living towards liberation: mutual aid resources for beginners

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. the 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:

if you have other resources that can help us grow our mutual aid practices, please drop them in the comments!

want to support this project? become a patron at patreon.com/kymagdalene. or toss me money for a thai tea on venmo, @Ky-Magdalene.

living towards liberation: unmaking hierarchy

this post is part of a series about imagining and creating collective liberation. for more information, read the series intro post.

hello beloveds, i’ve been thinking a lot lately about unmaking hierarchical power structures. i believe very strongly that hierarchies are morally and ethically wrong. systems which give people power over others shouldn’t exist. in a collectively liberated future, they wouldn’t.

Sonya Renee Taylor teaches in her book The Body is Not an Apology that the hierarchy of bodies in our current culture is oppressive. racism places a white body higher on the hierarchy than a black body. ableism places an able body higher on the hierarchy than a disabled body. cissexism places a cis body higher on the hierarchy than a trans body. all oppressions, Taylor shows, can be articulated this way — as coming back to body hierarchy.

the truth is that all bodies are of equal and immutable inherent worth. placing bodies — and the people within them — on a hierarchy is an oppressive lie. hierarchy is a tool of oppression.

hierarchies are also our most common organizational structure: people in management — or “leadership” — positions have power over people in non-managerial — or non-leadership — positions. (you may have heard this articulated as the ruling class having power over the worker class.) organizations that use this structure include non-profits, religious institutions, corporations and other businesses, schools, and many others, though they don’t have to and some don’t. those higher-up positions are harmful — to the people in them and to the people positioned “below” them.

hierarchies create a need for power-hoarding (a characteristic of white supremacy culture) instead of power-sharing; once someone has power, they are pressured to do anything they can to keep and increase it, which necessitates stopping others from having it.

a horizontal structure — i.e. one that does not have hierarchy — places all members of an organization on equal footing. this is a lot more ethical because it allows for people to have power with others rather than power over. it also still allows room for experts: some folks have specific knowledge or skillsets that others don’t and we should rely on their wisdom, but it doesn’t mean that they should have power over others or be paid more than others (we all are equally worthy of survival and of the tools we need to achieve it).

horizontal structures require a lot of learning, tending, and care from their members, but destroying dominant paradigms always does and is always worth it.

Taylor teaches that we must root the body hierarchy out of ourselves to root it out of the world. here are some of the ways that i’ve been thinking about that we can unmake hierarchical culture in ourselves and in the world:

  • name hierarchy when you see it. name it and call it bad, immoral, unethical, harmful. suggest alternatives
  • if you have information, share it
  • learn about, learn how to use, and use non-hierarchical decision-making methods like consensus. use them in your personal life. use them in your professional life
  • admit your mistakes and learning curves freely
  • acknowledge areas where you lack expertise. uplift and rely on the expertise of others
  • do not gatekeep, examples of how not to fall into common gatekeeping traps below:
    • make sure that any role you play in a system can be played by someone else, that the information and tools are readily available to them to be able to do so
    • if someone comes to you for help and you know a resource that can help them, direct them to that resource. do NOT access the resource for them, unless specifically requested to do so by them after you’ve made sure they have everything available to use to access it without you. (if you are their access, access the resource on their terms)
  • be assured of your own worth. your expertise, experience, and wisdom are different than other folks’; they are not worth less than others’. all wisdoms have their relevant contexts.(shout out to Sonya Renee Taylor’s The Body is Not an Apology again for this one. knowing and being confident in our own worth is a way of ridding ourselves of the hierarchy by removing our compulsion to move our place on it)

unmaking a hierarchy from inside one, especially as someone on the lower rungs, is a huge task at this moment in time and you’ll need to honor your need for rest as you undertake it. but even small actions that chip away at it are meaningful and necessary. i’m with you and if you have other ways you’re working to unmake hierarchy, please tell me in the comments!

want to support this project? become a patron at patreon.com/kymagdalene. or toss me money for a thai tea on venmo, @Ky-Magdalene.

living towards liberation

hello, beloveds. i’m starting work on a series of blog posts titled living towards liberation. i’ve been thinking a lot about how to grow our ability to imagine a different, better world than the one we have and how to collectively create the world we wish to see by living into it.

i’m inspired by adrienne maree brown‘s work especially as i think about this. brown taught and continues to teach me a lot about living towards collective liberation. i highly recommend you check out her blog to either read her writing or to access the long list of audio interviews she has listed. her work is foundational for me in this.

my goal for this series is to increase access to tools that can help us grow our imagination and our practices. i’m writing this series with trans and/or non-binary folks as my primary audience; i write from a trans perspective to and for a trans audience and consider all of the topics i’ll be writing about to be trans issues. my hope is that this series helps us, in our unique position, to navigate the dominant system(s) in a way that allows us to be healthier individually and collectively and that it helps us to push those oppressive dominant systems out of existence so that survival is ultimately easier for everyone to attain.

this is not to say that i don’t hope that folks who are not trans or non-binary find this work useful; i very much hope they do. (i always hope they know that to work for trans liberation is to work for their own.) it’s only to say that i, as always, can find no way to separate trans and/ or non-binary issues from collective liberation and i want to be very clear on that.

trans communities do the work of imagining and enacting alternative ways of being as a means of survival — among our many other reasons for doing so. i want to center our wisdom here — for ourselves and for others, who have a lot to learn from us. white trans and/or non-binary folks also have a lot to learn from people of color, particularly trans and/or non-binary or otherwise gender non-conforming people of color. i want to center that wisdom as well. as bell hooks taught me, those living in the margins have the greatest perspective on liberating wisdom.

the idea is that together we’ll be discovering (because much wisdom already exists) and developing (because we’re always creating new technologies) ways of thinking about and living in the world that — hopefully support the struggle for collective liberation.

you can read the posts in the series here.

want to support this project? become a patron at patreon.com/kymagdalene. or toss me money for a thai tea on venmo, @Ky-Magdalene.