FARGO — While many people struggle with their new reality of restricted hours or access to basic necessities due to the COVID-19 pandemic, a small group of Fargo-Moorhead locals joins the national phenomenon of "mutual aid".
Kayla Pridmore, Northern Plains Sustainable Agriculture Society member who's lived in Fargo for more than 12 years, first saw this practice of trading help online through Facebook friends who posted similar ideas in their communities in the Minneapolis area.
“When I lived in Minneapolis I was involved in the climate movement and am still connected to a lot of the community-minded folks,” she said. “It was within those communities that I first started seeing 'mutual aid spreadsheets' of this type being circulated.”
Geographer and author Peter Kropotkin defined "mutual aid" as a phenomenon that he saw repeated time and time again in his studies of various species, ecosystems, and societies where people cooperated to provide each other the greatest safety, and best guarantee of existence.
As of Tuesday, March 17, an article on Fastcompany.com reports more than a dozen of these "mutual aid networks" across the nation who operate online through free services like social media pages.
In Fargo-Moorhead, Pridmore created the first mutual aid marketplace through Google Sheets, a free, online spreadsheet software. Pridmore created a sheet with four tabs, the first page explaining the purpose of the spreadsheet.
“Hey! Are you freaking out at home about the novel coronavirus? Are you chill, but want to help your community? Here's a place to organize the needs and offers that our community has for each other. “
She then created three additional tabs with specific purposes.
- Asks: A place for people to request a need or amplify the needs of a neighbor
- Offers: A place to proactively offer resources
- Ideas: A place to brainstorm what we can create together including ways to keep neighborhoods safe and their collective spirits up.
Since the spreadsheet was created and shared via Facebook, the document has more than 50 collaborators as of March 17.
“People have been very quick to share it,” Pridmore said. “People are anxious to be proactive and find ways to help.”
The "offers" locals have listed range from car rides, grocery drop-offs, elder caregiving, and water distillers for those who need sterile water for healing sessions or aromatherapy.
Since Pridmore started the spreadsheet last week, the offers have outnumbered the requests for help. Even small businesses have joined the mutual aid movement by asking for help to live-stream their weekly trivia nights by offering comedy tickets when shows are rescheduled or a free pint of beer.
“I’m happy to see a local business like Front Street Taproom stepping up to make sure people can participate in trivia from afar, making sure we can continue our weekly rhythms and stay connected will be important,” Pridmore said.
Still, other locals like Warren Christensen offer support by posting statuses where they offer to drop off craft beer in growlers to neighbors, or women in the Ladybosss of Fargo-Moorhead Group helping others to get access to services online.
Like Front Street Taproom, other small businesses have turned to live-streaming events to bring people together, while many locals choose opt for social distancing from events or popular gathering places.
On Tuesday, March 17, Livewire streamed three local bands, Pat Lenertz Band, The Cropdusters and The JT Kennelly Band, to encourage people to support each other from afar.
"Many of those on our team come from theatre arts or music background, so we realized quickly that if our event schedule was fading due to coronavirus, our friends with local performance events would be in the same boat," explained Kent Kolstad, president and technical director at Livewire, a Fargo-based production and events company.
Kolstad said they decided to support the large-scale online streaming so locals could celebrate while maintaining their distance.
"We had over 9,100 unique views that spanned the globe, and we raised just under $1,000 to give back to the musicians," he said. "For an event that came together last-minute, we were thrilled with these results, and even more excited by the joy that we saw via the comments coming in throughout the concert."
Other upcoming events like Fargo's Tedx Open Mic, where individuals are given the opportunity to pitch their best ideas or showcase their talents for a chance to speak at the annual TedxFargo in July, has moved to online-only submissions. In previous years, open mics were held in-person. Those interested in submitting a 3-minute video to the open-mic must do so before March 20 at tedxfargo.com/be-a-speaker.
As the future remains uncertain, Kolstad said Livewire plans to do more streaming events in the future, hopefully with the help of other businesses in the community.
Kolstad and others in the community have used social media to highlight small businesses' need for support in the upcoming months.
"Our business, as well as the whole event production industry internationally, has been eviscerated by COVID-19," Kolstad said. "Our event production schedule for the next three months has completely emptied, with most events postponing as opposed to outright canceling."
Pridmore and others who have joined the mutual aid movement advocate for collaborative ways to help while admitting there may be holes in their current method to request or receive help.
"We have to remember that even as we try our best to provide mutual aid, there are holes inherent in our method," said Pridmore. "Many of the most vulnerable folks who could probably most use help will not have access to the Google doc because of limited internet access, lack of tech-savvy, or language barriers."
Pridmore encourages others to get creative in reaching out to help those outside of our "friend list."
Kolstad also feels cautiously optimistic while he strategizes ways to keep his and other businesses afloat.
"I am certain that our community will weather this well, but I know that I’m waking up every day with major uncertainty about the future of our company," he said. "I’m sure countless others are concerned about their organizations, too. I’m hopeful our world can quickly move onward and upward. "
While the future remains uncertain for businesses such as restaurants, hospitality and events, creating online events may help fill the gap.
Until a more inclusive option to provide mutual aid is available, those interested can access the Fargo-Moorhead Mutual Aid spreadsheet, here.