Civic Groups-Based Mutual Aid

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Matt Stempeck:

"In addition to the ad hoc aid found throughout human history, mutual aid includes semi-formal groups like religious congregations, citizen clubs, and other community groups. These civic groups often serve critical organizing roles in alerting and structuring mutual aid within a community.

Like many dichotomies, the distinction between formal and mutual aid has always been somewhat artificial. Formal and mutual aid are in no way mutually exclusive, except that we may sometimes focus on the former at the expense of developing the latter. Formal aid sector workers do the best they can to save as many lives as possible, but they do not pretend to have every answer, or the resources to sufficiently help every person in every crisis. Mutual aid is recognized within the formal aid space as a powerful force.

A community’s ability to manage crisis itself has been described as resilience. The concept has been popularized in recent years to describe “the capacity of the affected community to self-organize, learn from and vigorously recover from adverse situations stronger than it was before.” In Building Resilience: Social Capital in Post-Disaster Recovery, Daniel Aldrich argues that the strength of (traditional) social networks themselves can predict a community’s resilience and ability to recover in times of crisis. He pulls together data from four different large-scale natural disasters to prove that “social resources, at least as much as material ones, prove to be the foundation for resilience and recovery.”36 A community with a more densely connected social network and deeper social capital may prove more adept at providing mutual aid to one another, because it can more quickly share critical information, aid resources, and better stem population losses due to migration away from the affected area. To illustrate his argument, Aldrich compares the stark difference in post-Katrina recovery between different neighborhoods in New Orleans. The Vietnamese community centered around the Mary Queen of Viet Nam Church is deeply interconnected and rich in social capital, and was able to recruit back 90% of homes and businesses within a year of the hurricane, in addition to establishing a charter school, urban farm, and medical clinics.37 The community was also able to organize itself to rally for official resources, like the restoration of electricity from the local utility. Other neighborhoods are still visibly suffering from the unemployment, poverty, and structural damages delivered by the storm years later. Aldrich argues that the great disparities in recovery between neighborhoods or cities are not the result of variation in official government recovery funding but rather the degree to which the responding community has information, collective action, and social connections." (

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