Our Guiding Principles
Bed-Stuy Strong is a neighborhood mutual aid hub organized in response to the COVID-19 crisis. It is also a multifunctional online community, where over 3,000 neighbors in or near Bed-Stuy help each other in a spirit of solidarity and resourcefulness, and in a variety of ways. Our members come from all walks of life, from service workers to software engineers to artists, and represent a mix of newer and longstanding neighborhood residents.
All of our members are ordinary people volunteering their time and effort. We are not a government agency, a non-profit, or a pantry. We do not currently endorse political candidates. Elected officials or those seeking elected office with a tie to Bed-Stuy are welcome to become members in our community in their capacity as individuals and help serve neighbors in need, with the understanding that Bed-Stuy Strong will at present not endorse them or host campaign events.
Our collectively adopted guiding principles as a network are:
We move in solidarity.
- We operate in solidarity with our neighbors. Our solidarity is informed by respect for the existing community in Bed-Stuy and a desire to connect with, support and stand by our neighbors. We believe that all people should have their basic needs met and be treated with dignity, honor, and respect.
- We are a mutual aid network of neighbors supporting neighbors, not a charitable non-profit. We believe in meeting people where they are, asking them what they need and doing the best we can to address their unmet needs. Our solidarity is one of joined hands and reciprocal care.
We do the work humbly.
- We were founded in March of 2020 to help our community in the face of the COVID-19 crisis, and many of our members are relative newcomers to mutual aid work. We believe in doing the work, humbly and resolutely, and we see our role as that of a gap filler, part of a vast quilt of different efforts to take care of our communities.
- We aim to work in partnership with longstanding civic and local organizations in doing this work, both out of respect and to avoid replicating work, particularly when other organizations are already fulfilling a community need well.
- Bed-Stuy Strong was formed to respond to an unprecedented and calamitous global crisis that has been compared to the Great Depression in its predicted economic impact. We own the finiteness of our capacity in the face of tremendous need, acknowledge that we alone cannot meet that need, and pledge to do what we can well.
- Bed-Stuy Strong operates in the context of a city shaped in part by racism, economic disparity, displacement, and violence. Given that many (though certainly not all) of Bed-Stuy Strong members are not native to Bed-Stuy, we collectively pledge to honor, and continue to educate each other on, the neighborhood’s rich history, culture, and legacy of resistance.
We draw on our neighborhood’s legacy of resourcefulness.
- We have evolved our internal systems before to try to better adapt to the reality on the ground, and will continue to do so. Our work is a chapter in the legacy of resourcefulness that has characterized neighbors helping neighbors for years in Bed-Stuy.
- We understand that speed matters when addressing community needs like hunger, while balancing that understanding with the finiteness described in 2.c.
- We lean into leveraging technology where efficiencies may be gained, as long as the outcomes are in line with our values. We recognize that efficiency and scale isn’t always the right answer, and we lead all design decisions with questions of accessibility and the useful litmus test of “Who is this for? Who does it serve and who might it exclude?”
- We hope to, in sum, do good work well, with what we have on hand and addressing our present reality.
We are accountable to and show care, for each other, and to neighbors who seek our support, particularly those who have been historically excluded by systems of power.
- We center and prioritize our community members who experience multiple oppressions. That includes poor people, disabled people, our elders, ill and immunocompromised people, and people of color – particularly the Black communities that have historically called Bed-Stuy home.
- We are accountable, first to the neighbors in need we serve, and second to each other, as a horizontal network of neighbors supporting neighbors. We hope to approach mutual aid cognizant of the ways that racist policies have caused gentrification and displacement in this neighborhood. Part of our accountability involves BSS not meeting or liaising as a collective with groups like the NYPD given the history of police repression in our communities and the interaction of policing and gentrification. It involves making sure that our neighbors’ privacy and data sovereignty is prioritized (e.g. data from our mutual aid operation will never be sold). It involves members checking in as necessary to ask who a certain initiative or proposal is for, e.g. who it actually serves. We do not exist for people who are engaging in mutual aid work to feel good about helping out. We exist to try to address a fraction of the urgent material need that our communities face.
- We have a zero-tolerance policy around racism, classism, ableism, homophobia, transphobia, and other forms of violence in our online Slack community. At the same time, we recognize that we are all always learning and growing. Any members who violate this policy will be asked to address and repair the harm they have caused to the satisfaction of any victims of that harm. Members who are unwilling to undergo this process in good faith will be banned.
- Bed-Stuy Strong is a new network and a work-in-progress. Some internal structures that embody these values are evolving or have yet to be created.
- Our current working model was created to balance the value of distributed and decentralized leadership with the reality that for a high-stakes and complex operation, some centralized coordination is often necessary. Our current structure has much of its work and planning happening in open channels anyone can join and be an active member within, balanced with distributed coordination and planning. This is taken on by leads, who co-own responsibility for certain workstreams (from tech to community partnerships) and admins, who co-own responsibility for the global direction, culture, content moderation, and identity of Bed-Stuy Strong. Admins should be reached out to in the event of a Bed-Stuy Strong community member causing harm.
- The most important role within Bed-Stuy Strong is that of a member; none of our work could happen without the heart, effort, good ideas, and volunteered resources of our network’s members. Key updates, needs and issues within our operation will always be shared transparently with members, and any significant shift in our model will not take place without discussion forums open to any member.
- The current cohort of coordinating organizers (leads and admins) are a group of twenty-odd members who at various stages in the first six weeks of our existence were doing the work, organizing other members, or bringing valuable relationships and lived experience to guide our network. At different periods we have and will continue to open up calls for folks to take on key areas of work. It is essential that as the work of BSS evolves that coordinating organizers (leads and admins) reflect the diverse range of lived experience within our network and our neighborhood and that members feel empowered to raise their hands and take on the work of our collective.
We hold space for joyful, compassionate, imaginative work and thinking
- We practice compassion for our neighbors and ourselves in doing the work.
- We celebrate each other’s work, and our mutual victories, as often as we can.
- We balance seeking the best version of Bed-Stuy Strong with questioning what is lost in adopting a mindset where growth and efficiency are seen as intrinsically “good” or ends unto themselves.
- We see the future, and the future of BSS as open to possibility: we are helping create new models of relating to each other and to building the future we want. We are informed by prior ways of accomplishing objectives around caring for communities, but also should not be bound by them.
- We seek joy out to sustain us, and encourage joy, levity and personal connection in our online community.