On Tuesday evening, several dozen Brooklynites gathered together in one of the only spaces available to us right now—on Zoom—to sing Happy Birthday. But the honoree wasn’t a person; it was the one-month anniversary of Bed-Stuy Strong, a mutual aid network that was started to respond to the coronavirus crisis in New York City, and to give residents in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Bedford-Stuyvesant—where I’ve lived since 2011—a way to help and to seek help from their neighbors. Since early March, more than 250 mutual aid groups have emerged in mostly urban neighborhoods across the country, all of them undoubtedly juggling similar challenges of coordinating volunteers, needs, tasks, and money as the crisis intensifies.
The People’s Climate March last fall in New York City was a monumental feat of organizing prowess. Seasoned environmentalists from big-budget nonprofits worked with grassroots activists from scrappy community-based groups to pull together the largest environmental demonstration in history. The motto “To change everything, we need everyone” was prominently displayed on the homepage of PeoplesClimate.org. To encourage inclusivity, the international environmental group 350.org hired a contractor to implement an online platform that supported decentralized network organizing. The platform was an important tool for getting people, especially those outside New York City, to the march. It made it easy for anyone to participate, even if they were not a member of a big environmental group, through a system of “hubs” that invited people to join based on geographic-, religious-, community-, or issue-based identities. However, after the march was over—after the headlines had been made—financial, technical, and administrative support for the hubs ended, in spite of declarations that the march would be “about more than just a single day.”
At a reported 400,000 people, yesterday’s People’s Climate March was four times larger than expected. Other articles may feature the celebrities who turned out for a photo-op; this one is concerned with everyone else, the “odd juxtapositions” of a Muslim marching next to a Christian, a pagan next to a monk, and the work (and tech) that went into getting them there.
The People’s Climate March was large; the People’s Climate March contained multitudes. It was designed to do so in part by the technology that connected people to the event. The landing page for prospective organizers invited them to join one of the existing “hubs,” groups united by a shared cause or identifying characteristic, or to start their own. There were hubs for vegans, for people of faith, for yogis, for beekeepers, for causes like food justice and biodiversity, and for geographic regions as small as Cape Cod and as large as “The Deep South.”