Conviviality and Crisis

April 07, 2020

After the 2016 election, I started thinking about disaster again.

In 2005, I worked in a relief kitchen in St. Bernard Parish for couple of months. I had a lot of time and material with which to think about disasters, about why the institutional response was so bad, and what did make people safe and helped them recover.

Then, life moved on, and I moved on, and I thought about other things. But in 2016, I started thinking about disaster again.

In St. Bernard Parish, the kitchen was called the Made with Love Cafe. It was organized by the Rainbow People and while I was there we made a few thousand meals a day.

The Rainbow People comes out of the 1970s American counterculture, that self-organizes large Gatherings in remote wilderness. They build temporary settlements – up to 30,000 people – listen to jam music, do drugs, and enjoy each other’s company. Then they pack everything out and do it again next year some place else.

The founders of Organic Valley were into all this. Their son had bought a school bus that he had outfitted to be a mobile kitchen for Gatherings. After Katrina, he drove the bus down, found a parking lot, and started feeding folks. The cafe accreted folks and equipment, including a huge geodesic dome from a Burner that we used as the dining hall.

Here’s what I learned from the Cafe.

The way that I learned to prepare for a crisis was to help a community build the relationships, resources, and skills that could be flexibly repurposed.

After the election, I tried to find ways to concretely do that. Some things have worked, and some of the relationships I’ve build have been useful. But, I haven’t done enough.

What would a Civic Technology field look like that was ready to be repurposed for a crisis? What would my practice look like?

One thing I notice is technology has been enormously helpful in the grassroots way that people are finding to help one another. In particular, Google Forms, Google Sheets, Zoom, and Slack are the stack that we see over and over.

These technologies are ready for a crisis:

They are convivial.

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