Many of the New Orleanians responding to the COVID-19 disaster by starting food relief programs don’t think of it as charity. They think of it as solidarity. Mutual aid.
Jasmine Araujo, founder of the group Southern Solidarity in New Orleans, explains mutual aid as “a reciprocal exchange.”
“[We] wish to highlight that our well-being is tied to that of most exploited person in the country," she said. "When those forced to the margins are provided with what they need, the nation as a whole prospers.”
Some groups that have stepped up, like Familias Unidas, were already doing this work. Others, like the NOLA Tree Project, were doing entirely different work. And others didn’t even exist before the coronavirus hit. They came together in the crisis to do what Araujo describes as “centering care and tenderness” to their neighbors.
New Orleans’ mutual aid efforts during the COVID-19 pandemic mirror what Rebecca Solnit describes in her book “A Paradise Built in Hell,” about how communities respond during disasters:
“An emergency is a separation from the familiar, a sudden emergence into a new atmosphere, one that often demands we ourselves rise to the occasion. … You can think of the current social order as something akin to artificial light: another kind of power that fails in disaster. In its place appears a reversion to improvised collaborative, cooperative, and local society.”
This work provides a glimpse into our collaborative, local society. New Orleanians are indeed rising to the occasion.