Community Organising for the Corona Crisis
How to start cooperatives and mutual aid projects
In times of crisis, communities can come together to support one another. This is a list of practical ideas and resources to help you do that by forming cooperatives and mutual aid projects.
If you’d like support in doing this work, join our regular zoom meetings:
C19 Community Response and Mutual Aid: Reflect, Learn and Support
Regular meetings to share our experiences, ideas and questions on how we are supporting and organising in our wider communities in this time of crisis. This session is open to anyone involved in corona mutual aid work. They are run by facilitators from the Here Comes Everyone local democracy alliance.
Public health reminder: “Prioritise safety: Community care is about preventing the spread of Covid-19 and providing support for the most vulnerable. Before engaging in a mutual aid project, please familiarise yourself with Queercare’s guidelines on how to support others without spreading the infection. Those who are self isolating can get involved in online or phone based organising.” (lovingly copied from https://covidmutualaid.org/ )
The first step to getting organised as a community is setting up communication channels. This could be a Facebook, Whatsapp or Telegram group.
A COVID-19 Mutual Aid group may already exist in your area (UK list here, USA here). Advice here on setting one up yourself. Advice on setting up online meetings here.
A good place to get started is the Community Organising Unofficial Guide here. Take the lead - become a street champion!
You might distribute mutual aid leaflets (template here) or notes locally. They could include a written URL link to a weekly community zoom meeting. This meeting can be used to connect the community, listen to one another’s needs, and establish how you might organise to support one another. Facilitation is a simple but powerful way to have these meetings in a way that is inclusive, efficient and democratic; where certain views don’t dominate and everyone gets a turn to speak.
Find out if there are existing cooperatives in your area, reach out and get involved. Some more information, inspiration and support can be found here.
Shopping coops. Many in self-isolation are unable to do their own shopping. Communities need to systematically find out who needs their shopping done, when, and who’s going to do it. A shared spreadsheet might help you organise.
Food waste coops. Head round to food businesses in your area and ask staff if they are throwing food away. In a time of empty shelves, this is especially unacceptable. Request that you can save this food. Find a way to redistribute the food so that it will get eaten - take it home yourself, cook a big meal and share it round if there’s lots; offer it to a homeless shelter.
Food banks and food sharing coops. Not everybody can afford to stockpile food and household goods; many people will be facing empty shelves at home. We can support one another through this.
- People with excess food can notify the community, as can people who are running low. When your neighbour runs out of pasta, but you have a full cupboard, why not head round and share it? They might just do the same for you, later down the road.
Or via food banks:
- Find out if there is a food bank near you. They will very likely be struggling with both volunteers and donations - your support could really make a difference. If there isn’t, this is a perfect time to set one up!
Or digitally, using foodsharing apps like OLIO (corona guidelines on main page) and TooGoodToGo.
Community kitchens. Cooking and delivering meals for the community.
Community Gardening and Veg Planting. We’re feeling the strain on our food system - what better time to get outside and plant some veg? If you’d like to plant veg on your land, why not shout out to your community to help? Or tell your community that you’d love to get outside and planting, and would be happy to come round and help in somebody else’s garden?
You could reach out to your council and request they provide more land for community food growing. Many self-isolated elderly people will have allotments that they now cannot tend. It’s worth asking around to find out who this is, and offering to maintain their veg patch - perhaps in return for some sweet summer carrots!
Seed Swaps are as simple as exchanging seeds so that everyone gets a good spread of different vegetables to grow!
Crowdfunding allows communities to come together to fund projects, and to invite donations from all around the world.
Exercise and Health
Prescription collecting. People in self-isolation can’t access the medications they need, and the community can support by purchasing and delivering it to them. You can ask in your mutual aid leaflets, whatsapp or facebook groups if anybody needs help with this. You can also go directly to your nearest pharmacy and ask if there are any prescriptions that need delivering to self-isolated people.
Exercise meetups. Self-isolation doesn’t mean you need to be immobile. It’s a great chance to get fit! Get outside for a run or bike ride. You could do this together (keeping a safe distance). If you want to stay inside, you could do a zoom call.
Group Meditation. It’s important that we’re staying calm, grounded and present in these trying times. Why not set up a daily meditation call and practice together? Someone in the group might have confidence and/or experience to run a meditation; otherwise you could listen to a guided session together. It might be nice to share how you’re feeling as the session closes.
Resource sharing cooperatives
Sharing coops. Members of the community post when they have either a need or resource. And that could be books, DVDs, tools, bikes, electronics… whatever it is, communities can get much better at sharing. Particularly helpful when the shops are closed!
Skill sharing. Many of us have skills to offer - foreign languages, playing instruments, knitting, yoga, meditation… whatever it is, we can come together to teach one another how to do enjoyable and beautiful things. In a time of self-isolation, you might do this via zoom calls.
Book clubs / reading groups and community education projects. You could set up a weekly online call to share views, learnings and feelings about a particular book or article!
Online platforms. Freecycle, craigslist, gumtree, and facebook marketplace are all great websites for rapid local resource sharing.
Free shops. Leave items outside on a table with a “Free - Take Me!” sign. Be sure to disinfect items beforehand!
Home manufacturing. Why not try upcycling your trash into useful items? Or perhaps someone in your community has a 3D printer. When someone needs a basic item - a bottle opener, a keyring, a child’s toy - why not print it?
Homeless charities. The homeless are particularly vulnerable in times of pandemic and food crisis. The best way to help them is to volunteer and support existing homeless charities. Google ‘homeless shelters in my area’ or go via national charities such as Crisis.
Volunteering with the NHS. The NHS is approaching breaking point. Volunteer here.
Money and Labour
Timebanking Schemes /Local exchange trading systems are systems for community exchange and/or volunteering. Timebanking measures trades with hours, LETS are more flexible. Neighbours do things like lawnmowing, shopping, rideshare, babysitting, decorating. You could learn/teach skills like cooking, languages or playing a musical instrument. You can set one up with a simple shared spreadsheet.
Free online platforms like this can be requested here.
Some more advice here.
Income and Local Businesses. Are there are any cooperative business plans that would respond to the needs of your community in this time? This is a perfect time to come together to start a worker’s coop.
Business networks. We are facing recession which means a shortage of money & jobs. If a group can still make and consume useful stuff, they don’t need money but can do multilateral exchange (barter). Free business barter platforms from http://opencredit.network
Starting a local currency provides another way to detach local trade from the global financial system. More info here.
More at the Mutual Aid Economy section of the CoronavirusTechHandbook
Emotional Support and Social Connection
Active Listening and Authentic Relating. Set up a regular (daily?) zoom call for your community to check-in with their thoughts, feelings, ideas and emotions. One person speaks at a time; everyone gets as long as they like without anyone else commenting, interrupting or replying. Everyone else listens. Once you’ve been around everyone, you can do another round or transition to general discussion.
Outdoor walks and gatherings. We can still come together at a safe distance outside. Why not organise a walk through your local park or nature area, to get everyone outside together? In order to talk, you could gather in a wide-spaced circle, and do a go-around (each person takes their turn to speak) of how everyone is doing in this unusual.
Land and Regeneration
Volunteer at your nearest ecovillage or community farm. https://www.diggersanddreamers.org.uk
Planting trees, flowers and seeds. Our lands are in desperate need of regeneration. We can come together to
Cleaning up. Why not get together to clean your local parks, forests, fields of litter and trash?
Working with your Council
Contact your council to ask what they are doing to support local mutual aid efforts. If you know about local mutual aid projects, tell your council what’s happening so they can consider supporting it. Councils have resources (like money!) that can be mobilised to support communities through this crisis - check out the example of Newmarket, UK, here.
Local procurement. Pressuring your council to supporting local businesses and cooperatives in place of multinational corporations. Known as the ‘Preston model’.
FixMyStreet.com. Sends hyper-local problems and issues directly to your council.
Mapping those in need. See methods here.
Participation and consultation. You might suggest/request that your council consult their communities on their needs via zoom meetings. It’s also a chance to push for online community engagement and participation tools. This might involve digital voting, polling, surveys, deliberation around council decisions. Decidim.org is an example platform.
Corona Mutual Aid groups are popping up all over the country. Many are governed in a hierarchical and exclusive way. They are not seeking to actively empower, engage and listen to every single member of the community who gets involved. It doesn’t have to be this way! We can transform these groups - and our communities by bringing facilitated meetings, regenerative culture practices (such as check-ins and active listening), decentralised organising (working groups, roles), digital working (zoom calls) and democratic sessions (people’s assemblies).
Networking with other cooperatives
Midcounties, the largest regional co-operative in the UK, has a new community strategy in place with 20 regional community groups providing support and bringing colleagues and members together to identify relevant opportunities in their communities, and collectively taking action to make a difference.
So far 9,000 colleague-volunteering hours have been completed and over 1,000 young people have engaged in activities ranging from Fairtrade workshops to learning about employability skills. Members, colleagues and customers have donated over 24,000 products to local food banks, providing meals for over 450 families. Some 40 members are currently involved in supporting regional community projects, ranging from input on local Steering Groups to community events.
Arts, Culture and Entertainment
Community publications. You could launch a community newspaper / gazette / magazine, which anyone can contribute to. A great way to share, stay connected and entertained for people in self-isolation. This could have a specific focus, for example by bringing together everyone in the area who writes prose and poetry into a community literary publication. Get creative!
Zoom choirs. Part-time jazz and blues singer Suzanne Noble has formed a Facebook group for musicians whose gigs have been cancelled, and Corona Concerts gained more than 500 members in its first day.
Coronatechhandbook.com is an incredible, internationally crowdsourced bank of resources.
Nextdoor is an app purpose built for communities.
Digital skill sharing. Perhaps someone in your community needs help setting up a website, marketplace, or even just a social media account? If you have the skills, you can help!
Rent strikes. Article about rent strikes
Adapting your actions to public health in crises.
Campaigning at the National Level.
Universal Basic Income campaigns have been launched to support financially vulnerable businesses and individuals in these times of crisis.
Mutual Aid Training. OrganizingTogether is a development collective of technical experts in organizational management. We have created a living library of mutual aid. You can also request your own space to train your staff, volunteers, and members just email email@example.com