CommunityCommunities Need Your Solidarity More Than They Need Your Charity

Rita Taylor
writes on August 3, 2021

If you’re reading this, that probably means you are involved in the Tech industry or Tech education in some capacity. Just like in any industry, the Tech community has its own issues related to social justice and social change that we as members of these communities should be working to learn, understand, and address.

According to a World Economic Forum Organization report, “57% of women working in tech have experienced gender discrimination in the workplace, compared to just 10% of men.” Additionally, gender and race were shown to have an effect on experiences of burnout in Tech workplaces. From what I could tell, the gender-based experiences in this report are limited to men and women. This tells me that it is highly likely that the experiences of transgender, gender fluid, genderqueer, and non-binary people may not have even been considered in this report.

Consider this: if we know that a woman experiences discrimination in the workplace that can lead to burnout, a gender-nonconforming person has just as much, if not a higher, chance of having a difficult time at work. What can you do to make your peers with marginalized identities feel heard, seen, and supported in and out of the workplace? 

It can be overwhelming to figure out what you can do as a single person with limited resources, time, and energy. Lots of us may choose to further educate ourselves on issues of discrimination and oppression through books, movies, or podcasts. Some of us have the time and resources to volunteer or donate to charity. These are all important methods of getting involved and should not be taken lightly!

However, there are often educational resources or charity organizations that we think are doing good work that are actually doing more harm than good. Many popular or mainstream charity and nonprofit organizations oftentimes have a mission or purpose related to supporting marginalized, oppressed, or overlooked communities. However, due to less than pure intentions from wealthy philanthropists and an unwillingness to highlight the actual voices and stories from these marginalized communities, these organizations often receive recognition without actually doing the work of social change. As a result, many communities in need of help and support are not satisfied with these organizations.

You may be asking: how can we support social justice issues when so many of these popular organizations we donate our money and time to are not genuinely helping the people they say they are helping? Well, I’m glad you asked. This is where I get to bring up the concept of mutual aid vs. charity. Mutual aid is often understood as “solidarity, not charity.” It is not uncommon for charity and nonprofit organizations to be unsuccessful in fulfilling the needs of the communities whose issues are the face of that charity or nonprofit. In recent years especially, many organizations have been criticized by the very same people they claim to help for not properly using funds donated to them, for not having people from those communities in leadership positions in their organizations, and even for spreading false or misleading information about these communities as part of their missions and movements. These organizations see these communities as needing help and charity rather than deserving of service and solidarity. That is where mutual aid comes in. 

In their article “Mutual aid: Solidarity, not Charity,” Georgia McClain and Theo Detweiler define the difference between the two as follows: “Charities typically get most of their funding from wealthy individuals and institutions like universities and corporations. Mutual aid efforts are funded from within the community, inspired by horizontal solidarity rather than top-down philanthropy.” 

Dean Spade, a trans activist and writer, defines mutual aid as “the radical act of caring for each other while working to change the world.” Generally, it is when people work together to meet community needs rather than depending on organizations and public figures to meet these needs.

Here are a few suggestions I have on getting involved in Mutual Aid and other community-based social change efforts:

1. Seeking out local Grassroots organizations, bail funds, and mutual aid funds within your local communities to support

Grassroots organizations exist because of the need to organize, motivate, and mobilize communities to fight for social change without intervention from oppressive institutions and organizations. Because grassroots directly involve communities rather than providing charity to a community, inclusivity and solidarity are highly valued. A quick google search of  “grassroots organizations near me” or “local mutual aid funds” can usually lead you in the right direction. Don’t be afraid to get involved personally! Attend meetings, protests, and demonstrations. Stand with those in your community who are asking for physical and/or material support and solidarity! If you have the means, donate to local mutual aid or bail funds on a regular basis.

2. Donating to mutual aid requests on social media by searching for tags and keywords such as “mutual aid request” or “#MutualAid

While grassroots organizations are important to support communities on a larger scale, donating directly to people affected by marginalization and systems of oppression is one of the best ways you can ensure that your donations will be going straight to the people you want to help. If you are hesitant to send money directly to a person through a money sharing app, find local mutual aid funds to donate to. 

3. Continue to educate yourself 

At first, the concept of grassroots organizing and mutual aid funding can be overwhelming. Much of this work is rooted in the knowledge that we, as community members, should be working together to support each other while we dismantle institutions and systems of oppression. This requires continuous education about what exactly these institutions and systems of oppression are doing. Just remember: it is more than okay to pace yourself, take breaks, and ask questions; it is never okay to speak over marginalized people or decide you know what is best for them. 

In conclusion, it is not my intention to villainize every charity and nonprofit organization. I just want to encourage you, as a person interested in social change, to look for opportunities to stand in solidarity with the community around you. I hope that, from now on, you dig a little deeper into the organizations you want to learn from or donate to. Lastly, I hope you continue to educate yourself on mutual aid and other concepts related to dismantling white supremacy and other systems of oppression. Watching Dean Spade’s video (linked below) explaining Mutual Aid is a great place to start! This video provides examples and explanations of existing mutual aid projects and what the core values are of mutual aid work. Further resources from Dean Spade and other community organizers and activists are below as well. 

Happy learning and don’t forget: genuine solidarity is uplifting the first-hand experiences of marginalized people and providing support based on what they have identified as their own needs. 

Related Sources & Resources

Article (7 minutes): In charts: the impact of gender and race in the tech industry | World Economic Forum

Article (5 minutes): Mutual aid: Solidarity, not charity – The Williams Record

Video (8 minutes): Shit’s Totally FUCKED! What Can We Do?: A Mutual Aid Explainer

Summary & Study Guide (Suggested to be done at a personal pace): Mutual Aid | Study Guide — Radical in Progress

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