Much has been written about the collapse of our political systems and the capitalist economy. This past year has seen the utter inability of Federal and state governments to even begin to adequately respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. Some of the consequences of which are 18,973,520 confirmed cases and 333,957 deaths as of today in the US.
The capitalist system that requires money for every transaction leaves behind all who don’t have access to money. Millions of people who once had jobs no longer do, through no fault of their own. Suddenly millions of people are hungry and find themselves dependent on food banks. Millions face the threat of eviction when they can no longer afford the rent, or to pay their mortgage.
And yet, knowing all this, the US Congress and administration refuse to provide even a modicum of financial relief. At the same time the military is given billions of dollars.
Mutual Aid has become ever more important as a way to address these survival needs. I don’t know why I only discovered the concept of Mutual Aid about a year ago. Fortunately there is a well organized group nearby, Des Moines Mutual Aid (DMMA) that has been active for years. Providing food, help for the houseless or those facing evictions, and providing bail for those arrested for agitating for change.
I went to Des Moines again yesterday to help with the DMMA food giveaway. Where I see first hand what food insecurity and hunger look like. Where I am with my friends joyfully doing this work together. Those are the two reasons I hope more people become involved with Mutual Aid in their communities. Fulfilling survival needs, and experiencing working with, belonging to a community working on helping us all, together.
I came across this article recently, “COVID-19, the Climate Crisis, and Mutual Aid. Mutual aid is not only about addressing the crisis at hand but also about undoing the injustices of colonialism and imperialism”, by Tina Gerhardt. I’ve had a great deal of trouble convincing white friends that capitalism is the root of much that is wrong today. In this country colonialism has been based upon capitalism.
“Mutual aid,” a concept coined by the Russian naturalist and anarchist Peter Kropotkin in his 1902 Mutual Aid: A Factor of Evolution, refers to the principles of cooperation, and of people joining together to help each other. It ran counter to the then-hegemonic Darwinian theories emphasizing competition and survival of the fittest. Kropotkin did not deny the role of competition, but he argued that the cooperative spirit has gone under-examined.
Kropotkin traced the role of mutual aid in various communities over stretches of history and geography, including among Indigenous communities, so-called free cities in Europe, guilds, labor unions and poor people, and he flagged one key factor that undermined these relationships: privatization.
Reciprocity forms the bedrock of Indigenous worldviews. Robin Wall Kimmerer, in Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants, writes of the “web of reciprocity, of giving and taking. . . . Through unity, survival. All flourishing is mutual.”COVID-19, the Climate Crisis, and Mutual Aid. Mutual aid is not only about addressing the crisis at hand but also about undoing the injustices of colonialism and imperialism, by Tina Gerhardt. Progressive, December 19, 2020
I’ve been working on this diagram for over a year, trying to show the interrelationships among capitalism, climate chaos, and the subjugation of black, indigenous and other people of color (BIOPC) in this country.
When my friend Ronnie James began to teach me about Mutual Aid, that concept fit into this diagram as the goal we should be working toward.
Mutual aid manifests itself most intensely during crises. “This is when the structures of the state and of capitalist markets not only fail to address the emergency situation but they often show their complicity in making it worse,” writes Massimo de Angelis, in the introduction to Pandemic Solidarity: Mutual Aid during the COVID-19 Crisis. He says it amounts to a collective cry from society that “I want to evolve but my evolution depends on you.”
Amid the pandemic, communities have sprung into action. With the economic fallout and lack of federal “survival checks” (as U.S. Representative-Elect Cori Bush, Democrat of Missouri, refers to them instead of “stimulus checks”), people are not only calling for an extension to the federal eviction moratorium, which expires at the end of 2020, but also taking action to keep people housed. In NYC, Mutual Aid NYC sprung into action. A multi-racial network of people and groups, it aims to share food, material and other resources “to support each other interdependently.”COVID-19, the Climate Crisis, and Mutual Aid. Mutual aid is not only about addressing the crisis at hand but also about undoing the injustices of colonialism and imperialism, by Tina Gerhardt. Progressive, December 19, 2020
I’m of the firm opinion that a system that was built by stolen bodies on stolen land for the benefit of a few is a system that is not repairable. It is operating as designed, and small changes (which are the result of huge efforts) to lessen the blow on those it was not designed for are merely half measures that can’t ever fully succeed.
So the question is now, where do we go from here? Do we continue to make incremental changes while the wealthy hoard more wealth and the climate crisis deepens, or do we do something drastic that has never been done before? Can we envision and create a world where a class war from above isn’t a reality anymore?”Ronnie James
Given the 45 percent uptick in hunger from 2019 to 2020, people are also working to self-organize food distribution. Together with other organizations, Fire Igniting the Spirit works to ensure food security for Indigenous communities, distributing food and supplies among five tribes in Oregon and Washington. Just last weekend, the effort reached more than one thousand families. The fact that COVID-19 relief funds from the Department of Treasury to tribes expire at the end of the year has intensified mutual aid.
During emergencies, disaster capitalism, whereby neoliberalism swoops in to privatize and profit precisely at moments of crisis, well-delineated in Naomi Klein’s Shock Doctrine (2007), is the flip side of the coin to mutual aid, well-argued in Solnit’s A Paradise Built in Hell or Hope in the Dark (2004).
In light of COVID-19, we are all facing unique challenges, but each one of us has different resources and skills we can contribute. What this moment offers, as any crisis does, is an opportunity to engage the needs of our neighbors and communities.
After all, a society will be measured by how it treats its most vulnerable members.COVID-19, the Climate Crisis, and Mutual Aid. Mutual aid is not only about addressing the crisis at hand but also about undoing the injustices of colonialism and imperialism, by Tina Gerhardt. Progressive, December 19, 2020
I’m in the process of collecting information about Mutual Aid in an online booklet you can find here: Mutual Aid in the Midwest (designrr.co) This is a flip book so you click on the arrows at the right and left edges to move from page to page.