Mutual Aid as a concept is surely as old as human existence on the planet. In some form or fashion, it’s about connecting people in need with those who want to help. I personally became aware of Mutual Aid during Hurricane Katrina and Tropical Storm Sandy, noting the numbers of volunteers showing up, responding to needs, then getting to work.
Locally, it popped up on Jericho’s Front Porch Forum at the beginning of the pandemic, in the form of a sign up for people to list needs and/or offers of help.
On July 19, Jul Bystrova facilitated a zoom meeting co-hosted by Transition Town US and the Inner Resilience Network, called “Mutual Aid for Climate Justice and Healing” with Raven Dodson (Open World Relief) and Jimmy Dunson (Mutual Aid Disaster Relief). I attended and learned how vast and far reaching Mutual Aid is in today’s world.
The Mutual Aid movement has become more visible with climate change disasters and is about making sure people in dire straits are helped. You could also say it’s about building a new world.
Raven has been at Standing Rock and countless other places where peril, disaster and need intermix. Of her work she says, “We fill the gaps, we go in and bring support that’s needed.” In March, her locale needed 2,000 masks for city workers; Raven solicited “twelve idle white ladies” to sew, and to date over 16,000 masks have been sewn for the Dine Nation and beyond.
Unlike FEMA and other larger organizations, Mutual Aid is grassroots and non bureaucratic. Jimmy says that instead of charity, Mutual Aid uses the Zapatista concept of “leading by obeying” Instead of imposing, you ask where the needs are; while providing aid, you address the root causes, moving toward structural change. Volunteering at Katrina was empowering for Jimmy, ultimately leading him and others to set up a national network.
Since then, Jimmy’s group, as well as others, have supported bottom up organizing rather than top down; backing up local groups, collective knowledge and complementing local organizing. As Jimmy says, “meeting peoples’ needs directly where they’re at, in a respectful way that is transforming”.
Jul asked if Mutual Aid could lay the groundwork for an alternative cooperative economy. Jimmy responded by saying that Mutual Aid is the antidote to capitalism in that it’s based on caring and loving and providing for one another; sharing decision making and empowering one another.
Another question posed was, how does one start a Mutual Aid group? Jimmy cited the Stone Soup concept, saying you can start small; just a cup of soup and a spoon, and build from there. Raven suggested setting up a kind of exchange table in your neighborhood where people could take what they need, then leave something for others, encouraging reciprocity rather than charity.
Jimmy added, “there are many storms on the horizon; every disaster now is a prelude to the future....it’s all about building foundations for what will spring up in the rubble”.
For information on Mutual Aid in Vermont, check out Seven Days: