Mutual aid (organization theory)

Mutual aid is an organizational model where voluntary, collaborative exchanges of resources and services for common benefit take place amongst community members to overcome social, economic, and political barriers to meeting common needs. This can include resources like food, clothing, to medicine and services like breakfast programs to education. These groups are often built for the daily needs of their communities, but mutual aid groups are also found throughout relief efforts, such as in natural disasters to pandemics like COVID-19.

Resources are shared unconditionally, contrasting this model from charity where conditions for gaining access to help are often set, such as means testing or grant stipulations. These groups often go beyond material or service exchange and are set up as a form of political participation in which people take responsibility for caring for one another and changing political conditions.

Mutual aid groups are distinct in their drive to flatten the hierarchy, searching for collective consensus decision-making across participating people rather than placing leadership within a closed executive team. With this joint decision-making, all participating members are empowered to enact change and take responsibility for the group.

History edit

A mutual-aid soup kitchen Conder Street Mission Hall, 1881

The term "mutual aid" was popularized by the anarchist philosopher Peter Kropotkin in his essay collection Mutual Aid: A Factor of Evolution, which argued that cooperation, not competition, was the driving mechanism behind evolution, through biological mutualism.[1][2] Kropotkin argued that mutual aid has pragmatic advantages for the survival of humans and animals and has been promoted through natural selection, and that mutual aid is arguably as ancient as human culture.[2] This recognition of the widespread character and individual benefit of mutual aid stood in contrast to the theories of social Darwinism that emphasized individual competition and survival of the fittest, and against the ideas of liberals such as Jean-Jacques Rousseau, who thought that cooperation was motivated by universal love.[3]

Practice edit

Mutual aid participants work together to figure out strategies and resources to meet each other's needs, such as food, housing, medical care, and disaster relief while organizing themselves against the system that created the shortage in the first place.[4]

Typically, mutual-aid groups are member-led, member-organized, and open to all to participate in. They often have non-hierarchical, non-bureaucratic structures, with members controlling all resources. They are egalitarian in nature and designed to support participatory democracy, equality of member status, power-shared leadership, and consensus-based decision-making.[5]

Mutual aid vs. charity edit

As defined by radical activist and writer Dean Spade and explored in his University of Chicago course "Queer and Trans Mutual Aid for Survival and Mobilization", mutual aid is distinct from charity.[6] Radical activist, social welfare scholar, and social worker Benjamin Shepard defines mutual aid as "people giv[ing] what they can and get[ting] what they need."[7] Mutual aid projects are often critical of the charity model, and may use the motto "solidarity, not charity" to differentiate themselves from charities.

Challenges to mutual aid edit

  • Lack of technical experts, funding, and legitimization by the public[8]
  • Lack of full-time staff may limit the volume of work that can be completed, especially work that must be done during traditional operating hours
  • Informal status may disqualify eligibility for government grants and tax benefits
  • Development of concentrated social hierarchies may lead to discrimination and a movement away from mutual aid principles[9]
  • Burnout by those that are able to help maintain mutual aid projects
  • Participants draining resources faster than they are replenished

Examples edit

In the 1800s and early 1900s, mutual aid organizations included unions, the Friendly Societies that were common throughout Europe in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries,[10] medieval craft guilds,[11] the American "fraternity societies" that existed during the Great Depression providing their members with health and life insurance and funeral benefits,[12] and the English working men's clubs of the 1930s that also provided health insurance.[13] In the United States, mutual aid has been practiced extensively in marginalized communities, notably in Black communities, working-class neighborhoods, migrant groups, LGBT communities, and others.[14][15][16][17]

Food, medical care, and supplies edit

Food Not Bombs, a cooperative food bank

In 1969, the Black Panthers created the Free Breakfast for Children program to serve families in Oakland, California. By the end of 1969, the program fed 20,000 children across 19 cities. Other survival programs included clothing distribution, classes on politics and economics, free medical clinics, lessons on self-defense and first aid, transportation to upstate prisons for family members of inmates, an emergency-response ambulance program, drug and alcohol rehabilitation, and testing for sickle-cell disease.[18]

In the 1970s, the Young Lords, an organization devoted to neighborhood empowerment and self-determination of Puerto Ricans, Latinos, and colonized people in the United States, operated multiple community programs, including free breakfast for children, the Emeterio Betances free health clinic, free dental clinic, community testing for tuberculosis and lead-poisoning, community day care center, free clothing drives, and "Garbage Offensive" to clean up garbage in Puerto Rican neighborhoods neglected by city sanitation.[citation needed]

Food Not Bombs was founded in the United States in 1980 by anti-nuclear activists to share free vegetarian food with hungry people and protest war, poverty, and destruction of the environment. Food Not Bombs continues to recover food that would otherwise be discarded and shares free food in over 1,000 cities in 65 countries.[19]

Disaster relief edit

Occupy Sandy edit

In 2012 in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy in the NYC area, mutual aid efforts called Occupy Sandy helped facilitate aid faster and with more efficacy than federal government efforts at the time.

Hurricane Katrina edit

In 2005 after Hurricane Katrina, mutual aid efforts in New Orleans began through the Common Ground Collective. Efforts included aid distribution centers, opening seven medical clinics, house-gutting, roof-tarping, building neighborhood computer centers, debris removal, a tree planting service, establishing 90+ community gardens, and legal counselling services. In 2012 after Hurricane Sandy, people formerly associated with Occupy Wall Street formed Occupy Sandy to provide mutual aid to those affected by the storm. Occupy Sandy distributed clothes, blankets and food through various neighborhood hubs.[20]

Mutual Aid Disaster Relief, a network of activists, has responded to flooding in Baton Rouge, flooding in West Virginia, Hurricane Matthew, Hurricane Harvey, Hurricane Irma, and Hurricane Maria by building health clinics, distributing medication and medical supplies, cleaning debris, gutting buildings, building infrastructure, and distributing supplies. Their aim is to support peoples' survival, empowerment, and self-determination.[21]

2017 Puebla earthquake edit

Due to mistrust of the federal government of Mexico and its corruption, a number of organizations and volunteers were prepared to meet the needs of the people of Mexico City immediately after the Tuesday, 19 September 2017 earthquake. This included removing debris from collapsed buildings, searching for survivors, providing medical attention, disseminating news and information, donating and distributing food, etc.[22]

COVID-19 pandemic edit

During the COVID-19 pandemic, local mutual aid groups and tools were established to help share resources and run errands.[23][24][25][26][27]

In the Philippines edit

Practical bottom–up efforts rooted in the traditional and precolonial spirit of bayanihan have been threatened with glib accusations of sympathizing with causes condemned by the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF–ELCAC).[28] Community pantries,[29][30] set up in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic,[28] had been denounced by state officials as being fronts for the Communist Party of the Philippines.[31] Lt. Gen. Antonio Parladé disapproved of the widely circulating narrative that the state had been inadequate in responding to the effects of its own measures in containing COVID-19.[32] Communications Usec. Lorraine Badoy also slammed the National Democratic Front of the Philippines for allegedly setting up community pantries for seditious purposes.[32]

The national-democratic human-rights network Karapatan, in an official statement, hit back, stressing, "Having already been the cause of hardship in the first place, they now have the gall to intimidate?"[33] Senator Pánfilo Lacson also praised the mutual-aid efforts of pantry organizers.[34]

In the United Kingdom edit

The first COVID-19 mutual aid groups in the United Kingdom were founded in Lewisham, Battersea and Hackney on Thursday, 12 March 2020. The pandemic came shortly after the 2019 general election, and relationships formed by young activists as well as a growing political awareness during the Labour Party leadership of Jeremy Corbyn were important to the building of these groups.[35][36]

The UK mutual aid groups have a wide variety of politics. The first groups took inspiration from anarchistic models of community organisation. For example, the Battersea group had a core team of local activists helping residents to self-organise in a non-hierarchical manner. This also allowed the group to connect with local, grassroots organisations providing social care and mental health services. Other groups were more charity-orientated with politics around saviorism rather than a horizontalist interpretation of mutual aid. Although the proliferation of mutual aid groups in the UK brought the term into the common parlance, not everyone involved in the groups are necessarily working from the same understanding of the origins and practice of mutual aid; for example, some groups are more deferential to local authorities and politicians than others. Other conflicts in the early days of the groups included disputes over approaches to safeguarding and data protection (synonymous in the UK with the EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR)), for example over whether volunteers should be required to have a background check for simply checking in on their neighbours.[35][37][38][39]

After the first few groups were set up, a website called "Covid-19 Mutual Aid" was created to help develop an organisational model for the mutual aid groups and facilitate the sharing of resources. It was frequently misreported as coordinating the groups.[40]

COVID-19 mutual aid groups in the UK undertake a broadly similar range of activities: offering support around shopping, collecting prescriptions, dog walking, and offering a chat to those who are lonely due to self-isolation. Groups tend to organise themselves by initially setting up a Facebook group corresponding to a local authority area, and then from there linking to a WhatsApp group corresponding to a council ward. From there the way that groups organise themselves vary greatly but they usually involve producing leaflets with the phone number of one or several volunteers and then trying to reach as many people in the neighbourhood as possible.[35] Other tools commonly used for organising include Slack, Google Docs, and Zoom.[41]

In the context of the rapid growth of mutual aid groups across the UK, the government attempted to create a centralised effort with the NHS Volunteer Responders scheme. Almost 750,000 people signed up to it, although most of these people were not called upon due to organisational issues.[42]

Academics from the Bennett Institute for Public Policy at the University of Cambridge found that the density of COVID-19 mutual aid groups in the United Kingdom was positively correlated with social capital (that is, areas which are already wealthy are more likely to benefit from the presence of mutual aid groups).[43] In deprived areas like Wolverhampton, mutual aid groups were hampered by the legacy of the United Kingdom government austerity programme.[44]

A report by the New Local Government Network concluded that mutual aid groups are an 'indispensable' part of the United Kingdom's coronavirus response.[45]

Technology edit

Academic and author Joseph M. Reagle Jr. has described contributing to Wikipedia as a form of mutual aid.[46]

See also edit

References edit

  1. ^ Peter Kropotkin; Victor Robinson (26 May 2020). "Introduction". Mutual Aid – A Factor of Evolution: With an Excerpt from Comrade Kropotkin by Victor Robinson. Read Books Limited. ISBN 978-1-5287-9015-4.
  2. ^ a b Kropotkin, Petr (1902). Mutual Aid: A Factor of Evolution. Retrieved 6 May 2020. {{cite book}}: |website= ignored (help)
  3. ^ Bertram, Christopher (2020), "Jean Jacques Rousseau", in Zalta, Edward N. (ed.), The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2020 ed.), Metaphysics Research Lab, Stanford University, retrieved 2020-12-11
  4. ^ H, Katie (27 April 2020). "From Mutual Aid To Dual Power: How Do We Build A New World In The Shell Of The Old?". Plan C. Retrieved 28 July 2020.
  5. ^ Turner, Francis J. (2005). Canadian encyclopedia of social work. Waterloo, Ont.: Wilfrid Laurier University Press. pp. 337–8. ISBN 0-88920-436-5.
  6. ^ Spade, Dean (1 March 2020). "Solidarity Not Charity: Mutual Aid for Mobilization and Survival". Social Text. 38 (1): 131–151. doi:10.1215/01642472-7971139. S2CID 216351581. Retrieved 10 May 2020.
  7. ^ Shepard, Benjamin (2015). Community practice as social activism: from direct action to direct services. Thousand Oaks, CA. p. 166. ISBN 978-1-4833-0937-8. OCLC 962305465.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link)
  8. ^ Zola, I. K. (1972). "The problems and prospects of mutual aid groups". Rehabilitation Psychology. 19 (4): 180–183. doi:10.1037/h0091061. Retrieved December 17, 2020.
  9. ^ Izlar, Joel (2019-11-01). "Radical social welfare and anti-authoritarian mutual aid". Critical and Radical Social Work. 7 (3): 349–366. doi:10.1332/204986019X15687131179624. ISSN 2049-8608. S2CID 211453572.
  10. ^ Sonnenstuhl, Samuel B. Bacharach, Peter A. Bamberger, William J. (2001). Mutual aid and union renewal: cycles of logics of action. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University. p. 173. ISBN 0-8014-8734-X.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  11. ^ Kropotkin, Peter (2008). Mutual aid: a factor of evolution. [Charleston, SC]: Forgotten Books. p. 117. ISBN 978-1-60680-071-3.
  12. ^ Beito, David T. (2000). From mutual aid to the welfare state: fraternal societies and social services, 1890–1967. Chapel Hill [u.a.]: Univ. of North Carolina Press. pp. 1–2. ISBN 0-8078-4841-7.
  13. ^ Shapely, Peter (2007). Borsay, Anne (ed.). Medicine, charity and mutual aid: the consumption of health and welfare in Britain, c. 1550–1950; [5th international conference of the European Association of Urban Historians, which was held in Berlin in summer 2000] ([Online-Ausg.] ed.). Aldershot [u.a.]: Ashgate. pp. 7–8. ISBN 978-0-7546-5148-2.
  14. ^ NEMBHARD, JESSICA GORDON (2014). Collective Courage: A History of African American Cooperative Economic Thought and Practice. Penn State University Press. doi:10.5325/j.ctv14gpc5r. ISBN 978-0-271-06216-7. JSTOR 10.5325/j.ctv14gpc5r.
  15. ^ Bacon, Jacqueline; McClish, Glen (2000). "Reinventing the Master's Tools: Nineteenth-Century African-American Literary Societies of Philadelphia and Rhetorical Education". Rhetoric Society Quarterly. 30 (4): 19–47. doi:10.1080/02773940009391187. ISSN 0277-3945. JSTOR 3886116. S2CID 144385631.
  16. ^ Williams, Colin C.; Windebank, Jan (2000). "Self-help and Mutual Aid in Deprived Urban Neighbourhoods: Some Lessons from Southampton". Urban Studies. 37 (1): 127–147. Bibcode:2000UrbSt..37..127W. doi:10.1080/0042098002320. ISSN 0042-0980. JSTOR 43084635. S2CID 155040089.
  17. ^ Hernández-Plaza, Sonia; Alonso-Morillejo, Enrique; Pozo-Muñoz, Carmen (2006). "Social Support Interventions in Migrant Populations". The British Journal of Social Work. 36 (7): 1151–1169. doi:10.1093/bjsw/bch396. ISSN 0045-3102. JSTOR 23721354.
  18. ^ "A Huey P. Newton Story – Actions – Survival Programs | PBS". Retrieved 2020-08-24.
  19. ^ "FOODNOTBOMBS.NET". Retrieved 2020-05-07.
  20. ^ Feuer, Alan (2012-11-09). "Occupy Sandy: A Movement Moves to Relief". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2020-05-06.
  21. ^ "Home". Mutual Aid Disaster Relief. Retrieved 2020-12-11.
  22. ^ Campoy, Ana (20 September 2017). "Photos: Mexicans show the world how to work together when an earthquake hits". Quartz. Retrieved 2020-06-14.
  23. ^ Sitrin, Marina; et al. (Colectiva Sembrar) (2020). Pandemic Solidarity: Mutual Aid during the Covid-19 Crisis. 345 Archway Road, London N6 5AA: Pluto Press. ISBN 978-0-7453-4316-7.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: location (link)
  24. ^ "'The way we get through this is together': mutual aid under coronavirus | Rebecca Solnit". the Guardian. 2020-05-14. Retrieved 2020-06-14.
  25. ^ "Gig workers have created a tool to offer mutual aid during COVID-19 pandemic". TechCrunch. Retrieved 21 March 2020.
  26. ^ "COVID-19 Mutual Aid". It's Going Down. 16 March 2020. Retrieved 2020-05-06.
  27. ^ Tolentino, Jia (11 May 2020). "What Mutual Aid Can Do During a Pandemic". The New Yorker. United States: Condé Nast. Retrieved 28 July 2020.
  28. ^ a b Del Mundo, R. (2021, April 21). Mutual aid, community pantries bring out the best in Filipinos and the worst in Duterte's inhumane regime. Philippine Revolution Web Central.
  29. ^ Sadongdong, M. (2021, April 20). "Parladé: Community pantry could be used to urge public to revolt vs gov't". Manila Bulletin.
  30. ^ Chúa, A. (2021, April 21). "Communist" tag halts community pantry for a day. Manila Standard.
  31. ^ Yuvallos, A. (2021, April 20). The gov't's response to the community pantry movement? Policing and bureaucracy. Philippine Daily Inquirer.
  32. ^ a b Cayabyab, M. J., Mateo, J., Tupas, E., Hallare, K., Macaíran, E., & Romero, A. (2021, April 21). Palace, DILG, PNP, DOJ, mayors say community pantries should continue as NTF–ELCAC red-tags, profiles organizers. One News.
  33. ^ Karapatan. (2021, April 20). Karapatan hits red-tagging of community pantries.
  34. ^ Torregoza, H. (2021, April 18). Community pantries a sign of people's desperation amid COVID-19 pandemic —Lacson. Manila Bulletin.
  35. ^ a b c Butler, James (26 March 2020). "THE BURNER 204: After Corbyn + Mutual Aid" (Podcast). Novara Media. Retrieved 28 July 2020.
  36. ^ O'Dwyer, Emma (23 June 2020). "COVID-19 mutual aid groups have the potential to increase intergroup solidarity – but can they actually do so?". London School of Economics. Retrieved 28 July 2020.
  37. ^ Grayson, Deborah (28 April 2020). "Mutual aid and radical neighbourliness". Lawrence & Wishart. Retrieved 28 July 2020.
  38. ^ Spender, Carl (16 March 2020). "Local councils are already trying to sabotage the mutual aid networks". Freedom News. Freedom Press. Retrieved 28 July 2020.
  39. ^ Dhillon, Amardeep Singh (4 May 2020). "The politics of Covid-19: the frictions and promises of mutual aid". Red Pepper. London, England. Retrieved 28 July 2020.
  40. ^ "COVID-19 Mutual Aid UK". Mutual Aid UK. Retrieved 24 March 2020.
  41. ^ Kavada, Anastasia (12 June 2020). "Creating a hyperlocal infrastructure of care: COVID-19 Mutual Aid Groups". openDemocracy. Retrieved 28 July 2020.
  42. ^ Moritz, Judith (24 April 2020). "Coronavirus: Volunteers 'not being called upon' to help NHS". BBC News. United Kingdom. Retrieved 28 July 2020.
  43. ^ Felici, Marco (21 April 2020). "Social capital and the response to Covid-19". University of Cambridge. Retrieved 28 July 2020.
  44. ^ Heppenstall-West, Luke (29 April 2020). "How Austerity Is Undermining Mutual Aid". Tribune. London, England: Bhaskar Sunkara. Retrieved 28 July 2020.
  45. ^ "Communities vs. Coronavirus: The Rise of Mutual Aid". New Local Government Network. 13 July 2020. Retrieved 28 July 2020.
  46. ^ Reagle, Joseph M. (2005-07-28). "A Case of Mutual Aid: Wikipedia, Politeness, and Perspective Taking". Retrieved 2020-12-11.

Bibliography edit

Further reading edit

External links edit