The art of solidarity: 5C groups take a hands-on approach to community building

Students listen attentively to a man speak.
The Claremont Student Worker Alliance focuses on bridging the gap between students and workers at the 5Cs to support the needs of staff members. (Corina Silverstein • The Student Life)

This piece is the fourth in a series on mutual aid groups at the 5Cs.

Kali Tindell-Griffin PO ’23 and Mei Ge PO ’23 wanted to take action during summer 2020 — politically and artistically. 

They both wanted to expand and experiment with their art, as well as foster connection in place of the art community they were used to in Claremont.

“We started thinking about ways that we could build more community digitally since social media was kind of the only way to connect with friends at the time,” Tindell-Griffin said. 

The two soon created 5C Art for Liberation as a platform for 5C artists to sell their artwork. The Instagram page doesn’t have a central fund, functioning more like an e-commerce site. Artists can choose if they want to keep the funds they receive for artistic endeavors or redirect them to an organization or community member.

Ge said that they want the platform to support “artists themselves and also the organizations that they hold close to home or just that matter to their communities.”

The two emphasized that they don’t want to be widely recognized as the faces of 5C Art for Liberation because they would rather showcase the artists that they support.

One group that saw a resurgence during the pandemic also takes a different approach than most mutual aid organizations: supporting the staff that keep campus running. According to Indira Grief PZ ’23, Claremont Student Worker Alliance focuses on bridging the gap between students and workers at the 5Cs, aiming to support workers’ needs without centering themselves. 

CSWA has been around for at least a decade, Grief said, raising awareness of the systemic inequalities between wealthy students at the colleges and the conditions of staff members.

“I think you have to build relationships and see what tangible ways students can support workers,” she said. “Like our mutual aid this year.”

CSWA has been fundraising to help with workers’ expenses like rent and healthcare throughout the pandemic, Grief said. The group raised nearly $60,000 for over 100 workers based on financial requests submitted through a Google form or word of mouth. Despite the group’s success in fundraising, it did not fill all the need. 

“I do know that this [Scripps] worker, who there was a post about on our Instagram, has cancer and the school’s health insurance doesn’t cover her treatment,” Grief said. “And so there was a specific mutual aid drive for her that was actually started by her friend who is a worker and then students spread the word.”

Greif emphasized that while mutual aid fundraising has been a way for students to support workers with immediate need, CSWA ultimately looks to create lasting systemic change for workers at the 5Cs. 

Part of their mission is “recognizing that the mutual-aid stuff isn’t a long term thing,” she said, and “differentiating mutual aid from charity.”

“It’s not just like, ‘Oh there’s this person that needs our help.’ No, we all work together and we’re in a relationship with this. [Mutual aid] is not enough to really change the structural issues, even though it is so important,” she said. 

A significant moment was the unionization of dining hall workers at Pomona in 2013. According to Grief, although this effort was worker-led, students backed workers during the fight. In the spring, the workers’ union contract will be up for renegotiation and CSWA plans to support workers in renewing their contract.

5C Art for Liberation aims to support artists, start conversations about liberation and provide a platform to students who need it. Their Instagram often reposts informational resources as well as individual mutual aid fundraisers. 

Grief said that CSWA also utilizes its social media platform to share fundraisers and information about events.

On Thursday morning, Grief and other members of CSWA joined a picket line at the Ontario DoubleTree hotel to protest for fairer wages and better working conditions for the hotel staff. Grief said that attendance at the protest was partially supported by information they circulated on Instagram.

5C Art for Liberation maintains contact with other student mutual aid organizations — for instance, Nobody Fails At Scripps directly contacted them to donate art pieces. The group often participates in raffles, reposts infographics and shares knowledge and resources with other student groups.

CSWA is part of a leftist coalition of groups across the 5Cs that all share information and support, Grief said. For example, an event CSWA hosted last week featuring organizer JR Herdandez was promoted by the 5C Prison Abolition group. 

Like other mutual aid groups on campus, 5C Art for Liberation is experiencing some difficulty transitioning to in-person organizing. Ge and Tindell-Griffin said they both have significantly less free time than they did during remote instruction, and artists who normally donate work have less time to create art now as well. Additionally, the group is finding themselves unsure what the community needs most from in-person action.

To kick off its in-person work, 5C Art for Liberation hosted an event at Pomona College’s Benton Museum of Art on Thursday night. The event had more than 10 booths for 5C artists to sell their art. It also cultivated a space for students to meet each other, with more than 50 attendees at one point. Ge and Tindell-Griffin said they were hoping for in-person events like this one since the beginning of summer 2020 and said the Benton staff helped immensely. 

Carrie Young sells artwork at the Art Market.
Artist Carrie Young SC ’22 at 5C Art for Liberation’s kickoff in-person event at the Benton Museum. (Olivia Shrager • The Student Life)

Moving forward, 5C Art for Liberation wants to both continue its current work and expand into new areas. They are considering hosting another art show in the spring, one that would hopefully have the space to accommodate more artists. The two organizers also expressed interest in tackling the issue of accessibility to art at some point, especially concerning the cost of materials. All the while, they will continue to build and support their community. 

In the future, Grief said, CSWA wants to continue to support the existing union at Pomona and educate the college community about labor rights. 

“This Pomona fight is a really big deal. We want to meet with Pomona unionizers first and see how we can demonstrate student support and maybe get familiar with their contract,” she said. “I think that’s also a tangible way to train students.”

Greif said that CSWA plans to continue to fight for labor rights in the surrounding community as well. 

“Some of our students are working with the leads of Unite Here Local 11, which is the union that represents [the DoubleTree hotel staff], to try and plan some student actions at the hotel,” she said.

Ge and Tindell-Griffin believe 5C Art for Liberation demonstrates that mutual aid and community-based work can be for everyone, regardless of their interests and passions. The role of art as an avenue for passion, empowerment and healing is often understated or forgotten in liberation movements, they said. They invite any students interested in helping to reach out to them on Instagram.

Art can be daunting for some people, Ge said, and the group hopes to reframe the way students view art. 

“It’s really just a practice for skill building and healing and community knowledge just being passed around,” she said.

Tindell-Griffin added that a person’s passion for art and community don’t need to be mutually exclusive. 

“What’s better than doing something you really, really love while also supporting your community?” she said.

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