Pandemic Catalyzes Grassroots Action, Mutual Aid, Collaboration

by Vins
Published: Updated:

Isolation, quarantine, and social distancing may be an effective strategy when dealing with a global pandemic like the COVID-19 coronavirus, but these measures can also accentuate the hyperindividuality and eroded social bonds of a market-driven (neoliberal) economy. The pandemic also reminds us of our shared existence and common needs. All around us, everyday people are stepping up to help meet the immediate needs of others—even as the federal government falls short of meeting those needs. Grassroots mutual aid and community-based actions have spontaneously emerged, with hundreds of Google docs, resource guides, webinars, online meetups, peer-to-peer loan programs, creative inventions, and more, online and on-the-ground. Here are a few examples.

One of the biggest obstacles to fighting COVID-19 is the lack of ventilators. But in just three hours engineers in Italy created a prototype for a 3-D printed valve that successfully converts scuba gear into a ventilator mask. The mask tested successfully in an Italian hospital so the engineers have made the 3-D valve plans available to everyone (online) for free. In a separate innovation involving ventilators, Dr. Alain Gauthier, from Perth and Smiths Falls District Hospital in Ontario, Canada redesigned a ventilator so it could serve as many as nine people.

Outraged at the skyrocketing price of hand sanitizer, a Pennsylvania distillery owner at Eight Oaks Farm converted his operation into a production line for the suddenly hard-to-find, gooey, alcohol-based disinfectant. As word got out, the distillery began hearing from people and groups in need, including a pediatric cancer organization and a woman whose 12-year-old son has heart disease and was desperate for hand sanitizer to help keep him safe.

The Disability Justice Culture Club in Oakland is making kits with hand sanitizer, wipes, and gloves, distributing them to homeless encampments and people with disabilities that cannot get out of the house or afford to buy these items.

Neighbors Helping Neighbors in Philadelphia is helping people get groceries, medicine, and other supplies. They are also helping arrange “soup swaps,” zero percent loans between friends and family members, and innovations like the “Philly Virtual Tip Jar” a Google spreadsheet that allows for direct donations to the many food industry workers out of a job.

In other cases, the pandemic has created a surprising sense of unity and cooperation in places with deep conflict. Despite decades of arguing over where to draw a border, Israel and the Palestinian areas in the West Bank are coming together to prioritize public health over politics—with doctors on both sides sharing COVID-19 tests, Palestinian health care professionals receiving training in Israeli hospitals, and promises to supply medical equipment and training to each other as needed, according to a Christian Science Monitor report.

Corporate news coverage about COVID-19 stories has largely been about the emerging illness and irelated ssues; positive storytelling and the sharing of innovations and ways that communities are coming together to solve their own problems have been minimal. In times like these, mutual aid, social bonds, and community responses become lifelines not just for the most vulnerable, but for entire communities. Tragic events like this one push people to improvise and find new solutions that can help humanity now and in the future.


Robert Raymond, “Coronavirus Catalyzes Growing Wave of Grassroots Action,” Shareable, March 24, 2020,

Michael Rubinkam and Lisa Rathke, “Distilleries Using High-Proof Alcohol to Make Hand Sanitizer,” Associated Press News, March 16, 2020,

Roxanne Patel Shepelavy, “This Virtual Tip Jar Helps Philly Food Industry Workers,” Philadelphia Citizen, March 19, 2020,

Joshua Mitnick, “‘Something Human’: Mideast Fight against Virus Elicits Rare Unity,” Christian Science Monitor, March 11, 2020,

Student Researcher: Emre Yasa (San Fransisco State University)

Faculty Evaluator: Kenn Burrows (San Fransisco State University)