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How to create a mutual aid network

Photo: Stockport Homes / via Flickr CC

As the COVID-19 pandemic spreads, many of us across the U.S. have faced a steep learning curve in how to respond. By now, most of us know the right way to wash our hands, what kind of cleaning products to use, how to stock our pantry, and what social distance means. But one thing we should also work on is how to create a network for mutual aid to help keep everyone your community safe and healthy. 

What is mutual aid?

You probably already practice some form of mutual aid, just by having people in your life whom you can count on for support, and who can count on you in return. For people and communities who are often marginalized and/or criminalized, organized mutual aid can be a way to survive and thrive. The Black Panther Party free breakfast program, which served 20,000 meals a week to Black children in 1969, is a great example. Community bail funds, bystander intervention, and Cop-watch are more recent examples where the strategies for mutual aid are intertwined with public education about the underlying systems of oppression that create the need for community response. 

Why you should you start a mutual aid network now

At this moment of global pandemic, it is evident that structures in our society leading to inequality and systemic oppression create chaos and harm everyone. Creating new structures of collective care can help us through this period, and engaging in mutual aid is a way for us to build new social relationships that recognize the importance of our shared well-being.

Communities across the globe are organizing mutual aid projects of many kinds right now. Google docs and maps, as well as other digital platforms are the tools of choice. Examples include:

  • Financial solidarity projects for those who can help with financial assistance to reach folks who need cash directly
  • Food distribution projects that collect donations from grocery stores, restaurants, or individuals and then distribute to those who are in need, at high risk, or sick. 
  • Disability ally projects to match volunteers up with folks who need extra support during the pandemic.
  • Neighborhood pods that are self-organized groups of folks who can count on each other for support. 

4 ways you can get started

Image: Josh McPhee/Just Seeds

  1. Start your research wtih Mutual Aid 101 with organizer Mariame Kaba and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
  2. Check to see if someone is already organizing mutual aid in your community, or work through your own networks to see if others want to join you to create a new project. If you have an AFSC office in your area, staff may be connected to efforts, as well. Don’t forget safety practices for mutual aid food and supply distribution.
  3. Develop a pod of support if you don’t have one already. You can do some pod mapping of people that you already know, or create a neighborhood pod, by reaching out to people who live in proximity, whether you already know them or not. 
  4. Download free graphics from justseeds.org to help spread the word.

Engaging in mutual aid is a great way for people to get involved in community organizing. Our hope is that the creation of these networks will continue to provide support for community care and organizing, opening up new ways of shared well-being that will far outlive this global pandemic.  

About the Author

Mary Zerkel is coordinator of AFSC's Communities Against Islamophobia Project and has worked at AFSC for over 20 years. In addition, Mary is co-founder of the art collective Lucky Pierre, which works on political and social issues in a variety of forms.