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I used to say, when people asked me what my best political tactics were that they were like the moment in a Bugs Bunny cartoon when Bugs Bunny is chased down a dead end alley and finds himself against a brick wall. What does he do? He pulls out a piece of chalk and draws a door and then walks through it. In other words, it’s not a compromise or a pleading with the apparent conditions, or begging his abuser not to harm him. He realizes he has the tools to walk away and out of the situation he’s in.
It’s not a perfect metaphor of course, but this is what mutual aid offers, the tools to achieve the impossible.
And now is a moment of mutual aid. People helping each other. People forming community groups to tend to each other’s urgent needs. Networks that help the shut in and elderly get food. Ride shares. Local market pop ups. Checking in on your neighbors. Rent strikes. Protests against the murder of black people. Solidarity groups.
That is what I wanted my politics to be - a complete contrast to the luxuriant parties inspired by phony savior governments.
I knew I needed to talk about mutual aid, and I knew that Dean Spade was the person to talk to.
Dean Spade is the author of the new book, Mutual Aid: Building Solidarity During This Crisis (And the Next).
He’s the founder of the founder of Sylvia Rivera Law Project which works to help create conditions to help people thrive while self-determining their gender identity and expression, and his other book Normal Life: Administrative Violence, Critical Trans Politics, and the Limits of the Law, which identifies the many ways in which rights struggles that look to permission from the state and law fall short. He’s also a professor at Seattle University School of Law.
We go deep into why mutual aid matters, what it means, why we need it right now, and how to start mutual aid projects with people who are difficult to organize with. You know, those people you find political objectionable but who live nearby and aren’t going to simply disappear!
If you want a quick primer on mutual aid, check out the short animate film Dean made with Ciro Carillo, “Shit’s Totally Fucked! What Can We Do?: A Mutual Aid Explainer." Even just that 8 minute long video is inspiring!
The conversation goes into many surprising and challenging places, like, should leftists critique drug companies? Do we own our bodies? Why are US politics so dependent on keeping people anxious? Why does the left always seem so miserable and can we bring joy and pleasure back into organizing? How is mutual aid a form of practicing utopia? What are we talking abut when we say freedom and does that have a spiritual component?
I'm so happy to share this (great!) conversation with you.
ON THIS EPISODE
- How to organize with people who have completely different world views
- The reason we need pleasure as a call to activism
- The difference between displaying happiness and happiness itself
- What is freedom, and how do we know it when it's happening?
- Can we become free with materialism in place?
- What are the limits of mutual aid?
- How Democrats (*ahem* Kamala) exploit LGBT, black and non-black PoC suffering to recuperate power where it's lost
- The stunted emotional development that is part and parcel of American politics
- Why we need to develop morality
- Why tautologies like "love is love" "sex work is work" and "trans women are women" are helpful but often end up hitting a wall
- The power of sex and the construction of masculinity
- The ways people are signaling I LOVE SCIENCE and why the left has no lens for it
• For more on Dean, check out his website, which has tons of great stuff on it, including this excellent lecture, "When We Win We Lose" and his documentary about the ways Israel tires to cover up some of its crimes against Palestinians by exploiting LGBT rights: Pinkwashing Exposed. If Mutual Aid is sold out on bookshop.org, you can get the ebook directly from Verso.
• A lot of my other conversations come up on this episode. Including AEWCH 120 with political theorist Michael Hardt, AEWCH 15 with antifascist Mark Bray, and about the problems with identity politics on AEWCH 26 with Asad Haider. Also, I talked about the problems with fighting to let trans people in the military with trans author and activist Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore on AEWCH 57.
• Want an intro to wild utopian thinker Charles Fourier? Here's my easy to read essay on his work.
• Mutual aid is a term that probably predates Peter Kropotkin - late 19th/early 20th century anarchist - but he's a good start. His book Mutual Aid can be found in this collection of his work.
• I haven't yet read organizer and philosopher Cynthia Kaufman's Ideas for Action: Relevant Theory for Radical Change, but it looks awesome. Let me know if you read it before I do!
• You can hear David Graeber and I talk about supernatural politics (though not so much the bit I bring up on this episode) on AEWCH 99.
• I'm not familiar with Jem Bendell's work about environmental concerns, but it had an affect on Dean, so here's a link to his paper, "Deep Adaptation."
• Here's a round up (and thankful repudiation) of the stupid "gay bars are sites of violation" articles that came out when gay men were clambering to be part of the #MeToo movement.
• I wrote about the origins of masturbation shame way back when I thought Vice was cool (phew!).
• If you're worried about the virus, here's that WIRED article about why surfaces are safe.
• The Jane Ward book Dean mentions is Not Gay: Sex Between Straight White Men and gosh, I've just got to read it.
• The organization I was Vice President of for two years is The Adult Performer Advocacy Committee. It's still around and just saw some tweets from them today about mutual aid, of all things!
Until next time friends, take care of each other!