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Community Response to COVID-19 Ep. 2- Mia Mingus

Updated: Mar 18, 2020

AAPI Women Lead's Dr. Connie Wun sits down with Mia Mingus, Transformative Justice & Disability Justice organizer, advocate and leader. In episode 2, Mia + Dr. Connie Wun talks about ways communities have been supporting each other through this time using tools such as Mutual Aid + Pod Mapping + how we must recommit ourselves to supporting each other. Check out the video. Transcription provided below the video.


Dr. Connie Wun: Hi, everyone. I am Dr. Connie Wun. I am one of the co-founders and executive director of AAPI Women Lead. Today I'm super, super excited to talk with you all with Mia Mingus, and Mia I know will be able to completely help us, as best as she can, with the crisis that we're entering right now. Mia, tell us who you are. Mia Mingus: Hi, everyone. My name is Mia Mingus, and I am a community organizer and educator, and I do a lot of work in transformative justice and disability justice. A lot of work is, in transformative justice in particular, it's based here in Oakland. I work with the Bay Area Transformative Justice Collective, and we are helping to build communities that can respond to different forms and violence and harm within our communities. We're doing that in the hopes to be able to get to a place where our communities can respond effectively to child sexual abuse, which continues to be one of the hardest forms of violence to respond to. But I've also done a ton of writing and work in the disability justice field as well, and have been lucky enough to be part of that movement for a long time. A lot of my writings and my blog are disability justice grounded as well. Dr. Connie Wun: Thanks. Mia, we've been following you. AAPI Women Lead has been following you for a pretty long time, and I know that you have been talking a lot to the community on social media around something many of us are calling mutual aid, and something around community pods, especially around this time. Can you tell folks who are watching what those two things are, and why they're important right now? Mia Mingus: Yes. Mutual aid, I feel like at it's most basic, it's literally just aid that's being offered mutually, if you just think about it in those simple terms. It can happen between any amount of people. It can happen just between you and your roommate, or you and your best friend, or it can happen household to household. It can be as large as thousands of people, hundreds of people, 50 people, to five people. And literally, it could be anything from offering rides to people if they need it. I think about the ways that people have been doing it across movements, as well. Even historically, I think about the ways that the Black Panther Party brought food to disabled activists that were shutting down San Francisco decades ago. Mia Mingus: So it could look on a movement scale, or it can look on an individual scale. And I think right now we're seeing it in terms of the crisis and pandemic that we're living through, with people who are cooking meals for each other, checking on each other, helping to go and get groceries or supplies for folks who are immune-suppressed, maybe, or who are elders, or who are already feeling the impacts of coronavirus on their body, and not able to go out for themselves. It could be also folks who are helping to zoom in with families to talk with and help entertain kids who are now at home, and really going very much stir-crazy. I talked to a nine-year-old yesterday who just was jumping up and down the whole time, just needing to get that energy out. So it can look all different types of ways. We are also seeing it being organized on a community-wide scale, too. Lots of cities or towns are organizing mutual aid initiatives and projects for people, just strangers to just sign up for what they need, and then strangers to list what they can offer, and then trying to just connect people that way. So that's mutual aid. Mia Mingus: And then we at the BATJC, the Bay Area Transformative Justice Collective, we have been using a model that we are calling pods. We've been using it for a long [inaudible 00:04:07] time, in the last five to six years. It's been a way for us to help folks think about how they want to respond to violence and harm in their communities, but also to crisis. Because when violence happens, oftentimes it's a crisis [inaudible 00:04:24]. Dr. Connie Wun: [inaudible 00:04:26]. Mia Mingus: No worries. We've been using it as a way to respond to harm and violence, but also to crisis, because when violence happens, it is a crisis. We've also been using it as a way of prevention. Your pod is made up of the people that you would call on if you were experiencing violence or harm or abuse, period. It could be if you were experiencing it and being targeted for it. It could be if you were experiencing it and you were doing the violence, or maybe you might do the violence. Or, if you witness the violence, or somebody that you love did the violence or was being targeted for the violence. But in short, it's just who would you call on if you were experiencing violence or had crisis. We came up with this model because we were using the term community, but what we found was that a lot of people didn't really know what community actually meant, and even more people felt like they had never actually experienced community. Mia Mingus: We also found that so many people were using the word community, but not necessarily sharing the same definition. Some people were using community as in a geographic location, like ... I'm part of the Bay Area community, but that's millions and millions of people. Some people were using it in terms of arbitrary values or practices, like I'm in community with them because I see them at the queer brunches that we go to. Or identity-based, like I'm part of the feminist community, or I'm part of the disabled community. And it's like, okay, but who from that feminist community would actually show up for you in a time of crisis? If you needed to move out of your apartment right away, if you needed somebody to take you to the emergency room, to your doctor, or if you needed somebody to cook a meal for you, who are those people? And then it was like, "Oh, maybe just two or three people." Mia Mingus: So pods became a way for us to get more concrete around what we were asking of people, because when we would say, "Turn to your community, or organize your community," in terms of transformative justice work, in terms of responding to harm, a lot of people, it just felt so overwhelming to them, and for many people, they didn't know who that actually meant. So pods was created as a way to name a specific type of relationship that we have with people. Your pod people may not be your closest people. Your pod people are people that you can rely on and can turn to in times of crisis, in times of emergency, in times of violence. Sometimes that can be your bestie, but sometimes it's not. Sometimes maybe it's a coworker that you're not as close to, but you know if you needed them, they would show up for you. Mia Mingus: And then, you can also have multiple pods. You can have as many pods as you want to. For example, the people that you might call on, Connie, if you survived violence, as a survivor, for example, might be different than people you would call on to support you in taking accountability for something that you've done. Those might be different people, and that's okay. A lot of us, and this is the reality that we live in right now, a lot of us have more people that we could call on if we were being targeted by violence or if we were suffering, basically, because of violence or harm that happened, and less people that we call on to support us around our accountability. Mia Mingus: So pods was developed initially for responses to violence and harm, and both [inaudible 00:07:56]. When I was talking about it earlier as a preventative measure, we've been trying to encourage people to build their pods now, before violence happens, before an emergency or crisis happens, because when you're already in the throes of an emergency or in a crisis, that is not the time to be having ... to be like, "Hey, do you want to sit down and talk with me for an hour about what pods means?" That is a time to activate your pod network. Mia Mingus: So, what we have been telling people is, no matter what's going on in your life, you can be building your pod, you can be asking people for consent if they want to be in your pod, which is super important. But I think now, in this moment, is a time where folks ... this is an excellent time for people to be activating their pods but also, if you haven't thought of pod building or haven't heard about it before, to be doing that work, and mapping your pod people now. I know a lot of us have a lot of time at home now. You can go to our website, You could also just google it, and go and find our pods and pod-mapping worksheet. There's a write-up that goes along with it, and you can map your pod [inaudible 00:09:08]. You can sit down with your whole family or your whole ... all of your roommates and map your pods together. Mia Mingus: Whatever ... social distancing, of course, but whatever it looks like for you to just start having those conversations, and getting consent from people. Maybe some people you live with are people who would be part of your pod. And maybe you might have different pods. You might have different people who might be down to help you if you're a disabled person, for example, around a health crisis than ... you might have different people, though, who might be down to help you if you were surviving sexual violence, for example. Some people might have different pod for people who will support them around taking accountability for their white privilege, for example, than ... might be different people, though, who might support you if you were targeted for queer or trans violence. Totally, totally fine to have different types of pods. Mia Mingus: But no matter what, we really encourage people to try to think about creating pods with people who are local to you. Of course you can have emotional support pod people who are around the country, but especially when we're talking about violence or crisis, it's really important to try to have some people here, wherever the city is or the town is that you live in, because it's hard if somebody lives across the country to be able to get to you fast enough, and in the amount of time that it would probably be ideal for them to be there. So that's a little bit about mutual aid and pods. Mia Mingus: And what's really exciting in this moment is that people are putting the two together and saying, "How can we use pods in a mutual aid way?" Actually, [inaudible 00:10:45] put out a google doc that's open to people around pod mapping for mutual aid, and so you can google that, too. But what I've been telling people is to get creative. You can just evolve pods, use pods, however it's useful for you. Pair it with other things. Take the parts that are useful, leave the parts that aren't. Whatever you're able to do in this moment, that's totally fine. It's been exciting for us because in our work over the past bunch of years, encouraging people and helping to teach people about pods, and helping to teach them how to do it, a lot of our folks already have been doing that work, so they have people in this moment. Mia Mingus: I think this is a great moment, too, to start reflecting on ... because the whole piece about pods is, they're reliable relationships. A lot of us living under capitalism, and living in the West, because capitalism relies on the breaking of relationships, a lot of us don't have those solid people. We don't have people we can have nuanced conversations about accountability with, or people that we know can actually show up for us in the ways that we need them to show up for us. We don't have a lot of people that we've had those pre-existing conversations, so to speak with around, "These are my thoughts around prisons, or these are my access needs, so if a crisis happens, this is what I need, and this is what will not be helpful." So this is a great moment to also reflect on, one, why don't we have more of those relationships in our life? But also, who are those people? Start having those conversations. There's never a bad time, because I think the reality of ... everything that I've been reading around this pandemic that we're in, at least in the US particularly, I think it's going to get much worse before it starts to get better. Dr. Connie Wun: I really love what you're saying, and I really love how you're charting out what pods can look like and what they can do in terms of different types of violence, and different types of needs. I know that this is a really good time to start creating pods. I know, for me, I literally was just looking through your pod worksheet, and I just thought, "I don't really know my neighbors." So all I could ... for that moment, I thought, "Okay, let me at least text them, and ask them what it is that they may need. Let me tell them what I'm good at. Let me see if they want to form some type of small ... maybe not community, but a little pod with me." And the reception was just like ... they were super excited about it. What they called it was "friendly neighbors," which is great. So I think it's a good time to just start the stages of getting to know one another, and who can be there for you in this period. Then you start building relationships, so that when the time comes to form the pod as well, I think it's also ... you're helping us to think through the importance of relationships under this context. Mia Mingus: And I also thing ... yes. And I love that, Connie, what you're saying, because part of what we're doing in transformative justice is we're saying, "How can we respond to violence, harm, and abuse in ways that don't rely on prisons, the police, the criminal legal system and the courts, [inaudible 00:14:10], that don't rely on the state, basically, and violence systems that we're embedded in. I think right now is a really amazing moment, also, to see that our government is not ... they've dropped the ball so much, on so many things, but especially around this pandemic that's happening right now, and we're seeing how states and different regions and different cities have had to take it upon themselves to just make calls, because there's no leadership coming from the top. There's no assistance or support coming from the top. Mia Mingus: And in fact, there's actually actual very real harm and danger coming from the top. Misinformation, lack of action, literal lies that are coming out. And also I think because of ... regardless of whatever party lines you fall on, I think everybody knows that our president doesn't tell the truth, and has a hard time saying the truth, and so I think also what's so harmful right now is that so many people cannot trust what the government is telling us right now, especially the leadership at the top in the White House, and their administration. So because of that, other people have had to take the lead. Mia Mingus: I think that ... part of what I always say to people is, "Look, if we're not going to rely on state systems, if we're not going to use prisons and the police, for example, then that means it's us. That means it is us who is going to have to ... we are going to be the ones who have to respond to things like sexual assault, murder, bullying, stalking, domestic violence, et cetera, et cetera." I think in this moment we're also seeing what in some ways, to me, is so magnificent, even though it's terrible that it's happening in this way ... we're seeing regular people and just communities step and say, "Hey, what can I do?" Mia Mingus: And again, I just really want to emphasize to people that I think people should do what you can do in this moment. It doesn't have to be the biggest, most sweeping thing. You don't have to organize or initiate a city-wide or state-wide thing. Yeah, of course, if you can do that, and you feel good in that, great. We need that. But do what you can, even if it's small. Even if it's just you taking care of your roommates, taking care of your family, or reaching out to your neighbors. Like you were saying, getting to know your neighbors. Even if it's just you working with your neighborhood, and different people within that neighborhood. That's totally fine. Right now, I think we need the small ... we need everyone to be doing small things. We need the small ... it's so important right now. We need the small to be able to fight the big. In this country at least, we need 300-plus million people doing the small things. Mia Mingus: In addition to that, if you can do big things, great. But we need everyone washing their hands, we need everyone doing social distancing as much as possible. These small things are what we need. And in many ways, I think this reflects a lot of what we're talking about in transformative justice, is if we all do our own work around taking our own accountability and learning about transformative justice, and learning about accountability, and practicing skills around these things, that that actually adds up and it becomes ... I think about it as the small things help to add up and become a rippling force that move outwards, that can actually have some type of broader impact on what we're trying to change. Mia Mingus: I do want to just emphasize that building relationships and maintaining relationships, especially in this time, but always, is such an important thing for us to do and to be practicing. Any time we are neglecting our relationships ... I'm sure that every single person who's watching this has somebody that they need to apologize to, has a relationship they need to work on mending. And I know we're in the throes of a crisis right now, and so I'm not saying you have to do that right now, but to not lose that work whenever this gets finished, and we don't know what the world will look after that. That's a lot of talking. Is this okay? Dr. Connie Wun: We're not going to be like ... edit anything we're saying right now, so everything you're saying is actually really amazing. I love how you're walking people through all these parts, and I think the emphasis around the community building is essential, especially under this administration, under this crisis. And there's this kind of false understanding, I think, of isolation versus community, when in fact we're isolating for community. [inaudible 00:18:57] we're seeing who are running around the streets thinking, "I can live my best life," it's like, "But are you going to help the grandma, or the person whose immune system you can't tell is actually really compromised right now? Are you going to help their lives?" So I appreciate you ... you've always done this. You've done a great job in reminding us about the power of community, and you've always done such an incredible job reminding us that we can rely on each other, and that's what we've always been doing, and we can do a better job at it. Dr. Connie Wun: I think we're also going to notice ... and I'll just maybe ask you one more question after this. The world has already changed, and it's going to change drastically after this moment. I can only imagine the type of surveillance that's going to have to take place. Bio-surveillance will be major. Because what the government tends to do is, "Oh, we messed up, and so let's just police everybody thereafter." So I think they're going to clamp down on the policing, they're going to clamp down on community, and so I think our form of resistance will be to create community on our terms. I would love for you to help us to say something or think something about that. Because I know they're going to be using this isolation, capitalizing off of it and making it a really painful thing. I threw that question at you. I know I didn't write that in the list, so I don't know if you have things to say, but I'd love to hear your thoughts. Mia Mingus: There's so many thoughts that I have. One is that I think ... right. Social distancing, I think it's a misleading term, because it doesn't mean that you have to not be social at all, but it means you can't be in physical proximity with people, or you need to keep a physical distance from people. There are so many other ways that we can still be social with each other, and be in connection with each other. We're not saying that we can't be in connection with each other. You can use Marco Polo, you can use Zoom, you can use Google Hangouts, you can use text, you can use FaceTime, whatever it is that you are using. Write letters to people. I don't know what it is that you feel comfortable doing. But there's so many different ways that we can be connected right now. Mia Mingus: I think that one thing that feels really important to also name, just from a disability justice perspective, is that so many people have already been living this reality for their entire lives. For decades. That people who are immune-compromised, people with chronic health stuff, people who are chronically ill, folks who are ... and then of course, none of these categories are mutually exclusive. People who are elderly, folks who maybe have been living with significant amount of stigma, people who are disabled in lots of different ways and who, myself included, who have had to learn how to live all of most of our lives home, and that's been our reality. I also want to remind people, you'll be okay, and also, this would be a good time to reflect on ... if you're going stir-crazy after a day and a half in your house, to remember that there's so many other people who spend years, their lives, isolated, because the world is so inaccessible and/or because it's so toxic, and in order for them to literally just live, they have to isolate themselves. Mia Mingus: So one, I think it's good to check that as much as possible. But also, I think part of what ... to me, what is important to remember is that ... I think we throw around the term building community, or the word community, all the time. But community is made up of individual people. I know it can feel overwhelming to be like, "Now I have to build community." I don't know who that is. But if you just start with people that you already have a close relationship with and continue to deepen and tend to those relationships and make sure they're good, and then slowly start rippling out from there, that is the work. Because if everybody does that, then as we connect, we're connected to all these people. Mia Mingus: And if you think about pods, everybody probably has ... this is our pod worksheet that you can download on our website. We just have six circles here. The bolded line circles are your pod people that you currently have. One, I want to be really clear. A lot of people probably only have one or two people, and that's okay, again, because we live under capitalism. But what I'm saying is that if everybody has, let's say, two to six people in their pod, and then all those people have two to six people in their pod, all those people have two to six people in their pod, that, to me, is a concrete way of how community gets built. That it's not just one person who's connected to 300, 500, 700 people, because you can't. It's impossible to do that. Mia Mingus: And so I think, as we think about surveillance, as we think about the lengths to which the state is going to go, and the things that they're going to do to handle this, it makes me think a lot about Naomi Klein's Shock Doctrine. We're still in a moment of shock. We're in a moment of collective shock, and I can see it everywhere and register it. We haven't gotten into ... I think next week we'll feel a lot different, as people ... this really resonates in them and settles, that this is our new reality. Mia Mingus: [inaudible 00:24:40] I think about Naomi Klein's Shock Doctrine in terms of what that shock, what that disaster allows, then, and creates space for nation-states to do, basically. And how people are scared and are looking for somebody to do something, and often in that fear, tend to give away our rights. So that kind of, "Well, it's better to be safe than sorry, so I'll go through these body searches," or whatever, even though they're completely ... yeah. I was reading an article last night actually, just as a side note, that I thought was really great. It was called "America is a Sham," I think is what it's called. But it's talking about how this virus is laying bare how so many of the policies or rules that we had are just so arbitrary, and how now all of a sudden they're able to cancel people's mortgage payments. They're able to put a stop to evictions. They're able to ... now you're able to bring 12-oz hand-sanitizers on a plane. Mia Mingus: So I also feel like this is a moment for us to reach out to each other, because again, if we're not going to rely on these state systems, then it needs to be us. And I say that also knowing that a lot of our work implodes, not because we don't have deeply compelling work, but it implodes because of interpersonal stuff. How many people here watching this have been part of a group or a group project or a political group or what have you that imploded because of interpersonal dynamics, because people didn't know how to handle conflict well, because they didn't know how to apologize, because they didn't know how to listen to each other well, or make people feel like they're valued? And again, I know we're not in the moment ... we're in the moment of crisis, so nobody can really think about those things right now, but I don't want us to lose that, that as we're building our relationships, we need a lot of these basic skills that we don't have. Dr. Connie Wun: I know that your organization offers some of those basic skills. And then, as we wrap up, I also want to say that I think this is also a really good moment ... you mentioned acquiescing and giving up our power. I think this is also a moment for us to recognize what our powers currently are in community, and that also enables us to challenge and recreate the rules of society as well. I think that's important for us to think through, because I think about AOC, I think about Congresswoman Barbara Lee, I think about all these folks who are saying things that some of us actually agree with. There are some of us who are working at multiple levels to change the rules of the game, and I think starting from the bottom with our pods is ... starting with our pods, and then building upon our pods, is probably one of the best approaches to transforming this whole place. Mia Mingus: Yeah, and I also ... I do want to add, as we're building these alternatives to these state systems, and these community-based projects or initiatives or what have you, I also want to add that I don't think that means that we should let the state off the hook, either. I think that with all this time that people are going to have at home, use some of that to make calls to your representatives and your senators. Tell them what you want, that we want ... they should open up vacant housing to homeless people right now. Flood the White House. Flood the websites. We have a moment where we can also use this time, and there's lots that we can do even thought we're home. You don't have to just be in the streets to protest. We've seen what's going on. You can call your local and state representatives as well, to demand state and local changes as well, right now. Mia Mingus: You can also be organizing your pod, or people that you know in your community, to do the same thing. What if they weren't able to get a call out, because the phone just kept ringing with people saying, "Listen, we need mandatory paid sick leave for everybody right now. Healthcare for everyone." What if we were able to make some big changes, kind of in the flip-reverse of the Shock Doctrine? I just want to say that out loud, because I think in these moments is a good time to also reflect on, this is one of the reasons why we do have a government. For especially times like this, where we are in a global pandemic, where yeah, we can do the local organizing and have strong local communities, and both and ... how is that ... but what is going to happen when there's a global pandemic ... a pandemic means global, but when there's a pandemic. I just keep saying global pandemic because I know a lot of people don't know the difference between an epidemic or a pandemic. Mia Mingus: I think it's important to also think through, as we're pushing back against the state, we also want them to be held accountable. Because they're supposed to be protecting their citizens. They're supposed to be protecting people right now, and they are not doing that. I think that it is okay to say, "Look, you have all these resources, and you need to spend them and distribute them and put them to use in a just manner, and people are dying, and it is not okay." So I just want to say that. Dr. Connie Wun: Because I'm paying attention to some of the folks on the grounds right now. They are working endlessly. I also know the top administration's making that work really challenging for them. So this is also a good time for us to wrap things up, but I wanted you to give us maybe the top three things that you think folks should be doing right now, given everything you know and your vision for the rest of ... Mia Mingus: No pressure, right? Okay, listen. I'll split it into three little mini things. One, please, please, do all the things that every single person should be trying to do to the best of their ability for the pandemic right now. Please practice social distancing, please stay at home as much as possible. We don't now what the long-term effects are, or what this virus will do. All of the information we're getting is just information that people have had just over the last handful of months. So please stay home, wash your hands, do all the things. The second thing I would say is ... so one, take care of yourself, and be responsible, and take your own personal self-accountability around what you need to do, because if we all do that, then it can really make a big impact. Mia Mingus: Two, please take care of other people. Again, as for consent, but please reach out and build those relationships. Check in on folks, especially if you have elders, disabled people, folks who are immune-compromised or immune suppressed in your life. Especially folks who have kids, and kids and youth at this time, as well. Please, please do that, and make sure that you are staying in communication with them as much as possible. Build a new muscle up, a new set of skills up in terms of learning how to stay connected, even though you're not in physical proximity. Mia Mingus: And the third one that I would say is, build your pod. Now is a great time, along with those calls I was telling y'all to make to your representatives, now is a great time to put aside an hour or two to map your pods. Go to the BATJC's website, read about them, educate other people about your pod. Think through who your crisis pod might be, versus who your pod might be around if you got mugged in the street tomorrow. All different types of ways. And especially because we focus on child sexual abuse, I do want to put a plug in for you to think about kids' pods. People can build pods for their children, especially if their kids are too young to be able to do it for themselves yet. But think about who the people you would want in your kid's pod, and that you can be part of a child or a youth's pod, too. Because again, if we ripple that out and everybody does it, that's a really concrete way that we can connect our community. Dr. Connie Wun: Perfect. Okay. So remind us again where it is that folks can learn more about your work, and around BATJC? Mia Mingus: You can go to my blog, which is Leaving Evidence. I think it's Maybe it's Just google it; you'll find it. You can also go to ... let me redo that. Take that out. Okay. You can go to my blog, which is called Leaving Evidence. You can also go to the BATJC's website, which is You can also follow me on Instagram, which is one of the only social medias I really use, which is mia.mingus. I've been posting a ton of information about [inaudible 00:34:08] coronavirus, and I have two highlights on my profile page that have ... I just filled up one the other day, and it takes a hundred posts to fill up one of them, so there's so many resources I've been putting out there. Dr. Connie Wun: Thank you, thank you, thank you. And then it's Mia Mingus, M-I-A M-I-N-G-U-S. Mia Mingus: Yeah. M-I-A-dot-M-I-N-G-U-S. Dr. Connie Wun: Perfect. She's absolutely amazing, and she's been doing tons of research, has been one of our greatest community leaders for a very long time. So I want to thank you guys, and I want to thank you for joining us. Thanks, guys. We're doing the best we can to help you all out, and each other. Talk to you soon. Bye. Mia Mingus: Bye.

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