Too often, groups that rely on short-term adrenaline are not ready to contend with the longer game that the more powerful are prepared to play. Looking past the energy-fueling mutual aid in the early days of the pandemic, I fear the burnout, the defeats and the cynicism that will follow. But that does not have to be the story. We can start building long-haul mutual aid right now. We have to beware of the short-term allure of social-media-friendly coming-together stories when they don’t have the ingredients for outliving a media cycle or two.
One small contribution I have been working on is a website called CommunityRule—a set of editable templates for how groups can self-govern, kind of like mini-constitutions. I have been inspired by some of the oldest governing documents still in use: medieval monastic templates like the Rules of St. Benedict and St. Augustine. A few simple guidelines can go a long way. If groups plan ahead for making hard decisions and defining roles, they have a better chance of weathering the challenges sure to come. When groups forget to do this, they risk finding themselves stuck with what the second-wave feminist Jo Freeman has called a “tyranny of structurelessness.