Mutual aid is a reciprocal exchange of resources within a community, a form of community empowerment, and a radical expression of love. As author Dean Spade so succinctly wrote, “Mutual aid is a form of political participation in which people take responsibility for caring for one another and changing political conditions, not just through symbolic acts or putting pressure on their representatives in government but by actually building new social relations that are more survivable” (2020).
Mutual aid recognizes the humanity in each person seeking aid and assumes their own expertise; you know your situation better than a charity or company ever can and you know exactly what you need in order to survive and thrive.
At the heart of mutual aid is the community. Communities identify a need and seek to fill it from within, understanding that the community will know itself better than the systems that have failed us. The community comes together to find solutions to the problems those systems have created.
Mutual aid is based in solidarity between community members, ensuring that those most vulnerable in a community are held and supported without question and without the humiliation of needing to appeal to systems that have already caused irreparable harm.
What isn’t Mutual Aid?
Mutual aid is not charity: Charities often assume that those who need help do not know how best to support themselves, otherwise, they wouldn’t be in this situation. Charities often require recipients of aid to prove that they are using the charity in the ways intended. Charity is often just as quick to rescind the aid if certain stipulations of charity are not met. Mutual aid recognizes the agency and expertise in each person or family requesting aid. Mutual aid trusts that person to do what is best for their situation.
Mutual aid is not gatekeeping: Those served by charities or non-profits often find themselves excluded from aid based on various restrictions based on geography, income level, age, race, gender, insurance status, immigration status, etc. Many recipients of charity or non-profit aid often must bare their souls or be the “perfect victim” in order to receive the aid they require, only to be excluded due to a superficial reason like a surprise drug test, reunification with an abuser, or making over a certain amount of money from a new job. Mutual aid does not restrict resources or create artificial scarcity. Mutual aid does not police those who request our aid, does not force folks to provide receipts or limit how much someone may request aid.
Financial solidarity is direct financial giving to those in need within our community. This giving is not contingent because community members know what they need best.
This concept may sound new, especially within the diabetes community. But, we’ve all done this before! Financial solidarity is when you give money to a friend or family member in need, donate to a GoFundMe or help crowdsource funds on social media. Collectively, our community has the means to support one another and should.
Financial solidarity recognizes that, in and outside of the diabetes community, we don’t all have access to the same amount of wealth. Practicing financial solidarity is a way to transfer money and power and lessen the impacts of systemic racism, heteropatriarchy, xenophobia, transphobia, ableism and classism by transferring money and power. Financial solidarity shifts the power dynamic from a patient advocacy organization or donor deciding who is ‘worthy’ to support back into the community.
Peer support can look like a number of different things but mainly manifests as supply sharing, knowledge, and medication support. Within the diabetes community, we have a wealth of resources an individual might not need anymore, but someone could desperately use to live another day. We also have vast knowledge of each person, such as an understanding of how to navigate applying for medical assistance, help with a PAP, or even where to get an insulin prescription without an in-person doctor’s appointment.
Peer support, like financial solidarity, recognizes that many folks don’t have the same information or access to resources that others in our community do. We can ensure folks have all the knowledge and support they need to become advocates for themselves with their doctors, insurance companies, or supply companies. By openly and actively sharing information, non-prescription supplies, or even just facilitating connections between diabetics, we not only build a stronger community, but we ensure that no one else dies today.