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Indybay Feature
Sun Mar 29 2020
Lessons from Depression-era Mutual Aid
Learning from the Past, Preparing for the Future in the Age of Coronavirus
anonymous writes: As coronavirus spreads and the death toll begins to climb, our most immediate concern is (and should remain) staying healthy and supporting our communities through the immediate crisis. As radicals, however, we must also begin to strategize how we will respond to the economic collapse that will continue to affect our lives long after a vaccine or herd immunity render the virus itself a past issue. Looking back to our local history, we can learn a great deal from Great Depression era worker self-organizing and mutual aid.

Most of us are familiar with the State-sponsored Works Project Administration (WPA), but few are aware of the massive network of self-help mutual aid cooperatives that were autonomously organized by unemployed workers years in advance of the State response. The famous novelist and Socialist politician Upton Sinclair based his 1934 run for Governor of California on what he called the End Poverty In California (EPIC) plan, which proposed to use public money to strengthen and expand self-help worker cooperatives as the fabric of a new economy.

The best-case scenario for our efforts as anti-capitalists and revolutionaries is to simultaneously alleviate the worst effects of this crisis on our communities and create lasting networks of interdependence and empowerment. The lifestyle of going to work every day, paying our rent on the first of the month, and channeling our desires into the purchase of consumer goods is currently in question. We are acting in a time when massive changes that recently seemed impossible are occurring daily, even within the centers of power. Housing for all suddenly makes a great deal of sense when keeping warm and healthy may reduce hospital crowding, as does fully socialized medicine, freeing those incarcerated for nonviolent ‘crimes,’ and preventing some individuals from hoarding essentials to the detriment of the health of others.

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