Mutual Aid is Critical for Climate Resiliency
Updated: May 11
When freezing, subzero temperatures hit a poorly prepared Texas, many people were left without heat, housing, food, and drinking water. Long before the government could provide aid, mutual aid groups were already on the ground, distributing food, clothing, water, and direct financial aid as well as housing unhoused people who are especially vulnerable to hypothermia all across Dallas, Houston and Austin. Mutual Aid Houston raised more than $130,000 to provide aid to Houstonians facing challenges because of the weather. Houseless Organizing Coalition (HOC) is a BIPOC (black, indigenous, people of color) led org in Houston which “seeks to build an infrastructure of mutual aid, allowing for material relief within the increasingly harsh conditions of capitalism.” Organizations like HOC and Mutual Aid Houston are the first on the ground and are more equipped to deal with climate catastrophes like fires, floods, freezing winters and hurricanes. So when climate disasters hit a community, mutual aid groups are vital to helping people get back on their feet and rebuild. Also, mutual aid groups are there for the most vulnerable people who are often forgotten by the government.
Importantly mutual aid organizations are also around to help with the daily burdens of intersecting systems of oppression, which the climate crisis will intensify. For instance, lending a hand with child support, grocery shopping, or housing and health resources. It can also look like community Facebook pages, like this DC mutual aid network page, where people post requests and other neighbors answer. Another example of mutual aid are community bail funds, which gained attention from the media last summer during the protests following George Floyd’s murder. Community bail funds help post criminal bail and immigration bonds for people who wouldn't otherwise be able to afford it or would have to take out an exploitative bail bond. These community-funded, community-organized groups are fighting the oppressive money bail system.
The origins of mutual aid are from groups of people neglected by the government who had and still have, to band together to stay afloat. The Black Panther Party’s free breakfast program, centered around the idea of self-determination, is a prime example of mutual aid. Started in Oakland, the Black Panther Party was eventually feeding 20,000 kids in 19 cities full nutritious breakfasts every day.
How mutual aid is different from charity? Charity is often top-down, rich helping poor. It means the people giving charity choose who gets it and who doesn’t and it comes with strings attached. Mutual aid is horizontal, it supports everyone and blames the systems that cause problems like poverty and unemployment rather than the people. It understands that our wellbeing are all intertwined and rely on cooperation. It builds relationships, neighbors helping neighbors. It’s solidarity, not charity.
So, are you as hyped about mutual aid as I am? Check out the resource list to find mutual aid groups in DC and other information about mutual aid.
What is Mutual Aid? (video) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rYPgTZeF
Introduction to Mutual Aid - Mariame Kaba (webinar)-- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uJaeblrlW_Q
Collier, Andrea King. "The Black Panthers: Revolutionaries, Free Breakfast Pioneers." National Geographic, www.nationalgeographic.com/culture/article/the-black-panthers-revolutionaries-free-breakfast-pioneers.
Hooks, Mary, and Jocelyn Simonson. "The Power of Community Bail Funds." The New York Times, 23 Aug. 2020, www.nytimes.com/2020/08/23/opinion/bail-funds.html.
Nguyen, Terry. "How mutual aid groups are helping Texas." Vox, 18 Feb. 2021, www.vox.com/the-goods/22289581/mutual-aid-helps-texas-storm.
Samuel, Sigal. "How to Help People during the Pandemic, One Google Spreadsheet at a Time." Vox, 16 Apr. 2020, www.vox.com/future-perfect/2020/3/24/21188779/mutual-aid-coronavirus-covid-19-volunteering.