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Book Review: Mutual Aid by Dean Spade

Updated: Mar 29

Mutual Aid: Building Solidarity During This Crisis (and the Next) is a down-to-earth guide for anyone interested in starting or improving grassroots support groups in times of crisis. Spade, a lawyer, educator, and trans activist, is a respected name in the mutual aid movement, and their experience shines through in this book. Spade has been working to build queer and trans liberation based in racial and economic justice for the past two decades.

The book has three parts:

  1. What is Mutual Aid — explains three elements of mutual, the differences between mutual aid and charities or federal relief agencies, and the realities of participating in mutual aid efforts

  2. Working Together On Purpose — a guide for how to build sustainable mutal aid networks

  3. Pitfalls Mutual Aid Groups Should Avoid — self-explanatory

Spade explains that mutual aid are projects that work to meet survival needs and to build a shared understanding about why people are lacking these necessities in the first place. Mutual aid projects mobilize people, expand solidarity, and build movements.

Spade also goes into detail about the ways that mutual aid is different from charities. The main difference is that mutual aid movements seek to solve problems through collective action rather than “waiting for saviors.” It’s in the spirit of collaboration, participation, and decision-making. This creates a solidarity that rarely exists in charities. Solidarity is when you and the people you are helping are equals. Charity assumes you’re helping the less fortunate, whereas mutual aid helps people who have the same struggles. Solidarity supports the most vulnerable, stigmatized, and those deemed as undeserving of assistance (i.e. ex-convicts, people suffering from substance abuse, etc).

Spade provides several case studies to show how communities came together in times of need. One of these is the Hong Kong Protests when their Chief Executive, Carrie Lam, was unresponsive to COVID-19. Residents came together to create case-tracking websites, monitored hot spots, reported hospital wait times, warned the public about people selling fake PPEs, and so on.

This book also pays tribute to the work of marginalized groups who’ve fought for transformative justice.

I recommend this book to anyone who is committed to helping out their community, but may not know how or anyone who’s been involved with charities and is frustrated with the inefficiency of the non-profit model. This book is short and easy to read. I encourage everyone who reads it to sincerely consider applying some of their strategies to build community in their area.

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