June 2019

Our Power Puerto Rico: Moving Toward a Just Recovery

The Climate Justice Alliance (CJA), a growing member organization of 67 urban and rural frontline communities, organizations and supporting networks in the climate justice movement, has engaged locally to prepare frontline communities to center a Just Transition away from fossil fuels and a dirty energy economy to one that is local, regenerative and built on community-led solutions. CJA has supported members, post climate disaster, in their efforts to strengthen mutual support networks that uplift people-to-people solutions in both recovery and rebuild efforts. These are all carried out with the goal of creating strong, translocal networks of Just Recovery communities that build power.

Just Recovery has proven to be a powerful model that creates the foundational and relational networks and infrastructure needed to activate an appropriate grassroots emergency response for immediate recovery, and potentially a long-term rebuild that could span decades. It has also demonstrated that rapid response alone is not enough. The purpose of this report is to share a participatory model of Just Recovery as an effective and innovative tool for climate adaptation that intersects many sectors of the economy including energy democracy, food sovereignty, rural infrastructure, and community self-determination. Every placed-based disaster will have a unique plan for a Just Recovery.

Utilizing the case study of Organización Boricuá Brigades to the rural farms of the islands of Puerto Rico, this report demonstrates the need to structure energy recovery alongside food sovereignty brigades. It also shares the healing spirit of hope and the practical utility of investing in regenerative construction and community rebuilds. OurPowerPR, a national initiative launched by CJA to support Puerto Rican people’s demands for a Just Recovery, exposes the power of grassroots organizing to educate legislators and shift federal policy. It also makes evident that Just Recovery organizing can be an effective tool in building a new narrative arc around climate disasters, one that moves from a top-down, short term, rapid response approach to a more preparatory and medium to long term response that explores fortifying local living economies. This is in direct contrast to disaster capitalism, which aims to concentrate power and wealth in the hands of a few to the detriment of many.

This report was written through a participatory method and includes multiple community leaders’ perspectives and input. Shakara Tyler of Black Dirt Farm drafted the initial report on the brigades and CJA staff developed the emergency protocols and the organizational responses. CJA member group representatives Jayeesha Dutta of Another Gulf Is Possible and Jesus Vasquez of Organización Boricuá led the final drafting process while members and allies from the OurPowerPR campaign shared their learnings and recommendations for the production of a true collective process.

Since the report was authored by frontline community members themselves, the reader will see “we” written to refer to frontline communities or those most impacted by climate change throughout the report. This helps to support a peer-to-peer practical documentation style of writing and informs the utility for the report for frontline community groups around the United States and the world facing similar challenges.

The lessons from OurPowerPR have already been used by the North Carolina Climate Justice Collective and other CJA members during climate disasters. This multimedia report shares our learnings and insights to further the field of study around best practices in addressing the ongoing and persistent climate change-fueled chaos impacting frontline communities today.

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