Mutual Aid and Solidarity with Guest Juliana Garcia

n this week’s episode, we welcome guest Juliana Garcia to the podcast to talk about Mutual Aid and what it means to work in solidarity with people as opposed to providing charity. Juliana joins us as an Expert by Experience (EBE) as a mama and community member as well as a Social Worker (MSW). Listen in as we talk about the principles of Mutual Aid, pandemic parenting, and of course, self-care.

Notes and Mentions

To learn more about Mutual Aid, check out these links:

Pod mapping tool for mutual aid relationship building : Bay Area Transformative Justice Collective

Talking with other mutual aid groups: Beacon (NY) Mutual Aid, Berkeley Mutual Aid Network

Mutual Aid Disaster Relief

Big Door Brigade

Democracy Now! Episode on Mutual Aid Organizing

Mutual Aid Tompkins Website

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Serena: Hey Everyone, I’m Serena.

Tina: And I’m Tina and we are the Mental Health Mamas.Serena: Hey Everyone, I’m Serena.

Tina: And I’m Tina and we are the Mental Health Mamas.


Serena: Welcome to No Need to Explain, we are so glad you’re here.

Tina: First, as always, a quick disclaimer.

Serena: We come to you NOT as mental health professionals or experts in the field, but rather as the parents of kids who struggle with their emotional health.

Tina: If you or someone you love is experiencing a mental health crisis, please seek professional support. You’ll find a variety of resources in our show notes and on our website,

Serena: Today we are excited to welcome to the podcast a guest who is a fellow mama and so much more. Unlike us, she happens to possess some real credentials in the mental health world, but that’s not really why we’ve invited her here to chat with us today. She is a mover and a shaker in our community and someone I feel lucky to know. Juliana Garcia.

Tina: Juliana, welcome to our podcast! We are so very grateful you have joined us today!

Juliana: Hi. Thank you so much for having me on today. I’m so excited to be here and to talk with y’all.

Serena: Awesome. So Juliana, if you could just start by telling us a little bit of your story? Perhaps you might tell us about where you’re from and maybe some of what made you who you are today?

Juliana: Yeah. So as I said, my name’s Juliana Garcia and my pronouns are she/her. I’m originally from Ft. Worth, Texas. I ended up moving to Ithaca, New York to go to Cornell University in 2010. I graduated in 2014 and really liked the community here so I decided to stay and make my life here in Ithaca, the Ithaca area. So I now live in Cortland, but it’s pretty much the same area.

Serena: And I can imagine that that is a little different from where you grew up.

Juliana: Yes, definitely. Where I’m from is a really big city so the shift, right, from a huge city to a small town, it was a shock at first and it took a lot of getting used to as well as the weather. That also took many, many years of getting used to. But I’ve grown to love it and really appreciate having seasons now. There was a very long time where I was just like, no I just want it to be hot every day, all day, 365 days of the year, but now I’m like, oh how nice that we have fall and spring and winter. Like, wow! How cool seasons can be! So, it’s been great.

Tina: Yeah. Yeah, yeah. So it also seems like coming from a big city to Ithaca which is a little city, right? It seems that perhaps there are some of the same social issues that there might be in bigger cities and we know that you have been a huge part of the Mutual Aid work going on in our community since, especially, you know the beginning of the pandemic, but we’re aware that the idea of mutual aid has been in existence for thousands of years. We wonder if you could share with our listeners who may not know, what is mutual aid?

Juliana: Yes, definitely. So, Mutual Aid is neighbors supporting neighbors in the spirit of solidarity to meet survival needs, as opposed to a non-profit or charity, government work, you know, those types of things, where folks are dependent on a central organization. So, we recognize that people know their needs and they know what’s best for them and how to meet them. And so supporting people as we can with connecting people to people, right. So that’s a lot of the work that we do.

Tina: So we love that because we really believe that, you know, in our mental health world, that people know what they need and they need to be asked what they need. And when asked they have the answers. So we love this. We love this neighbor to neighbor kind of thing.

Juliana: Yeah, I think what you’re speaking to, right, is getting away from the charity mindset and understanding how to be in solidarity with one another. So it doesn’t have to be specifically within the context of Mutual Aid, like you can have solidarity with people in all sorts of contexts, right? But knowing that your struggle is my struggle, right, and I’m not viewing it as like a charity lens of like, well, I’ll help or give you some money but it’s not really like an issue for me, you know. That’s a “you” issue. Where it’s like, no, all of these things are so intertwined, right, that it affects all of us. We’re in this, like, ecosystem with everyone. If one person is having a bad day, that can ripple out, right, into the community and vice versa. If you’re having a great day, that can also ripple out too. So understanding the concept of solidarity vs. charity.

Serena: Right. It’s a “all of us” instead of a “us and them” kind of, kind of thing.

Juliana: Yeah. It’s a shift from individualism to collectivism.

Tina: Yeah and a little bit of, you know, when we support families, the idea that our experiences might not be exactly the same and yet, we can walk right beside people because the feelings are the same, right? So we do focus a lot on that and anyway, yeah. I love that.

Serena: Yeah. So what was it, Juliana that led you to be part of this work locally? Maybe, uh, all your spare time?

Juliana: For me I have been doing some sort of like mutual aid, right, social justice work is always an area that I’ve been working in. So the formal “Mutual Aid Tompkins” group that came about really offered a space for organizers to come together. People had been organizing in various areas, right, around like food justice or housing justice, you know, workers rights. So pretty much everyone able to come together and organize collectively so what we see now, it’s like a year in to this formal “Mutual Aid Tompkins” group. But it’s people who have been doing mutual aid in our community, right, it’s just a little bit more formalized and organizing around these very specific issues in our community through a grassroots lens.

Serena: So could you share a little bit about some of the work that Mutual Aid has done in our county. Like what does that look like?

Juliana: Yeah, definitely. So one of our, like, big projects that a lot of people know about is the food sharing cabinets. They’re these, like, blue cabinets that can go, you know, on your front lawn, in front of businesses or wherever else. They’re probably like 5 feet tall and 3 feet deep so they’re not huge, but you fill them up with food. Anyone in the community can fill them up with food. Anyone can take food from them and they’re open 24/7. And it’s really understanding that people know their needs and they will take what they need to take, they don’t need to sign a bunch of forms, you know, and jump through a bunch of hoops in order to get their needs met. So it is like a bandaid solution, right, to the larger issue of food insecurity and that’s something that we’ve been talking about recently. OK, how do we address this at the root of the problem so that we’re not just, you know, providing these bandaids. But until that happens, right, there are people who are food insecure and so helping, you know, meet that need. So I think now we have like 50 or 60 food sharing cabinets across Cortland County and Tompkins County and it’s really cool because lately we have students at our local BOCES program building the cabinets, constructing the cabinets for Cortland County and now in Tompkins they’re starting to do that too. So it’s really nice getting everyone involved in this project and teaching them what Mutual Aid is, right, and the principles of Mutual Aid while we’re doing this. So we’ve seen a really great community response and community members filling up these cabinets, you know, whenever they get a chance. And some of these cabinets get refilled like two or three times a day. It’s very high usage.

Serena: And the food just keeps coming?

Juliana: Yeah, it’s just like food keeps showing up, right. So it speaks to this idea of scarcity because a lot of us operate from the scarcity mindset of like, oh, there just aren’t enough resources out there. And it’s like, no, there is, right, it’s just they’re not equitably distributed. If you look at how many grocery stores there are and restaurants, there’s like an overabundance of food everywhere. It’s just like who has access to that and who has the resources to purchase the food or whatever else. So it’s not that there’s not enough. It’s just not being distributed

Tina: And there is not one that I drive by that there isn’t someone either taking or filling so they’re working, for sure. And so for people who are listening who… First of all I want to make clear that we are in Upstate New York, Cortland and Tompkins County are in Upstate New York for those of you who are listening lots of places around the country and the world. Let’s just wonder about that. So if you don’t live in our community and you want to start work in your own community, how might people get started?

Juliana: So usually there is some sort of grassroots organizing happening in your community. You just may not know about it, right. So going back to the roots of mutual aid had been, historically it’s been used by marginalized populations to meet their needs in order to survive. So by black and brown and indigenous and other people of color and other marginalized groups. Mutual Aid has been the thing that has been utilized to meet the needs of in order to survive. So it is happening most likely already in your community. Sometimes it’s not, like, as formally organized, right. So what I always suggest when people contact us is saying, why don’t you check, like ask around, you know see how these things are happening. There are plenty of websites out there if you just type Mutual Aid Nationally. There are a lot that have groups listed. Like specific groups listed that you can plug into. But that’s the first step. It’s really just seeing who’s out there on the ground working already rather than trying to recreate something. If it’s not necessary.

Tina: That’s so smart because there are so many people who want to do good and starting from, yeah, from the beginning is not necessary.

Serena: So, is there anything people should NOT do if they’re looking to organize or do something for their community?

Juliana: Yeah, so I think a lot of times you’ll see people come with like, internal biases they may have like a lot of saviorism that happens where like they’re here to save like poor people, right or whatever else. And that’s not really the mindset that you wanna have when you’re doing Mutual Aid work. Like you could go work at a charity if you want to do that. That’s fine, but like that’s not really the spirit of Mutual Aid because Mutual Aid is based in Anti-Racism, Anti-Capitalism. Right, like most organizers understand that it is like socialism, right. At its core. And so having that political understanding before you engage in the work is pretty necessary in my opinion. And so just locally, right, everyone can participate. You don’t have to have, like, leftist politics in order to participate or receive aid or offer aid, but, you know, for the people who are doing a lot of the main organizing, like yes, we do require that people have a basic understanding of anti-capitalism and socialism, communism, anarchism, those things because those are the foundation of the work. And so I think also thinking about, like, the solidarity vs charity mindset, right? And knowing how to be in solidarity with the people.

Tina: Yeah. That’s awesome. So, if we can move on. We mentioned at the beginning of the episode that you are the mom of a sweet, young child, so adorable. We’re wondering how that’s been going during the pandemic? Have you been able to balance work and parenting in a way that feels good to you?

Juliana: Yes! Sweet angel baby!

Tina: I couldn’t say enough sweet, adorable, curly-haired awesomeness.

Juliana: I know! Oh my gosh, I love it! He is. He’s a little stinker though sometimes. But it’s been really hard and I’ve had to work really diligently with my therapist to make sure that I like, maintain a level of self-care and balance in my life. So I have struggled with it. I think everyone else has as well. This isn’t like a unique to Juliana situation. You know, this pandemic is quite frankly overwhelming and unsustainable. We had a, I think it was like a month, right, where everyone was like, OK, you know, what are we gonna do? We can’t go into work. You know, we have to figure something else out and then everything just started back up. And it’s like no, you just still have to go to work and you still have to take care of your children full time without any help. And it’s like completely unsustainable. Like not to get on my soapbox, but like that’s what Capitalism does. It almost broke. Capitalism almost broke last year at the beginning of the pandemic because workers weren’t going into work, right? Like the economy was like near crashing levels because essential workers who are “low-skilled” and “low-paid” weren’t able to go to work. So it kind of like showed a lot about our economic system structure and it’s also just not sustainable. Yeah, it’s been very, very stressful. I’m very fortunate that my son’s daycare is back open and I could send him there, but when he was home with me it was not working at all. I mean, anyone who’s listening and works and also has children at home knows it’s just not really possible to be productive, 100 percent productive in your work when you are also parenting because that’s a whole other job.

Serena: Right.

Tina: For sure. So let me just ask. You had mentioned that you’re supported by a therapist, which is awesome. Totally highly recommend it and do you have other people who support you in your life?

Juliana: Oh definitely. I mean, I’m like a huge fan of the Protective Factors and understanding that you do need a village to raise a child. But also just to support you even if you don’t have kids. Like, we are not people operating by ourselves. We live in a world with other people and we rely on other people to get by. Even if you think, oh no, I’m doing it myself, it’s like OK, well did you grow that food that you’re eating right now? No! No, someone else did. So I really try to help people understand that you’re not doing anything by yourself, right. It’s just not possible. And so leaning on others for support and this is something I talk to my clients a lot when I’m working with them because I’m a social worker. It’s like, you have so much empathy and compassion and you offer so much to the people around you, like what makes you think that those around you wouldn’t offer the same to you? You’re like, oh well, like, I don’t want to bother anyone, you know, with this. And it’s like if your friend called you with this exact problem you would be so nice to them about it and kind, right? They will also feel that way towards you. And so, yes. I am constantly calling and texting and messaging people all the time when I need someone to talk to so everyone knows just to like, expect phone calls from me.

Tina: That’s awesome. And I would just highlight one thing, not that I want to highlight everything you’ve said, but just this one thing. And that is, you know, I think people think it’s burdensome to ask for support and in some ways if you ask for support, you are modeling that for everyone else in your world, right? And there’s no shame in asking for support. We all need it. We all need to be connected, so.

Juliana: Yeah. And I think it speaks to consent and boundaries too, right? So like, you can also say if you feel uncomfortable, saying like, hey I’m going through a rough thing right now. Do you have some time to talk to me today about it? If you really wanna go that extra mile, right, so that you don’t feel like you’re being burdensome, also letting them know if you don’t have the time and space for this today, that’s OK. I can call someone else. So I understand that not everyone has this laundry list of people they can call, right. But trying to find a handful of people who you can so it’s not like you’re hitting up the same person every time and then you feel bad or they feel bad, right? But allowing that space to say, like, I understand this might be a lot for today so please let me know if it’s not OK and I will find someone else. Like that’s good.

Serena: Yeah. Yeah. It’s great to have a whole list of people for different things, right?

Juliana: Yes.

Serena: So that’s a great transition into our next question which is about self-care. We like to ask all of our guests about their self-care or things they do for themselves that give them a sense of renewal. So, we’re curious. What does that look like for you?

Juliana: Yeah, so for me, well, I’m 100 percent extrovert so it’s really just talking to other people. I always get so happy when I talk to other people. So mine is just being with others in the world and roller skating is one of the ways I do that. So, today for example, this afternoon, I’m gonna go roller skating with some people and it’s going to be amazing. And then also another form of self-care is setting really really good boundaries. Thank you to my therapist.

Tina: Yay to therapists!

Juliana: Yeah, right. It’s like something that I know cognitively, but was never doing, you know. But, like, saying you know, I don’t really have the capacity to do that right now. I think when you’re, and this isn’t me trying to be like, brag, right, but when you’re a like, competent person, people just like, oh cool, well like you can do that then. And it’s like, no, well maybe you should. Or find someone else. So setting boundaries around my time and really really sticking to that has helped me immensely. And just saying, like yeah, I actually decided I’m not gonna be dealing with that today so I’m sorry. No is a complete sentence. No, you know.

Tina: That is awesome. Yes. And I think it’s underutilized. We feel like it’s rude to set boundaries and it’s so self-compassionate to set boundaries. For sure.

Serena: Absolutely.

Tina: So, last question. We wonder if you could share a piece of wisdom, which you’ve shared a lot of wisdom and again lots of wisdom with all of the other parents out there who are struggling in one way or another, what piece of wisdom might you share?

Juliana: Piece of wisdom. Oh my gosh. I feel like it’s really the boundaries thing even though we already went over that. I mean that can really change your life, you know. So I would say, finding, it’s really reiterating things I’ve already said, to be honest. But like finding people who can support you, you know, compassionately and also like setting really solid boundaries around like your time. Because that can just help a lot in every way, shape and form.

Serena: So Juliana, before we close this episode, I wonder if there’s anything we haven’t asked you that you might like to put out there to the world?

Juliana: Yes. So, the Mutual Aid work has really impacted and everything I’ve learned from all the other organizers, has impacted my parenting. I have always tried to be a conscious parent and work on how I parent so that I can treat my child with respect and love and care and understand that he is his own whole person. It’s actually very surprising how many people, how many parents do not take that view. And so one of the aspects of this work is understanding that like, the issue at its core is supremacy. Right, like having supremacy and power over one another. Right, like that is the real issue we’re all dealing with and so how do we seek to not reenact that in other ways in our lives. Right, so we’re trying to not reenact this power over one another and being punitive in how we work with each other, you know within our space of organizing. But then also, that’s so, so crucial within your home, right? And within the relationships you forge there. And so thinking about how to carry that into the ways that I parent and understanding, you know, where Jack is at developmentally. I’m like a huge fan of that. Like understanding developmentally where you child is and what’s appropriate and how to set appropriate expectations for your child based on that. And then also just trying to lead with compassion and care. I think a lot of times we don’t really offer our children as much compassion as we would other people. You know, when we’re feeling frustrated and I think part of it is just because we’re with them all the time and so it’s like, oh my gosh. Like, aah! So I think some of it is that and also like having a child can bring up a lot of past trauma, right? Anything you haven’t worked through yet. And that can be really difficult because you might be feeling triggered from a situation that happens with your child and in the moment, how do you work through that? Because you not only have to work through that trigger, but you also can’t just not be a parent. You know, especially when they’re little little, you can’t just say, OK, I’m gonna walk away now. Good-bye. Because little babies will be like, you’re not walking away. And even older kids might do that too, right? So really having to work through a lot of these issues so that I can, you know, raise Jack. That’s my son. Raise him in a way that models what my beliefs and values are, right? Because it’s a lot to say, yes, I believe in collectivism, right, transformative justice and these things, but if you’re not acting that out in your home and in the interpersonal relationships you have, it’s kind of meaningless. And so it’s really impacting my parenting, and, in a good way. I feel like, very happy about how I am parenting. I like, brag to my husband all the time. I’m like, wow, he is so lucky. I’m like, I’m such a good parent. He’s like, OK, calm down. Well, if there was a parent of the year award, I would get it, just saying. So yeah, it’s something that I’m constantly working on, but I always try to talk to other people about conscious parenting.

Serena: That is, well, I appreciate you sharing that with us. That’s a lot to think about and we may have to have you on again to talk more about that.

Tina: I was thinking that whole parenting/trauma stuff and yeah, conscious parenting. Yeah. Another episode. For sure.

Serena: Absolutely. So, for the sake of time, we are going to go ahead and wrap up for today. Juliana, I want to thank you so much for joining us today. We know you don’t like to be singled out for the work you do in our community, but we really do appreciate you for who you are and all that you do!

Tina: Absolutely. And thanks for being a part of keeping our community up and running and during this weird, weird time and inspiring others to do that as well.

Juliana: Thank you so much for having me on today.

Tina: So podcast friends, we are, as always grateful for your listening and your support. You can help us out by visiting Apple podcasts, leaving us a review, subscribing and sharing with others. You’ll also find more content on our website,

Serena: And this is your gentle reminder to take good care of yourself while you are also taking care of your people.

Tina: Thanks for listening!

Serena: Bye!