Jaydra Johnson: The Future is Mutual

Atmos, July 1, 2021

The pandemic showed us the value of mutual aid, but don’t be fooled. Mutual aid is not a trend—and it could be key to addressing the climate crisis.

The term “mutual aid” re-entered the zeitgeist this past year as people mobilized en masse to pull each other through a rash of once-in-a-lifetime catastrophes. When the pandemic hit, regular folks—often total strangers—united to meet the litany of novel, urgent needs that existing institutions could not, relying on a simple organizing concept: “Give what you can, take what you need.” Thousands of groups coalesced seemingly overnight to organize food banksprevent evictions, and provide personal protective equipment to the most vulnerable. Later, when police brutality reached a fever pitch or unprecedented forest fires rocked the West, mutual aid groups continued to form and flourish amid disaster. Such aid became so commonplace that it even generated buzz in mainstream media.

But this type of organizing is not a trend. Mutual aid groups demonstrate the power communities have to respond to tragedy at a moment’s notice, but they also exemplify an invaluable approach to addressing more chronic 21st century issues. Building on the momentum generated by all the organized, collective care of the past year could be the key to responding to—and even solving—the climate crisis.

You’ve probably seen mutual aid’s de-facto slogan on an Instagram infographic: “Solidarity, not charity.” But what does it mean? As Dean Spade, legal activist and professor at the Seattle University School of Law who wrote a book on mutual aid last year, explains on his website, “Mutual aid is the radical act of caring for each other while working to change the world.”

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