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Catalyzing worker co-ops & the solidarity economy

History, Politics, and Organizational Structures of Community Care

Humans have been participating in mutual aid long before it had a name. Indigenous and non-Western societies often prioritize collectivism and reciprocity over individual survival and continue to do so in the face of colonial oppression. The relief network Indigenous Mutual Aid writes “Indigenous Peoples have long-established practices of caring for each other for our survival, particularly in times of crisis. Mutual Aid is nothing new to Indigenous communities.”3 Diné organizers, Kauy Bahe, Radmilla Cody, and Brandon Benallie conceptualize their mutual aid work with the term k’é, the Navajo kinship system that asserts that the entire universe and everything in it is connected through a careful balance of reciprocity that must be intentionally maintained. During the COVID-19 outbreak their organization, K’é Infoshop, took relief efforts into their own hands rather than rely on the Navajo government, a once-horizontal leadership structure that shifted to a hierarchical model due to US trade pressures in the 1920s. Though they faced harassment from police and other officials, the Infoshop and associated local groups became essential distributors of food and medical supplies for their communities.4

The rich history of mutual aid in the so-called United States extends beyond Turtle Island’s original inhabitants. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, approximately one in three men were involved in fraternal organizations, such as the Freemasons and Rotary Club. These groups were wildly diverse, though many offered health care, medical “lodges,” and labor union support.5 Churches, of course, also have a long history of aiding their communities. For instance, in the wake of the Great Depression and World War Two, the Mennonite community across denominations in the US created Mennonite Mutual Aid (MMA) which offered legal and financial assistance for medical care and death and burial logistics.6

Read rest at CUNY Urban Food Policy Institute


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