As overlapping political, economic, and ecological crises deepen, the ability of people in localized community to meet their needs through mutual aid is growing in importance, and may well become the very linchpin of survival, to borrow Bill McKibben’s phrase, “on a tough new planet.”
In one form or another, mutual aid – people exchanging time, skills, and other contributions to common benefit – is nothing new. It is in fact the “real economy” that predates and continues to underlie the formal market economy marked by money and class divisions. Far from a utopian ideal, mutual aid is the eminently practical realization of solidarity, the recognition that humans are essentially interdependent, and rely on cooperation and reciprocity for material and social satisfaction, and indeed for species survival itself.
As the profession of social work contemplates its course in a future characterized by instability and crisis, nothing would seem more important than a renewed focus on strengthening localized mutual aid networks where they already exist, and helping to create new ones where they do not.