Today, November 3, 2020, is election day in what is called the United States.
First, everyone should vote. “I have said this before, and I will say it again, the vote is precious. It is almost sacred. It is the most powerful nonviolent tool we have in a democracy.” John Lewis
Second, we are living in a failed state. The COVID-19 pandemic is overwhelming our healthcare system. The capitalist economic system that failed so many of us for so many years, is collapsing. The political system built on capitalism is unraveling. And almost everyone continues to refuse to even think, let alone do anything about the greatest threat of all, climate catastrophe.
Third, the concept of mutual aid is how we can respond to these failed systems, no matter who wins the election.
The contemporary political moment is defined by emergency. Acute crises, like the COVID-19 pandemic and climate change– induced fires, floods, and storms, as well as the ongoing crises of racist criminalization, brutal immigration enforcement, endemic gender violence, and severe wealth inequality, threaten the survival of people around the globe. Government policies actively produce and exacerbate the harm, inadequately respond to crises, and ensure that certain populations bear the brunt of pollution, poverty, disease, and violence. In the face of this, more and more ordinary people are feeling called to respond in their communities, creating bold and innovative ways to share resources and support vulnerable neighbors. This survival work, when done in conjunction with social movements demanding transformative change, is called mutual aid.Dean Spade. Mutual Aid: Building Solidarity During This Crisis (and the Next) (Kindle Locations 53-59). Verso.
I don’t advocate for things I don’t have experience with. I think of how “God works in mysterious ways” when I look back on this year in wonder. How the Spirit led me to the joy of working with my accomplices (a term I enjoy that has been used when I’ve been with my mutual aid friends).
Mutual aid projects work to meet survival needs and build shared understanding about why people do not have what they need. Mutual aid projects expose the reality that people do not have what they need and propose that we can address this injustice together. The most famous example in the United States is the Black Panther Party’s survival programs, which ran throughout the 1960s and 1970s, including a free breakfast program, free ambulance program, free medical clinics, a service offering rides to elderly people doing errands, and a school aimed at providing a rigorous liberation curriculum to children. The Black Panther programs welcomed people into the liberation struggle by creating spaces where they could meet basic needs and build a shared analysis about the conditions they were facingDean Spade. Mutual Aid: Building Solidarity During This Crisis (and the Next) (Kindle Locations 53-59). Verso.
One of the things this past year led me to is to participate in Des Moines Mutual Aid’s free food store. This continues the work of the Black Panther program in Des Moines, that began many years ago. It has been a revelation to see people come together, even during this pandemic, to fill and distribute fifty boxes full of food. To experience the joy as we do this together. And to see this is mutual aid, as we are also encouraged to take food.
I see there is no leadership hierarchy. There are people who have taken on the role of working with grocers and farmers to donate the food. But on Saturday morning the work flows effortlessly. There was one “team huddle” where we each determined what our role would be as the cars came by one at a time. Someone opened the car door, someone put in a food box, another put in a gallon of milk. Everyone greeted those in the cars (I especially liked it when there were children. They always gave big smiles).
One of the concepts of mutual aid is to help everyone see how the system has failed, that those in need shouldn’t be stigmatized because of that failure.
Another great thing about mutual aid is people don’t restrict themselves to just one issue. Relationships are built. Des Moines Mutual Aid actually has three projects at the moment: the free food store, help with rent relief, evictions and houselessness, and a bail fund for those who are arrested because they were agitating for change.
DM Mutual Aid
DM Rent Relief
DM Bail Fund
As other examples of working beyond single issues, and building solidarity, my friend Ronnie James delivered an excellent speech at a teach in for Des Moines Black Lives Matter. https://jeffkisling.com/2020/08/26/we-can-and-need-to-take-care-of-each-other/
Patrick was present, and spoke in support when Des Moines Black Lives Matter held a press conference declaring a black state of emergency in Iowa.
Another connection I recently made was last weekend when I took some winter clothes to Des Moines Black Lives Matter when they asked for donations. The next day the person I met at Black Lives Matter was at the free food store.
Earlier this year, Ronnie James found office space at Friends House in Des Moines. And the Des Moines Valley Friends meeting, where Friends House is located, is working with Des Moines Mutual Aid, allowing the kitchen to be used to cook food for those in need.
I written a lot more about my experiences with mutual aid:
Even if the Democrats win this election, it will take time for incremental changes to occur. And even successful efforts will be bogged down with bureaucracy. Not to say such things shouldn’t be encouraged. But mutual aid is the way we can directly help each other even without government help.