covid x climate :: urban resilience & mutual aid

Kian Goh, UCLA

In the absence of effective state response during the coronavirus pandemic, grassroots mutual aid networks have organized ways to help vulnerable people, collecting and delivering food and necessities and fundraising for cash assistance. Mutual aid is a notion of social and political participation, often by and for those most in need, to survive and challenge violent, unjust, and hierarchical systems. During the pandemic, these networks are a panacea for the disillusion of not having face-to-face methods of community building. They bring up new ways to think of solidarity and proximity, showing how physical closeness and extended networks work together to provide direct aid to a wider group of people than simply through on-the-ground ties. Such notions and practices of mutual aid mirror – but not perfectly – the kinds of on-the-ground, community-based resilience practices in the face of climate change-related environmental disasters. The concept of resilience is contested. On the one hand, resilience is celebrated as a positive characteristic of people and places to “bounce back” from shocks and stresses. (But bounce back to what?) On the other hand, scholars and activists have critiqued the vagueness of the term and challenged the ways in which resilience is used to promote and protect status quo socioeconomic systems. Examples of more socially grounded and historically informed practices, such as that shown by the Red Hook Initiative in Red Hook, Brooklyn, after Hurricane Sandy in 2012, offer compelling possibilities for a more just and progressive notion of resilience. How do ideas and practices of mutual aid intersect with – and inform and be informed by – those of a more just resilience in the face of social and environmental challenges? Here, I briefly examine intersections, parallels, and diversions between these two critical urban concepts.