Filed under: Action, Central, Community Organizing, Disaster, Interviews
Recently comrades in the Socialist Rifle Association (SRA) and the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) have teamed up to open up a physical space in Tulsa, Oklahoma, where they are mobilizing to provide food and medical supplies in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Organizing in a deep red state is a constant game of, “How can I best describe anti-capitalism without saying the dirty word,” and projects like this have an incredible power at showing people what alternative politics and ways of building community look like.
Wanted to know more about how they are carrying out this mutual aid project, building dual power, and interacting with the surrounding community, we spoke with a member of the SRA to find out more.
IGD: Tell us about the project.
All of our lives have been disrupted by the spreading coronavirus pandemic and the accompanying economic disruption. Many of us have lost jobs or are facing sharply reduced incomes. Some have lost healthcare; others are facing looming food insecurity or even homelessness. It is important that we take care of each other in these difficult times. The membership of the Tulsa SRA are eager to contribute to this work, and we are focusing our efforts on where we believe we can do the most good – namely, the collection and distribution of food aid to our neighbors in need. By doing so we hope to not only help combat hunger, but also make it easier to maintain quarantine and slow the spread of COVID-19. By reducing the number of people who have to shop for groceries, and ensuring that the food we supply is routed through a safe, clean environment in which proper decontamination measures are exercised, we can make these trying times just a little bit safer for everyone.
Members of @RifleTulsa and the @iww have opened up a physical space in #Tulsa #Oklahoma where they are distributing free groceries and medical supplies in the community which has been hit hard by job loss in the wake of the #COVID19Pandemic. #BuildTheCommune #MutualAid pic.twitter.com/lrQgvTopQE
— It's Going Down (@IGD_News) April 3, 2020
We have no intention of doing this alone, and even now are seeking out people and organizations who are also engaged in this work, with the hope of developing a broad coalition that can support each other and ensure that we are all able to maximize the impact of our limited time and resources. Oklahoma is a big place, with millions of residents, and only together, as a community, do we have a real hope of providing our friends and neighbors – and each other – with the support that we are all going to need. That having been said, this is a very urgent task, and we cannot afford to wait. We will be starting now, on our own, and look forward to joining with others as we do the work.
For now, we have a team of volunteers, a physical space in which we can receive, decontaminate, and prepare donations for distribution, and vehicles with which to distribute them. We are already beginning to gather food and other supplies – but we’re going to need a lot more, and we’re putting out an open call for help.
IGD: How did you get the physical space?
So the workspace we’re set up in is an art space called OK #1. I was actually in a project that aired in the space a few months back, and we talked with the coordinator about possibly hosting a yearly street medic training. That was the original plan, until the pandemic hit and the gathering bans were instituted.
Our quarantine room is filling up! Each of these bins contains groceries and medical supplies for a 3-4 person household. Our first two deliveries are officially en route with more heading out this afternoon. pic.twitter.com/V1dNn9QLG8
— Socialist Rifle Association – Tulsa (@RifleTulsa) April 6, 2020
Around that time, we had started talking within the SRA about rolling out a relief effort to meet the crisis, and when we settled on the idea of doing a distro setup, the easy choice was to reach out to OK #1 about using the space since they’d had to cancel all the events for the next however long. So that’s how we ended up there! The Jurassic Park logo [you see in the photo] was actually from an event they had planned and it’s been replaced by something else at this point, something less conspicuous but still recognizable for directing deliveries to.
IGD: What have interactions with the public like been so far?
We began our first deliveries last Monday so we have yet to have any interactions on that front but so far the community response in terms of folks seeking aid has been great. People are mostly grateful for the simple fact that we are trying to help at all. Admittedly it’s difficult to control your image when going public, and somewhere as people were passing out info around on the internet we were erroneously labeled a company, which has lead to a couple of terse emails, but everything is always fine when we explain that we’re just volunteers trying to help. We’ve also had our first bilingual exchanges already which makes us feel really good that we’re able to reach into spaces that maybe “normal means” aren’t accessing. And of course, there’s always a little bit of a turf war when it comes to stuff like this; people embedded in the non-profit industrial complex who are threatened by strong projects that build dual power, but the response from regular people has been overwhelmingly positive. The variety of different people that have landed in our inbox from this is far beyond the normal circles that we reach and it’s really awe-inspiring and more than a little humbling.
There’s always a little bit of a turf war when it comes to stuff like this; people embedded in the non-profit industrial complex who are threatened by strong projects that build dual power, but the response from regular people has been overwhelmingly positive.
Because OK is such a deeply red and conservative state, we are actually avoiding the more overt political discussions as of right now. There’s a couple of reasons, the first is that more than a few of us feel that it’s a little too akin to missionary work to force a political screed on people we want to help, and the second is that we’ve already had clashes within the “progressive” community over the simple fact that this project is being done by organizations with obvious politics, to the point that we’ve already had our first, “I don’t see why you have to make it political,” publicly thrown at us.
We were really excited about this project and overlooked the typo in the original for about a week?Feel free to pass this one around instead! pic.twitter.com/k8bNRdS87V
— Socialist Rifle Association – Tulsa (@RifleTulsa) April 4, 2020
Of course, it was easy to point out that this isn’t a contest, which tends to settle the issue. But no, as it stands, the politics of it are not front and center, although we have been contacted by local news outlets recently and have had no problem indicting the system and the attitudes that have landed us at this point. Organizing in a deep red state is a constant game of, “How can I best describe anti-capitalism without saying the dirty word,” and projects like this have an incredible power at showing people what alternative politics and ways of building community look like. So I guess politically “the work speaks for itself.”
IGD: What major lessons have you taken away from this project so far? What are the big challenges?
The biggest thing we’ve learned so far probably is just the sheer scale of who’s being affected. We expect that as the project goes on there will be lots of interesting stories, strangers interacting tends to lead to those. I guess what we’re doing right so far is making sure to take our time and not rush into this, because we want to build a real presence and model an alternative way to structure things. Our biggest challenges going forward are just going to be making sure we can keep up with the need, without sacrificing ourselves in the process, as would be normal under capitalism.
IGD: How are you getting access to supplies?
We started off with a random pallet of mixed stock that was donated to us via some friends at the Oklahoma Grocery Network. It was an amazing donation; we have packed down almost the entire thing at this point into grocery boxes already. A pallet of food goes really fast when you’ve replied to 20 families about dropping off supplies. But outside of that we have been relying on random grocery donations here and there, and buying everything else either individually or with money from the fundraiser. If we could get one random boon for this project it would definitely be, like, consistently getting a few pallets of random mixed stock every week.
IGD: How can people help?
Here’s what we need at the moment:
- Non-perishable food, especially dry goods such as rice or dry beans. Canned goods are also acceptable.
- Thermometers, specifically medical thermometers.
- Plastic bins with lids – while we could use cardboard boxes to distribute food, these cannot be easily sterilized, while plastic can.
- Gallon sealable plastic bags such as Ziploc bags.
- Paper grocery sacks.
- Disposable food-service gloves.
- Basic medical supplies – Tylenol, cough suppressant, decongestants, saline nasal spray, lip balm.
- Electrolyte drinks or drink mixes, such as Gatorade.
If you have any questions, if you have anything to donate, or if you’re interested in pitching in, please get in touch with us, and we’ll respond promptly. We can be reached via Facebook, at Socialist Rifle Association – Tulsa, Twitter @RifleTulsa, or e-mail at [email protected]
We’ll get through this – together.