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Published 04/09/2020 | Reading Time 5 min 38 sec
By Deon Osborne, Senior Writer
For families suffering under the economic shutdown caused by the COVID-19 virus, a local group of leftists is organizing the distribution of mutual aid kits filled with food and medical supplies.
Members of the Tulsa chapter of Socialist Rifle Association (SRA) in partnership with Green Country Industrial Workers of the World are accepting orders and donations for kits of essential non-perishable food items and over-the-counter medicines for families and individuals who need assistance getting through the remainder of the lockdown.
Though the national SRA defines itself as an educational organization dedicated to providing working-class communities information on self-defense, Tulsa SRA leader Nikol Kinu says mutual aid and disaster relief have always been important to the organization.Kinu says local members with disaster relief experience started discussing, forming a mutual aid project after witnessing the response to the novel virus from state and federal governments.
“I believe that given the scope of this pandemic and given the prior knowledge that our government had of how potentially bad this would become, that to me would illustrate an obligation to do something,” Kinu said.
In the last month, COVID-19 cases in Oklahoma have skyrocketed to more than 1,500 confirmed infections and 79 deaths. Weeks ago, Gov. Kevin Stitt claimed actual cases could be five times higher than confirmed cases.
While Tulsa Mayor G.T. Bynum has been nationally recognized for his decision to have the city shelter-in-place to contain the virus, Governor Stitt has so far failed to initiate a statewide shelter-in-place even as U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams urges all state governments to do so.
Many in Oklahoma are questioning the loose restrictions on what can be considered essential businesses over a concern that too many workers are needlessly exposed to the virus.
Moreover, racial data from states reeling from the virus show that Black and Latino, along with low-income Americans, are disproportionately dying from the disease.
“So far, the federal government has failed to provide an equitable response to this pandemic,” Kinu said. She’s working with a handful of other volunteers to fill the gap in essential needs and services. “I do feel though that whenever governments fail to act, the obligation does transfer to us to take care of each other because humans are ultimately social creatures,” Kinu said.
The volunteers work in a warehouse where bulk items received for distribution are first sorted, sanitized and stored in a sterile room. Volunteers who interact with donors or families in need act as though everyone is asymptomatic. They wear gloves and masks, sanitize themselves and their workstations and practice social distancing. Contents of the kits include non-perishable food items, protein snacks, fruit snacks, tissues, cough drops, chapstick, nasal spray, Vicks VapoRub, Dayquil, Nyquil, a thermometer, and other items.
Volunteer Kyle Shinn said the SRA got involved primarily to assist underserved communities. “We know that people of color, LQBTQ, and the poor will be left behind once the middle classes feel the first relief from this crisis,” Shinn said.
While millions of Americans wait for their coronavirus checks from the $2 trillion stimulus package passed by Congress and signed by the President in late March, students, some disabled residents and undocumented workers won’t be able to benefit from the relief.
Kyle Shinn said he feels state and federal governments have shown incompetence by focusing on saving businesses at the expense of people. “There should be a mandatory nationwide rent moratorium, universal healthcare, and nationalization of companies and basic services that fail to meet this crisis,” Shinn said.
For now, the volunteers are putting their socialist goals into direct action with the distribution of mutual aid kits.
Volunteer Austin Ridgard said he feels like he is living in two different worlds: one, inside the warehouse where he and his companions take the virus seriously and another, on the streets of Tulsa, where he doesn’t believe people are respecting the threat.
“The project takes on greater weight and scope when you think about the absolute rash of evictions that will be coming up,” Ridgard said.
So far, Oklahoma landlords have already filed more than 1,000 evictions across the state since the COVID-19 shutdown began.
Ridgard said the most frustrating part of doing social work is the politics around it. “Every group in the ladder has their place, but it would be nice if mutual aid organizations weren’t treated as vigilantes or criminals by government and nonprofit organizations,” Ridgard said.
Organizer Nikol Kinu said the group needs support from the community in the form of financial donations and pallets of food.
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Deon Osborne was born in Minneapolis, MN and raised in Lawton, OK before moving to Norman where he attended the University of Oklahoma. He graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Strategic Media and has written for OU’s student newspaper the OU Daily as well as OKC-based Red Dirt Report. He now lives in Tulsa, where he works at a local youth shelter. He is also a former intern at Oklahoma Policy Institute.