Posted by Internationalist 360°
Fundamental social change involves two intertwined processes. On the one hand, it means shutting down the mechanisms that impose disparities in power and access to resources; on the other hand, it involves creating infrastructures that distribute resources and power according to a different logic, weaving a new social fabric. While the movement for police abolition that burst into the public consciousness a month ago in Minneapolis has set new precedents for resistance, the mutual aid networks that have expanded around the world since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic point the way to a new model for social relations. The following report profiles three groups that coordinate mutual aid efforts in New York City—Woodbine, Take Back the Bronx, and Milk Crate Gardens—exploring their motivations and aspirations as well as the resources and forms of care they circulate.
This is the first installment in a series exploring mutual aid projects across the globe.
Food distribution at Woodbine, a social center in New York City.
With politicians such as Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez calling for the people to engage in mutual aid in order to survive the COVID-19 crisis, those not previously familiar with the term might never guess it was coined by an anarchist scientist who advocated against central government. As economies collapse and the institutions of state and capitalism fail to protect people’s health and livelihoods, communities have been left no choice but to rely on each other. This has led to a proliferation of spontaneous mutual aid networks in communities where none previously existed, often cohering around Facebook groups and Google documents.
Many communities, particularly those of poor and working class people, have long understood that we cannot rely on governments to meet our needs and have been providing for each other through autonomous grassroots collectives since well before anyone heard of the coronavirus. Now, the question is how to use the momentum of mutual aid’s recent popularity to transform the status quo and make these principles the basis for a new way of living together. An important first step will be to establish a clear distinction in the public consciousness between real mutual aid projects, which are founded on the principles of autonomy, horizontality, and solidarity, and initiatives that promote mutual aid in name only—those based more on a charity model, which serve to supplement and stabilize, rather than disrupt, state and capital.
In New York City, mutual aid networks have sprung up online since March in neighborhoods throughout the five boroughs. Existing mutual aid groups that have established deep roots in their communities, however, are in a unique position to meet people’s immediate needs and organize for long-term change in the midst of the current crises. The recent influx of enthusiasm and energy around this work, combined with our shared experience of disillusionment, anxiety, and rage, makes the unprecedented situation a potent crucible in which to build dual power […]