MANYC Newsletter

From Union Organizing to the City Hall Encampment

A Conversation with Vocal-NY’s Tatiana Hill

Tatiana Hill is a dynamic organizer who has been at the forefront of the movement for Black lives, most notably leading the NYC city hall encampment alongside her fellow organizers at Vocal-NY. She has long been engaged in grassroots organizing and mutual aid work. At the Communications Workers of America Union (CWA), Tatiana was able to combat workplace violence and become a leader for Brooklyn’s working class community. She later co-organized the first workers’ union at Verizon Wireless with her friend Bianca, seeking to create an equitable and just workplace. We spoke to Tatiana on July 11th about her organizing journey, the city hall encampment, her expansive work with Vocal-NY, and the multifaceted challenges of organizing amid COVID-19 while being a Black woman directly impacted by the prison industrial complex.

Mutual Aid NYC (MANYC): What drew you to organizing and specifically Vocal-NY? 

Tatiana Hill: When I sought CWA out, I actually started working for them because I was so into it, and because I was a leader, naturally, and I was not afraid to use my voice. I think that’s what brought me to organizing in general — I am a person who’s very comfortable with being outspoken but also wanting fair treatment for people around me who don’t speak up for themselves, people who don’t have a voice.

What happened with Vocal was I was personally impacted by the mass incarceration system. My partner was locked up, and everything was uprooted. So I came back to New York. This is where my family’s from, where I grew up. And when I came back here, I reached out to people who my friend Bianca told me about at Vocal. She knows people that were here, and she loves the work that they do. And she told me I probably would like it as well. So I said, “Okay, I’ll try it out,” and I looked them up. 

They do work on directly-impacted folks in mass incarceration — which was obviously something I was passionate about — and homelessness, which myself and many other people I know like me growing up have experienced in some way or the other, even if we don’t call it that. Vocal also does work on HIV and AIDS, which is also something a lot of people close to me have experienced and just poor people — Black people in general — are more directly impacted by than anyone else.

I was amazed by their work, and I wanted to be a part of it, I loved it. So I went for the job, and I got it, and they loved me too; they liked my background, they liked my personality. I fit in with them as a family, as a team. I already had a lot of the ideals that they teach and project, but I also learned a lot too. I learned about harm reduction; that was a new thing for me. And now I’m very well read on it and understand the principles of it, but originally, I didn’t know like a lot of folks. It’s a new phenomenon. So I’ve grown and learned so much in this position. 

MANYC: Do you feel that learning about harm reduction gave you the language to understand how to de-escalate certain situations?  

TH: Absolutely. So the way we have these four unions, my work is in mass incarceration. I work with people who have been in prison, in jail or who are currently in it. Sometimes they even write to me. I’m big on language, like how we label folks, how we speak to them, the type of presence we give them in our spaces as a community, because they are the community […] We want to respect them as human beings and people who are just like us. We’re all one incident away from any of these things being our reality.

I speak of that often when I speak to the groups that I work with, when I do teach-ins and political education. Because sometimes even in those groups, there’s stigma around the others. And that’s a big part of the population that we work with at Vocal are those with stigma. And that covers heavily on these folks, and it is a reason why we as a world and an American nation, we don’t talk about these things openly. We don’t seek the help that we need. We don’t have conversations with people who are going through very similar things as us because there’s stigma. And the stigma exists within us individually. We have to work to remove it, so that we can work through these issues as a community.

MANYC: Roughly how many people would you say Vocal-NY currently serves?  

TH: Our membership is around 4,000, I believe. It comes and goes. People go through things in life. Some of our members are very active, some are not. Some of them are leaders, which are the most active members. But our database, we have like 4,000-plus people that we can reach.

We believe housing is a human right. This country does not.

MANYC: Can you tell me about the food pantry and medical services that Vocal provides? 

TH: So at Vocal’s office, we don’t have a food pantry, per se, but we do offer meals every day. We have a drop-in center. That’s where our harm reduction education happens. That’s where we have a syringe exchange program as well. At the center, we offer food—lunch, during the day, and we have coffee, other drinks, that kind of thing. People do make donations, and we give them out to our participants. That drop-in center is for people who use drugs, so they do sign in, they get a membership card. So that way if they’re stopped by police and they have a syringe on them, they have a membership card and then they can come in for meals, use the bathroom, that kind of thing.

At Occupy City Hall, we did have a food pantry and food services. So what happened was organically we had people who wanted to volunteer. People brought tons of food on a daily basis. They brought cooked food, they brought canned food, they brought pizza, deliveries. We had breakfast being delivered every day, lunch and dinner — constantly. At times there was a surplus, you know we had snacks, anything you could think of. There was a pantry we called the bodega which was really cool. Anything you would maybe buy at a store you could find. You had bug repellent, sunscreen, plenty of sanitizer, PPE, we had masks. We had feminine hygiene products, we had a bookstore at one point, we had a charging station.

When I say the community came together and provided for one another, they stepped up in a huge way. Any and everything needed, we made lists daily of what was needed and people brought it immediately.

Mutual Aid stations set up by organizers at City Hall | Photograph by Via Wohl

MANYC: Were there any challenges that arose at the encampment?  

TH: Yes, in any space like this, there are challenges, especially when you’re looking at a space where we’re saying we don’t need police. We’re going to learn how to work as a community and live together. There are people that are angry and frustrated that came into these spaces. There are people who have never organized before, who have never protested until George Floyd, so some are young. Some don’t understand the history of organizing and how protests work. They also have some misguided frustration. So there were some interactions.

We had a de-escalation team, which was really powerful. We talked to people when they were arguing. We were saying, “We don’t need police, guys, you have to learn how to interact. You don’t have to understand each other or like each other. But let’s respect each other.” Respect is the bottom line. There’s no need to get to physical violence, there’s no need to verbally assault one another. We have so much space, let’s spread it out, cool off and learn how to talk. We had a lot of circles in groups where we talked to each other, even with other organizers who didn’t agree with our method of organizing that space.

Even for me as an organizer, I was learning how to deal with things in a more positive way, in a more interactive way. No community, no space is perfect. When people don’t have resources, when they don’t have a way to live, survive, eat and be well, they do resort to crimes of survival, and they also resort to interpersonal violence, because they are frustrated, they are stressed out when you cannot know what’s coming next on your plate for your family.

We believe housing is a human right. This country does not. We have 90,000 homeless people [in NYC], and some of them were in the encampment and we provided for them. Some of them are mentally unwell, they need stability, they need sustainable housing with services that pertain to their needs. This country has abandoned them and that has caused a ripple effect in our communities. They could be well if they had treatment, if they had medications, if they had therapy sessions, if they have food and a roof over their head.

We have a 36x rate of COVID spread in prisons and jails than in nursing homes.

MANYC: To circle back to COVID, how would you say things have changed for Vocal as a result? Are there any distribution challenges that you all are currently facing?  

TH: We have had challenges. Initially it was about keeping our center open, how many people could come in. Our drop-in center, as I mentioned, provides a syringe exchange program. They offer kits for people to use drugs safely. We offer testing for Hepatitis C. We connect them with people who test for HIV. So that was hard at first. But we’ve made an awesome system and some of the members, mostly staff, volunteer and go to different neighborhoods with the highest drug use like Brownsville, East New York, South Bronx, and they hand out kits. So we found a workaround through this.

We also normally have meetings once a month and twice a month for leaders. We do them on Zoom now. So we’ve found a way, at first it was a little tricky. It just took some time. Now we’ve utilized social media and technology a lot, and a lot of our members are older so that’s been a challenge. But we’ve gotten there and we’ve done Twitter tutorials, we’ve done Zoom tutorials. So it’s really been working out.

I do, unfortunately, feel like we’ve distanced ourselves from some of our members who we can’t reach, a lot of the homeless population and drug users. They don’t always have a phone. They like to come in and see us in person and they love interactions with human beings. I work with guys in a homeless shelter. I do teachings there. A lot of them I haven’t heard from this whole time because they don’t have a phone. So it’s unfortunate in that sense, but it’s also highlighted the need for community and how we can help folks more with the type of things that they need on a regular basis, the type of connection that we can forge to check in with people and make sure they are okay and have what they need.

Tatiana Hill with two Vocal-NY leaders at Bedford Hills Correctional Facility for Women | Photo via @tatiana_theactivist

MANYC: What can we expect from Vocal in the coming weeks?

TH: One of our big campaigns that I was doing before the George Floyd protests started was called Free Them All. We have a 36x rate of having COVID spread in prisons and jails than in nursing homes. Our nursing homes aren’t the worst places, it’s actually jails and prisons. So Melinda Katz, the Queens District Attorney, promised to get these high-risk folks out with health issues and those who are elderly. She hasn’t done that. So we’re holding her accountable for that as well as wrongful convictions.

The civil rights union, the union that I work with, we have worked on a bill for wrongful convictions. There’s a man named Robert Majors, he spent over 20 years in prison. There was evidence that has not been presented yet to prove him innocent, and they’ve withheld that evidence for years. So now, we are demanding that Melinda Katz free him. He’s proven innocent, but now they’re trying to make him go back to court, to go through that system again. So we’re holding her accountable for those things.

We also want to repeal the Walking While Trans bill. People who are transgender and sex workers are more impacted by police officers and being detained than other groups. We’re calling for justice. And we also want to pass the HALT solitary bill which aims to end solitary confinement. We’re also pushing our Elderly Fair and Timely parole bill that we work to pass with our group called RAPP (Release Aging People in Prison)

I feel like these people could be my boyfriend, my dad, my uncle, my neighbor. It hurts me to see that my people, Black people, are suffering the most.

MANYC: This work is super hard. How do you deal with burnout and things like that?

TH: I’m very big on self care. I also consider myself to be an empath. I take on these emotions that I deal with with my community and my crew members. I cry a lot, even at work. My coworkers know it, I cry. When I deal with people who have these stories about being arrested, being imprisoned, I can connect with them. I feel like these people could be my boyfriend, my dad, my uncle, my neighbor. It hurts me to see that my people, Black people, are suffering the most. But I deal with it by doing self-care things, like I’ll take a day off sometimes.

Vocal is awesome with offering personal days and mental wellness days because they know this work is heavy. It’s very heavy on your spirit. But I pray often, and I feel like I’m doing the right thing. And I’m bringing joy, I’m bringing knowledge, I work with compassion when I do my work. And people always tell me, “Oh, my gosh, you know, I appreciate you, I thank you. You’re a voice for us who cannot speak.” So even when it gets tough, those are the moments that kind of reinvent my strength in this work.

Homelessness, incarceration are real to me. It’s not something I’m just like, “Oh, I could look at that, and then go home to my little cozy place,” like no. I am in a space where these things could very much impact me again […] And even incarceration; I’m calling a person who’s incarcerated every day. I’m not far removed where I could just disassociate. But, for the most part, all these people who I help reassure me that I’m doing the right thing and that I’m in the right space. And this was where I was meant to be, and doing what I’m meant to do. 

MANYC: Being a Black woman, we are empaths like you said. We are the backbone, so can you speak about being a Black woman in this movement? Because there’s so much that we’re fighting on top of these immediate issues. 

TH: Since I was young, I’ve seen all of the Black women around me fight for their families, fight for their community, fight for their world. Slavery has been on the backs of us as Black women. We always held our families down and bore the brunt of abuse.

They always say the Black woman is the lowest on the totem pole, the most disrespected. But I feel we are also the life of this earth. We have the gene that creates every single look you can have in this world. We are the strongest and sometimes I hate that we have to say ‘strong’ as a compliment for us. It’s frustrating, but we are that. I am that. You are that, my mother, my grandmother, I’ve seen the embodiment of what strength is through Black women.

And I never put down my Black brothers but I do respect and idolize our women because we deal with the most with a smile on our face. We raise these children when the system rips away the fathers. We rise and shine above every and anything. And we still have so much strength and power and love. Our life strength comes from nurturing.

I think Black women are the epitome of beauty, strength and resilience. We have to tell each other, we have to reassure each other and pick each other up and tell each other we’re beautiful […] A lot of this community that we want to build and look like, we got to unlearn a lot of what we have been learning for centuries. These are all things that we internalize and we have to push it out of us and cleanse our spirits and heal and keep putting one another on a pedestal.

That’s part of what this work is for me is telling each other: “You’re not a convict, you’re not a felon, you are a human being. You’re in a system that has purposely put you in this place that you’re at with 1,000 hurdles in front of you to trap you.” 

Since I was young, I’ve seen all of the Black women around me fight for their families, fight for their community, fight for their world.

MANYC: Do you have any words of encouragement for younger activists?

TH: I would just say follow your passion and do what you feel is right. And also be open and listen. Don’t judge people who are in different walks of life than you, understand all these issues are intersectional. As Black people, especially Black women, we face a lot of different levels of these oppressions. Especially folks who are queer as well; they have another added layer.

So I just feel in this space, I’m always learning; I think that’s a good thing to do. Always feel open to learning. Don’t think you know everything, because you don’t know anything. And learn from your elders, learn from your ancestors, read from previous social justice workers. Read about previous social justice movements, they’ve taught me a lot too in my studies, and I’m always — literally always — reading a book every week. I watch YouTube videos from other leaders and people who speak on these issues. I love history. That’s my favorite part of this work. 

Community is important, reaching out to people, making connections. I love meeting other Black women in this work. I need to learn from other women around me and talk about my experiences. It makes me better. And it makes me feel good to have community, have advice and wisdom from women who’ve been around. I’ve met several women who also have incarcerated partners and I am so grateful because, in the beginning, I thought that I was going to lose it. I was going through so much financially, mentally, emotionally, spiritually — it’s a lot, and more than people know.

I just did a podcast talking about the impact of incarceration on the family and the home. You go through so much that people can’t relate to until they go through it themselves. So it’s really nice to find other women who experience what you have and who can relate to you in your life.

Tatiana outside of the Brooklyn Metropolitan Detention Center
Tatiana Hill protesting at Metropolitan Detention Center | Photo via @tatiana_theactivist

MANYC: Can you describe a moment of joy you have experienced while organizing recently? 

TH: I’ve been going to a lot of protests for George Floyd. Several of those protests have been in front of Brooklyn Metropolitan Detention Center. That facility is actually where my partner is incarcerated. So it was really hard for me to come to terms with going in front of a prison where my person is. I’m like, madly in love with him. We had a very happy life before he was arrested and imprisoned.

So it’s hard, but after one of those protests, I got a message from a private random account — a person who’s in there. They’d said, you know, “My wife is out you know she’s free. She told me about your work. I heard about you and I was so happy to hear you, a young sister, is representing us. We don’t have a voice. We’re always silenced. You know, they put us in lockdown. They put us in solitary to silence us. When you guys protest, they lock us down for days.” 

And my boyfriend told me the same thing. I already knew it. And I was worried that what we’re doing is damaging them. You always think you’re representing folks and that’s why we like to represent with directly impacted people themselves because you don’t want to speak with somebody in a space thinking that you’re doing the right thing. Vocal is led by our leaders and members. The people make the decisions. They speak. So the guy, he was like, “I thank you so much. I’m so happy to hear y’all out there protesting, we hear you and we thank you.”

That made me cry, like a happy cry. And to hear from a person in prison right now, during COVID, and going through this, thanking me for the work, I’m like, “yeah, this is it.” That reassured me.

After the city’s budget was passed on July 1st, the mission of City Hall park evolved into providing mutual aid to anyone who arrives, rallying and supporting Black Lives Matter protesters, and holding the space as a police-free zone. The effort, now called “Abolition Park,” is heading into its fourth week and it needs your help.

Whether it’s virtual volunteering to help organize food donations; doing research on local service to support social workers at the camp; conducting outreach; showing up at the park by doing a shift with one of the operations groups managing supplies; serving food or offering health services – volunteer to support Abolition Park. The fight for safer communities, justice, and a new world requires long-term solidarity and mutual support.

Urgent Community Update:

Governor Cuomo recently announced the COVID relief rent program to provide eligible households with a one-time rental subsidy. Apply now and spread the word to support neighbors who have been struggling to pay rent as a result of COVID-19. 

More Ways to Get Involved + Calls to Action

  • Visit Vocal-NY’s website to learn how to contribute to their drop-in center and learn more about their other services.

  • Register for Vocal’s 2020 gala, a gathering to commemorate people who have donated and participated in Vocal’s work throughout the year. The gala is an opportunity to meet Tatiana and other Vocal organizers, learn about the organization’s work, and join their fight for justice. 

  • Join Communities United For Police Reform and #CutNYPDBudget by following these action items on their website. Be sure to also check out their resource collection.

  • Check out the Free Black Radicals Twitter page, a newly formed coalition of Black grassroots organizers Tatiana co-created out of the City Hall encampment who attest to the needs of the community through mutual aid. 

  • Text WALK to 50409 to demand New York legislators in Albany repeal the #WalkingWhileTrans Ban bill.

  • Watch notable prison abolitionist Ruth Wilson Gilmore break down the prison industrial complex.

  • Join Housing Justice For All to stop evictions and defend communities. Call governor Cuomo and NYC judges to take action now.

MANYC Newsletter

Mutual Aid in New York District 31

A conversation with Chris Nickell, who has helped to jump-start mutual aid efforts from Marble Hill to Chelsea

Chris Nickell has known about mutual aid since Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico in 2017. Mutual aid efforts were essential to the recovery of communities in PR, where Nickell’s spouse has family. Now, as Deputy Chief of Staff for New York Senator Robert Jackson — who represents western Manhattan from Marble Hill and Inwood down to Chelsea — Nickell has been at the forefront of jump-starting mutual aid networks across the district. We spoke to Chris back on May 27 about expanding the capacity of organizations like Community League of the Heights (CLOTH), which runs a food pantry serving thousands of people, the challenges of reaching individuals who may not want to ask for help, and the tension inherent to participating in a largely anarchist network as a staff member of an elected political official.

Mutual Aid NYC (MANYC): How has the coronavirus impacted your work? 

Chris Nickell: Tremendously. We started working remotely on March 16th and that was a really difficult shift for us because so much of our work is face-to-face interaction with constituents who have a variety of issues. We help support them in navigating through city and state bureaucracy, connecting them to community-based organizations, etcetera. I tell friends and family that the amount of human misery that represents a proportion of our job has skyrocketed. The one thing that has decreased slightly is housing emergencies, but that’s only because people have their hands full with other emergencies that people need support with. So that’s been tough.

MANYC: What role have you played in getting mutual aid efforts off the ground? 

CN: It has evolved a lot. At first, there weren’t other games in town yet, so we were rolling on our own. We set up a Google form where people could sign up to be pod leaders, they could sign up to be volunteers, they could sign up if they had certain needs that they wanted to be able to connect with a neighbor to help fulfill. We grew from that to where now we have about 220 pod leaders in all the different neighborhoods that he represents from Marble Hill down to Chelsea. That’s exciting, that’s infrastructure that we’ve helped jumpstart directly.

Every two or three weeks we try to have a Google Meet for all of the pod leaders in a given neighborhood. That’s the second part that we’ve been really excited about which is: other mutual aid groups are working with us in a federated model where, say, there are three or four different groups in North Washington Heights, [and] the Upper Heights. Our check-in calls include all of those groups so that anybody who wants to avail themselves of the opportunity to talk to other pod leaders in their neighborhood can do so, regardless of whether they came in the door through our infrastructure or not. And so we’re really trying to distribute the access to infrastructure and resources that we have through that model of neighborhood pod leaders.

“There’s a tension between the basic principles of mutual aid being quite anarchist, and the fact that an elected official is helping to jumpstart these efforts.”

MANYC: Is the goal for the network to ultimately run itself as much as possible, and for you to be as little involved as possible?

CN: We’ve had a lot of conversations about that because there’s a tension between the basic principles of mutual aid being quite anarchist, and the fact that an elected official is helping to jumpstart these efforts. So we’ve been really careful about the way we talk about it. We never say these are our mutual aid efforts. We say we are jumpstarting these mutual aid efforts in the community, helping to set up the infrastructure for the ecosystem to flourish. So we’re very intentional about the way we talk about it.

I think the goal would ultimately be that we would be able to step back and let it run itself, but because of the nature of this pandemic there are a lot of reasons why I don’t think that’s going to happen anytime soon. The mutual aid that we all knew and loved before this pandemic was based in a Walmart parking lot after a hurricane or a fire or an earthquake. And you would set up these big boards and everyone would be co-present in figuring out what to do together in physical proximity. But of course now we can’t do that. A lot of the connecting work — both people to people, and people to organizations — is something that our office is a unique position to help facilitate because we’re paid staff, and so, we do have the capacity within our workflows (although sometimes it’s difficult to find it!) to be dedicating staff resources to these efforts.

The other thing is — and this gets to the third phase of what we’re doing — is we’ve entered into a partnership with MANYC, because one of the things that we bring to the table, certainly in the northern Manhattan ecosystem of mutual aid, is that, as an elected public official’s office, we have deep connections with a lot of community-based organizations (CBOs) who are offering services and support right now. So we’re able to rely on those relationships that pre-exist the crisis to help establish a two-way street between the CBOs and pod leaders. We’re able to help triangulate.

The partnership with MANYC — we’re helping to create the group’s first database, that is going to be fairly comprehensive. Right now, we have an Airtable of over 300 groups that includes churches, other houses of worship, schools of all stripes, CBOs, arts organizations, New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) tenant associations, housing groups. All things under the sun that we are aware of. I won’t say it’s exhaustive, but I will say that it’s comprehensive. And we bring that to the table because it’s part of our job anyway as an elected office.

So we’re trying to really set a model for how these kinds of collaborations can look. Because we know that this mutual aid effort is also going to be needed for the foreseeable future. Nobody in their right mind is expecting economic recovery in six months. So we’re in it for the long haul and for that reason, we don’t want to pull out before, say, that resource library is fully built out. So I anticipate that we’re still in a waxing phase of our office jumpstarting this ecosystem. I do anticipate that it will wane once a lot of the group infrastructure is in place. But I don’t anticipate that it will go away completely. There are always going to be ways that our office can plug in to assist in giving impulse to and support in a given area.

“The CLOTH food pantry has, depending how you look at it, quintupled the amount of time they’re open and tripled the volume that they’re putting out.”

MANYC: What are the biggest needs across all your neighborhoods? How are the mutual aid groups answering those needs?

CN: One of the biggest needs is food, and it’s pretty grave. One of the first success stories that came out of the mutual aid efforts that we’ve been working with is that back in late March the executive director of a comprehensive wraparound CBO called Community League of the Heights (CLOTH) — we got in touch with her to check in and see how things were going and she mentioned that she was looking to double the food pantry capacity of CLOTH. Her name is Yvonne Stennett. I said: That’s great. And she said: Well yea, but I don’t know who’s going to staff it. I said: well we have 50 pod leaders in Washington Heights south of the lower Heights, so why don’t we connect you?

Since then, there have been a steady stream of volunteers — both the pod leaders themselves and the people in their pods who they’ve connected with. And the food pantry I think now has, depending how you look at it, it’s quintupled the amount of time they’re open and it’s tripled the volume that they’re putting out. We’re really keen on not reinventing the wheel, and figuring out how to plug people in where they can be most used and most needed.

MANYC: Among all the CBOs, organizations, and individuals you’re working with, what has the familiarity with the idea of mutual aid been like? Are you also playing an educational role in informing people about what mutual aid means?

CN: We very much are, and I wish we could do more. I think ultimately, in the fullest expression of mutual aid, it’s also profoundly anti-racist and decolonial because of the Indigenous origins of the practice. And we haven’t made the space or the time yet to really drill down into those deep discussions around it. But certainly when we approach groups about putting their information into the database and updating us with the resources they’re offering and any needs they have, support requests they have, we are certainly doing education work — more so about the nuts and bolts of how this works. They’re already really open to this idea of the two-way street because they have needs for support from the community and they also are offering a lot to empower pod leaders to help support people in the pod. So it’s not so much about the principles of mutual aid. It’s more: “This exists, here’s how it works, and will you join?”

“That was really hard because it showed me how high the barrier to requesting help can be for some people.”

MANYC: Can you share some of the more challenging moments you’ve had during this crisis? And any moments of joy or fulfillment?

CN: There have been two really challenging moments. A month and a half ago I was out on a walk in the park and the death toll was really on the uptick and I thought to myself: I really need to be prepared because I’d started to hear of people two steps removed from me passing.. Community board members. Community leaders. I thought, I really need to prepare for someone I know directly. Later that morning I got on Twitter and saw that the housing analyst Tom Waters had passed away. He was a close acquaintance in the process of becoming a friend. And certainly somebody I looked up to a lot in terms of the analyses that he did for the Community Service Society. His work was just stunning. And I had worked with him closely on a housing working group downtown for about six months by that point. So that was really hard.

One of the hardest things with the mutual aid for me… We had been aware from the beginning that a lot of the way we had set up the infrastructure, because of its digital nature, was going to attract a crowd that was more highly professionalized and skewed whiter than a lot of the constituents whom we represent. And that bore out in the initial conversations that we had. And it’s something we’ve been trying to mitigate and really wrestle with. The fallout from that was really clear to me… I have a background in housing organizing and one of the last campaigns I worked on before I joined the senator’s office was the campaign against the Inwood rezoning. I live in Inwood and I have a lot of tenant association friends who are in buildings that are majority Spanish-dominant. And I checked up on them during this crisis and made sure that they know our office is here, that I’m personally here.

So it was really hard for me to get a text from one of my tenant leader friends who I had been in touch with about a week earlier – everything [had been] fine, [but] in the intervening time she had contracted COVID and had completely run out of food. So my learning of her need was this urgent plea of: I am literally out of food. That was really hard because it showed me how high the barrier to requesting help can be for some people. I keep a kind of prepper-stocked kitchen because I cook a lot. (You look at my kitchen and I think I’d be a disaster prepper but then you look at the rest of my apartment and think: no way!) So I was able to throw a bunch of shit together and take her two full bags of food without really missing any of it. And I got that to her and she was grateful, and it worked out — but that whole episode was super-jarring because it was a personalization of all the struggles that mutual aid efforts are facing right now. Just that barrier of asking for help.

I think a moment of joy is any time that I’ve been able to connect with people around these efforts. In the beginning I did a lot of biking around to drop off fliers that people could put in their buildings, and connecting with people in that way was really beautiful. I’ll often pass materials out my first floor window to other folks in Inwood who come by and meet with us. And then the online connections with the pod leaders every few weeks or so have just been really rewarding because they’re points of contact and those are so important right now — it sounds really corny, but those are moments of joy!

We reached out to Chris to request a more recent update on their neighborhoods. They wrote back with this:

“The murder of George Floyd and the uprisings in response shifted our focus toward police brutality and systemic racism, importantly. Some of the pods in the network we’ve jumpstarted are still quite active, but others have struggled to gain traction on mutual aid with everything that’s going on. Our focus on mutual aid in the next couple months will be to reinvigorate the pod leader structure and build up their capacity to connect people with needs to people and organizations who can offer support. The economic fallout from the crisis will only grow more dire with Pandemic Unemployment Compensation slated to end on July 31 and with the eviction moratoria expiring, so we need every tool in our toolboxes to support one another.”

Donate to the CLOTH food pantry.

Explore MANYC’s resource library.

Ways to Get Involved + Calls to Action

Because of massive job losses from COVID-19, many across New York State are still struggling to pay their rent. Although the eviction moratorium has been extended to August 6, that is not enough. New York State Senator Zellnor Myrie and Assembly member Karines Reyes have introduced Emergency Housing Stability and Tenant Displacement Prevention Act (Senate Bill S8667), which would prevent all eviction and foreclosure filings for commercial and residential tenants until a year after any part of Governor Cuomo’s statewide disaster emergency is still in place. The bill also draws a connection between housing inequities and racial inequality; minority communities have been hardest hit by COVID-19 and therefore are at greatest risk for housing instability. We urge you to call or email your New York State Senator and Assemblymember to voice your support for S8667.

Join Communities United for Police Reform member organizations Arab American Association of New York, Brooklyn Movement Center, FIERCE and Justice Committee this Thursday, July 23 at 6:30 p.m. for a free, open to the public Cop Watch training. Register now.

Equality For Flatbush is continuing its efforts to protest the illegal eviction of tenants of #1214Dean. The group is asking folks not to join them in person unless they have been integrally involved in this work, stayed overnight, or have played a supportive role in organizing. Their next steps are to legally and politically hold Gennaro Brooks-Church (718-506-6449) and Loretta Gendville (347-244-3016). If you are able to support the tenants financially, please Venmo them at @DeanSt1214.

MANYC Newsletter

We share power, we do not hoard it

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.      

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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. 
  • Hotline Volunteers
    • To begin training to join our multilingual hotline, sign up using this form.
  • Translators
    • 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 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.
  • Resource Librarians
    • 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

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 with your phone number and availability. We’ll connect you with an interviewer within a week. We can provide confidentiality upon request.

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In solidarity,

Mutual Aid NYC (MANYC)

If you have feedback about the newsletter, please email us at

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