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In times of disaster communities organize for mutual aid. Lets create a narrative of mutual aid first to prefigure a world without disaster.



The abstract threat of climate change has failed to mobilize the social transformation necessary to change our path. We are already experiencing increases in the frequency and severity of extreme weather events, as well as disasters related to those industries most responsible for the changing climate. Paradoxically, these disasters provide a context wherein communities come together and organize along radically different values--mutual aid, cooperation and solidarity--the values shift needed to actually tackle the root causes of climate change.

We can't wait for the next disaster to organize. Instead, we need to be proactive in preparing for these impending disasters by organizing along lines of mutual aid, cooperation and solidarity, now.  Through this work we can better prepare for survival while prefiguring a world without the threat of climate disasters.

Floods, droughts, and tornados are not abstract threats--they are our daily headlines. The media presents a narrative of state aid and top-down response. The compassionate, sophisticated community response is often ignored. We learn little about what neighbors do to save neighbors, church's do to support communities beyond their congregation, or what businesses do for "competitors" in these trying times.

Values are upheld by social narratives, our stories shared between people and promoted by media. In order to shift to the values needed to take on climate change, we need to learn new stories. The current collective story of disaster prep, relief, and recovery is missing the stories of mutual aid and cooperation. This proposal aims to raise up and learn from stories of community-based disaster response to prepare for survival during the next disaster and in doing so make it an act of prevention. We'll do this by finding people who took action during or after a recent disaster, train them in storytelling, and provide an opportunity to add their stories to the values-based narrative we need to combat climate change.

What actions do you propose?

1. Find storytellers and their stories

Most disasters are categorized by the number of victims killed, injured or displaced. These statistics tell us sad stories of pain, suffering and loss, but we do not see the far greater numbers of responders, many of them impacted by these disasters, whose stories go far beyond just being a victim. We need to find these people and help them share their stories.

In order to limit the number of people and their stories to a group of people that can participate in our subsequent proposed actions, we will primarily focus on people that currently reside within the greater Massachusetts area.

a. Find people who lived through local disasters

We will draft and distribute a “Request for Stories” among local disaster response communities. For example, Massachusetts has a list of Voluntary Organizations Assisting in Disaster. We will contact these organizations with our request for stories for them to distribute to their activist and volunteer lists.

b. Find people who responded to out of state disasters but have local ties

Many Massachusetts organizations mobilize volunteers to respond to disasters around the country and around the world. These volunteers have stories to tell about Katrina, Nepal, Haiti, and so on. There are also people who were displaced by disasters and now temporarily or permanently living in Massachusetts. Additionally, there are Massachusetts residents who happened to have been in out of state locations when disaster struck. By reaching out to extant networks of disaster responders and volunteer coordinators through their local connections, we will identify and recruit storytellers into our program.

2. Hone and develop the stories and storytellers

We all tell stories, but telling a story well is a true art. We will work with local organizations that have designed workshops to teach the art of story telling. For example, Massachusetts based StoriesLive has developed a group workshop to prepare people to perform a story for a live audience. We will work with StoriesLive and other organizations and trainers to develop a workshop curriculum that is focused on drawing out and preparing participant’s stories of cooperation and mutual aid. We will also develop materials that help place their stories in the broader context of disaster response and recovery in partnership with local and national narrative-development organizations such as Grassroots Policy Project.

Once we have identified storytellers and developed a training curriculum, we will host a story telling workshop series led by StoriesLive, or a similar group.

3. Perform, document and disseminate

Our goal is to share these stories as widely as possible to influence our social narrative on climate change and disaster response. To do so, these stories must be shared. So, we will host a live storytelling event, which will serve multiple purposes. First, it will provide a venue for documenting stories so they can be archived and disseminated. Second, the event will be a chance to engage the broader community with a different collective story of disasters. Third, the event will be a chance to engage more potential storytellers. We will use the event and its promotion to engage these people to share their stories and invite them to help form our new collective story of disasters through participating in future iterations of this event.

4. Repeat

There are endless people out there with stories of disaster response. Our desire to find people who took action beyond conventional avenues will likely impede our ability to find storytellers.  After our first programmatic round we will have stories to share in promotion of our second round of requests for stories, which will in turn elicit more stories, and so on. Additionally, we will be creating an expanding network of storytellers and organizations as the program develops.

Who will take these actions?

Our team is comprised of community and labor organizers, academics, planners, and activists from around the country and based in Massachusetts. We collectively have experience in a wide variety of environmental, economic, and social justice organizations and campaigns from grassroots and policy perspectives.

Members of our team will be responsible for the initial outreach to find storytellers and their stories. We will write the Request for Stories and Tellers, develop contact lists and do outreach. StoriesLive, Grassroots Policy Project, and other trainers will be contracted to produce and conduct workshops. We will organize the storytelling event but contract StoriesLive or a similar organization to record and edit the performances. We will create website to host the stories as well as reaching out to other organizations that might be interested in collaborating future iterations of the proposal such as StoryCorps and Humans of New York. Additionally we will promote these stories at regional and national activist gatherings such as the US Social Forum.

Where will these actions be taken?

We live in the Boston area, therefore our outreach and organizing would begin here, but we would seek out stories and storytellers from around the world. Our first round of workshops and story event would be in the Boston area, which will likely limit our participants to those in the local area. But we will try to make sure the stories represent a wide variety of experience in both location and participant so that our community of disaster storytellers grows in multiple directions.

What are other key benefits?

This proposal has a lofty goal of reducing the risk of climate related disasters by changing how respond to and thus prepare for disaster. We think an important first step is to raise up alternative stories of response and hope that leads to alternative actions of preparedness. But helping people tell their stories after a disaster has a variety of other related benefits. We will help people learn the art of story telling that they can use in every part of their life. We will help survivors of disasters to be seen as empowered actors, not just victims. We will provide an opportunity for people to be heard and validated. We will provide a safe space for people to tell their stories as an act of healing. Through stories people will be able to revisit their lost loved ones, homes and communities.

What are the proposal’s costs?

We chose to scale our proposal to make full use of the $10,000 contest money, but no more. We believe the proposal could be scaled up and/or replicated multiple times if more funding were available, but chose to work with a $10,000 cap and propose a fully funded pilot.

The major costs can be broken down into the following categories:

Stipends for storytellers: $3,075

All storytellers will be asked to come to two 2.5-hour workshops. For each workshop we will provide each participant a $15/hour stipend including one hour of travel time. For 25 participants, our cost would be $2,625.

Due to availability and interest and length of event, not all workshop participants will participate in the live audience event. We will assume 10 participants will and the event will run for three hours. So those 10 participants will be provided an additional $150 each.

Development and delivery of workshops: $2,600

StoriesLive or another storytelling education group could be contracted to provide a 2.5-hour workshop for 25 participants for $1,000. They could also be contracted to help revise the workshop curriculum to specifically help prompt and develop stories of disaster response at a rate of $200/hour. For two 2.5-hour workshops and three hours of curriculum development, our cost would be $2,600.

Promotion and execution of the live audience event: $2,500

To rent a space to hold 200 people would cost approximately $2,000. Direct mailings, ad buys, email blasts etc would add another $500. All or more of these costs could be recouped with ticket sales, but we will just account for the cots.

Recording, editing and dissemination: $950

Raw capture at the event costs $50/hour, editing the video costs $100 hour and developing a web site and web hosting for one year costs $500.

Total proposed cost: $9,125

Time line

Short term (tomorrow to 2 months from now)

Create a Request for Stories

Develop a network of organizations and individuals to contact with our request for stories

Medium term (2 month to 1 year from now)

Send out Request for Stories

Develop a disaster story workshop curriculum

Find 25 participants to join us for two workshops

Conduct two workshops

Host the first live audience performance

Long term (1 year to 5 years from now)

Disseminate the stories from the first event, host online

Recruit another group of storytellers every year for another round of workshops and live audience event

Really long term (5 to 15 years from now)

Change the dominant post disaster narrative so that it is focused on community based actions of mutual aid and cooperation

Related proposals

The Climate Stories Project,

Our proposal would fit as one category of climate stories they are finding. Perhaps their method of outreach and interviewing could be utilized to find storytellers and their stories. But our project is more about empowering these storytellers as agents of change, both in their communities and in the broader narrative.


University of Delaware Disaster Research Center

Prefigurative Politics wiki

Rethinking Prefiguration by Luke Yates

Norah Dooley,



Humans of New York

West Virginia Clean Water Hub

Rebecca Solnit, A Paradise Built in Hell

Naomi Klein, Disaster Capitalism