I’ve written a lot about my experiences with Des Moines Mutual Aid, which began a little over a year ago. The Spirit led to a meeting with Ronnie James, an Indigenous organizer with many years of experience, and now my good friend.
At first, I was just interested in learning about his work, which he graciously spent a great deal of time teaching me. I quickly realized this was exactly the kind of work I had been looking for. I was blessed to be part of a number of justice groups in Indianapolis. Since retiring and returning to Iowa three years ago, I had been looking for people and groups that work for justice. Ronnie described how Des Moines Mutual Aid (DMMA) got started.
It started as group of my friends working with the houseless camps some years back. It has now grown into a solid crew that runs a free food store started by the Black Panthers, still work with the camps, we organzied a bail fund that has gotten every protester out of jail the last few months, and we just started an eviction relief fund to try to get a head of the coming crisis, in cooperation with Des Moines BLM. We have raised $13,000 since wednesday and the application to apply for the grants goes live this weekRonnie James
He told me more about the food giveaway.
One thing he wrote: “So I work with a dope crew called Des Moines Mutual Aid, and on Saturday mornings we do a food giveaway program that was started by the Panthers as their free breakfast program and has carried on to this day. Anyways, brag, brag, blah, blah. So I get to work and I need to call my boss, who is also a very good old friend, because there is network issues. He remembers and asks about the food giveaway which is cool and I tell him blah blah it went really well. And then he’s like, “hey, if no one tells you, I’m very proud of what you do for the community” and I’m like “hold on hold on. Just realize that everything I do is to further the replacing of the state and destroying western civilization and any remnants of it for future generations.” He says “I know and love that. Carry on.”Ronnie James
The more he taught me, the more impressed I was, and the more I wanted to find a way to be involved. But it is hard to know when to ask. I could tell trust was very important. Over a few months I felt we had gotten to know each other well enough, and I asked if it would be appropriate/possible for me to help with the food project and was glad when he said, “definitely”. (This getting to know each other was done with messaging because of COVID).
So I prepared myself to head into Des Moines the Saturday morning of September 12. Feeling a bit vulnerable. Which I didn’t think I needed to feel because the people I would meet are people who show up to do actual justice work. Just the kind of people I wanted to get to know. And yet, I was a little uncomfortable. My experiences are anytime I’m feeling that way, I am doing something that I will look back on as an excellent adventure. And so it was, again.
Eventually there were about a dozen of us gathered in the basement of the Trinity United Methodist Church in downtown Des Moines. Fifty to sixty empty boxes were set out on tables. (When I shared this story with my Quaker meeting, Bear Creek, I learned some tables had been donated to this church when the mental health center Bear Creek supported was closed).
I was surprised at the amount of food that had been donated. Bread and cookies that were taken off the shelves when past their due date. But there were also a lot of vegetables.
Patrick told me, in a friendly way, “we don’t do a lot of telling people what to do.” So I jumped in, grabbed an armful of food and went around distributing it in the boxes. The food in the boxes rose higher and higher. That took about an hour.
Then these boxes of food were carried outside and placed on tables. People waiting for the food had parked in a nearby lot. One of us directed the cars to drive to the tables, where we put in the boxes. People smiled and said thanks.
Each week all the parts of this process seem almost magically come together. At one time we didn’t know how many people would show up to help. But this has become so popular, we had to begin using a sign up sheet to limit the number. Part of that was related to COVID restrictions, which are strictly observed. Everyone wears a mask, and disposable gloves and hand sanitizer are available.
There are never enough boxes when the process begins. So we build the piles of food on the tabletops. More boxes are freed up as we distribute the food from each box. So the piles of food on the tables are put into these boxes as they become available. Gradually more boxes are freed up, and in the end there are boxes for all the piles of food.
And we never know ahead of time how much food there will be. Some food is there when we arrive at the church at 9:00 am. But then more food arrives, mainly from Hy-Vee and Whole Foods, around 9:30.
We also don’t know how many cars of people will show up. People hear about this food distribution by word of mouth, and know to line up in the parking lot of the school across the street from the church. They know the food distribution will start at 10:00 am. Someone keeps track of how many cars are showing up, and we adjust how many boxes of food will be put in each car. This is a moving target as more cars show up.
I marvel at how this process works so well, week after week. It’s like the story of Jesus’s disciples feeding the crowd with a few loaves of bread and a couple of fish.
Here are photos of the church where we put together the boxes of food. I’m always in a great mood after that and spending time with my accomplices. I don’t take photos of them because law enforcement might use the photos against them.
Randomly passing an accomplice on the street and throwing up a fist at each other as we go our separate ways to destroy all that is rotten in this world will never fail to give me extra energy and a single tear of gratitude for what this city is creating.Ronnie James
mutual aid is the new economy. mutual aid is community. it is making sure your elderly neighbor down the street has a ride to their doctor’s appointment. mutual aid is making sure the children in your neighborhood have dinner, or a warm coat for the upcoming winter. mutual aid is planting community gardens.
capitalism has violated the communities of marginalized folks. capitalism is about the value of people, property and the people who own property. those who have wealth and property control the decisions that are made. the government comes second to capitalism when it comes to power.
in the name of liberation, capitalism must be reversed and dismantled. meaning that capitalistic practices must be reprogrammed with mutual aid practices. swipe to learn more about mutual aid.Des Moines Black Liberation