Mutual aid is as important in this moment as it ever was.
Defund the NYPD & Occupy City Hall
Last week the New York City Council passed the 2021 fiscal year budget and failed to cut the NYPD budget by at least $1 billion, despite demands from New Yorkers. Instead, Mayor de Blasio allocated $5.22 billion to the NYPD, only about $382 million less than last year’s expense budget. This is a failure by the city’s government to show up for racial justice and be accountable to Black and Brown New Yorkers. Losses in the new budget include the firing of 2,800 teachers from CUNY, the removal of 21,000 affordable housing units, an 11% cut in arts spending, an 80% cut to NYC’s Summer Youth Employment Program, and more reductions to crucial public resources.
Occupiers at City Hall are continuing their encampment, where volunteers and organizers are practicing true mutual aid and community—providing free meals, PPE, trainings, and various teach-ins on community needs, organizing, and Indigenous lands rights to protestors.
In a statement sent out on Wednesday, June 1st, Jawanza James Williams, an organizer for VOCAL-NY and Occupy City Hall, responded to the passing of the budget:
After today, Black and Brown communities will bear the consequences of a budget that maintains police power in New York City, and underfunds long-neglected communities that have now also been hit hard by the coronavirus. Our elected leaders are to blame for that. But our movement has grown profoundly in the last weeks, and there’s no going back. New York City needs a radical financial and political shift to tackle the intersecting issues of poverty, public health, homelessness, and incarceration. This means reimagining what public safety means. It means identifying all the social problems that have long been policed rather than solved through community investments like permanent housing for the homeless or wrap-around harm reduction services for people who use drugs.
As one of the organizers of the City Hall encampment, I believe the most important outcome of all, is that millions more understand the abolition of police and prisons and reinvestment in our communities, as the only way to affirm that Black lives matter.
By passing this budget, our Mayor and City Council have made their lack of support for Black and Brown communities overwhelmingly clear. While a large majority of Council Members voted yes on the budget, 8 Council Members voted no as they believed the budget cuts were too high. Only 9 Council Members voted against the budget because the NYPD cuts weren’t enough.Find out how your Council Member voted and if they’re up for re-election.
Mutual aid is as important in this moment as it ever was.
Mutual Aid NYC believes that mutual aid means long-term solidarity with the community, not a momentary act of charity, and we will continue to fight against the systems of oppression in NYC that prioritize profit over people.
A Conversation with Kensington-Windsor Terrace Mutual Aid
This week, we’re excited to bring you an interview with Aamnah Khan of Kensington-Windsor Terrace Mutual Aid in Brooklyn. She talked to us about strategic fundraising, the cash grants that her group offers, and spreading the word to members of her community in more than 12 different languages. She also shared some moments of joy and burnout, and described the way the group’s work has shifted as the pandemic continues.
Aamnah Khan | Photo by Anna Rathkopf
Mutual Aid NYC: How did you get involved with Kensington-Windsor Terrace Mutual Aid?
Aamnah Khan: I knew there was a Facebook group that was created by Jerah Kirby, and this was before the official lockdown in New York. I was interested in this concept of mutual aid. I knew there was a history that arose from the Black Panthers. I wanted to see what that would look like in terms of neighbors taking care of each other. As we started doing introductions on a Facebook post, I was reached out to by Quito Ziegler, who is also affiliated with MANYC. They saw that I was doing work with Desis Rising Up and Moving (DRUM) and that got me the recognition to help facilitate the first meeting.
MANYC: How many people are you serving?
AK: I think we just surpassed having reached out to about 500 folks. We get about 25-30 requests per day. The volume has increased since we first started—when it was only a few per week.
MANYC: What kind of requests are you receiving?
AK: Mainly groceries. One thing that we do a bit differently—because we rely on existing community-based infrastructure, and we try to exhaust all our resources—is that we have the capacity to give out cash grants as well. Or we reimburse folks who can’t pay for their deliveries. We’ve also started to have conversations about a rent strike. As Mariame Kabe notes, mutual aid is solidarity, not charity. And so we want to definitely not have a paternalistic approach. So we’re asking people to organize in their own buildings, and asking if they want more information about a rent strike. And we’re also developing materials on that with DRUM.
MANYC: Where are most of the requests in your communities coming from?
AK: I would say the majority are coming from the Bangladeshi community and the Latinx community. Kensington is a predominantly Bangladeshi community, but it’s pretty diverse. We’re hoping as we continue to build up our resource bank and library that we can then do more research on what other ethnic groups exist here. For instance, there are a lot of folks from the Russian community who are undocumented. We were originally focused on Kensington—which, for context, has limited access to wifi, low/average median household income and it’s among the most playground-deprived areas of NYC. It has a high intake of domestic violence cases. To address these inequities, we quickly realized it made sense to combine our efforts with more affluent neighborhoods like Windsor Terrace, to share and redistribute the abundant resources.
MANYC: How are you approaching language barriers?
AK: We were able to successfully flier in over 12 languages when we first started, to spread the word. We have interpreters on our intake team. So I should say that not only do we shop and deliver groceries, we translate, we fundraise, we recruit volunteers, we develop our website, we contact partner orgs, we hopefully organize for a rent strike, and we provide more psycho-social-emotional support.
MANYC: How have things changed for the group as the pandemic has shifted?
AK: I would say our volunteers are more committed now than ever. We were kind of unique in that we were able to focus on building out our structure early on, whereas other groups were already swamped with requests by then and had to close out and start fulfilling them. We didn’t have that situation because we were still trying to focus on outreach and because of that, we could slowly develop our infrastructure and integrate our Slack to Airtable and automate the process—have an intake and dispatch team, and assess which partner would be appropriate on the backend. We are actually moving toward bulk-buying now. Originally we were doing a lot of itemized requests along with the partner organization requests. As the requests started to increase, we began to shift to an increasingly recurring ask, which was halal meat. And from there, we were able to have our first round of distributing halal meat, which we did the week before last.
MANYC: Do you get recurring requests for community members?
AK: Yes, but we ask that they make the request again. Some neighborhoods don’t have mutual aid groups, or don’t have the same resources, and we want to acknowledge that they’re underserved, and because of that we have gone as far as Ozone Park in Queens and to the end of Brooklyn, to Gravesend. So we don’t limit ourselves to just our neighborhood. As the volume is increasing, we are starting to prioritize. There’s an ongoing conversation in our fundraising group: Do we continue to give out cash grants to individuals within our neighborhood if they’ve already received one, or do we give it to folks who haven’t received any? That’s a conversation we’re still having.
MANYC: The grants are to cover groceries?
AK: That’s separate. So you can ask for groceries to be reimbursed up to $80, or you can request a cash grant to cover utilities, or whatever the case may be. The cash grants are $150. As of right now, the cash grant is a one-time thing. But as we’re continuing to fundraise to hit our goal of $50K, we hope to be able to give them again.
MANYC: How much have you raised to date?
AK: We have multiple fundraising methods: we have Zelle, we have Venmo. I don’t know how much is in our Venmo, but in our MightyCause, we have $32,000.
MANYC: How long did it take to raise that amount?
AK: It was pretty quick. Within 6 weeks, we had reached our goal of $25K. And now we’re hoping to double that. At some point our average donation was $100 or something. Somebody was kind enough to make masks and sell them in the park, and I think we got over $1K from that one individual.
MANYC: Even as the city warms up to reopening, you’re still getting 25+ requests a day, is that right?
AK: I know folks are about to get their EBT card, which gives them – what – $400 for groceries? There’s this question of when the pandemic will be over, but for who? Mom-and-pop shops will be out of business; folks will have lost loved ones or know someone who has lost loved ones. It’s because we haven’t taken care of our most vulnerable, and especially the workers, that there’s a risk of food scarcity. Where are we going to get the money for that? If we have trillions of dollars to bail out companies … you know? It’s in moments like these we realize our government has failed us at many levels.
MANYC: Is Kensington-Windsor Terrace Mutual Aid doing any advocacy work aside from a rent strike?
AK: We realize that not providing direct services is not an option, but we are trying to think about social action too, and, you know, while the Black Panthers had mutual aid networks, many of our mutual aid networks have sprung out of this moment of crisis. But even though we’re acting out of a moment of crisis, we understand that’s not the only way to be. We are thinking about organizing rent strikes, signing petitions for rent and mortgage fees, housing for the homeless, cash assistance for those excluded from unemployment insurance and federal stimulus. Especially essential workers, or undocumented people who aren’t getting that stimulus check, or whatever the case may be. One thing I’m very proud of: at a local level we’ve been participating in Black Lives Matter protests. During the curfew, we downloaded Signal and when there was a protest in Sunset Park, we made sure to take care of each other. We are thinking about privilege and anti-blackness. We are thinking about accountability. We’re working with Mutual Aid NYC, and we’re building out our resource library. We are figuring out which ethnic groups aren’t getting the attention they deserve, or are just not on the map, not on the radar. We’re doing that with Mutual Aid NYC. In terms of accountability in the group, I will say that the group is predominantly white. We have this motto: if you need help, ask; if you have something to give, give. So you match volunteers with capacity with the most vulnerable populations in need, but that doesn’t mean the two are mutually exclusive, so volunteers who have fulfilled requests can also make some of their own—I think that’s really important to recognize. Even the people we are serving can volunteer their time in some other capacity.
MANYC: If the group becomes somewhat permanent, will you need to become an official entity, pursue 501c3 status or something like that?
AK: If you look back to the Black Panthers, arguably they are always unofficial. This is a personal thing, but I do feel if we were to do something like that we might fall into that trap of focusing so much on the direct service that we forget about the organizing. And then it becomes charity instead of solidarity—the nonprofit industrial complex. Rather than doing that, I’d rather tap into what already exists. What has been helpful is that we do serve as a liaison. Many folks don’t know that these groups exist, or what mutual aid even means. Even though for immigrants they exist back in their home country. But we just don’t have a name to it.
Aamnah Khan | Photo by Anna Rathkopf
MANYC: Can you tell me about any of the more challenging moments you’ve experienced in this work?
AK: Originally my frustration was feeling as though my neighbors didn’t have the same sense of urgency from the get-go. I think some of them originally wanted to focus on just doing. Having each volunteer fulfill every request individually. But my frustration was that we already had this community infrastructure and we weren’t tapping into that. And I knew that at some point, just seeing what had happened with other mutual aid groups that were prone to burnout and ultimately not able to fulfill requests—having to freeze at some point. I had witnessed so many essential workers, cab drivers, disproportionately testing positive for COVID and dying. At first I didn’t understand the banging of pots because on my side of town, I just didn’t see it, it was a ghost town. I was curious to see a breakdown of the demographics of the neighborhoods that participate in that. I think the biggest struggle at first was having a sense of urgency, and then shifting from what often feels like a charity approach, or direct service-oriented approach, to social action and solidarity. And what I said earlier about language access: I’m so glad and grateful that we made sure to think about that from the beginning, you know, having 12 languages. I’m very very proud. I feel like a proud parent. There’s a lot of work still to be done there, I think at an intergenerational level.. There is this digital divide. People who don’t have digital literacy, or who don’t want to share their needs online, or just a language barrier in itself. There is this concept in DRUM of “mass-protagonism”—making sure that people are the makers of their own stories and that they get to dictate what they need, what the community needs are.
MANYC: You mentioned avoiding burnout—can you speak to how your mutual aid group has avoided burnout, and avoided running out of cash?
AK: A couple of things: let’s say someone comes up with a request and they’re in an area where we see that there’s an existing mutual aid group. When I say that we exhaust our resources, I don’t mean just in our own neighborhood, I mean seeing whatever is present in their neighborhoods as well. We’ve been very fortunate in having folks who are still willing to sustain our work. You heard that example of the mask-making. I think more than ever people are committed to the cause. One thing that has been very helpful is to delegate tasks and rotate. Originally I was the one frequently facilitating those meetings, and you can imagine how I felt at the time.. But then over time we evolved, having committees, and making sure that it was self-sustaining, and it didn’t just depend on one person because that’s very harmful. It risks us losing this institutional memory with that person. Making sure that if someone was to be onboarded, making sure they were flexible, and that they understand it’s not intimidating—that they can do this work with whatever documents are present. The work speaks for itself. And asking people to be transparent and honest with us about what their commitments are. And it’s totally ok if volunteers need to take a step back, take a break. We get it, it’s a pandemic. We are very understanding. I will say, I’m so impressed by everyone’s level of commitment. I do feel that it speaks to the love in our neighborhood. The level of effort and dedication. We understand that this is a fight for the long-term.
MANYC: Can you share any moments of joy you’ve experienced in this work?
AK: Oh man, so many. This is why I’m so committed because every time I get out of our call I’m always smiling. I would say meeting some folks in person, some of our volunteers. And seeing our conversations shift to organizing, and bulk-buying. It shows me what true ally-ship looks like, and we’re not stopping anytime soon. We have a Slack channel called “Shoutout and thanks” with screenshots from folks thanking us for the impact that it’s had on them, and it’s so uplifting. Something I really appreciate about our group is that we try to have a “no questions asked” policy unless it’s something we really need clarification on. But we’re able to preserve that dignity for folks, and not ask invasive questions. Folks have brought up these concerns before, saying: I would rather be hungry than be humiliated.
Members of Kensington-Windsor Terrace Mutual Aid at a Black Lives Matter protest.
MANYC: The organizations you’re partnering with—can you say more about those?
AK: We partner with existing organizations in the community. So that could look like a local Bangldeshi society. That could look like a nonprofit. Or an ethnic org already doing the work, or an individual who has fundraising for undocumented people unable to get stimulus checks. Or somebody who’s willing to offer their services as a housing rights attorney. Or a counselor.
MANYC: And presumably those organizations are helping you to reach their networks?
AK: Exactly. We serve as a liaison, a messenger to let people know that these orgs exist and to make sure that we’re fulfilling some of those requests through them, so that we’re exhausting those resources. And then whatever they can’t fulfill, we’ll help to fulfill.
MANYC: Are there any aspects of mutual aid or the impact of the COVID pandemic that you feel have not been covered by the media, and that you think should be?
AK: I like that question a lot because I had another interview where I felt that how we were talking about the opportunity was not being accurately represented. We were basically having conversations about the community without the community. And it also could have been because I felt like I was the only person of color in that room and it felt like an “us-them” dichotomy. One thing I think the media doesn’t show is how the government has failed us. And the investment and ownership in our neighborhoods. Representing people as subjects, not objects. We’re not waiting around for people to save us. And then how do we get people to take up the fight? Our safety and security is tied to each other. And though the government is not doing enough, we also can’t be in isolation. We need to build communities and solidarity among each other. One thing I forgot to mention: We’re also having conversations about absentee ballots, and participatory budgeting, and how do we get folks to vote on how our money is spent? We’re tired of hearing stories of suffering and we need to continue to practice mass-protagonism. We don’t know what will happen after this pandemic is over, but we do know we need to do things differently now, and to agitate folks and to really understand the underlying issues, and the systemic issues and seeing how this pandemic has exposed inequities.
MANYC: So you see it as part of your work to encourage people to have a voice in local politics?
AK: Definitely. To put pressure on politicians. We got a lot of folks to contact our local officials to repeal 50-A. We recognize that everything that’s happening is all connected. But yes, definitely to be more civically engaged, politically engaged. To also have that community organizing aspect, and to think about social action. This is a fight for the long term.
New York’s moratorium on evictions remains in effect until at least July 7. But when that moratorium lifts, we may see a volume of evictions and foreclosures that far exceeds those seen in the wake of the Great Recession. (Housing rights organizations have estimated that without the extension of the moratorium, there would have been approximately 60,00 cases filed in New York City’s housing courts.) This extension is not nearly enough. We are advocating for a rent strike alongside so many other organizations, like Vocal New York. Check out what they’ve been up to here. “Housing is a human right and housing stability is fundamental to that equation,” says Marcela Mitaynes.
We join mutual aid groups and organizations around the city in calling for a universal evictions moratorium. The city must:
Cancel rent payments for the duration of the 2020 COVID-19 crisis.
Expand the right to counsel to cover everyone and make sure renters facing eviction have access to adequate information.
Pass good cause eviction, which would mandate landlords to show “just cause” for not renewing leases.
Slow down the number of eviction cases held in housing courts as a health and safety measure.
Ensure landlords are accountable when they do not provide adequate living conditions.
Make necessary health, safety, and accessibility upgrades to eviction courts.
We demand that at least $1 billion be cut from NYPD’s budget due tomorrow and that money be reinvested for services, programs, and infrastructures that directly benefit Black, Latinx and other communities of color most affected by COVID-19.
The New York City budget is due in one week and VOCAL-NY has been organizing an Occupy City Hall movement until the budget is decided on and released. Read more about the demands for NYC Budget Justice here:
More Ways to Get Involved:
Four Directions Mutual Aid needs your help! They serve indigenous communities on Sewanhackey/Long Island. Please share and support their GoFundMe!
A history of Juneteenth, Calls to Defund, and Reparations!
What is Juneteenth?
Juneteenth, sometimes known as Emancipation Day, Freedom Day, or Jubilee Day, celebrates the end of chattel slavery in this country.
On June 19, 1865 – two and a half years after the Emancipation Proclamation – Union soldiers in Galveston, Texas announced that the Civil War was over and the enslaved people of Texas were free. As the most remote of the slave states, with the fewest Union soldiers, Texas was the last Confederate state to free enslaved people. A few months later, the 13th Amendment was passed, and chattel slavery became illegal across the United States.
Serving as a day of remembrance for Black people in Texas since 1866, Juneteenth began to be commemorated across the country in the 1970s. Join Black leaders in calling for Juneteenth to be a federal holiday in the United States.
Calls for abolition re-emerged in force in the 1970s, and organizing efforts continued in the 1980s and 1990s. In 1976, Fay “Honey” Knopp published Instead of Prisons: A Handbook for Prison Abolitionists and in 1983, Ruth Morris and others organized the International Conference on Penal Abolition. Angela Davis, Ruth Wilson Gilmore, and other activists formed the group Critical Resistance in 1997. Gilmore, perhaps the foremost abolitionist scholar, describes much abolitionist work as “non-reformist reforms,” meaning reforms that build towards real change. Divesting in police and investing in communities is one such example.
Calls for defunding and abolition are not simply calls for elimination or destruction. As Gilmore and other abolitionists point out, we must build anew. You can read here about the eight steps toward abolition, of which defunding the police is the first or check out Free Them All’s multi-step platform to defund the NYPD, including closing Rikers. We must begin to rethink the ways in which we address crime,focusing not on retribution and punishment, but on new forms of justice. And, we must not only redistribute funds on a local level, but on a state and federal level. We must invest in social services. And we must support reparations.
Demand Reparations Now
Support calls for reparations for the descendants of enslaved people in the United States. If you are a non-Black ally, we urge you to join us in commemorating Juneteenth this year by calling for reparations.
This week, we are looking at the history of mutual aid to understand how we got to where we are today, as well as how to exist and thrive together in and beyond COVID-19. For many, this is the first time engaging in “mutual aid” efforts, but oppressed communities have relied on mutual aid for decades.
Mutual aid continues to be an essential part of the fight for Black liberation.
Regan de Loggans, queer indigenous community organizer and agitator with the Indigenous Kinship Collective, writes,“Mutual Aid is a unifying term, putting a name to the practice that most of us (BIPOC) folx have been acting on all our lives.”
Here’s how Regan de Loggans breaks it down in their mutual aid zine, which you can access here:
Mutual aid is simple…
Mutual aid is anti-capitalist. It breaks “the binary of the ‘haves and have nots’ with the intention to re-allocate for equitable access to resources, education, and needs.” It puts control back in the hands of community members and “demands reciprocity and resource exchange.”
Mutual aid is a non-Western tradition. It is “Indigenous lifeways and sovereignty; it is Black thrivance and power.” It is a practice that most people of color have been following for a long time, and predates colonialism and capitalism. People of color were (and still are) criminalized and strategically targeted for practicing mutual aid; in our current use of the practice, we must not erase that history. The co-option of mutual aid without accountability amounts to racism.
Mutual aid is about making a LONG-TERM commitment to the community. The reallocation of resources is important, de Loggans writes, but it “cannot be temporary. It must be carried into the world beyond times of panic, emergency, or pandemic.”
Mutual aid is about solidarity, not charity. It is based on the premise that everyone in society has something to contribute, and should have equal agency regardless of their abilities or financial assets. “We ask for folx to skill-share as part of the practice,” de Loggans writes. “But we do not demand of them to contribute if they cannot in the moment, or force any ideologies of ‘owing’ someone or something. This is how we break ageist, ableist, labor hierarchy. No matter the age, no matter the ability, no matter the education, people can contribute.”
We at Mutual Aid NYC understand that aid must come with accountability. We are grateful to organizers like de Loggans who continue to pave the way. And, as a group based in NYC, we recognize that the city is built on stolen Lenape land.
Just this week, New York State lawmakers voted to repeal 50-A, the privacy law that kept police disciplinary records sealed from the public for 44 years. This is a huge step forward in protecting Black communities from police brutality, and would not have happened without protests and activism of all kinds. It’s not the only win: Mayor de Blasio has committed to channeling money from the NYPD budget to youth and social services, and chokeholds have been criminalized. None of this is enough, but it shows that we have the attention of lawmakers and we must keep showing up.
Urge politicians to defund the NYPD. The NYPD budget has grown for 20 years, regardless of broader budget fluctuations. Our communities need more significant cuts than the 5% that the Comptroller and City Councilperson have suggested. This is funding badly needed by education, housing, and social services.
Here are some urgent calls to action we are hearing from Black leadership across NYC.
We share this info in the spirit of self-determination, and we encourage you to follow your conscience as you decide how you want to engage.
Remember: There are many ways to be in the struggle beyond the streets, and the work we do to support Black neighbors via mutual aid is part of the long-term work of mending the damage of hundreds of years of oppression and building better structures for the future.
Defund NYPD + Repeal 50-A
Time-sensitive: Two decisions re: the police system are on the table in city budget conversations this week:
NYC’s City Council is discussing next year’s NYPD budget
New York’s Legislature is considering repealing Section 50-A, known as the “Police Secrecy Law.”
Right now, Mayor de Blasio has proposed a budget for 2021 that cutseducation, social services, and youth program funding, while keeping the NYPD fully funded at $6 billion dollars.
There are many ways that the city can easily cut the NYPD budget and use those funds instead to support our communities.
Reducing the NYPD budget by $1 billion – or about 17% – would provide necessary funds for food, housing, and social services. This is a direct link to MANYC’s work.
Recall a troubling incident involving NYPD – whether you experienced it personally or heard from someone seeking support on the hotline.
Record a short video or audio clip (30 to 60 seconds) describing what happened.
Try to give context: Was a person of color, an immigrant, an undocumented person, or LGBTQ person involved?
Include whatever personal information you are comfortable with – such as your first name, organization you were representing at the time, the general location – without putting yourself or someone else at risk.
Email the file to Leo Ferguson email@example.com at Jews For Racial and Economic Justice.
Our work at Mutual Aid NYC is guided by a set of principles. Today, we share them with you — and ask you to help us stay true to these values.
Our responsibility as a community is to ensure that all people have what they need to thrive and we believe that all people have something to contribute. Mutual aid means long-term solidarity with our community, not a momentary act of charity.
We share power, we do not hoard it. We value all voices and are transparent and collaborative in how we relate to each other, make decisions, and operate.
We partner, we do not dominate. We amplify and adapt to the needs of communities. Our work is based on what the folks doing mutual aid need right now.
We build in public. We use open-source tools and methods when possible, and aim to de-weaponize and democratize technology through our work. We try to utilize and contribute to existing open source projects and open data resources.
We do not share information in ways that we know will harm. We will never share information with law enforcement, especially ICE or the NYPD.
We are anti-racist. We actively work to undo systemic inequities in ourselves, existing structures, and the new structures we support.
We prioritize people over profit. We recognize the inherent worth of all human beings, no matter their class background or economic output.
We meet people where they are. We recognize that unequal access to information creates systemic barriers. We are committed to providing equal access to resources, tools, and information so that people of all languages, backgrounds, and abilities can make use of and contribute to our work.
We commit to being accountable for the impact of our actions while assuming good intent. We recognize that at times we will fall short and ask our community to support us by holding us accountable.
At Mutual Aid NYC, we acknowledge that mutual aid isn’t new. Marginalized communities have relied on mutual aid for centuries, and we seek to honor that legacy. In that spirit, next week’s newsletter will explore how communities of color have cultivated mutual aid practices throughout history.
Want to join the team at Mutual Aid NYC? We are looking for:
UX Designers / Front End Engineers / General IT support / Airtable Expertise
Please fill out this form to help us build our website and expand our technical capacity.
To begin training to join our multilingual hotline, sign up using this form.
To translate resources for established organizations and mutual aid groups, sign up here.
Graphic Designers / Illustrators / Artists
To join the visual media team, please email firstname.lastname@example.org with your skills, interests, and availability.
Social Media Experts
To help share information about what mutual aid groups are doing around New York City, complete this form and select “social media” as the answer to the question, “Do you have any of the following essential skills/expertise needed right now?”
Community Operations Support
Our diverse volunteer network needs folks who have experience building collaboration and communication systems, using tools like Slack, email listservs, Notion, and other common internal collaboration tools with an eye toward accessibility and inclusion. To get involved, email George.
To research and add new information to our library of resources available to communities most impacted by COVID-19, or train new volunteers in this task, email email@example.com.
Share your mutual aid stories
We want to share your stories in this newsletter through brief interviews with interested groups and individuals. We hope that by reading stories about on-the-ground work, community members will learn more about your resources and how to access them.
If you’re interested in being interviewed, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org with your phone number and availability. We’ll connect you with an interviewer within a week. We can provide confidentiality upon request.
It is amazing to see the amount of action happening across New York City, around the United States, and globally on setting up local support groups so neighbors can support each other through COVID-19.
Groups might be:
building or street-level groups
boroughs-level networks (made up of neighborhood groups)
existing community groups that want to offer mutual aid services to their constituents and members.
The following resources are compiled from around the country and can be used to:
help groups set up,
use tech, tools and templates to manage groups
connect with best practices from other mutual aid groups.
Please note, we haven’t fully vetted all of these resources. We know groups are looking for resources to help set up and run groups, so we have compiled this list of resources we know of. We hope to provide more specific Mutual Aid NYC resources in the future, and will post them to this blog as they are developed, but in the meantime, we hope some of these are useful.
(After reading these suggestions, if you decide you do not want to create a mutual aid group or there already is one you can join, and you still want to help out in other ways, consider looking up the Help with Covid site: https://helpwithcovid.com/)
Tech tools for ongoing management of your group
How to set up a slack group for your mutual aid group or neighborhood pod:
Create a whatsapp group easily: http://joingroupchat.com, a completely free-to-use website that makes it easier to connect people through WhatsApp. The website lets group admins create custom and password protected (optional) WhatsApp group chat links.
MutualAidNYC’s mapping team is focused on building new features to make the map on our website more interactive and useful. To make feature suggestions, send us a message on the Mutual Aid NYC slack channel #digital-data-mapping, or via the GitHub mapping repo, or via email to email@example.com and we will add it to our list. You can see more of our mapping work and join us via GitHub:
Medford and Somerville Mutual Aid has a straightforward resource that explains how to use google forms and google docs to create a map. They provide all queries to cut and paste so non-coders can replicate a map that matches volunteers with needs and shows available groups in the area:
Astoria Mutual Aid Network started on March 13th when Maryam, an event producer, and her husband Ross, a grant writer, decided they couldn’t take their daughter on their planned spring break vacation during the coronavirus pandemic and should, instead, fulfill their civic duty to keep their community safe and well by making sure their most vulnerable neighbors had a place to go to access help. Maryam and Ross printed 500 fliers and posted them around her neighborhood the next day with the help of a few friends.
The fliers welcomed people to contact “Astoria Mutual Aid Network” via Ross’s direct cell or Maryam via Instagram. Soon it evolved into a dedicated website, Facebook page, Instagram, WhatsApp, phone number for calls and text messages with requests for assistance and if people wanted to volunteer to assist others. The tools were simple at first: an Instagram account, Google Forms, Sheets and Map with pins placed at volunteer locations, a Gmail inbox and a Google Voice number.
One of the people who discovered the effort through the fliers was Peter Valdez, an organizer of the Astoria Tech Meetup, a group of local technologists that do projects together to benefit their community. After a few conversations with Maryam, Peter began to work with her and others in the Astoria Mutual Aid group on improving their process. He migrated them from Google Forms and Sheets to an Airtable template anyone can copy and use, and then set them up with Slack, a chat room app for internal communications. And crucially, he and another volunteer, Kyle Tomanelli, wrote a software application that helps inbound community needs be matched more efficiently with volunteers best able to provide assistance to their neighbors.
Here’s how the system works:
Promotion: Astoria Mutual Aid Network offers assistance and volunteer opportunities to their neighborhood through physical fliers, social media posts, via local media articles and search engines.
Connection: People connect through social media profiles, by calling the public phone number or sending emails to the public address, or by interacting with web forms embedded on the group’s website.
Engagement: People can join the Astoria Mutual Aid Network “volunteer corps” by filling out a form on their website. They can also request assistance through any of the public communication channels or by request form on the website. These communication channels are monitored by the dispatch team, who share a single Gmail inbox, Google Voice phone number and access to the request form submissions.
Recording: The Airtable database where the volunteer and request forms send data makes information accessible and easy to find for the dispatchers.
Onboarding: Volunteers that want to provide rapid response relief to community member requests must go an extra step to volunteer as Dispatchers. Dispatchers go through additional training in the various communication tools and protocols for their role. They must also sign a conduct agreement, share a copy of a government issued ID, and commit to taking on at least two four-hour shifts on a weekly basis. Then they can sign up for shifts using the Signup Genius web application.
Responding: Needs that can be resolved via communication are answered immediately by the Dispatchers. Needs that require a dedicated volunteer to perform a specific task are logged as requests in an Airtable form.
Dispatch: A clever piece of open source software, written by Peter Valdez and Kyle Tomanelli, takes the request and compares it to the volunteer data. It then outputs a list of the 10 volunteers with the (self reported) ability to meet that need and prioritizes them based on physical proximity, wanting to keep the mutual aid provided hyper local. This list of volunteers posts to a private Dispatcher Slack channel so that a member of the dispatch team can easily contact the potential volunteers all at once via text if the issue isn’t urgent, or one by one with a phone call if it is.
Fulfillment: Once a volunteer commits to fulfilling the task, the Dispatcher puts the volunteer in touch with the community member and changes the request’s status in Airtable for monitoring to “Assigned.” The Dispatcher and volunteer remain in communication until the volunteer confirms that the need has been addressed at which point the request’s status is noted as “Completed.”
Since the project began two weeks ago, over a hundred requests have been responded to, with around 40 requiring volunteer dispatching. Common volunteer tasks include non-urgent grocery deliveries, which are handed off to the Invisible Hands Deliver volunteer initiative, arranging transportation for high-risk people to and from medical appointments, and friendly conversations with people suffering from social isolation.
The project has over 450 volunteers, 25 dispatch volunteers and is coordinated by a core team of 8 people.
The group isn’t raising money, but funds that they’ve been given are used to provide free Lyft rides for high-risk people.
Astoria Mutual Aid Network is also performing a variety of other functions. They’re working with local politicians to call elderly people in the neighborhood every few days to keep them company. The group has already called over 3500 people. The group also creates space for members to collaborate with each other around passion projects. A Slack channel was created for people learning how to make sourdough bread while social distancing. Another channel was made for people to discuss their fitness routines at home. Another was for people developing an interest in homesteading. Members also encourage each other to do more, like make masks from old clothes.
Maryam has spent two weeks straight working on this project, volunteering more than 10 hours a day. “Basically any time I’m not actively taking care of the needs and safety of my household” she’s working on this project.
Asked why she does it: “There really wasn’t another option in my mind. Ross and I have our health, and though I’m fully out of work, we don’t risk losing our home imminently. So rather than going down the doomsday rabbit hole thinking of how bad all this might get, I chose to adopt Ross’s perspective of ‘How much can our efforts help those who will be really badly affected by this crisis?’ and use my new found unemployment for good.”
If you have questions for the Astoria Mutual Aid Network, don’t hesitate to email them: firstname.lastname@example.org.