After being hammered by hurricane Maria, the residents of the rural Puerto Rican mountain town of Mariana got tired of waiting for the bumbling, privatized, cash-starved power authority to reconnect them to the grid, so the anarchist organizer Christine Nieves founded Proyecto de Apoyo Mutuo, one of a dozen-odd cooperatives across the island to create their own solar grid; by the time the The Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority finally put in an appearance, Mariana had had power for two whole months.
After Maria, Puerto Rico suffered the second-longest blackout in world history, ignored by both the federal government and the gutted, heavily privatized local government. So community organizers like Nieves took matters into their own hands.
Nieves's group formed an alliance with the Katrina-inspired Mutual Aid Disaster Relief, which fundraised to send gear to Puerto Rico.
The island-wide efforts are rare bright spots in a year-long crisis with no end in sight. Naturally, they've faced police harassment and raids looking for "antifa."
While there's been little proselytizing in Mariana, radical ideas are in the air. "What we have talked about is self-governance," Nieves says, "and we've talked about self-organizing." She uses the Spanish term autogestion, or self-management, which anarchists have advocated since the time of Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, the 19th-century French philosopher who was the first to describe himself as an anarchist. Is the movement supported by authorities? "That question assumes that local government and police are actually involved and active," says Nieves with a laugh.
Elsewhere on the island, law enforcement has pushed back. Dunson describes one incident from October: Arriving in several vehicles, including an armored car, police conducted a night-time raid on a church that MADR was using as its base of operations in Guaynabo, a municipality west of San Juan. According to Dunson, officers claimed they were acting on a call about kidnapping and questioned the volunteers at gunpoint, asking if they were building bombs, involved in "antifa" or advocated the overthrow of the U.S. government. After searching their belongings without consent, Dunson says, police evicted them from the church, threatening them with arrest if they returned. (Calls to the Puerto Rico Police Press Office went unanswered.)
Puerto Rican 'Anarchistic Organizers' Took Power Into Their Own Hands After Hurricane Maria [Arvind Dilawar/Newsweek]