Mutual Aid workers
Mutual Aid workers Credit: Fariha Huriya

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A Mutual Aid Organizer 

Samantha Davis, an organizer with East of the River Mutual Aid, is still very much committed to the cause. While the network formed in direct response to the coronavirus pandemic in March 2020, organizers have adapted to the needs of their community over the last 12 months and responded to co-occurring crises from the uprising against police brutality and anti-Black racism to everyday gun violence. 

“I am not surprised that mutual aid is still going,” says Davis. “I am extremely confident and proud to be a part of the community that I’m in and to organize with the people that I organize [with], and know that when it comes to keeping our community safe, it is something that we are individually and collectively committed to doing.” 

“What I like to name is that most of the organizers that are organizing around mutual aid are also organizing around racial justice in the city,” she adds. 

Just over a year in, Davis and the team of organizers have responded to more than 10,400 requests from Wards 7 and 8 residents over their hotline. Grocery deliveries do not account for all the work. East of the River Mutual Aid evolved, starting community pop-up shops, where organizers will set up tables of school supplies and clothes, and cash assistance, where they’ll try and help families with, say, rent. “Really anything and everything that folks have been needing, we’ve been trying to find ways to pool our resources and support that,” says Davis. 

March 18 marks the one-year anniversary of organizers’ first distribution site at Anacostia High School. They’ve come a long way from passing out groceries and toiletries to families from the steps of public schools in the early weeks of the pandemic. Davis no longer shops for and delivers groceries to people’s homes weekly, unless absolutely necessary. There’s really no need to because East of the River Mutual Aid successfully built out a diverse network of community members who volunteer to take calls, shop, drive, or pack groceries and other necessities. 

“We have just continued to think about how we can make this as sustainable as possible, knowing that mutual aid is definitely needed during crises,” says Davis. “But it’s also a practice to really live by.” To practice mutual aid in her personal life, Davis reaches out to immediate neighbors in her Ward 5 community whenever she goes to the grocery store.   

D.C.’s public health emergency over the pandemic is set to expire May 20, 2021, but Davis has no intention of putting an end date on mutual aid organizing. This means having to create processes, teach political education, and forge deeper relationships with community members. It also means practicing radical honesty. “I’m naming that as a learning from my being in community, because I often did not understand the impact that by me not naming my boundaries or not talking about my capacity—the impact that that has on other people and their ability to show up in a real way,” says Davis. 

Reflecting on the last year of being in community through mutual aid, Davis says: “What resonates most with me is how important it is to do work that brings you joy. For a period of time, I was getting a lot of joy in going to Costco and getting diapers. I don’t know why. It just was like a thing I look forward to … Something that I’ve learned and embraced is honesty and the importance of being radically honest with yourself and with others, setting your boundaries, naming expectations, carving out time and protecting that time for yourself. It’s definitely something I have learned and successfully practiced during this pandemic.” 

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