Mutual Aid

Two punks with rainbow mohawks that merge into a red umbrella covering them both

Put simply, mutual aid is a form of political participation in which people take responsibility for caring for one another and changing political conditions by building relationships, networks of reciprocity, and communal autonomy from the state. Mutual aid may involve work to support people impacted by harmful systems and work to create alternative infrastructure. It can take the form of ride sharing, disaster response, food distribution, and much more, as you’ll soon see.

However, those engaging in mutual aid must ask themselves if their actions are providing material relief, avoiding legitimising oppressive systems, mobilising people for ongoing struggle, and accomodating marginalised groups. Mutual aid is not meant to be charity. It must actively cultivate liberatory skills, practices, and solidarity.

How We Can Change The World – YouTube

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. Those systems, in fact, have often created the crisis, or are making things worse.

We see examples of mutual aid in every single social movement, whether it’s people raising money for workers on strike, setting up a ridesharing system during the Montgomery Bus Boycott, putting drinking water in the desert for migrants crossing the border, training each other in emergency medicine because ambulance response time in poor neighborhoods is too slow, raising money to pay for abortions for those who can’t afford them, or coordinating letter-writing to prisoners. These are mutual aid projects. They 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.

Three Key Elements of Mutual Aid

  1. Mutual aid projects work to meet survival needs and build shared understanding about why people do not have what they need.
  2. Mutual aid projects mobilize people, expand solidarity, and build movements.
  3. Mutual aid projects are participatory, solving problems through collective action rather than waiting for saviors.
Mutual Aid (Oct 27, 2020 edition) | Open Library

What is mutual aid?

“Solidarity, not charity.”

Why is a spoon share helpful?

  • Interdependence, understanding and support
  • Gives opportunity to help & care for other in on our own terms and within our own capacities
  • Direct support in a community within a community
  • It’s much easier to practice asking, offering, receiving, and declining among people who “get it”!
Collective Community Care: Dreaming of Futures in Autistic Mutual Aid

Increasingly, autistic communities have been exposed to ideas of disability justice, interdependence, access intimacy, collective/community care, and mutual aid. Care collectives, spoon shares, and other community care groups by and for disabled people, racialized people, LGBTQ2IA+ people (and people at this intersection) are growing in number. Is there a future for autistic spaces to also act as spaces of intentional mutual aid?

Moving from a rights-based perspective to a justice-based one necessitates a look at our care systems and re-envisioning how our communities function to ensure no one is left behind.

Collective Community Care: Dreaming of Futures in Autistic Mutual Aid, Autscape: 2020 Presentations

With “solidarity, not charity” as their guiding principle, these mutual aid groups aimed to lighten that burden and fill the gap in services left by the government

‘Solidarity, not charity’: Mutual aid groups are filling gaps in Texas’ crisis response | Grist

The women who manage the network say that because the project is based on mutual aid, and because they’re working as private citizens and not as part of any organization, this allows them to work more dynamically and creatively in response to the changing needs.

The need that led them to interrupt their lives and devote themselves to volunteer work – and the fact that now they can’t stop without neglecting thousands of people – is an indictment of sorts against the welfare system and the government’s order of priorities.

…she realized for the first time that there is no address for these problems. “I heard about a family from the Congo that hadn’t eaten for five days. Four people heard about them before me, and nobody stopped for a moment to buy food for them. Everyone thought there was someone whose job it is to take care of such cases. Everyone thought that there’s a welfare state here that supports its weak communities.”

Like Cantor, Beck also slowly internalized the fact there was nowhere to transfer the responsibility. “I realized that we have no ‘mother’ and ‘father’ to depend on, that responsibility for the survival of entire communities lies with us, the citizens,” she relays. “I didn’t come from this background, and this period has taught me a very important lesson about the welfare systems that devastate entire populations.”

They just wanted to help a few hungry Israelis. They ended up replacing Israel’s welfare system – Israel News – Haaretz.com
Rainbow woven cloth evoking our diversity and interdependence
Rainbow woven cloth evoking our diversity and interdependence

“Mutual aid is recognizing first of all our neighbors and the root problems in our communities,” Cantor says. “It’s about openly opposing the systems of racism, class discrimination and large retailers. Mutual aid requires that we look at those among us who are privileged and those who aren’t, and to ask how we achieve control of the resources and distribute them so as to advance justice in our communities. What makes our actions acts of resistance is that we’re operating in the direction of dismantling oppressive mechanisms by means of showing radical empathy. It’s political.

Cantor says: “Today, we’re demonstrating and creating a mutual aid alternative by ourselves. Everyone is excited about how people come together to help each other – to the point that we fail to understand that these difficulties shouldn’t even exist. We favor mutual help, but also target the root causes that brought about the lack of equality to begin with.” She adds that helping one another is “not just a matter of packing and handing out food.”

They just wanted to help a few hungry Israelis. They ended up replacing Israel’s welfare system – Israel News – Haaretz.com

Self-care is birthed by and through community care.

Talila A. Lewis
An illustration by Ashanti Fortson from the point-of-view of a person using a wheelchair, looking down towards their legs and feet. The person is wearing a navy-blue skirt and shiny black shoes. The illustration includes a frame of branches, leaves, and light blue flowers that weave behind and in front of the person and their wheelchair. The flowers frame a hand-lettered quote near the top of the image, which reads: “When I’m very sick, my community carries me. It’s a beautiful and tender thing to be cared for so intimately.” At the bottom of the illustration, a rectangular yellow plaque made of branches contains the name “Rebel” in capital letters.
An illustration by Ashanti Fortson from the point-of-view of a person using a wheelchair, looking down towards their legs and feet. The person is wearing a navy-blue skirt and shiny black shoes. The illustration includes a frame of branches, leaves, and light blue flowers that weave behind and in front of the person and their wheelchair. The flowers frame a hand-lettered quote near the top of the image, which reads: “When I’m very sick, my community carries me. It’s a beautiful and tender thing to be cared for so intimately.” At the bottom of the illustration, a rectangular yellow plaque made of branches contains the name “Rebel” in capital letters.

Image Credit: Ashanti Fortson, Community As Home – Portraits – Disability Visibility Project

Non-disabled people in my life don’t know how to love me like disabled people do. I’m so thankful for all my disabled friends who know how to provide care, rest, support and love. Disabled love is critically different from my other interactions with the world. 1/4

I really wish non-disabled people could learn to love in the same caring modalities. Love looks like remembering my food intolerances. Love looks like saying “that sucks” when I complain. Love looks like calling to check in and telling me stories. 2/4

Love looks like someone bustling around at home doing everyday things that wanted to call just to be with me across time and space. Love looks like not trying to fix everything and just allowing bad days to be bad. Love looks accepting my need to isolate as much as possible. 3/4

Love looks like spaces for shared grief. Love looks like celebrating our mere existence and survival in a world so set on eradicating us. Love is everywhere in disabled communities. 4/4

Originally tweeted by Nicole Lee Schroeder, PhD (@Nicole_Lee_Sch) on April 15, 2022.

It is not love, and not even sympathy (understood in its proper sense) which induces a herd of ruminants or of horses to form a ring in order to resist an attack of wolves; not love which induces wolves to form a pack for hunting; not love which induces kittens or lambs to play, or a dozen of species of young birds to spend their days together in the autumn; and it is neither love nor personal sympathy which induces many thousand fallow-deer scattered over a territory as large as France to form into a score of separate herds, all marching towards a given spot, in order to cross there a river. It is a feeling infinitely wider than love or personal sympathy—an instinct that has been slowly developed among animals and men in the course of an extremely long evolution, and which has taught animals and men alike the force they can borrow from the practice of mutual aid and support, and the joys they can find in social life. . . . It is not love and not even sympathy upon which Society is based in mankind. It is the conscience—be it only at the stage of an instinct—of human solidarity. It is the unconscious recognition of the force that is borrowed by each man from the practice of mutual aid; of the close dependence of every one’s happiness upon the happiness of all; and of the sense of justice, or equity which brings the individual to consider the rights of every other individual as equal to his own. Upon this broad and necessary foundation the still higher moral feelings are developed.

Mutual aid, a factor of evolution (1903 edition) | Open Library

Is Kropotkin relevant again? Well, obviously, Kropotkin was always relevant, but this book is being released in the belief that there is a new, radicalized generation, many of whom have never been exposed to these ideas directly, but who show all signs of being able to make a more clear-minded assessment of the global situation than their parents and grandparents, if only because they know that if they don’t, the world in store for them will soon become an absolute hellscape.

It’s already beginning to happen. The political relevance of ideas first espoused in Mutual Aid is being rediscovered by the new generations of social movements across the planet. The ongoing social revolution in Democratic Federation of Northeast Syria (Rojava) has been profoundly influenced by Kropotkin’s writings about social ecology and cooperative federalism, in part via the works of Murray Bookchin, in part by going back to the source, in large part too by drawing on their own Kurdish traditions and revolutionary experience.

Introduction to Mutual Aid | The Anarchist Library

Mutual aid must be a foundational concept in any social revolutionary project.

How We Can Change The World – YouTube

Further reading,

Published by Ryan Boren

#ActuallyAutistic retired technologist turned wannabe-sociologist. Equity literate education, respectfully connected parenting, passion-based learning, indie ed-tech, neurodiversity, social model of disability, design for real life, inclusion, open web, open source. he/they