Mutual aid and solidarity against Covid-19: Interviews with political organizers (III)

Photo: Rojava Information Center

The world is currently experiencing an extraordinary crisis as a result of the Coronavirus pandemic. Around the world,  people on the ground have been organizing themselves in solidarity with each other from the beginning. In these efforts, they often struggle against the damage done by the neoliberal state. Through mutual aid, collective organizing and feminist care practices, they show us that the established status quo is not our fate, but in fact, at the heart of all crises experienced in the world today – from health crises to ecological catastrophe, domestic violence to war, worker’s exploitation to racism and xenophobia.

Komun Academy has interviewed different collectives and their response to the pandemic. In the first part of the series, we published the answers provided from groups in Euskal Herria (Basque Country), Catalonia and Sweden. In the second part, we presented responses from the European Kurdish Democratic Societies Congress (KCDK-E) and Rojava kliče (Rojava rising), Slovenia. In the final part, published below, we read the insights of activists in Italy and Rojava.

 

Làbas, TPO, Yabasta! Bologna, Italy

Làbas, TPO and Yabasta! Bologna are part of the same community in Bologna, Italy. They are connected and work together.

Can you please describe your activities since the beginning of the spread of the virus? 

Ever since the COVID-19 infection begun and the consequential quarantine measures have been applied to all the citizens of both our city and country, we had to recalibrate our activities and our projects according to the measures decided by the Government in order to contain the infection and the sanitary crisis. The impossibility of exiting our houses and gather is the first and hardest obstacle for a political community like ours, in which sharing spaces and political actions side by side is the very core from which we start for the construction of a new society.

Many projects, like the Italian school for immigrants, have been able to continue by doing classes online, also in order to maintain a trustworthy and mutually supportive relationship in such a hard time. After the beginning of this pandemic and the consequential isolation that the pandemic brought with it, the Laboratory for Popular Healthcare, which was open approximately one year ago in Làbas, has begun a project of medical and psychological support via telephone, which takes care of giving medical and psychological assistance free of charge. We had received hundreds of phone calls from the very first day, because the crisis is not only sanitary, but it is also social. Home is not a safe place for everyone and not all people have the chance to spend their quarantine inside their houses.

We are net-working with other political realities of our territory to activate the following services: one to one help with middle and high school students to support didactic and to break the digital divide; support actions for struggling families, elderly people, for the situations of deepest social isolation and for providing first necessity goods; support actions for people without permanent residence.

We have also started a campaign for an extended and universal quarantine basic income.

Is your work based on a specific perspective or principle? 

The work we are doing at the moment is based on two temporal moments, the now, facing the quarantine days “together”, continuing to cultivate our critical conscience, managing to analyze the current society and its change with lucidity and solidarity. The other moment in time is the post-covid-19, the crisis that this epidemic is bringing does not stop on a sanitary level, but above all it will have a big impact on an economic and social level. We are now working thinking about the after, when society and sociality will slowly need to recompose. What we want is that we do not return to “normality” because it was exactly that normality which oppressed, and it continues to do so, all those social categories that could not or did not want to fall within the canons and life dictated by capitalism. We want to change society from below by preventing the current state of emergency from becoming the norm. We believe that health and welfare can be managed democratically and that the domination of finance can be undermined around these two cornerstones and a process of real distribution of wealth can be started.

People have pointed out that states will use the pandemic as an occasion to deprive people of fundamental rights and liberties for authoritarian purposes. What do you think about different states’ response to the pandemic, in particular about the increase of state powers? 

We think that the governmental measures are creating an atmosphere of repression never seen before, with the excuse of “stay at home” they have militarized entire cities, have started to control the movement of people through our phones, they are using drones to monitor

everything. It is also increasingly difficult to be a group or a collectivity when you are forced to be alone, therefore it is also difficult to weave social relationships, and not to spread fear but a positive feeling of union. We fear that the police state that is being created and the fortification of the nation state will hardly go back after an emergency, if a collective struggle will not take place. All this control cannot become the norm and the answer must be a democratic and collective control of health and common good.

How do you interpret the increase of solidarity or mutual aid-based actions in different parts of the world? 

Looking around us, to the rest of the world, we see many examples of solidarity, large or small, economic or social, that many people are carrying out, from those who have mobilitated for the ones who are struggling during the quarantine, to those who try to design new tools. But what we must always keep in mind is that what has produced this mass crisis are years of crippling policies on public healthcare to the advantage of the private sanitary structures. As it often happens, we must always be careful not to fall back into the dynamic of looking at the finger and not at the moon. Solidarity is the first step in imagining a democratic crisis management and in building new assemblies that will be capable of giving speech to everyone and not to “one man in charge”.

What other solidarity/mutual aid activities in your city/region or around the world inspire you? 

All solidarity activities raising from below do inspire us. We are particularly surprised by those projects that already demonstrate a great ability to connect the various solidarity actions (as in the United States and South America). To do this there will be the need for computer skills and “platform”, but above all a great ability to listen, relate to and care for individuals and communities, things that already exist but to which we can finally give greater political strength.

What would you like to say to others at the moment? 

Let’s struggle for the physical, mental and social health of everyone!

***

Internationalist Commune of Rojava

Can you please describe your activities since the beginning of the spread of the virus?

It’s unclear whether the virus has started to spread in Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria yet, but as a precaution a curfew has been put in place, asking people to stay at home, and limiting movement inside and between the cities. Because of this, most of our members are staying at the Internationalist Commune at the moment, while others are working within society in local and communal structures. Since the beginning of the curfew, we’ve been continuing revolutionary and internationalist works. Even though we cannot move as usual, we understand our works as not being bound to a specific locality, using the time to develop militant personalities in a communal way. Hence, we have been focusing on education, and on ecological works in the immediate area, as well as continuous internationalist works by exchanging with comrades about their situations, discussing the crisis, always with the perspective of analysing the systematic problems brought about by capitalist modernity, and how solutions could further be developed in a democratic confederal way. We are following the situation with the population here closely, and if the situation with the virus develops and the Autonomous Administration makes a call for workers to help manage the virus, then friends from the Commune are ready to answer that call.

 

Is your work based on a specific perspective or principle?

The Internationalist Commune in Rojava has three aims and guiding principles – learn, support, organise. Education is key for us within the Commune. We, in particular, learn in theory and practice from the principles of the Rojava revolution (women’s liberation, ecology, radical democracy) and of Abdullah Öcalan. In order to overcome an outsider’s perspective and approach to the revolution, it is important to understand the histories, ways of living and realities of people within Rojava, and beyond. We are working hand in hand with local structures and society to support the revolution in a direct way, aiming to become a meaningful part of the revolution. Further, the struggle for the liberation of women, as well as for an ecological and democratic society, will not be limited to Northern Syria. Internationalism is mutual support in the fight against capitalist modernity, the hegemonic force uniting the nation-state, capitalism, and industrialism. Bringing the struggle of the people in Rojava to our societies elsewhere across the globe by organising wherever we are is one of the most significant contribution to the revolution.

 

People have pointed out that states will use the pandemic as an occasion to deprive people of fundamental rights and liberties for authoritarian purposes. What do you think about different states’ response to the pandemic, in particular about the increase of state powers?

It is important to understand and analyse the role of the state in general and in particular during this crisis. The response to the pandemic shows that states have tried to reinforce their hegemony throughout this period, and are further moving towards fascism. Within the mentality and practices of the state, we see that security forces implement repressive measures to control society, and the state is testing public reaction to those measures. As has happened in previous times of crises, we should expect that states attempt to remain these measures in place after the pandemic – either justified as necessary to prevent future epidemics, or kept in a reduced version as the ‘new normal’ once people have grown used to living under them, especially in order for capitalism to continue under these circumstances.

We have seen that in some countries, governments started to play a blame game to justify their restrictive and authoritarian policies. This expresses itself in the misleading way of states saying that if people had followed their advice, there would not have been the need for further policies, restrictions, and state violence, putting the blame on society for apparently being responsible for its own repression. The intensification of greater restriction and militarisation of borders, with greater police powers at points of entry into states, will be used as a justification to as the only way to keep ‘foreign diseases’ at bay, while the interest of capital is being secured. Similarly, police powers granting the right to stop internal movement within states will most likely remain in place, ready for use in case of civil unrest. If the state cannot co-opt communal projects and ways of living, it is attempting to shut them down with brute violence.

States are presenting themselves as the one crucial actor, without which society could not organise itself. But history shows that a state cannot work without a society, but a society can work without a state. It is up to us to respond to these actions by states, not allowing states to justify their hegemony, finding ways to continuously organise ourselves; we are also faced with challenges, but also opportunities, as we can see with mutual aid increasing and people not waiting for the state to do things for them, but taking important matters into their own hands.

 

How do you interpret the increase of solidarity or mutual aid-based actions in different parts of the world?

Many states are responding to the pandemic by withdrawing the services they normally provide to the population, such as routine healthcare. Along with many people losing jobs and increased difficulty in many areas of accessing food and other supplies, this has created a separate crisis for the working class. The widespread organisation of mutual aid groups in working class communities shows the strength and potential of those communities. The state and capitalism have always worked to make themselves appear indispensable, but this is being shown once again to be untrue. It also highlights the necessity of community organisation – as the Rojava Revolution was made possible by years of organising before the crisis that allowed it to flourish. The success of these groups relies heavily on the work that has already been done in their communities. If that work is strong enough, they are able to present a viable long-term alternative to the state. So, as internationalists, working on the construction of democratic confederalism, we see the increase of solidarity as very positive and its up to us to organise for it not to wither away once the state and capitalism will attempt to reassert their presence.

 

What other solidarity/mutual aid activities in your city/region or around the world inspire you?

In Rojava, the system of communes shows the resilience to these kind of crises. Because of the strong social ties between families, neighbours and inhabitants of the communes, we have seen how food and basic needs are still provided at a local level, despite the embargo, and other difficulties which already put the region in a more vulnerable situation. In a very impressive way, the municipalities have been able to do the disinfection of the cities and the spread of public awareness regarding precautions due to the virus. On a another level, the lack of masks and gloves is on its way to be solved, thanks to the work of co-operatives and tailors producing and spreading them amongst and with society. For us internationalists, coming mostly from places where we are faced with the ideology of capitalist modernity, fostering individualism, liberalism, and hence, aiming at disconnecting people from one another, the democratic confederal system of Rojava is a great inspiration.

Around the world, we are also inspired by the many local mutual aid groups that are already looking to connect with others into regional networks to increase their effectiveness and resilience. For instance, in Greece, Catalunia, the Basque Country, the UK, Sweden, and many other places, several of these mutual aid groups are taking democratic confederalism as their model, and have contacted the friends in Rojava for help and advice. As well as showing that democratic confederalism is a solution not just for the Middle East but for the whole world, this shows the importance of internationalism and of the links of solidarity that have been built up in recent years.

 

What would you like to say to others at the moment?

We would like to briefly touch upon the current situation in Rojava. The revolution here is still under heavy attacks and the war continues; while mostly under low-intensity, shelling and bombings close to the front still continue by Turkey and its allied militias. The only hospital where Covid-19 could be tested was in Serê Kaniyê, which is currently under Turkish-occupation. Water is increasingly being used as a weapon, which is detrimental for large parts of the population, hospitals, etc. On the day of the start of the quarantine, Turkey has once again cut off the water supply to Rojava through the Elok power plant near Serê Kaniyê. Apart from that, due to frequent attacks by Turkish forces on civilian vehicles using the crucial M4 highway, there are food shortages in several areas, including Kobanê. The municipalities in Rojava continue to help each other, in particular where people are in immediate need, caused by the current situation of low-intensity war. The preparations of the Turkish state for a further period of high-intensity war have already begun, for instance, with the continued attacks on democratic opposition in Northern Kurdistan (South-Eastern Turkey). In Europe, we see that many governments are urging that only essential sectors of the economy should continue; it’s indispensable, therefore, to understand, that the weapon industry has not laid down its work in most places, clearly showing the importance of it to the current capitalist system.

Thus, it is important to see all of our struggles as connected and to defend the revolution in Rojava, and building up democratic confederalism wherever we are. History clearly shows us that at times of crisis, the oppressed must work together to survive. Under capitalist modernity, this is true not just during, but also after the crisis. The ruling classes will attempt to protect themselves at our expense, and then to use the crisis to divide and weaken us. We must organise to defend our communities from this assault, and to build a real alternative to the current systems.