Quakers and Mutual Aid

I’ve been studying mutual aid extensively lately because the concept encapsulates the answer to what I have been praying and thinking about for many years. About the immorality and dangers of the capitalist system. As stated below, “we must mobilize for our own interests, push back, and actually fight. This means demanding not only bread and butter: free housing, access to food, an end to evictions, and clean water: but also building new human relationships, new forms of actual life. This means creating ways of meeting our needs, making decisions, and organizing ourselves and solving problems outside of the State structure and the capitalist system.

I wonder why it took me so long to discover mutual aid. As I’ve begun to share this with other Quakers, I was told Quaker meetings, and other churches have always practiced mutual aid. That may be true of some religious bodies some of the time. Unfortunately, I think too many churches of any denomination use the model of ‘us serving them’ which is the opposite of what mutual aid means. Mutual Aid means what is says, working together to help each other. There is no hierarchy. I believe the ‘us versus them’ thinking is what has driven so many away from ‘organized’ religions.

Part of the reason so many of us have been uniformed about mutual aid is the current political structure knows it is a threat. “On May 15, 1969, in an internal memo, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover wrote: ‘The Breakfast for Children Program represents the best and most influential activity going for the BPP and, as such, is potentially the greatest threat to efforts by authorities to neutralize the BPP and destroy what it stands for.’” What a remarkable statement.

Another reason mutual aid isn’t more widely known is related to that quote. Since mutual aid groups can be seen as threats to the system, actually are threats, members are targets of police abuse and violence.

I’m really glad to have recently met Ronnie James and that he has been willing to teach me about his Mutual Aid work. Which has become my Mutual Aid work as I’ve been blessed to help with the Des Moines Mutual Aid free food project. I’m including, again, what Ronnie said recently during a Black Lives Matter event in Des Moines, because he talks about this work that is going on now in Des Moines.

Quakers like to ask ourselves questions we refer to as queries. Rather than being ‘told’ to do something, the questions invite us to focus on what we are or are not doing. I would ask these questions. You might have more.

  • What Mutual Aid groups are in your area?
  • What relationships do you see between your peace and justice work, and the concept of Mutual Aid?
  • What would your justice work look like if you adapted it to the Mutual Aid model?
  • How might faith integrate with Mutual Aid?
  • How could Mutual Aid expand who you do your justice work with? Bring in more Friends in your meeting, youth in your meeting, and other people in your wider community?
  • How can we create ways of meeting our needs, making decisions, and organizing ourselves and solving problems outside of the State structure and the capitalist system?

For millions of poor and working people, life in this country is going to change – and change very quickly. Already, many companies are starting to lay off workers as the economy slows and things begin to shut down. Low wage workers, many already living just on the edge of eviction and homelessness, now find themselves with even less money coming in and with young children, recently forced out of school, to watch and feed.

If poor and working people see within the coronavirus not only a pandemic that will possibly leave in its wake a massive death count, but also the very real crisis that is modern industrial capitalism, then we must mobilize for our own interests, push back, and actually fight. This means demanding not only bread and butter: free housing, access to food, an end to evictions, and clean water: but also building new human relationships, new forms of actual life. This means creating ways of meeting our needs, making decisions, and organizing ourselves and solving problems outside of the State structure and the capitalist system.

Towards this end, we are encouraged by the explosion of grassroots and autonomous mutual aid projects that are springing up across the US. Not since the early stages of the Occupy Movement have we seen this growth of spontaneous mobilization in the face of a crisis. These efforts must continue to organize themselves, grow, network, and deepen their connections within working-class and poor neighborhoods.

Autonomous Groups Are Mobilizing Mutual Aid Initiatives To Combat The Coronavirus, It’s Going Down, March 20, 2020

Without a doubt, when we get to the other side, it won’t be thanks to our government or those tasked with cleaning up the messes of their own oppression. It’ll be thanks to mutual aid. It’ll be because folks like Black Trans Blessings are working with, protecting and providing for black and brown TGNC folks in NYC. It’ll be because STL Covid Mutual Aid are making their own hand-washing stations, taping information pamphlets to them and sourcing tents and no-contact thermometers. It’ll be because folks in Florida, DC, LA and elsewhere are taking on the requests from closed-down food banks. It’ll be because our networks are building relationships with local organizations – from farmers to faith-based groups – in order to address the changing and growing needs of our communities. It will be because we do what our system has never done and will never do: work with and for people.

“It [mutual aid] creates millions of paths of support for people to counter the red-tape waterlogged, bottle-necked, dehumanizing and deadly top-down system of which we have lived and died by,” Dezeray says. It puts decision making in the hands of the people those decisions will directly affect, cutting out the avarice and illogic of remote middlemen, politicians and corporate interests.

“The community knows what its needs are,” Amanda Tello, member of STL Covid Mutual Aid in St. Louis says. “It does not matter if you have a social security number, what zip code you live in, or if you are unbanked,” she says.

The rolling and future challenge will be what to do when the fever breaks. It’s certainly no easy task to plan for future fights in the daze of illness. Yet, the work we are doing now is the foundation for that future build. What has been viewed as a localized release valve for specific disasters and the associated specific government failings, mutual aid is now the scrappy DIY welfare system for an entire nation, an entire globe, with no expiration date. As author Arundhati Roy wrote in a recent article, the pandemic is a portal, and “We can choose to walk through it, dragging the carcasses of our prejudice and hatred, our avarice, our data banks and dead ideas, our dead rivers and smoky skies behind us. Or we can walk through lightly, with little luggage, ready to imagine another world. And ready to fight for it.”

DISUNITED STATES: GOVERNMENT FAILURE TO ADDRESS CORONAVIRUS IS SPARKING A MUTUAL AID REVOLUTION By Eleanor Goldfield, intpress News.April 14, 2020

Teach In 8/22/2020
Des Moines BLM
Ronnie James

The Police State and Why We Must Resist

Hello all, my name is Ronnie James, and I am here representing Des Moines Mutual Aid.

I am descended from numerous peoples of so-called north america.

At this point I am supposed to do a land acknowledgment, but I don’t like what those have been distorted into. Instead I will say you are standing on and directly benefiting from stolen land, within a nation built by stolen bodies, which is the foundation of the police state that occupies these sacred grounds of the original peoples.  If you would like to know more of who’s land you are on, there are numerous resources. We are still here, and numerous, just ask us.

Historically, the police and other law enforcement were formed to protect the interests and property of the moneyed classes from the rest of the People. This “property” included the bodies of the enslaved and was the justification for brutally repressing the righteous and inevitable revolts born from the atrocity of slavery. This same philosophy of endless possession was the bloodlust that fueled the “Indian Wars” and the theft of Indigenous land and bodies that continues to this day.   (Wampanoag, 2020)

Today, this same war of conquest, the repression of the many for the benefit of the few, continues. 

Currently, Des Moines Mutual Aid and its many accomplices have been fighting a battle with the city of des moines and it’s foot soldiers trying to repress our houseless population from utilizing unused “property”. The basic universal need of a place to rest and be safe is trumped by the need of the wealthy, and the wannabe wealthy, to control every inch they can possess. It is a war for control, and the pigs have enlisted willingly.

This same war of conquest is currently using the mass incarceration machine to instill fear in the populace, warehouse cheap labor, and destabilize communities that dare to defy a system that would rather see you dead than noncompliant. This is the same war where it’s soldiers will kill a black or brown body, basically instinctively, because our very existence reminds them of all that they have stolen and the possibility of a revolution that can create a new world where conquest is a shameful memory.

As bleak as this is, there is a significant amount of resistance and hope to turn the tide we currently suffer under. We stand on the shoulders of giants that have been doing this work for centuries, and there are many lessons we can learn from.

The first, and possibly the most important, is that it was not always this way, which proves it does not have to stay this way.  

What we have is each other. We can and need to take care of each other. We may have limited power on the political stage, a stage they built, but we have the power of numbers.

Those numbers represent unlimited amounts of talents and skills each community can utilize to replace the systems that fail us.  The recent past shows us that mutual aid is not only a tool of survival, but also a tool of revolution. The more we take care of each other, the less they can fracture a community with their ways of war. Organized groups like The American Indian Movement and the Black Panther Party for Self Defense showed that we can build not only aggressive security forces for our communities, but they also built many programs that directly responded to the general wellbeing of their communities. This tradition began long before them and continues to this day. Look into the Zapatistas in Southern so-called Mexico for a current and effective example.

These people’s security forces, or the “policing of the police” not only helps to minimize the abuse and trauma they can inflict on us, but it begins to shift the power balance from them to us.

Mutual Aid programs that help our most marginalized or other events that work to maintain our spirits result in stronger communities. A strong community is less vulnerable to police intrusion. 99% of our conflicts can be solved by those affected by them, but only with the support of those around them. Anytime we call on the police to mediate our problems, we are risking ourselves or a loved one from being hurt or worse.

The more we replace the police with organized community response to conflict, the safer we will be. Another powerful benefit is the removal of power from those that take their orders from those that have no interest in your well-being, at least past it being useful to amass and increase wealth.

Of course, part of this fight of police abolition will be fought on the political stage, but let’s not fool ourselves that the state and the wealthy will ever give up tight control on all resources. We can lobby and vote to have police resources diverted to less dangerous organizations, but they will still be working for the same state and same class that have dispossessed and repressed us for centuries. Every election has the possibility of reversing any policy gain we may won. Some of the fight will be in the government offices, but the majority of it will be us, in the street.

Many communities work to train amongst themselves mental and physical health workers, conflict mediators, and anything else we need, despite the state and it’s soldiers insistence that they are the sole “authority” of these skills, and always with the implied threat of violence.

As we work toward this, and this summer has proven des moines has the heart, desire, and skills to do so, we still have to deal with what’s in front of us.

We each have skills and resources we can utilize towards the abolition project. Some of us can use the halls of the system to make short term change there, others have skills that produce food, provide medical care, or care for our precious youth, some are skilled in the more confrontational tactics needed. Once we envision that world our ancestors want for us, finding our role is natural.

All Power To The People.

Ronnie James

If we are to survive, and more importantly, thrive, we know what we will have to do.


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