With so much happening politically, it’s easy to become overwhelmed. Black people are murdered by police and victimized by mass incarceration. Immigrant children are kept in cages. Trans people are subjected to violence and discriminatory legislation nationwide.Time and time again, our most vulnerable citizens continue to be attacked instead of protected.
How do we get out of this mess? How do we liberate the most marginalized among us when the systems of our country have worked against them for years? Outside of voting and the occasional protest, what power do I have to make the change I know we need?
Are we powerless?
Luckily, the answer is no. In fact, there is a huge power potential available to us: community organizing. Building people power is the key to pursuing the revolutionary change we need, and at the center of people power is mutual aid.
On its surface, mutual aid can look like charity. However, there are critical distinctions between the two — distinctions which are the key to the liberatory potential mutual aid holds.
With charity, there are criteria implemented to determine who is deserving of assistance. There are also differentiations between those who give and those in need, and with this differentiation comes a hierarchy: the giver has the power to dictate how to meet the takers’ needs. By comparison, mutual aid is, surprise, mutual. There is no distinction between giver and taker; help is offered to all who need it and provided by any who can. Members of mutual aid projects and organizations can provide and receive support simultaneously.
Because of this lack of distinction, mutual aid is based in solidarity, not sympathy. Your fellow members are your equals, people with whom you are interdependent in the pursuit of community sovereignty and autonomy. With solidarity comes trust; there are no criteria for receiving support. If someone says they need help, you help them, no questions asked. Mutual aid is cooperative, and cooperation is fundamentally necessary to liberation.
However, mutual aid does not erase the fact that needs differ based on marginalization. Most mutual aid organizations, while available to anyone, are designed to target systemic inequality. Free99Fridge is a grassroots mutual aid project where community refrigerators are built and stocked across Atlanta; anyone can leave food and anyone can take food, but the organization was designed to address food disparities by giving impoverished and unhoused people access to healthy food. Two Instagram accounts, @newwxrldnetwork and @ideamutualaid, are mutual aid/wealth redistribution projects that platform Black and Indigenous LGBTQ people and undocumented, disabled, and/or queer students of color who need financial support. Metro Atlanta Mutual Aid Fund financially supports marginalized communities impacted by COVID-19. Organizations like these work on the understanding that there are particular groups of people who are more likely to be in need than others because their needs aren’t being met systemically and prioritizes these people.
The goal of mutual aid organizations is to empower the people and address inequality by building each other up and providing the support for each other that isn’t being provided by the state. While mutual aid itself won’t fix the problems of our society, it is the first and most crucial step toward ending reliance on the government for help it won’t provide, organizing around our communal interests, and humanizing those who have been historically dehumanized. In truth, mutual aid is an act of radical love in the face of oppressive hatred. Now more than ever, it’s crucial we stand in solidarity with those in our communities whose struggle was written into the fabric of our society. It’s time we take care of each other.