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This article was co-authored by Kamardip Singh and Meghana Nallajerla. 

As we continue to grapple with the nearly incomprehensible scale and enduring nature of this pandemic and tentatively make our way forward, there are ways we can actively shape what our post-COVID world looks like. We can emerge from this crisis with a renewed ability to be in community, building upon mutual aid and other relief efforts.

For those of us who are immigrants, the networks of community care that are emerging feel very familiar. Similarly, for many of us who became alienated from a sense of community as we assimilated and pursued the elusive model minority myth of achievement, this moment also offers an opportunity to be more rooted in our local communities. Consider this a basic primer on how to get involved with COVID-19 relief and a larger call to action to address our privilege as South Asian Americans.

We, an artist and a researcher, are South Asian Americans based in the Bay Area, and together, we’ve witnessed how this current moment has pushed many of us to re-examine power structures, capitalism, wealth distribution, and our roles in these systems. Inspired by the self-help groups led by women in parts of South Asia, we decided to organize our own Solidarity Giving Circle. Every week, ten of us come together to donate between $90 to $140 to someone we know — an artist, a community organizer, a grassroots group — to name a few.

There is devastation in this moment, but also great power. While we may not have the scale and reach of large institutions like the government, we have people power, the ability to move quickly, and deep, intimate relationships that can be the sites of change. We want to take this opportunity to share more about the practice of mutual aid, and provide a list of places to get you started.

Our biggest lesson in this moment is the unmistakable interconnectedness of humanity. Existing capitalist models offer us tired frameworks, reducing the complexity of our lives into a set of individualistic choices that mask our interdependence into transactional relationships of give and take. Yet what has shined during this crisis is not any functional utility of capitalism, but the mutual aid groups, friends, and neighbors that have bloomed in reciprocal support.

To paraphrase Black radicals, including the Black Panther Party that has modeled mutual aid for many of us, what we are advocating for is solidarity, not charity. We’re not looking to replicate the hierarchies or inequalities that have exacerbated this crisis. Instead, we honor our interdependence and understand that our liberation is bound up with yours. For us, sharing money is a political act.

Mutual Aid

Mutual aid practice is rooted in the values of reciprocal care and equity. Distinct from charity which implies a power dynamic and a donor-receiver (think “savior mentality”) model, mutual aid is the idea of exchanging resources to ensure collective survival.

Mutual aid has a long history among communities that have been traditionally failed by the state. For those of us new to political activism, mutual aid offers an entry point to contribute by following the leadership of working-class, immigrant, BIPOC, queer, and disabled folks who’ve been doing this work for generations. Mutual aid adds to an ecosystem that makes policing obsolete and builds our resiliency and skill sets to support each other instead of relying on failing state systems deliberately designed to ignore or harm many of us.

We encourage you to check out Mutual Aid Hub to get involved at your neighborhood level or start your own giving circle to redistribute resources to grassroots organizers and activists. In the wake of global actions protesting police brutality targeting Black people, bail funds are important to support in order to get protestors out of detention and away from COVID-19 risk. If you donate to a local bail fund, consider also supporting local groups building community infrastructure that offers alternatives to policing (e.g. mutual aid networks), as bail funds ultimately uphold policing and prison systems, as Elandria Williams has pointed out.

Additionally, below is a list of other mutual aid networks and fundraisers that especially center working class, undocumented, queer South Asian, Indo-Carribbean and BIPOC.

Mutual Aid Networks

  • Bronx Mutual Aid Network Relief: Support network to help Bronx residents organize their own communities and help each other out during the COVID-19 pandemic. Helping people access food and supplies, pickup prescriptions, and complete errands for all those who are elderly, disabled and/or immunocompromised.
  • Brooklyn Mutual Aid: Group of neighbors and activists organizing in Boerum Hill, Brooklyn Heights, Cobble Hill, Carroll Gardens, and Columbia Waterfront to protect their community from the effects of the COVID-19 crisis.
  • Chayya CDC: Community development corporation with the mission to build the power, housing stability, and economic well-being of South Asian and Indo-Caribbean communities. Providing free direct services in the areas of housing counseling and homeownership, asset building and financial empowerment, policy and advocacy, and community organizing.
  • COVID-19 Survival Funds for Uncodumented Bangladeshis in Brooklyn: Shahana Hanif and Sabia Hanif, two Bangladeshi sisters and community organizers from Kensington, Brooklyn, raising funds for over 50 Brooklyn-based Bangladeshi undocumented community members who are requesting survival funds and receive no aid from the government. One hundred percent of the funds raised will be distributed as cash grants.
  • COVID-19 South King County & Eastside Mutual Aid: Raising funds to support survivors, sick & disabled, immunocompromised, undocumented, Black, queer, indigenous, and/or people of color in South King County & Eastside.
  • Desis Rising Up & Moving (DRUM) NYC COVID Fund: Working class, immigrant, undocumented workers and families in New York City building campaigns and providing direct services to members, including costs related to food, healthcare and housing.
  • Laal X Local Zakat COVID-19 Relief Fund: Laal, a 501c providing resources to Bengali women and families in the Bronx, partnering with Local Zakat, to create an emergency fund for those who need support with bills, medical expenses, groceries or any other COVID-19 related expenses.
  • Queens Mutual Aid: Support network to help Queens residents organize their own communities or help each other out during the COVID-19 pandemic. Helping people access food and supplies, pickup prescriptions, and complete errands for all those who are elderly, disabled and/or immunocompromised.
  • Queer Writers of Color Relief Fund: Fund to help at least 100 queer writers of color who have been financially impacted by the current COVID-19. Priority given to queer trans women of color and queer disabled writers of color.
  • Radical Muslim Mutual Aid: COVID-19 Redistribution Fund by Queer Crescent & Masjid al-Rabia: LGBTQI+ Muslim healing justice organization Queer Crescent and radically inclusive Muslim community center Masjid al-Rabia have come together and built the Radical Muslim Mutual Aid project as an effort to provide some relief to Muslims during this time.
  • Sri Lankan Mutual Aid NYC: Mutual Aid network offering services (grocery delivery, applying for health insurance) and coordinating volunteers to support Sri Lankan communities in New York City.

Other Places to Give

  • These past few weeks, folks have mobilized on large scales to support the movement for Black Lives, following the police murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Tony McDade. Non-Black folks with means, consider supporting Reclaim the Block, Black Visions Collective, funds uplifting Black Trans folks, and/or your local Black Lives Matter chapter.
  • Shuumi Land Tax: As immigrants carrying intergenerational trauma of colonialism ourselves, we encourage you to express solidarity in the face of settler-colonialism by paying land taxes to indigenous communities where you reside. In the Bay Area, one place to give is the Sogorea Te’ Land Trust. See here to find more about the land on which you live.
  • Equality Labs: An Ambedkarite South Asian power-building organization that uses community research, political base-building, culture-shifting art, and digital security to end the oppression of caste apartheid, Islamophobia, white supremacy, and religious intolerance. Through these methods, they provide practical tools for communities to make new interventions in longstanding systems of oppression and advocate for themselves.
  • Jahajee Sisters Emergency Fund: Emergency Fund supporting Indo-Caribbean women and gender-fluid people residing in New York who are in crisis and in need of immediate financial support. Funds can support the cost of food, baby items, child care, moving, temporary housing, attorney’s fees, and emerging needs during COVID-19.
  • Survived & Punished: Gender based violence, specifically domestic violence, is also on the rise due to COVID-19 related lockdowns. For many survivors, the experiences of domestic violence, rape, and other forms of gender violence are bound up with systems of incarceration and police violence. Survived & Punished (S&P) is a national coalition that includes survivors, organizers, victim advocates, legal advocates and attorneys, policy experts, scholars, and currently and formerly incarcerated people. S&P organizes to de-criminalize efforts to survive domestic and sexual violence, support and free criminalized survivors, and abolish gender violence, policing, prisons, and deportations.
  • Solidarity Giving Circle: Do you want to pool your efforts with ours? We disburse funds once a week to get cash out fast — donate with us or get in touch via e-mail (maya@kajalmedia.com) and we can help you start your own giving circle.

(This is by no means a comprehensive list but simply a place to start. If you know of more networks or funds that are not included here, please reach out to maya@kajalmedia.com and they will be added to the list.)

For additional resources on COVID-19, including resources in several South Asian languages, please see COVID-19 resources from South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT) and Equality Labs.

Kamardip Singh is an artist and human rights researcher with roots in the Midwest. You can find her art on Instagram @kakikasi. Meghana Nallajerla is a South Indian American researcher and organizer from the deep south. You can find more of her work on Instagram @southasianreads & @meghanahh.