What is Mutual Aid?
Doctoral candidate Joel Izlar writes about mutual aid in light of the COVID-19 pandemic
From the COVID-19 pandemic to the climate crisis, you are probably hearing more and more about mutual aid. So what is this mutual aid thing all about?
Mutual aid is when everyday people get together to meet each other’s needs, with the shared understanding that the systems we live in are not meeting our needs and that we can meet them together, right now, without having to pressure power structures to do the right thing. Mutual aid is an idea and practice that is based on the principles of direct action, cooperation, mutual understanding, and solidarity. Mutual aid is not charity, but the building and continuing of new social relations where people give what they can and get what they need, outside of unjust systems of power.
Chances are you have been practicing mutual aid without even knowing it. If you ever shared a meal with a stranger when you were both hungry, realizing it was easier and better to do it together instead of depending on others to do it for you, you were practicing mutual aid. If you ever shared a skill with someone for free, seeing this as a way to connect with someone and learn together because traditional avenues of education were not working, you were practicing mutual aid. If you ever pooled resources with others when you were all struggling, understanding that it is better to rise up together and fall together, you were practicing mutual aid. Mutual aid is the understanding that we live in an unjust society that divides us from ourselves and one another, and that it is often better to take our lives into our own hands and solve our problems because we are all in this together.
So, as you can see, mutual aid is a core component of who we are as humans; it is a way of living. It is moving beyond the idea that we should compete for resources and depend on structures of power to provide for us, when we are capable of doing so together. Mutual aid during crises is critically important, as it is often a better, faster, efficient, and more empowering way to help one another, but it is something we should be doing throughout the daily crises of our lives in an unjust society, not just as reactions to crises. Mutual aid gives us the opportunity to find ourselves and one another again, and to live a future of justice, equality, equity, and freedom that we want to see, right now.