We are studying, relating, and organizing together.
We recognize that we bring different perspectives and experiences to our organizing, and we affirm that everyone has valuable knowledge to share. To work toward a shared understanding of our situation, we aim to study together in ways that are bound up with our organizing and relationship building. The principles that we present here are provisional, and members of our network do not need to agree with them in order to organize with us. We share these principles here as a starting point with many open questions that we hope to engage collectively. We recognize that these principles are ideals that we will strive to achieve while continually falling short in practice. Without trying to be perfectionists, we will make regular times in our collective processes for critically constructive reflections on the gaps between our practices and ideals.
Mutual aid is when people come together to help each other meet their needs, with an understanding that the dominant systems aren’t sufficient.
We are actively trying to foster mutual aid work within neighborhoods, and also to foster mutual aid across neighborhoods, in order to redress historical and ongoing inequalities and injustices.
Non-exclusivity and mutuality.
Each of us deserve and will need some form(s) of aid, and everyone has some capacity to contribute. This includes people from all political backgrounds and walks of life.
Solidarity, not charity.
An approach of solidarity contrasts with approaches of charity that rely on moral frameworks of deservingness and saviorism. Through solidarity, we aim to resist rather than reproduce paternalistic, racist, colonial, patriarchal relationships.
Respecting and building relationships with ongoing neighborhood efforts.
We are supporting and learning from communities in neighborhoods that have been engaging in mutual aid for a long time, particularly in Durham’s working class, Black, Indigenous, and Latinx communities.
We do not desire to return to “normal,” but rather to dismantle the unequal, unjust dominant system.
In times of sudden disaster like the COVID-19 pandemic, when many people feel increased vulnerability to harm, they feel more receptive to mutual aid. But before such disasters, many people have already been practicing forms of mutual aid in order to survive under the ongoing disasters of the dominant system. The status quo of unequal, segregated, and violent institutions make some people — particularly along lines of class, race, and immigration status — disproportionately vulnerable to harm, illness, and premature death. We can describe this dominant system by different names, such as a racial-capitalist, settler-colonial society. By whatever name we call the dominant system, its effect has been to enable certain neighborhoods and households to hold more wealth and access to elite power, and has systematically excluded others from those same resources. During a sudden disaster like the COVID-19 pandemic, these inequalities are intensified as those who are already oppressed are made even more vulnerable to exploitation, harm, and premature death. Thus, our mutual aid organizing must grapple with and seek to overcome these inequalities, marginalizations, and segregations.
Mutual aid can help us survive and create alternatives but it must be complemented with other forms of resistance.
We want to dismantle the dominant systems and structures that have failed the people, and have been undemocratic and unequal and unjust and racist for ages. To complement other kinds of organizing for such dismantling, through mutual aid, we seek to enact practices for surviving under the dominant systems while creating alternative infrastructures for our lives (food, health, housing, work, etc.) that are locally democratically controlled, just, egalitarian, and based on mutual aid. Toward these multiple simultaneous goals, we see our mutual aid organizing as necessarily interconnected with a wider ecology of organizing practices and movements.
Mutual aid faces constant pressures of co-optation, whether into the non-profit industry, governmental social services, or neoliberal efforts of elite institutions that use voluntarism as an excuse to abandon and privatize public services. To resist such co-optation, we seek to build and maintain grassroots community control of our mutual aid project.
Community control and bottom-up accountability.
Our capacities for resisting co-optation require cultivating accountability to the people who have been made most vulnerable by racial capitalism. For this bottom-up accountability, we need to structure our decision-making practices in ways that avoid concentrations of power and hierarchies and that enable the full agency, participation, co-creation, and leadership of those who have been made most vulnerable. We also must implement policies and processes for collectively dealing with conflicts and potential situations of abuse.
Critical study of power relations.
We aim to create space for critical reflections and discussions about the power relations that structure the unequal distribution of resources. For both those who are giving and receiving resources, we aim to facilitate collective studying of the political, economic, and social conditions that make it so that some people are in possession of more resources and those receiving them are not.