Aftermaths: Chicago Stands with Puerto Rico

August 17, 2018
by host

Hello and welcome to Groove Cafe. You’ve stepped in because you want to learn a little more about this big compilation Aftermaths.

Aftermaths is a digitally released compilation featuring 40 Chicago artists. There’s ambient music, improvised house, deep fried rock, free jazz, footwork, and ONO, the most important band in America. Lots of other stuff too. You don’t need to listen to it all in a big 3-hour chunk. Start anywhere and keep your ears open.

This is a fundraiser so let’s talk money. This compilation was released digitally, keeping overhead minimal. Thanks to a kind donation to Groove Cafe a few months ago, there was a small budget for mastering and art.

The vast majority of the revenue from this compilation is going to ISER Caribe, who has a really cool mission of helping Puerto Rico rebuild in a sustainable way. Some of the revenue will be reserved for a few months as a small budget for mastering another fundraiser album. If another album never materializes, that money will just get donated to ISER Caribe.

Groove Cafe will post the exact amount of money raised at various points in the near and longer-term future to Twitter, as well as receipts of donation to ISER Caribe.

Aftermaths is the first release on the new Groove Cafe music label. All releases on this label will be released as fundraisers for a specific organization doing important work. Albums by individual artists will split revenue between the artist and an organization of their choosing. Again, a small portion will be reserved for Groove Cafe costs.

What does music have to do with a hurricane?

There are three reasons why a sprawling compilation full of awe-inspiring artists across genres works well to aid a hurricane relief effort that’s almost a year old.

One, it demonstrates fearsome solidarity. These are all artists from radically different backgrounds with radically different lives and a panopoly of identities living in one of the most segregated cities in America, coming together in support human cause that is both far away and near to home. Chicago is home to a massive Puerto Rican population, after all, and when the hurricane hit the island in October, you could feel its reverberations among our neighbors here.

Two, it’s a reminder. You reading this know exactly how much mind-boggling injustice and how many giddy displays of evil we have to process week-in and week-out these days. Maintaining a sense of duration, though, is massively important. I still hear some people these days go, “People just get outraged about some issue for a couple of weeks and then forget about!” I actually don’t think that’s true. I think Hurricane Maria and the child detention centers and the multigenerational violence of mass incarceration and the fact that our president is a sexual predator and the tax cuts are things that are constantly on our minds and lay a foundation for us seeking justice and, therefore, working to recalibrate this whole fucked up America thing to work for us better.

But honestly, maybe it also helps to have a reminder that’s not just fresh bad news. My hope with this compilation is that it gives you a positive reason to think about a massively important human situation. That you’ll see this art in your iTunes library and take a moment to meditate on Puerto Rico, that you’ll play it for a friend and they’ll ask “hey what’s this,” and you’ll get them thinking about it too.

In fact, Aftermaths was developed on this principle. Last October, I organized a benefit concert at Elastic Arts with Ben Baker Billington to raise money and material goods for hurricane relief. RP Boo performed, alongside Blacker Face, Sarah Squirm, Piss Piss Piss Moan Moan Moan, SOLD, and J. Copes. The Logan Square Neighborhood Association sent representatives to talk about the hurricane’s impact locally. It was the unique situation where people were banding around a righteous cause while enjoying a togetherness. I think there’s legitimate joy that comes from banding around things that are right and good, and that excitement is politically radical and incredibly constructive. Instead of just sitting around thinking about how we’re fucked, we’re given some sense of the important things we’re fighting to fill this world with.

Three, music is a near ideal community builder. This is the primitive social function of music. People congregate around it, and use it to search for like-minded and similarly passionate people. Music community is one of the many avenues we have to build fruitful lives in America despite America. We’ll have to make a better America to live in (and probably give Puerto Rico statehood and some decent infrastructure), but we actually have to live our lives in meaningful ways while we’re building.

How are we supposed to build a better world without a sense of what we’re building it for? We can’t just be stuck in constant cycle of reacting to that week’s bad news. We have to remind ourselves of the stakes, and the stakes can include what’s actually good and worthwhile. I believe that the situations music creates can help us envision a world that’s better to live in.

Why now?

The storm is was months ago but the disaster is not a thing of the past. Bungled response by our federal government has rendered the type of humanitarian crisis that should not occur in one of the most affluent, powerful countries history as ever known. An accurate death toll was just released by the Puerto Rican government (it’s 1,427, yet to be officially acknowledged by the federal government).

If you’ve been following the news, you know there were a few key elements that made this storm so disastrous for the island. One was precarious electrical infrastructure thanks in part to the island’s topography and insidious political machinations. So, lots of wiring came down in the island’s sprawling hillscape. Thanks to poorly maintained roads further damaged by the storm, access to much of the grid was difficult, making for slow power restoration. On top of that, Puerto Rico has long been forced by our federal government to rely on imported oil, another resource that damaged infrastructure made inaccessible.

ISER Caribe’s work is crucial, since sustainability means not just environmental sustainability, but the literal sustainability of existence on the island. The organization is predominately working in Western Puerto Rico — an area particularly hard hit by the storm — helping people in those regions go about their lives during the rebuilding process by supplying solar lights and water filters, and driving conservation practices that help ensure waters free from trash and rich with the fish populations that have existed there for so long, therefore contributing to sustainable lives for the people dependent on those coastal ecosystems.

The true disaster of Hurricane Maria began well before the storm ever made landfall. Effectively, Puerto Rico is a colonial outpost of the United States. It doesn’t have statehood, so it has no representation in Congress. It is governed by the federally imposed Financial Oversight and Management Board which regularly capitulates to demands for privatization of public resources and predatory lending institutions.

Puerto Rico is a US colony straddled with debt. A spate of austerity measures was imposed on the island in the past several years. Austerity is coded language for stripping everyday people of state-provided services they are rightfully entitled to so that there are more dollars available to lending institutions like UBS, J.P. Morgan, and Barclay’s, who initially lent money to Puerto Rico using quasi-legal and ultimately predatory bond practices.

When austerity is imposed, everyday people are forced to pay for the financial decisions made in poor faith by governing bodies. This is a worldwide phenomena.

Some of the highest profile austerity measures were imposed by the EU on Greece starting in 2010. Throughout the aughts, Greece was coerced into taking loans to stay solvent in the EU’s trade markets. That lending was often deceptive and predatory in nature, and debts proved unpayable when the Great Recession spurred by similar bad-faith lending practices in the United States housing market hit European shores in 2009. As a result the EU imposed austerity measures on Greece which have made the lives of everyday Greeks (who themselves never asked for those loans, or had any recourse against predatory lending practices) demonstrably worse.

A large fraction of Greeks couldn’t afford meals. Massive unemployment still plagues the country. People still can’t pay their bills. Reports over the course of the past decade have consistently painted a picture of the everyday Greek as humiliated. Protests turned to riots when the austerity measures first took hold. The reactionary, fascist, far-right Golden Dawn party became a minor political force in Greek politics during the 2012 elections, despite disbanding from lack of popular support in 2005. Very directly, austerity set the stage for a resurgent fascist party.

In Chicago, Rahm Emanuel famously imposed a form of austerity that resulted in schools getting shut down in predominantly black neighborhoods. He claimed there was simply no budget to keep those open, yet found $95 million to build a new police academy in Garfield Park, a neighborhood where 4 schools were shut down, a neighborhood within a stone’s throw of the Homan Square police station that operates like a CIA black site. Was there really no money for the schools? A lot of the stuff somehow materialized for this cop academy.

The fiction that drives austerity is that government bank accounts work like our personal savings accounts. They don’t. When it comes to the wealthiest state entites who set the rules for the global economy, there’s always money to go around. The US government mints its own dollars and can do so whenever it pleases. The question is not if there is money, but who and what deserves the money. Let me make this logic crystal clear. Financial institutions and police deserve money and, therefore, financial security. The people do not.

If they did, Rahm would use that $65 million to make a dent in the $3 billion worth of repairs that Chicago Public Schools need. Hell, I bet he could even make a little bit more materialize too.

Puerto Rico was straddled with similar debts, and those specific debts are the direct reason why the island was so damaged by the hurricane. Money could have gone into bolstering the island’s infrastructure. There could have been relief resources organized well in advance. For that matter, the Trump administration could have flooded the island with cash to swiftly rebuild and steel itself against hurricane seasons to come. There was even talk of signing a debt forgiveness bill for all of the debt that lead to Puerto Rico initially suffering austerity. It would have cost $16 billion, or about 2% the cost of our $700 billion military budget that Trump passed this year. So, you know, that’s enough money to bail Puerto Rico out 50 times over.

Instead, the government oversight board moved to eliminate free higher education and to privatize PREPA, the nationalized company that owns and operates the island’s power grid. PREPA is currently on its 5th CEO since Hurricane Maria made landfall.

It also seems a little fishy that the Trump administration moved so quickly to rebuild Houston after Hurricane Harvey and so slowly to help Puerto Rico. The recovery efforts in Houston were swift and effective, a show of how a country this wealthy and capable can and should handle climate disaster. But Puerto Rico is an island comprising largely of brown people, and somehow that seems to factor into our President’s calculus.

Regardless of our specific president, debt and an oversight board helps the federal government cement a patriarchal role and therefore power over Puerto Rico, just like austerity reinforces the EU’s patriarchy over insolvent Greece, and Rahm Emanuel’s austerity imposes a racist patriarchy (featured in a rich American history of chattel slavery and segregated urban planning) that keeps black people struggling so that developers can eventually prosper.

I personally believe that the most important things to keep in mind about the Hurricane Maria situation is that it shows what happens when climate disaster strikes a place wracked with these patriarchal austerity measures.

The age of climate disaster is dawning, and we are getting a taste of how our current mode of government will respond. It will not work to prevent fallout, and it will not aid in the aftermath. It will double down on the toxic structures that made everyday people so vulnerable to disaster perpetuated by climate change perpetuated by governments who enable the corporations that are responsible for 71% of global emissions.

And if we want to talk about Chicago real quick, this city is ripe for eco-apartheid. As outlined in a really fantastic article in Chicago Magazine, perhaps the only progressive issue Rahm Emanuel cares about is greening Chicago to help it better adapt to climate change. With our massive supply of fresh water and distance from coasts, Chicago may prove as a kind of hotbed for climate change refugees.

But will our oppressed black populations be accounted for, already forced out of the city by the intentional neglect of their home neighborhoods and outright antagonism by government and brutal police forces? Or will the south suburbs and northwest Indiana continue to grow as the new hyper-contaminated ghettos hosting refugees from the South Side? Will our future Rahms make sure their new homes are habitable too?


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