I spend a lot of time thinking about the possibilities and opportunities that we are creating through trying out tools, spaces and new practices. I am often called an optimist and maybe even sometimes naive. I am certainly guilty of those things I am accused of, and I have many excuses for thinking and navigating the world that way. Perhaps all based on personal experience, starting from the fact that I could not have survived migrating to the UK from Latin America aged 17 if it had not been for others; I could not have survived a nation so deeply shaped by ideas of supremacy if it had not been for the diverse communities I clung to early on, who continue to care for and grow with me.
I am part of social movements that dedicate most of their time to calling out the oppressions and injustices that we face living under an imperialist, white supremacist, capitalist patriarchy1. I do this all the time too. In fact, I think it is absolutely necessary and a key part of our collective healing to name those systems and the harm they create. However, I don’t want to simply talk about the violence of such systems; what I’d like to pay more attention to are the systems of care we create so that they continue to grow. These below are practices that our communities have generated during the pandemic, which are too often ignored or dismissed as insignificant. This piece honours the many people involved in creating these practices, it names and recognises them for their work as the foundations for new systems of power.
“What we pay attention to grows2”
In particular, I am documenting practices that have prioritised collective care and healing - grassroots initiatives that are led by those who are living on the front lines: racialized women, non-binary, poor and working class and/or migrant peoples. The following initiatives share a common understanding around the causes of suffering we experience, or the systems of oppression and domination which we need to liberate ourselves from: patriarchy, colonialism, white supremacy, ableism, classism. None of these practices ‘do’ charity, and all of them work side by side with others to make sure we are cared for, well fed, housed, clothed, healthy, loved and balanced. Finally, they are all internationalist, and one of them is based in the Global South.
While it is true that the following practices share a lot of the same values, they do so in very different ways. Starting with the community care circles organised by Jannat Hossain, a campaigner and community-building geek. Every month since the end of 2019, Jannat’s community of friends were invited to share a space online to gather together. She put this call out after the 2019 UK general election which (again!) voted for a hard-right government. This space has allowed me and others who attend to be angry and find joy together, to think about politics and ourselves in them. Also started by Jannat Hossain and her friends, Rita Serghis and Simran Bola, is “Love like Ours”, a new matchmaking service for radical left-wing People of Colour (POC) in the UK, whatever their gender or sexuality. I am including this here to recognise the thought and intention that has been given to the needs of our POC communities looking for love and care by these three amazing people.
Another practice that came about in response to the pandemic is Apoyo Comunitario Sur de Londres3 or Community Support in South London. This initiative came into existence after a group of us, Latinxs, living in South London wanted to respond to the acute needs people from within our community were facing as a result of the negligence of the UK government during the pandemic4. We first started as a network to translate information into Spanish and Portuguese from mutual aid groups in South London, which were mostly sharing information in English. It then expanded to offer a hardship fund which has been accessed by over 50 families in South London so far. The money was raised through a Crowdfunder campaign that more than 320 people have contributed to. The collective has been checking in with people who have no recourse to public funds and people who are undocumented to find out how they are doing and provide support wherever possible. This work is often overlooked by sector organisations, including the ones advocating for the rights of migrants and refugees. We are now thinking about establishing the initiative formally in order to continue collaborating with our community and Apoyo Comunitario continues to crowdfund for these families and members of our communities.
In August last year, Marcela Teran, who also wrote a blog for this series on design as problem-solving in a time of global crises invited a group of us to join Community Explorations. An online conversation to inquire into visions, possibilities and alternatives to individualistic ways of living; this was especially timely when so many people are now realising that the current housing and urban planning systems are inadequate to meet our community needs. A few members of the group have also attended a course to learn from similar initiatives that have succeeded in their attempts. The space, which is open to people with similar motivations, has allowed us to dream of co-housing and co-living options, working on the land and has raised really important questions around visions, timelines, red flags, needs, collective finances, commitment and skills to share with others.