As the number of confirmed covid-19 cases increases around the world, people are struggling to keep themselves mentally and physically safe and stable. Some individuals and communities are having a tougher time than others, especially the marginalized. In Canada, with more than 2,000 confirmed coronavirus cases to date, this struggle has led to the emergence of the “caremonger” movement.

Caremongering is cast as the antithesis in name and spirit to fearmongering. Instead of singing doomsday dirges, caremongers are coming together to form networks to support their communities, including people who are stuck at home, financially precarious or otherwise in distress. Groups have sprung up across the country, many organizing through social media platforms. They vary in form and size, from a handful of members to thousands. Some distribute food and supplies while others coordinate and run errands for those unable to do them. And some serve as a platform to organize volunteers.

Amara Possian, Seneca College professor and campaigns director at 350.org, has started one such group in Toronto and worked with other organizers to create how-to guide for setting them up. According to her, there are two sorts of groups now: mutual aid groups and neighborhood pods. The former are “primarily city-wide” and “organized virtually over Facebook,” she says. The latter are “groups of 5 to 30 people who are working to support one another.” Some of the larger Facebook groups are also organizing pods.

Possian knows that the work of her neighborhood pod matters, but also that it is insufficient. “Mutual aid is a critical part of our response to covid-19,” she said. “Our individual contributions are important and meaningful, but we need politicians to step in to accomplish what all of us, even working together, cannot do.”

In Hamilton, Sarah Jama and Samson Dekamo, organizers with the Disability Justice Network of Ontario and the Hamilton Centre for Civic Inclusion, have teamed up with the Student Mobilization Network to create the CareMongering-HamOnt group to help those in need. Their efforts include a Facebook group for those in search of assistance, a delivery service and a phone line.

These are just a couple of examples in what has quickly become an encouraging nationwide trend. But the underlying movement is not new.

Neither community solidarity nor mutual aid was invented this month. Minority, disabled and indigenous communities, among others, have lived deeply in and through community for a very long time. Many of those communities are built around camaraderie and persistence and structured to resist and last. Can a widespread, general caremongering movement take root in some similar way? And what happens as the pandemic drags on?

Yvonne Su, an international development scholar who researches post-disaster solidarity, argues that when facing a crisis, we tend to look for community solidarity — at first. “Community humanitarian responses can take many forms during a crisis, but generally they are smaller acts of altruism and solidarity that help to make those helping and those being helped feel better and stronger in the face of crisis,” she says. “However,” she adds, “once a new normal sets in, or when the competition for scarce resources — such as job opportunities in a time of mass layoffs, government handouts or humanitarian assistance — becomes clear, then the social tensions and cleavages of the past resurface and sometimes harden.”

There is a risk that some relief efforts are unsustainable, especially over time. As Su argues, “caremongering and community solidarity have historically been romanticized by the media and taken advantage of by government officials as a distraction from taking important formal actions and responsibility.” Canadians should work to ensure that we don’t let this happen.

The covid-19 pandemic is a crisis and a tragedy. It’s also a critical juncture and a call to action. No one asked for this moment, but it is here and we have a choice to make about how we want to do politics now and later. Caremongering and mutual aid communities exist for various reasons — some of which will never abate. But social and economic justice can and should strive to render many functions of the caremongering movement obsolete in the future.

Movements of care and solidarity ought to be built into policy and institutions to create a supporting framework for navigating life during and after crises. We ought to have a living wage for all, protected by unionization. Unlimited, paid sick leave without the need for a doctor’s note. Rapid access to robust employment insurance benefits. Universal health care that includes pharmaceutical, vision, dental and mental health coverage. Affordable child care. Affordable housing. And more still.

Such reforms will be a start to building a resilient, inclusive and just society. That work can and must begin now. The caremongering movement is an inspiring bright spot in dark times. Even brighter still would be not having to rely on mutual aid so extensively in the first place.

Read more: