Mutual Aid: Theory and Practice (In-Person)
275 Madison Avenue, Suite 2114
New York, NY 10016
The rise of mutual aid groups, mobilizing incredible numbers of ordinary people, has been one of the most remarkable—and remarked upon—developments in the wake of recent natural and social disasters like Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy and, of course, the COVID-19 pandemic. While grassroots mutual aid projects are often described as “springing up” suddenly in response to emerging circumstances, the remarkable proliferation of mutual aid organizing over the past few years is part of a much longer history of community self-organizing. What were the practices and theoretical grounds that shaped this history? And how can a grasp of these help us better understand the recent revitalization of mutual aid projects in the late neoliberal period—as evidence of an imminent and growing organizational consciousness, as practices of self-defense in the face of withering state institutions and protections, or as both at once?
In this course, we will take a long view on mutual aid as practice—from the Paris Communards to the community organizing work of the Black Panthers, the Young Lords, ACT-UP, and Occupy Wall Street, to ongoing experiments with self-organizing by the Zapatistas in Chiapas, the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria in Rojava, horizontalist movements in Argentina, anti-authoritarian movements in Hong Kong, the #EndSARS movement against police brutality in Nigeria, and continuing struggles that draw on long-standing Indigenous practices in communities around the world, among many others. We will also explore various theories of mutual aid as an anti-capitalist practice, starting with Kropotkin’s Mutual Aid: A Factor of Evolution, a key text for anarchist thought. How can we use this history to reflect on our current moment—and, for those involved in mutual aid work, on our current practices? How might mutual aid projects work alongside and in tandem with abolitionist, socialist, feminist, environmental justice, and other political movements? How does mutual aid work differ from the work of the so-called non-profit industrial complex, and is there a danger of its assimilation into what Ruth Wilson Gilmore calls “the non-state state”? If, as Dean Spade puts it, the premise of mutual aid is “solidarity, not charity,” how can this be realized in practice? What happens to another premise of mutual aid work—neighbors helping neighbors—in the context of racial segregation and gentrification in places like New York City? How can mutual aid projects maintain an internationalist perspective while remaining rooted in local communities? As mutual aid goes mainstream, can it still retain its roots as a practice of anti-capitalism?
Course ScheduleTuesday, 6:30-9:30pm ET
June 07 — June 28, 2022