It’s been hard to keep track of time since COVID-19 entered our radars, at different times, as a pandemic. Time is multiplying and extending and shortening all at once. It’s eclipsed by longer naps, shortened by the anxiety of waiting to hear from loved ones, and multiplied in the management of impossible expectations. Since a few weeks ago, most of what characterized NYC has been shut down. You can hear birds chirping out of your window. Businesses have started foregoing the posting of COVID-related reasons for closing their doors.
There’s also been a lot of flourishing–of grocery deliveries, of information networks, of apartment phone trees, of DIY mask making, etc. What had seemed the glacially-moving ship of the city has made a wide turn to “mutual aid,” offering new ways and routes by which to live together, separately. New Facebook pages, new neighborhood pods and relationships have cropped up. Many of us are inundated with resources that are entirely new to us. And amidst what had been the seemingly complete absorption of the electoral, even national news outlets have started discussing mutual aid.
But in the rush of the new and the infrastructures that thrive off feeling the new and the pressures of time, we risk repeating the widespread tendency of leftist and radical organizers to forget. Namely, the forgetting of those who have built, created, and renovated mutual aid networks running when the rest of us were working elsewhere. In the rush to deal with the new, we risk repeating a kind of unknowing–of “producing” knowledge in a way that actively erases where it has come from and what it has survived. Let’s work to make reference to the places where these practices come from. And when we don’t know, let’s take the time to understand from where we’ve received them.
Towards that end, we’re interested in generating an ongoing and conversational “archive” of mutual aid practices and projects that have been running some time, or projects that laid the foundation for things we’re picking up again today–in NYC or elsewhere. How can we do a better job talking about and building projects now by understanding the concrete needs and locations that contextualized former mutual aid projects? What are the already existing projects that we should be joining? As we get to know our neighbors and neighborhoods more intimately than ever before, let’s also work to build knowledge of those who did the work before us to create the forms of living that are helping us to survive today.
If you’ve got examples that would be useful to cover, please send us a message on our FB page or Tweet at us @macc_nyc
VANDU is a group of users and former users who work to improve the lives of people who use drugs through user-based peer support and education. VANDU is committed to increasing the capacity of people who use drugs to live healthy, productive lives. VANDU is also committed to ensuring that drug users have a real voice in their community and in the creation of programs and policies designed to serve them.
One of the reasons that VANDU seems like a great project for comparison is because of its location and population. Much like NYC, it’s witnessed massive and violent gentrification that has led to a skyrocketing unsheltered population. In addition, it’s a city with a large population of drug users. Amidst much of the language of “able bodied” and “healthy” people peppering volunteer projects right now, the composition of VANDU serves as an amazing reminder of the knowledge base and survival skills that people pushed outside of such rhetoric possess.
The VANDU project is run and decisions are made entirely by people who are affected by its primary issue: the health and well-being of drug users. The mutuality of this project means that there are no distinctions between those involved in the organization and the drug users they “serve.” By ending that distinction, VANDU rejects an ableist mentality that would suggest that there are people with needs and people without them. While drug use is often the most stigmatized indication of need or dependency, VANDU’s mutual aid model puts drug use back into the more general social and human fact of need and dependency as it takes many different forms. This organizational model also privileges the knowledge that drug users have based on their own experiences, such that members of that community, and not “experts” outside of it, are the most knowledgeable source of program and policy design.
Some useful mutual aid principles we want to share from VANDU:
“If researchers want to work with us they should really become allies of our movement.” [In other words, all knowledge and/or theory should come from participation and allyship.]
Emphasizing transparency so that people know exactly how they can be involved, how to access any benefits of membership, how to move into leadership positions, and how to exercise their democratic rights as members.
People who use drugs are the ones to define the participation of people who do not use drugs in the organization. [In other words, those most affected by, but also those most experienced with, the problems addressed by the organization decide how others can best work with them.)
“Well, we need to do something, and we should probably just start taking over these vacant homes.” (Benito Flores)
Impacted by the housing crisis, and feeling even more urgency in the wake of the Coronavirus pandemic, we are reclaiming vacant houses owned by the state to fight for housing as a human right. We the Reclaimers are calling on the city and state to immediately use all vacant properties to house people. We need all levels of government to make a massive investment in public and social housing so that everyone has a home during this housing and public health crisis.
As public health organizations are insisting on social distancing as one of the most powerful tools to manage the Coronavirus pandemic, there has been little to no acknowledgement that this tactic is currently impossible due to pre-existing housing needs. In a city like NYC, this is painfully obvious. In response to a need that no city or state government has yet taken seriously as a part of COVID-19, the Reclaiming Our Homes group launched a housing occupation in Los Angeles in early March.
Reclaiming Our Homes was inspired by the previous housing occupation by the Moms 4 Housing group in Oakland, a group which successfully occupied a residence for two months and ultimately the right to keep it. The continuity between the Los Angeles and Oakland occupations shows that the crisis facing us today is not natural, but is part of the overlapping structure of the protection of private property at all costs. The occupations echo back to the wave of groups across the U.S. that began strategically occupying foreclosed homes in the wake of the 2008 crisis/ wealth transfer. Looking back to, and actively citing, the struggles that make it possible for us to work outside of capitalist exchange and state-controlled resources will be crucial to our ability to build long-lasting networks out of this crisis.
Some useful mutual aid principles we want to share from Reclaiming Our Homes: Staying at home and social distancing will only truly be possible after strategic collective action is taken to house everyone Much of what is happening with the Coronavirus is not new–thus, we need to continue to rely on previous organizing strategies and tactics where possible.
Turning out small, socially distanced groups to support these occupations at some point will be necessary, because they need visible support.
The demands for self-isolation open up an opportunity to call for and defend housing occupations in our neighborhoods: “The rapid spread of coronavirus kicked all their work into high gear.”
More info: https://www.dissentmagazine.org/online_articles/reclaim-our-homes
For the past couple years the term ‘epidemic’ has been applied to the drastic uptick in opioid use across the country. The infestation jargon may signify a motion away from blame-based conceptions of drug use - imagining dependency as something done upon a person, rather than brought about by defect or criminality - but treatment still tends towards moralization and othering. One of the most progressive efforts against this are needle exchanges, which provide free, unused needles, as well as other services like acupuncture, therapy, medicaid assistance and referral to detox clinics. The effect is a massive reduction in Hepatitis C and HIV transmission.
As E.M. O’Brien outlines in Commune Magazine, this methodology finds its root in the actions of the Young Lords in the late 1960’s and 70’s. They recognized that contemporaneous European sociast movements harbored hostility towards the underclass, considering them the unproductive proletariat. “If the dignity of work is the basis of socialism, junkies unable to maintain stable employment have no place in the revolutionary project.” Instead, they recruited “young men of color hustling on the streets of urban America,” looking to create a revolutionary movement that alleviated the chaotic cycle of working-class drug use. In 1970, the Young Lords took over a wing of Lincoln Hospital in the Bronx, turning it into a detox unit that lasted until 1978, when it was raided by police. This project was an important model of communal healing; as people who had personally encountered and engaged in drug use, the Young Lords were well-equipped to provide a destigmatized place to seek care.
Similarly, many people who work needle exchanges are current or former users of intravenous drugs. This is essential: absent is hierarchical doctor-patient dynamic, which treats the user as a problem to be solved. Present Instead is the practice of harm reduction, “an alternative ethical framework that allow[s] us to stop constantly judging others — and ourselves — according to the rigid criteria of political righteousness.” Rather than stigmatise the user, these mutuality-based efforts look to ameliorate their situation, informed by a joint understanding of the traumas that both cause and stem from drug dependence.
Some useful mutual aid principals to take away from Junkie Communism, and the aforementioned Young Lords movement and present-day needle exchanges:
Revolutionary projects should not be “based on the dignity of work, but on the unconditional value of our lives.” Rigid criteria surrounding value only perpetuates hierarchy.
Harm reduction is a useful framework in reconceptualizing our approach to helping others.
Creating parallel models of care undermine the status quo of those sanctioned by the state.
More info: https://communemag.com/junkie-communism/
The Metropolitan Anarchist Coordinating Council sends greetings and respect to the Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chiefs and matriarchs. MACC (situated in Lenapehoking, homeland of the Lenape people) stands in solidarity with the Wet’suwet’en people as they defend their land, water and culture from violent invasion by the colonial Canadian government and the companies Chevron, Transcanada and Enbridge.
Neither the Canadian state nor the capitalist interests behind the Coastal GasLink fracked gas pipeline have any respect for the sovereignty of Indigenous peoples. The pipeline project is an unambiguous continuation of centuries of colonial violence. The Wet’suwet’en people have never ceded land to the Canadian government. Any attempt by federal or provincial governments to police the Wet’suwet’en people is an attempt to claim territory without consent, and colonize the people who live there.
The Wet’suwet’en people have a moral and cultural imperative to defend and care for their territory. This imperative exists and persists outside of laws, treaties and other forms of colonial coercion. MACC celebrates the powerful resistance of the Wet’suwet’en people, who defend their territory against an environmentally disastrous fossil fuel pipeline and in doing so, defend the entire planet.
New York, NY – Activists affiliated with the Metropolitan Anarchist Coordinating Council (MACC) will join members of New Sanctuary Coalition, Occupy ICE NYC (Foley Sq.), and NYC Shut It Down to protest Mayor Bill DeBlasio’s keynote speech at this year’s National Homeland Security Conference Tuesday morning. Following the wave of #OccupyICE protests around the country, activists are increasingly targeting not only ICE facilities, but the political and economic relationships that facilitate the ever-more authoritarian work of immigration enforcement, deportation and detention. Organizers with MACC note that #AbolishICE actions are especially important in New York City, which has proven to be a “Sanctuary City” in name only. “It’s telling how little the ‘Sanctuary’ designation means that that the Mayor of the nation’s most ardent Sanctuary City doesn’t see a contradiction in delivering the keynote address to a National Homeland Security Conference,” said Marisa Holmes of MACC.
New York City is home to an estimated 500,000 undocumented residents and, despite Sanctuary status, hosts numerous ICE facilities that oversaw over 2,000 deportations in 2017. While De Blasio and the city administration pretend to defend immigrants and stand against ICE, they simultaneously advocate for “broken windows” policing. “Broken windows” policies have been shown to disproportionately affect communities of color and the poor, funneling these communities into the criminal justice system and, through data sharing from NYPD to the FBI to ICE, putting them at risk for arrest, detention, and deportation by ICE.
#AbolishICE demonstration protesting DHS/ICE/CBP border regimes and NYC’s “Sanctuary City” administration acting in complicity with DHS/ICE
Sheraton Times Square, 811 7th Avenue 53rd St., New York, NY, 10019
Tuesday, July 10th, 9AM
While the national movement to Abolish ICE has emphasized a need for greater protections for immigrants in local municipalities and an end to policies like family separation at the border (which remains unresolved), MACC activists trace their lineage to “alterglobalization” protests, saying that the issue demands much broader political change. “The Department of Homeland Security conference is an abhorrent celebration of border militarization and mass-surveillance, ultimately used to target immigrants for state violence,” said Matthew Whitley, an organizer with MACC. “When we say Abolish ICE, however, it’s not a call to replace it with a slightly less cruel and inhumane bureaucracy.” Whitley continued, “This is just one part of a decades long international struggle for freedom of movement that is claiming lives daily. Until we have just and egalitarian economic and political systems, borders will continue to reflect our “free trade” world, designed quite intentionally to globalize the rich and localize the poor. The result is further racism and xenophobia, but the causes are political and economic institutions that harden inequalities and disenfranchise the struggling, the desperate and the working class.”
MACC and its co-sponsoring partners intend to continue Abolish ICE actions in the run-up to the July 27th National Day of Action.
Email [email protected] for inquiries