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.

how to talk about money with the people you love

many trans folks are in economically precarious positions under normal circumstances and with the impact of covid-19, our communities — and others — are facing even greater economic difficulties.

while there are social services programs that can help (call 211 or visit NeedHelpPayingtheBills.com to find social services in your area), i know a lot of us are going to need greater or different help than they provide.

i’m a great believer in mutual aid: the practice of providing each other the help we need. with many of us out of work and facing looming rent payments and other bills, it’s imperative that we get able to talk with each other about money — who has it, who needs it, and what we’re gonna do about it.

the following are some tips to get you started in these conversations, whether you’re the person asking for money or the person offering it. but before i break it down, a tip for all parties:

  • know that it’s good to have these conversations. we’re taught not to talk about money, but not doing so only serves the wealthy and we don’t want to serve them, do we? remember that having these conversations is doing good work to break down the oppressive class system and bringing us all closer to good lives free of oppression.

if you’re someone who needs money…

  • tell your friends and community members as soon as you know you have the need. there’s absolutely no shame in having needs, especially under oppressive capitalist systems, not to mention during a pandemic. giving people a heads up as early as you can helps them plan their finances in such a way that they can help.
  • use whatever communication means you feel comfortable with. if asking a group is easier for you, you can make a facebook post; you can hit up the group chat. i also very much encourage approaching a particular person, who you know has steady income right now.
  • be straightforward. if you need help with the language, try something like “hey everyone, i’ve been laid off at work and i’m really worried about how i’m gonna make ends meet. can anybody help me pay rent/buy groceries/get my meds?” when addressing an individual, try something like, “hey [their name], i’m struggling financially right now, are you able to help me pay my bills?”
  • be specific. $200 short on rent? say that number. a group of folks will be able to work out how to split an amount. folks also like having a goal to meet.
  • if your need is going to be ongoing, be open about that. say something like “i need financial help right now and will need it on an ongoing basis, because i don’t know when i’ll be able to work again.” preparing folks upfront for an ongoing need makes it a lot easier for them to plan how they can help. it helps a community of folks make a long-term plan.
  • be prepared to accept whatever response. it can be hard to be denied resources that you think others can spare. but you don’t necessarily know what wiggle room others do or don’t have. however, if you hit up the group chat and are ignored by everyone, it’s probably time to have a conversation with the group about what kind of community you all intend to be. folks should at least answer you, even if it’s to say they can’t help. be patient with yourself and others; we’re all figuring this out as we go.

if you’re someone with resources to spare…

  • state that you are in a position to help. your friends don’t want to make your life harder, so they need to know that asking for help from you isn’t going to do so. say something specific like “my work is steady right now and i’m very down for redistributing these resources!”
  • approach your communities as a group. you may not know who all is struggling right now, since we’ve all been taught not to share that. hit up the group chat/zoom meeting/netflix party! say something like “hey all, i know with everything going on right now, finances can be especially hard. i have money to spare if folks need it. just let me know!”
  • reach out specifically to the friends you’re worried about. some folks won’t feel comfortable taking you up on your offer in a group setting, so it’s important to talk to particular folks if you’re concerned about them. try something like “hey [name], i know your gigs are falling through right now. if you need help paying the bills or anything else, i’m here for you.”

i’m so proud of everyone who goes on to talk about money with their friends and loved ones. the learning curve is difficult, but extremely worthwhile. the more we have these conversations, the better we’ll get at them and the stronger our communities will be. we can survive — and thrive — together.

if you’re interested in learning more about mutual aid, check out dean spade’s mutual aid syllabus page.

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