Liberals Can Be Preppers, Too

Actor-writer-director Sarah Wayne Callies on how real-life experiences shaped her podcast Aftershock, now in its second season.

In December 2019, I finished writing the last script for season 1 of Aftershock. It’s a scripted podcast (think TV with your eyes closed) that tells the story of a woman escaping a natural disaster in Los Angeles, searching for a lost daughter who despises her … and landing in a viral outbreak. I had no idea Covid was coming, of course – who did? But as we recorded remotely in the middle of the pandemic, some of my cast called me Nostradamus.

Then season 2 released this August and just weeks later, that earthquake hit Los Angeles, and I got messages from friends again calling me Nostradamus. How about, one text read, writing a script about me winning the lottery? It’s hardly spooky this time – we all know the quake in L.A. is coming: the quake. But it got me thinking all over again … are we ready? And if not, is it partly to do with our politics?

Sarah Wayne Callies in her natural environment.

Let’s back up, though. On October 12, 2012, Hurricane Sandy ravaged the Eastern Seaboard. In just hours, New York City flooded, sending some people fleeing from basement apartments and stranding others where they stood without access to transit. A few days after the water subsided, my friend Drew called me to tell me he’d bought a generator for his apartment in Dumbo – and to apologize for making fun of my family for 15 years for being “prepared.” (We’ve had a generator for almost 20 years – I like light and heat.) My brother-in-law, who’s former Air Force, fielded calls throughout Sandy from friends and family, asking him to come get them and bring them to his spot in Brooklyn where he too had been prepared for this kind of emergency for years. And getting mocked for it. People would roll their eyes and call him a prepper and tell him he sounded like … wait for it: Nostradamus.

By now, we’re all caught up with the reality that natural disasters are everywhere, whether it’s hurricanes in New York, ice storms in Texas, wildfires in California, or tornadoes in Illinois. Getting caught in one isn’t an if, it’s a when. And we’re no longer in a world where we can expect the power to come back within 48 hours. Emergency services could take days to get to us. They could take weeks. Yet still, the term “prepper” is sneered at, associated with a host of political and even religious beliefs, and reviled by folks considering themselves good liberals, progressive thinkers, science-based minds.

Sarah Wayne Callies with her go-bag.

I gotta say, this confuses me. Surely making being prepared for your family to be safe is not a partisan attribute? Surely science-based minds that accept the facts of climate change also recognize they might need a go-bag and an exit strategy from the effects of that climate change? Maybe … this can even be a bridge issue, something where folks on all sides of the political spectrum can compare notes, find common ground, and help one another out? Is that too squashy and cotton-candy a hope? (Stay with me – we’re in a post-Barbie movie world.)

I’ll tell you this much: I have a go-bag. If I’m shooting on location, it comes with me, tailored to the environment I’m in. Part of writing Cassie’s go-bag into Aftershock was planting a seed with the audience: Hey, this might save your life. It saves Cassie’s more than once. And Wayne’s and McKayla’s. In fact, without Cassie’s go-bag, Aftershock might be about 30 minutes long: there’s an earthquake and our hero dies on day two. End of show.

Wanna unpack my go-bag with me? Here’s some of what’s inside – and what’s not.

The contents of Sarah Wayne Callies’ go-bag.

I have rope, an emergency blanket, a spare pair of shoes and two pairs of wool socks, the U.S. Army Survival Manual, a spyglass, a jacket, oral rehydration salts, portable water purification kit, a first aid kit, rubber gloves, a deck of cards detailing uses of common herbs, a sewing/suture kit, a bag of common over-the-counter medicines, almonds, a jar of honey, beef jerky, a hand-crank flashlight.

You may notice that fire-making and shelter-making materials are missing. (Good catch, you!) Those elements are in my car; my go-bag is currently in L.A. mode, and there I have my car with me pretty much all the time. The other thing in my car is a weatherproof map of wherever I am. Let’s be honest, most of us aren’t great at getting around without GPS anymore, particularly if we’re leaving the area we’re used to living and working in. It’s best not to realize you’re hopelessly lost when the cell towers are down.

Braided nylon, an important part of Sarah Wayne Callies’ preparedness kit.

Another consideration: my go-bag has to stay under the weight I can carry – it doesn’t do me any good if it’s too heavy for me to move more than a couple of hundred yards. If I’m shooting in Atlanta, I’ll trade out some L.A. weight so that I can have rain gear and bug juice and a snakebite kit.

A final thing to take with you wherever you are: civility. I know, I got all soft and squashy again, but I mean it – your kindness is an asset. Your ability to work with anyone – to help anyone – can save your life. I’ve known really smart people judge other folks by their accents and miss out on the kind of community building that keeps folks alive in a natural disaster. When I say, Make sure civility is a part of your go-bag, what I mean is that our current cultural wasteland of judgment and recrimination has become as dangerous as any natural disaster. If season 1 of Aftershock was partly about a go-bag in an earthquake, season 2 is partly about forgiveness in a time of crisis. My point with the title of this essay is that we all need to prepare, not just for disaster, but for forgiveness: giving it, asking for it. Maybe if liberals can be preppers too, we can cross the aisle, shake hands, and start to forgive, to heal. Yeah, I know how that sounds: squashy, cotton candy, and kind of great. … No?

Actress, writer and director Sarah Wayne Callies became known to audiences for her portrayal of Sara Tancredi in Prison Break and followed that up with the even bigger hit, The Walking Dead. She then starred opposite Josh Holloway in the series Colony and most recently was seen in the NBC series Council of Dads. Sarah has taken the leap into directing with an episode of the limited series Unspeakable as well as an episode of the final season of Colony. As a writer, Sarah has several screenplays in development with various motion picture entities. As a film actress, Sarah has appeared in Giancarlo Esposito’s This is Your Death opposite Josh Duhamel and Famke Janssen, Pay the Ghost with Nicolas Cage, and Black November opposite Mickey Rourke and Kim Basinger. Continuing her passion for storytelling, Sarah is a producer and the voice of the new science-fiction post-apocalyptic podcast Aftershock. (Photo by Nicolas Gerardin.)