Roar Magazine, May 21, 2020
A New Orleans radical mutual aid group organizes with and within communities to help transform the conditions that created the crisis in the first place.
The COVID-19 pandemic has strained and even overwhelmed the public health, medical care and disaster response systems where governments and state agencies were ill-prepared to contain and suppress infectious outbreaks. In countries where emergency lockdown measures have been adopted without accompanying policies to guarantee income security and housing tenure, there is the additional problem of economic hardship. Already existing and newly formed non-governmental organizations and associations have mobilized to fill the gap.
These formal and informal groups assist people forced into the margins by government neglect with free meals, grocery and medicine deliveries, safe housing and even cash. They are going beyond traditional voluntary charity disaster relief to provide personal protective equipment (notably face masks), COVID-19 symptoms monitoring, accurate information about locally available COVID-19 and antibody testing facilities, emotional counseling and more. In some cases, these organizations partner with public agencies, including in situations where state institutions are both omnipresent and capable and voluntary associations are essentially licensed subcontractors of the state — as appears to be the case, but only in part, in the People’s Republic of China.
In other contexts — particularly where robust social safety nets are lacking or where austerity has undermined any expectation of government assistance — people have done what they have always done in a crisis: attempted to stem the tide of misery with the resources they have.