Here Comes Trouble: Stories from My Life

"Outstanding…Moore Triumphs! Publishers Weekly

Mike & Friends Blog

Other Worlds

Other Worlds is an economic justice group that supports economic and social alternatives around the world.

March 23rd, 2010 8:30 AM

Where Solidarity Means Survivial: Lessons for Policy-Makers (Part I)

Perhaps more than anything today, Haiti needs a new macro-economy, one based above all on meeting the needs of its citizens. Post-earthquake economic restructuring could include equitable distribution of resources, high levels of employment with fair compensation, local production, and provision of social services.

In the meantime, what saved many during the earthquake, and what is keeping them alive today, is a culture and economy of solidarity, or mutual aid. Solidarity is an essential strategy through which on-the-margins communities, and their individual members, can survive and thrive. Today the generosity is on overdrive.

Yolette Etienne, a development worker, commented: “The tremendous chains of solidarity of the people we saw from the day of the earthquake on: that is our capacity. That is our victory. That is our heart.”

Gifting and solidarity are time-honored traditions in Haiti, as around the world. The non-monetary transactions of services, care, and goods are both spontaneous and organized. They honor human relationships and attention to the well-being of the whole, not just oneself. They minimize the role of profit in economic and social relations, and thus keep respect, cooperation, and ethics thriving.

Sylvain Pierre, one of the national coordinators of Tèt Kole Ti Peyizan Ayisyen, or Heads Together Small Haitian Peasant Farmers, described the tradition in Haiti. “When there were massacres [against Tèt Kole members] in Jean-Rabel and Piatte, when there were arrests, when there is work to be done, when there are political fights, there is always solidarity. When they know we need political pressure, they give it. Some people bring food. Some bring wood, some bring water. Those who have money, they give money. Those who only have a little change put it into a sack as a collection for other members.”

What he described is not just organizational culture, it is in fact part of the national culture – many profiteers and crooks notwithstanding.

In the days following the catastrophe, community members pulled together to dig out survivors from collapsed houses, usually with only their hands or rudimentary tools. They unearthed corpses, set up brigades to clear rubble, and organized security teams in the streets and camps. Charles Arthur of the Haiti Support Group writes of an eyewitness report from outside of Leogane. "At the sound of the lambi [a conch shell blown since slavery to gather the community], people would gather from far and wide, picks and hoes in hand, to clear blocked roads, dig each other out, rebuild homes, and prepare to accept refugees."

Lina Jean-Juste, an unemployed community volunteer, told how she experienced the mutual aid the day the earth heaved. “It was a long night. Long, long, long. But you never felt alone. It was a huge collective grief without end. You saw people crying, then they’d sing.

“But it was sweet, too. Everyone was working together. No one shouted at anyone. We all spent the night trying to get people out of their houses with our fingernails. When we were finished, we’d go to another house and start over.

“One man who was by himself, all by himself, he went into a collapsed building 15 times to try to get people out. It was so dangerous. He pulled, he moved blocks, he found a saw and cut a steel door. He never did save anyone, but he wouldn’t give up.

“Someone asked for help to transport a fat woman. I remember a guy who said, ‘Okay, I’ll go. I don’t know what’s happening with my family, but I’ll help.’ I said, ‘But cheri, you have to go see about your own family.’ He said, ‘No, I’m going to help her.’

“My sister died when a house fell on her. The man who she’d been visiting with, who was a friend of the family, wouldn’t leave her body until I got there. He didn’t even know yet what had happened to his own family, but he wouldn’t leave her.”

The Catholic lay worker Henri Mesillus recounted that, the day after the earthquake, he saw a young man on a street with four candies and a small plastic sack of water. The young man passed the candies and the water bag to strangers who happened to be around him. Henri heard him tell them, “Don’t take too much water; it’s for all of us.”

Mesita Attis of the market women’s support group Martyred Women of Brave Ayibobo said, “We’ve shared our pain and our suffering. If you heard your baby in the ruins crying ‘Mommy, Mommy, Mommy,’ fourteen people would run help you. If you don’t have a piece of bread, someone will give you theirs.”

Everyone, once asked, has a story to offer. Economist Camille Chalmers told of losing his diabetes medicines within his crushed house. No more were available in Port-au-Prince, and without them he could not live. The word got out, and solidarity came in from other countries. Friends sent new supplies from Cuba, Venezuela, and the Dominican Republic. “Now I have a whole stock,” he laughed.

In areas both directly hit by the earthquake as well as those to which survivors fled, locals have organized themselves in the mutual aid tradition. Many have taken in others whose houses don’t have water, or who no longer have a house at all, to join those already sharing beds and filling up space on the floor and the yard. People have pooled their time, belongings, and funds to share food and tarps; look after the injured and ill; provide child care; give money for medicine; keep a protective eye out for women and children who are at high risk of violence; and take in orphaned and abandoned children.

Judith Simeon, an organizer with peasant and women’s groups, said that after the earthquake, “Everyone was helping everyone. What people had, they shared with others. It was truly those who had nothing who did that most.

“I put together a group of people; we each went and helped others. People didn’t have any food so we shared what we had. The youth could get by, they could walk to get what they needed, so they weren’t my priority. I was interested in people who couldn’t get by. I used what I knew with dehydrated people, especially little children and elderly ones who were so weak. I gave them oral rehydration serum with water, salt, and sugar. I also used my knowledge of herbal medicines, how to use natural remedies with plants and leaves, to help people heal.

“During two weeks, two friends and I were taking care of a group of 14 children whose parents had died, while we tried to find their family in the countryside or other cousins and neighbors who could take them in. The kids were as young as three.

“No, I didn’t have any relation to them. It was our citizen obligation to take care of those who needed it.”

Gisner Prudhomme, an agronomist, and his wife have been hosting two adults and four children for more than two months. Only one is a relative; the others are neighbors who lost their houses. Like Judith, Gisner seemed surprised when a visitor inquired about his hospitality. He shrugged his shoulders and said, “You have to.”

At the conclusion of the funeral for her 87-year-old mother, who died in the quake and is now buried in the back yard of her crushed house, development worker Yolette Etienne told the group gathered, “From now on, let nothing we do be for the individual. Let it all be for the collective.”

(Next week, part II will focus on what organized solidarity could mean for a new national economy.)


You must log in to comment.

You must be logged in to leave a comment. Log in | Register

If you have a moment today, I hope you can read the obituary for my father Francis (Frank) Moore, who died this past Saturday at the age of 92: Francis...

Apr 22nd
6:33 PM
Read More

My father, Francis (Frank) Moore, passed away this morning a few months shy if his 93rd birthday. He was a great dad I am blessed to have had him in my life. I...

Apr 20th
2:58 AM
Read More

Time to put the cuffs on Chris Christie -- not for the bridge scandal, but for this: Chris Christie's $300m pension proposal broke state anti-corruption...

Apr 18th
7:31 PM
Read More

George W. Bush Debuts New Paintings Of Dogs, Friends, Ghost Of Iraqi Child That Follows Him... President Bush has a new hobby -- painting! --...

Apr 17th
7:28 PM
Read More

Big new story from David Sirota and Pando on top Christie adviser and appearance of corruption at New Jersey's pension fund: REVEALED: Gov....

Apr 17th
12:41 PM
Read More

FBI Uncovers Al-Qaeda Plot To Just Sit Back And Enjoy Collapse Of United States WASHINGTON—The FBI announced today that it has uncovered a...

Apr 15th
3:28 PM
Read More

Revealed: Rahm Emanuel's top donor bought stock in Marriott just before it was awarded huge contract As schools are closed and pensions cut,...

Apr 9th
2:00 PM
Read More

I'll be at First Time Fest today in New York City at the screening of my first film, Roger & Me. Loews Village 7 at 12:30 pm. Come see it on the big...

Apr 5th
9:48 AM
Read More

Revealed: Rahm Emanuel cuts public pensions, diverts money to benefit campaign donors If you've read the financial news out of Chicago the last...

Apr 4th
2:19 PM
Read More

Please take a moment today to think of Casey Austin Sheehan, son of Cindy and Patrick, who was murdered by U.S. foreign policy in Sadr City, Baghdad ten years...

Apr 4th
2:00 PM
Read More

ICYMI - I've joined this "thunderclap" to support the Connecticut legislators who voted yes on last year's Act Concerning Gun Violence...

Apr 3rd
7:38 PM
Read More

I've joined this "thunderclap" to support the Connecticut legislators who voted yes on last year's Act Concerning Gun Violence Prevention...

Apr 2nd
8:27 PM
Read More

I am opposed to the death penalty, but to every rule there is usually an exception, and in this case I hope the criminals at General Motors will be arrested...

Apr 1st
3:55 PM
Read More

How Long Some in the US Will Survive Under New Health Law Donna Smith Those who must access care to live and can afford it are not...

Mar 31st
10:13 PM
Read More

Last night, The Good Wife on the East Coast started 40 minutes late due to the overrun of the NCAA basketball game. If you had your DVR set for the show, you...

Mar 24th
5:41 PM
Read More

Watching films today, looking for the ones I'm going to pick for my film festival this summer. I (and a whole bunch of others!) have this thing we put on...

Mar 23rd
4:48 PM
Read More

When the U.S. Health Care System Keeps Killing, Who Cares Enough to Fight? Donna Smith We have largely forgotten that people are at...

Mar 21st
5:56 PM
Read More

Tell the White House not to give up on Dr. Vivek Murthy's nomination as Surgeon General despite the ferocious opposition from the NRA: Don't give...

Mar 21st
5:38 PM
Read More

This criminal would never see a jail cell, nor would his cronies. In fact, they'd later be rewarded with re-election: Presidential Address on War with...

Mar 19th
9:40 PM
Read More

The crime of the century -- our invasion & slaughter in Iraq -- started 11 years ago tonite in this 7pm (ET) hour, March 19th, 2003: CNN Coverage of...

Mar 19th
9:08 PM
Read More

Washington’s Back-to-the-Future Military Policies in Africa Nick Turse Nick Turse is an award-winning journalist, historian,...

Mar 17th
4:59 PM
Read More

"I think democracy is the most revolutionary thing in the world." -- Tony Benn, 1925-2014 Tony Benn in 'Sicko'

Mar 14th
10:07 AM
Read More

RIP Tony Benn, one of the UK's greatest leaders: Tony Benn, veteran Labour politician, dies aged 88 Former cabinet minister died at...

Mar 14th
9:53 AM
Read More

Please read this important story from K. Ford K.: Am I the Face of the New American Middle Class? I began to feel I had slipped so low...

Mar 13th
2:24 PM
Read More

Yesterday Dianne Feinstein revealed that the CIA has been spying on the Senate Intelligence Committee. This is all about the report the committee has produced...

Mar 12th
6:48 PM
Read More

Health Care for All Colorado has brought Mercy Killers, a show written and performed by Michael Milligan about our murderous for-profit healthcare system, to...

Mar 10th
1:08 PM
Read More

Health Care Dramas that Sting and Why We Have to Watch Donna Smith The realities Milligan has written into the show cut deep into...

Mar 10th
1:02 PM
Read More

Did you know the Lehrer Newshour on PBS has been produced for 20 years by a company owned by conservative cable billionaire John Malone? Me neither. After...

Mar 7th
8:39 PM
Read More

Mr. Obama, if int’l law is so damn crucial . . . | The Russian intervention deserves criticism. But let’s be clear. The...

Mar 6th
1:21 PM
Read More

Subscribe to Mike's Blog RSS

Click here to suggest an article

Mike's Blog

See More Blogs

Vew the archives

View older articles