New York, NY – Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-Bronx, Jackson Heights) recently held a teleconference with longtime activist and organizer Mariame Kaba to highlight the importance of having a Mutual Aid Network [MAN] during emergencies, like the spread of the coronavirus.
“This moment is really revealing who the frontline workers are in our society,” Ocasio-Cortez said. “Everyone from our doctors and our nurses, to our retail workers, grocery store and pharmacy workers, delivery and warehouse workers, undocumented workers, and street vendors.”
Unfortunately, this calamity has also revealed the many underlying vulnerabilities in the United States at large, according to the representative.
“Even before the coronavirus hit, 40 percent of Americans couldn’t afford a $400 emergency,” Ocasio-Cortez said. “The consequences of that are happening in really rapid motion, because so many of us are one accident or major illness away from losing our livelihood. This has sort of accelerated that for all of us as a society.”
While it would be great for the government to act swiftly during this pandemic, Ocasio-Cortez believes there are other ways that people can act on a local level to support one another without exacerbating the spread of the virus.
“We can make things better right now,” she said. “By building a mutual aid network we can choose to share instead of hoard, and we can choose to help people instead of hurt and that is the very systematic discipline we can start today.”
Further shedding light on the MAN system was Kaba, who has 30 years of experience concerning community safety.
“Mutual aid in its simplest form is cooperation for the common good,” said Kaba. “My survival is tied to other people’s survival, and I don’t think that has been more clear than in this situation.”
Mutual aid is about plugging into the needs of your community and finding ways as a community to use resources to help one another in a catastrophe, like the spread of the coronavirus, instead of hoarding.
For instance, one can utilize social distancing, but people can also coordinate fundraisers for people who are out of work, figure out who is isolated and make sure they have groceries, help people with childcare, have someone who is healthy to go to the pharmacy for others, according to Kaba.
“We can be involved in each others lives by coordinating ways to bring survival needs to each other,” said Kaba. “We can mobilize public relief.”
The concept of a MAN system is not new, but was codified over 100 years ago by Russian activist, economist, political scientist and philosopher Peter Kropotkin (1842-1921).
“He wrote a book that said, ‘cooperation is key’ and it has been historically proven that we need to cooperate in order to survive because we are all interconnected with each other,” said Kaba. “The key thing about mutual aid is that it empowers communities to meet their own material needs by helping each other with healthcare and food. It is about solidarity, not charity.”
The mutual aid work that we do now can help us prepare and plan for the next disaster, according to Kaba.
“The more we know about those around us and map out who is vulnerable in our community, the more likely will be able to make decisions together that will help us be more resilient,” said Kaba.