In this conversation with Dean Spade we resolve a long-running challenge in my understanding: when we talked with Dr. john powell on the topic of Othering and Belonging a couple of years ago we discussed how volunteering promotes othering, because it perpetuates the idea that the volunteer is a person with resources to give, and the recipient has little in the way of useful knowledge or resources of their own. Dr. powell agreed, but we didn’t have time to discuss what to do instead.
In this episode we finally punch out that lingering hanging chad of knowledge and talk with Dean Spade about the concept of mutual aid, which is the topic of his book: Mutual Aid: Building Solidarity in This Crisis (And The Next). In this conversation we discuss:
- What is mutual aid, and how it’s more effective than volunteering
- How we heal in community with others from the effects that benign-seeming systems like capitalism have on us
- Ways to find and get involved in mutual aid projects
As Dean and I talked, I also realized how applicable these ideas are to the work I do with parents in the Taming Your Triggers workshop.
It’s not surprising that parents feel triggered by their child’s behavior when you consider the trauma that we’ve experienced. Even if you had ‘good parents,’ they still raised you to succeed within a system that told you to hide unacceptable parts of yourself so you could be ‘successful’ – which means getting good grades, going to college, getting a good job, buying a house, and raising a family. And we’re supposed to do all of this by ourselves, without relying on others – because then we’ll need to buy more stuff along the journey.
Our culture uses shame to enforce these rules and keep us in line – that’s why we feel a sense of wrong-ness when we do something that isn’t socially acceptable – like asking for help, for example.
Because these traumas happened in community, they’re most effectively healed in community as well – just as these two parents did when they built on each other’s knowledge in the workshop earlier this year (screenshot shared with permission):
If you want to jump-start your ability to actually apply that knowledge in your interactions with your children by learning in community with others, then Taming Your Triggers will help you.
Click the image below to learn more and sign up from October 1-11, 2023!
Dr. Dean Spade’s Book
Mutual Aid: Building Solidarity During This Crisis (and the Next) – Affiliate link
Parenting Beyond Power
The wait is over! I’m thrilled to announce that Parenting Beyond Power is now available for you to explore.
Discover practical insights and fresh perspectives that can make a positive difference in your parenting journey.
Click the banner to get Parenting Beyond Power and claim your bonuses today:
Jump to highlights
(01:30) Introduction to the episode and guest speaker Dr. Dean Spade
(03:24) Definition of Mutual Aid and how it’s different from Charity
(08:26) How the history of Social Movement was organized by Mutual Aid
(09:54) Montgomery bus boycott is one of the most famous social movement work in the history of the US
(15:35) The impacts of having problematic systems and structures in our society on parents
(17:16) The challenges that the radical social movement is facing
(18:29) How mutual Aid functions during a crisis
(23:22) Why it’s so essential to create a system of Mutual Aid in which we actually take care of each other and that doesn’t destroy people’s dignity and humanity
(25:53) Why is it important to talk about Mutual Aid now
(30:04) How capitalism worsens the condition of our society and why mutual aid is the only way to survive it
(35:44) The importance of mutual aid in our well-being and in the society
(40:09) What does Mutual Aid look like
(44:53) How being involved in Mutual Aid can bring a sense of healing
(46:43) Factors in our society that make us feel burnout
(48:51) Dr. Spade’s way of recovering from burnout and avoidance
(50:35) All powerful social movements for liberation have always been done by people who were living under the worst conditions
(51:48) Importance of having a sense of urgency
(53:13) Ways we should prepare for each coming emergency
(54:37) How to find a Mutual Aid group in your community
Click here to read the full transcript
Jen Lumanlan 00:02
Hi, I’m Jen and I host the Your Parenting Mojo podcast. We all want our children to lead fulfilling lives but it can be so
Do you get tired of hearing the same old interests to podcast episodes? I don’t really but Jen thinks you might. I’m Jenny, a listener from Los Angeles, testing out a new way for listeners to record the introductions to podcast episodes. There’s no other resource out there quite like Your Parenting Mojo, which doesn’t just tell you about the latest scientific research on parenting and child development but puts it in context for you as well so you can decide whether and how to use this new information. I listen because parenting can be scary and it’s reassuring to know what the experts think. If you’d like to get new episodes in your inbox, along with a free infographic on 13 reasons your child isn’t listening to you and what to do about each one sign up at YourParentingMojo.com/subscribe. You can also join the free Facebook group to continue the conversation. Over time you might get sick of hearing me read this intro so come and record one yourself. You can read from a script Jen’s provided or have some real fun with it and write your own. Just go to YourParentingMojo.com/recordtheintro. I can’t wait to hear yours
Jen Lumanlan 01:30
Hello, and welcome to the Your Parenting Mojo Podcast. Today we’re going to close what has seemed to me to be a loose end for a very long time. It’s almost like an uncomfortably hanging chad for those of you who are a certain age who remember the 2000 Bush v Gore election here in the US. So two years ago now we talked to Dr. John Powell on the topic of how to stop Othering and instead Belonging, and that was about the ways that we create separation between us, and at the very, very end of the interview, I squeezed in a question about volunteering, which seemed to me to promote othering because it encourages the person who’s volunteering to see themselves as a person with resources and the recipient as a person who needs help, and who perhaps doesn’t have anything useful to contribute to the relationship or more broadly. And so I came out of the interview feeling that volunteering wasn’t really the answer to all of our problems but not having any idea of what to do instead. And so fast forward two years, and I actually can’t remember how I discovered it but at some point, I heard the concept of mutual aid and when I looked it up online, I found the book called Mutual Aid building solidarity during this crisis, and the next, which is an incredibly short, bold, readable book by our guest today, Professor Dean Spade. And so Dean holds a JD and his professor at Seattle University School of Law and has been working to build queer and trans liberation based in racial and economic justice for the past two decades. He’s also the author of normal life, administrative violence, critical trans politics, and the limits of law, as well as numerous videos, book chapters and articles. Welcome, Dean, it’s great to have you here.
Dr. Spade 03:00
Thanks. I’m so glad to be here.
Jen Lumanlan 03:02
Diving into this, I guess it’s kind of a mark of my privilege, I think as a white middle-class person somewhere north of the age of 40, and I’m just now discovering what mutual aid is for the first time. And so for those who are listening, watching this, who are in a similar boat to me, can you please help us by understanding what is Mutual Aid? Firstly, and then how is it different from volunteering and charity?
Dr. Spade 03:24
Yeah, so the basic way that I define mutual aid is that we think about all the work that social movements do, like all the kinds of tactics we use, you know, we have street protests, and we block oil pipelines, and we, you know, have lawsuits, we all these different tactics. It’s the part of social movement work, where we provide for each other’s direct survival needs. And it’s only mutual aid if we do that, based on a shared understanding that it’s the systems that have created the crisis that people are in, rather than that the people are blameworthy for being in crisis. And the third element is that mutual aid always comes with an invitation to collective action, so if we’re doing a mutual aid project, and we’re providing like, you know, food and bottled water and tents to people living in an encampment of unhoused people in our city, we’re saying like, “Oh, yeah, here grab a tent, charge your phone.” And also, like, “Would you like to get involved in the group? Would you like to, you know, be part of this group just come to this protest? We’re doing about housing policy? Would you like to be part of this participating in this landlord’s house? Like, do you want to be part of our housing justice movement?” and so you don’t have to get this tantras bottled water, but like, it invites people who are guaranteeing the crisis to join the collective action against the crisis, and so, you know, the reasons that that’s different from charity are several. Charities/social services it’s another term we might use for that, that whole model is, you know, really originates in kind of a European model from a period of when like, really significant changes were happening in terms of the economy of like clearing land so that wealthy people could like graze tons of tons of sheep and use the new looms that were being invented to make textile, that whole period of kind of the shifting from mostly subsistence agriculture to different kinds of industry was a period where tons and tons of people were displaced from their land, and they became like roving bands of like poor people who had nothing at all had lost, like, you know, the 1000s of years of way of living and those people were like, you know, storming the towns and be like, “Hey, rich people” are like no way. And so in order to stabilize that situation where rich people can dominate those poor people and kind of keep them in mind they created like a charity system that included stuff like you had to go live in the workhouse and like, be worked to death, and included like alms to the poor type idea where like rich people give some amount of money to poor people in order to get to heaven, and all that always come with strings attached like, “Oh, we only give it to like the good poor people, not the bad ones,” like, not the people who are we see as morally loose, we just give it to the mothers with children whose husband died in the war, even whatever it is, right? So charity still has that model today. It’s a model that is about stabilizing a system that keeps certain people rich and other people poor. It’s a model that always has strings attached and a lot of like moral blame. “Oh, yeah. Like you’d get on the on the waitlist to maybe get a housing if you can prove you’re sober. If you take the psych meds we think you should take, you need to have children or not have children,” you know, be a certain kind of person that’s often tied to like ideas we have about who’s moral and immoral and there’s a fundamental idea in charity that if you’re poor, or homeless, or whatever, there’s something wrong with you, you need to get sober, you need to take this budgeting class, you need to take this parenting class. It’s like the charity system or social services system kind of like really controlled and judges and sorts, poor people, which in the US specifically, especially like people of color, especially black people have been targets indigenous people, migrants. So the charity blames the poor people mutual aid, blames the system basically like diametrically opposed ways of thinking about like providing people’s direct needs. Mutual Aid work is about building huge resistance movements that could stop the conditions that make anybody have to be in crisis. Charity is about like kind of putting a bandaid on the existing crisis and, you know, most people don’t get what they need out of it, right, people are still like homeless and a huge number, it’s like, it’s very minimal, it’s like the least rich people can kick down or the government can kick down, its crumbs that have like strings attached that are stigmatizing, it’s humiliating the ways that people are forced to go through like homeless shelters, for example, are a lot like jails, you have no privacy or being looked at, you know, just there’s needless humiliation built throughout the entire thing, people at public benefits will know the same thing like this kind of like, you just turn your whole life over to these people, they’re seeing whether or not you’re good enough, they’re looking for mistakes this kind of thing. So, turning mutual aid are really, really different, I think in the US, most people haven’t, until 2020, haven’t really heard of mutual aid, partly, charity is like, the idea of volunteering that you referenced in your intro is usually a reference to charity, it’s like, “Oh, on Thanksgiving, I’m gonna go to the soup kitchen.” It’s like kind of like, once a year, or once every season or whatever, I plug into this thing. It’s not really about the root causes of the problem. It’s about kind of moral gesture in which I give a little something to the disadvantage or whatever, and like you said, that feeling you had about it like, this seems like it’s not a bad power dynamic. Look at me, I’ve got resources and I’m one of my luxury days off this week to help, you know, got this kind of vibe that feels very, you know, the Victorian, or, you know, these early European origins I’m talking about, and mutual aid it’s something different. It’s like we’re in the struggle together, we are trying to build mutual aid projects where people who are directly in crisis right now are part of doing them and governing them instead of upper-class people coming and giving something to poor people. So that’s really different. I just want to say one other thing about this, which is, mutual aid is also like written out of the history of social movements, so we think about how we learn about social change, like, you know, you learn about the history of civil rights movement is like probably the most famous sort of social movement in the US or the farmworkers movement or whatever. When you learn about social movements we often learn about speeches that were given by men or laws that were passed, or big cases that happened, like that’s kind of the vibe and what’s written out of that is that social movements aren’t made of those moments, those are movements are usually happening towards the end, especially if it’s like a law was passed or a court case, like those are like the concessions that happen after huge organizing by large numbers of people who are actually the people in crisis and that organizing is usually mutual aid. The on ramp that most people take to get into social movement work is mutual aid. It’s either I didn’t have something I need it and these people were giving it out and when I got there they were like, you know we don’t think this is your fault. You shouldn’t be ashamed. You want to join us? Do you want to fight? poor people getting because like I was so mad that was happening to others, like maybe because it used to happen to me or because it happened to someone I love or saw in the news, and I like the first thing people want is like, “I want to be part of helping others. I’m so mad this happening because it’s the beautiful instinct that people have. I want to help.” And so is the typical honor people don’t usually start by laying down you know, in front of the coal train or like some other really bold action, people usually start their engagement with social movements in mutual aid, and mutual aid is kind of bold. I’m reading this book right now for my gender sexuality in law class. I’m teaching this week, I have been teaching this wonderful book that I love teaching called at The Dark End of the Street, It’s by Daniel McGuire. I cannot recommend it highly enough. It is a book about how most people think the civil rights movement was primarily about things desegregation and getting rid of Jim Crow, and what’s written out of that history is that so much of what formed the civil rights movement was activism by black women against sexual violence against black women, by white men and against the framing of black men for sexual violence as a way to like justify like lynching and criminalization of black men. In the book, Daniel Maguire spends a couple of chapters talking about the Montgomery bus boycott and how what really prompted the Montgomery Bus Boycott originally was that black women were relentlessly harassed on buses in Montgomery on segregated buses, overwhelmingly rode the bus because they weren’t domestic workers and maids of different kinds, doing that kind of work. And so they were in general, black people are the bus much more than white people, and black women especially rode the bus a lot. And there was just case after case of them being sexually harassed on buses and then raped by cops, the history of fighting and sexuality as black women really centered the bus and that it was those cases of those black women who were called those names and experienced those kinds of touch and those kinds of assault that generated this and that the book is so beautiful, her account of that her story of who Rosa Parks actually was, which was that she was a longtime anti-rape activist in movements defending the humanity of black women, not this little old lady who got tired one day and didn’t wanna move on the bus, which is this, you know, this amazingly deep politicized story of her life that’s told in the mainstream. But the other part of the story, the Montgomery Bus Boycott, is that it’s not about these couple features made by Martin Luther King or you know, other men. It’s about how black women coordinated rides, and walked to work together, and defended each other from all the white harassers who would harass them while they were walking to work during the boycott for over a year, these days of black women who like make all this food and then go all around town selling it in order to fund the carpool because they needed cars to carpool people who are going longer distances than can be watched, like the mutual aid work, the work of just providing each other’s rides was actually the center of what that boycott strategy was not those speeches made by men boycott was called for by women kind of claimed leadership as soon as it like really took off or whatever. But I just say that because that’s like a typical, really famous story of social movement victory in US history. I think it’s not surprising that you when you write out Mutual Aid, you often write out women, because a lot of kind of that care work that is done in our movements that you know, supporting people who are in prison right now, doing the childcare, making the food happen, give making the riots happen, a lot of that is considered women’s work in our culture even though in social movements people of all genders do it. Women disproportionately do it, I share that story just because most of us have been told, l lot of lies about how social change happens, those lies are common in our schools, and those lines have a reason. If you think that social change just comes from judges and legislatures, and not like people doing a lot of stuff to save each other’s lives and our communities, it’s going to keep you demobilized it’s going to keep you less dangerous, gonna make it seem like your only job is to wait till the next election, or you know, hope that a good judge makes good decision and kind of like watch the news and wring your hands, they’d much rather have us doing that than like, making serious trouble and changing each other’s life chances and like building a new society in which people have what they need. So it’s important that we buy have we heard about volunteering as charity and not as mutual, that’s really, really like, significant. I’m so glad you’re sort of posing this question on your podcast.
Jen Lumanlan 13:11
And the history that you’re telling me the history of enclosures is my history, right? I’m English originally. So yeah, this is the history of where I come from and I actually didn’t know about the mutual aid response to that. I only heard the traditional stories of the enclosures and of course, the workhouses that came after that as well. And so okay, so you said a lot right there, and I think one thing that really stuck out to me was this idea that we have the idea where our culture kind of tells us, if you’re not functioning well in our society right now, that is because there is some kind of problem that you are having, and most people who are listening to this podcast are parents, you know, we may be struggling, we may be struggling with our child’s behavior, we may be struggling with feelings of overwhelm, and so we’re told, “Well, clearly, there’s something wrong with you,” because everybody else is doing okay. And so if you could just kind of shift the way that you’re showing up in this, then things will be better for you, right? you’ll be able to function normally in our society. And I think you’re absolutely right, that what that does is completely ignores and basically says this whole structural thing that is the real reason why you’re struggling is irrelevant and is therefore not something that we should focus on changing, and yeah, I think that leads directly to what you said about where we just kind of wait for the next election and wring our hands, because what else can we do? And that I see is the power of mutual aid. It’s the thing to do, instead of waiting for the election. Is that how you see it all fit together?
Dr. Spade 14:33
Yes, I think that it is one of the things we played offers us a chance to change the material conditions right now, as opposed to symbolic action. We’re mostly encouraged take symbolic action, post something on social media, read certain books, or like certain things, buy a t shirt, have a bumper sticker, like whatever it is, which I think is primarily symbolic action because we’re like, are you going to vote for this wealthy candidate who represents wealthy interest? or this wealthy candidate who represents health interests? this person who’s going to promote war? or this person is going to promote? this person is going to deport everybody? or this person is going to put everything? that those have been our only choices while I’ve been alive for 45 years, those kinds of things feel I think, reasonably very dead end for a lot of us. I mean, like, what can I do about the Supreme Court? I can’t do much about it, literally, I can’t do anything about it. And so the question is like, how could I feel like I could actually do something that makes any difference in like the suffering that is, you know, ubiquitous, and that mutual aid is about that. It’s like, Oh, I could like create a new way of life with other people on my block right now and so that the old people on my block were isolated and suffering in various ways that are common in a society that abandons old people, you know, I think what you’re saying, too, I just wanted where I see, I’m not a parent, you know, very close to all people who are, I see, so many parents, I know, have so much guilt, I can’t possibly do this, right. And they feel guilt over things that are systemic, and structural, you can’t provide your kids that because you live in a society that you know, where you have to work to make somebody else rich and so you’re working really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really hard, you can’t possibly have these things, or you have to send your kid to a school that we’re like, it’s really not working out for the kid or any other option. That’s not you, that’s like a collective problem. Your health needs aren’t being met by brutal healthcare system for profit, and you feel that you don’t have the energy or capacity to do some of the things you wish you could do with, you know, like, just like, or you don’t have childcare so your kids spending more time alone in front of a screen than you wish they weren’t, like these kinds of things that people I know, feel guilty about that are just, you know, very individualized, it’s necessary. It’s very blamey towards friends, like extreme everyone judges parents and obviously, that is not done evenly. You know, there’s so much evidence that you know, black parents and indigenous parents, and poor parents, and friends with disabilities are much more likely like Catholic kids, stay away from them in the system, not everybody’s parenting is under the same microscopes as everybody else, but I think that internalized feeling about being an inadequate parent seems nearly universal among people I know, all except for really entitled sexist men who don’t feel like any obligation to parents but amongst people I know who are all, you know, struggling hard to try to provide their kids with, like a beautiful, caring, held, loving experience inside utterly brutal society, the answer cannot be individual striving, it has to be collective action, empathy, compassion, and I think one of the things that a lot of people in our movements talk about, I spent my life in, you know, radical social movements is how people will sometimes drop out of the movement when they become a parent, that is so messed up and that’s because we haven’t figured out how to collectivize childcare and collectivized food, and collect like, it’s like if everyone’s living in their own little house, or their own little apartment and we often do three meals a day for these kids with all the snacks and we all have to do, it’s like, historically, people lived in larger groups, and collectivize, a lot of that labor and it’s really, really hard. And the reason we have to live in these tiny units is because a certain kind of industrialization made us have a certain set of wage jobs that where you had to be highly mobile and it’s also like a better consumer package, so they can sell us more stuff if we all have to have like a microwave, and we all have to have a set of dishes, and we all have to have a refrigerator, etc. It’s really great for making us all have to work a ton and spend the time. I think it’s a really interesting question not only that we need to fight for childcare and health care and these kinds of things more broadly in our society, but also that can we produce collective experiments? And can we get involved with the ones that already exist in places like where you live in the Bay Area? There’s plenty of examples of long-term people living collectively in collective houses, people doing collective childcare experiments, collective summer camps and other kinds of schools, and you know, just like, what are the options?
Jen Lumanlan 18:18
So how do we get that kind of thing started? And I think that you have pointed out that people often come to the idea of mutual aid, they’re introduced to it after some kind of crisis. Why is that?
Dr. Spade 18:29
A lot of people see Mutual Aid at work for the first time after like, you know, a hurricane or like, earthquake, or a flood or a fire because I mean, I personally just think like, sharing and connecting, and generosity are I believe their human nature like they are human nature in the sense that humans could not have evolved without doing them. When there is a disaster or crisis people try to help each other. They just do. And we live in a society that’s told us that we’re all like greedy, and selfish, and dangerous to each other but I think that that narrating that an extreme way, and having lots and lots of media that shows us that way, as part of actually trying to brainwash us into thinking that we want to be isolated and like protect our little hole with our guns, things get really bad people just share a lot. There’s a really great Rebecca Solnit book called The Paradise built in hell that people love about that, where she just talks about histories of like stuff about the San Francisco earthquake, I think in 1906, or whenever it was, the ways people just like came together and shared, but you just hear these everywhere, people rescuing each other and floods etc. There is this thing that happens when there’s a crisis, people share, people help each other, and people rescue each other, I think that’s also true for our long-term crisis, like the long-term crisis of criminalization in the United States, been going on for a very long time and it’s been very, very, very, very peaking for the last 40 or 50 years especially, and communities that are highly affected by criminalization, you see this, we people are running, you know, rides to the prison so people can go visit their loved ones, people are doing prison pen pal programs, right? These are long histories of prison pen pal programs in, for example, queer and trans communities, I’m part of because queer and trans people are so heavily criminalized, right? Or people are you know, taking care of each other’s kids while their people are locked up like in you know, it’s very typical thing to hear about extended families and neighbors, and black communities helping each other survive, those kinds of crisis is also true or the migration crisis like communities organizing to do you know, safety planning so like, hey, if you get picked up in detention, who’s going to take care of your elder or your kid are we gonna have a phone tree about people sending money across borders, family member has gotten deported people doing that kind of rent parties, you know, this kind of taking care of each other is essential, is more essential to people living more at that edge of our life sort of long term complex crises, so what you said at the beginning about middle or upper class and White might mean that some people are seeing less of that sharing in their lives the more likely you are that you live close to the edge, it’s always end of the month, we all share this stuff, or oh, I lend you close to go to a job interview or whatever list if it’s more likely, in communities, living those long term crisis, I mean, in some ways, that kind of essential sharing, that kind of mutual aid, everyone’s experienced somewhere in their life, you know, maybe it’s people share breast milk when someone can’t breastfeed or you know, like that’s like a common when people who are elderly or upper class have heard about in parenting communities, but I think it’s also useful here to maybe point out some of the long term organized histories of mutual aid in the US that are really interesting like people talk a lot about black mutual aid societies that existed both during slavery like there’d be mutual aid societies organized to receive runaway slaves in northern cities, so that if someone shows up, you know, they’ve got literally nothing, how are we going to like, make sure that they’re how to help them not get caught so you know, don’t want them to be out where they might be more easily caught, mutual aid societies that would immigrants showing up at ports, that would be okay, we all, you know, speak this language, we go every, you know, Wednesday, when the ships show up, or whatever it is, and we greet people, because we’re afraid people are gonna get like taken advantage of, you know, killed or robbed as soon as they walk off the boat they don’t know the language, they don’t know anybody. There was like, long term like groups that had like high involvement, you know, huge periods, lots of really great historical research and things to read about those, basically, you can see that with a definition of mutual aid I was talking about, is when there’s a crisis caused by something like slavery or something like, you know, xenophobia and large numbers, people migrating maybe to get rid of away from war, or to get rid of away from them other harm, they’re facing, etc, when those crises are happening and those people know that the government isn’t going to rescue these people or maybe it’s the actual enemy, right? They need to have community fill that gap and they have each other’s lives like that’s something people organize to do, and those organizations are also posing that crisis we think it’s wrong, that people are enslaved to have to run away from it. We’re trying to get rid of slavery.
Jen Lumanlan 22:20
Okay, I guess, so many different threads we could follow there. Coming back to what you said at the beginning, it seems to me, it’s almost like the disaster gives us permission to step outside of these tightly constrained boxes that we found ourselves in up to this point, and to see “Oh, there’s another way of doing this, clearly, the government all of its emergency planning is not going to come and save me right now and so I’d better help myself, and help other people too.” And then I kind of linking from that I was just thinking about New York Times article from a couple of months ago, maybe a little longer ago, you were mentioning about kind of fleeing war and that, you know, folks from Ukraine are coming into Eastern Europe and being welcomed with open arms and sort of, you know, people coming from further away more who have darker skin, they’re coming from Central Africa, who are kind of looking at like, wait, what the Ukrainians are being welcomed in with open arms, and we’ve been standing here for a year or more now, and you’re doing everything you can to keep us out. And that just sparks a question in my mind, is there a danger that mutual aid makes us rally around people who look like us, you act like us, who eat the same food as us, and creates another kind of othering? What do you think about that?
Dr. Spade 23:22
At the very beginning of that question you were talking a bit about the government’s emergency planning not working and I just want to mention that for a second. I should have said that earlier, like part of the reason that mutual aid is so essential, is that there hasn’t ever been in the US and worse than ever, meaningful, poor relief or disaster relief, both of those things are designed tariffs, are there other way to think about this, they’re working perfectly, because making certain people richer and richer, and other people more and more displaced and poor, so obviously, our powerful relief system is you know, has always been very racially tiered, and gendered and it just woefully inadequate and in many ways, strides especially even just compared to European systems of Social Welfare. In general, that thing doesn’t work, and during particular crises sometimes the US has slightly expanded poor relief, like when there was so much upheaval in the 1960s, about tight black racism, and like every city in America was on fire every summer, then they like slightly expanded welfare and then as soon as that crisis went away, they like shrunk it again, you know, and you saw Bill Clinton’s 1996 welfare reform, they put a million kind of limits on welfare and really did that through a narrative about supposedly welfare queens that was a narrative about black women being bad and immoral, and needed to be cracked down upon, that we’re still living with the consequences of that extreme narrowing of welfare. So part of the problem is state poor relief is that it’s always revocable, and it’s always inadequate, and it’s stigmatizing, all of these things, and that’s part of why it’s so essential to create a system of mutual aid in which we actually take care of each other that doesn’t destroy people’s dignity and humanity, and it doesn’t create all these strings attached, and choose who’s deserving, and undeserving, and with disaster relief, and people woke up to this during Hurricane Katrina when FEMA failed so badly, but I don’t think that most people know how much worse it’s gotten since then, and like, for example, how FEMA like didn’t really show up at all for hurricane Ida, like not even to give people tarps to put over their houses and a lot of accounts about how bad it’s been, or with the fires in California, or other disasters, Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico, obviously. The government does not show up, and when it does show up, it gives very, very little, and it gives it to people who are in less bad a crisis, I mean, everyone’s in a crisis, but a lot of FEMA relief comes to homeowners and it’ll be like, like in Hurricane Sandy, where they have homeowners with loans, like the last thing you need, when you’re going through disaster is a loan, like more debt, they offer things like that, that they’ll offer nothing at all people who were like already living in a trailer, already living in their car, or already help serving, and so you get through this, like sort of sets of people who never receive any relief at all if you have lost everything and are even worse off and more displaced. There’s been some really good journalism about this, Naomi Klein wrote about the campfire and then she wrote like a few years later, like kind of what has happened on homelessness has increased in Chico and other parts around where the campfire happened, and how they eventually criminalized everybody who was still living in Walmart parking lot at one point, once more of the people who are somewhat middle class have found a place to stay it’s just like, the kind of endless sorting and creating of more and more vulnerable, like levels of poor people, all of that to say, part of why this matters so much to me to talk about mutual aid right now is because we’re just going to be seeing more disasters and crises of these kinds for the rest of our lives, so climate change is on and these conditions are just utterly worsening, we need to plan for that instead of pretending that that’s a surprise, and so what is that, and I think that that our government is more and more oriented towards meeting disaster with armed response, they’re likely to like send in people with guns try to control populations but they’re not likely to actually send in like ways to evacuate or, you know, ways to rebuild housing, or things people actually need, and so we need to actually be prepared to assume disasters are coming and to be practiced that how to care for each other at large levels immediately, and so we can practice that by being part of mutual aid projects right now, learning things like how do we make decisions together in big groups? How do we share stuff? How do we assess people’s level of vulnerability, these are hard questions that we need practice at that, like most of us have never been part of groups that are doing that, and so we need to work on it. And that relates to your question about like creating about the idea that people are more sympathetic for some than others, In my experience, that’s kind of like a typical charity mode, who are the charismatic or like destigmatize people, let’s serve them first. Mutual aid projects have to look out for that because we can fall into that, we can be like, we care about the kids, but not the adults we care about you know, that’s a typical one, we care people who don’t have a criminal record, but we don’t care if you have to do or whatever. What I find is that people actually do mutual aid work a lot of that gets unlearned because what happens is, for example, I know who got really upset and scared about Trump’s immigration policies when they saw the stuff about like on the news about like, you know, immigrant kids in cages at the border, and they were like, I’m so mad, I’m gonna get involved in the local Migrant Justice work in my town and they get involved in, let’s say, a hotline that people can call who are in the detention center in the region, and, you know, to report conditions or there they get involved supporting families of detainees, things like that, and once they get into that work, oh, actually really care about adults too. I also don’t think adults should be going through this, and also well, I never knew that like black migrants experienced like particular harms in this because they’re heavily policed, or I actually didn’t realize what it’s like for trans migrants in these detention centers are actually didn’t know what happens in migrants display, so you’re basically you’re by doing the work, your solidarity expands, you learn a lot more complexity about the issue which is like a really beautiful process that by actually getting involved you go beyond what’s in the headlines, if anything, or someone had something happened to you, or someone you know, to like the parts you didn’t know. And then I think people often have a tendency to be well, obviously, we should do triage with those who are in the most crisis first, that’s very ethical to be like, you know, a bunch of us just got in a car accident, let’s see whose might not be breathing before we let do the cuts and scrapes and so I’ve seen is that there is, I think, an ethical tendency in mutual aid work for people, even if they start out with some of those beliefs about who’s the most appealing person in crisis, they often come to, like, Oh, who’s got the most complex and difficult and dangerous conditions, and who’s nobody else helping? because a lot of mutual aid projects are is like, yeah, there’s, you know, some kind of in our town, or some kind of support for tenants to get some legal help, but they won’t help you if you’re undocumented, and they won’t help you if you don’t have the rent arrears, and they won’t help you if you don’t have a lease, and so then the Mutual Aid project that’s a little more like crappy, and it’s all volunteer, and it’s not a nonprofit, it may be just boulder tactics, like a protest that landlords houses, they’ll take anybody, they’ll help any, you know what I mean? They’ll help people who nobody else will help, so I think that’s just kind of another I think, beautiful tendency in people doing this organizing and that doesn’t mean it never had, I think a lot about in the period, maybe around 2010 when there was like the foreclosure crisis after year 2008, all that people were doing that work where there was a really beautiful mutual aid work happening where people were taking over foreclosed properties and putting on house people in them. This is happening all over the United States, like amazing projects, And some of those projects said we’ll do this with you if you’re a drug user, so that actually.
Jen Lumanlan 30:04
Yeah. And in a way it’s not surprising, right? Since it’s the way we grew up with, it’s the model we’ve had. It’s not surprising that until we unlearn that we would go ahead and replicate that in the kinds of new systems that we’re setting up, and I think so many of the examples that you’re giving are related to capitalism, right? It’s disasters to some extent because we kind of see things, as these things as natural disasters and we ignore that there are economic and social factors that underpin who is affected by disasters, but even the disasters aside, there’s sort of this ordinary disaster of capitalism, and I ran a survey in my community recently to figure out what people knew about patriarchy, white supremacy, and capitalism, and most folks knew what patriarchy white supremacy were and had some sense of how they show up in their families, most people didn’t really know so much about what capitalism was, and kind of saw it as a either a neutral to slightly beneficial system, I think you probably see it a bit differently than that. Can you help us see how is capitalism creating these conditions, that means mutual aid is the response that we need to have to be able to survive.
Dr. Spade 31:12
Yeah, this is such a giant question. I hope what I’m going to say is useful. No, I love this question is so important. Basically, what I would say if someone is like, ask me in an elevator, what is capitalism, I would say, throughout most of human history, people survived by sharing and collaborating and there was very little hierarchal difference inside people’s human groups, it wouldn’t make sense in terms of the group survival to have anyone put in a cage their life during their life, it wouldn’t make sense to have anyone have a giant pile of goods or belongings while other people starve, It was just like, let’s all collaborate to get by, and sometimes there were like, ceremonial roles or whatever, but we tend to look back and look at people’s, look at any of those markers and think it meant the same thing it means now and it did. So for the most of human history people live with like, much, much, much greater, like, basic equality of the basics of having what you need and the goal of the group was to make sure everybody survived and have what they needed. And that was, and only very recently in human history, have, we had systems that were very small numbers of people whom we might call elites, control the conditions of life of very large numbers of people, you know, we’re a smaller people, we’re gonna make everyone go to war, work under conditions that break their bodies, a few people are getting really wealthy from that, and the people who are doing the work are gonna barely be able to survive, and it’s gonna shorten their lives. How do you organize everyone to agree to that, and that’s what we live under. We live under a thing we’re like, a very smaller people have almost everything and globally, and that’s gotten like, way worse during my lifetime, way worse, like, it’s really bad, globally, right, really bad domestically, also, and that’s, you know, racialized and gender and all those things and colonialism really made that happen, and slavery, and anything’s make that happen, the things that I think your listeners know about. And that system puts us in a position where it’s like, if I don’t go to work, I could like have nowhere to live, I could starve, right? And so that is really intense, It controls our day-to-day so thoroughly, I don’t have a say in where my energy comes from, and where my clothes come from, I have to participate in all these really horrible systems while my clothes are made in sweatshops, Oh, my food came through a fossil fuel dependence system, ah, the energy, I’m using what’s from coal, and I have like no choices, and I don’t even know who makes those choices, like all the choices that in our life are made by people I’ve never met, we’re really far away and I’ve never heard of. And then there’s like, kind of the government as a foe thing, It was like pretending or I suppose we have a state, let’s say, for two wealthy candidates who represent the interests of those people I’ve never heard of who actually control my energy, my food, and my water, my transportation. Capitalism is the name for like an economic system, most of us have to sell our time and labor to loyal for somebody else making all the money. The way that I talk to my students about this is that imagine you’re like in the factory to make shoes, you’ve never met your boss or whatever, or like, whoever owns this is like, a million, million miles away from you on all levels, and you all have gratitude to them, like, oh, wow, we make the shoes. We make the shoes, they’re paying us as little as possible per hour and skimming as much as possible, like, what if we kept the wealth in the hands of people who make the shoes and you make the leather, it’s useful to look at people who’ve taken back their factories like all of the real beginning, when people do factory takeover and workers takeover factories feeling that we don’t have enough it’s not true, like the poverty or like gap, or scarcity we all live in is artificially produced by a system of domination, very centrally creates a system of private property that says like, this factory isn’t ours, the house where I live isn’t mine like it belongs to somebody else or to accompany, it’s just a set of fictions where private property is just like a set of fictions that are enforced by police and militaries that set of fictions with a really heavy gun behind it, and we all live under it. And then we live in this realm where we’re like part of us, and I think, people think it’s good as all these mythologies that people are naturally greedy and so we need the system to protect us we need all the that what these guns are doing protecting us from each other, when actually they’re protecting like the leads from us being like, “Hey, wait, why do you have everything and I don’t have anything, and I have to do this work?” Right? Are we also live under a mythology that property is natural which there’s no evidence of that, historically, that’s not. It’s actually like a very new small idea that people had to be like forced into, there’s lots of great things to read about that, part of what that feels like on a day to day is like being told what to desire, we have all these consumer desires where like, maybe that will make me happy, maybe if my family had that house, maybe if I had those clothes, maybe if I looked that way, if I had that body, that’s like the currency that like keeps us in our places, and keeps us striving inside like these really crappy systems, like maybe I’ll be the one who claims a little higher in that system and maybe those things will make us happy even though of course, we know they don’t make us happy at all. I think parents are pretty good at telling children like that video game won’t make you happy, that candy won’t make you happy, but we’re not very good at telling ourselves climbing this will not ever make me happy. I’m deeply alienated and sad and isolated by this. And so part of the reason that like mutual aid is really significant is because it reminds us I think of who we really are like, it reminds us we naturally share, we’re naturally connected, we desire belonging, and safety, and creativity, and like the dignity of standing up for ourselves more than we desire like that shiny bubble. And so Mutual Aid is a chance to practice like I’m with other people in my community we’re doing something we believe in, this is a kind of satisfaction that we’ll never get from consumer desire and it’s like hard, but also people really have my back like now in front of all people who are different from me, these people who would like visit me if I was sick. You know, there’s like a level of isolation, our society that is at its peak right now, like more people live alone than have ever lived alone in human history, more people report that they don’t have a single person to confide good or bad news in or a lot of people are isolated, the only the person they’re really exposed to is just their romantic or sexual or co-parenting partner and that’s very unhealthy for those relationships to just be stuck in them in isolation, capitalism produces all of that. And we’re also told that capitalism is what creates innovation and there wouldn’t be new cool science and stuff without capitalism, it’s just not true. It’s like it actually prevents innovation because things can only be developed for like military or profit purposes. We could have a million amazing, interesting thoughtful ways of developing playgrounds or child care or health care, anybody could have done a better job than capitalists making sure that COVID was treated, that the vaccines came out and they were distributed all over the world, instead, few people got extremely rich from the way COVID was handled, and COVID was not handled, right, like so, you know, the deaths continue. And so the way I guess I would think about capitalism or encouraged within capitalism is just like, it’s a complex system of domination, that kind of sets us against our own interests, makes us think there’s no alternative, like one of its big messages is that this is the only way it can be, which is just not true because it’s been a million other ways forever, everywhere, and tells us not to trust ourselves or each other and so that we can basically be controlled by a system that ultimately benefits a very tiny set of elites. The opposite thing that I want is, I want to live in a world in which we collective self-determination is how we run things, like if people in our sector of the city want our energy not to come from fracking or coal that we can like work together to sort that out, figure out what a mini-grid would be in a giant energy company, determining this forest that starts fires because it doesn’t maintain its infrastructure, right, or that we could be working together on food systems that are far more local and not fossil fuel dependent, all of that is prevented by ways that capitalism controls every resource and people. Also, I just want to say, most of us haven’t gotten to see the resistance to capitalism that is existed the entire time that anyone’s been trying to make capitalism and that is beautiful, and that is happening all the time, everywhere, and for me, studying resistance movements, contemporary and historical, is really, really, really helpful and relieving to my nervous system, and to my fears about like, oh my god, it’s so bad how we ever get out of it, I think a lot of people on Earth throw up their hands and like it’s hopeless will never happen, but it’s like, everyone who’s ever lived in any system felt that was the only system, they come and go because people practice otherwise and then also like, we can practice otherwise together during it and create pockets of other outcomes like we can actually help people on our committees have things they need that they can’t get under this system, and we can do that, like right now, we don’t have to wait, doesn’t have to be all or nothing. Is capitalism gonna entirely end in my life? I have no way of knowing that it doesn’t really matter. It’s like what’s happening right now in my city, to young people who don’t have housing? What’s happening right now? Where do I want to plug in? Anywhere, it’s the right place to start.
Jen Lumanlan 39:04
Okay, as we sort of head towards a conclusion, I had queued up a couple of questions and now I think I’m seeing that they’re even more related, so I wanted to know what does mutual aid look like? I’m actually realizing that we call it not school, my child’s not in school, we’re homeschooling and she’s part of a sort of a care collaborative, and realizing that their model is shifting, and it’s increasingly becoming what essentially seems to be mutual aid, and that, you know, how decisions are made and what it looks like, how those decisions being made is very, very different from what it would be if we were in school where you’re told what school is going to look like, and when you’re going to show up, and there’s no alternative to that system once you’ve decided to be in it. So I want to get a sense for sort of what mutual aid looks like, I’m curious about kind of healing, what mutual aid is like, and healing what I’m seeing and what you’re saying is that through being in mutual aid systems I can work to heal myself like being involved in this is healing to me, and I guess if I can piggyback one more thing on that, I’m wondering how you avoid burnout when there are so many things you’ve brought, I’ve seen the list of things that you’re involved in on your website. So I wonder, can you tackle that broad package of questions?
Dr. Spade 40:09
Totally. Yeah, the term mutual aid of people surviving through sharing that aspect of mutual aid but in terms of mutual aid, like what we mean today, by like, when people are in groups that are, we’re going to provide each other’s basic survival needs, with a shared understanding of the system creates these needs, and with an invitation to collective action. What I mean by that is usually people in groups that can be, you know, as small as three people, and as big as you know, hundreds and hundreds of people or more coordinating, to meet a need, we’re going to give or unless people are living, or we’re going to hang out outside the jail and support people who are being released to make sure they have a ride, don’t get arrested again, and have some food and you know, can make calls or you know, whatever it is, we’re going to do prison pe npal letters, whatever. What that looks like, is those people who are in that group, were in that mutual aid group, they are coordinating together, we’re working together to identify like, what do we agree about, like a shared problem that we feel urgency around? How do we want to do what are we gonna do Mondays are gonna do on Tuesdays? Are we going to do you know, there’s gonna be weeklies every month, are we gonna meet on Zoom, or we’re gonna meet in person, like these kinds of things like they have make a structure together and I think the key thing that you’re saying is, mutual aid is best done not hierarchical and it’s really hard because almost all of us have only been in hierarchical groups and decision making spaces, families, where parents or dads or whatever, in charge schools, where it’s principals or superintendents, you know, bosses at jobs, landlords, everywhere you go, you’re just either in the role of dominating others, or you’re like, keep your head down and obey, and those are kind of the two things we’re conditioned to, so that’s part of we have to heal from is that those are the only ways we know how to be it’s either like my way or the I’m gonna get to the top of this thing, I’m gonna make other people do my way, or I’m going to be quiet, keep my head down and what we want in mutual aid groups is to have everyone’s wisdom, we want everyone to pay if you know that Tuesdays is a bad day because that’s the day the other group meets tell us, you know, or if you know that doing it this way will actually exclude people with disabilities participating, tell us, you know, and so we want to create group spaces which there’s not a hierarchy, which we’re in also because hierarchies tend to replicate societal ones so if we have a president and a committee chair, and whatever, we’re likely to just see whiteness, and maleness and higher ed, and whatever, you know, race to the top, right? and so we really want to create a space in which, especially if we want to make sure that our group includes people who are experiencing different levels of stigma and vulnerability, and serves people who are experiencing those levels, we want to make sure that the wisdom of people experience as many of those things as possible is front and center, because those people are going to know about how that system is landing on them, what would make this work for them, or not work for them, etc. So we want to create a way of making decisions together and communicating that isn’t hierarchical and so people often structure that it’s a collective they use consensus decision making, I think consensus decision making, really, that idea intimidates a lot of people, they’re like, “Oh, my God, it would be so hard for us all to decide things together.” All that means is that like, someone brings a proposal, and you talk about it until you can make it something everyone can live with. That’s all that means. People do in their friendships all the time. I’m like, “Yeah, you know, let’s meet for dinner” and you’re like, “Oh, cool. How about Tuesday?” “I’d like to do Wednesday or Thursday?” “Okay, how about Wednesday,” and then “Do you want to go to a place on the corner?” “Oh, no, I’m not eating that right now. How about if we go to another place? Okay.” That consensus decision-making, proposal iron it out, so you just do that in groups which requires you to gain some skills, It doesn’t have to be exactly the way I imagined it. I don’t have to get my, if I brought the proposal, I don’t have to be wedded to it. I don’t have to be like, this is Dean’s answer. I was like, oh, yeah, I brought this proposal and the group talked about it a bit, we realized that some research questions and then like, oh, Jen is going to take and go, like, figure out what the real deal is with renting those kinds of cars, or whatever.” Like, it’s, I’m not, I have to get Dean’s rolls through, I’m gonna browbeat everyone in this victory and if you disagree with me, or bring up any questions, then I’m insecure, and we have to learn this other thing which I call desiring others participation. What would it be like if in groups, I was actually want to hear people disagree with me and bring other perspectives because that’ll make the things smarter, like that will make us wiser. That’s a skill and I think that’s a form of healing. It’s healing, a kind of insecurity that we’ve been given by society where everyone’s climbing or falling on these like steep, steep, you know, brutal ladders, where at the bottom, there’s a fear of death. So that’s a big part of is that non hierarchical structure, clarity, and transparency, most of us have worked only in systems where there’s no transparency, you don’t know where the money comes from, you don’t know how the decisions are made at your job, most nonprofits are like that too, and so instead, this is oh, yeah, we’re gonna all be super, super clear. Yeah, somebody donated 50 bucks, we spent it on these water bottles and tents, you know, or whatever. The other thing is, like mutual aid groups really, really need to be open to new members, If it’s just a few of us, we will get burnt out or like, oh, I had a baby and then Oh, you got sick and so now there’s like two people trying to make food for 50 people want to eat you know, it’s not gonna work. So how to make a group where new people could enter really know what’s going on, we understand how we make decisions together and there’s a lot of like guidance in my book about how to do this stuff If people are like kind of looking for the short and sweet and on my website, there’s a bunch of videos about ironing out some of the things people tend to run into. The healing pieces, really, you know, so glad you asked that, I firmly believe that we experience our wounding in groups mostly in our family group and also in schools, and jobs, like, that’s where our wounding happens, and it’s wounding where we feel not belonging, where we feel not safe, where we feel that we don’t have our autonomy, or we don’t have enough accompaniment, where we feel our humanity is questioned, or we don’t have dignity. So healing to be in groups where we feel something else. “Oh, I was listened to.” “Oh, people really saw me.” “Oh, people included me.” We were partly cared about together and I was like, proud to be part of this group and they were proud to have all of those things can be, you know, such a relief, not to mention deeper stuff. I don’t think most of us have had experiences of being hurt, having someone give a sincere apology, and then give us sincere forgiveness and let it go like that is a beautiful arc that I feel very lucky to have experienced in my life. Most of us, like conflict, is terrifying. We never bring it up. We hold secret resentments, it’s because we live in a prison-based society that’s like super afraid to let people mistakes and feels like everything’s super high stakes, and so it’s amazing to be in groups where you can be like, “Oh, hey, like, the way you keep saying that it’s rough on me. It’s like, not the language my community uses,” or “When you don’t show up to the meetings on time, I feel like you don’t value my time,” and then someone can be like, “Oh, wow, I did not know it’s having an impact. I am so sorry. I’m going to think about how you can do that differently” and “Cool, I feel hurt.” Having those experiences changes your emotional capacity to think and a lot of the mutual aid groups that I you know, I’ve had been part of and I work with a lot of group that are trying to sort out struggle with learning how to give and receive direct feedback, learning how not to gossip, learning how to forgive, learning how to be humble, and listen to people, learning how to listen somebody, even if they don’t deliver it your favorite way, you know, like all of that stuff, these are skills we just don’t have living in a society that’s about being dominated in most of our relationships or trying to dominate. And the question of burnout a lot of people feel burnt out in general by a society in which rents are higher than they’ve ever people work credibly long hours, credibly long, much longer than have people have worked in the past, there’s no support for childcare, you know, people are living with unaddressed health needs because the healthcare system is so terrible, etc. The stress of living with the constant, imminent emergencies and crises and seeing the suffering of others and all of it, I think that sometimes the response is this thing that’s capitalism’s message, which is you need to rest, go watch TV, go take substances, go on a tropical vacation. I don’t think those things are actually restorative for people, I really don’t. What I see for myself and others I think that we have no idea what we find restorative, we most of us are completely unable to find solitude, silence, connection to nature, and how to settle our nervous systems, instead of I’m watching terrifying movie to relax, like, what? What I noticed is that community work I’m involved, it’s hard, It can include conflict, it includes being close to different kinds of suffering, sometimes there’s been a lot of death and a lot of the groups that I’m in because people are very vulnerable, and I still feel it’s restorative to me. I asked myself, when does it feel exhausting? Like, “Oh, I’m tired, and I need to rest and when does it feel like it’s draining or toxic?” You know, because workplaces are often draining and toxic, and dating and love relationships are frequently dread dating and tough. But I think the question is, can I be involved in work in my community, especially unpaid work, because of course, you know, the bulk of the work we need to do to create a new society is going to be unpaid because why would our opponents were people all the money pay us to do this? How can unpaid work, the feeling I can have is like, I’m really choosing to be here? Sweet. I’m on purpose, right now I’m feeling my shared purpose with others in this room that we don’t want anyone to be evicted, or that we want everyone to have loving parenting, or that we want everyone to have whatever it is we’re working on, right? How we want everyone to eat some delicious food on Sunday, whatever it is, like how can I feel my purpose, and then I noticed that I have an ingrained habit from living in capitalism, avoidance, I probably started when I was I was going to school as a kid, like, I don’t want to go to school, I don’t do this homework, you know, and then I’m at work, I’m like, I don’t want to do a spreadsheet, or because you’re being forced to do a bunch of stuff, so you get to super deep embodied habit of avoidance. And so one of the things I tried to do is, what are the avoidance feel like, you know, like, for me, it’s just like collapse and the body slump, you know, like, tired, my head to the side, everyone’s gonna feel that differently in their body, it could be like a feeling of backing up, whatever it is, and then I’m like, what is being on purpose feel like in my body, like, for me being on purposes, I feel something kind of upright, and I feel kind of upward motion, and I want to go forward with others and what do I have to do before I do any task, or before I go to this meeting, and before I sit down and fill out the spreadsheet I’m working on forming mutual aid projects about you know, who’s going to call who, when, or who’s gonna stay at work, whose house? How do I feel purpose when I do the ordinary Monday work of mutual aid, changing a diaper or chopping an onion, whatever, like, how do I do that? And so for me, that’s like an active process which I’ve worked on over the years to try to recover from burnout/avoidance vibes that I actually am bringing, for good reason, no blame or judgment, but that I’m often bringing so because going to work at my job or someone makes money off me shouldn’t feel the same as going to my mutual aid project, but it might and that’s not my fault and my job is just to be conscious of that. Actually, doing social movement work in my community does not increase my burnout If I can orient to. Am I part of creating non-toxic vibes here? Am I part of remembering why I’m here and feeling connected to others? Can I walk into this meeting and look around and actively try to feel my belonging, instead of just hoping someone will deliver my belonging to me, you know, like can actively feel my connection to others? What do I need to do? Do I want to call folks more? Do I want to text folks? What do I want to do to make this feel like what it is, which is saving each other’s lives, but it might not because we all have these habits, you know, from this other experience of society. So I think that the question of burnout when people are like, I can’t do social limit work because of burnout I just want to kind of get in there a little more complexity, social movement work is healing and is essential, and also all-powerful social movements for liberation that have ever happened were done by people who were living under the worst conditions, they were tired, they were living with substandard housing, they didn’t have enough food, their kids were being killed. The people who have fought the hardest for liberation and freedom like from the colonizer against war, etc., have always been those on the losing end. They’ve had the most skin in the game. Who am I to say, I’m too tired? With my work? Yes, like take care of ourselves, have an assessment about our well-being, yes, I feel like there’s a too early stop there for a lot of people, what can I do in my life generally, to switch shift a lot of my like energy toward this from other places where I might burning myself out, with like toxic entertainment, or with really horrifyingly bad relationships, you know, endlessly, butting your head against the kind of like, is there any way that I can be crafting my life so that I have energy for the things that I think actually gonna save our lives, instead of only feeling kind of stopping the question with I’m tired from living in this brutal society, and yes, we are, of course, we are in like having compassion for that and then just continuing to be curious about what could generate in me opportunities to build beautiful enlivening connective collaboration with others for justice.
Jen Lumanlan 51:48
Which also brings a sense of agency, right? Like, I’m not just sitting in this system waiting to vote, waiting for somebody else to change the circumstances that are holding me down, that I can have the agency to be the architect of my life, yes, I still have to go to work and also I can be around people who care about the same things as I do, and I can make sure that they see my needs for childcare, and that we all provide food when we get together so that we don’t have to cook that night and have this interaction be something that is generative to us rather than something that feels like oh, that’s another thing I have to do.
Dr. Spade 52:23
Can I say one more thing about that thing, about waiting for others? I just want to say like, I think a lot of people in United States have a fantasy that the government is going to solve our problems and I just want to be real. It’s absolutely not going to happen. If you have any questions the Democrats won Biden has the presidency, he is supporting more people, we are nowhere on climate where it’s also getting worse. He is pro-war on every level, we’re not about to have an electoral system, where we could elect anybody who’s not one of those. That is what is happening that’s been happening my entire life, time’s up, for waiting for people to save us and I think it’s very hard especially for parents, I know, to confront how dire the situation is, especially the climate situation, and that it is not going to improve in your children’s lifetime, so the only question now is, how do we prepare for each coming emergency and build as much like strong bold resistance that could stop projects like pipelines and could stop wars as possible, our only job is to be involved in that, and that is uncomfortable to look, frankly, at how no one is coming to save us, and how actually everyone in charge is hastening our demise but if we do care about young people and future generations, it is essential to just take off the blinders and apply ourselves to the current immediate tasks, which are real, it’s not like oh, no, what do I do? It’s all over the map. Every single one of us lives in the community where we can be doing housing justice activism, where we can be doing anti-war activism, or we can be trying to defund the police are like this work, the menu is has been laid out, by many, many, many, many generations of movements by brilliant peoplen and what’s missing in these movements is people power, we need 10s of millions of people to be involved if we’re going to win because the opposite has all the money and all the guns. So it’s like we don’t need like the next brilliant nonprofit report and we don’t need the next election where you do the right voting, and that is not going to cut it. That’s my plea to people who are listening to your podcasts, like, let ourselves feel that urgency and then do the experiments that are needed to be involved in the media.
Jen Lumanlan 54:29
Yeah. And as a final nugget how would you go about finding out where a mutual aid group is in your community If you have no idea where to even start looking for this?
Dr. Spade 54:37
Yeah, one resource is MutualAidHub.org. There’s so many mutual aid groups they’re not all on there, but at least it’s like a map and so you find where your city is on that or your town and find something nearby, and then you can just message and you might find that some of the groups have collapsed since they posted on there or that they’re hard to reach or whatever it just like you know, just dig around like just I would just message those groups that are anywhere near where you live. What do you think is going on where I live, or can I get involved with what you’re doing from a little bit of far, you can also always be involved in things like prison pen pal programs that you where you don’t have to be in the same place as the people you’re writing to. So that’s one option. Also, there’s a really great media outlet called It’s Going Down and they have another whole set of lists of mutual aid projects and mutual aid groups and they also have a podcast with lots of detailed accounts, people doing mutual aid, which I love that because then you get like, inspired like, oh, how do they do it? What’s it like? How’s it working? So I think that’s really useful, you know, I think if people are living in towns, like almost every town, there’s like terrible sweeps of homeless encampments happening and there’s people doing amazing work to support people in homeless encampments and they just need more people help pack before the cops come so people don’t lose their prescription glasses when they get evicted from this park and move down to the other part of the victim from next week. There’s just so much happening. But definitely, everywhere that you live, somebody’s trying to defund the police, somebody’s supporting unhoused people in your town, somebody is doing things about tenants who are being evicted, like those kinds of basic were common and disaster relief, I mean, the other thing is that in your own block, doing disaster preparation, you’re doing that with other people in your city and especially in neighborhoods people are less likely to have the things they need, like, it’s really hard to like for those of us who live in earthquake places like it’s really hard to store water if you’re living in really tiny apartments. So are there ways to collaborate across multiple blocks to make sure that there’s enough water stored across those blocks for other people who are living, just like, do people have solar batteries, are there all people living around who have you know, or people with disabilities who have devices that they need to survive that require electricity, because the lights are definitely going out in the coming year, for short periods or for long periods. Disaster prep is something any of us can start a group to do anywhere we are, it could be at our workplace, it could be on our block, or in our you know, for living in a county, it could be doing it with neighbors across a broader region, that kind of stuff, everyone you talk to who lives somewhere where the big disaster comes, I wish I’d done that disaster prep. Let’s not be those people, you know, who didn’t do it.
Jen Lumanlan 56:41
Yeah, awesome. I’m leaving this conversation with such a sense of hope. It’s really cool to see how some of the things I’m doing are already heading in this direction, and how much more there is to be involved in that doesn’t have to be draining and something that I have to do, but that can be actually generative to me the way that I’m living my life. So thank you so much for writing the book and for being here with us today. I’m so grateful.
Dr. Spade 57:06
Thanks for having me.
Jen Lumanlan 57:08
And so, our listeners can find the references for all the papers that I read in preparation for today’s conversation, as well as a link to Dean’s book Mutual Aid Building Solidarity During This Crisis and the Next and I’ll also track down all of the books that Dean has mentioned during our conversation today, and all of that will be available at YourParentingMojo.com/mutualaid.
Hi, this is Jenny from Los Angeles. We know that you have a lot of choices about where you get information about parenting and we’re honored that you’ve chosen us as we move toward a world in which everyone’s lives and contributions are valued. If you’d like to help keep the show ad-free, please consider making a donation on the episode page that Jen just mentioned. Thanks again for listening to this episode of The Your Parenting Mojo podcast. Don’t forget to head to YourParentingMojo.com/ recordtheintro to record your own messages for the show.
Blakemore, E. (2018, Feb 6, updated 2021, Jan 29). How the Black Panthers’ breakfast program both inspired and threatened the government. History.com. Retrieved from https://www.history.com/news/free-school-breakfast-black-panther-party
Clarke, L. (1999). Mission improbable: Using fantasy documents to tame disaster. Chicago: University of Chicago.
Dominguez, D., Garcia, D., Martinez, D.A., & Hernandez-Arriga, B. (2020). Leveraging the power of mutual aid, coalitions, leadership, and advocacy during COVID-19. Psychology. 67. https://repository.usfca.edu/psyc/67
Fernando, C. (2021). Mutual aid networks find roots in communities of color. ABC News. Retrieved from: https://abcnews.go.com/US/wireStory/mutual-aid-networks-find-roots-communities-color-75403719#:~:text=The%20African%20Union%20Society%20in,denied%20resources%20by%20white%20institutions.
Ginwright, S. (2018, May 31). The future of healing: Shifting from trauma-informed care to healing-centered engagement. Medium. Retrieved from: https://ginwright.medium.com/the-future-of-healing-shifting-from-trauma-informed-care-to-healing-centered-engagement-634f557ce69chooks, b. (1993). Sisters of the yam: Black women and self-recovery. South End Press.
Kenney, Z. (2019). Solidarity, not charity: Mutual aid in natural disaster relief. Unpublished Master’s Thesis, Northern Arizona University.
Klein, N. (2007). The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism. Picador.
Kropotkin, P. (1914/2006). Mutual aid: A factor of evolution. Mineola: Dover.
National Humanities Center (2007). Mutual Benefit. Author. Retrieved from http://nationalhumanitiescenter.org/pds/maai/community/text5/text5read.htm
Sircar, O. (2022). ‘Mutual aid is present in every crisis’: An interview with Dean Spade. Jindal Global Law Review 13(1), 191-220.
Spade, D. (2010, October). For those considering law school. Author. Retrieved from: http://www.deanspade.net/wp-content/uploads/2010/10/For-Those-Considering-Law-School.pdf
Spade, D. (2020). Solidarity not charity: Mutual aid for mobilization and survival. Social Text 142, 131-151.
Spade, D. (2020). Mutual aid: Building solidarity during this crisis (and the next). London: Verso.
Spade, D. (2021). What is mutual aid? (Classroom version). YouTube. Retrieved from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rYPgTZeF5Z0
Spade, D. (2021-2022). Workshop series: Building capacity for mutual aid. Author. Retrieved from: https://www.deanspade.net/category/video/ (see link for four workshops in the series, including separate presentation slides, results from live polls, and additional resources)
Steinberg, T. (2006). Acts of God: The unnatural history of natural disaster in America. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
The Praxis Project (n.d.). Centering community in public health: Recognizing healing-centered community practices as a complement to trauma-informed interventions and services. Author. Retrieved from: https://static1.squarespace.com/static/5bf21032b98a7888bf3b6e21/t/5f36efa82e32e91a7703b80d/1597435824760/LC1+Brief+-+Healing.pdf
About the author, Jen
Jen Lumanlan (M.S., M.Ed.) hosts the Your Parenting Mojo podcast (www.YourParentingMojo.com), which examines scientific research related to child development through the lens of respectful parenting.