Where the Bag at?: A Dive into the Potential of Mutual Aid
Where the bag at? It’s here, on campus, all around you. Reliance on oppressive structures, also sometimes referred to as capitalism, is not sustainable—community is. The emergence of the COVID pandemic is the evidence we have been waiting for that has demystified the effectiveness of the global systems of capitalism and showcased the importance of having community. Contrary to popular belief, the novel coronavirus is not the bad guy here, individualistic policies of global capitalist states are why people have been dying at alarming rates. But that’s a whole other conversation. Back to the central question, if the bag ain’t being provided by the university which I am attending, then where is it? Hear me out, it’s you. All of you reading this article are putting all or most or some of your money into this centralized machine that is the university, and are also expecting results tenfold.
However, according to a small survey taken by UM Mutual Aid Network (coming soon), it turns out about 71% of students that took the survey do not receive financial aid that covers all their academic and personal needs as students. So, what happens if you (we) divest from reliance on the school and invest into supporting each other? I’ll tell you what happens, but I’m pretty sure you already know. 98% of students that took the survey thought that the UM student body could support each other financially for most fundamental needs like housing, food, transportation, medical bills, etc. In agreement with these students, I do see why that can be a reality since 47% of the UM student body, according to a New York Times study conducted in 2017, are in the top 10%, meaning their families earn more than $100,000/year. How do we financially mobilize then? As Quintarius Bell, a sophomore in the College of Engineering and secretary of the UM American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, puts it painly, “if no one (the university) is not gonna help us, we might as well help ourselves.”
Another term for this is Mutual Aid. Mutual Aid is a community collective action fund that seeks to recognize the humanity of its community members by taking care of each other’s needs. Unlike charity that is usually seeped in exploitation and maintenance of a hierarchical status quo, mutual aid is ongoing and not out of pity. Living mutually acknowledges that everyone can engage in direct contribution whether it be financially by offering food or money, or by offering your time and skills, like driving or picking up groceries. These resources are valuable, especially when institutions fail us, and can be collected and redistributed to those in the community who are facing immediate need. Focusing on the school community, Bell assures the magazine that students are so desensitized to what “low-income” means inside the university environment since everyone seems to have it together on the surface. He tells us that “students struggle all the time, but will keep it to themselves when surrounded by people ordering Ubers to South Beach every weekend.” And so readers, this is what it means to divest from chronically oppressive systems and invest into our neighbors, who in our case, are our peers who we know and will interact with until or even after we walk across the graduation stage.
Before we get there though, we must realize that we, as a student community, are responsible for each other and that every dollar matters inside a structure with about 11,000 undergraduate students living and interacting with each other on a daily basis and with 47% of them being a part of the ultrawealthy. The math has to math. When asked whether students can engage in this type of community action, Esther Alexandre, a sophomore in the College of Engineering and a student government senator, told the magazine that this kind of action is essential since the “university financial aid system is pretty messed up” and does not “take into account the financial factors outside of tuition that affect specifically low-income students” at the U.
Esther also shared that she has friends that need more “working hours” and so take up draining university jobs like “the security assistant (SA) positions” to make ends meet. Mutual Aid has a long rich history in liberatory practices dating back to the anti-slavery movements in the 1800s, pro-LGBTQ+ movements in the 1970s, and settlement efforts of immigrants and refugees from South & Central America, Africa and Asia over the 20th century. However, the system of giving was reconfigured (because of capitalism) into private and public institutions such as insurance companies and government welfare services. Donating to mutual aid funds has become mainstream again as a result of recent uprisings in communities of color and economic crises pertaining to the pandemic, and it should continue being so. For example, during the Black Lives Matter protests last summer, Mutual Aid took the form of snack stations, bail funds, and safe houses. These were all resources collected and provided through local community membership, not government expenditure.
When we provide funds with the understanding that the system will not, it is because institutions refuse to provide basic necessities for all people for the sole purpose of profit—never because there’s not enough. Frankly, no human being should have to worry about survival and accessing a modicum of comfort when surrounded by people who eat more than their fill. It’s time to unlearn and transcend the systems we were born into and engage in liberation through mutuality. Here are two MutualAid funds you can access and donate to in the larger South Miami area and also keep an eye out for our very own mutual aid network at the university launching very soon. The major wealth gaps within our UM community cannot be fixed overnight but the immediate worries of our peers in need of food, housing, and academic materials can be addressed now. Remember that every dollar counts when providing direct support.
REPORTER: Angella Nakasagga
THE CITY, Gravity Magazine, 2021.