this post is part of a series about imagining and creating collective liberation. for more information, read the series intro post.
hey beloveds. with the dream of a new culture feeling more possible with the ongoing uprisings across the u.s., i thought it might be useful to chat about mutual aid.
mutual aid is about helping each other meet our needs without relying on the systems that are put in place by the state. these systems deliberately fail and harm Black people, Indigenous people, other people of color, women, trans and otherwise queer folks, children, immigrants, poor folks, and others this society refuses to value. but those systems and the state that houses them are just constructs that we can work outside of if we pool our power, time, effort, and other resources.
mutual aid is anti-hierarchical and reciprocal. it’s the communities who need the aid providing the aid by resourcing themselves. this is in direct opposition to hierarchical structures usually employed by the state and its agents.
for example, non-profits tend to be driven by a board of directors made up of people who are not experiencing the need the non-profit says it meets. this board gives the direction for its employees in a top down fashion, filtering it through the CEO and other leadership until it reaches front-line workers. often, the workers in a non-profit are also not members of the community the non-profit is formed to serve. this charity model isn’t equitable and in fact acts to reinforce the capitalistic structures that created the disparity these organizations are supposedly addressing.
service organizations also often require something of the people they claim to serve. this can range from highly personal information to behavior change in order to receive services, ultimately forcing clients to choose between receiving services and maintaining their autonomy.
this is all if people are even considered eligible for services in the first place. undocumented folks face difficulties accessing social programs, as do people of color, trans folks, and many others. think of how homeless shelters often deny trans people shelter.
working outside of the state is an essential component of mutual aid as it is a practice not only to take care of ourselves but also to edge the state out of social service work and ultimately to abolish it and the oppressive systems it upholds.
mutual aid looks a bunch of different ways, but some mutual aid efforts that i’ve been involved in include pooling money so folks can get out of abusive households or building a network of folks who can deliver groceries to those who need to stay safe at home during the pandemic. donating to someone’s gofundme is mutual aid. picking up someone’s prescriptions is mutual aid. pooling money to pay someone’s rent is mutual aid.
below are some resources that you can use to get started practicing mutual aid:
Dean Spade made the syllabus for a class he taught called “Queer and Trans Mutual Aid for Survival and Mobilization” available at Big Door Brigade’s website, which also has other resources for learning about mutual aid.
Annika Hansteen-Izora created these templates to use to express needs, share offerings, and negotiate skill trades. they’re available in Annika’s instagram stories to be screenshotted and used with credit to Annika for their creation. i think they’re an incredibly useful tool for getting started in these conversations. we’ve been taught not to share our needs or accept help and so voicing them can be difficult, as can be asking for resources — especially money.
towards the end of being able to ask for money, i wrote a post about how to talk about money with the people you love. it has tips for having discussions about money in open, honest, productive ways.
to learn about mutual aid practices specifically centering the experiences of disabled and chronically ill folks, try Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha’s book Care Work: Dreaming Disability Justice. there is a lot of wisdom and brilliance in this book that has greatly informed my mutual aid practice.
along similar lines, T-Maps (Transformative Mutual Aid Practices) are a set of tools to help you explore your own needs and connect your struggles to collective ones. getting a deep understanding of our own needs and how we have gone about getting them met or could go about getting them met is a pivotal step in building relationships where care is mutual. having this information to share with each other helps us set up care webs or collectives, which Care Work provides foundational guidance for.
if you want to get connected with an established mutual aid network, try It’s Going Down’s list of mutual aid networks that were created to deal with the fallout of COVID-19. networks are listed by region and state and include a short listing for Canadian networks as well. at the end of the list, there are some other resources to use in growing your mutual aid practice, too.
if you’re in the seattle area and want to get involved with pre-existing mutual aid networks, you could try the networks below:
- Mutual Aid Books Seattle: “Free books by Black & Indigenous authors to the People.”
- COVID-19 Mutual Aid Seattle: “Collective well-being through class solidarity, disability justice, anti-racism, abolition.”
- Mutual Aid South King County: “Mutual aid support for survivors, sick & disabled, immunocompromised, undocumented, and QTBIPOC folx in south king county & eastside.”
if you have other resources that can help us grow our mutual aid practices, please drop them in the comments!
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