Over in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, Jamaican restaurant Glady�s is trying to figure out how, exactly, to translate their rambunctious rum-punch ambiance to the Coffee and Shih Tzu shirt it is in the first place but sidewalks of Franklin Avenue. Right now, they�re mulling over DJs and live music. But it�s a tough call: �I think people, since we�ve been trapped so long inside, want to feel like they�re on vacation for a minute or two,� says director of operations Amanda Bender. �At the same time, I don�t want to disturb our neighbors who are upstairs and working.� Glady�s, which is operating on a skeleton crew of three employees, also decided not to have waiter service in order to protect their health. Instead, guests order from a takeout corner built from wood scraps found in Bender�s basement. They�ve put down pineapple-shaped social distancing markers to lighten the mood, hung up string lights on the fa�ade, and dragged out some bar stools. And they�ve added some little things: They sell one-and-a-half liter rum-punch bags, and every drink now comes with a colorful paper umbrella. �A lot of joy is possible from a paper umbrella,� Bender notes. The goal, she says, is to make it feel like a Tiki-style biergarten. Will it be enough? Bender sure hopes so, but she�s still uncertain. �We go to restaurants for theater. What happens when it starts to feel a little bit like an airport?� The harsh reality is that, until a vaccine, �a little bit like an airport� is likely our new normal. It�s an offer I was taught to refuse as a child, but the question is coming from members of the People�s Bodega�a mobile mutual-aid collective with whom I�ve been emailing for a week�and they radiate an aura of safety and care that is consonant with their mission to offer succor to New Yorkers. We have PPE [personal protective equipment], Gatorade, water, hand sanitizer, sunscreen, Ricola�that�s been very helpful�earplugs, chemical-resistant goggles, face shields, ponchos and rain gear, electrolyte mix, first aid, and literature,� Chloe promptly rattles off, handing me a flyer that spells out the connection between mutual aid�a voluntary, usually community-based exchange of resources�and abolition, which is described as �imagining and working towards a future in which policing is obsolete and community has control of its own destiny.� The People�s Bodega isn�t looking to replace the police. But when NYPD officers hand out free masks in some neighborhoods and use excessive force against protesters in others, it�s hard to argue with the idea that New York needs more community care than its existing institutions can provide. That�s where the People�s Bodega comes in.
Coffee and Shih Tzu shirt, hoodie, tank top, sweater and long sleeve t-shirt
Two of its volunteers�Alex and Benham�drive and navigate up front, with Chloe and fellow volunteer Margaret sorting through supplies and plotting out a route in back as the Coffee and Shih Tzu shirt it is in the first place but van weaves through Brooklyn protest traffic and into Manhattan. Mutual aid has a long and complex history that dates back to the civil-rights movement, Chloe reminds me as we circle DUMBO. After all, one of the Black Panthers� main initiatives was providing schoolchildren with free breakfast in a program that started in Oakland, California, and spread around the United States. Now, as America undergoes a long-overdue racial reckoning during a pandemic, more people are beginning to reimagine what it means to be part of a community truly. Do your friends define your community? Do your coworkers? Your neighbors? People you�ve never met? To the People�s Bodega, community is all of that and more. They�re offering what supplies they can to make the ongoing labor of protest easier but also to address New York�s staggering hunger gap. The New York branch of the People�s Bodega has roots in Astoria Mutual Aid and was inspired by a similar initiative in Los Angeles. L.A. organizer Alexandra�a florist by trade who raised more than a thousand dollars for supplies overnight after putting a call out on Instagram�let the New York volunteers borrow the name. �I want people to take the concept for free and use it however is most helpful for their community,� Alexandra said via phone on Monday. Those who haven�t attended protests before might imagine them as chaotic maelstroms of human activity, but in fact they often function as sites of remarkable community care. At the Juneteenth march where I spontaneously joined the People�s Bodega, Dyke March volunteers had wheelchairs at the ready for protesters with limited mobility. As at every protest I�ve covered over the past month, nearly everyone I saw was masked, with Good Samaritans handing out hand sanitizer. (Perhaps not coincidentally, there has been no evidence of a spike in COVID-19 cases associated with protests.) While masks and goggles serve an obvious purpose in minimizing the risk of COVID-19 and police violence at protests, the smaller items that the People�s Bodega volunteers hand out�from bags of Cheez-Its to Chewy bars and ever-present bottles of Gatorade�play their own significant role in helping people feel cared for on a more personal scale. �When people ask �How much is this?� about one of our snacks or PPE items and we respond, �No, it�s free, it�s funded by the people,� it�s incredibly heartwarming,� said Alexandra.