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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