Coming Together group releases list of COVID-19 response demands

COVID-19 Coming Together, a Facebook volunteer group created in March, has recently released a list of demands for provincial and federal leaders to take action in protecting the people of Vancouver during the ongoing pandemic.

Influenced by CareMongering-TO and Toronto/Tkaronto Mutual Aid, the demands are organized into the five key pillars of “decolonization,” “healthcare for all,” “no work obligations,” “public services for all” and “solidarity not policing.” Additionally, the document includes a provision of resources to mobilize individuals to support those most vulnerable to COVID-19.

The group currently has over 34,000 members and is led by a number of student activists, including UBC students Ishmam Bhuyian, Gabby Doebeli and Kate Hodgson.

Hodgson said that the intention of the group was to “build a network of mutual aid and solidarity.”

“It’s been really beautiful … this is a moment where we have a responsibility to show up for each other but we also have a responsibility to organize, to make sure that no one is left behind,” said Hodgson.

Although the demands are addressed to political authorities, the group understands that it also has an important role in supporting different groups throughout Vancouver during this crisis.

“We have since created a web app ... to connect people to specific needs that they have and other people to specific offers that they can provide to people with needs,” said Bhuyian.

Supporting marginalized communities

The group has observed that the individuals most impacted by COVID-19 are members of marginalized social groups, such as people of colour, the poor, the disabled, the sick, migrants, and prisoners. Through its demands, Coming Together strives to advocate for the communities that tend to be neglected by others.

“The reason that we wanted to formulate these demands was that it provides a platform and an orientation for folks ... to fill in these institutional gaps,” said Doebeli.

Bhuyian said that a lot of the “common-sense policies” being passed in response to COVID-19 have been framed as “temporary" by the government.

“Part of the work that we have to do as a community, as organizers who care about poor and working-class people in our province, is to make sure that these basic protections and these basic policies aren’t stripped away,” said Bhuyian.

Mutual aid

Although the group was only established last month, its Facebook platform has united people from various walks of life who share the goal of protecting one another during the current pandemic. Through their list of demands, the group members invite others to develop a greater appreciation for mutual aid.

“What we’re trying to do by releasing these demands is invite people to think about mutual aid differently, to invite people to explore the political possibilities that have opened up throughout this pandemic, and also hopefully to create a space for education and learning and politicization,” said Hodgson.

The group is asking leaders in the government and in other powerful institutions to implement policies that account for the circumstances of the less-privileged groups of Vancouver, while also using its platform to encourage other people to spread awareness of the existing inequalities in society.

“I think this pandemic is bringing to light … a lot of institutional gaps and a lot of needs that folks are facing. So I think it’s important … for us to check in with our communities and to see … where are the gaps and how can we fill them?” said Doebeli.

“Thinking about the potential that each of us has to contribute to improving the lives of those around us … I think we’re in a really, really powerful moment.”