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Special Edition - July 31, 2020

We hope you’ve all been taking care of yourselves and each other. Abolition Action has been busy in the nine weeks since the start of the NYC uprisings in response to George Floyd’s murder. Much of the work we’ve been up to during this time has been in service of each other, functioning as an affinity group in the resistance and learning-by-doing the abolitionist work of keeping each other safe. We’ve also brought our work to larger audiences in new ways, and are continuing to determine our role as a collective in this long, long fight. 

We’re glad to be back in your inbox, though, with a culminating issue in our mutual aid series. You can expect more Jailbreak! content sooner rather than later, but we’re adjusting our form a bit. Starting with our next issue, instead of a compilation of both events and longer-form writing, in the future, we’ll be centering articles, interviews, creative writing, and voices from the inside of jails and prisons for Jailbreak! proper. As always, submit your ideas for content here.  We’ll have an additional, separate newsletter for events and announcements.

Hinde, she/her, 28, Astoria

Hinde is doing mutual aid work in Astoria and organizes with Emerge.

This interview has been edited and condensed. 

So, tell me about your organizing and the mutual aid you’re doing. How did you get to this project?
 

Sure. In the middle of March, when the executive order for New York State was first announced, I got extremely depressed and I was extremely worried about everybody and the state of the world. Then I heard about mutualaid.nyc and I reached out to them to find out what they were doing in Queens. I quickly learned that there wasn’t a lot going on in Queens, but that we were receiving a ton of requests from people living in Queens who needed food and other items. I basically just reached out to all the folks in Queens DSA to find out if anyone was interested in helping to deliver groceries, helping to buy groceries … that’s how this all started.
 

How are you defining mutual aid for yourself?

 

The way I look at mutual aid, or a mutual aid network, is as a structure or collective of people working to create an infrastructure of collective care and support in a community—one where ordinary people are the decision makers. It’s something that exists outside of the state and outside of any kind of nonprofit or private entity. It doesn’t have any kind of hierarchy—it’s just collective decision-making that allows us to do this. I have a long term vision of what this project will eventually turn into, but right now, in terms of building it up, a lot of it’s one way and a lot of it’s mutual based on the needs of the community. I see this as a long-term, years-long project.

Along the lines of it being a long-term project - how does it relate to other organizing work that you’re doing or that you want to see happen?

  

From the beginning I reached out to a lot of folks that I know are doing important work in abolition, including Abolition Action, and housing, immigration justice, getting folks out of detention centers—I think all that work is already within the scope of what I call mutual aid, because it is meeting people’s direct material needs right now. Or, at the very least, it can be defined as solidarity work. Long-term, I want to see whatever mutual aid networks that provide food for people right now to be connected with work in finding land for people to use, or empty homes for people to live in, or getting people out of jail and finding them places to live and to work, and all of that. I want to connect all the work together. It can take years.

 

Yeah, it can take years, but I guess we’re in it for the long hall. So, are there any challenges that you’re facing as you’ve been working on mutual aid in the past few months?

 

Honestly… can I be super honest, and you can scratch this if you want to?

 

Yeah, be super honest.

 

Honestly, most of the challenges have been internally with comrades in DSA. Outside of DSA we faced very few challenges other than funding, which is always a constant challenge for any kind of grassroots organizing. The bulk of the challenges have been trying to work internally with DSA comrades to actualize these plans. We’ve kind of just been left to do things on our own, with very little support and a lot of antagonism from others. But, with people we’re working with outside of DSA and in other mutual aid networks, it’s actually been really beautiful to see how easily we’re able to come together and work together and to share our volunteer bases. Like, share the bulk food we’ve been able to buy and secure, and talk about strategy and systems. That has been so organic and free-flowing in terms of sharing and solidarity, it’s been amazing.
 

Getting a little deeper into the struggle being with your own people, with the people you’re supposedly in a closer organizing relationship with—do you think there are things you can take forward from this that can be productive? Has there been productive conflict in the DSA or is it moving that way?

 

I think I’m at the point right now where it’s productive because I’m learning more about the people that I’m working alongside, and understanding more about them makes me better able to meet them where they’re at. What I’m finding is that a lot of people that we organize with in DSA have very hierarchical worldviews, and that they do see inherent need and importance for there to be some kind of priority in decision-making. I personally think the best work is done in flat structures, so understanding that a lot of people do not see that the same way allows me to kind of take a step back and assess the way that I come to conversations with them to meet them where they’re at.

 

What do you see on the horizon within DSA or other groups you’re working with? What are we creating and what are we going to run into?

 

Honestly, I feel like we’re in the middle of a revolution right now. The revolution doesn’t always look like a giant rally and folks fucking shit up in the street and lighting shit on fire. I think the revolution looks like folks who never considered helping their neighbor coming to us and saying hey I wanna deliver groceries hey I wanna do this. It is truly a revolutionary act for someone to suddenly see the world differently and change their behavior accordingly. A lot of people engaging with what we’re calling mutual aid networks across New York have never organized anything their entire lives, and this is their first exposure. I think it’s a radicalizing act and moment. I think it presents an opportunity for us to restructure a lot of our ways of thinking and our organizations, including DSA, at least in New York City. So, on the horizon I see a lot of change in the way that we structure ourselves and the way we relate to each other, both internally and externally.
That’s really great. Have there been any great lessons learned? Just things you’re taking away to help in organizing or other areas of life?
I think my biggest takeaway is that anything is possible, good or bad, and the only constant is change. There’s something really terrifying about that, but also really beautiful. I don’t think, as organizers, we ever expected a moment in our lifetimes where we could see this amount of mass change. The reason for it is extremely horrible, right? But I think we’re better prepared as organizers to face these problems now than perhaps we were during Sandy, or during Occupy Wall Street, or during 9/11… all of those moments of crisis presented opportunities that ended up being taken advantage of by the right rather than the left. In this moment, I think the left has a stronger foundation and position to shift power for the community, and that’s really exciting.
Yeah, that’s really hopeful. I have two final questions that I ask everyone. The first one is: who do you learn from? Who influences you?
Honestly, the other Black and brown women in my life have been my guiding star, especially because in these really dark moments I’ve been kind of oscillating between extremely depressed and hopeful. The people who help me most to stay in more of a hopeful state have been other femme organizers and other Black and brown women whose traumas inspire them to organize, just like mine do. You know?
Yeah, for sure. Finally, do you have a north star or any guiding principles?
This is going to sound really corny, but love. I think what drives me to do pretty much anything is that I want to see a world with a lot more love in it, and that’s my north star. It’s like, how do I get to a place where I have more love in my life, other people have more love in their lives, our community feels more love… whatever that looks like for each of us, that’s my goal.

Abolition: How We Keep Us Safe

In spring and summer 2020 we worked with various contributors to collect, create and contextualize tools for strengthening relationships with our neighbors and local friends, meeting each other’s needs, and responding to crises without cops. This work culminated in a zine, titled Abolition: How We Keep Us Safe, available here. The work of this zine is on-going and ever-growing. We’ll also be distributing hard copies today (7/31/20) starting at 6pm in the Long Meadow at Prospect Park. Come with masks and spend some time with us! Stay tuned for info about other distribution spots if you can't stop by later today.

Working with the tools in the zine, we’ll be partnering with Mutual Aid NYC and a variety of other knowledgeable groups to host and facilitate virtual meetings with interactive practice zones to try out and build skills (such as: eviction defense, mental health crisis response, de-escalation, self-defense, etc). You can join the calls every Wednesday 6-7:30 PM, starting August 5th (ideally with a group of local friends or neighbors) via this link, or this dial-in number (for NY-based participants--others are in the event description on our calendar): 1-646-558-8656

 

Sasha, she/her, 30, Bed-Stuy

Sasha does operations with Corona Courier. 

This interview has been edited and condensed. 

 

How did you get involved with the Corona Couriers, or mutual aid in general? Is this something that has been happening just right now for you, or have you been involved with mutual aid beyond that?
 

I’ve never been involved in mutual aid to the capacity I have been currently. I learned about Corona Couriers through Twitter. I was thinking about what I could do with my bicycle when the coronavirus pandemic was picking up and lockdown really started, and I saw Liz Baldwin tweet about Corona Couriers. It started as an email chain, then I kinda suggested Slack, and it turned into almost 500 volunteers. Not all active, I will say—a lot of people get overwhelmed and drop out, which is normal—but still, a lot of people consider at least doing a delivery for someone. In terms of mutual aid itself, I’ve never done it at this capacity; this is a lot of operational, logistical work that I’ve never really done before. I do believe in abolition, so I’ve been involved in some of the phone zaps - I follow organizers on Twitter, so I’ll call people or I’ll donate money, that’s kind of how I’ve been involved before.
 

You mentioned abolition and how you’re already plugged into organizers on Twitter. I’ve seen a lot of people make this segue from abolitionist Twitter into mutual aid. How do you see mutual aid relating to your politics in general?

 

I think they’re very well aligned in terms of how I grew up and what I’ve always kind of believed in. I grew up going to Quaker school, so I was taught at a young age about service and community and all this stuff that mutual aid develops further. I’m also very spiritual, and I very much recognize that people can only do what they are capable of, and everyone comes to the table with different skills, different abilities, different desires regarding how they want to contribute … so mutual aid really fell into alignment with those things that I’ve been thinking about. Everyone wants to do something and contribute in some way, so it made a lot of sense. It was like, oh, these are  things I already believe. I never really had heard the term mutual aid until a few months ago, before the pandemic—but obviously once the pandemic started it got really big. So that’s how it ended up aligning in that way, and with my spiritual beliefs it really felt accurate and like it mirrored what I was feeling.
What is mutual aid? How would you define it? I’m not trying to put you on the spot and tell you to give me the one definition that’s right. I’ve heard different things from different people, and something that I see happening is groups working through the question of “Are we doing charity, or are we doing mutual aid? What really defines it as mutual aid, and even if we’re not meeting our definition, how can we move towards it?”  So have you found a conception of mutual aid?

I would say that Corona Couriers has definitely been in that same situation that other people are describing. In an emergency situation, I think that happens and is normal, especially when you’re a brand new organization that’s scrambling to do as much as possible. I definitely think there needs to be more sharing of resources, and for me that’s what I think of when I think of mutual aid. Sure, not everybody can provide free food, but people have other skills that they can help teach me and teach the community. Just within the Corona Courier Slack, I see a lot of knowledge sharing showing up, about bike repair, bike setups - people are sharing that knowledge, and it’d be cool to grow that outside of just the Slack group, but then you’d have to consider the accessibility of that knowledge. So mutual aid is providing those channels for communicating within all the communities you’re interacting with. You know - not everybody has good internet, so how do we solve for that? Things like that.

The thing I think about most with mutual aid is that there is interdependence, not just dependence. There should be this individuality and autonomy aspect to it. Community care is super helpful, but everyone has the ability to contribute in some way, and to make sure that knowledge sharing and caring is spread beyond just us serving people in New York City.

 

It’s been real exhausting work. It’s rewarding, but there are challenges. What kind of things have been challenging you right now?

 

I think the biggest challenge is consistency. This pandemic is affecting everyone, and everyone has their own personal lives that get exacerbated by the pandemic. Some weeks there’s a lot of people calling us and not a lot of people able to take those calls, so that’s a challenge for a lot of people in Corona Couriers. What our limitations are and what our abilities are is continually something that we have to figure out. The lack of time, too, that comes with the urgency of food scarcity—a lot of people are calling us saying we don’t have food, and you want to help them right away, but then we don’t have the time to set up the delivery and things like that—so time and then availability are the two big challenges for everyone, both in Corona Couriers and outside Corona Couriers.

  

Have there been any things you’ve learned as you’ve been doing this?

 

Yeah. The number one thing really has been learning to reevaluate quickly and continue to be humble about things. I really appreciate when people critique the work, honestly; it causes me to reflect and learn and things like that. That’s been super rewarding, and a good experience. Also just learning how we can connect in different ways has been really, really wonderful. I’ve never really done this before—I’ve always been on the outskirts of it, not in the middle of it—so being connected to all these people has been super rewarding, and I just learn a lot about everyone’s needs and how great community is, honestly. The cyclist community is great! I’ve never been involved before and I’m like, cyclists are awesome!

   

Yeah, that’s also been a joy here. As much as I feel, some days, really overwhelmed—I really get the feeling that I did it to myself! I signed up to make my life during a pandemic more stressful!—but what’s really great is that I have met so many people I didn’t know before, and then all of their networks that I didn’t know about are now open to me as sites of imagination for work and collaboration, just sharing ideas. That’s been really great for me. Even just this, Corona Couriers, is for me, wow—what a connection to have made.
So what are you hoping? What are your hopes on the horizon? For this mutual aid work, for the group, for the world, any of that.

 

I’m thinking a lot of people are really motivated with understanding for how we can tap in as a distribution resource for other communities in different ways. Things like sustainable food distribution are really interesting to me, and just changing how food is distributed is huge. I think everyone’s highly motivated by that. In capitalist society, who gets the food, right?
When I look at community building and being part of this huge mutual aid network that has just popped up with long-time organizers, and being able to help support each other—this is very optimistic, but I’d love to use this to create a new system, and people could just opt out of old systems and opt in to new system, and I think that’d be so cool. But who knows how long that’ll take? That’s my hopeful, optimistic desire. I want everyone to continue to succeed, to continue to do what they can when they can, to grow, to start including more people, to start including and organizing more communities. And then, for myself, just to keep doing the work in some form. Even if people start losing interest in Corona Couriers and we lose that network, I have all these new connections and people that I know and can continue to help with the knowledge that I know and have learned from other people. I think that’s the most exciting thing.

 

Who do you learn from? Who influences you?

I’m a Gemini, so a lot of people! One of my closest friends is a writer. They’re Ecuadorian, they’ve lived in Jackson Heights their entire life— their name’s Bonnie Amor—and I think they just teach me a lot, because they talk about their disability and chronic illness and I feel like I learn so much from just having that really personal relationship with them. And they’ve taught me so many things. Someone I don’t have a personal connection to is Mariame Kaba, who I really appreciate the viewpoints of all the time. I learn so much about different things on Twitter and things like that.

Do you have a north star? A guiding principle? 

 

I was gonna say my tattoo is the north star. So that’s my guiding principle! But no—I guess my guiding principle is always to just keep learning, to keep hearing new perspectives. Again, Gemini, so to keep adapting and learning and changing. I guess my guiding principle is just astrology and my Gemini self!

Political Education Calls
Since the late spring, we’ve also been hosting bi-weekly political education calls. Coming up at 8 pm EST on Monday, August 3, we’ll be hosting a conversation and virtual workshop with Perfect City, a 20-year art and activism working group on NYC's Lower East Side, discussing abolitionist urbanism and delving a bit deeper into the question of what it means to build the world we need. Be on the look-out for links to relevant readings and call info.
 

About Us

Artwork in this edition by Yuri K
Interviews conducted by Cheryl R

You can reach us or request to join our organizing listserv here, visit our website, and submit events and article/art pitches for future issues here


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