Mutual aid has strengthened relationships and expanded our movement. Socialists should embrace mutual aid efforts as we fight for a society rooted in solidarity.
Much of the discussion and debate about mutual aid occurring among socialists looks at mutual aid in a very narrow way. It is argued that the only way in which mutual aid can be helpful is when it is operating in conversation and connection with labor, such as in the example of Bread for Ed, which raised money to provide food for striking teachers. This narrowness is misguided, because it discounts a lot of social movement work. In this article I am going to give several examples of ways in which mutual aid has been used to expand how the work is seen and understood. I’ll actually start with labor.
Recently in Chicago, teachers were preparing to strike over negotiations on returning to in-person learning in schools. A lot of the teachers that were preparing to strike, protesting every weekend, and going outside in solidarity with their colleagues to teach in the cold, were also participating in mutual aid efforts. The reason they were doing that is because they know that they have to be building power as workers, and they also have to be engaging with the communities that they know need them the most, and that this engagement builds solidarity with people that are going to also support the teacher’s struggle.
These teachers were organizing mutual aid pantries, making sure that there were warm clothes available for students, and trying to help families in any way that they could. Several of my friends who are teachers engaged in this kind of work.
I think it is important to point this out because we want to be creating communities of care. Ultimately, what we want is a society that is based on the values of solidarity.
Mutual Aid in the Immigrant Rights Movement
In the immigrant rights movements here in Chicago, mutual aid is a core component. Here in my community, the Albany Park Defense Network has an initiative where people or families who had immigration cases would come and get help in terms of support, to have accompaniment to go with them to hearings, and for legal aid. There was also a lot of fundraising that was done for families that had lost a breadwinner due to deportation or incarceration.
After these people got help, they would then become part of the fabric of organizing, and would themselves accompany others to hearings, help fundraise, and help with legal aid. That built a lot of support in the immigrant rights movement and got people engaged. A lot of these folks who were doing that mutual aid work were also the same people that organized to pass the Welcoming City Ordinance without carve-outs that we were able to pass in the last City Council meeting here in Chicago. This ordinance is a huge deal and will make Chicago one of the safest cities for immigrants in the US.
Mutual Aid in Puerto Rico
In Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria, mutual aid was the only thing that there was. It was really important for people to be able to have access to basic things like water and food, or medical help. The movement in Puerto Rico that culminated in the massive riots and revolt that ended up kicking out the Governor in Puerto Rico had a lot to do with those mutual aid projects that were created on the island.
And some of those mutual aid projects evolved. One mutual aid project in Caguas grew out of people occupying a building and doing mutual aid and community work from that building. Now, they have created a supermarket that is a workers’ co-op in that space. This is worker power right?
Mutual Aid and Building Power
It is important to trace out how mutual aid has impact and value beyond the very important immediate provision of support that the state is either unable or unwilling to provide. One example that points to this particular issue is that here in Chicago, there are a group of people who provide support to people who are being released from Cook County Jail. People are being released in the cold with no clothes, no shoes. So people sit in front of Cook County Jail, and they make sure that people released are clothed and that they have fare to take public transportation or that they have a ride. This work has very publicly illustrated cruelty that institutions like Cook County Jail inflict on people. As a result, now it has gotten Cook County’s attention and they are discussing how to change those policies.
[Read the rest of this article by Rossana Rodriguez Sanchez on Rampant]