This is a photo of some of my Des Moines Mutual Aid friends and accomplices, which is found in an excellent zine about Mutual Aid you can download here:
Today is yet another day with so much horror in the news. The war in Ukraine, rise of fascism, dismantling of civil liberties, and all kinds of environmental chaos. I say this to contrast why I work and write about Mutual Aid, instead. Mutual Aid works on the causes of injustice instead of all the symptoms.
For example, the weekly free food distribution I look forward to attending every week:
- Distributes free food to our friends and neighbors.
- Is an opportunity to interact with our neighbors in a positive manner. We always offer a cheerful greeting to each car of people coming for food.
- Is a chance for us to invite others in our community to join us in this work.
- Demonstrates the resilience of this program that was started by the Black Panther Party in 1971.
- Is an opportunity for us to gather joyfully with each other.
- Is a place where we network with each other. Hear about ways to support each other’s work.
It takes some time to understand what Mutual Aid really is. I can see this zine is going to be very helpful as I try to educate people about Mutual Aid. Because once you’ve experienced “real” Mutual Aid, you want all your friends and neighbors to engage in Mutual Aid projects. Both for their own sake, and as a way to meaningfully work for justice.
The first article in the zine is Mutual Aid: A Burnout Counterculture.
It’s an all-too familiar feeling for your average person trying to dismantle the capitalist state: Brought on by the combination of endless problems to solve, repetitive tasks to keep up with, monotonous wage labor, and disillusionment of having not made any progress over the past two years (among a myriad of other stress-inducing conditions), the exhaustion never seems to go away. Burnout is experienced when pushing one’s individual capacity with any type of work.
What is needed instead is an integral culture of community care in the practice of mutual aid within organizing spaces. A main feature of mutual aid is building communities that can support and sustain themselves, as opposed to relying on and being disappointed by the capitalist state, NGOs, or other nonprofits to meet basic survival needs. A bit of irony is found as people often become burnt out as a result of working on various “mutual aid” projects, which in theory, should be supporting and empowering the people who are organizing them. If organizers don’t gain anything from their efforts besides a feel-good, savior-sense of having helped someone else to survive, it’s not mutual aid. It’s merely setting oneself up to work until there’s no energy left to give.
Organizers must focus on actively avoiding burnout by caring for each other in tandem with the work they take on. There is a great need to understand that taking care of each other as human beings is “the work” and must be incorporated in “the work.”
Successful organizing leads to having more capacity. It’s Going Down, November 24, 2021 “Organization, Repression, Burnout, Action: A Discussion with Crimethinc.”
Dean Spade, author of the widely circulated Verso publication, Mutual Aid: Building Solidarity During This Crisis (and The Next), defines burnout as “the combination of resentment, exhaustion, shame, and frustration that make us lose connection to pleasure and passion in the work and instead encounter difficult feelings like avoidance, compulsion, control, and anxiety.”