WHAT IS MUTUAL AID?
In every community in America, there are people who need help. Beaver County is no exception. To meet those needs, there are charitable organizations who raise funds and accept material donations from businesses and individuals, alike, redistributing them at their own discretion on the basis of their stated missions. Those who don’t fit a charity’s target demographic are often excluded from receiving help.
The average citizen has little say in how the government administers aid to those in need. Likewise, if the average citizen donates to a charitable organization, they can assume it will be used in service to the organization’s stated goals, but have little say in how it will be used, specifically. Mutual aid is a method by which the average citizen can take direct action to help others in their community. Mutual aid empowers people to take care of each other. It can succeed where the government-sponsored social safety net and charitable organizations have failed. In this way, mutual aid is also direct political action as we help each other survive rather than depending on the ever-changing and slow-moving established political process.
Mutual aid can take many forms and those forms are dictated by the needs of the community. Mutual aid programs offer such things as groceries, rides to appointments, temporary housing, and much more. Most importantly, mutual aid projects have a flattened hierarchy of power. Mutual aid projects are radically egalitarian. Every participant contributes to decision-making, not just leaders or administrators at the top of the organization. This flattened structure allows participants to respond quickly to emergent needs, as they are unencumbered by administrative bureaucracy.
In contrast to the way charities operate, the balance of power between donors and recipients of aid flows both ways in mutual aid projects. “Solidarity not charity” is a phrase that is frequently used to encapsulate the nature of mutual aid work, its response to the failures of our system, and its efforts to address root causes. This means that help is given out of a sense of equality and a sense that helping others enriches and strengthens the community.
There are varying levels of involvement and complexity in mutual aid models, but there is a low barrier to entry for new participants and results of mutual aid work is immediately transparent. Mutual aid projects like Beaver County Mutual Aid empower participants to take direct action against problems in their community without seeking the permission of the gatekeepers who would prefer to dictate the terms under which those in need are given help. In a society that values credentials and expertise, mutual aid is a radical challenge to the status quo.
For more information on Mutual Aid and critiques of non-profit, charity, and social service work, check out the Big Door Brigade website.