Mutual aid is an important aspect of my life. I am in an active community of local LGBTQI+ folx who support one another through resource sharing be it money, food, rides, or general support. I have learned over the past year about radical mutual aid stemming from black communities, as well as cooperative models in general, and want to note that everything I have learned about and gained from these communities is from the education I received from black folx. I recommend doing some reading of your own, here is a source to get you started.
“…charity is often a strategy for controlling poor people. Charity also frames people in need as morally lesser than rich people—as if poverty were the fault of the poor rather than the fault of systems of racism, heteropatriarchy, ableism, land theft and labor exploitation that make some people rich and keep other people poor. Charity looks like generosity from rich people, but actually upholds the systems that make most people poor for the benefit of the few.” – Big Door Brigade
I have seen and participated in school fundraisers for charities many times. We teach children about giving to those in need, but it is done in a top-down manner. Charity is a system based in oppression. So how do we talk to children about the importance of resource sharing and mutual aid then?
Like anything else, we do it through play. I chose to use glue as our medium.
W approached the gluing area where there was a cardboard platform and a stretched canvas. I had only two glue bottles, but I also had out a plate of glue with paintbrushes. There were many many options for loose parts to add to the structure. W nearly immediately dumped out both glue bottles onto the cardboard to create “a snow lake”.
I know there have been many many conversation had already about the use of glue with children, and how freely we allow them to dump it. I am not going to get into my personal take on this, because it isn’t the main point of this experience. Here though, I chose to let W dump glue because I knew it would spark a conversation.
And it did. JM came over and noticed there were no more glue bottles with glue in them. He said to me, “W dumped out all the glue and now I have none.” I encouraged him, “If you think W shouldn’t be doing that, talk to him.” JM checked in with W and W responded, “Well you can just fill them up again.” I jumped in to add, “That’s true W, however it is important to make sure we spread our resources out to everyone. We have to make sure everyone has an opportunity to explore glue like you have.”
Later, W reached for the gallon of glue and told JM to dump it out in the most mischievous voice. JM said, “NO we have to save the sources for everybody.” W said okay and put it back on the shelf.
As we were working on the gluing project I would casually ask, “I wonder what we can do with this art when we are finished with it.” Many children asked to keep it.
L: We can put it up on the wall.
JM: We can just keep adding more and more and more and more to it.
W: I can take it to my house!
I said, “I wonder if instead of keeping it for ourselves, we could give it to someone who doesn’t have access to as much art as we do. We have lots of art don’t we?”
O said: I know we could give it to E. E is always asking for art and presents and stuff but my parents say no. I think we should give it to E because E wants presents but doesn’t, like, always get them.
“The premise of mutual aid is to directly impact, change and better the lives of our neighbors within intersectional identities and other encompassing spaces we inhabit together. When you give that cup of sugar, that’s mutual aid. When you help barter or trade, you’re providing a service to the recipient who can then reward you. Making sure people are fed or get home safely is another way that mutual aid shows up in our communities. You probably have done something to help out a friend. Let’s keep watering the garden, because they’ll be sunflowers growing soon.”
This is just a start, and an elementary one at that. But it is the beginning of a mindset of resource sharing.
Next I plan on asking families to contribute materials to add to the stretched canvas art. I am going to encourage them to choose items that the children value to a certain degree, while acknowledging they will not get the object back. When all their objects are glued, we will spray paint the canvas gold to look like treasure before handing it off. I am curious how continued discussion throughout the project will lead way to classroom resource sharing. As the children have been adjusting to sharing the classroom space with new students, I am hoping this exploration will meet them where they are on their journey to understanding the needs of others in relation to their own.