Posts Tagged ‘great depression’

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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Suzanne says I have an art esthetic. That makes me laugh.

My esthetic, as far as I can tell, is mostly a preference for painting that is wavy: Charles Burchfield, Virginia Lee Burton, Grant Wood, Marsden Hartley, Kate Knapp, Edvard Munch, Reginald Marsh.

A massive mural by one of my wavy favorites, Thomas Hart Benton, has recently been rescued from storage. Carol Vogel has the story in the NY Times.

“On New Year’s Day 1931, a new and radically different building opened amid the town houses of West 12th Street: Joseph Urban’s International-Style New School for Social Research, with one room in particular as a star attraction. Thomas Hart Benton, the American realist painter, had lined the third-floor boardroom with nine panels of what would be a 10-panel mural, ‘America Today,’ depicting a panoply of pre-Depression American types, from flappers to farmers, steel workers to stock market tycoons. Lloyd Goodrich, a prominent art historian, pronounced it a breakthrough that heralded a new approach to mural painting, ‘of actually taking reality and making mural art directly out of it.’

“Eight decades later, ‘America Today,’ now considered one of the most important and famous examples of American scene painting, is languishing in storage. That will change, however, because AXA Equitable, the insurance company that bought it nearly 30 years ago, has decided to donate it to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. …

“The only problem,” writes Vogel, “is that the museum is so squeezed for space that the mural’s first public appearance after the handover won’t be until at least 2015, when the Met takes over the Whitney Museum of American Art’s landmark Marcel Breuer building on Madison Avenue (after the Whitney’s move to the meatpacking district).” More.

Something to look forward to in 2015.

Photograph: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

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I really like Michelle Aldredge’s blog on writing and the arts, Gwarlingo. (The word gwarlingo, Aldredge says, is Welsh for the rushing sound a grandfather clock makes before striking, “the movement before the moment.”)

See my post about Gwarlingo and artistic Japanese manhole covers here.

This week Aldredge wrote that she had recently “stumbled across a small online collection of rare color images taken by photographers from the Farm Security Administration and Office of War Information. The … photograph of Jack Whinery and his family was so remarkable and surprising that I immediately began exploring the online archive of the Library of Congress, which owns the images. The 1,610 Kodachrome transparencies were produced by FSA and OWI photographers like John Vachon, Marion Post Wolcott, Jack Delano, and Russell Lee. They are less well known and far less extensive than their black and white images, but their rarity only increases their impact.”

Check out the America in Transition photos.

*Jack Whinery, homesteader, and his family. Pie Town, New Mexico, October 1940. Photo by Russell Lee. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress*

Another great Gwarlingo post was on poetry bombing.

“Since 2001,” writes Aldredge, “the Chilean art collective Casagrande has been staging ‘Poetry Rain’ projects in cities like Warsaw, Berlin, Santiago de Chile, Dubrovnik, and Guernica – all cities that have suffered aerial bombings in their history. The most recent event took place in Berlin in 2010 and was part of the Long Night of Museums. Crowds of thousands gathered in the city’s Lustgarten as 100,000 poems rained down from the sky.” Read more here.

I also found a happy video.

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