Free goods and services distributed by mutual aid groups helped vulnerable New Yorkers survive 2020. As the pandemic eases, those organizations are more needed than ever.
New York is a crowded, loud, bustling city of 8.4 million people crammed into just over 300 square miles.
In the past that has meant jam-packed subway cars, endless lines for the latest museum exhibit, elbow-to-elbow seating in East Village hotspots, and constantly dodging tourists who have stopped slack-jawed to take it all in. As a born and raised New Yorker, I have witnessed this energy come to a frightening standstill only twice. Once, on Sept. 11, 2001, and the days after — and then again, just a little more than a year ago, when the perpetrator was the deadly novel coronavirus.
As hospitals became overwhelmed with the sick and deaths swept one neighborhood after another, our resolve as a collective was tested. But the heroism of the essential personnel that kept our city moving forward could not mask the contradictions that lurked beneath this social cohesion. It was not volunteerism, but an economic precariousness that forced predominately Black and Latinx residents into the role of frontline workers. As a result, their families and communities have been disproportionately affected by Covid-19, as they bore the disproportionate burden of keeping us safe.
Exacerbated by the twin problems of class and racial inequalities, their suffering exposed gaps in health care and economic resources, catalyzing millions of citizens to take matters into their own hands. In spite of the stressors of quarantining, or maybe because of it, people came together to forge ahead. Thousands of new mutual aid groups — in the form of block associations, neighborhood councils, or extensions of philanthropic organizations — developed alongside more seasoned organizations.
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