BOLD: Conversations About Race – Dean Spade on Mutual Aid: Harnessing the power of our local communities for social and systemic change
In collaboration with SURJ National and Small Beans, White People 4 Black Lives produces BOLD: Conversations About Race. It’s a podcast about White people showing up and showing out for racial justice. In the episode of BOLD I’ll be reflecting on today, co-hosts Ivette Ale and Dahlia Ferlito talk with Dean Spade about mutual aid and prison abolition. I want to focus on mutual aid, leaving the complex topic of abolition for another day.
This is the first episode of this podcast I have listened to, but I’m looking forward to listening to more. The co-hosts are great facilitators, asking for clarification from the guest at all the right moments and adding small examples of their own to support the story being told in the episode.
Dean Spade’s words really made me think about how we truly create safety in our community, safety that is just and equitable for people of all genders and races.
Spade asks, what (really) creates safety? Is it police presence, 9-1-1, and locking people up? Incarcerated people are torn from their communities and from reality. If they are ever released, they struggle to reintegrate into society, to find employment and housing due to the stigma of having served time in prison. The power imbalance between those working and living in prison leads to sexual abuse and further traumatization for incarcerated people who often ended up in prison due to past trauma.
Spade calls us to consider if true safety is instead more rooted in accessible housing for people in crisis, a commitment to look out for our vulnerable neighbors, and easy access to food and monetary support for families and individuals in need?
Spade argues that our current policing and prison system create forced passivity. White people in particular are taught to call someone else to fix the problem or make us feel safe. He says that if we become problem solvers ourselves, we have the potential to keep our families and communities safe, without subjecting Black people, other People of Color, Tribal communities, trans people, people with mental health challenges, and others to the systematic harm caused by these police and prison systems.
Spade recognizes that rethinking our safety in this way is a huge mental and emotional step, asking us to rethink truths that have become fundamental to us. But he presents mutual aid as the first step in this work. According to The Cut:
“In mutual-aid systems, people work cooperatively to meet the needs of everyone in the community. It’s different from charity, which features a one-way relationship between an organization and recipients, and often responds to the effects of inequality but not its causes. Mutual aid is an act of solidarity that builds sustained networks between neighbors… In short, people offer help — which could be resources, like food or money, or skills, like driving or picking up prescriptions — which are then redistributed to those in the community who are in need. Mutual-aid systems operate under the notion that everyone has something to contribute, and everyone has something they need.”
I have seen mutual aid work done in Corvallis, such as the Corvallis Really Really Free Market or when the CGE Mutual Aid Caucus and the Benton County Family Response Team collaborated to support the immunocompromised, sick, and self-quarantined at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. I think our community and the surrounding towns are well poised to do this kind of connecting and care for one another. I hope like me, you will listen to this episode and begin to imagine what we can accomplish locally through mutual aid. You can listen to the episode and access more links and resources on the topic of mutual aid and abolition here: https://www.patreon.com/posts/434-bold-mutual-58318964