COVID-19 mutual aid reflections

A lot of mutual aid groups emerged as the COVID-19 crisis started to hit. Existing neighbourhood mutual aid and solidarity networks had to re-configure how they operated in the face of the new demands the crisis placed upon them. It’s not just the impact of the virus itself that has to be dealt with at the grassroots but also the massive economic shock which has thrown many people into a precarious situation. Also, there are issues of mental health as people find themselves not just physically but socially isolated. There are issues of domestic abuse that have to be tackled as well.

All of this means there’s a massive learning curve for everyone involved. Fortunately, some people in these projects have managed to find the time to document and reflect on their experiences and the lessons they’ve learned so far. We present a selection of those reflections below. These are in chronological order with the most recent at the top.

The way we see these projects is that they’re not just a response to the immediate impact of the crisis. They’re also the foundations to build the grassroots structures needed to create the new world we want in the decaying shell of the increasingly dystopian one we currently have to endure.

We hope to link to more of these reflections as and when they come up on our radar. If you’re involved in a grassroots mutual aid project, particularly if it’s in the south of Essex, please let us know and we’ll publish a write up of what you’re doing.

Mutual Aid: It’s a class sabotage – Freedom | 5 May 2020
When I first saw this article from Freedom News about Labour sabotage of Mutual Aid groups I literally screamed “who from our group leaked this!”. I didn’t realise it was a London group who wrote it – that’s how common this issue is. For us locally, it’s awful. Sure, we have 550+ volunteers, do about 100-120 requests a week, have a super-robust safety process and procedure, and we started from about 3 folks on FB who knew each other from other actions. This is something to be proud of in your community. But we’ve faced an onslaught of public shitty bad-mouthing, almost always from Labour party members and reps.

Anarchist farm: a revolutionary feast – Freedom | 17 April 2020
Food – or the potential lack of it – has played on a lot of people’s minds lately. The government’s mixed-messages, misinformation and pointless power-play with regard to the coronavirus pandemic led to fear-induced panic-buying which highlighted the weakness of ‘just in time’ supply chains; which are, of course, designed to maximise profit rather than meet people’s essential needs. This was followed by an upsurge in the numbers of people buying seeds as they realised that now might be a good time to start to ‘grow your own’ — my community project, Bentley Urban Farm, has been trying to encourage this for years!

Mutual Aid Groups: Five reflections for ‘Activists’ going local for the first time – Freedom | 14 April 2020
Inspired by Anna Kleist’s hot takes on an initial few weeks of local mutual aid organising in the UK, I was inspired to throw in a few (slightly longer!) additional reflections, building on some of the points in Anna’s list, and bringing a few more to the surface. They come from some early experiences of mutual aid organising in recent weeks, as well as several years of community-based organising and several years before that involved in less-local forms of campaigning and activism. It’s particularly aimed at folks that the current crisis has swept up from Capital A Activist spaces, and dropped into neighbourhood-based groups for the first time. These are folks who have often brought with them assumptions about what organising means, based on groups with more connection to shared ideology, than shared place.

Five quick thoughts on the limits of Covid-19 mutual aid groups & how they might be overcome – Freedom | 5 April 2020
Three weeks ago, I decided to set up a Facebook group to help people look out for one another in my little corner of south east London. Though drawing on the anarchist tradition of mutual aid, I didn’t think of it as a particularly revolutionary act – I just knew that mine was a deprived, working class neighbourhood with a high density of elderly and otherwise vulnerable people, and that neither central nor local government would have the will or resources to look out for us. Since then, Covid-19 mutual aid groups have – if you’ll excuse the pun – gone viral, with thousands of groups bearing that name cropping up all over the country.

An inside look at one of Bristol’s new coronavirus mutual aid groups – Tom Anderson | The Canary | 28 March 2020
Hopefully mutual aid groups will build up some form of community that has disintegrated over the last few decades. People will feel comfortable to talk to their neighbours again, and we can start to think about resilience and autonomy. Of course the immediate priority is making sure people have what they need in terms of food, shelter, access to health. But the coronavirus is not the only virus we are facing as a species. Many people have long been worried about climate change and biodiversity collapse… or the model of perpetual growth that capitalism relies on.

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