Martin Luther King and Mutual Aid

For the past three years my justice work has focused on Mutual Aid.
(See: https://quakersandreligioussocialism.com/mutual-aid/ )

On this Martin Luther King Day, I’m sharing some questions (queries) related to Mutual Aid. And photos I’ve taken of the Martin Luther King Memorial in Washington, DC.


Queries about Mutual Aid

  • How are we working to deal with existing chaos and preparing for further collapse?
  • Do we provide for everyone’?
  • What is our relationship with Mother Earth? Do we honor and conserve the resources we use?
  • What systems of dominance, of hierarchies are we involved in?
  • Do we work to ensure there aren’t hierarchies in our communities, in our relationships with all our relatives?
  • Do we have the courage to follow what the Spirit is saying to us? To not force those messages to conform to our existing beliefs and practices.
  • How do we connect with communities beyond our Quaker meetings? What are we learning about spiritual connections beyond our meetinghouses? Are we sharing these spiritual lessons with others?

Jeff Kisling


Mutual aid means something more specific than just “helping each other out.” It conscientizes people (makes them aware of social conditions) and mobilizes them for transformative mass action like protests, strikes, or boycotts. Furthermore, it is not sponsored by the state or by philanthropists. 

Mutual aid: material and spiritual by Abby Rampone, Call to Action, March 8, 2021

Activist and prison-industrial complex abolitionist Mariame Kaba celebrated the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. by praising NU Community Not Cops and speaking to the importance of mutual aid and political organizing in Wednesday’s MLK Dream Week virtual keynote.

“Abolitionists have a lot to learn from Dr. King,” Kaba said. “If King were alive today… I have no doubt that what he would be addressing in our current historical moment is the violence and destruction of the prison-industrial complex.”

The prison-industrial complex abolition movement hinges on two key principles, Kaba explained: the belief that police perpetuate — not mitigate — harm and the practice of mutual aid. 

Mutual aid — or the extension of community-based assistance, services, funds and care with no requirements or expectations of the recipients — was a core tenant of the Montgomery Bus Boycott, she said. In order to provide boycotters a viable transportation alternative, the community coalesced to create an elaborate rideshare system and provide parking, funds and other forms of support. 

King also frequently spoke out against police brutality, Kaba said, adding that King was jailed 29 times during his lifetime for civil disobedience and related infractions. 

In her work, Kaba has focused on ending the racialized and gender-based institutions of violence, maintained by policing, prisons and surveillance. 

However, Kaba emphasized, prison abolition is more than just the dissolution of what she calls “death-making institutions.” A crucial piece is rebuilding a system that celebrates the flipside — “life-giving institutions,” or systems that offer support, accountability and care to communities. 

“I’m a (prison-industrial complex) abolitionist really, in its simplest terms, because I want to dismantle a system predicated on premature death,” Kaba said. “And build one instead focused on life and true safety.”

Activist Mariame Kaba talks abolition and mutual aid, condemns campus police in Dream Week keynote by Binah Schatsky, The Daily Northwestern, January 13, 2021


The major threat of Martin Luther King Jr to us is a spiritual and moral one. King’s courageous and compassionate example shatters the dominant neoliberal soul-craft of smartness, money and bombs. His grand fight against poverty, militarism, materialism and racism undercuts the superficial lip service and pretentious posturing of so-called progressives as well as the candid contempt and proud prejudices of genuine reactionaries. King was neither perfect nor pure in his prophetic witness – but he was the real thing in sharp contrast to the market-driven semblances and simulacra of our day.

Martin Luther King Jr turned away from popularity in his quest for spiritual and moral greatness – a greatness measured by what he was willing to give up and sacrifice due to his deep love of everyday people, especially vulnerable and precious black people. Neoliberal soul craft avoids risk and evades the cost of prophetic witness, even as it poses as “progressive”.

If King were alive today, his words and witness against drone strikes, invasions, occupations, police murders, caste in Asia, Roma oppression in Europe, as well as capitalist wealth inequality and poverty, would threaten most of those who now sing his praises.

Today, 50 years later the US imperial meltdown deepens. And King’s radical legacy remains primarily among the awakening youth and militant citizens who choose to be extremists of love, justice, courage and freedom, even if our chances to win are that of a snowball in hell! This kind of unstoppable King-like extremism is a threat to every status quo!

Martin Luther King Jr was a radical. We must not sterilize his legacy by Cornel West, The Guardian, April 4, 2018


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