In early 2020, the Covid-19 pandemic forced a retreat into our homes in a grand finale of our atomization and separation from nature — a separation that was exacerbated by enclosures. Yet physically distanced (and with the fragility of the economic system exposed) we remembered our interdependence. Many of us rediscovered ways of self-organizing and returned to the culture of commoning that has been overlooked as a vital way to address many issues, like climate change. Across countries, collective responses to the climate crisis have flourished at local levels, particularly where there were existing networks of support and democratic enterprise. Community energy organizations sent thousands of pounds to support neighborhood responders before governments had figured out how to reach people.
How can we best equip our communities as we transition to a new normal? This question is driving resilience researchers and practitioners across the nation to seek out new models that support local adaptation to a variety of crises. Recently, the climate crisis has increased the challenges faced by our communities, making the future even more uncertain and community resilience all the more necessary. Scholar Kristen Magis describes resilience as “the existence, development, and engagement of community resources by community members to thrive in an environment characterized by change, uncertainty, unpredictability, and surprise.” Importantly, resilience is the human ability to recover, and even thrive, after crises. However, communities need a supportive model to respond well to the accelerating environmental challenges.
A network of mutual aid groups in Puerto Rico were quick to react when the island lost power on Sept. 18 before being hit by Hurricane Fiona. Nearly 750,000 people are still without power a week after the storm caused mass flooding, landslides and property damage. Mutual aid groups like the feminist community-based organization Taller Salud, the collective sustenance and solidarity group Brigada Solidaria del Oeste and LGBTQIA+ support group Waves Ahead have provided Puerto Rico residents with direct economic aid, as well as emergency essentials like first-aid kits, water filters, solar lamps, nonperishable food, toiletries and water purification devices. Puerto Rico’s infrastructure system had not yet recovered from Hurricane Maria in 2017, which caused the deaths of nearly 3,000 people and decimated the island’s health care, water and power systems.
Alarmed that certain types of caring for people has been criminalized, a large group of Europeans assembled a course syllabus in 2019 on what they call “Pirate Care.” As the convenors of the project explained, “We live in a world where captains get arrested for saving people’s lives on the sea; where a person downloading scientific articles faces 35 years in jail; where people risk charges for bringing contraceptives to those who otherwise couldn’t get them. Folks are getting in trouble for giving food to the poor, medicine to the sick, water to the thirsty, shelter to the homeless. And yet our heroines care and disobey. They are pirates.” Hence the idea of “pirate care” – and the need to offer humanitarian or lifesaving care even if the state chooses to criminalize it.
We are past the point where “stopping” climate change is really possible. With global temperature rise already above 1 degree Celsius and the window on keeping warming below 1.5 degrees rapidly closing, the consequences of decades of political inaction and corporate malfeasance are already making themselves known. Every month it seems like another part of the world is being hammered by one catastrophic climate impact or another, from flooding in Puerto Rico and Pakistan to the extreme heat that melted asphalt in Europe this past summer to the wildfires raging across western North America. In the face of this new reality, climate organizing needs to evolve. For me, this reality really struck home last summer when extreme heat and wildfires ravaged the part of Canada that I call home.
It only takes one doom scroll through social media to see there is no shortage of injustice in the world. But there is also no shortage of people who have dedicated themselves to dismantle systems of violence and advance justice through activism. With how deeply entrenched injustice is in our society, the work to dismantle injustice is a full-time job. Despite the hours put in, this job does not fit a capitalist and colonial view of labour. El Jones, a prison abolitionist dedicated to fighting state violence, said that for Black people, there is a historical precedent that makes it easier for this work to go unrecognized. “Labour and Blackness cannot be separated,” Jones said in an interview with rabble. “You can’t understand any current Black problem without returning to the idea that we were property for a long time.
This article is a continuation of a previous one titled “Rethinking Revolution for an Age of Resurgent Fascism.” Ella Baker’s work leading the Young Negroes’ Cooperative League (YNCL) from 1930-1933 is here used to further inform today’s anti-fascism. Overall, this article relates Baker’s work to the dissenting views of German Communist Party (KPD) co-founder Clara Zetkin, specifically her views on fascism and the systemic alternative she referred to as a “Soviet Congress for a Soviet Germany.” This was a federation of autonomous councils formed in neighborhoods and workplaces for mutual aid, self-defense, and as dual power to succeed in revolution through general strikes in the event of a Nazi coup.
While the City of Seattle swept her home at Ballard Commons, an unhoused woman cried out to the city workers, mutual aid groups, and other community members packing up the park. “Why don’t they come up with a solution that actually makes sense?” she said of the city. “Put people indoors. Do they think we want to be out here in the middle of winter? No! We’re not crazy.” That was three weeks ago. It was 40 degrees that day. Monday, Dec. 27, the city shivered under a high of 23 degrees, the coldest day in 31 years. The risk associated with hypothermia in the cold weather was greater than the risk of contracting COVID-19, according to Public Health – Seattle & King County. That afternoon, Dr. Stephen Morris, an assistant professor of emergency medicine at UW Medicine, told the Seattle Times that Harborview Medical Center saw one cold weather-related death, two “critically ill” patients, and approximately six people admitted for hypothermia.
On October 18, 2020, during the #EndSARS protests against police violence and state corruption in Nigeria’s capital Abuja, a photo was shared on social media that quickly drew nationwide attention. The image showed passionate protesters with their fists pumped in the air, mouths wide open singing songs and chanting slogans. Some were holding placards that read “Our Lives Matter.” What drew the attention of the public, however, was the woman right at the center of the image. With a small Nigerian flag in her left hand and missing her right leg, the woman who was later identified as Jane Obiene stood out because of the defiant spirit she embodied by joining the protest march on crutches.
On this show, we talk about how to build the relationships and analysis we need to create movements that can win. When we have talked about the rise of fascism, and how to fight it, I have often made the point that we have a lot to learn from prison organizers, who operate under the most fascistic conditions in the United States. But amid this pandemic rollercoaster of hope, disappointment and uncertainty, I feel like we also have a lot to learn from imprisoned and formerly incarcerated organizers about how to sustain ourselves and each other psychologically during hard times. So, today we are going to hear from Monica Cosby, a formerly incarcerated Chicago organizer whose insights about mutual aid as a form of social life support are invaluable right now. We are also going to hear from Alan Mills, the executive director of the Uptown People’s Law Center about the fight for mental health care in Illinois prisons, how COVID has affected the situation, and what we can do about it.
After the hurricane, the garden took on a new role as a staging ground for the tribe’s disaster response to distribute supplies, coordinate mutual aid groups and help tribal members, who, along with other Native people in south Louisiana, were among the hardest hit. In the long run, Aronson hopes Yakani Ekelanna can combine these functions to become a sort of “laboratory”— a place for building tribal sovereignty and resilience against an uncertain future.
Last spring, within hours of the University of Chicago’s announcement that classes would be held online, students created a Facebook group to coordinate mutual aid efforts. Even with finals right around the corner, UChicago Mutual Aid came alive with activity. Students eagerly offered and accepted support in the form of advice, essential supplies like food and moving boxes, and spreadsheets listing leads on resources like housing. What I witnessed at my college was just one example of the many mutual aid networks, both college-based and non-college-based, that sprung up across the country in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Mutual aid, a radical practice that has been undertaken by marginalized groups for decades, became a mainstream buzzword almost overnight.
According to the United Nations, the world produces enough food to feed 10 billion people. Yet this year, even in the United States, the world’s richest country, 1 in 3 American families with kids went hungry. Even before the pandemic, in 2019, official statistics from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) detailed that 35 million people went hungry–10 million of them children. The COVID-19 pandemic supercharged the situation, exposing even those who felt “secure” to the possibility of going without eating. In a society where food is not a human right but a good to be purchased, how were people supposed to eat if they couldn’t work? The short answer: they didn’t. Receiving almost no help from the federal government, working people in the United States were laid off by the millions.
The global coronavirus pandemic has brought into sharp relief the many failures of contemporary capitalist states around the globe. These include the failure to ensure social and economic justice and to provide basic protections for the most vulnerable individuals and communities, from refugees to the houseless. Consequently, it has also made clear the need for social movements to not only resist the violence of the state and its facilitation of global capitalism, but to simultaneously and actively build a prefigurative politics toward an alternative society. Carving out autonomous spaces for mutual aid and radical politics is more important than ever. Among the multitude of ways movements engage in prefigurative politics, land occupation struggles have long been central...
In the aftermath of disasters, those most in need are also who the state often leaves behind. Into this vacuum, communities come together for mutual aid. While charity rarely challenges the root causes behind disasters, and often divides recipients into worthy and unworthy, mutual aid comes from a principle of solidarity. As Dean Spade has written, “First, we need to organize to help people survive the devastating conditions unfolding every day. Second, we need to mobilize hundreds of millions of people for resistance so we can tackle the underlying causes of these crises.” In New Orleans, the entire city was without electricity for nearly a week (and tens of thousands still have not had their power turned back on).