A Hierarchy Resister

Recently I described why Quakers should dismantle vertical hierarchies. The hierarchies that structure everything Western peoples live, work, and worship by. Every vertical hierarchy creates structures where one, or a select few, take power and benefit from those beneath them. We have been lulled into accepting these structures as the way things are. Such as a supervisor over workers. But the consequences of these hierarchies are more extensive and significant than often realized.

Des Moines Mutual Aid

Reflecting on what I last wrote, Hierarchy and Quakers, I realize I shouldn’t have made such a sweeping statement. When I wrote that means Black, Indigenous, and other people of color (BIPOC) don’t want to be associated with these Friends, I was speaking about the BIPOC people I know. By associate I meant there will be this awareness that there will be frustrations when those who are aware of hierarchies try to work with those who aren’t. Might make it impossible in some cases.

I say this from my two years of experience in a Mutual Aid community. This is not some theory I’ve read somewhere. This has changed me so much I now have trouble being in hierarchical situations myself.

I am a hierarchy resister.

I spend so much time praying and writing about Mutual Aid because I want to share what I am learning with Friends. I believe this can energize our peace and justice work. Mutual Aid is the framework that models the Beloved communities Friends strive to create. Gets to the roots of injustice. Some of the articles I’ve written about Mutual Aid can be found here: https://landbackfriends.com/mutual-aid/

  • My introduction to Mutual Aid was in response to a strong Spiritual leading.
  • Mutual Aid is NOT charity.
  • Maintaining a flat or horizontal hierarchy is what makes Mutual Aid work.
    • MUTUAL is the key.
  • Removing the artificial hierarchies eliminates grouping people by race, class, gender, education, etc. There cannot be white supremacy, for example, if there is no vertical hierarchy.
  • Mutual Aid resists authoritarianism and colonization.
  • I believe Mutual Aid is the Quaker way of being in the world.

Mutual Aid represents a paradigm shift away from capitalism, white supremacy, insurance-controlled healthcare, militarized police and punishment oriented judicial system, prisons, education that resists teaching critical thinking and promotes white supremacy, and domestic and global militarism. Away from commodifying all natural resources and continued extraction and burning of fossil fuels.

Queries related to Mutual Aid
Do we recognize that vertical hierarchies are about power, supremacy and privilege? What are Quaker hierarchies?
Do we work to prevent vertical hierarchies in our peace and justice work?
What are we doing to meet the survival needs of our wider community?
How are we preparing for disaster relief, both for our community, and for the influx of climate refugees?
Are we examples of a Beloved community? How can we invite our friends and neighbors to join our community?

What Is Mutual Aid?

Mutual aid is collective coordination to meet each other’s needs, usually from an awareness that the systems we have in place are not going to meet them. Those systems, in fact, have often created the crisis, or are making things worse. We see examples of mutual aid in every single social movement, whether it’s people raising money for workers on strike, setting up a ride-sharing system during the Montgomery Bus Boycott, putting drinking water in the desert for migrants crossing the border, training each other in emergency medicine because ambulance response time in poor neighborhoods is too slow, raising money to pay for abortions for those who can’t afford them, or coordinating letter-writing to prisoners. These are mutual aid projects. They directly meet people’s survival needs, and are based on a shared understanding that the conditions in which we are made to live are unjust.

There is nothing new about mutual aid— people have worked together to survive for all of human history. But capitalism and colonialism created structures that have disrupted how people have historically connected with each other and shared everything they needed to survive. As people were forced into systems of wage labor and private property, and wealth became increasingly concentrated, our ways of caring for each other have become more and more tenuous.

Today, many of us live in the most atomized societies in human history, which makes our lives less secure and undermines our ability to organize together to change unjust conditions on a large scale. We are put in competition with each other for survival, and we are forced to rely on hostile systems— like health care systems designed around profit, not keeping people healthy, or food and transportation systems that pollute the earth and poison people— for the things we need. More and more people report that they have no one they can confide in when they are in trouble. This means many of us do not get help with mental health, drug use, family violence, or abuse until the police or courts are involved, which tends to escalate rather than resolve harm.

In this context of social isolation and forced dependency on hostile systems, mutual aid— where we choose to help each other out, share things, and put time and resources into caring for the most vulnerable— is a radical act.

Dean Spade. Mutual Aid: Building Solidarity During This Crisis (and the Next) (Kindle Locations 104-120). Verso.

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