Much has been written on how the COVID-19 pandemic has brought longstanding structural inequities into sharp relief. Like in all crises, the effects of the pandemic have not been evenly distributed. Black, Brown, and Indigenous communities have been disproportionately harmed by the virus. Low-wage workers—largely workers of color and immigrant workers—are deemed essential yet deprived of basic health and safety protections and, in the case of undocumented workers, excluded from vital sources of relief altogether. The state’s response to the pandemic altogether ignored the risks facing incarcerated people and unhoused people. One way to understand how COVID-19 has disproportionately harmed marginalized communities is through Ruth Wilson Gilmore’s definition of racism: “the state-sanctioned or extralegal production and exploitation of group-differentiated vulnerability to premature death.”
But in the gaps left by the state’s profound failure—or calculated indifference toward the suffering of certain groups—organizing efforts have surged. The work of organizers has recast demands once demonized as radical, from rent cancellation to universal healthcare, as necessary; it has begun to denaturalize carceral systems like prisons, jails, and detention centers. Communities have established mutual aid networks, continuing the long legacy of people of color cultivating their own resources and methods of keeping each other safe.
As Dean Spade frames it, mutual aid as a broader project requires that “people take responsibility for caring for one another and changing political conditions[.]” The articles in this series seek to lift up the work of organizers, advocates, and scholars who engage with what it means to take this project seriously on a daily basis. How do immigrants’ rights advocates build strategic alliances with organizers fighting to end mass incarceration? What does it look like to pursue a vision of collective care that is rooted in Black radicalism? How does viewing institutional racism and anti-Blackness as a public health crisis sharpen our understanding of these systems? How do we challenge conditions that keep workers in constant precarity?
Recent months have seen more widespread and urgent engagement with questions of abolition, prompted in part by the continued murder of Black people—including Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, Tony McDade, and Rayshard Brooks—at the hands of police. The insights of abolitionists remind us that the possibility of a better world hinges on more than just dismantling our current institutions. It also demands that we actively participate in envisioning and creating the future we want to live in. As Mariame Kaba says, abolition is a “project of building, and making, and constantly iterating ideas and using our imaginations all the time.” We hope that the articles included in this series will contribute to this important work.
. Ruth Wilson Gilmore, Golden Gulag: Prisons, Surplus, Crisis and Opposition in Globalizing California 28 (2007).
. Dean Spade, Solidarity Not Charity, 38 Social Text 131, 136 (2020).