Letter to the Editor: Mutual aid isn’t just for App State hippies


The Appalachian Online


Independence is empowering. Think about that feeling of responsibility and liberation when you’re navigating a confusing airport to get to your terminal on time. As college students in the U.S., individualistic lifestyles are common, expected and natural. But is this really natural? Is individuality simply a progression of human evolution or is it a sociocultural development specific to location?

The four components for human survival are food, water, shelter and social interaction. In 2001, Michael Glassman discusses Petr Kropotkin, a sociobiologist from the 20th century who formed mutual aid theory. Kropotkin said a species can only survive through extraordinary cooperation, and egoistic relations are detrimental to human cooperation.

Take trees for example. Their supreme cooperation allows specific tree species to live for hundreds of years. Can we translate this into sustained human existence?

Currently, American well-being is typically measured using monetary values. Someone is considered impoverished if their income is low enough. An above average income means you are “well-off.”

Mutual aid challenges monetary worth using a basic concept: you help your community members in need with the mutual understanding that your community would do the same for you. Mutual aid also refers to learning and teaching one another basic skills such as car repair and cooking. The problem? Capitalism does not incentivize for mutual aid.

For middle-class Americans, it makes more sense to pay someone for a once-learned skill. Why would an overworked father of two learn how to change his motor oil if Jiffy Lube can do the equivalent for $15 in 10 minutes?

Many populations cannot afford to live a consumerist, fast-paced lifestyle. Low-income families practice mutual aid because their economic situations are less fortunate and they do it out of necessity. Pre-industrialized Appalachian people had no choice but to help one another survive according to Susan Keefe who researched Appalachian mental health in 1988.

Some might argue mutual aid is an outdated form of human cooperation and evolution, and it isn’t necessary. Yes, mutual aid is an old idea. The New Testament emphasizes loving one’s neighbor as oneself, and indeed, the success of early Christianity was founded on community survival and growth as Willard Swartley and Donald Kraybill tell us in 1998. But, I argue mutual aid is in fact necessary for even the most commercial and progressive populations. As American people become engulfed in long work weeks and over-scheduled social calendars, mutual aid is in fact needed now more than ever.

How can we bring back this once required form of survival?

Understanding diverse populations living in Boone can create complicated implications for mutual aid goals. In Boone, there are App State students, native Watauga County families and short-term residing tourists or second-home owners. These populations have different needs and desires, which create intertwined politics and a complex population ecosystem.

The possibilities for mutual aid are endless. Here are just three examples:

  1. Skilled trade workshops – you teach something, you learn something. Ideally, these would be held on a weekly basis in community spaces.
  2. Community trade events – your junk is someone else’s treasure. An organized chaos of trade and upcycling.
  3. Work trade initiatives – fill up your stomach in exchange for an hour of labor. The Farm Café on King Street uses this model.

Mutual aid in Boone already exists in these forms. The main concern is about the accessibility and inclusivity of these outreaches. Skilled trade workshops like the Carolina Outdoor Adventure Leadership Summit and Firefly Gathering have the right idea, but they are exclusive to those who can pay their entrance fees.

Of course there are more variables to implementing these outreaches, but a foundational groundwork is the first step before we start building on the current limited mutual aid models already here in Boone. With the right organization and dedication, mutual aid can make a come-back and significantly expand in Boone. Mutual aid is not limited to those who need it, we all need it. For the people, by the people. We are worth more than our salaries.

Written by: Corinna Mokotoff, junior sustainable development major