You can find more information about Mutual Aid Disaster Relief, including the zines and resources Jimmy mentioned, a list of mutual aid networks, and social media pages, at https://mutualaiddisasterrelief.org/.
Margaret Hello, and welcome to Live Like the World is Dying, your podcast for what feels like the End Times. I'm your host, Margaret Killjoy, and on this episode I'll be talking to Jimmy from Mutual Aid Disaster Relief. And we're going to be talking about what is involved in setting up and maintaining a mutual aid network and also what disaster relief looks like. Because, obviously, that's something that's on people's minds for some strange reason. And this podcast is a proud member of the Channel Zero Network of anarchist podcasts. And here's a jingle from another show on the network. Da duuuuh!
Jingle What's up y'all? I'm Pearson, host of Coffee with Comrades. Coffee with Comrades is rooted in militant joy. Our hope is to cultivate a warm and inviting atmosphere, like walking into your favorite coffee shop to sit down with some of your close friends and share a heart to heart conversation. New episode premier every Tuesday, so be sure to smash that subscribe button wherever you get your podcasts so that you never miss an episode. We are proud to be a part of the Channel Zero Network.
Margaret Okay, so if you could introduce yourself with your name, which I guess I already said, and your pronouns and I guess your affiliations as relate to disaster relief.
Jimmy Yeah, my name is Jimmy. I'm with Mutual Aid Disaster Relief, any pronouns are fine. Um, and yeah, I've been part of Mutual Aid Disaster Relief since, you know, about five years ago. Um, and Mutual Aid Disaster Relief is a people-powered disaster relief network based on the principles of solidarity, mutual aid, and autonomous direct action. And we work with communities especially, you know, the most marginalized, to assist folks in leading their own recoveries. And this network is a permanent network from below to respond to disasters, building off of the history and the legacy of Common Ground in New Orleans after Katrina, Occupy Sandy in New York after Superstorm Sandy, and other solidarity-based mobilizations. And we, we seek to provide some level of continuity for the larger movement of which we're only a small part. And then also, um, you know, continue to build off of the lessons learned so that we can, um, you know, build off the successes and avoid the mistakes of previous iterations of doing this type of organizing.
Margaret Okay, could you give some examples of situations that you all respond to?
Jimmy Sure. Yeah. So, you know, this last year we've been responding to COVID. You know, before that, um, you know, a lot of hurricanes, floods, tornadoes, fires, things like that. And we also, to a smaller extent, respond to what we call invisible disasters. So, you know, even though, you know, for example, on the Pine Ridge Reservation, it's not a hurricane that knocked out power or made it so people don't have heat to run their homes, it's the legacy of colonialism, you know. So, um, you know, we've tried to respond to disasters like those as well as the very visible climate-related disasters of hurricanes and fires and floods and things like that.
Margaret Okay, so y'all are nationwide then?
Jimmy Yes, we are.
Margaret Cool. Um, I guess, so, I want to ask—one of the things that comes up a lot when people talk about, well, mutual aid networks, especially ones that are, say, nationwide rather than, like, specifically rooted in the communities where the disaster is happening, what does that look like for you all—like, are you outsiders coming in? Are you invited in? How do you all navigate that kind of tension?
Jimmy Um, so yes, we, you know, we are—we're national, but we're also local. You know, so all of us are from local communities and involved in local mutual aid projects and movements, you know, for justice and liberation in our own local communities. You know, so Mutual Aid Disaster Relief, rather than trying to supplant or replace local spontaneous manifestations of mutual aid, whether organized through a local mutual aid group or just, you know, the people impacted, you know, assisting each other, we try to amplify that and support that and provide, you know, this ongoing organizing and backup for those, you know, for those mutual aid efforts. So this can look like, um, you know, um, uh, you know, like getting bulk supply donations, or help with clean up, solar infrastructure or water infrastructure. Um, you know, wellness, you know, either wellness checks or setting up Wellness Centers after disasters. We try to be really flexible and adaptive to whatever the self-determined needs of the impacted people are. We borrow the Zapatista principle of leading by obeying, you know, so, you know, both to, you know—we listen to impacted people directly, and respond to their self-determined needs, and we listen to, you know, local mutual aid groups or local solidarity base, you know, justice-ro0ted efforts, and listen to them, you know, and go from there and respond to, you know, and assist however, we can. However, we can leverage our ongoing organizing, and, you know, we have a number of different mutual aid survival programs, um, you know, so we have, you know, like, the Rebuilding a Better World which involves, like, debris cleanup, or, um, you know, cleaning up flooded homes, you know, that's our—we, with our local partners on the ground in Michigan are doing that right now, with the floods up there. Um, you know, with COVID most recently a lot of our efforts—we have been responding to impacted people directly when we're able to, when they reach out to us. But a lot of our focus with COVID has been supporting local mutual aid efforts. There's been a beautiful outpouring of mutual aid globally with COVID-19. And so Mutual Aid Disaster Relief has, uh, you know, supported and amplified and backed up those local mutual aid efforts whenever possible and however, we're able
Margaret To take a step back, what is mutual aid? That's just charity but done by young idealists, right?
Jimmy No, charity is top down. Charity doesn't question—it takes for granted the unjust power relationships in our society, and it at most provides a band aid. Whereas mutual aid or solidarity, it addresses the immediate survival needs of the people while simultaneously raising consciousness and advocating and being a part of these movements for long-term structural changes. So it both meets the survival needs of the people, and in that way, you know, um, you know, we get out of our silos and echo chambers and meet the people where they're at, you know. And also it's connected to a long-term vision for radical social change. And so mutual aid and solidarity, it's about sharing resources, um, but it's also about sharing power. You know, so people who are impacted by disasters, or—you know, whether it's, you know, climate-related, or the disasters of capitalism and colonialism—they have more at stake in their own survival and wellbeing than well-intentioned paternalistic givers of charity. And what we're all longing for, you know, when a crisis hits, is to be part of a communal recovery. And that's part of our healing process, part of how we cope with crisis or with extreme events. And so, you know, just because somebody is impacted by a disaster doesn't mean that they are passive consumers who are just like empty vessels to be filled with blankets or canned goods, you know. People, you know, have skills, have networks, have, you know, a lot to offer. And so one thing about mutual aid is that it's reciprocal. There's no this for that, there's no requirement, but it's, you know, we're giving what we can and receiving what we need. And all of us are, you know, whether it's, you know, people who are supporting, you know, or people who are impacted. And also those two, you know, are not mutually exclusive, they're usually overlapping. You know, so, um, you know, like, one thing that I'll often do is drive around a box truck with, you know, pick up supplies and drop them off in neighborhoods that are impacted. And so, you know, I'll be, you know, going all day, you know, passing out water, food, cleaning supplies, whatever I can get my hands on. But then also, you know, the local community, you know, they'll see that I'm, you know, in go mode, and they'll, you know, come out with an ice cold water, you know, which, you know, after a power outage and nobody has a fridge, it's like gold, you know, and, you know, and so, you know, that kind of mutuality, is, you know, really a key part of mutual aid. And also, there's also a component that I didn't learn until looking into other people's language and experiences around mutual aid and solidarity, is that, you know, with charity there's this emotional distance. There's, you know, like, oftentimes, you know, it's like a traditional, you know, client/service provider relationship, you know, and with mutual aid that is overturned. That, you know, there's an authentic relationship, there's authentic friendships, you know, that—you know, we're not isolated from each other and we get to know each other, we get—we become friends, we become, you know, close to each other. And when we understand, you know, that, you know, predatory landlords are, you know, evicting our friends, you know, we, you know, we join with them and resist, you know, and, you know, mutual aid is also about relationships. And so, um, you know, it's—and relationships are where power is. You know, oftentimes people think in terms—with regards to disasters—in terms of, you know, stockpiling or hoarding, you know, that's the popular imagination around disasters. But in reality, what almost unequivocably happens in almost every location after disasters, people come out of their houses, sometimes meet each other for the first time, and spontaneously come together to meet each other's needs. And oftentimes building off of the relationships that already existed before the storm—or before the disaster. And so, you know, one thing that we talked about a lot in our popular education trainings is that community organizing is the best form of disaster preparedness, and disaster relief is just another form of community organizing.
Margaret You know, one of the things that we talk about a lot on this show is that even if sometimes I can get focused on like, you know, here's gear, or here's skills to learn, or whatever, is that people are the best resources and relationships are, like, not only one of the most important things to stockpile or whatever, but more than that just like being around people is actually really good in times of crisis and, like, which is the opposite of the right wing prepper mindset, you know. And, with the solidarity and mutual aid stuff, one of the things that—I've been trying to think about things more and more in terms of—so a lot of communities are extracted from, right? In the same way that a colony is extracted from, resources are extracted from it and brought to another place. A lot of communities are extracted from on a regular basis and therefore, like, need help, right? And charity is this way of like bolstering the extractive process. It's like this way of, like, watering the plants that you plan on harvesting, you know, it's a way of making sure that the extractive process can continue. And the way that I've been more recently thinking about mutual aid is this, ideally, a method of beginning to like reverse the extractive process instead of buffering it up. I don't know.
Jimmy Absolutely, no, at its root mutual aid is radical care, you know, it is loving each other. And in a patriarchal capitalist colonial white supremacist and other, you know, innumerable forms of domination and oppression, to love each other, to love ourselves and to, um, you know, take care of each other is a radical act.
Margaret Yeah. Could you talk about—I really like hearing, like, more, like, specific examples like what either, you know, like specific examples of disasters that you all responded to and how that worked, or just specific examples of when you felt like you knew that you were doing mutual aid instead of charity, like, not just like necessarily, like, gratitude of people, but in terms of what it looks like to have a mutual aid organization, if you could give more specific example.
Jimmy Yeah, um, so one thing that I want to highlight, you know, just to begin with, is you don't have to have it all figured out all in the beginning. You know, so, um, you know, there's a story that Rebecca Solnit talks about in A Paradise Built in Hell, her book, that, you know, after the San Francisco earthquake, people started a community kitchen with one can and one spoon, you know, and then it just grew from there. Similar to that, you know, we, um, you know, sometimes it can feel impossible to start a hospital or a whole Wellness Center. But if we just set up a first aid station, and then have people rolling in and out, and then somebody says, "Oh, yeah, I'm a massage therapist." "Oh, yeah, I'm an acupuncturist." "Oh, yeah, I'm a nurse." "I'm a medic." You know, then it snowballs and takes on a life of its own. Same with, you know, like, maybe the idea of a whole warehouse of supply distribution seems far off, but if we start with a community fridge, or community pantry, just, you know, taking what's in our cupboards and sharing them with our neighbors and then giving, you know, making sure people have the awareness that they can put in too, that they can share as well, you know, that can easily you know, blossom and grow into something a lot larger. You know, Hurricane Irma and Maria hit Puerto Rico, pretty bad. And, um, you know, there was this colonial occupation that—I mean, Puerto Rico's been occupied for, you know, a long time—but it was ramped up, you know, after Hurricane Maria. And there was a beautiful explosion of mutual aid organizing throughout the island. There's [inaudible] that are still active that, you know, they took over a governmental buildings that were part of the Oversight Board, the Promesa. Former schools, former government buildings, and they turn them into mutual aid community centers. And out of these centers they have acupuncture, they have computer access for the kids, they have food kitchens, and one thing that we have assisted with for the last couple of years is the solar and water infrastructure. So especially solar, we've been able to access, you know, solar panels, and then, you know, the inverters, charge controllers, battery backup, and help install solar infrastructure at these mutual aid centers to bring them, you know, with, you know, our partners down there, to help with autonomous infrastructure and sustainability. And so one thing that we did in the beginning, um, you know, soon after Maria hit, you know, we were in Florida, we had already had active mobilization for Hurricane Irma in Florida, and so many people who were involved in that mobilization, you know, some of them had family ties and friend ties down to Puerto Rico. And so a delegation went down there. And one thing that we noticed real quick was, you know, our teams down there, was supplies were sitting in FEMA warehouses and not getting out to the people. So one thing that our folks did was they rolled up to the FEMA warehouse and said they're here for the 8am pickup. And the person that the the windows said, oh, we don't see you on the list. And they just insisted, we're here for the 8am pickup. And eventually they were allowed in, they flashed their Mutual Aid Disaster Relief IDs, and they were allowed in and were able to pick up a box truck and carloads full of supplies, and then get that out to the people. And then also, you know, before they had—before they left the island, we made Mutual Aid Disaster Relief badges for local community organizers so they could continue that supply hook up and, you know, continue to try to, you know, liberate those supplies, you know, from sitting in warehouses, to get to the people where they're actually supposed to go. That's one example of how, you know, through our ongoing organizing and just being willing to take risks, we can leverage, um, you know, our access to resources or status as Mutual Aid Disaster Relief, to support survival of the people, but also the local mutual aid organizing of the people as well.
Margaret Okay, and welcome back, which you all won't even notice as a cut. But we lost connection for a moment. And it's funny, because one of the reasons that I don't know how the sound quality is going to be for the listeners, we have a good audio engineer, but I'm no longer—I recorded most of these at home. But now that the trees, now that the leaves are really coming in it blocks my antenna on the top of my house that boosts my cell phone signal enough to do a hotspot enough to do interviews. So now instead I have to go into town near a noisy office and road. So I just think it's ironic. There have been a couple interviews that I haven't been able to do because of my internet at home getting suddenly so much worse. But anyway, so that's why there's a strange break in the conversation. Do you want to talk about the history of mutual aid, whether the history of it like using that word, or the history of it as like a concept, and/or where ya'lls specific lineage comes in. I suppose those are three different questions, but if one of those appeals to you.
Jimmy So mutual aid is—there's, um, I think—called Kropotkin who wrote a book called Mutual Aid. And it was kind of written in opposition to the Darwinian theory of, you know, like, survival of the fittest, that was misused by people. So what Kropotkin did was articulate and give voice to an organizing principle of life. Um, you know, like, what Kropotkin saw with plants and animals, with, you know, like indigenous societies, was that how people survived and thrived was not through competition, it was through cooperation. As far as Mutual Aid Disaster Relief. Um, you know, I personally, and other people who are also involved and helped found Mutual Aid Disaster Relief, were part of the organizing in New Orleans after Katrina, when Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans and surrounding areas. And there was a call from Malik Rahim, a former Black Panther, in the neighborhood of Algiers. There were white vigilantes that were roaming the streets shooting and killing unarmed black men. And Malik Rahim had a history of organizing in that community, you know, through the Black Panther Party, and then later through other, you know, movements for peace and justice and environmental justice. And, you know, so at this time it was, um, you know, there were these white vigilantes and also, you know, people stranded out the Superdome. People were trying to cross the bridge to safety and dry land from the east bank to the west bank and they were stopped by Gretna police to turn them back with rifles. And in this context, Malik sent out a call—Malik, you know, and Scott Crowe and others—you know, sent out a call for solidarity and support. Many of us who were involved in movements like Food Not Bombs, or street medics at global justice demonstrations, or indie media, radical independent movement-based media, um, you know, we had some experience with setting up community kitchens, we had some experience with, you know, doing medic work at demonstrations or setting up media centers, you know, for these, you know, big mobilizations against global capital. And many of us responded to that call. There was a blending of the wisdom and legacy of the Black Panther Party, you know, through Malik Rahim and the survival programs. You know, there's the most famous of their programs was the free breakfast program, but they had numerous survival programs. They were doing pest control—community-wide pest control—they were doing a free ambulance program. They did sickle cell anemia testing and education. You know, across the board they were meeting the survival needs of the people, and that's actually what made them the biggest threat to the FBI and to colonialism. They did have an armed component, but what was really the threat was that they were mobilizing the people in a mass way. And Malik Rahim continued that legacy and and then that was translated and melded with the legacy of the global justice movement, you know, where, you know, we were active with, whether it's Food Not Bombs or street medic organizing, and, um, you know, that coalesced in New Orleans after Katrina with, you know, a lot of vibrant mutual aid efforts, and it gave our movements some cohesion. You know, so even people as ideologically far apart as say, like, Michael Moore, the documentarian, or the writers of The Coming Insurrection, they could see what was happening in New Orleans after Katrina and be like, that's actually what we're for. That's what we're about. That's what the world that we're trying to build. And, you know, there were, you know, there was a at least one agent provocateur FBI informant who used his position of power to undermine the organization and take advantage of women. You know, there's a lot of conflicting feelings for many of us who were involved in that in that effort. And we saw again after Superstorm Sandy, you know, where Occupy Wall Street transitioned to disaster response. And again, this solidarity-based network model outperformed the top-down charity model.
Margaret Can you explain that? Like, in what ways does Mutual Aid Disaster Relief do better than than top-down intervention?
Jimmy So Naomi Klein talks about this term disaster capitalism. Disaster, capitalism refers to this idea of how the powerful will use shocks or disasters or crises to reinforce their privilege and power. They put in transformations to the economy or society that reinforce their privilege status. And in parallel to this, there's disaster colonialism. So after a disaster, there's a lot of guns that show up. And, you know, there's, you know, authorities, you know, with guns, the army, the National Guard, Blackwater, you know, similar mercenary type groups, and their general response is not, how can we help the people survive? Their general response is, how do we maintain order and keep people in their place? The nonprofits, the top-down nonprofit industrial complex, goes hand in hand with that militarized authoritarian response. The nonprofit's, they undermine local spontaneous manifestations of mutual aid and make it into this thing that is not reciprocal, that is not participatory, that is not power sharing, where people just wait in line and receive a few items and then, you know, are, you know, go back to being oppressed by their landlords or, you know, the, you know, police or the, you know, the state authorities.
Margaret But what would you say to someone who, like, isn't ideologically committed to mutual aid and is looking for the most efficient response to disaster. Like, regardless of the—I mean, I believe ideologically in mutual aid, but I think that it's worth pointing out the ways in which the the actual just like straight up efficiency of decentralized movements can be so much greater and I was wondering if you can talk on that part of it.
Jimmy Yes, absolutely. Um, a story I heard about with Occupy Sandy, that, um, you know, there were some people involved with FEMA that, you know, they got—they heard about this elder And they didn't have heat, they, you know it was getting cold and um, you know, these people, you know, in the FEMA organization had their hands tied because it's, there's so much bureaucracy, so much red tape, so much hoops to jump through. Even though they wanted to help this person, they could not do anything because the top-down nature of it is not participatory, is not liberating for those impacted or those, you know, involved in the relief efforts. So what they did, these people involved with FEMA, was they reached out to people with Occupy Sandy and people with Occupy Sandy weatherize the house, got them—got the elder situated and, you know, what they needed to survive. And then also, after that mobilization, the Department of Homeland Security issued out a report highlighting how movements like Occupy Sandy that are decentralized, that are people powered, network based, solidarity based, are actually more effective than their command and control top-down model. And these are the same people who regularly infiltrate our movements and undermine almost everything we try to do through infiltration, through agent provocateurs, you know, and even they, you know, have owned up to the fact that their top-down model is not as effective as our mutual aid model.
Margaret Yeah, there's a—it's been going around Twitter lately—a leaked or, you know, declassified document about how to infiltrate leftist organizations and, you know, the behaviors that make leftist organizations less effective. And one of them is like, basically, like, put everything to committee. And like, basically try to stop autonomy within the organizations, try to stop people from acting on the organizations without, like, putting everything to the larger organization and everything to little subcommittees and shit like that. And I thought that was really interesting, not that the people who do that thing are inherently, you know, agent provocateurs, or whatever. But we always have this conception of infiltrators as these people who are, like, go there to like break things or instigate or escalate, right? And that does happen. But it really was telling to me that the main way they know how to fuck us up is to go in and get us stuck in endless meetings and get people to not just do things. And the thing that is our strength as people who practice direct action and people practice mutual aid is our capacity to just do things and then coordinate about the things we're doing rather than centrally plan all of the things that we're trying to do.
Jimmy And that is the organizing principle of Mutual Aid Disaster Relief is almost everything is done through affinity groups, through working groups, rather than through centralized planning or organizing. We have, you know, regular, you know, signal threads and conference calls and things like that. But it's mostly to provide updates with each other, um, rather than to do the nuts and bolts organizing. We, similar to the Zapatista principle of leading by obeying, there's this idea of subsidiarity, which means you devolve decision making to the localest scale possible. And so, with our organizing, we encourage everybody to be involved in, you know, affinity groups and local collectives and local mutual aid groups, and then partner with Mutual Aid Disaster relief. And, you know, oftentimes, you know, like, if your local affinity group or your local mutual aid group is unable to cover something after a disaster, maybe Mutual Aid Disaster Relief could, or vice versa. You know, there's some things that a local collective or affinity group or mutual aid group could do that Mutual Aid Disaster Relief couldn't. you know. And so, we kind of work in tandem and hand in hand, you know, and we combine both collective decision making and checking in with each other with respect for autonomy and direct action and self determination.
Margaret I mean, it sounds good. And I've seen some of the work that folks associated with you all have done in eastern North Carolina and have always been impressed by, yeah, the non top-down structure organizing, but still the ability to get a lot of stuff done. To go back, there was like thoughts I was thinking about—I was like taking notes as you're talking about mutual aid and, you know, I remember reading this article in a science magazine in probably like, 2008 or something like that about mutual aid and gay birds. And it was—there had been this like thing that—I actually, as far as I understand, Darwin would not have appreciated social Darwinism, or maybe even didn't appreciate social Darwinism, like, the like, survival of the fittest thing, like, wasn't even the Darwinian concept of evolution. But then Kropotkin was, you know, most famously an anarchist. But well, at the time, he was also very famously, I believe, a naturalist and a scientist. And, you know, all of his work was around saying, like, oh, no, animals just take care of each other. Not always, right, there's like, you know, I mean, obviously, animals eat each other and shit too and like, there are animals that fuck up each other's like chances of reproduction or whatever. But people would sit there and they'd be like, why gay birds? Like, why are animals gay? And, I mean, I think, me as an animal know I am gay. But, you know, this is the kind of thing that rightwing thinkers will bring up all the time, right? And like Alex Jones, like, always freaks out about the gay frogs or whatever. And this article basically points out that it was like, well, the gay birds like do an incredible amount of service for the larger community of the animals and therefore, like, continue to propagate the species as a whole, even if they don't individually reproduce. And it was basically this realization that science was finally catching up—and maybe it had—pop science, at least, was finally catching up to the fact that Kropotkin was right about evolution and the, like, mutual aid theory of evolution is, like, as far as I understand it, predominantly the theory within evolution at the moment, and that it's not this, like, you know, war of one against all that people present. But—sorry, this is a rant I've been thinking about for a while. I do appreciate that it's like, mutual aid wasn't invented by kropotkin, right. And like, Kropotkin didn't think mutual aid was invented by Kropotkin. He was observing it, and he was observing it in, you know, the animal kingdom, plant kingdom, and also in the human, like, all, you know, different human societies all over the world have been practicing mutual aid largely before, essentially, like, various forms of colonization including, like, the internal colonization of Europe and things like that.
Jimmy Mutual Aid predates anarchism. And it also is not a European ideology. It's how life survives and thrives. And it's something that, you know, mutual—Kropotkin noticed and gave voice to, you know, in his book. But also, you know, like, um, there's also a vibrant indigenous mutual aid network that has been growing, you know, over the last year plus. And I feel like their approach to mutual aid and solidarity organizing is also somewhat an antidote to the Eurocentric or ideological-based, you know, European-centric, you know, mutual aid organizing, you know, more broadly, that all of us, you know, involved and devoted to mutual aid and a better world, you know, should be engaging with and learning from and communicating with. Because, you know, indigenous people on this continent, Turtle Island, have centuries of experience surviving catastrophes and living through apocalypses. And there's a lot of wisdom there that those of us, you know, in the cities or, you know, involved in, you know, mutual aid that doesn't have that focus, you know, there's a lot that we can learn from, you know, there's a lot of interchange that can be, can be had there, that we can be attuned to.
Margaret Yeah, and even anarchism as a concept. You know, one of the things that really interests me about this mutual aid revelation from Kropotkin's point of view is that anarchism, as a concept, as a Western concept, was basically just Western people figuring out, like, rediscovering something that so much of the world already knows. And so it wasn't like—anyone who presents like anarchism or these ideas as invented by the people who called themselves anarchists in France and Russia or whatever, right? It wasn't an invention, it was a rediscovering and an applying of things. You talked at the beginning about lessons that you've learned. So I'm really interested in how you all are providing continuity across—hm, how to I want to say this? It's like there's been this huge explosion in mutual aid groups in the past year since COVID started, right. And that's actually the most hopeful thing about the whole fucking crisis, from my point of view. And, you know, it's like the only thing at the beginning of it all that was giving me hope, was watching this mainstreaming of mutual aid. And obviously, with mainstream comes a lot of danger and a lot of people calling things mutual aid that might not be mutual aid. But on the other hand, that also seems to me the only hope because, I mean, I believe in a society that the economic system is essentially mutual aid rather than, you know, anything else. But you—I—one of the reasons I wanted to talk to you all is because you all predate this current explosion of mutual aid. And I was wondering if you could talk about what that explosion means, and like lessons that you're able to bring to people who are coming in this, like, newer group of mutual aid organizers, but also things that you've learned from the newer people who might be coming from a less ideological position, or just are younger,
Jimmy We're totally inspired. And we've been, you know, sowing the seeds, you know, of mutual aid and watering them these past several years. And we all—we would always talk about how, you know, like, if we have a hope for survival, it's not gonna come from the state, it's not going to come from the nonprofit industrial complex, it's going to come from each other and these relationships of support, you know, that are horizontal, and participatory and, you know, from below. And I think still, though, even though we were already responding to disasters, and, you know, there's still an element of, you know, like, that, you know, we're talking about the future survival of humanity, you know, with this explosion of mutual aid with regards to the COVID, there's been over 600,000 people killed just in the United States alone, you know, from COVID. And, um, you know, there's evictions looming, mass evictions looming right now, I feel like we've all lost loved ones or lost, you know, or have friends or have family who have lost loved ones, and for both the climate and, you know, the pandemic, the future is now, you know. There's overlapping constant disaster, one crisis after another and, you know, these local mutual aid groups are, you know, they're carving out laboratory spaces and coming up with new ideas about how to meet people's needs, articulating their vision for social change. And it's hard work. So there is, you know, some stumbling in the dark while we—while people figure it out. And that's normal and that's to be expected. You know, with Mutual Aid Disaster Relief, one thing that we've, you know, oftentimes—you know, previously with a hurricane, or a flood, or a fire or tornado, a lot of our efforts were in person, direct to people impacted, um, you know, face to face. You know, going to the neighborhood that was impacted and, you know, dropping off supplies, and then seeing what else they need, you know. And then, um, you know, with this explosion of local mutual aid groups it's, um, you know, shifted things somewhat of how Mutual Aid Disaster Relief has responded in that we are still meeting people's needs directly, you know, when needed or when we are able, but these local mutual aid groups are rooted in the community and they are able to respond in ways that, you know, sometimes a national network is not able to. You know, we've learned a lot, and one thing that we try to do to provide some level of continuity for this larger movement is be a clearinghouse of information and resources. So if people go on the website mutualaiddisasterrelief.org you can see a ton of resources, both about mutual aid in general, how to start a mutual aid network, what is mutual aid, you know, disaster response, and, you know, report backs from different mobilizations, different zines, news articles about the mutual aid responses for disasters. And so, you know, there's 1000s of different resources on there, and some of them we created, but many of them, you know, others, you know, local mutual aid groups, partner organizations and networks created and we, you know, help share because we see that that wisdom is valuable and needs to get elevated and out there more. So we try to, you know, offer a library online about disaster response and mutual aid, you know, for the larger movement. On there, one resource specifically that we put out last summer is our Lessons Learned zine. And so people can visit that, there's a dozen different lessons learned both, you know, like, ideas like moving at the speed of trust and at the speed of dreams. Um, you know, and also things to be aware of, you know, such as the savior complex or disaster patriarchy, and ways to, you know, maintain our principles and values while being responsive to the needs on the ground of those most impacted.
Margaret Okay, let's like take some of those. You know, the moving at the speed of trust and the speed of dreams, what is what does that mean?
Jimmy Yeah, so the speed of trust, you know, refers to this idea of, we need to be building bonds with each other. One of the most revolutionary things that we can do is find each other and build meaningful relationships, you know, that are, um, you know, based on care, based on mutual respect and a shared vision and affinity for that better world we know is possible and are trying to build. Um, it's hard to, you know, as a mutual aid network, whether local or national, to act if you don't have a level of trust and a level of connection, and affinity and love for each other. That basis of trust, um, is the foundation, you know, that we can build off of. We encourage people, mutual aid groups, to, you know, if you don't already have core values or guiding principles or foundation, like principles of unity, something like that, to take the time to come together and articulate that collectively. You know, there's so much that is, you know, adaptable and, you know, flexible, you know, in disaster response, oftentimes we need, you know, some principles or some core values to go back to ground ourselves. And, you know, like that, for us in Mutual Aid Disaster Relief that was, you know, a key part of building that trust initially, um, you know, so that we are coming at it from—we know that we are coming at it with a shared vision of what we're doing and where we're going. And then also this idea of the speed of dreams, it comes from, you know, the Zapatistas. It's this idea that when we put our hands and hearts and bodies in service of our dreams, they can manifest themselves exponentially. Far from being, you know, something that, you know, like, we plant seeds and then, you know, generations, they sprout and grow, we see the effects by moment to moment, you know, day to day and year to year when we are true to our principles and values and we, you know, are devoted to an ethic of solidarity and justice, it can be almost disconcerting, you know, how quickly our dreams can manifest into reality. It's that, you know, snowball thing I was talking about earlier is, you know, we can start with just the tiniest bit of liberated space or mutual aid, you know, organizing, and then as we cultivate it, it's amazing, you know, how quickly that can grow and blossom in 1000 different directions.
Margaret Yeah, I mean, it's interesting that—one of the reasons I've always loved direct action as an organizing principle—sorry about the siren in the background if you all can hear it. One of the things I've loved about direct action as an organizing principle is that it involves actually like starting to solve problems. Like, you know, thinking of these examples that you talk about, about like Occupy Sandy going and winterizing someone's house. We often get so caught up, like, especially right now, when all of this bad shits happening, right? When we think, how do we stop climate change? And in some ways, how do we stop climate change is the wrong question because, while we need to stop climate change, it probably looks like solving specific problems along the way. It might be, how do we create a microclimate in this environment that is more resistant to the fires that are going to come? Right? Because we're not going to actually stop climate change. You know, we can stop the worst of it. And so it reminds me of one of the problems that I see lock up a lot of people in general is any given thing that you have to do, it's really hard to be like, well, I'm thinking about the entire problem and how do I solve the entire problem? So you just don't do anything. You know, whenever people are like, well, how do you write a book? And like any writer who's written books is like, I don't know, you start writing a book, and then it's shit so you go back and change things. And then the third time you write a book you, like, plan it out ahead of time better because you know what you're doing. But it really just starts with doing it. You know, there's the whole anarchist cliche that the secret is to begin. And that's one thing I've always loved about mutual aid organizing is like, yeah, I don't know how we—you know, people are always like, oh, what do you anarchist want or whatever. I'm like, look, I can't tell you everything about the economic system of the society that I want to create. I don't even think that would be a good idea. Because what I want to do is feed myself and feed the people around me who I care about, and then build up from there. And so that's one thing I really like about the work that you all do is that focus on, you just start doing it. And it's what, as you were saying, that's what people do is they're like, oh, shit bad's happening, I guess we should do something, you know?
Jimmy Absolutely. And our mutual aid organizing his movement infrastructure. So, you know, there's this idea of dual power, to be simultaneously, you know, building up our own prefigurative resources and institutions and, you know, power from below, while also challenging, you know, the forces of oppression and occupation and colonialism and capitalism and contesting. You know, there's an element of mutual aid organizing that is, you know, all of us are involved simultaneously in mutual aid organizing and the other movements that are contemporaneous for, you know, the movement for Black Lives, or for the Stop Line 3, or the Dakota Access Pipeline, you know, and so, you know, when we build power from below for mutual aid, we're also building power from below to resist extensive resource extraction or, you know, attacks on indigenous sovereignty or on, you know, homeless sweeps. Mutual aid organizing is fertilizing, you know, the movement of ground beneath us to be stronger the next time, you know, we need to be out in the streets or be in front of the bulldozers at a pipeline camp.
Margaret Yeah, and they all tie together, right? Because the only way that we can like really consistently save ourselves is by also stopping the machinery of destruction that is destroying the climate and destroying communities. Because it's like, well, we can, we can provide tents, to people who are currently without houses, but we also need to, like, stop the people who are stealing their tents and stop the system that leaves them without housing in the first place.
Jimmy Exactly. And, you know, one thing that we talked about in our popular education is audacity is our capacity. You know, so, you know, oftentimes we're just limited by our imaginations, you know, we think something is not possible, so we don't try it. You know, but as soon as we shake off that sense of powerlessness and act, then, you know, we're filled with the sense of possibility and then, you know, things that were impossible, or we thought were impossible, are no more.
Margaret I really liked that. And I think that might be a good note to end on. Besides, of course, the obvious joke about audacity as the primary thing that podcasters use that is suddenly spyware. So I'm avoiding making that joke. And you all should be very appreciative of this inside joke I'm not making that only—anyway. What—how can people find out more about your work or support you? Or are there other things like either final words, or, you know, plugging all this stuff that you all do and how people can support it?
Jimmy Yeah, so people can go to mutualaiddisasterrelief.org to check out our website. We also have on there links to many other local mutual aid groups that you can also be involved in, we encourage people to do both—be involved in Mutual Aid Disaster Relief, and be involved in other locally-rooted mutual aid projects and organizations in general. We have a Facebook page, we have a Twitter, we have Instagram, Mutual Aid Disaster Relief, you can find us on all of those. And also, um, we often share a quote from Buenaventura Durruti. Durruti was an antifascist during the Spanish Civil War. And one thing that he said was that our opposition might blast and ruin its world before it exits the stage of history, but we're not in the least afraid of ruins because we carry a new world here in our hearts. And all of us who dream of a better world are carrying that new world in our hearts. And we're going to create it, it takes takes lifetimes. Um, but you know, we're a part of that growing world and we know your listeners, you know, everybody listening to this is part of that growing world. And we're excited to see what we're able to build, you know, together.
Margaret All right. Well, thank you so much. Thank you so much for listening. And I hope you enjoyed this episode. And also, you know, after we hung up Jimmy pointed out that basically everyone doing, you know, Mutual Aid Disaster Relief is not as much an organization as it is a movement and that all of you listening who are working on preparedness and are working on mutual aid and things like that are all part of this thing we're all doing and just wanted to extend that thanks. And I would also like to extend that thanks. Not just for listening, but for talking, not just about this show, right, that's a tiny part of it all, but but talking about this stuff with people around you. So thank you so much. And if you'd like to support the show, you can do so by supporting me which will soon be supporting Strangers in a Tangled Wilderness which is an old zine collective that is now kind of rebooting to also do podcasts and YouTube channels—YouTube shows and all that shit. You can do so by supporting me on firstname.lastname@example.org/margaretkilljoy. And in particular I guess I'd like to thank Nora and Hoss the dog, Kirk, Willow, Natalie, Sam, Christopher, Shane, The Compound, Cat J, Starro, Mike, Eleanor, Chelsea, Dana, Hugh, and Shawn. And also tell people that there's now a YouTube show of Live Like the World is Dying. So far there's only one episode, if you want to see me talking about the emergency kits that I make and distribute, I determined that video would be a better format for that than doing a whole podcast where I just like talk to myself or Jack or someone about, you know, and then in my kit is a whistle. And, you know, like, I think that the video format worked better for that. And it's been a good reaction. So don't worry, I'm not gonna abandon the podcasting format. I personally listen to podcast more than I want YouTube because I like listening. Everyone's always like, "Oh, I don't have the attention span for podcasts." And I'm like, "I don't have the attention span for video." It just depends on your own mindset and also like where you like to consume content, I think, which is definitely stuff you were wanting to know my opinion about. You really wanted to know my opinion about the difference between podcasts and YouTube. So let me tell you more about—no, I'm not gonna tell you more about it. I instead want to say, again, thank you, and do as well as you can. And I hope that all of the things aren't so overwhelming. And if there's one lesson I'm going to remind myself from this conversation, it's that start with the small things, you know. We—it's so easy to get overwhelmed thinking about the magnitude of crisis that we're all in, everyone on the planet Earth is in and to various degrees, of course, I'm not trying to claim that my position is as bad as many, many other people's positions. But all we can do is we can take something we can do, we can think about what can I do? What can I do today? You know? I can go get hot hands, like hand warmers, and have them around or distribute them. Or I can learn how to build a campfire, or I can go talk to my neighbor that I don't talk to much and kind of get a sense of who she is and how we could support each other if things go wrong. Or we just do things one at a time and hope that collectively—because there's a lot of us on this planet, and if we all do things—well, we all did lots of little things and that caused the destruction of everything. So what have we all do lots of little things in the other direction? And I'm not talking—god, this sounds like I'm fucking talking about straws and shit, like fuck straws. I don't care one way or the other about individual consumerism that causes this issue. Anyway, I guess I'm done with the podcast. Thank you for listening and I will talk to you all soon.
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