Michigan Socialists Leading the Way on Mutual Aid

Elias K of YDSA at the University of Michigan highlights some inspiring mutual aid efforts in his home state of Michigan.

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to sweep across the globe, our country’s response increasingly becomes a cautionary tale. The mismanagement and downright callousness shown toward the plight of working people by those at the top is, unfortunately, nothing new. The ongoing health crisis has only magnified the utter disdain the ruling class has for the rest of us.

Of course, as a result of the obscene level of influence big business exercises over our collective civic life, a state infrastructure that puts public health above private wealth would never be allowed to come to pass under the current system. Indeed, the ultimate explanation for why the United States has by far the most confirmed coronavirus cases of any country on Earth is a systemic one. That said, recent government actions have not helped either.

For one, the sitting administration disbanding the federal pandemic response team back in 2018 has proven to be disastrous. And the so-called “stimulus” bill that just passed was not much better. The act of highway robbery gave hundreds of billions in free taxpayer money to the corporate sector with virtually no strings attached. Meanwhile, as usual, workers were given crumbs of a pie that they themselves baked.

This is all to say that, to put it mildly, times are tough right now. However, one heartening development that has come out of this tumultuous period can be seen in individuals stepping up and filling in the gap left by a feckless and dysfunctional government. Mutual aid has been revived, and it is a beautiful thing to see.

In my home state of Michigan, I have personally witnessed this revival. My local DSA chapter, Huron Valley DSA (HVDSA), has been operating their own “Solidarity Fund”. The fund is member-to-member, and provides direct financial assistance to those in need. Funds are primarily provided by HVDSA members themselves who, for whatever reason, have caught a lucky break and happen to have some extra money lying around.

The uses for Solidarity Fund money are seemingly endless. If HVDSA-ers are short on cash for groceries, they can go to the Solidarity Fund. If they need help paying their cell phone bill so that they can remain in touch with loved ones during social distancing, they can go to the Solidarity Fund. If they are trying to scrape together a rent payment, the Solidarity Fund is always there.

Or, alternatively, tenants could just collectively refuse to pay. At least, that is what Joshua Collins, socialist US House candidate in Washington’s 10th congressional district, wants to see happen. 

Collins recently founded an activist organization called Rent Strike 2020 centered around one demand: that every Governor in every state institute a freeze on rent, mortgage, and utility bills for at least two months. And, as the group’s name suggests, if this demand is not met, they are calling on supporters to rent-strike. Rent Strike 2020 has circulated petitions nationwide regarding this proposal, which have caught quite a bit of steam. At the time of writing, about 1.8 million people have signed on in support of Rent Strike 2020’s mission.

A number of people have come out publicly in support of Rent Strike 2020 in my community. Among them is Solomon Rajput — a democratic socialist running for the US House seat in Michigan’s 12th congressional district. A founding member of the Rose Caucus — an expanding slate of leftist candidates running for office across the country that also includes Collins — Rajput currently serves as Michigan’s head organizer for Rent Strike 2020.

“Joshua Collins and I are both members of the Rose Caucus, and our campaigns have supported each other in the areas of social media and field organizing,” Rajput told me. “He called us and told us about the effort that his campaign was starting, and asked us if we wanted to be a part of it. We said yes in a heartbeat.”

Rajput went on to explain that, to him, Rent Strike 2020 is so important because “so many people right now have been laid off or are making very little income … This is a common pain felt by all people in the country at this moment, and that is why this movement has exploded.” 

Rajput’s contribution to Rent Strike 2020 involves coordinating and connecting with Michigan activists organizing rent strikes.

However, not everyone is so on board. Amber A’Lee Frost of Chapo Trap House, for instance, has expressed some generalized skepticism about the idea of a rent strike. “They notoriously don’t work,” she said on episode 404 of the podcast.

She continued, “[Landlords] could still evict you. People go into organizing… thinking their moral righteousness will carry them through. But, if you don’t do that right, and you’re the one person in your building [striking], your landlord will just throw you out… Landlords are ruthless; they’re bosses for your home.” Perhaps this is something to consider… 

And then, outside of grassroots organizations and congressional campaigns, there are just ordinary people doing what they can to try to get their respective communities through this crisis. Noah Streng comes to mind. Noah is the vice president of the University of Michigan’s YDSA chapter.

He recently informed me that, in his spare time, he has been passing out leftover food from the university dining halls to members of Ann Arbor’s homeless population. Like many cities across the country, homelessness is a major issue in Ann Arbor. When I asked Noah why he was doing this, he told me, “I’m doing this because times are tough especially for those most vulnerable and whose needs are most ignored by our society, our economy and our government. I want to make sure that no one goes hungry in my community.”

People like Noah give me hope. Those who dedicate themselves to lending a helping hand to their fellow man during this time of great hardship are the silver lining of a terrible situation. Here is to HVDSA, Solomon Rajput, Noah Streng, and all those in my state helping to ease the suffering of those at risk of falling through the cracks. You make me proud to call myself a Michigander.

Elias K is the president of YDSA at the University of Michigan, a member of the YDSA NPEC, and an editor of The Activist. He is a junior studying economics.

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