Mutual Aid Narrative

“The virus doesn’t discriminate,” and “we live in unprecedented times” have become common refrains in popular media. But they gloss over two pernicious realities of the pandemic: that the virus disproportionately affects communities of color, and that even before COVID-19 hit millions of people around the world were in crisis due to a lack of adequate healthcare, income, housing, and socioeconomic mobility. These realities are structural, woven into the fabric of the capitalistic societies that have systematically stolen mechanisms of basic human dignity from ordinary people in order to line the pockets of corporate entities and the politicians bought off by them.

In response to these deep fissions exposed by coronavirus, hundreds – if not thousands – of mutual aid groups have popped up worldwide. These groups have recognized that those in power are either unable or unwilling to ensure that the needs of ordinary people are met, and have stepped in to fill the gap left by decades of neoliberal austerity measures, attacks on social services, and the dismantling of workplace protections. Not only have mutual aid organizations taken on the responsibilities of direct service for those most vulnerable in this pandemic, they also understand the social and political power intrinsic to the grassroots networks they’re building — and are looking for ways to leverage it long after the worst of the virus is behind us.

Yet popular media coverage has since March tended to frame these solidarity-minded mutual aid groups as products of individual generosity and volunteerism. It largely paints mutual aid organizers as singular do-gooders – heroic but quaint in their local efforts – and masks the reality that these groups wouldn’t need to exist if those holding society’s reins prioritized the needs of ordinary people over profit.

The Science for the People Mutual Aid Working Group is working on an initiative to bridge the divide between these two narratives: that of structural solidarity put forth by mutual aid groups on the one hand, and that of individual charity put forth by popular media on the other. Our hope is that shining a spotlight on the former narrative will serve as one of multiple important catalysts for cohering mutual aid organizing into a long-lasting movement for socioeconomic stability for all.

In service of this goal, we are seeking volunteers to:

  1. Contribute to a “literature review” of mutual aid in popular media
  2. Aggregate missions, stories, contributions, and other framing mechanisms from the web presences of mutual aid groups
  3. Draft an article (or multiple) for publication on the Science for the People website, and (hopefully) other outlets
  4. Create multimedia supplements (video, audio, graphic design, etc.) for the article
  5. Draft a press release for the article and its supplements

We are also seeking collaborations from like-minded organizations. If you are interested in any of these points send us an email.

A post-COVID society that truly provides safety for the worldwide working class can’t just be one where a vaccine exists. It needs to be one where ordinary people live in certainty that their basic needs will be met no matter what.