Our City

As Boston weathers coronavirus, mutual aid groups mobilize

From neighborhood pods to grocery distros, here's how you can plug in

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With the world in flux and Boston severely affected by the coronavirus outbreak, the mandate of social distancing bode for isolation and further atomization of low-income people. Service workers and artists are among the myriad groups of people affected by the current situation, as any potential gathering spaces are shuttered in the state of emergency guidelines. But unprecedented times call for unprecedented measures. In Boston, these measures have come from the community as mutual aid cells have popped up across the Hub.

 

The horizontal organizations that have come into place include JP/Roxbury Mutual AidDorchester Community Care, Allston/Brighton Mutual Aid, Charles River Mutual Aid, and Mutual Aid Medford and Somerville (MAMAS). Of these organizations, MAMAS was the first to mobilize on March 11. The organizers of these cells include service industry workers and artists in addition to long-time organizers and activists and a swell of newcomers to the concept of mutual aid.

 

Living in Jamaica Plain, I received a heads up for our local neighborhood mutual aid pod from a neighbor with whom I previously connected around tenant organizing. Neighborhood pods function in a hyperlocal way by connecting neighbors of a 3-4 block radius to each other directly via SMS or WhatsApp. These pods come into being by organizers canvassing their own neighborhood, generally leaving a 1/4 page note that explains the function of the pod. Neighbors can then be directed to the main organizing pages listed above, where they can either post “offerings” (services/items offered) or “needs” (services/items requested). As of March 19, a week after JP/Roxbury Mutual Aid mobilized, over 350 people have added their name to the “offerings” section, a large reach even for hippie-minded Jamaica Plain.

 

A door-to-door canvassing sheet for a neighborhood pod left by a volunteer of JP/Roxbury Mutual Aid. Photo: Hassan Ghanny

Sophia Belle is a musician from Somerville who is a point of contact for MAMAS. What they’ve found just in the past two weeks of organizing are the overwhelming links between the outbreak crisis, the service industries, and the creative economy.

 

“A number of requests for financial help and deliveries have come from folks who are artists or service workers and aren’t able to produce an income because of cancellations or closures,” Belle reported via e-mail. “On the volunteer side, there has been a noticeable amount of support from restaurant owners and employees who have offered to distribute excess food to those in need. Based on interactions I’ve had with others who are involved, it seems like I’m not alone in seeking out a symbiotic support structure in lieu of clocking in.

 

Elsewhere in Boston, existing mutual aid and solidarity groups have continued their work to respond to the outbreak. For the People Boston has mobilized to offer a solidarity food pantry on Mondays at Make Shift Boston. Boston Food Not Bombs is offering Saturday grocery deliveries in lieu of its regular Saturday afternoon meal serve. Black and Pink’s Boston chapter created a Gofundme to help aid prisoners at high risk for infection. These groups are just a few among many who have held Boston down without thanks or glory for many years now.

 

Says Belle: “I think it’s easy to imagine that MAMAS was born out of this particular crisis, but it’s only a tiny limb of work that has been done for decades– even centuries– by and on behalf of communities who have been fighting for security every single day, with or without the threat of COVID-19.”

 

As we approach the 100-day mark of the virus’s genesis, let’s call in this perspective from “Surviving the Virus: An Anarchist Guide”: “The prospect of quarantine tells us a lot about how we were already living…. Despite the models of safety that are represented by the bourgeois dream of nuclear family home ownership and the US foreign policy that reflects it, togetherness and care are much more important than the kind of security that depends on fencing out the whole world.”

 

In this lens, mutual aid groups mobilizing as pandemic response are an actualization of a human drive towards connectedness. The Boston that we knew until now was one of atomization due to overwhelming structural forces. The Boston that we may continue to know from this outbreak onward may more resemble a molecule — or a living organism.

 

“The impact that will last longer, in my opinion, is the sense of camaraderie and trust between residents who have never met each other before,” says Belle. “I’m in a Neighborhood Pod chat with residents on my street who are sharing their fears, concerns, and skills (along with cute animal pictures) despite never having talked face-to-face, and that’s honestly mind-blowing. Our biggest concern is that this will taper out when not everyone is being threatened anymore– and so, conversely, we hope that the impact we will see is a deep sense of solidarity and political involvement.

 

If you live in the following neighborhoods, here’s where you can go to offer or receive support:

Allston/Brighton

Allston/Brighton Mutual Aid

[email protected]

 

Boston Food Not Bombs (Facebook Page)

[email protected]

 

Cambridge

Cambridge Neighborhood Aid Network (Info Sheet)

[email protected]

Volunteer Form (Google Forms)

Request Aid Form (Google Forms)

Cambridge Mutual Aid (Facebook Group)

 

Dorchester

Dorchester Community Care (Info Sheet)

[email protected] / (857) 301-8280 (text only)

Offer and Request Aid Form (Google Forms)

 

East Boston

Mutual Aid Eastie (Website)

Request Aid Form (Google Forms)

Offer Aid Form (Google Forms)

[email protected]

 

Fenway

Charles River Mutual Aid (Website)

[email protected]

Request Aid Form (Google Forms)

Offer Aid Form (Google Forms)

 

Jamaica Plain/Roxbury

JP/Roxbury Mutual Aid (Info Sheet)

[email protected]

Request Aid Sheet (Google Spreadsheets)

Offer Aid Form (Google Forms)

 

Medford/Somerville

Mutual Aid Medford and Somerville (Website) (Info Sheet)

[email protected] / 339-545-1315 (call/text)

Request Aid Sheet (Google Spreadsheets)

Offer Aid Form (Google Forms)

Venmo: mutualaidmamas

 

South End

Solidarity Supply Distro (Facebook Page)

[email protected]

HASSAN GHANNY is a writer and performer based in Jamaica Plain. He can be reached on Instagram @diaspora.gothic

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