Posts Tagged ‘british columbia’

Photo: Roc Canals Photography/Getty via Elemental
“Black communities have known about mutual aid all along,” reports the

There are many stories about how people in poor or immigrant communities pull together to help one another when the government doesn’t. Today’s article is about the mutual aid systems of black communities in Canada, the US, and other countries.

Vicky Mochama writes at the Walrus, “There aren’t, compared to Ontario and Quebec, that many Black people in British Columbia: less than one-tenth of the overall Black Canadian population. But, when troubles [strike], official numbers don’t matter. …

“As covid-19 began to take hold, a group of activists and organizers did something that, for Black folks, is as old as time: they started a mutual-aid group.

“ ‘Our community members are likely to be found in the blind spots of the [federal] agencies that are giving out the money,’ says Kevonnie Whyte, one of the group’s organizers. The money the group has collected has gone to Black migrants without permanent residency, Black students stuck in Canada on visas that limit their ability to work, and Black people trapped in the rinse cycle of the gig economy — taxi drivers, delivery couriers, cleaners, and dog walkers.

“The premise of the fund is simple: for the duration of the pandemic, any Black person in BC can apply to get $150 to use for whatever they need. The fund prioritizes Black people who, for whatever reason, don’t get access to government supports like the Canada Emergency Response Benefit. …

“A group of young women in Boston started a mutual-aid drive to get help — cash, food, assistance — to the vulnerable in their community. Students at Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Mellon University started spreadsheets to help people cover basic expenses. … By late May, Whyte says, the Black in BC Mutual Aid collective had raised nearly $20,000 and had disbursed three-quarters of that to over 100 people. …

“Then, in June, everything changed. In the aftermath of the killing of George Floyd, the group received an astounding influx of donations, quintupling their fund in ten days to over $100,000; by early July, they had topped $170,000. …

“Over decades and centuries, mutual aid has helped people pay rent, buy groceries, and acquire medicine; it has given workers something where there is so much nothing to be had, and it has given luckier people a way to help out in desperate times.

“So why weren’t we doing mutual aid before — everybody, all the time? Well, Black people were.

” ‘Mutual aid is not new. It’s a long-standing practice of Black communities. ‘Mutual aid is just something that we’ve always done,’ says Caroline Shenaz Hossein, a professor in York University’s social science department. …

“In the late aughts, Hossein’s research took her to the Caribbean, where she met the ‘banker ladies’: women who ran and participated in money pools. Money pools are deeply familiar to many people from Black diasporas. …

“There’s a magical quality, money appearing as if from nowhere. Depending on where you’re from and who invited you in, the pools have different names: sol (Haiti), susu (Ghana), box hand (Guyana), jama (Kenya), hagbad (Somalia). There are cultural nuances in how you get into one, and the amounts may range, but the principle is almost universally the same — you get out what you put in.

“A typical arrangement might look like this: ten women decide to each contribute $30 a month to a pool, and they each get their turn receiving money from the pool — a $300 cash injection when they do. …

“1932, at the height of the Great Depression, Black people in Gary, Indiana, developed a local economy though mutual aid. ‘The last bank had just pulled out of their neighbourhood. Everybody was unemployed,’ says political economist Jessica Gordon-Nembhard.

“The way she tells it, they didn’t know exactly what to do. Maybe, they thought, we could start a co-op for groceries or just to share what little we do have. Twenty African American families joined a study group; for a year and a half, they met monthly to talk and plan, chaired by a local high school teacher, Jacob L. Reddix, with a passion for cooperative economics. (A cooperative economy is one in which ‘most of the economic activity is organized around cooperative ownership … in a democratic way so that they all participate in decision making about the economic activity,’ Gordon-Nembhard explains.)

“Eventually, they pooled enough money ($24 at first) to buy their groceries in bulk. Next came a credit union. Within five years, the area added a gas station and two branches of a co-op grocery store, and at the school, they began to teach a curriculum on cooperative enterprises.

“In the middle of a depression and despite the continued closure of the steel mills, the Consumer’s Cooperative Trading Company was bringing in $160,000 (US) in sales and had a membership in the hundreds. The title of their agenda — ‘A Five Year Plan of Cooperative Action for Lifting the Economic Status of the Negro in Gary’ — was precise: in good times and bad, the people must prosper with the economy.”

It’s a pretty interesting article. Read more here.

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The radio show Living on Earth recently reported how negotiations among environmental activists, the timber industry, indigenous people, and the British Columbia government protected 85 percent of a huge Canadian forest.

“Eighty-five percent of the Great Bear Rainforest in British Columbia is now protected … Steve Curwood discusses [the compromise] with reporter Andrew MacLeod of the magazine The Tyee, who explains what’s been protected and what’s open for logging.

MACLEOD: “It’s an area of 6.5 million hectares between the top end of Vancouver Island and the Alaska Panhandle. So it’s an area, about the size of Ireland, and it’s quite remote. There are only about 1,400 people who live there. So much of it has never been logged. This is usually described as the largest intact temperate rainforest in the world, a very lush, mossy, moist year-round ecosystem. … We’re talking trees that five or six people put their arms around. Some of these cedars can be in 20 feet in diameter …

CURWOOD: “Tell me what is the [forest’s] Spirit bear?

MCLEOD: “They are a subspecies of black bear. They are a genetic variant that comes out white, so it’s a white black bear. There are also Grizzly bears there, there are whales, wolves, and just a relatively pristine ecosystem up there.

CURWOOD: “And who calls them Spirit bears? …

MACLEOD: “My understanding is that it goes back through the First Nations, there have always been these genetic variant bears there and they’re seen as special.”

When Curwood asks why the timber industry agreed to the negotiation, MacLeod explains that the campaign to protect the forest helped to avoid extended confrontation.

“Lots of First Nations people will tell you they’ve been on the land for thousands and thousands and thousands of years and it’s been sustainable, it’s been healthy, that it’s really only last 150 years of colonialism where you’ve seen clear-cuts and destruction and species driven to extinction. On the other hand, there are lots of people from First Nations who are working in the logging industry today as well. Over time, First Nations have sort of reestablished their rights. There have been some precedent-setting cases just in the last few years that have recognized aboriginal title does exist.” More here.

Of possible interest: Read how Wabanaki diplomacy smoothed a similar negotiation process in Maine, here.

Photo:  Elsen Poulsen/Animals Asia, Flickr CC BY-NC 2.0
A white Spirit bear fishing

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