Hannah Friedman and Tova Salzinger: ‘Caring for Community’

Sept. 11, 2020 | By Pema Baldwin | Photo courtesy of Tova Salzinger

Juniors Tova and Hannah talk about the work they, and a group of fellow students, have put into creating the Colorado College Mutual Aid Fund. Donate to the fund here or Venmo @CCAnnualGiving with a caption clearly related to mutual aid, and follow them on Instagram at @coloradocollegemutualaid. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Who are you?

Tova: My name is Tova Salzinger. I’m from Berkeley, California. I’m a junior, and I’m majoring in Environmental Studies and I’m minoring in Race, Ethnicity and Migration Studies.

Hannah: I’m Hannah. I’m a junior as well. I’m from New York City and I’m majoring in Political Science.

How’d you two meet?

Hannah: We were in the same FYE with Jake P. Smith freshman year. It sounds like we’re dating [laughs]. We locked eyes across the room [laughs].

Tova: We lived together last year and this year as well.

What’d you do this summer?

Tova: I had a remote internship with Environment Colorado, I took a calculus block, and then the last month or month and a half of the summer, it was all mutual aid stuff basically.

Hannah: I did very little. I took a summer film block and was playing a lot of tennis, and then similarly for the last month and a half, I was spending a lot of time with CAL [Coalition for Antiracism and Liberation] and on mutual aid as well.

Did you get out to the protests?

Tova: I definitely went to more protests in the beginning and then got a little concerned for my parents’ health, so I stopped going, but I made phone calls and other things that were more socially distanced.

Hannah: There was a two or three week period where I was living by myself in my apartment in New York, and so I was doing a lot of protesting, and then I got COVID tested and we were seeing my grandparents a lot, so I had to not do things like that, but there were a couple that were super interesting. I went to one on the Upper West Side that was Jews for Trump, and then there were Upper West Siders standing in front of the Teddy Roosevelt monument in the American Museum of Natural History that was scheduled to be torn down. The Jews for Trump were protesting and none of them were wearing masks, and then it was all Upper West Side moms who were like 45, and also me, wearing, like, yoga pants and masks being like, ‘You’re endangering me and everyone else!’ [laughs]. It was quite the time.

Do you have prior activism or organizing experience?

Tova: I’m from Berkeley, so I feel like that’s just a place where a lot of activists have gathered, and so my parents have definitely been very active over the years.I grew up going to protests with them, and it’s very similar with a lot of my friends from home. It just feels like a really big part of what Berkeley is, so I was always surrounded by it, but I feel like my first thing in relationship to CC was that I wrote a petition about the housing move out policies around March or April asking that the deadline to get your stuff be extended because it was just really unfair. I guess that was my first big thing with CC, and then mutual aid just kind of happened. One of my really, really good friends from home started a mutual aid fund at Scripps, and I had heard a lot about it from her as they were going through the process of everything, so I definitely had the opportunity to see how a mutual aid fund could be run on a college campus, and so I think I had some ideas going in about how best to fundraise and get people to apply.

Hannah: My only experience working in the nonprofit world was that I worked with the International Rescue Committee for most of high school and for my senior year was the assistant site coordinator for their Saturday learning series, so I was helping organize the logistics of a tutoring series for refugees in New York City through the International Rescue Committee. That was a bit of organizing, but it was in a pre-existing framework, so it was a little more comfortable because I was working with people who were older than I was, who gave me tasks that I would then do to help facilitate the opening of the center on Saturdays, but this was my first organizing effort that I was being looked to as someone who might have some of the answers to some questions, so it was definitely a new angle.

What was the initial spark that inspired you to create the fund?

Tova: I definitely heard a lot about mutual aid over the beginning couple months of the summer, so I’d been thinking a lot about it, and I had been learning a lot about it from my friend who ran the mutual aid fund at Scripps, and then Hannah was at a CAL meeting and Lily Epstein said something about wanting to start a mutual aid fund. Hannah texted me about it, so I put Lily in contact with my friend Uma from Scripps, and they talked about the mutual aid fund and the logistics of everything, so then it was kind of just Hannah, Lily, and I.

Hannah: And then Sophie Cardin was an early link to CC student government, so then we kept plugging it and looked for a lot of input. We sent emails to all the student leaders on campus, kept on bringing it up in CAL, and started the social media campaign, which I think brought us to the attention of a lot of other students who were interested in organizing across campus. I think CC talks a big talk about wealth redistribution and has students that are very liberal that think that the current systems are unfair, so the school could benefit from the mutual aid fund greatly given the crazy percentages of students that are in the 1% or top 10% income brackets for their parents. It was an opportunity for CC to put some of its words into action, and we could collectively ask that of the student body and hold the student body accountable for taking care of community members and accessing the insane wealth that people have.

Tova: And I feel like that’s always been a big thing that I’ve been very conscious of at CC. I remember when I was applying, my parents and I were looking at the stats, and it’s like 25% of the school comes from the top 1%. It’s the first or second school in the entire country in terms of having the highest number of students that come from the top 1%, so it’s always been very obvious that people here are incredibly privileged, and I think a really exciting thing about the mutual aid fund, for me at least, has been the opportunity to recognize that there is such a dramatic disparity between students here and to motivate some of those students with this incredible financial privilege to think more deeply about what that privilege affords them, how they can better redistribute their wealth, and how they can better support their community in general.

Hannah: Also, in terms of how it started, I had never heard of mutual aid funds before this summer, and after George [Floyd] was murdered that was a wake up call for me to take more initiative in instigating my own self-education about the world I live in. I think that there was a push to get those resources out into our college community — the social media changed completely. Instead of being a way to show the ridiculous wealth that we’ve been talking about, it became a way to share resources, and it became very important to me to take advantage of that and do more educating of myself before starting to work with CAL, and I think that a lot of other people felt similarly, so it was a good time. Had we started a mutual fund last year, we’d have had to explain so much more about the history of mutual aid, where it comes from, and what it’s for, so it was definitely partially because of national timing.

Could you talk about how you felt after sending out the initial interest form?

Hannah: I remember checking after about four hours and there were already 80 applications requesting $80,000. I think part of the reason why that was such a jarring thing was because we were in quarantine and I hadn’t seen another human being in a really long time, and then you send something out on the internet and real people are willing to submit — we asked for some personal information and some people submitted way more personal information and big explanations of what the funds would be used for — you just had like an inpouring of worlds that I’ve been isolated from. It was just that the scale of it going out to 2000 people hadn’t really hit before a 100 or so responses came in on the first day, so it was definitely bigger than I anticipated because it had just sort of been four of us talking and drafting ideas, and then it got so much bigger so quickly.

Tova: I guess, just to go back to how it all started, the reason that we even had some semi-framework was definitely because of the Scripps group. They wrote up an entire 10 to 15 page Google Doc that had a list of generally what their strategies were. They had a template for the initial survey of need, which is what we’re talking about right now, and then also for the official application, and they also had tips about how they did their fundraising and how they connected with alumni in particular, so that was definitely something that we relied extremely heavily on.

Hannah: We took their applications and reworded them for CC, and then did a lot of outreach to the school for funding that we knew was available through CARES Act that they had not distributed, and then we started speaking to the school about partnering up on that front to try and match the need that was eligible for CARES Act funding, and then that turned into the incorporation conversation that we went through with, so that was that end of the work, but we also took that final application and met with professor Dana Wolfe to go through it and make sure that everything was worded to eliminate bias and was as clear as possible. She had some great points while we were going through it. There were some questions that she was like, ‘What are you asking with that question?’ And we were like, ‘We want to give people a chance to say this, this, this, this, and this,’ and she goes, ‘If you don’t know what you’re asking when you ask a question, you will have no idea what to do with the information when you get it, and it will not be direct at all,’ and we were like, ‘Wow, that makes so much sense’ [laughs]. So there were a lot of individuals in the CC faculty who were really willing to be helpful from the get go, which is cool.

How does the group work?

Tova: We have a group chat with about 15 people in it — that’s with the general mutual aid organizers — and whenever anything has to be done, basically, we’ll just send it into the group chat and whoever has time will do it. There’s a shared Gmail account and then there’s a shared Google Drive, so basically everything that you’ve seen on Instagram or that’s been sent out to the school has been a Google Doc that 10 to 15 people have sent back and forth through text messages, and commented on, and worked on through all of that.

Hannah: We also have, at points, had task forces that we knew were going to be a little more of a commitment, so we would send a text being like, ‘Hello, there’s going to need to be a committee of people who reviews the anonymized application. Like this message if you’d like to be in that committee,’ and then six or seven people like that message, so then that was a seven person task force that would do the work, and then put it back into the main group chat and be like, ‘Hey, this is what we came up with. If anyone disapproves, let us know.’ Like, there’s an outreach task force, and that group drafted the email that will be going out to the alumni from the classes of 2012 to 2020, and they wrote that and then put it in the main group and were like, ‘Hey, this is the email. Change anything you want. You all have the password.’ So it’s very decentralized and people can opt in and out of tasks as they want to.

Tova: But then individually, I would say we do a lot of the same things, Hannah and I. A lot of the time I’ll write a first draft of something and send it to the group chat if I have extra time, and we both do a lot of the designs for the Instagram on Canva.

Hannah: And then a lot of the work of this has been meeting with Will Schiffelbein who has been such a good resource. He’s in the office of advancement and was the original faculty member who reached out to us, and then we started talking about what the terms of agreement would be for us to incorporate into CC and get 501(c)(3) status, so that was a lot of time that was partially figuring out how we wanted our relationships with CC to work and also the organization levels that we needed to have — what needed to be happening on our end in order to have an actual organization that they could correspond with. We met with the director of a mutual aid fund in Colorado, Front Range Mutual Aid, who has previously studied different forms of organization and governance, and so he was super helpful in helping us figure out how to present ourselves to the school and be respected as legitimate even though we are just students.

What was the reason for incorporation into the school?

Hannah: The main reasons would be to have their tax code framework. Venmo is counted as a source of income, and if we were to redistribute funds with Venmo, then we’d be Venmoing out $2,000 to some people. It would be very large and suspicious amounts that could later open up our recipients to tax liability. We could be audited at any time in the next seven years, and it seemed unfair. If the four people who owned the Venmos and the GoFundMes are okay with that risk, that’s their decision, but if it then becomes a risk for the recipients of the fund, that shouldn’t be our decision. We shouldn’t do that, so by going through the school they ensured that we were automatically following all Colorado state law. We still have full discretion over how the money is redistributed. Our model of redistribution is based off of the levels of urgency that we coded into the official application, so different responses would correspond to different levels of urgency, and then the students who had self-reported the most urgent need would get a higher percentage of the funds when they were redistributed. So we wanted to make sure that we were following tax code with all of that and that the students that we were giving funds to wouldn’t face any repercussions.

Tova: And I think some of our biggest concerns with incorporation were that we would lose control over the ability to make decisions with this money and also just a general sense of a loss of authenticity because we would be associating ourselves with this institution — we created a mutual aid fund because CC wasn’t doing enough, and then it seemed a little hypocritical to go back and be like, ‘Oh, well now we’re with the school.’ But we wrote out a whole memorandum of understanding with the school that guarantees that we’re going to have control over the fund and that in however many more years that this fund exists, whatever student organizers are working on the fund will continue to have control over how these funds are redistributed, and just like Hannah was saying, it seemed like the biggest issue was that we would be opening up recipients of funds to not only be audited by the IRS potentially in the next seven years, but also that financial aid eligibility could be impacted negatively. Now the funds are being distributed, or were redistributed in the first round of redistribution, both legally and by the financial aid office, which means financial aid knows that this money isn’t income, and it won’t affect recipient’s future financial aid packages.

Hannah: We also added a stipulation to the MOU that allows us to renegotiate in the next few months once the dust settles a little bit. We definitely, when we started speaking to the school, were not at all sure that that was what we wanted to do, but I was pleasantly surprised by the amount of trust that the school has in us and how they view this. What they see is a lot of alumni — the 2012 to 2020 graduating classes — that are not engaged in annual giving because they distrust the school, but those people still might want to support the community, so we would be a good alternative for giving because those young alumni know that it will be people who have been in their shoes who are in control. So we went ahead with it because there’s serious risks that incorporation takes care of and because we felt like we were being respected enough by the institution to go ahead with it.

Tova: And I think throughout the whole negotiation process, it was also understood by everyone who was participating that we were both getting something out of this. This is good publicity for the school, but this is also a way to protect recipients of these funds.

What are your hopes for the mutual aid fund going into the future?

Hannah: Once we’re in person, there are a couple of things that we’re thinking about as flaws in the school’s infrastructures that we could help make networks to fill. One initiative that relies on people being on campus that I’ve been thinking about is the fact that freshmen don’t have cars and the nearest grocery store is like two miles away, so having a bank account that students could request groceries from, and then seniors who were getting groceries can pick up those things up and drop them off, so just have forms of aid to make people’s lives easier that are not strictly financial, but it’s hard to plan those when dorms keep going into quarantine, and then you all get kicked off campus, and yada yada yada [laughs].

Tova: And then in terms of the future of the mutual aid fund, the organizers for the mutual aid fund are going to be appointed to a committee under CCSGA, and that is just a way to have a transparent board of people managing the fund, but we really want to keep it a decentralized model of leadership, so we want people to still be able to email us or DM us on our Instagram account anytime and be like, ‘I want to get involved,’ and it doesn’t really matter that you’re on this board. It’s more something that we thought the school would recognize as a legit form of leadership. The idea is that in future years people would be able to either be appointed to this board or submit applications to be on this board, and that way it would be within the framework of student government, which is already something that operates on a yearly basis and has yearly turnover. Two of our main organizers are freshmen, which is amazing, and we also have a transfer, so three of our main organizers —

Hannah: Probably put in like 200 to 300 hours of work each —

Tova: Before getting to campus, which is so impressive, and so, so, so wonderful. It’s also really exciting because we know that two of the main organizers are going to be here likely for the next four years.

Hannah: When we started coming up with the ideas for the fund, it was initially intended to be a COVID relief fund, but the fact that CC has the highest average parent income of any school in the country means that the redistribution of wealth is always going to be something that will behoove many people at this school, and there’s plenty to go around, so we are planning to continue figuring out how the pieces will all fit together, but it is definitely intended to be a long term organization at this school.

How has this experience changed how you think about your future involvement in organizing work?

Hannah: I have always thought that I will go back to New York after college right away and do something related to law or politics — I’m not entirely sure — but I was 100% sure as of last year that I was going to end up back in New York. Now this is sort of changing my framework a little bit — thinking about this specific community and how to continue to stay engaged in this community or in this city. There’s so much exciting work that is going on here. There’s also the Chinook Center that I worked with and the soccer team is fundraising to get them real estate to have an office in, so I don’t know. The Springs has recently become politically exciting to me in a way that it obviously has been prior to now, but I wasn’t looking for it until this year.

Tova: I think just coming from Berkeley, I feel like I grew up in obviously a very liberal bubble and also a very activism centered bubble, so it was always around me, and I never thought that my life would not somehow be related to activism work just because my parents have always been activists in some form or another, and a lot of my friends parents have, and that’s just an activity; you go to a protest with your friends or you’re little and you have a playdate and you go to your friend’s house and they’re, I don’t know —

Hannah: They’re on strike [laughs].

Tova: There’s always something going on in Berkeley, but I’m really interested in environmental justice work, and that feels like a very topical issue right now, and it’s very clearly tied to activism for me. I guess just being able to be a part of the mutual aid fund has kind of allowed me to think about activism in different ways than I had before. Rather than being something that’s just tied to a protest, you can start a new framework. You can impact people’s lives in completely different ways, and it doesn’t have to be in the traditional sense of activism. It can be a completely new thing that might affect people in ways that you’ve never thought of, so I definitely have really enjoyed this and I hope to continue doing things like this in the future, whether or not it’s related to the environment.

Hannah: I think that this has been the first sustained form of activism that I have participated in, and working with CAL, and Dr. Rojo, and everyone who’s being super active in that group is also incredible to see because it’s also just a function of the fact that we’re old enough to do things like this. Like in high school, no one would have trusted us — I don’t know. Probably shouldn’t have been doing this in high school. I was not the most qualified person to do this, but I think that if this could be a job that would be great. It has changed the way that I see activism as perhaps something you do with your whole life, not just like you had one Saturday and the Women’s March was going on in Washington so you drove down. It can be a more sustained thing. It has changed the way that I am thinking about what I’ll do after graduation for sure. This was both of our first times doing something like this, and especially the two freshmen. You don’t have to be experienced in this work to do this. There’s a heavy learning curve, but we would love it if other people joined us and kept organizing. You learn a lot, and we’re very appreciative of anyone’s voice, so if people think that they have things to contribute, don’t be scared by whether or not you’ve done anything like this before. We hadn’t.

Tova: I learned so, so much from this, and every single time we do some new thing, I learn how to better articulate some idea around mutual aid. With the mutual aid bingos, I worked on a lot of those, and those honestly helped me to think a lot about my own privilege more, and I hope helped other people to think about little things that they might not think of as privileged. I feel like everything I do just changes how I see the world a little now. I’m very excited, and happy, and grateful to have had this opportunity.

Hannah: It’s crazy that you can just put a thing on Instagram and then like 20 people who were willing to put in so much time join this group chat —

Tova: And then you have $40,000 [laughs].

Hannah: In your Venmo [laughs]. Yeah, strange.

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