, alike, worked to make shelters available. Those of us who had already built a certain amount of resiliency into our lives were able to reach out to those who either hadn’t or who had suffered an amount of damage they couldn’t have prepared for (like a downed tree falling on their home).  The city government worked hard to keep people informed of what they were doing to meet the crisis and what to do as problems came up.  One of the daytime radio talk show hosts went on the air within hours of the storm and, for sixteen straight hours, fielded calls from people who needed help and matched them to callers saying, “I can help,” or other available resources.  All this, while keeping people informed of what was going on around town. I’d been peak oil aware and actively prepping for only a few months, at the time. Overall, it was a pretty workable, short-term example of the six rules of resiliency Chris Martenson talked about, both in my own life and in the community as a whole.

The experience reaffirmed my belief in good people and good communities.  Eight months later, Katrina happened and I realized, good-heartedness simply wasn’t enough.

Which brings us to the bug-out bag.  Nearly every area of the country is partial to some type of natural disaster.  Sometimes, you can ride them out in place.  Sometimes they require evacuation.  Some people can get out of town and, as we saw with Katrina, some simply can’t.  The purpose of a bug-out bag is to be able to grab and go – whether it’s to leave the area completely, go to an evacuation center or ride it out at home. It’s important that everyone in your family understands that and knows what their role would be.  If you can only afford one set of preps for a short-term emergency, a bug-out bag that would serve at home, in a shelter or in an evacuation out of town is a way to go.

Think in terms of what each member of your family could carry if you had to walk to an emergency shelter.  Each school-age child might carry a book bag with a change of clothes, a pair of pajamas, a favorite toy, small game or book, one of those little folded foil emergency blankets, toothbrush and hairbrush and two 16-20 oz. bottles of waters  Each parent could carry a backpack or duffle bag with their change of clothes and hygiene items, foil blankets, plus food, first aid supplies and extra water bottles tucked in among the clothes..  A teen or pre-teen could also carry a sleeping bag or a bag prepared for a toddler and perhaps a couple of extra bottles of water.  If cots aren’t available, a couple of sleeping bags that open flat are better to sleep on than a cold floor.

Organize the adult bags with baggies.  It will save valuable space.  A baggie with a variety of band aids, a tube of antibiotic ointment, a small plastic bottle of acetaminophen and perhaps a small bottle of daily vitamins (children’s vitamins can be taken by adults, too) can be tucked in among clothing and can add some nutrition or keep a minor cut or scrape from turning into a major infection.  Always pack a good flashlight, extra batteries and a small emergency radio (make sure it’s fully charged). Organize meals and snacks into baggies as much as you can.  For example: if you plan on one breakfast bar per person per day for a breakfast, you might pack them in three different baggies and label them breakfast- day 1, etc.  Think dry and lightweight as much as possible.  A baggie of peanuts and raisins for between-meal snacks, dried cocoa mix and/or powdered milk to mix with water.  (Bag the packets, as they sometimes split open.)  If you have a baby, bag dry infant formula if you’re not nursing.  If you must pack small jars of baby food, roll them up in a baggie and, then, slip them inside a sock or wrap them in clothing items to cushion them. (Don’t forget plastic baby bottles, a plastic cup per person and a supply of plastic spoons.) Don’t forget diapers if you have a baby.  Baby wipes can clean dirty faces as well as baby bottoms, provide a quick partial bath for children and adults and, since most of them have a mild antiseptic base, you can use them to clean a cut or scrape before you dress it – saving your water supply for drinking.  You can also use them for toilet paper in an emergency, (just don’t drop them into a public toilet).  Tuck small baggies of baby wipes around your clothing. (Get as much air out of the baggie as possible before closing it and they will stay moist for quite a while in storage.)

Keep everyone’s bug-out bag together in one place, preferably near the exit door.  The bag(s) with food supplies should be kept out of reach of curious young children (no matter how sure you are they understand the importance of not eating that food for snacks).  Label each child’s bag, so they know which one is theirs.

If a family member(s) is on prescription medication, tape a baggie, labeled “prescriptions” to the outside of your bag as a reminder to grab them (make sure they are labeled and have dosages marked on the label) and put them in the baggie and into your bag before you leave.

At the beginning of disaster season for your areas, check each bag and replace any supplies as needed.  Have a run-through drill several times.  It will show you where the “bugs” are, so you can work them out ahead of time.  If you have to use it in a disaster, you will truly be able to “grab and go”.

If you have room in a duffle bag, you can even make a lightweight porta-potty out of a clean, plastic gallon milk jug (keep the cap on).  Cut the top off about a half inch below its widest level.  Set it aside and cut a narrow wedge, about a half inch deep out of opposite sides of the top edge of the “potty”   Cover the sharp edge of both the top and of the jug with duct tape, pulling the wedges in the jug closed as you tape.  This will make the edge of the potty enough smaller that the “lid” will sit down over it when you’re not using it.  Inside the potty, pack several small wastebasket liners (enough that you can change them several time a day), a couple of large heavy trash bags and a bundle of wire ties – wrap one of the ties around the bundle to keep them together until you need them.

If toilets at the emergency site become clogged and flooded, having your own porta-potty is safer and more sanitary and it can keep you or your children out of public restrooms at night.  A family members holding up an emergency blanket would even provide you with some privacy while you’re kneeling over the “chamber pot”.  When you change the liner bag, gather the top of the full bag and tie it securely, (or fold it over securely and wrap it with one of the ties) and drop it into the large trash bag along with other trash.  Hopefully, these situations wouldn’t deteriorate to that level, but it’s one more layer of resiliency if they do.

It’s my understanding that there was some food and water available at the evacuation centers in New Orleans; there just wasn’t enough to last through the time the people – mostly poor and working poor – were stuck there without help. Think about this; for every person or family that had gone to the shelters prepared to feed themselves and their family for three days, there would have been three days of extra food and water (and perhaps, toilet facilities)available to help ride out those last few days.  Having those extra resources might have made everyone more resilient.

Once you get your ideas and needs organized on paper, use Chris’s definition of resilience – having multiple sources and systems for a needed item rather than depending on a single source – and begin taking steps to increase your own resilience.

1. Start now.

2. Recognize that preparation is necessary, but accept that no matter how well prepared you are, it will be insufficient.

3. Set realistic goals, given the amount of money and time you have.

4. Start with small steps.

5. Community is essential.

6. You can’t help your community be resilient in an emergency if you haven’t made yourself resilient first.

Take an especially hard look at step 2.  That means you must learn to think creatively about your situation in a crisis and about what you already have around your house that might serve in novel ways or for multiple purposes in that crisis.  And, though most of the working poor I have known already practiced this, there is something to that old adage, “Use it up, wear it out, make do or do without.”

Next week, we’ll look at food and water.  I’ll give you ideas and links to resources for both the short-term and long-term and share some of the things I am doing to build multiple layers of resiliency in my own life.

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2 Responses to Doom and the Working Poor – Resilience

  1. msegk says:

    Saw this link on top of LATOC forum and am so glad I clicked! I knew you to be a pithy but empathetic writer and your blog does not disappoint! Thanks for crafting it.

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