Organizing During COVID-19

Collage: Mugsie Pike

While most officials were still denying the threat the virus posed to our communities, Kelly was working with activists, healthcare workers and epidemiologists to create a template for grassroots demands to help organizers advocate for their communities. The template was used around the country and as far away as Ireland by activists and community members seeking closures and the imposition of safety measures.

In March of 2020, as local groups got their bearings and new mutual aid formations were being discussed, Kelly collected the names of 4,000 volunteers who were willing to participate in mutual aid efforts. Leveraging her relationships across the city, Kelly connected volunteers with organizations mobilizing relief efforts as they emerged, including Brave Space Alliance and the P.O. Box Collective, and immigrant families whose children’s required remote ESL tutoring. Unassigned volunteers were put in touch with one another, via an effort that ultimately became a citywide mutual aid network.

Over the course of the pandemic, Kelly has co-organized numerous mutual aid initiatives, including the first redistribution effort to launch in Chicago after statewide bar and restaurant closures created a massive financial crisis for community members. That effort redistributed over $90,000 in the early months of the pandemic. Kelly also co-created the Mutual Aid Mourning and Healing Project, which connects people with free grief counseling, and also provided assistance with remote memorial planning in the early days of the pandemic. Kelly also spearheaded national and city-wide memorial efforts for victims of COVID-19, using the hashtag #WeGrieveTogether, which included the creation of Let This Radicalize You: A COVID Memorial Mixtape and the Chicago event Signs, Shrines and a Mixtape, which included the posting of 40 banners around the city commemorating those lost to COVID-19.

Kelly also spearheaded an effort to distribute medical grade masks in Chicago, as more contagious strains of COVID-19 began to take hold. Working in collaboration with Chicago Freedom School, and mutual aid groups across the city, Kelly and the Lifted Voices collective oversaw the distribution of over 30,000 KN95 masks to Chicagoans in need, including essential workers and people living in homeless encampments. The collective also arranged for the distribution of hundreds of reusable N95 masks in some of the hardest hit areas in the city.

Kelly also worked with Mariame Kaba to create an online iteration of Chicago’s Solidarity to Celebrate awards that functioned as a fundraiser for groups doing mutual aid work in Chicago during the pandemic. Thanks to the fundraiser, $70,000 was distributed among 10 groups doing tremendous work to provide care and reduce suffering in Chicago communities.