What is Mutual Aid?
Mutual Aid* is a means for people who have been marginalized by society to join together and uplift each other. In our work at Koinonia we owe great debt to BIPOC communities in their development of this work.
Through countless personal conversations, increasingly public accounts of harm, and an institution continuously failing to address discrimination, Mutual Aid often arises in the midst of crisis. Crisis can arise in many ways: natural disaster, loss of life, employment, or home, or a systemic shortage of support and resources for underserved populations.
Koinonia Mutual Aid is positioning itself as a response to a crisis in which Black, Brown, Indigenous, Asian American, Pacific Islander, Latiné and LGBTQIA+ faith leaders are experiencing burnout and harm due to a lack of support or resources within faith-based institutions.
Some examples of mutual aid efforts that have sprung from crises in western culture are the Chicken Soup Brigade during the height of the AIDS crisis, the Black Panther’s Free Breakfast for Children program, and more recently, a myriad of housing and food programs in response to the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.
The practice of mutual aid is rooted in marginalized communities. Here are some examples of the ways mutual aid has existed long before the term was formalized in western culture:
Sociedades mutualistas were first created by Mexican immigrants in the late 19th century in southwest United States as a way to provide support for new immigrants as they navigated a new world, new language and new ways of being. Financial support, translation, and family care were provided to all community members.
Bayanihan, or “being in a bayan,” reflects the Filipino practice and spirit of communal unity, work and cooperation. The concept can be traced back to ancient times when a neighbor asked for help and others would physically move their home (traditional Filipino homes are made of bamboo and nipa leaves). The volunteers would be thanked with food afterward.
During the time of American slavery, Black/African-descent communities were excluded from mainstream economic endeavors and opportunies - so they banded together to create their own. Susus were created by Black, African-/Carribbean-descent slaves so that there would be some form of financial support provided by and for the community if and when it was needed.
During the time of death, members of Ethiopian communities have long come together in what’s called an iddir, where members of a community give regular contributions. When emergency arises, those members distribute an amount to the ones experiencing the crisis.
Much like all that has come before, mutual aid is often used in reference to community efforts to provide support and engage communities in the midst of crisis. The COVID-19 virus displayed multiple efforts around workers rights, housing, and food support.
We give thanks for the paths that indigenous communities have carved for communities today and we humbly follow in their example.
We remember - in the midst of oppression, harm, exhaustion and isolation, we can care for one another.
We remember - in the midst of institutions, organizations, and systems that were not built by us, we know how to care for us.
We remember - in the midst of forces that work to separate us from each other, our divinity, and our communities, we need each other.
Welcome to Koinonia.
*“The term "mutual aid" was popularized by anarchist philosopher Peter Kropotkin in his essay collection Mutual Aid: A Factor of Evolution. Kropotkin argued that cooperation, not competition, was the driving mechanism behind evolution.” (Mutual Aid: A Factor of Evolution, Mutual Aid – A Factor of Evolution: With an Excerpt from Comrade Kropotkin by Victor Robinson)
Learn more about Mutual Aid at these resources below!
La Sociedad: Guardians of Hispanic Culture Along the Rio Grande by José A. Rivera
The Black Social Economy in the Americas: Exploring Diverse Community-Based Markets Edited by Caroline Shenaz Hossein
The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate—Discoveries from A Secret World by Peter Wohlleben
Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants by Robin Wall Kimmerer
Mutual Aid: An Illuminated Factor of Evolution by Peter Kropotkin
Pod Mapping & Transformative Justice w/ Mia Mingus by The Restorative Justice Life
What is Mutual Aid? by Decolonize Social Work
Mutual Aid, Charity & Philanthropy by Giving Thought