Shane Burley: Amid the coronavirus crisis, mutual aid networks erupt across the country

As the government response to the pandemic falters, mutual aid projects — a staple of social movements for decades — are rising up to meet people’s basic needs.

As the first coronavirus cases came to Washington state, the government response was both slow and confused. That’s when community members knew they were going to have to build something themselves if they wanted to get through this pandemic.

“We recognized that we couldn’t rely on our current systems in place and needed to take care of each other directly,” said Janelle Walter of Tacoma Mutual Aid Collective, an all-volunteer organization of community members sharing resources. Mutual aid means creating “a network that can be mobilized immediately, without needing permission.”

Set right near the Puget Sound, Tacoma is a working-class city down the road from Seattle that does not have a large left-wing political scene like other West Coast metropolises. They were hit with the first wave of what would become a nationwide, and global, pandemic — shutting down social services, forcing people out of their jobs and leaving entire communities struggling to hold on. This was a crisis of catastrophic proportions that no one was prepared to deal with, and it came on like an avalanche over just a couple of days.

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