Wednesday, April 01, 2020

The Coronavirus Commons

The Guardian columnist George Monbiot is always makes for interesting reading even if sometime we may differ with him. In this article of his we find a lot to agree with, although not everything.

"All over the world, communities have mobilised where governments have failed. The horror films got it wrong. Instead of turning us into flesh-eating zombies, the pandemic has turned millions of people into good neighbours.
In India, young people have self-organised on a massive scale to provide aid packages for “daily wagers”: people without savings or stores, who rely entirely on cash flow that has now been cut off. In Wuhan, in China, as soon as public transport was suspended, volunteer drivers created a community fleet, transporting medical workers between their homes and hospitals.
In South Africa, communities in Johannesburg have made survival packs for people in informal settlements: hand sanitiser, toilet paper, bottled water and food. In Cape Town, a local group has GIS mapped all the district’s households, surveyed the occupants, and assembled local people with medical expertise, ready to step in if the hospitals are overwhelmed. Another community in the city has built washstands in the train station and is working to turn a pottery studio into a factory making sanitiser.

In the US, HospitalHero connects healthcare workers who don’t have time to meet their own needs with people who can offer meals and accommodation. A group called WePals, created by an eight-year-old, sets up virtual play dates for children. A new website,, finds teaching, meals and emergency childcare for overstretched parents. A network called Money During Corona texts news of job opportunities to people looking for work.

In Norway, a group of people who have recovered from Covid-19 provide services that would be dangerous for non-immune people to offer. In Belgrade volunteers organise virtual coffee mornings and crisis counselling. Students in Prague are babysitting the children of doctors and nurses. Estates in Dublin have invented balcony bingo: the caller sits in the square between the blocks of flats with a large speaker, while the players sit on their balconies, taking down the numbers.
In the UK, thousands of mutual aid groups have been picking up shopping and prescriptions, installing digital equipment for elderly people and setting up telephone friendship teams. A mothers’ running group in Bristol have restyled themselves “drug runners”, keeping fit by delivering medicines from chemists’ shops to people who can’t leave their homes. 
Around the world, self-organised groups of doctors, technicians, engineers and hackers are crowdsourcing missing equipment and expertise. In Latvia, programmers organised a 48-hour hackathon to design the lightest face shield components that could be produced with a 3D printer. A number of UK groups are encouraging companies with protective equipment in their storerooms to give it to frontline health workers. In the Philippines, fashion designers have repurposed their workshops to produce protective suits. Sharing techniques through the website PatternReview, home sewers have been mass-producing masks and scrubs.

In just one week, a group of doctors, technicians and other experts organised themselves to design a crowdsourced ventilator, the OxVent, which can be produced from widely available parts for under £1,000. Another design, VentilatorPAL, can be manufactured for $370, according to the community of technicians that created it. The Coronavirus Tech Handbook is an open-source library pooling technologies and new organisational models for beating the pandemic. In the US, self-organised expert groups are filling some of the catastrophic gaps in public health provision, carrying out testing and tracking projects, creating directories of vulnerable people and speed-matching medical specialists with the hospitals that need them.

I have the sense that something is taking root now, something we have been missing: the unexpectedly thrilling and transformative force of mutual aid. "

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