The world has never felt safe, but it feels particularly scary at this exact moment. I tried to write the introduction to this post more than ten times because more than anything else, I want to convey a feeling of care and community to anyone reading that is difficult to articulate via a screen. This is a post about COVID-19, and about specific actions we can each take to care for each other – it’s about mutual aid and collective survival in 2020. This is also a post that extends an idea queer community has long been extremely familiar with, and that idea is that at the end of the day, we have to take care of each other, because no one else is going to take care of us.
In that way, our actions during this global public health crisis will be new and specific – none of us has ever lived through this exact moment before – but they will also be rooted in our history. Queer community is built on a lineage of mutual aid, of tangible community care, and of prioritizing and centering the needs of the most marginalized among us. During this pandemic we will not only be relying on other queers – in fact, organizing mutual aid operations in your local neighborhoods with all the humans you call community and neighbors is ideal for this particular moment – but it is comforting, at least to me, to know that as queers we have relied on these methods before. We know what to do to help each other, even when things feel scary and out of our control, even when they don’t just feel that way but actually are objectively scary and out of our control.
We don’t know the answers to most of our questions about COVID-19 and this specific moment in history. But we do know this: together, we can take care of each other. We have no other choice.
Editor’s note: This post will be updated frequently. It is currently very USA-centric, but we would like it to be more inclusive; if you live somewhere outside of the USA and can point us to mutual aid efforts in your country we would love to add them to our directory. I attempted to give credit to individuals and groups who put together each document linked here but often they are anonymous and I may have missed some info; if you created any of these documents and would like to be credited or would like them removed from this post, please be in touch. You can comment on this post or email vanessa [at] autostraddle [dot] com. Thank you for your patience and generosity!
Mutual Aid & Community Care 101
First thing’s first: let’s talk about what we mean when we say mutual aid and community care. Whether you’ve heard these terms or not before, chances are, as a queer person, you’re familiar with the concept. That’s because we as a larger community are practiced in caring for each other rather than relying on the government to care for us at the best of times. This is a strength; even without this guide, you would probably intuitively have some ideas about how to help the people you love and your local community during this pandemic. Lean into your intuition here.
Mutual aid is the act of directly helping a community member in need, without a third party like a non-profit or the federal government. When we provide mutual aid we distribute resources amongst ourselves – both material and emotional – and we form bonds with the people we are connecting with so that we are investing in longterm relationships and collective organizing.
Mutual aid is not the same thing as charity; it is not about wealthy people donating small amounts of money to organizations. Mutual aid is transparent, it is by the people for the people, and it not only prioritizes the most marginalized and most vulnerable, but it also amplifies their voices and gives them the autonomy to express exactly what they need and how they would like to receive help. Mutual aid is the logical response to the idea that any community is only as strong and healthy and happy as its most marginalized and vulnerable members. It also emphasizes the fact that we can all help each other, and just because we are not all able to deliver food, provide capital, or do other tasks that are seen as “useful” in times of crisis, most community members are able to offer something to the greater group and are interested in being part of a system that emphasizes sharing not hoarding and connecting not isolating.
Mutual aid efforts do not have to be local; thanks to the internet our communities are vast and spread out, and those connections are absolutely no less real than the ones you have with people who live near you. That said, in times of material crisis like we are seeing with COVID-19, it can be very useful to facilitate local mutual aid efforts. Obviously you will have to decide if it is safe to connect with your neighbors and the folks physically close to you – and if it isn’t, it’s understandable that you would not want to organize with them – but the truth is, as we all currently stay put during this moment, it’s possible your relationship with your neighbors will be more relevant to everyone’s immediate safety than your relationship with the queers you know online who live all around the world.
The other main thing to remember when it comes to mutual aid efforts and organizing of any kind is that you don’t have to provide everything for everyone. The whole point of working together and creating sustainable systems of care is that we can spread the work throughout the collective; no one person holds all the power, which also means no one person holds all the burdens. Do not let the magnitude of the crisis we are facing scare you into inaction. You can make a difference in your communities. We can take care of each other, little by little, for forever. It is what we are on this earth to do.
Mutual Aid Link Directory
This is a collection of the best resources I have found online when it comes to COVID-19 and mutual aid.
The first three links will lead you to huge shared documents that include a lot of information about COVID-19, a variety of resources from flattening the curve to preventing illness to caring for someone who is sick to creating your own neighborhood mutual aid group and beyond, and compilations of many mutual aid groups currently already on the ground (organized by state).
Next up we have a database of localized resources in the USA, a COVID-19 UK mutual aid directory, and a specifically queer COVID-19 networking Facebook page in Copenhagen.
Here’s an incredibly generous beginner’s guide to preparing yourself for COVID-19 and for quarantine, written by Leah Piepzna-Samarasinha, because it’s harder to help others if you’re not taking care of yourself to the best of your abilities. Mutual aid practices are discussed in this document but there is also so much more.
This is another generous and practical guide to check out before you begin elaborate mutual aid structures. Rebel Sidney Black explains pod mapping, a tool originally developed by Mia Mingus for the Bay Area Transformative Justice Collective, and how it can be useful when organizing mutual aid. Examples included!
Put together by COYOTE RI, this is a document including a variety of resources to promote harm reduction for sex workers during this pandemic.
Exactly what it sounds like. Donate if you can!
This is a mutual aid fund to support service workers who are being sent home with no income. This goes for ANY SERVICE WORKERS, NO MATTER WHERE THEY ARE LOCATED.
This relief fund will be providing monetary aid to sex workers in the New York City area who have been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Allies, clients, organizations, and workers not impacted by the pandemic should donate if you can!
As I stated above, this is currently very USA-centric because that is where I live. We would like it to be more inclusive and if you have more information about mutual aid efforts in your country that you don’t see listed here please either comment on this post or email me. If you have additional links to resources you think would be helpful to the queer community please comment or email me. You can get in touch at vanessa [at] autostraddle [dot] com.
5 Small Things You Can Do With Minimal Effort To Help
The whole point of mutual aid is that everyone has something to offer, and that while we know the government response to our needs in crisis (and, frankly, every day life) will always be too little and too late, if we care for each other we can not only survive, we can thrive. So what if making a phone tree or forming a pod or introducing yourself to your neighbors feels like too much? Here are five small things you might be able to do with minimal effort to help people in your community; these actions are all just as much a part of collective care as anything else. (I should note – not every step here is possible for every person! If you can’t leave your house, running errands will not be the quick and easy move for you. If you just lost your job no one would expect you to buy a gift card from your favorite restaurant right now. The idea is that depending on what you have abundance of – energy, money, time, extroversion, etc – there is probably something on this list that you could do and that would feel like minimal effort. That’s the beauty of what happens when we all do the work!)
1. Cancel all your plans and stay home
If you are able to, stay home (you can still go outside just stay 6 feet away from other humans), don’t travel (not even a road trip to a national park), cancel your social life (yes the entire thing). We keep hearing about scientists and doctors asking us all to play our part and #FlattenTheCurve because it’s so important. Social distancing is our only proven defense against COVID-19. A couple of days ago a friend said to me, I know how to care for a loved one when they are sick, but how can I care for them before that happens? I told her to cancel all her plans and stay home alone. Social distancing is preventative care.
2. Pay the service workers in your life, even though you canceled
Once you cancel all your plans and appointments, if you have the means (like if you’re salaried or if you’re able to work from home without disruption to your paychecks) pay the people who would have been working for you anyway! Pay your chiropractor when you cancel, pay your house cleaner when you cancel, pay your dog walker when you cancel, pay your nanny when you cancel, pay your hair stylist when you cancel…you get the idea. Buy gift cards from the restaurants, shops, and other small businesses in your neighborhood you won’t be visiting during enforced quarantine but you don’t want to have to shut down because of loss of profit when this is all over. The gig economy is rough and when this pandemic comes to an end a lot of people in our community will not be financially okay. If that’s not true for you – if your income is not at risk – help the people in your life who do not have that kind of security.
3. Run errands for your community IRL
If you’re going to the store, see if your roommates need anything. That way you don’t all go to the store and most of you can stay home. Make it known amongst your friends, even if you’re not ready to facilitate an entire mutual aid project in your neighborhood, that you’re the dude who is down to do the Target runs, the pharmacy pick-ups, the grocery refill.
4. Participate in online community building
Most of us feel scared and lonely right now. Honestly, some of us were feeling scared and lonely before this pandemic even hit. Online community building is real, and participating can make a total stranger’s day. If you see someone metaphorically yelling into the void on Twitter, reply kindly. If you have specific skills that you’re up for flexing that translate well online – offering book recommendations, helping people figure out what to cook with the ingredients in their pantry, leaving positive and affirming comments on every selfie you see – now is your time to shine!
5. Text your people to check in, or just because
I have been texting pals I never usually text lately, and it feels so nice! Yesterday a friend sent me this tweet, featuring a very floofy and very strong sheep, and it truly made my whole morning? When we’re being asked to avoid everyone we don’t live with and we feel sad and alone, a virtual check in can mean a lot. Even your happiest most extroverted friends could probably use some cheering up right now, or at least some commiserating. Plus, bonus – sending a text to someone you care about will make you feel just as happy as it will make them feel. Emojis for everyone!
Facilitate Mutual Aid in Your Neighborhood or City
So you want to meet your neighbors and create some community offline with the other people in your neighborhood or city so y’all can work together to support each other and make sure everyone, particularly the most vulnerable, survive and thrive? Hell yeah, you have come to the right section of this post.
Before diving into these resources I will say that even the smallest gesture for building connections in your close proximity is worth it. If it feels overwhelming to do anything major but you’re able to put up a note in your building’s mailroom with your email and/or apartment number and make clear what you are able to provide for your neighbors, that’s great! A friend of mine put a sign on their actual apartment door indicating they were available to help pick up groceries and to chat about more extensive bridge building. Every small action counts.
But if you want to build a bigger network, or what organizers in these documents refer to as a “neighborhood pod,” here are step by step instructions, put together by folks who are doing the work in their communities! I am so grateful to everyone who is skill-sharing and making these documents and processes public in this time.
Want to start your journey into the world of mutual aid with a simple flyer like we discussed above? Here’s a good template for that.
Want to build a full on support network in your neighborhood so y’all can rely on collective care? This is a thorough template created by folks in Medford/Somerville, MA so folks elsewhere can replicate what worked for them.
This entire guide from Neighbor Support Network NYC is an incredible resource, but I particularly liked their instructions about how to create a neighborhood phone tree because I hadn’t found that information anywhere else and it is very clearly conveyed and even illustrated with hand drawings! It’s worth it to note that this guide says you should make a phone tree before you do anything else because a phone tree is “the first building block to help make sure that folks stay connected no matter what, and receive the support they need in a timely way,” and also that as time goes on in a crisis it becomes more difficult to make a phone tree, so if this is on your agenda it’s best to get it done ASAP. Aim for this week.
Also from the folks organizing in Medford/Somerville, MA this is specifically how to take on being the neighborhood point person so you can make a neighborhood pod.
Need a Slack channel/neighborhood hub for your newly organized neighborhood pod during COVID-19 and beyond? Here’s how to make one! This guide was written by Sarah, based out of Brooklyn, NY.
The most vulnerable people in our communities will be self-isolating at home during the remainder of this pandemic; that is safest for them. If you’re going to include them in mutual aid efforts – which you absolutely should – you’re going to want to offer help in the safest ways possible. Here’s how.
At this point many college campuses have shut down for the semester, but both because some students are still on campus and because I’d like to have this guide serve as a useful tool in the future, not just for this specific crisis, I am including this absolutely incredible and thorough spreadsheet for organizing mutual aid for college students living on campus.
How To Connect With Other Autostraddle Readers In Your Area
We care about each other a LOT here at Autostraddle. We’re a small independent queer-owned business, we’re a family, we’re a community. And we definitely do not only exist online – we’ve had group meet-ups and A-Camp and individual readers making plans to meet each other for years and years – but usually we predominantly exist online.
However, while brainstorming about this post, I realized that there are likely people who read Autostraddle who are geographically close, who are looking for local community, and who might like to find each other at this very moment. That’s where the comment section comes in.
I think the most useful way to begin making little Autostraddle neighborhood pods, if you will, is for the self-appointed neighborhood point person (that could be you!) to comment on this post with their location and then other folks can reply to those comments if they are also in the same place. Do not reveal more information than is safe or comfortable – please don’t include your full address or anything like that! – but it will be helpful to include city and state if you can, just so folks can actually see if they’re nearby. And then perhaps someone can make a Google doc and link to it here and y’all can take the conversations to some slightly more private internet spaces and figure out the nitty gritty logistics.
Because our goal right now is to get as many people staying put as possible, it may not be helpful to find the other Autostraddle readers in your city at this exact moment – it still may make more logistical sense to practice mutual aid with your direct neighbors, with the people in your building, with your classmates, with your roommates. But if we view this crisis and our response to it as something to build on for the future, and if we aim to create lasting networks of trust, care, mutual aid, and dignity, there is no better time than the present to start making these connections.
We have to take care of each other. It is literally the only way to survive this world.
Reminders: This post is a living document. If you have a resource you think would be useful here, please either comment with the link or email me. If you made something that is linked in this post and you would like to be credited or you would like it removed, comment or email me. If you have additional ideas about how we can build community care and mutual aid, particularly amongst our Autostraddle community IRL, comment or email me! My email is vanessa [at] autostraddle [dot] com and I will see all comments. A huge thank you to everyone who created the resources shared in this post, and a huge thank you to everyone in our community currently practicing mutual aid and keeping the most marginalized among us cared for and safe. We are so lucky to have one another; gratitude for queer community, for mutual aid, for collective care, and for a better world that we will dream and organize into existence.
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