WeiJi: Crisis= Danger + Opportunity
A call for Radical Preparedness

WeiJi is the Chinese ideogram representing the concept of “Crisis” which is made up of two characters Wei [Wei (representing “danger”) and Ji (representing “opportunity”). This symbology seems to perfectly represent the importance of crises for those seeking radical change, and why radicals must be prepared to respond to them.
Crises have been with humans since the beginning. Natural disasters, epidemics, wars, famine, social unrest, ecological disruptions and depressions are not new in this century and there seems no reason they shall not continue. In fact, many scientists and thinkers believe we are heading for many more and new types of disasters that due to globalization can spread quickly and widely. Only the most Pollyannish person could possibly believe that there shall be no more emergencies in the near future. Though it seems obvious that radicals (like anyone else for that matter) would put some energy and forethought into preparing for natural or human-made disasters this is often not the case. There seems to be a natural knee-jerk resistance to emergency preparedness in even the most radical of the Left because of its association with military and government responses and terminology. The extreme right and religious fundamentalists of all stripes currently have a near monopoly on preparing for crises and thus have at least theoretically the best chance to capitalize politically on the opportunities available in our increasingly dangerous world.
This article will examine why radicals should care about being ready for crises and what are the dangers and opportunities that may come from responding (or failing to respond) to emergencies of all kinds. In addition, we hope to show why radicals are in a better position, than traditional survivalists to provide early and sustainable mutual aid during times of crisis.
Emergency preparedness should be approached like all of our political projects. Radicals, if prepared, have an opportunity to make deep social and political relationships with others during the crisis and create allies for future change.

We should be prepared for crises for a number of reasons both social and political. The social reasons should be obvious. Crises present great danger for our lives and the lives of those we care about, work with and those we seek to help by making a world a better place. Often crises can bring out the worse in folks. The combination of stress, unfamiliar choices and a dramatic jarring of ones social constructs all work in tandem to make people react less than ideally during times of immediate danger. Ironically, it is at such difficult times that people need to draw most heavily upon their strengths, skills, compassion and good judgment. The strains of crisis can tear at the social ties with those we are most close to. Preparedness allows us to enhance our ability to act positively during times of flux and take time to concentrate on more than mere survival. By preparing ahead of time we are inoculating ourselves to much of the stress that accompanies disasters and emergencies. We know from research of emergency first responders and the military that practice and preparedness substantially reduce stress during actual disasters and assure better judgment and more decisive action. Often crises require immediate actions otherwise disruptions can actually multiply. The old adage “an ounce of prevention is a worth a pound of cure”, is not just good medical sense but also relates to emergency readiness.
No matter how prepared an individual is, they will undoubtedly need (or at least benefit from) the skills, thoughts and support of others. Crises can often disrupt our relationships with those we normally work with and trust. Communications may be so overtaxed as to be not available; travel may be seriously hampered or dangerous; normal gathering spaces maybe be vacant or inaccessible and normal routine encounters may be so disrupted that one can quickly find themselves isolated. Isolation during a crisis (despite what the right-wing survivalists say) is dangerous, unnecessary and possibly fatal. Our greatest security during any period of turmoil is to have a strong and prepared social network. Most people rely on a social network under current circumstances and would feel lost if it were suddenly removed in an instant. Part of preparedness is ensuring, as much as possible, that your social networks remain strong even during an emergency so collectively you can draw upon each other for support, mutual aid and decision making.
Autonomy and liberty almost always become the first casualties during an emergency.. Radicals have long critiqued various government agencies for being oppressive, irrational, exploitive, mismanaged, out-dated, inhumane etc. All of these faults are instantly multiplied during a serious crisis. It is naïve to believe that a government that daily exploits and oppresses large segments of the population without wealth and political capital will all of a sudden during an emergency care about those same people. All one needs to do is look at local and federal preparedness manuals of organizations like FEMA and one can see the first order on their agenda-- the priority is not to provide aid but to re-assert its control during a crisis. This has been the true since the dustbowl of the 1930’s to this year’s Katrina disaster. It should come as no surprise that government preparedness manuals for local and state governments spend as much time outlining plans to secure “commercial interests” as they do providing medical aid to those injured and in need. In fact, FEMA has a policy of not sending in first responders, like firefighters and paramedics , until police or military units “have established order”. The government’s concept of order, from reading the manuals, seems more akin to business as usual than doing anything to alleviate suffering. is the greatest government incursions in our lives occur during emergencies. Just when government should be promoting mutual aid and self-organizing among its citizens it does everything to marginalize these ideas and strip civil authority of all decision making. In one recent FEMA memo, during the Louisiana crisis, it suggests “Non-local Units [National Guardsmen from other states] should be used when possible…[because] local units may have too many connections to the local population”. In fact the entire concept of FEMA is to de-localize the problem, to bring in outside government authority that is not democratically elected in order to re-establish the status quo and to protect interests of capitalists and the politically connected. This type of callous and counterproductive coercion needs to be actively resisted during times of crisis. The government spends millions and prepares constantly to take control and assert exploitive and divisive powers over already weakened localities and populations during disasters; radicals must be ready to resist and bring control and decision-making back to the people most affected by the emergency.
Radicals that invest in emergency preparedness are in a unique position to aid local populations and actively resist the detrimental effects of non-localized government occupation. Leftists in this country have a long history of working with community groups, who are seeking to improve their neighborhoods and provide for each other what the capitalists and government will not. We have spent many years developing strong relationships and networks among a variety of people who have skills to organize. We have also taken time to improve and constantly re-evaluate our roles as organizers, seeking non-authoritarian ways of aiding self-organization among those exploited by capitalists and governments. We have not always been successful in our attempts to integrate with various oppressed communities but we continue to put a premium on organizing and activism, which puts us way ahead of most right-wing survivalists and makes our project of preparedness quite different from theirs.
Fortunately most people naturally seek to self-organize during a crises. However, often after an initial outburst of localized mutual aid and self-organization at some point the government and capitalists react. They always institute things like forced evacuations, curfews, frozen zones, etc. and then take control over all civil communications channels and seek to centralize people (often in refugee camps)which makes decentralized localized organizing very difficult if not impossible. Centralizing people breaks up normal affinity bonds like neighborhoods, religious affiliation, friends, co-workers, etc. treating all people as undifferentiated refugees. With these important affinity bonds destroyed people are forced to turn to the authorities who control all organizing efforts immune to criticism or advice from those most effected by the emergency.
Mutual aid is quite common during the earliest moments of a disaster, with neighbors helping neighbors and even helpful strangers lending a hand. Officials and “specialists” working for the powers that be usually interfere to stop such behavior under the pretenses that their help is “better”, more expert, and more appropriate. From daily experience we know that peoples’ needs are at odds with the powerful elites’ agenda. It would be foolishness to think if organizing was centralized by the elites that our best interests would be served.
For the radical interested in emergency readiness the crucial questions are: how to prepare in such a way as to promote spontaneous self-organizing and extend it; and how to resist government’s attempt to centralize all help activity. From experiences elsewhere (e.g. Argentina), it seems once people start organizing for themselves to take care of each other during a crisis they often are less willing to return to business as usual and defer power to the State. It is not surprising that most major radical social, political and economic revolutions have a occurred after some sort of disaster or crisis. Real life experiences in mutual aid and egalitarianism are worth a library-full of propaganda for creating lasting changes in society.

There are almost no models in the survivalist sub-cultures to draw upon for radical emergency preparedness. Right-wing and fundamentalist circles interested in survivalism do not have the same goals as us and thus their methods are quite different. While it is true most of these “survivalist” groups seek extreme changes to society (ranging from libertarianism to fascism to metaphysical theocracies) their models do not allow for radical social change.
Despite the popularity of such books like the Turner Diaries among right-wing extremists , there has been very little organizing among such groups. Even during their hey-day of the mid-1980’s and early 1990’s they could offer no organized response or message to such watershed events as Ruby Ridge or Waco. They lack both the communications infrastructure and the desire for group organizing. Instead they are taking a course of extreme individualist survival. They seek to provide bunker-like supplies, skills and support for only them and their family. In fact, they spend a great deal of time worrying about the spontaneous self-organizing of others. This leads to their nearly absurd preoccupation with weapons and self-defense. They have a deeply cynical view of others and hold many of the preconceived notions the elites have about poor or marginalized people (the most likely victims of any crisis in this country). The right-wing survivalists have failed to exstend mutual aid during times of crisis in this country. Instead they redouble their own personal efforts to prepare while offering nothing to those effected. Where the Left has been much quicker (though we must do more) to reach out and provide help to those suffering.
We need to reject the “bunker mentality” not only as right-wing fanaticism but as inherently not a good bet for actually creating sustainable communities after a major disaster. While it is acceptable for radicals to use the substantial infrastructural resources created by the right-wing for emergency preparedness their on-line supply stores; read their articles about storage; and even attend skill specific trainings however we must create our own models based on the work we already do every day, which is a much more complex task than what they are doing. We have a much better history and experience with organizing coordinated actions (albeit it’s often only temporarily) such as mass-mobilizations and extended campaigns that are regional, national or international in scope. We have developed fairly sophisticated processes for decision-making among varied groups that are both supportive and egalitarian. We promote decentralization but unlike the right, we want to coordinate decentralized groups into sustainable resistance networks based on concepts like solidarity and mutual support. In addition over the past few decades, we have been slowly been building relationships with various community groups engaged in projects different from our own, though these relationships have developed more slowly than most of us had anticipated.
We often complain about how the extreme right is out-organizing us, and how during a crisis “they have all the guns”. The reasoning seems to suggest that the right is better-prepared to take advantage of a crisis. This reasoning is not founded on any truth. The right has , perhaps, a better ability to “survive” as isolated individuals and families and protect what they have from outsiders but they are inherently unable to extend their influence to other communities or society at large. It must also be said that is not their goal. The few attempts over the past two decades for the right to resist the State has met with utter failure and little public notice or sympathy. In the end the right maybe able to survive a temporary localized emergency but never resist the State’s imposition of power.
We have natural advantages over the right, but there is still a lot of work to do. During any crisis we will not be competing for influence on the course of events that will effect millions of folks with small groups in their bunkers but with the government and private security forces.

There is so much to do and none of us know how much time there is before the next major crisis/opportunity. First we must continue with the projects we are already doing. Continue to network among ourselves and make in-roads with other community groups. We should keep building and strengthening our relationships based on mutual aid and solidarity and continue building infrastructure throughout North America. We must keep resisting, while analyzing the strengths and weaknesses of our resistance. But we must also do much more than that.
We live in an excellent time to start learning skills, sharing information and collecting valuable resources that may be in short supply during a crisis. The time to do it is now, because during a crisis time will be in short supply and the added stress will make learning new skills and techniques very difficult. Besides when people’s lives are on the line, it is no time to be honing your skills or dumpster diving for the tool you need to set up an alternative energy generator.
Now is the time to be talking, writing and scheming about being ready in a crisis. There is precious little discussion about emergency preparedness in radical circles, it is not yet even a blip on the Left’s radar. We should start with our friends, affinity groups, collectives and organizations. We need to start figuring out ways in which you and your comrades could provide mutual aid during a crisis. Decide what you would need to be effective and what skills, resources and knowledge you already have. Start developing alternative communication systems (e.g. short-wave radio)and get use to using them and making a presence known on them. Start collecting the resources now that you could provide to others who may need them.
Next time there is a hurricane, flood, blackout or any other crisis follow it closely and if possible go there to provide aid. You will find that experience is a great teacher for what is necessary. Provide report-backs to various communities and analysis. Build networks between various groups that are also involved in this type of preparedness project.
Post information, ideas and schemes to this web-site. We are trying to create a presence on the web for radical emergency preparedness. We are not experts, we are like you. As a community we can create a useful resource for others to start preparing for emergencies while also increasing our own skills and knowledge. The time is now to start. Please look at this web-site and get some ideas on where to begin and then add to this site to help others in the process. We can do it, but it must be together.

--Written by WeiJi NYC Collective (October 2005)