Mutual Aid Organizing Responds to Coronavirus Pandemic

Interview with Anthony Barroso, a member of the Semilla Collective, conducted by Melinda Tuhus

Along with the tragedy of human illness, death and the economic disaster created by the Covid-19 virus, the pandemic has also spurred the organizing of effective mutual aid groups across the country, ranging from food delivery to the collection of cash donations for the jobless, to rent strikes and more.

In New Haven, Connecticut, the Semilla Collective has focused their organizing mostly in support of the many undocumented residents in the city, who are excluded from state and federal financial benefits – such as unemployment insurance, stimulus funds, small business forgivable loans and food stamps.

Between The Lines’ Melinda Tuhus spoke with Anthony Barroso, a member of the Semilla Collective, which means “seed” in Spanish. Here, he discusses the organizing his group has done in response to the crisis and what the group foresees as its role in the post-pandemic future.

ANTHONY BARROSO: The Semilla Collective is a grassroots collective formed of community members from all over the Greater New Haven (Connecticut) area with many years of experience in organizing and activism. The collective was formed in the fall of 2019. The goal is not only to fight for our immigrant and working families but also to create a stronger sense of community by holding cultural events and coming up with creative ways to think out of the box.

And like right now we’re still growing but we’re just looking at all the work we’ve been able to accomplish so far. We didn’t think we’d be here at this moment, but I guess the crisis just propelled us into action. So, we have the Food Garage and the New Haven Mutual Aid Fund. They’re distinct projects but they’re also connected. The goal of the Semilla Fund is $100,000 and we’re at $54,000 at the moment. The folks that initiated are part of the Semilla Collective and we’re working together to connect our resources as well as our connections to folks in the community. That is the way we’ve been able to reach people who need assistance. We’ve been working hard to utilize all the skills and the different organizations that we are part of outside the Semilla Collective.

So far we’ve been able to deliver more than 450 boxes of food to families in the greater New Haven area. And we think about how this will look after the pandemic, because we don’t want this to end. And we’re kind of in that stage where we’re thinking long term. But we’re also starting initiatives to create a co-op for a garden space in New Haven. We are trying to come up with ways to create spaces where people who are creative can share their art and share their skills. So, we have a couple little projects here and there, but the Food Garage and the Mutual Aid Fund has been what really has grown really quickly, and we are really humbled to see the way the community wants to take a part in helping each other and volunteering to do different roles. We’ve had to create a system now of volunteers and data keeping and reaching out to different distributors to get donations and to ensure that we’re doing this in a safe space, following standards by the New Haven city and the health guides as well.

MELINDA TUHUS: Anthony Barroso, who is in the collective now, and who can join?

ANTHONY BARROSO: So, we are actually a very diverse mix of many folks from different cultural, linguistic, and all different kinds of races in New Haven. So anyone that shares our values can be part of the Semilla Collective. We are anti-racist. We believe in immigrants’ rights, workers’ rights. We strive to create a stronger community where folks can rely on each other. So anyone who would be down with those values and would want to put in the work to help us in any way they can, those are the folks we are working with and are part of the Semilla Collective. And different skill sets are valued. We’re not just activists and organizers, we have artists, parents, advocates, educators, health care workers. So it’s a pretty diverse mix of folks.

MELINDA TUHUS: There’s a petition going around to Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont to provide funds to undocumented families, like California just did with a combination of state funds and private donations to the tune of $125 million. How does that petition fit into your fundraising?

ANTHONY BARROSO: Yeah, so we’ve been collaborating and having conversations with folks from New Haven Legal Assistance, and we’ve signed on to support their petition and ensure that the government also steps up and does its part, because even though we’ve been able to raise a substantial amount of money, we see that the need is much greater than what we’ve been able to provide. And immigrants and undocumented folks pay taxes, pay into the system that we live in, and many times are left out, so we definitely support the initiative.

For more information, visit the Semilla Collective website at semillacollective.org.

Subscribe to our Weekly Summary