What is mutual aid?

Alanna Sherman , Columnist

Mutual aid is the reciprocal exchange of resources between community members, but this is not to be confused with charity. Although charity usually has good intentions, it often comes with a hierarchy where the organization and funders are above, and those in need are below. Charity organizations make judgments about what resources are necessary, whereas mutual aid allows people to articulate their needs directly. 

Mutual aid stems from love for one’s community, and the belief that everyone deserves to receive their own necessary resources. Mutual aid is understanding that we all need each other to survive, and we can only thrive if our community is thriving with us.

“The idea of mutual aid is built on this idea that all of us at some point in our lives will need help,” said author and Organizational Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Consultant Janice Gassam Asare

An influential example of the type of assistance mutual aid programs provide is free breakfast programs in schools, which were first implemented by the Black Panther Party in 1969. Prior to this, the National School Lunch Program provided limited reduced priced and free lunches, and the National School Breakfast program predominantly existed in rural areas. In response, the Black Panthers implemented the Free Breakfast Program at St. Augustine’s Church in Oakland in January 1969. 

The Free Breakfast Program later expanded to 36 cities in the U.S., feeding about 20,000 children. After seeing the success of this program, the federal government expanded national free and reduced meal programs and made the program permanent in 1975

The Black Panthers helped thousands of children by ensuring that their needs were met. This is just one example of how mutual aid saves lives and increases quality of life.

It is crucial for those with an excess of resources to distribute among others. Caring for the people around us includes ensuring access to food, shelter, clothing, toiletries, any level of medical care needed and disaster relief. This may sound like a daunting task considering how many people face severe restrictions in access to resources, but as exemplified by the Black Panther Party and many others, it is possible to provide mutual aid through community building and care for each other. 

There are many arguments against mutual aid, often stating that if we provide people with resources they will not be motivated to work. Some arguments take the extreme measure of asserting some people actually want to live outside, and providing mutual aid will only be encouraging them to do so.

Instead, we should be asking ourselves, why do we have to work to survive? Why do we have to work in order to prevent our death, instead of working because we genuinely enjoy it? We physically and mentally cannot work and do what we want to do if our needs are not met. 

The foundations for mutual aid are already in place at Whitman and in Walla Walla, and there’s always room for more involvement. Whitman has clubs and organizations such as the Food Justice Project, Glean Team, Free Food, Organic Garden Club and Leftist Mutual Aid Club

There is a free food pantry and clothing closet in the GAC that is open to the Whitman community, and accepts donations. In addition, there is also a free food, clothing and toiletries pantry in the Organic Garden that is open to anyone in Walla Walla and is always in need of resources. 

Walla Walla also has organizations such as the Blue Mountain Action Council, The Sleep Center managed by the Walla Walla Alliance for the Homeless, the Walla Walla Immigrant Rights Coalition, YWCA Walla Walla, Meals on Wheels, and more providing food, shelter, clothing, and health services. All of these organizations could always use resource donations. 

Mutual aid is absolutely necessary, as it allows for survival, improves quality of life and builds community. We all deserve to feel safe, happy and protected, and by working together we can make this happen.