“Mutual aid networks exploded onto the scene with pandemic shelter-in-place orders. By some counts, there are well over 1,000 new mutual aid networks across the country, and likely thousands more that are operating informally in hyperlocal efforts. The practice of mutual aid itself is not new. In fact, mutual aid has deep roots in Black, Indigenous, and immigrant communities. These displays of mutual aid were acts of resilience and defiance, practiced out of necessity in the face of inequitable access to basic needs. Examples of mutual aid in American history include the Black Panther free breakfast program, post-Depression reciprocal economies that provided for more than 300,000 people throughout California, and mutualista societies formed by Mexican immigrant communities in Texas.
Underlying these historical examples of mutual aid is a call to solidarity, distinct from charity. Mutual aid is also a political act. The pandemic did not cause inequalities so much as magnify the cracks in our system. As with past natural disasters, the COVID-19 pandemic hit working class and communities of color the hardest. These include food industry and grocery workers who could not afford to stay home. Many immigrants, including farmworkers who sustained our food supply chain while many of us stayed home, were too scared to apply for COVID relief due to the current administration’s public charge rules. For these reasons, mutual aid cannot be divorced from an analysis of the system that produced these disproportionate impacts to begin with.
Mutual aid has given many communities hope and sustenance in the current moment. It can become an even more powerful tool for the long term. Yes, it might mean some difficult questions in the interim as we face the stark realities of our system, and along with it, our own complicity. And with this new information comes power and an opportunity to build something new and different. For us to effectively carry out mutual aid, we urge you to tie it to a deeper analysis of our current system and organizing efforts that were already doing this work long before COVID. “