I’ll never forget the weekends I spent knocking on doors, saying, “Good morning, my name is Gerardo, and I’m a volunteer with the ‘Bernie Sanders for President’ campaign.”
It’s been almost six months since the end of the U.S. presidential election primaries. Indeed, every four years, the United States puts on a reality TV-like performance where dozens of presidential candidates vie for the best zinger moments.
However, for many Americans, including myself, the 2016 and 2020 elections brought new hope to millions of working class people. Presidential candidate Sanders, in many respects, embodied what people really wanted — honesty, consistency and conviction.
But Sen. Sanders, D-Vt., isn’t the president.
The critical shortcoming of any election campaign is that we are often left empty-handed and aimless when our candidate loses. If we want to enact change regardless of election results, we have to consider radically different strategies, especially strategies centered around the concept of mutual aid.
Today, President Joe Biden sits in office, and with this he brings decades of being on the wrong side of history. Biden is the architect of the 1994 Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act, which he proudly proclaims brought “60 new death penalties,… 70 enhanced penalties,… 100,000 cops,… [and] 125,000 new state prison cells.” Biden championed the disastrous Iraq War and later lied about his involvement. Biden is a proud sponsor of the Patriot Act which brought unprecedented, illegal, “unchecked power” for surveillance by the U.S. government. Biden was the presidential candidate who believed he was entitled to the unconditional support of Black voters.
It’s OK to oppose Biden. And, despite what the pastel-colored infographics on Instagram say, it’s OK to feel like voting for your dream candidate isn’t working. It isn’t.
Waking up to the news that Sanders dropped out of the presidential race was like a punch to the gut. It meant my parents could not look forward to Medicare for All, which meant my mom would have to ‘hang in there’ and pray she didn’t get sick. It meant a rejection of the demands of the Black Lives Matter protests and instead an increase in police funding.
We have to stop going to the ballot box every four years hoping in vain for impossible results. We can’t repeat the same mistakes every four years and keep expecting a presidency to fix everything.
Beyond voting, Peter Kropotkin’s concept of mutual aid presents itself as an alternative to ordinary non-electoral strategies, such as charities. It takes the opposite stance of “solidarity, not charity.” The key difference between mutual aid and charity is the former emphasizes horizontal, parallel organization rather than hierarchical, top-down organization led by “professionals.” This is key, since we cannot always trust the professionals to judge the needs of a community.
Mutual aid meetings are open, “with as many people making decisions and doing the work as possible,” as opposed to charities, where only a minority of nonprofit leaders make decisions and major donors can potentially push agendas. On the contrary, mutual aid attempts to be as democratic as possible, with the community as a whole making decisions.
Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, mutual aid is intended to help people without any expectations; there are no requirements that the recipients of aid be sober, or have a job, or be U.S. citizens or have no criminal record. Charities often set requirements for recipients, but mutual aid emphasizes that the person receiving knows best what to do with the aid they receive.
Mutual aid isn’t just a theory – it has proven successful throughout U.S. history. For example, the Black Panther Party of the 1960s, inspired by the Communist Party of China’s “serve the people” programs, organized several mutual aid programs to address the needs of their community. The BPP organized free breakfasts for children experiencing malnutrition, and they created community-based healthcare through the Peoples’ Free Medical Clinics in order to combat systemic racism in the U.S. healthcare system.
The COVID-19 pandemic has brought about a dramatic increase in mutual aid programs across the U.S. — it is easier than ever today to demonstrate solidarity with marginalized communities.
The Scripps College, Pitzer College, Claremont McKenna College, Harvey Mudd College and Pomona College mutual aid funds are extraordinary examples of communities working together to uplift each other. I encourage you to donate generously — or even give your time — to mutual aid funds in your community whenever you can.
In addition, the Claremont Colleges just recently started a Young Democratic Socialists chapter, which can be a good reference point if you’re looking to learn more about local mutual aid programs.
Gerardo Hurtado PO ’24 wants you to donate to the next mutual aid fund you see, if you have the means.