c/o facebook.com/groups/middletownmutualaid

c/o facebook.com/groups/middletownmutualaid

Even when students are off campus, the work of the Middletown Mutual Aid Collective (MMAC) does not stop. In fact, during winter break this year, the Collective fully embraced its identity as an entity entirely separate from the University. 

“The good thing about us is, [we’re] not just dependent on Wesleyan students,” Middletown resident and Wesleyan student Emily McEvoy ’22 said. “At first, we definitely started with a decent amount of Wesleyan students being [the] organizers and [the] people who would facilitate the meetings…but we’ve been doing really good these past few months of getting away from that. It’s always been a very community-centric thing from the beginning, but it’s come to a really nice fruition in the past few months due to more group consciousness and more values conversations…We’re all sharing in the leadership more.”

The town’s need for the work done by the Collective also does not diminish throughout the year. This was evident especially with the Cash Distribution Program, which aims to take cash donations and redistribute that money to residents who request assistance. The money comes with no questions and no strings attached. 

“Another big thing…is the Cash Distribution Program, which has constantly been going on,” McEvoy said. “We still have over 1000 requesters total but probably about 700 that have not received money yet. Because we give people $200, payments and donations come in fairly slowly.”

Recently, donations to the cash assistance fund have slowed down, especially as social media buzz and talk of the program have dropped. In addition, problems began to arise with the Community Fridge. This fridge is a project created by the MMAC that has served as a 24-hour free food hub in Middletown. The project recently encountered issues, including not having enough food to stock the fridge and the project being shut down by the Health Department.

“Apparently a lot of…the employees at the Health Department are trying to wield statutes about the safety of the fridge that are causing issues,” McEvoy said. “There’s this one statute that they’ve been using about an abandoned fridge, which does not apply to the community fridge at all, but they’re trying to make it.”

However, the fridge was turned back on and the collective was even able to garner support from Connecticut Senator Matt Lesser for the continuation of the project. While the collective is intensely focused on its physical action, the members also recognize the need to take a step back to evaluate their connection to the work.

“It’s good to step outside the immediate work of keeping the fridge maintained every day,” Middletown resident Kirk Hart said.

During the time Wesleyan students were absent from the Middletown community, the collective began further expanding its connections with other social movements. This included joining in on a protest to encourage a rent moratorium in Middletown.

“We did this thing at the intersection of Washington and Main Street with another campaign in the state going on right now, kind of in tandem with Cancel the Rent,” Maya Gomberg ’22 said. “This new collaboration is emblematic both of [MMAC’s] self-sufficient nature as well as the importance of ideology and policy within their organization.”

The collective is not only trying to question and reevaluate their own ideology, but also striving to spread their message to the larger Middletown area.

“The MMAC was not only extremely engaged and active [over break], we’re going to be doing in-person outreach,” Gomberg said. “So, for instance, right now we have a bunch of flyers that are little booklets about the right to counsel campaign, so we talked about just leaving them [on] people’s doorstep with little notes that say what Middletown Mutual Aid is doing and why we care.”

This idea of group consciousness and the ideology behind mutual aid is at the forefront of the MMAC’s recent conversations. When asked about the root of mutual aid and the theory behind it, Gomberg pointed to the book “Mutual Aid: Building Solidarity During This Crisis (and the Next)” by Dean Spade as inspiration. The beginning of the Collective’s guidebook even begins with a quote from its pages: 

“Mutual aid is collective coordination to meet each other’s needs, usually from an awareness that the systems we have in place are not going to meet them,” the guidebook states. “Those systems, in fact, have often created the crisis, or are making things worse…. [Mutual aid projects] directly meet people’s survival needs, and are based on a shared understanding that the conditions in which we are made to live are unjust.”

The actual role of Wesleyan students within the organization is a complicated and much-debated question, one that members themselves have yet to figure out.

“It’s something that I’m also grappling with, because I am [a student and a] person in the Collective who is making decisions,” McEvoy said.

This question first arose when the Collective was just starting out.

“I think at the beginning of last semester, there were a lot of Wesleyan students who wanted to be involved with Middletown mutual aid,” Ren Davidson ’21 said. “And there were almost too many. It started being the case that Wesleyan students would make up the majority of the people who were at the meeting.”

At its heart, the MMAC is a collective, a word they choose to define in the beginning of their comprehensive Guidebook

“Collective: a group of people who join together, sharing leadership and responsibility, and making decisions together as a group,” the Guidebook states. 

True to this definition, and in order to have decisions that are championed and approved by Middletown residents, the collective emphasizes that meetings must not be overpowered by students. That is not to say, however, that the MMAC does not welcome and encourage student help as they have returned to campus.

We could always use more people. More hands make lighter work,” Hart said.

For now, the MMAC hopes to uplift the voices of Middletown residents through its work and also through a series of talks it is virtually hosting at the University.


To donate to Middletown Mutual Aid, visit their ioby profile.  

Lia Franklin can be reached at lfranklin@wesleyan.edu.

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