Mutual Aid is the Quaker way of being in the world

This week I’ve been writing to help refine what I hope will happen when we discuss Mutual Aid at my Quaker meeting this weekend. Quakers have a practice of using questions (queries) to help focus and stimulate participation in consideration of topics such as peace, Quaker education, etc. In the tables below I’ve extracted queries from those we routinely consider that relate to Mutual Aid and added others I’ve written.

I think what I will have the most trouble conveying is Mutual Aid represents a paradigm shift away from our current situation. 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. Continuing extraction and burning of fossil fuels.

Simply put, Mutual Aid is the Quaker way of being in the world.

I’d like us to spend most of the hour’s discussion Sunday hearing what the people in the (Quaker) meeting say about these queries.

At the beginning of the discussion, I want to make the following points.

  • 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.
    • The short video below “Horizontal Group Structures in Mutual Aid Work” does an excellent job of explaining this. The video is by Dean Spade, who wrote the book, “Mutual Aid: Building Solidarity During This Crisis (and the Next).” Verso.
    • 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.
  • Mutual Aid is the Quaker way of being in the world.

The point that seems most difficult to grasp, but is most important to learn, is the difference between Mutual Aid and charity. Charity is an example of a vertical hierarchy. The donors are above the recipients. The recipients are often stigmatized. There is rarely any contact between the two. And there are often strings attached. Recipients must meet certain criteria to qualify for the help/money. And what is offered as help is often not what the recipients actually need.

“Mutual” is the key to Mutual Aid. It can never be “us” helping “them”. The whole community works together to identify and solve problems affecting everyone. There is the understanding that anyone of us might need the help that we are involved in providing. Someone I met when we were putting together boxes of food told me in the past, she was among those who needed the food.

I wrote about using questions (queries) to help guide the discussion and encourage participation by those attending. (Notes to Myself).

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?

The following lists some of the Yearly Meeting’s queries that apply to Mutual Aid.

Advices and Queries of Iowa Yearly Meeting (Conservative)
OutreachIn what ways do we cooperate with persons and groups with whom we share concerns? How do we reach out to those with whom we disagree?
Civic responsibilityIn what ways do we assume responsibility for the government of our community, state, nation and world?
Environmental responsibilityWhat are we doing about our disproportionate use of the world’s resources?
Social and economic justiceHow are we beneficiaries of inequity and exploitation? How are we victims of inequity and exploitation? In what ways can we address these problems?
What can we do to improve the conditions in our correctional institutions and to address the mental and social problems of those confined there? (This one is related to Abolition of police and prisons)
Peace and nonviolenceWhat are we doing to educate ourselves and others about the causes of conflict in our own lives, our families and our meetings? Do we provide refuge and assistance, including advocacy, for spouses, children, or elderly persons who are victims of violence or neglect?
Do we recognize that we can be perpetrators as well as victims of violence? How do we deal with this? How can we support one another so that healing may take place?
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.

There are three key elements of Mutual Aid.

  1. Mutual aid projects work to meet survival needs and build shared understanding about why people do not have what they need.
  2. Mutual aid projects mobilize people, expand solidarity, and build movements.
  3. Mutual Aid projects are participatory, solving problems through collective action rather than waiting for saviors.

    Mutual Aid, Building Solidarity during this Crisis (and the next) by Dean Spade, Verso, 2020

DateBlog posts related to Mutual Aid discussion
Mutual Aid in the Midwest
12/31/2021A Call for Quakers to Embrace Mutual Aid
1/2/2022What I Don’t Know About Mutual Aid
1/3/2022Notes to Myself
1/4/2022Notes to Myself Continued
1/5/2022Spirituality and Mutual Aid
1/5/2022More Notes on Mutual Aid
1/6/2022Does Mutual Aid speak to your condition?

We did distribute food on Christmas and New Year’s Day.

7 thoughts on “Mutual Aid is the Quaker way of being in the world

  1. Dear Jeff I find your journey with Mutual Aid very engaging.I would be very excited to see your last post as an article for Friends Journal. MA seems very compatible  with the Quaker way, and might be of interest to Friends in many places.Thank youGita LarsonAsheville NC Sent from my Galaxy


    1. That’s very kind of you, thank you. You never know what will happen when you post things for the whole world to see. This post especially, since I haven’t come across much about Quakers and Mutual Aid. But now that I’ve reached this point, I do hope Quakers might consider Mutual Aid. I’ll certainly think about Friends Journal. Thanks again. Jeff


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