Today we are talking about mutual aid. Why? Because I'm wondering if engaging in mutual aid might be a means for healing as well as personal and collective transformation.
See, one thing I frequently hear from people is that they feel powerless to change "the system." They don't know how we can possibly dismantle racism, capitalism, or the patriarchy. They feel like their personal efforts won't ever be enough.
I disagree. I believe our personal efforts - our learning, our growing awareness, our shifting beliefs, the conversations we have with our partners and kids and friends, where we invest our money, where we shop or not, the questions we ask at our PTA meetings and places of work - DO make a difference.
As we change, we can't help but influence those around us.
Rev angel Kyodo Williams says “Without inner change there can be no outer change. Without collective change, no change matters.”
So, it's not only our individual efforts, but also combined or collective efforts that I am learning can be the pathway for creating a new world. One that doesn’t rely on competition, scarcity, urgency, and extraction of energy and labor from every person and plant and animal on the planet.
Think of it another way. Participating in collective change movements might just provide us with the real time "internship" we need to embody the information we are learning intellectually.
It is one thing to read articles and share them on social media. It’s another to put your coat on, leave the house on a weekend morning, and participate in direct action. It's one thing to read articles and books, it's another to join a community and support each other through mutual aid organizations.
Perhaps it is in these spaces that our beliefs and fears can be challenged. Perhaps it is in these spaces of community action and community care that we can begin to experience some hope and believe that a new world order can be created. Together.
Each of us matter.
All of our small actions when put together do make a difference.
Do not believe the lie that we are powerless.
There are more of us than there are of them.
I first learned about mutual aid during the pandemic. I mean, I imagine it was referenced in social work school - but I didn’t understand its power or potential until after George Flloyd was murdered. Up until that point, I was not tapped into the networks of care happening right here in my own community.
Again, humbling given that I am a social worker by training and trade. (Let this be a reminder that there’s no shame in continuing to learn!)
Mutual aid came to my awareness as people were organizing to support protestors in Portland in 2020-2021. I learned there were groups of people providing medical care, food, supplies, emotional support and more for front line protestors. I began to follow these groups on social media which led me to learning about other groups and organizations.
My curiosity led me to Equitable Giving Circle and MxMBloc. It led me to individuals who were part of mutual aid movements providing support to people in need. Support like housing, food, transportation, bills, clothing, healthcare advocacy and more. Regular community members, like me, sharing their resources, money, time, gifts and talents to support those who had fallen through the cracks, who have been pushed to the margins, and/or on the front lines fighting for freedom and safety for all of us.
I’ve also been learning how much of what ails us - feelings of disconnection, disillusionment, restlessness, depression, low-grade anxiety - can be related to believing the myth of the american dream.
If you are like me, you were raised to believe (consciously or unconsciously) that if you did certain things - like getting good grades, going to college, getting a good job with benefits, starting a savings, getting married (to someone of the opposite sex of course), buying a home, having kids - you would be happy, successful, safe and at peace. You would have arrived! Yay!
If that’s true - why are there so many of us who followed that path that feel empty?
Many reasons, yes - but one thread I keep following is how this myth of the american dream excludes the reality that we are all connected. That none of us got where we are alone. That we need each other.
We are wired to be in relationship to each other. And because of this, we really cannot be at peace until we reconnt.
Community connection and care is the antidote.
This is where mutual aid comes in.
It’s not charity.
Its not simply donating money.
It's coming together to support and build a new way of being. is exactly what those in power tell us will never work. It’s realizing that we are all in this mess and beauty together and that we need each other to find our way out. There is something deeply satisfying to our souls to be in community and reciprocity together. It is what those in power want us to believe will never work.
As Margaret Mead said, “Never underestimate the power of a small group of committed people to change the world. In fact, it is the only thing that ever has.”
A bit about our guests:
AJ McCreary, a lifelong Portlander, a light bright or a very light Black woman, she is a community maverick, artist, curator, solo Mama, and change maker who has been working locally for 15 years. Before most titles and labels she is an artist, while being classically trained she has spent most of her artistic energy the last few years pouring into her son who is an art prodigy both visually and in dance, particularly ballet.
Weaved in her activism work, it is always art, may it be flowers, abstract painting, photography, or charcoal drawings. She specializes in marketing strategies and fundraising through an Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion lens; AJ has brought her skills to such organizations as Steps PDX, MxM Bloc, and Race Talks. AJ is one of the co-founders and is the ED of Equitable Giving Circle, an org that was born out of a desire to create a model of resource distribution that is not rooted in white supremacy and transactional giving.
Her day to day work shows up loudly in her creative endeavors and tend to be an informed dance back and forth. AJ is deeply passionate about mutual aid and giving with no strings attached; her work in both the arts and through community is rooted in a desire to create beauty and sovereignty for everyone. AJ’s bachelor in African American history and, equally as important, her lived experience coming from a working class, interracial family in North Portland has informed the full range of her work.
Activist, business owner, fundraiser, and proud Black mother of three—LaQuisha Minnieweather (she/her) believes that social justice begins with community connections. As co-founder of MxMBlocPDX and Tenacious Rose, community based groups serving marginalized families in Portland, OR, she centers Black leadership while coordinating efforts to serve our most vulnerable neighbors.
From cooking and packaging meals for houseless-youth camps and Free Fridges, to creating safe havens for mothers and children, LaQuisha inspires and mobilizes diverse communities in order to create positive, sustainable change.
Article: Solidarity, Not Charity: Mutual Aid’s An-archic History by Jennifer Gammage
Book: White Space, Black Hood: Opportunity Hoarding and Segregation in the Age of Inequality by Sheryll Cashin
Video: The History and Impact of Mutual Aid by Tyesha Maddox, PhD
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Song Credit: In Another Place by Isaac Elliott