The Rochester Mutual Aid Network began as a crisis response to the COVID-19 pandemic. When the pandemic hit, and the quarantine orders began, they hit a city that was already in crisis; poverty, homelessness, gentrification, and layoffs had already been a feature of life in Rochester for years. The COVID-19 crisis and the turmoil it would bring would only exacerbate the foundational problems we were facing as a city.
Drawing on the long tradition of mutual aid, we started the Network to help our community sustain itself. Our task was simple in concept: connect those in need of aid with those who can offer it. Our community is vast and diverse, and through organizing we believe we can not only sustain our community through this pandemic, but grow a Network that will help our community thrive after this crisis is behind us. The Network is run democratically and transparently, composed exclusively of volunteers working together to create something resilient that will strengthen our community.
The Rochester Mutual Aid Network began as a project of the Rochester chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America, but has since grown to include members from the Rochester Organization of Rank and File Educators, the City Wide Tenant Union, Citizen Action, Metro Justice, and the pivoting of campaign volunteers from Monroe County for Bernie Sanders, and Robin Wilt for Congress into Flower City Mutual Aid. Most importantly, we are a collection of people who believe in something bigger than ourselves, who believe that it is a moral imperative to make the world more humane and more democratic.
RMAN is Anti-Capitalist. The capitalist system that people in this country currently live under has never benefited “the people'' and systemically works to impoverish socially marginalized groups. We oppose our current economic system of capitalism where wealth is concentrated in the hands of the few and created by the labor of the many. Capitalism offers "freedom”: the "freedom" to quit a job you hate, followed almost immediately by the "freedom" to starve. There can be no real Freedom without a robust society where food, housing, healthcare, education, and transportation are guaranteed equitably to all, where people are not oppressed by state violence through police and prisons, where the climate crisis is addressed seriously and immediately, and where the workplace is operated democratically and transparently. In the words of Martin Luther King, Jr., “No one is free until we are all free.”
While capitalism creates false scarcity and demands we compete over it, we know that with cooperation there is enough for all of us. Traditional charity models rely on impersonal handouts from wealthy philanthropists, which perpetuates the myth that there is only enough to go around when the rich say so. Instead, we choose to build and sustain personal relationships with one another, neighbor to neighbor, and share our resources and talents generously. There is enough to go around. We believe in solidarity, not charity.
We strive to make our organization inclusive and accessible to all. It is our responsibility to create a space where people of all races, classes, religions, gender identities, sexualities, disability statuses, immigration statuses, and any other factors are fully included and welcomed.
We will use our platform and volunteer base to support other organizations that uphold values in which we believe. We'll stand alongside these organizations in our combined struggle for the following:
The Rochester Mutual Aid Network is run democratically and transparently by a group that is composed exclusively of volunteers. We have no board of directors, and we have almost no administration costs. We are currently fiscally sponsored under 490 Farmers 501(c)(3), which means donations are tax deductible. Our online payment processor (Stripe) receives a percentage of each online donation, as a fee for processing payments. After those costs are deducted, 100% of the funds we receive go to direct aid for community members. We have proven to be quite effective at meeting the needs of our friends who seek aid in a democratic way, and we hope to continue to expand our scope in order to make sure that people can not only live through the crisis, but can do so while experiencing real democracy.
Anyone is welcome to join, and any member of the Network has the same voting rights and decision-making power as everyone else. We have general meetings once a week on online video calls to work out management of the Network, and we are in constant contact with each other through various communications channels. There are also semi-regular meetings for smaller task groups. Most decision-making happens at the meetings, but on-the-fly votes are often taken online when time-sensitive matters present themselves.