Archival Exploration Process

Who do we think of when we say “Mutual Aid”? Whose stories are brought to the forefront and why?

Historians must dig “deeper, past the obvious sources, into the lives of the people who shaped, and are shaped by, a “certain place” and this is an essential call to action. This value and human-centered approach to public history is important to the field and as a mutual aid practice.

Mutual aid is arguably the foundation of human culture. People in every society in every time period have worked together to ensure their communities can survive. Mutual aid has been practiced extensively in marginalized communities.

 The term “mutual aid” was popularised by the anarchist philosopher Peter Kropotkin in his essay collection Mutual Aid: A Factor of Evolution, which argued that cooperation, not competition (as advocated by Charles Darwin) was the driving mechanism behind evolution. Kropotkin argued that mutual aid has practical & pragmatic advantages for the survival of humans and animals.

There is absolutely nothing new about mutual aid—. But capitalism and colonialism created structures that have disrupted how people have historically connected with each other and shared everything they needed to survive. As people were forced into systems of wage labor and private property, and wealth became increasingly concentrated, our ways of caring for each other have become more and more tenuous.

With this in mind we began planning for our first program. We began looking for organizations that grew out of community care and oppression. Through this archival exploration we decided that we wanted to have a community dialogue to discuss the ways that people felt about past movements of collective care were used. How are their practices different? How are they not?

After we gave our presentations on certain grassroots organizations we asked participants for their input and conversation. Of course, this was through Zoom so it was kind of hard to have an organic conversation. It was awkward.

Many of the conversations gave us an understanding of the memories people had during the uprising. People connected their personal experiences to these past events in interesting ways. In communal ways.

One critique I had was having more African American women’s stories. Having less of government “help” stories. Finding the grassroots organizations, the real neighborhood community stories. That’s what mutual aid is, even though theres lots of co-option of the term.

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