I went to the 2nd Annual Anarchist Bookfair in NYC this past weekend. I went last year as well, and it was interesting to see what had changed and what had stayed the same. Overall I got a lot more out of it – perhaps because we were more organized about it, and made sure to look ahead of time at the talks we’d want to go to, or maybe the talks themselves were better this year. It is hard to know, since of course we can only go to one talk at a time!
The talk that got me the most fired up was on on mutual aid.
I’d read “Conquest of Bread” by Kropotkin on the bus on the way up to NYC, and it was pretty much the perfect reading material to have in my head going into the talks at the bookfair. It is an incredibly practical book, addressing many of the common questions people have about anarchism. I found it very interesting, other than the discussion of animal exploitation, which I mostly skipped. He was writing in the late 1800’s, and he’d come a long way from his beginnings as a Russian aristocrat who owned people! We are in a position today where we’re starting from a point where the thought of ownership of humans makes us recoil in revulsion, and so it is natural for us to go further, see the connections between all forms of exploitation.
I always wonder about some of these influential anarchists of times past, Emma Goldman and Peter Kropotkin (to name two that stick out in my own mind) – all the connections they made, all the thought they put into it…I wonder if they’d have been able to see the connection with animal exploitation if they’d been alive today? It seems like most anarchists I meet are vegan, to the point that I actually expect it, and am rarely disappointed.
So the talk on mutual aid…it was absolutely incredible. There were five panelists, with a wide range of experiences. Most of them had a background in social work. The audience was filled with thoughtful people, many of whom had also had experience and/or education in social work. Everyone was interesting, and the issue of harm-reduction was something that got me thinking. But what I can’t get out of my mind is a collective that a small group of local anarchists had formed based entirely on the concept of mutual aid.
The Rock Dove Project is an anarchist project composed of a two-pronged network. This network aims to connect people in search of cheap/free health care (“seekers”) to health practitioners who offer cheap/free services and agree with our mission statement (“providers”).
As a collective, Rock Dove will facilitate the process by offering seekers access to a directory of participating providers, and forwarding service requests to providers who are looking for people to serve. See below for details regarding both aspects of the Project.
They network among themselves and help others find access to health care, and they have a whole-person view of health. Part of that is reflected in the way they make sure that they take care of themselves, first and foremost, to avoid burn-out. (I wanted to ask them if they’d read “Aftershock”!) They are pretty much the embodiment of “prefigurative” if you ask me! Everyone always says “be the change you want to see” and that’s exactly what they are doing.
So what is mutual aid?
It is about community, ethics, and being non-exploitative. It is about finding ways around the capitalist mindset and hopefully giving yourself some breathing room from the wage-slavery. Here’s their description of it:
The term “mutual aid” has been used in various ways over the past two centuries by everyone from political theorists to emergency workers.
However, when we use it, we are referring to as Wikipedia so aptly puts it “the economic concept of voluntary reciprocal exchange of resources and services for mutual benefit.” In other words, it’s a much fairer and effective way of giving and receiving services and goods than using money. An example of how mutual aid can be used is if I walk Jane Schmane’s dog for an hour, in exchange for one session of acupuncture.
While we do not directly discourage Seekers from giving money in return for the services they receive from Providers, as it may be the most practical means of payment in any given situation, we do encourage practicing mutual aid, and not just in regards to the health services facilitated by this collective, but in as many aspects of life as possible. Rock Dove believes that by incorporating mutual aid increasingly into more instances in our lives, it will help to set the foundation for a freer and more just world.
It was fitting, then, to begin reading Nowtopia on the way home.
There are so many ways we can incorporate this into our lives. And you know what? It is almost the same thing as “building community.” Incidentally, the best way to reach and help people on an individual basis. My yoga teacher is already doing some of this in a very natural way. She’s exchanged massages for yoga classes. Maybe I’ll talk to her, see if she and others would be interested in a more formal network. I doubt they’d identify as anarchists, but mutual aid relies more on community and a desire to help others than it does on a political identification. It can easily transcend such flimsy boundaries.
It makes me think about one aspect of my dissatisfaction with some of the major animal “rights” groups. They encourage us to get on their email lists, to take action based on their alerts for their pet projects. And what I have learned is that I can take action until the end of time in support of them, but unless I am “a major supporter” in a financial sense, they won’t offer help in return.
And that’s crap, pure and simple.
Which only tells me what I already knew – it’s up to us, to the connections we make on a personal level and the community we form, to create change in the world.