“We Have to Do This For Each Other”

CaptureThe July 14, 2020 panel discussion on LAM (Libraries, Archives, Museums) Mutual Aid & Solidarity, hosted by AWE Fund Organizing Committee is now available online on You Tube.

Participants included Callan Bignoli of Protect Library Workers, Anna J. Clutterbuck-Cook of AWE Fund, John Chrastka of EveryLibrary’s HALO Fund, and Paula Santos of Museum Workers Speak, which established the Museum Workers Speak Relief Fund. The event was moderated by Alison Clemens and facilitated by Jessica Chapel of the AWE Fund Organizing Committee.

Panelists discussed the origins of their mutual aid models of community care and community-building solidarity efforts among library, archives, and museum workers and principles guiding the development of their funds or collectives. More broadly, participants addressed the meaning of mutual aid and solidarity to them individually and as a group, and how mutual aid fits into a broader organizing strategy for LAM workers.

While originating in different LAM contexts, all mutual aid and solidarity efforts address the immediate need for material aid and community care during the long COVID-19 health, economic and solidarity crisis. “The legitimate agenda in a crisis like this is the human need,” said John Chrastka, highlighting how they retooled the EveryLibrary initiative to address not only the needs of the institutions, but also the needs of every library worker during the crisis. The panelists made clear that their efforts went beyond the immediate crisis and confronted much broader, structural problems and imbalances of power in the LAM fields that the COVID 19 crisis has exposed more clearly. Some institutions quickly furloughed workers, especially those in precarious positions, yet there is a gap around labor and solidarity organizing among library and other LAM workers. Protect Library Workers, the AWE Fund, Museum Workers Speak, and EveryLibrary’s HALO Fund thus all walk the line between addressing the immediate crisis, while working toward developing larger and lasting community care and solidarity structures for LAM workers. In the absence of larger structures, such as a National Library Workers Union, the organizing efforts made clear that, “there are things that we can do to bolster our own ability to pull ourselves up in these situations and protect ourselves from some of the more egregious abuses,” said Callan Bignoli.

A key principle for all mutual aid funds has been to keep barriers to the funding and support networks low and, “believe people when they say they need a hand. That is incredibly radical,” said Paula Santos, comparing it to the process of means-testing common for most funding applications. All efforts are united in their approach to support all workers in libraries, archives and museums, not only those with professional degrees. “We were all really united on this idea that we wanted the fund to be open to all archival workers,“ said Anna Clutterbock-Cook.

While fundraising has been a key component for HALO, AWE Fund and the Museum Workers Speak fund, the panelists made clear that money was only one component of mutual aid and community care. The mutual aid and solidarity efforts have highlighted the need for establishing formal and informal networks, for conversations across professions and hierarchies and for gathering knowledge about organizing. Participants discussed the benefits of leveraging existing structures, such as labor unions or the Society of American Archivists, for inspiration and practical support. The efforts also opened up possibilities of emulating at a grassroots level models of how we can organize and work together. “How do we think together? How do we work together? How do we imagine together?“ asked Paula Santos.

Alison Clemens concluded the panel with an open question from the Q&A: “How do we unite all of these wonderful but disparate efforts?” The event was one important step of uniting the L and A and M in a larger effort of creating informal and formal networks of mutual aid and solidarity during and beyond the long COVID-19 crisis, and the proceeds from optional donations from attendees were split among the organizations.