Mutual aid is not a new concept, which has long flourished in marginalized communities. But a year of pandemic-induced crises has caused these groups to react quickly: They know the first place people will turn in a crisis is the internet.
Houston-based 24-year-old student Mellissa Martinez was deprived of electricity or internet access for 72 hours. But during Wi-Fi uptime surges, she was able to tinker with the TX support directory, which lists the locations of shelters, pantries and requests for supplies. Martinez, a member of the Sunrise Movement, a political action committee aimed at tackling climate change, says much of the document’s groundwork was done in January after the Capitol uprising. “We were showing that we have to take care of each other,” she says.
“I just updated it whenever I could get any signal,” Martinez managed to tell me, before his signal dropped. When she called back, she added, “That’s all I did for 72 hours: just look at the page nonstop and refresh it. People needed us to jam and tear down the directory. “
Christina Tan, 22 years old with Mutual Aid Houston, said the group coordinated within hours. “We knew we had to mobilize quickly to help people who were stuck in cold apartments or houses with no way to drive on icy roads,” she says. “We also knew that a lot of people would need help with electricity bills, broken pipes, medical assistance, etc.
Mutual Aid Houston has a reliable social media plan that he immediately adopted. “Twitter is attractive because it allows us to update people live with resources such as restaurants donating food or places to fetch water; it also allows us to talk to people one-on-one through DM and quickly identify those in need, ”says Tan. “Instagram is for visuals, which is useful for leading people, and especially for fundraising… We mainly use Venmo and Cash App to redistribute money directly to people, although we are exploring ways to reach people without a bank account or digital bank. Tan says the team of nine volunteers are constantly collaborating on Slack and Zoom.