by Zach Neville ’23
The Davidson Community Fund seeks to redistribute wealth to support Black trans women in the Charlotte area. Enabled by contributions from the Davidson community, the Fund helps meet the needs of those in its network using a framework of mutual aid. We have helped pay for temporary and stable housing for those who need it, connected individuals with legal aid and grocery services, helped pay medical bills, assisted with the costs of car repairs, and done much more. We’ve distributed more than $24,000 in total. The impact that the Fund has had in a matter of months is evidence of the potential that Davidson has for direct action.
Another effect the Fund has had is to introduce the term “mutual aid” to many members of our community, myself included. I am not an expert in mutual aid and have only recently begun to engage in it. During this short time, I have become convinced of the necessity of engaging in mutual aid especially by those who, like me, are held up by a grossly disproportionate amount of wealth and capital.
Mutual aid gives us the opportunity to use our wealth to help build comprehensive networks of care and support. There are many definitions of mutual aid out there, and I encourage anyone who’s curious to explore its extensive history and theory. I see mutual aid as a community commitment to meet one another’s needs through direct action while recognizing many traditional systems of exchange and support as ineffective and dangerous. As a wealthy, white, able-bodied, straight, cisgender man, I’m not at much risk of having my basic needs go unmet. The same systems that mutual aid rejects are designed to benefit me. What I get out of mutual aid is the opportunity to try to live my ideals.
We can redistribute excess wealth through mutual aid to foster a radically supportive community. This radicalism stems from alternative methods of community support, such as wealth extraction and redistribution, that seek to subvert current wealth and power structures. Those who are excluded from current structures through erasure and violence are intentionally centered in mutual aid. Engaging in mutual aid regularly can help us begin to view our own sources of wealth in relation to others’ wellbeing, not just ourselves. By investing in community care, we support our community while simultaneously countering narratives of Othering, individualism and judgment in ourselves.
Mutual aid relies on and reproduces trust more than any honor code. We trust our community to provide support outside traditional, exclusionary frameworks. When we prove that we need not rely on those frameworks and that we can keep ourselves safe, our trust is rewarded with tangible and fulfilling outcomes.
The work and theory of mutual aid, just like in so many other cases, is often done by Black women, especially Black trans women. Well before the COVID-19 pandemic thrust the practice into the popular activist milieu, Black trans people have consistently created networks of support outside of hostile state and societal systems. We cannot fully understand or appreciate mutual aid without looking at the work of Black trans organizers. The framework that numerous mutual aid projects operate upon owes its foundations to Black and queer organizing.
Despite the apparent similarities, mutual aid is not charity. Charities tend to operate using a hierarchy of a benevolent “giver” reaching down to the alienated “taker.” Hierarchies have no place in mutual aid, which stresses horizontal structures and relationships. When we give to a community fund or to someone directly, we don’t give with any expectations or rules for how the recipient will spend that wealth. We’re not giving with any requirements or judgments and there aren’t any qualifications someone must meet. Mutual aid emphasizes agency in support of the community and vice-versa.
Instead of just addressing the symptoms of oppression and exploitation as a charity might, mutual aid strikes at the root of causes by subverting the systems perpetuating that violence. We do not presume to make decisions on how best to meet the needs of another. Rather, we strive to meet needs however they are communicated. Charity often assumes a better understanding of an individual’s needs than the individual themself, while mutual aid aims to center the wellbeing and agency of those with need.
Mutual aid is a recurring practice rather than a one-time charitable act. In order to meet constantly evolving and ongoing needs, we must build mutual aid into our routines. Mutual aid requires that we show up for others consistently whether it’s monthly, biweekly, or daily. Building sustainable and conscious acts of giving into our schedules creates an ethos of care more so than isolated “good deeds.” Contributions need not be massive; small amounts add up! The $15 that I might spend on stickers or a new phone case, for example, is wealth that I could redistribute to help someone with rent or repairs.
Privilege and wealth are like matter: they cannot be created out of nothing. Davidson College has a remarkably high concentration of both and, regardless of our best intentions, it is impossible to just “create” more privilege so that people targeted by systems of oppression and marginalization become as privileged as those who aren’t. If we seek the equality that many of us call for on our public platforms, the more privileged cannot expect to maintain our current levels of wealth. Instead, we must actively and consistently seek to redistribute wealth. To do otherwise is to preserve our privilege and comfort at the expense of others.
To my Davidson friends and peers, especially those of us with wealth and whiteness: I urge you to engage in mutual aid in all of its forms. We’ve posted on social media acknowledging our privilege, racism, anti-Blackness, heteropatriarchy, and transphobia; I can only assume we’re now looking for the opportunity to follow through with tangible action. The Davidson Community Fund is an opportunity where the mechanism and structure for doing so is already available to you. It is convenient and it is open. You need only jump in.
Please follow the Davidson Community Fund on Instagram and consider sending funds to @Ashley-Ip on Venmo.
Zach Neville is an undeclared Sophomore from Washington, D.C. and can be reached for comment at firstname.lastname@example.org