Mutual Aid and money

The role money plays in Mutual Aid is what I had the most questions about, and the question most often asked of me when I talk about Mutual Aid.

The Mutual Aid project I’m involved with is the free food distribution, which has been in place pretty much continuously since the Black Panthers in Des Moines organized the Free Breakfast for School Children program. It was when this program looked like it might have to close several years ago that Des Moines Mutual Aid to over the program.

The first Survival Program was the Free Breakfast for Children Program, which began in January 1969 at one small Catholic church in the Fillmore district of San Francisco, and spread to many cities in America where there were Party chapters. Thousands of poor and hungry children were fed free breakfasts every day by the Party under this program. The Program became so popular that by the end of the year, the original Black Panther Party set up kitchens in cities across the nation, feeding over 10,000 children every day before they went to school.

Bobby Seale
All Power To All The People!

Food from local farms, and dated food from local grocery stores is the source of our food to distribute to the 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.

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.

The key is when we think about money, we are thinking within the context of capitalism, which is the system we (Mutual Aid) are working to replace. Think how the communities of our grandparents depended so little on money. Where everyone knew everyone else. Where people just naturally helped when there was a need. Came together to harvest the crops, going from one farm to the next with the machines to do the harvesting.

Since then, increasingly, “people were forced into systems of wage labor and private property.”

The key is when we think about money, we are thinking within the context of capitalism, which is the system we (Mutual Aid) are working to replace

Handling Money

Handling money can be one of the most contentious issues for mutual aid groups. Because of this, it can be very useful for groups to consider whether this is something they want to do. Some groups can do their work without raising money at all. Some groups can do their work just raising money through grassroots fundraising in their communities, taking small donations from many people. That kind of fundraising can avoid the problem with grant-making foundations attaching strings to grant money and trying to control the direction of the work. Grassroots fundraising can help build a sense that the community controls the organizations rather than an elite funder and doing grassroots fundraising can be a way of spreading the ideas of the group and raising awareness about the problems the group works on. However, even if money is raised in this way, managing money still comes with pitfalls. Handling money brings logistical issues that can cause stress and take time, such as figuring out how to do it fairly and transparently and figuring out how to avoid a problem with the IRS or otherwise expose group members to legal problems. Because most people in our society have a tangled, painful relationship with money that includes feelings and behaviors of secrecy, shame, and desperation, a lot of otherwise awesome people will misbehave when money is around or get suspicious of others’ behavior.

Dean Spade. Mutual Aid: Building Solidarity During This Crisis (and the Next) (Kindle Locations 1199-1209). Verso.

Our Mutual Aid group appeals to the community for funds for a need in the moment.

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