When I started this blog exactly six years ago, I didn’t know why the Spirit led me to name it Quakers, social justice and revolution. It was the revolution part I’ve been patiently waiting to understand. I wondered if that related to my quixotic quest to get people to stop using cars. But I don’t think you can call one person’s actions a revolution, can you?
Anyway, now I know.
As each new year begins, many reflect on the past year. Some make resolutions to do something different, something better, in the new year. A fresh start.
But now, rather than making simple resolutions that are rarely kept, we are at a time to commit to joining a revolution this new year. The revolution I’ve been learning and writing about, and have joined, is Mutual Aid.
What do you see when you look back over the year 2020? When you step out of the daily struggles just to survive, literally in this time of COVID? And figuratively? What I see is:
- The failure of an economic system built on capitalism
- Suddenly millions of people have lost access to food, water, healthcare, education and shelter
- Collapse of our healthcare system
- The success of a political establishment designed to transfer massive amounts of wealth to those who are already wealthy
- The destruction of a social contract that used to allow us to operate from norms of truth, logic, science and care for one another
- The many consequences of rapidly evolving environmental disasters
- The ongoing destruction of infrastructure from neglect and environmental destruction
- Out of control spending for and utilization of the military and police
- The rise of a militarized police state that instills fear, suppresses dissent, and incarcerates those who do dissent
- The continuation of white supremacy and systemic racism
- The rise of authoritarianism
- Spiritual poverty
The capitalist economic system once worked fairly well for white people when there was nearly full employment. This transactional system required money to obtain all goods and services. Over the past several decades unemployment increased. Social safety nets helped somewhat. Then this year millions have lost their income, or their businesses forced to close. We’ve watched the political establishment totally disregard these crises.
For many years charities offered help. They would have rules about who qualified for help. Those needing help were stigmatized. At times the help offered wasn’t what was really needed. And the help was rarely sustained.
We are in crisis and need fundamental change right now. My whole life I’ve said we have to stop using fossil fuels now. And that, of course, didn’t happen. Now we wish we had done that. The consequences were a long time coming, but are here now.
But the crises we face now don’t have a long timeline until their consequences materialize. Every minute millions of men, women and children are hungry, many with no shelter.
The revolution we need is Mutual Aid. Mutual Aid projects work to meet survival needs. Mutual Aid is built on the idea of us all working together on problems that affect us all. This is radically different from “us” helping “them”, which is the view of charities and social safety nets.
To illustrate how Mutual Aid works, this is an example based upon some of my experiences. I’m fortunate to have met and become friends with Ronnie James, an indigenous organizer with over twenty years of experience. He has been mentoring me regarding Mutual Aid. For the past three months I’ve been participating in one of the projects he is involved with. Which is the weekly food giveaway of Des Moines Mutual Aid (DMMA). This is a continuation of the Black Panthers’ free school breakfast program from the 1960’s.
My first time at the food giveaway, Patrick told me this was a Mutual Aid project, which meant any of us helping out were welcome to take food. A very diverse group of my new friends distribute food (often past freshness date food from local grocery stores) among fifty or so boxes. The food is then taken to tables set up outside the church. Then one of us directs traffic, and the boxes of food are put into each car. Every one of us is very friendly toward those in each car. No one tells us to be polite. It’s just naturally how we feel when we really see we are all in this together. We know people don’t have enough food through no fault of their own.
Several times I’ve heard people say these Saturday mornings are the highlight of their week. And of mine, too. As Ronnie explained before I got started, you work frantically for an hour and a half, after which you are sweaty, tired, and feeling good. This good feeling is why Mutual Aid projects mobilize people and expand solidarity.
From this example, you can see what Dean Spade is talking about in his book, Mutual Aid: Building Solidarity During This Crisis (and the Next). There are three key elements of mutual aid.
- Mutual aid projects work to meet survival needs and build shared understanding about why people do not have what they need.
- Mutual aid projects mobilize people, expand solidarity, and build movements.
- Mutual aid projects are participatory, solving problems through collective action rather than waiting for saviors.
A Mutual Aid project must be participatory. You have to be physically present in the community you are working with. That is necessary in order for you to really understand the situation and the people you are working with. It is necessary so those you work with can get to know and trust you.
And an important part of the Mutual Aid experience is how you are changed as you learn how to be with people in new ways. Much of that is related to learning how to leave vertical hierarchies behind. Basic to Mutual Aid is the idea there are no vertical hierarchies, no superiors. We are all in this together.
Seriously, this is the time for all of us to join the Mutual Aid revolution.
If there isn’t a Mutual Aid group near you, start one of your own. There are many resources on the Internet to help you do that.
I’ve been compiling a booklet of information about Mutual Aid. This is a link to a flip book version. Click on the right or left arrows to move through the book.