Many people new to the environmental movement often seem confused about the intersectionality of it all.
Without going into a million-word monologue, suffice to say: the ways in which we neglect, isolate, and move away from our communities (but particularly those in marginalized groups) are directly related to the climate crisis.
Social justice and the environmental movement are inextricably linked. Building community resilience is an incredible way to fight for justice on all fronts.
So let’s talk about ways to support our community in times of crisis. Because we can’t worry about the existential dread of the climate crisis when we don’t know where our next meal is coming from.
What's in this post
Learn about mutual aid
Before we begin helping our communities – particularly in times of crisis – it’s important to understand the concept of mutual aid. By doing so, we’re able to avoid recreating the same oppressive systems that we want to fight against.
What is mutual aid?
Mutual aid is a term to describe people giving each other needed material support, trying to resist the control dynamics, hierarchies and system-affirming, oppressive arrangements of charity and social services. Mutual aid projects are a form of political participation in which people take responsibility for caring for one another and changing political conditions, not just through symbolic acts or putting pressure on their representatives in government, but by actually building new social relations that are more survivable.Big Door Brigade
This is important!!
We must avoid giving charity AKA help that makes us feel good or is contingent on what we believe to be right. This is exerting our privilege and re-affirming unequal systems.
For example, if you agree to help buy food for a family and they give you a list – buy them the large carton of eggs they ask for, even if you yourself are vegan.
Resources for learning more about mutual aid
Mutual aid is about meeting the actual self-identified needs of your community, not what you think is best. This isn’t always easy, but so necessary.
Here are some resources that may help guide you as you think about how to apply mutual aid in your community:
- The Big Door Brigade offers a lot of great resources for learning more about mutual aid.
- This Coronovirus Resource Kit through the lens of disability activism.*
- Pods and Pod Mapping. This activity from the Bay Area Transformative Justice Collective is a powerful way to think through your “pods” AKA people you have a relationship and trust in.
- Here’s another similar tool, “How to Neighborhood Pod”.
I’ve also thumbed through A Mutual-Aid Model for Social Work with Groups (affiliate) and it looks like an incredibly practical guide if you’d like to dive into the technical aspects of growing this movement in your community.
*We may be talking about COVID-19 now, but mutual aid should be happening every day – not just in this specific crisis.
Once you’ve listened to your community about what they need, figure out what useful skills you have! Skills are particularly great to share as they reinforce the idea that not all help has to look like money – a resource that can get scarce in crisis times.
Think you don’t have a skill? I disagree. Ways to support your community might look like:
- Mending/sewing. In times of crisis money may be too tight to grab a new pair of pants when your kid rips a hole in the knee or you get a tear in your work shirt. Help others reduce their ecological footprint by buying fewer clothes, save money, and pass on a perpetually useful skill!
- Cooking. If someone has to pick up extra shifts to cover lost income or an elderly neighbor is sick/afraid to venture outside, make a meal! No need to be a master chef, either. Scroll through Pinterest for a few simple freezer meals you can prepare and share with those in need!
- Couponing. Are you one of those people with a supernatural skill for finding good deals? Offer to go shopping for folks and getting them the most bang for their buck!
- Yoga/fitness. Are you a teacher? Just want to work out alongside some people without actually going to the gym? Stream a workout on Facebook or Facetime and take your mind off the crisis for a while.
- Caregiving. As schools shut down and families can’t take off time for work, offer to take some kiddos into your home during the day. This is a big ask, but our societal fracturing means many people live without family safety nets to help them out.
- Repair. Help out someone whose car is critical to get them to work. Help unclog a pipe or fix a leaky faucet. If you’ve got any sort of repair skill, offer it up in a time when people’s money will be going 100% towards the essentials like rent and food.
- A++ listener. If you have the ability to absorb other people’s worries with ease, just lend an ear! Whether by phone or over a coffee in the park, offer a sounding board (Just remember to take care of yourself.)
Many of us are pretty well-off and even if we feel like we don’t have a lot of money to get by, we probably have more to share than we know. Consider all the resources you have available to you and see the ways to support your community:
- Transport. Transportation is huge, particularly in times of crisis where public transit or the hours in which shops operate may be limited. If you have a car, offer up rides to people to get them where they need to go – doctor’s visits, trips to the food pantry, to work, etc. are more critical than ever in a crisis. (Yes, this involves carbon emissions, but for a good cause. Here are some ways to offset the guilt around commuting.)
- Extra food/medicine/supplies. If you’re one of those toilet paper, food, or cleaning supply hoarders… stop. Share your excess with those in need, either directly person-to-person or dropping them off at an organization that’s asked for them. By medicine, I mean pain relievers, tissues, etc. Please don’t be handing out prescriptions 🙂
- Extra space. Another big ask, but important: as people get displaced by crisis situations, increased homelessness exacerbates other issues already at play. Offer a space to come over and grab a meal or let someone crash in your extra room for a while.
- Information. Many people – whether through lack of access or information illiteracy – may not know exactly what’s going on or what they should do. Find ways to take confusing jargon and translate it in a way that makes sense to the people around you. This may also include doing the work of finding resources and compiling them into a single document. Extra huge bonus points if you take information readily available in English and translate it!
Perhaps one of the most helpful ways to support your community, but one that may be difficult in times of crisis. Find your own balance of being thoughtful with money while also sending it to people and organizations who need it most.
While it feels good to donate items to organizations, it’s often more helpful to give money as they have relationships with companies who get them items at a discounted rate!
- Food banks. Food banks always need our support, but particularly in times where people may be losing hours at work or kids can’t rely on school meals to get them through the day. Food banks are also uniquely prepared to get more bang for their buck, so $1 to them will go far further than it will at the grocery store.
- Women’s or homeless shelters. Remember: crises of any kind affect the most vulnerable populations first and worst. Crowded conditions among people who are likely uninsured means extra care must be taken. Money will almost certainly go to cleaning supplies, food, and general toiletries.
- Cover the costs of [X, Y, Z]. Crises bring up extra costs – offer up help to cover the unexpected. For example, I recently covered the cost of a two-week-long spring break camp for someone who was affected by the school closings. If you prefer your aid to be person-to-person, covering things like electric bills, gas, or grocery bills is a great option.
- Directly to people in need. Particularly helpful if you only have a few bucks to spare. $10 to an organization is nice; $10 to a person with no money in the bank means they can get through another day. I highly suggest following @urdoingreat on IG – they have a highlight with a list of BIPOC/queer folks who need immediate assistance.
Many people ask: what’s better, donating to an organization or a community member? I’d say – unhelpfully – it really depends.
To be honest, most community organizations can be more efficient with money. But there’s also a not-insignificant portion of the population who needs help but can’t (or won’t) reach out to organizations when they’re in need.
For example, most of the people I help don’t have a way to get to a food bank and – tbh – I’d rather give them a whole lot more fresh produce than just drive them to the food bank.
I personally prefer to work directly with community members just because I enjoy working on a person-to-person level, but there’s really no right answer.
Offer all of this freely to anyone who may find them useful.
When I have something to give, I usually start in a few places:
- Local Facebook groups or pages (we have a Greater Lafayette Mutual Aid group, may be worth starting?).
- On my personal social media accounts.
Other ways to coordinate mutual aid once you’ve found some people is by creating an offer spreadsheet (I can [drive, buy food, watch kids] [on Tuesdays, from 9-5]), an aid form (a more anonymous way to share what you need), and a Google Doc of all the useful resources available in your town if one doesn’t already exist.
Group texts to check in on and share information once you’ve found people to give to/get from can also be helpful.
But no matter where you do it, do it. Offer help.
Your offer is important. People might take you up on it, they might not; but you’re also modeling appropriate behavior. It may prompt others to offer or ask for help in ways they wouldn’t have thought of!
Mutual aid goes beyond times of crisis
And remember: the group texts, Facebook pages, and maps of support should not taper off just because an immediate crisis is over. We all need help, all the time, as the systems we live in are meant to isolate and oppress us.
These ways to support your community should be fostered long after an immediate crisis.
Commit to having an open conversation about how the community you’ve built during a crisis can stay open and effective on a day-to-day basis. Maybe your group keeps a check-up group text open or you have a standing offer to drive people to the food pantry one day of the week.
The systems we build to support each other are the only things that will help us move away from our current unhealthy, unjust systems.
We owe it to our community, our planet, and ourselves to keep them going.