I wasn’t going to be a f#cking disaster tourist, but here I am taking a picture.
Like everyone in Minneapolis, and the rest of the country, I have been shocked and saddened by what I’ve seen become of my city. This morning, motivated by stories of neighborhood cleanups, I decided to head down towards Lake Street, the site of much arson Friday night. As much as I wanted to take my big boy camera, I wasn’t going to do it; I was here to help, not post selfies in front of other peoples suffering.
But one I got there, you just couldn’t believe how bad it was. Like the hundereds of thousands of other people there, I pulled out my phone, just to record this and try and make sense of what I was seeing.
I wasn’t sure what roads were open or closed, I decided to bike there. I live only a few miles away, but in terms of neighborhoods, where I live is another world.
I used to bike down to this area in the warm months, and I always enjoyed the smells from the ethnic restaurants (btw, I hate the term ethnic restaraunt. Isn’t all food ethnic?). Today it was much different. All you could smell was burning, smoldering wood and debris. And occasionally natural gas.
Before I left I was trying to find a spot to check in, or to find someone coordinating things. Other folks I ran into on the way, carrying brooms were equally unsure where to go. We just followed the crowd. I came across a group helping in one burnt out store (I have no idea what it was), and I tried to make myself useful by jumping in. Another fellow there saw I didn’t have any gloves, so he loaned me a spare pair. His name was James. There was no coordinated effort here, just people trying to help in anyway they could.
“Gas!” someone yelled. Everyone stopped and left the building. I gave James his gloves back, and just like that, the group dispersed, looking for other places to help.
As I got closer to Lake street, there were people everywhere. Most had brooms, garbage bags, etc, and they were here to clean up. A small group of protestors were here, carrying signs, but most put them away. Everyone here knew what had happened and supported their cause; we were here to work. There were a lot of volunteers from aid organizations here, too, giving away food and water, and household goods, and different locations. They also were also giving away water to volunteers like me who were there to help.
Strangely, I didn’t see one police, fire, or emergency services worker.
I walked by another building, and they were trying to put out some smoldering areas. No flames were visible, but the smoke had folks worried. To get to them, they had set up an informal bucket brigade, that I could tell was getting streatched out. “Can I help?”
Jump on in. But be safe.
For a good hour, we hauled water back and forth into the building putting out smoldering bits as they were discovered. People off the street joined in. None of us knew each other. The water was being hauled in from somewhere else. Where, I have no idea, but other volunteers brought it in. Everyone helped everyone, even though no one was in charge. During a break, I asked one of the others if he knew what shop this was. “No idea” he said.
Once we got the smoky bits tapped down, we helped on the neighboring building, though that was fairly under control. A hispanic gent thought it was good. He explained how buildings were constructed, and that this building was good (or as good as we could get it). He thought we should move on to other spots that needed more help. I’ll never know who these people were. We were all wearing masks of some sort, so all I saw was their eyes. All I know is they are my neighbors.
I looked for more help, as I was offered copious amounts of water and food. I’m good. Give it to someone who needs the help more.
On my way back to my bike, a new group formed in a different building. They looked motivated, so even though I need to head back to my safe home, I jumped in again. More people showed up. People formed lines, and took on different roles. We somehow got coordinated without anyone taking comand, or barking orders. Egos were put aside to help out another unrecognizable business burned to the ground. Myself an one other gent were the furthest inside the building. As my dad used to tell me, when you want to move something, sometimes you gotta get mean at it. We were both very mean. We were also the only ones wearing N95 respirators. As we got to the back of the shop, and start start examining the debris from the former roof, he turns to me and asks “How much asbestos do you think is in here?”
Me, looking at all the folks wearing earloop masks. “A lot”, I said.
“Lets move on” he called out. “There isn’t much more we can do here, and it doesn’t appear to be smoldering anymore.”
Sunday it was much of the same. I went down towards the burned down 3rd precinct. A large group was cleaning out a burnt down Arby’s. When I was younger, my mother forbade me from ever going to an Arby’s. She got food poisoning there once, and she made me promise never to go. Of all the ways I disapointed my mother, this was one promise I never broke. She has passed on; I hope my work here doesn’t disapoint her.
Unlike yesterday, there were National Guard here at the site. Some of them were electricians, or specialist in other trades, and they pitched in to help out, making sure the services were deactivated. There was a tall, athletic African-American gent on a megaphone, who was making rounds. I’m not sure if he was a community organizer, but he, thanking everyone for being here and cheering on encouragement. He also noted the help of the National Guard.
“You see the National Guard?! They are here to help! Those folks throwing rocks at them, fighting them, they aren’t Minnesotans. These guys are Minnesotans. They came to help!”