This has been a year that has challenged many of our budgets and finances. No matter how well we were doing before COVID many of us have found we can no longer tread water financially. We are struggling to cover our day to day expenses.Too many of us have faced a cut in hours or a job loss. We may have been staying up late worrying how we will pay all our bills. We may have felt like we have to defer all dreams we had because we simply do not have the money we need right now. We may simply not know how we are going to survive. One community based solution to this is found in mutual aid.
Even if you have never heard the term mutual aid you may have participated in one before. Mutual aid is when people in a community help each other, offering what they can and asking for what they need. These mutual aid funds are used across the globe and help individuals and communities find funding that they would otherwise never have been able to access. For example, some of these funds act as savings plans where each member puts in a small amount each week and then the community rotates who receives the total pot each week. This lump sum is enough capital to start or expand a business or cover unexpected medical bills There is a wide range of types of mutual aid covering everything from finances (such as donated to a faith institution) to labor (think of the old fashioned barn raising) but there are a few things that most have in common.
Mutual aid is based on developing reciprocal relationships. These relationships lead to dignity and agency for everyone involved. Mutual Aid networks are not based on donators or organizations deciding who “deserves” assistance. In mutual aid, like the name implies, the giving and receiving is mutual. This means that those who participate in mutual aid funds do not feel shame around the fact that they need assistance, or develop an inflated ego because they can donate.
Mutual aid roots itself in a local community. Every community no matter how big or small has its own unique challenges that those outside the community may or may not fully understand. Those inside that community have a better understanding of what those needs are and what solutions might work within that local context. All communities have a wide range of internal resources which could include things such as money, food, marketing, clothes, creative arts, time, child care, wisdom, transportation, garden space, or emotional care, and the wonderful thing about mutual aid is everyone knows their own value and know that they have something to offer
Mutual aid helps to create a safety net for those of us who might fall through the cracks otherwise. Mutual aid helps catch those of us who find or are finding that governments and institutions are falling behind. The solutions that have been offered on the macro level to COVID are often less effective because they struggle to get the resources to those who really need them, such as large corporations getting funding for small businesses. Though mutual aid is a principle that has been used in communities throughout time, Black, Indigenous and other marginalized communities have found in particular this mutual aid is a way to survive when there is limited access to other financial or physical resources.
In these times of financial uncertainty one possible way forward is to go back to the very old idea of mutual aid. No matter how we are doing financially we have things we can offer and things that we need. Working as a community we can make sure no one is falling through the cracks and we can all thrive and live our best lives.