This episode’s guest is Dean Spade, author and associate law professor at Seattle University School of Law. In this episode, we are in conversation with Dean Spade on his book Mutual Aid: Building Solidarity During this Crisis (And the Next) (Verso Press, 2020). Dean discusses the importance of mutual aid in building social movements and a sense of belonging in community.
Mutual Aid: Building Solidarity During This Crisis (and the Next)
Episode Transcription available here
Host: Ry O. Siggelkow
Producer: Adam Pfuhl
Podcast Engineer: Michael Moua
Music: Kavyesh Kaviraj
Episode Recorded on December 13, 2022
You can find out more about the Leadership Center for Social Justice on our website and on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.
In Conversation with Dean Spade
Ry Siggelkow [00:00:05] Hello, everybody. I'm Ry Siggelkow, and I directed the Leadership Center for Social Justice at United Theological Seminary of the Twin Cities. Today, I am excited to be in conversation with Dean Spade. Dean is an organizer, writer and a teacher. He is an associate professor of law at Seattle University School of Law. In 2002, Dean founded the Sylvia Rivera Law Project, a nonprofit law collective in New York City that provides free legal services to transgender, intersex and gender non-conforming people who are low income and or people of color. Dean is the author of Normal Life: Administrative Violence, Critical Trans Politics and the Limits of Law and most recently, Mutual Aid: Building Solidarity During this Crisis (And the Next), which is the text that I would like us to focus on today. Welcome to the podcast, Dean.
Dean Spade [00:01:08] Thanks for having me.
Ry Siggelkow [00:01:11] Dean, your small book, Mutual Aid, is very brief, accessible and practical. It might be better described as a booklet written in the genre or in the spirit of a pamphleteer. Published in 2020 at the height of the pandemic, it is clearly a kind of intervention into the current conditions of crisis and social abandonment in which we find ourselves today. I wonder if we could begin our conversation by having you share a bit about why you decided to write this book now and how it might inform us in the struggle for social justice in our contemporary moment.
Dean Spade [00:01:52] That's a great question. You know, I've been involved in social movements for a little more than 20 years. And social movements always include lots of mutual aid work. We're trying to tear down the systems that are hurting our communities or also always just trying to help people survive. We're always doing the like, let me go with you to your benefits hearing, let's take care of people's kids, let's help the people in the hospital. Let's do food, let's do housing. We're always doing all that. And so I've been doing all that in social movements related to like HIV and queer and trans liberation and abolishing prisons and police and borders for over 20 years.
The book actually comes from this moment in 2016 where Donald Trump was elected president. And I saw that there were so many people who were newly mobilizable. A lot of people were angry and scared at a new level, which is a really important moment for social movements to meet all those people, to be like, hey get involved. And what I saw happening was that there was a lot of misdirection of those people, because we live in a society that, of course, wants to keep us demobilized so that the systems can keep going and hurting folks and extracting from us. And so that system has made up a story about how social change works.
And that story is like it's elected officials, it's courts, it's nonprofits. It's like elites will take care of it. And your job as an ordinary person is to either vote or donate to a nonprofit or kind of follow the stories in the news, like wring your hands, but basically be passive. You know, post things on social media and say your opinion and hope that your opinion matters and maybe once a year go to a big march or something. And hope that, I don't know, the elites see that and change their minds or something, you know.
When I saw that happening in 2012, I saw like, you know, the ACLU was like, get on our website and donate to us because we're going to sue Donald Trump. And as somebody who's a lawyer and a law professor, I'm like, are you kidding? We can't sue our way out of white supremacy and capitalism. And of course, it didn't work, right? You saw things like the Muslim ban. It's like there were lots of lawsuits against it until eventually his administration figured out how to make it lawsuit proof by putting the "right" countries on the list or whatever.
And so I saw that misdirection. I saw people being encouraged just to donate or just to vote next time when I felt like what I heard from people was, "I want to do something." And there's like this beautiful quality in humans where when we see suffering and we feel fear of conditions worsening, we really want to, like, immediately help someone in need, which is so exquisite. And that's the thing they have to make not available to us. What I felt was, just like, I hate that mutual aid is written out of that mythology about social change. That we never hear about the ordinary people.
The example I always think of these days is the Montgomery Bus Boycott. How that's like oh, this brave person, Rosa Parks didn't give up her seat. No one is actually talking about her multi-decade history of amazing feminist black activism in the South, you know, just acting like she's just this nice little lady, whatever. And then we see Martin Luther King giving speeches and it's like oh, the right thing happened. And it's like the Montgomery bus boycott was tons and tons and tons of black women making transportation happen for an entire community, especially for working class black women who had to leave their neighborhoods to go work in white people's homes.
They did not only, like, drive each other around, walk together for safety because they're being harassed constantly by white people who are against, obviously, their activism. But also they did huge cooking projects and sold the food in order to be able to buy cars so they could drive each other. Like, it was just like real change happens through lots and lots and lots of people coordinating to meet each other's basic needs and that gets written out.
So I was really frustrated by that and I was like, gosh, I wish we could just popularize the idea of mutual aid more in that Trump moment. And so at the time, I worked on an animated little explainer video about mutual aid with an artist that you can watch on YouTube. That's fun. And I wrote a longer article about it. I was giving speeches about this and I'm just like one small person trying to get the conversation going. It wasn't like I could make that much happen, but I just felt really fired up about this. And even in spaces like community reading groups and academic spaces, people talk about social movements, but they still cut out mutual aid most of the time. Like that's still not talked about enough. So I was working on that.
And then the pandemic rolled around and suddenly there was a real proliferation of mutual aid projects, which is so beautiful and cool. And also the uprising caused by George Floyd, Breonna Taylor's murders, which also was a huge explosion of mutual aid projects like bail funds, for example, but also lots of other things, you know, street medics, etc.. And in that time, Verso Press asked Mariame Kaba if she would write a book about mutual aid for them. And she was like, "I don't have time" because as you know Mariame Kaba does a lot of amazing things. But Dean already has all the stuff so make him do it.
So that is how I ended up writing this particular pamphlety book for Verso about it. And I was excited about that because a book is just another way to circulate ideas. They move a little differently than they do with like posting things online or making videos. I think we kind of have to do it all to try to, you know, there's so many bad ideas circulating in such charismatic ways. We need to circulate our ideas about liberation as much as we can. And so it was a good additional way to try to build on my little dream of having people know more real stuff about mutual aid. And then, of course, the pandemic mainstreamed the idea of mutual aid.
Unfortunately, I think that a lot of the mainstream coverage doesn't really capture mutual aid as a social movement tactic. It kind of tends to defang it. But nonetheless, now I think it's a pretty popular topic.
Ry Siggelkow [00:07:33] Well, in organizing work, it's of course, important to build a shared analysis of the conditions in which we find ourselves so that we can build strategies for social change. But sometimes when communities are under attack and face emergency-like conditions, it can be very challenging to build the kinds of relationships that would generate power. I'm a part of a small, faith based organization called Pueblos de Lucha y Esperanza here in Minnesota, which is led primarily by undocumented people. In the past, we had only rarely given money away to people because the needs in the community are so great. And so we would normally point people in need of direct aid or assistance to various social service organizations that serve the immigrant community or various churches or charitable venues. But when the COVID 19 pandemic hit, the desperation of people grew. And you've kind of spoken to this.
For us, we started to receive dozens of messages from people facing eviction and job loss who were in need of material support. Not later, but now. Undocumented people did not receive the stimulus relief checks sent out to citizens, nor did they receive unemployment assistance. So our organization put out a call to people, especially to documented people, to citizens, asking folks to contribute a portion or all of their stimulus checks to a fund that we could distribute to people with needs in the community. Many of the folks we organize with don't have bank accounts, so we needed to distribute the funds in cash and in person.
Of course, we knew very well that this was a temporary measure, that it wasn't going to change the whole world. And while it felt like this is what needed to be done, I also wondered at the time, and I still wonder how do we link up this kind of practical aid work to our organizing work? How do we both meet the immediate and pressing needs of people and at the same time build power to address the root causes of the social abandonment people are facing? And my sense is this is what your book really seeks to address. For you, I know mutual aid is not charity. It's about solidarity. I wonder if you could share with us about some of the key elements of mutual aid, as you understand it, and how it is different from what we would normally think of as charity work.
Dean Spade [00:10:01] Yeah, that's such a great question. Also, thank you for sharing about that beautiful work that you all have been doing. I think it's useful to think about what the charity model is. It's what most of us have heard of if we're trying to think about people meeting each other's direct needs. And so it's very limited and very conservative. So it's good to kind of name it. And so we can see mutual aid is actually kind of its reverse.
So charity is generally like, the US version that we see, comes from European Christian ideas of giving alms to the poor to get into heaven. And it really centers the rich person. Today's version would be like Oh, you know, it's going to be this corporate head is going to get good PR because he's going to be seen giving money to X or Y. Charity is a project that says, like, fundamentally it's okay that some people are in super severe crisis and others have way more than they need. And we're just going to kind of tinker with a few people who we think shouldn't be in that bottom. So it's like are you a person who doesn't use drugs and doesn't have any felony convictions? Then maybe you can get on this waitlist for this housing.
Charity is about blaming poor people or people in crisis for being in that crisis instead of trying to figure out how to have nobody be in that crisis. It's always very into creating a deserving and an undeserving group. And that's what eligibility criteria for social services usually are. Stuff like you have to be sober or you have to take these psych meds, you have to go to these appointments or to go to these classes. You know, the problem is with you rather than the problem is a system that produces this crisis.
Mutual aid is the reverse. Mutual aid is people in crisis are not to blame. The systems are to blame for putting anybody in these crises. Nobody needs to be hungry. Nobody needs to be homeless, nobody needs to be in a cage, etc. Nobody needs to be considered deportable, etc.. Mutual aid refuses eligibility criteria like that. So moralizing eligibility criteria.
So one tendency inside mutual aid groups is to be like, Oh, no we're not going to deny people bail money because their charges were, you know, something the state has decided equals violent or these kinds of like this is only for people with kids, that whole history of that being moralizing. I basically define mutual aid as being the part of the social movement ecosystem work in which we provide for each other's direct survival needs.
Obviously there's other things in our social movement work. There is doing giant art projects, there is laying down in front of the coal trains on the train tracks to stop the coal from passing. There is breaking people out of prison. We do so many things. There is trying to decriminalize drugs or sex work in your state. We're trying to stop a new jail from being built.
But mutual aid is a part of all those many tactics we use that's about direct survival needs. And I only consider it mutual aid if it's based in a shared understanding that the systems are to blame, not the people. And it includes an invitation to collective action. Because if we stop thinking the people are the problem, then the answer isn't fix the bad poor people. The answer is, let's tear down these systems that make anybody poor, that make anybody unhoused. And so that invitation to collective action is like, Oh, yeah, hey, we're supporting people in housing court. We'd love to support you. You're facing eviction. Would you like to join our project or would like to come to the next big rally about housing justice that we're doing at the mayor's house or whatever? And you don't have to say, yes, we're gonna help you whether you say yes or no. But that invitation to collective action is about how we believe that's where the solutions.
One thing that's interesting about your story that I think is relevant to a lot of what I've seen happen since 2020 with the kind of explosion of wonderful mutual aid projects is I think there's a complexity around giving away money, specifically. Because sometimes when we give away money, it has less mobilization potential. The fact that you guys did it in person and in cash already makes it have more mobilization potential. But tons and tons and tons of projects started in 2020 where people were raising money online and giving that money away online. And there is nothing wrong with that. We absolutely should give each other money when we need it. People have immediate needs, just like the ones you were describing. But it's not as movement building because it tends to not build a relationship very deeply. And both for the giver, like I didn't go and meet other people and pack up food and bags or visit people in hospital or stand outside the prison or whatever. I just clicked. And so I might not form any new connections that break my isolation and help bring me further and further into social movements.
Because historically, mutual aid is how people get into social movements. Most people's first social activity is they're seeking something that they need that they can't get anywhere. And these people are like, Hey, yeah, you know what? It's not your fault. You want to join us? This is not okay. This happened to people like you or I really want to support people who I see suffering in this way. Maybe I used to or it happened to me before or happened to my family. And so I have this beautiful desire to help. That's how most people get in and the problem with just clicking is that it's not a very thick relationship. It's not necessarily likely to then help me be like, Well, I'm learning more about this issue. I'm realizing there's other ways I can support this kind of justice. I'm learning my solidarities are growing now. I'm like, Oh, I actually care about the transit workers. Oh, wow. I just realized I care about people in our county jail because it's connected to immigration. I realized I think we should defund the cops because that's one of the ways people end up in the deportation.
That kind of process of political education and solidarity building isn't as likely when we're doing almost all of our interactions through giving and receiving money online. So I think that’s one of the questions for groups that are good. But we definitely should do it.
And the other thing I'll say is I think we all know this, we can never give away enough money. The systems that we live under have their boot on our neck. They have the land, they have the food system, they have the energy system. They have all of our labor. Like we can't give each other away enough money to deal with how high rents are in all of our cities. Like we could never give away enough money to deal with all the crises that people in your community are facing. So we need other tactics. And that means we have to be drawing people into movements where we use a lot of tactics. Tactics that get rid of these systems that are keeping us all in crisis and producing more and more crises.
And that's why I think a lot of groups that I've worked with since 2020, people who are newly politicized, had never done stuff like this for then started these awesome fundraising projects. And now they're asking questions. Sometimes they run out of money, sometimes they got into a situation where they're like, Oh no, we have to decide who gets this money. We don't have enough to cover all the needs. And they started feeling like a charity in a bad way of like, who's more deserving. So all those dilemmas. So then we just got to remember, like, okay, our tactic, giving away money is not our end goal here. Our end goal is to build a giant movement which gets rid of poverty and crisis. So I think then they've given themselves pause. What else do we want to be connected to? How do we want to connect our participants to thicker relationships of movement work? What's our theory of how social change happens that is beyond? That includes mutual aid but where mutual aid is tied to these other tactics. Charity will never be tied to also tearing down the systems that make the rich people richer. That's what makes mutual aid different.
Ry Siggelkow [00:17:08] Social media has no doubt been a powerful tool in social justice organizing. And of course, we saw this during the pandemic, during the uprisings, after the murder of George Floyd, where people were sharing posts and fundraising and things like this, as you've talked about. But it has also facilitated individualism and created new digital ecosystems that have been heavily influenced and shaped by corporate interests. Certain radical phrases and terms are often invoked. Terms like racial capitalism, abolition, intersectionality, etc., sometimes to garner attention, clicks, shares and likes. We have seen the rise of celebrity activist figures, and of course authors are encouraged by publishers to build a following on Twitter. I sometimes worry about the effect this is having on how we imagine organizing work and the ways in which individualism, elitism and the desire for attention can become an obstacle in social justice work.
Now full disclosure, I'm a Mennonite minister and so I'm part of a tradition, despite all of its flaws, that has long been involved in mutual aid work and that has long been involved in ordinary forms of extended care and has also not been very tech savvy. Anti militarism and anti policing is really a conservative position in our faith tradition. And I served as a pastor in a small congregation here in Minneapolis that was doing really incredible work. But Mennonites are not particularly showy. They aren't particularly good at technology and social media. And yet some of the most radical forms of social action that I have ever witnessed have actually been among ordinary Mennonites, often rural actually, faithfully working with organizations like Mennonite Disaster Services, which help people rebuild their homes after disaster strikes. I mean, that's some of the hardest work, but it's very concrete and impactful work. And it also, I think, builds relationships as well, which is key to building power, I think. So I suppose I feel a bit of a tension here, particularly with the sort of radical branding that circulates today.
I wonder what your thoughts are on how our social movements can better work alongside people who might not use the same language, who might not even be linked to social media accounts, who might not think of themselves as radical, but who are nonetheless doing the very ordinary work of caregiving and solidarity with tremendous social impact, even if it isn't showing up all over social media.
Dean Spade [00:19:49] I mean, you're so right that we are in great danger if we forget for even an instant that all the social media companies are for-profit platforms that belong to billionaires, that there's no chance that they are our communities' technology. And they are getting more out of us than we are getting out of them. That must be the case. And so I think that's really, really useful.
I think it's interesting because part of what I think they do is – when you talk about this kind of attention seeking – they seek to mediate our social relations. And that is very dangerous. And I think they're part of a larger dynamic of increasing isolation in our society in which people have less and less deep relationships with others who they feel they can rely on and confess really hard things to and get really deep support in. And we all have an actual real need to feel belonging and to get attention and to be loved and cared for and to feel creativity with others and to feel safety through belonging. And it's like a replacement for that that gives you like a kind of cheap version where you're like, look, I have all these friends, but actually there's nobody to bring me soup when I'm sick or no one to share that I'm in a relationship that's scaring me or like the things that we all really need to survive.
Isolation is like the most dangerous thing that can happen to all of us. That makes everything else that happens to you, that car wreck, that cancer diagnosis, that domestic violence situation so much more dangerous.
So I worry about that and I love your story because it's like, where can we look at people actually experiencing belonging together and joining projects where they feel a sense of purpose and then do something about it with others?
And a lot of people I talk to who've had that experience had it in the faith community. I think it's really interesting and a lot of people I talk to when I talk about mutual aid are like, oh, a faith community is where I've seen this, where I see people being like, everyone deserves a hospital visit. You don't have to be special. You don't have to be the coolest person. In our community, you don't have to be rich. Everyone's going to get a hospital visit.
I think people sometimes use the term pastoral care. That's my vision of the world I'm trying to live in and build. And while we live in the systems we live under now where people have to go through like court and benefits hearings and deportation proceedings. All this horrible, brutal stuff. People are in cages. We at least should make sure everyone's accompanied. Everyone's got advocates. And that's got to be ordinary people. It's not like the very few nonprofits dedicated to that could do all of that for everybody.
So I'm really interested in this question of belonging and also like, how do we heal the ways that a capitalist attention economy shapes our emotional lives so that we think we're going to find the belonging that we want through external approval instead of through like passionate, collaborative engagement on pretty ordinary things with other ordinary people.
I paid a lot of attention to Buddhism and the thing we say is we're striving to be nobody special. And that is the opposite of the feeling of social media, which is like, I want to be individually special and noticed and influencing. And that for me just feels very, very limiting. And I think individualism is a broader problem in our society, like individual ideas of harm doing that don't look at systems produced like the legitimacy of the category crime, which I think is an illegitimate idea that, you know, is used to target very particular people. And individualism is the basis for greed and capitalism and fear in ways which people don't share with each other.
I think in terms of working with people across really different lexicons of thinking about what the problem is and stuff. I mean one thing is that social media also has had an influence of making people I think really want to look like they have it right and be really perfectionists towards themselves, about getting all the words right and then also towards each other and tear each other down. That way that I can look more amazing and radical is if I find a way that you said one little thing wrong. That is a very, very disorganizing practice for social movements. That does not help us grow and build solidarity and widespread collaborations and networking that we would need to take down our opponents, you know, the oil companies, the prison guards union, etc.. And so I'm worried about that.
I think one thing I see happening, I think that's different than that is when we have mutual aid projects that are local, sometimes that's different. Like if I'm doing disaster prep on my block and the blocks around it, I just have to deal with whoever's there. I love you even though I don't like you. Or like, I'm going to try to find out a little bit more about you, even though we wouldn't usually have encountered each other. And we have very different ways of understanding our lives, and then we're going to find out what we have in common and take some action on it. Like that can be very, very useful. I've seen that in all kinds of mutual aid projects, because honestly, when we're doing mutual aid work, whenever we're actually with each other, we're going to find out even if we have a lot of things in common, like working with a bunch of other trans people in a trans mutual aid project; we're not the same as each other. We all have different life experiences, different class statuses, different immigration statuses. We've been racialized in different ways. We have really different gender experience, different ages.
And so in any group where you're actually working with other people and also supporting others, there's just going to be a million kinds of difference that let us learn new solidarities and let us kind of rub up against like, oh, you didn't know the same things I knew before we came in here together, and I want to be with you in this project. I want you to stay with it, with me, more than I want to show you that I know something you don't know. And that's a hard one. I think people are pretty insecure right now because of these kinds of cultural perfectionism.
I think in a lot of groups I'm in, we're just talking about that openly together to see if we can change the norms and also so that we can welcome new people. Okay, we want to welcome a lot of new people. They might not think exactly the same things as us. We want them to join our campaign to stop this new jail building project. We don't want them to have to already think of themselves as abolitionist. That's okay if they don't. If they're against this jail, we want them. We'll talk about our politics and see what they think later when we become friends and when we do work together. We want them to come, even if they haven't been around trans people before and like don't really know what pronouns are. Can we welcome them and be like, Hey, this is a way that we are kind to each other. Can we let people learn together instead of being terrified of anyone learning in public or making a mistake in public?
I think that conversation is happening a lot, especially people doing mutual aid work because it's just unavoidable. It's like, yeah, we want to support people facing whatever in our town. They're going to be all different from each other. They're not going to have encountered every single same idea, maybe, especially if they don't have devices or time to be on social media or they don't speak the languages of social media where that is mainly happening, that particular conversation.
So I think that is a set of skills and capacities that we're working on as a set of communities. And also that is like we're actually being worked against by the technology. I'm not an absolutist, I think that social media people can use it like any technology to try to make certain things happen, but it has tendencies within it and we should be aware of them, you know, even if we're trying to use it in other ways.
It is having some net effects that we need to be making countermoves on because they are disorganizing us and we need to come together very, very badly in a very large way, and that the clock is ticking so bad because our communities are already dying from all that's happening. And the crises are really, really mounting in terms of like the storms and the fires and the floods and the rents going up and the impacts of pandemic and of a health care for profit system. It's not going to get any easier in our lifetimes. And we really, really, really, really have to come together.
And so how do I unlearn individualism that made it worth it to kind of throw some people away or embarrass them or disconnect from them in order to look individually like I have a lot of merit and know something.
Ry Siggelkow [00:28:06] The second half of your book is practically oriented. It almost reads like a guidebook. You've got questions for groups to consider about how to organize a meeting, how to communicate well, how to deal with conflict and so on. You've got useful advice on how to avoid burnout, what the signs are, etc. and you're so gracious throughout the book. I love the spirit of generosity that pervades this book as you seek to meet people where they're at. I'm wondering if you would share some of your thoughts on how faith communities in particular can engage in mutual aid work in a way that moves toward social transformation, that isn't just mutual aid work or as you define it, that isn't just charity, right?
I always remind pastors that they are already some of the best organizers, whether they know it or not. I mean, do you know how hard it is for most organizers to get a bunch of people to show up to one gathering, not to mention getting people to show up once a week? And many congregations are already sites for mutual aid work. But many congregations, particularly white progressive congregations, I think tend to view social justice work in terms of activism as letter signing, statement making, putting up a yard sign, showing up to protests. And that can sometimes be divorced from some of that mutual aid work that's happening, even if they're not quite aware of it. So I'm wondering how thinking about mutual aid might help to shift our imagination or open up new possibilities about how we go about doing the work of social justice in and as congregations.
Dean Spade [00:29:47] I love this question, and I think I'm an outsider to it in some ways because I'm not part of and I haven't ever been part of a congregation in a really deep way, in part because I'm an anti-Zionist Jew. And so it's a little harder for us to find. I practice with other Jews and usually not in those spaces because they are so overwhelmingly Zionist, although not exclusively. So I haven't actually been in a lot of faith based congregations, but I've talked to people like you who are thinking about this in such smart ways.
I mean, I think one thing is it is an amazing place for organizing because people, at least ostensibly, have some shared value that's very heartfelt or it's even an identity or a combination and are getting a sense of connection and like their most hopeful beliefs about what could be possible through a shared, often very familiar set of texts or songs.
It has so much for belonging that's really hard to build in like a typical social movement group. To get people to have those kind of cultural feelings or to have those kind of inspired feelings. There's a lot of beautiful opportunity there and I love what you're saying about how maybe a lot of congregations use that to point people more towards yard signs and signing petitions and going to protests.
And I think part of what that is like in the context of liberal capitalism, we're really told that the answers will come from elites and that we just do activities that try to show the elites our views or try to show other people our views, and that it's just this mythology that education is what's missing. If they only knew, then it would change. And I don't know about you, but I was active during the protest of the Iraq war in 2003, and it was the largest set of protests that had ever occurred on Earth. And I really noticed that the war still happened and it is still going on right now, even though they declared it over several times. And so I was just like, Oh, wait, we can go outside and say this in the strongest ways all the time. Everyone in the world hates this war and it's just like on. And it turns out that our government and the elites don't really care what we think and we don't live in a democracy. And actually they just do what they want. And that's actually the design.
And so having people find out the other elements, it's not that education has no role in social movements, of course not. We all love to learn and we all have so much to learn. But having people find out that there are other elements to like being involved that aren't just these kind of demobilizing education ones, but that are actually attacking the structures we want to get rid of and supporting each other to survive right now like that, you can actually be heavily involved in defunding the police in your city council. And that's not just going to one march. That's joining groups that are going to every city council meeting and that are tracking the budget. It can be that kind of hands on or that it can be the hands on of directly supporting people in the detention center and also blocking the deportation busses with your bodies. That combination of direct action and mutual aid that are both really written out of the story when the story is just let it be known.
I mean, I think you see this right now with what's happening around abortion. It's like, yes, sure, fill the streets. But it cannot stop there because who's even the target of that message. We really, really, really need to give each other access to abortions, even if they're illegal and give each other transportation to abortions and attack the systems that make it possible to make health care inaccessible to people and that make it possible for us to be ruled by essentially fascists. So I really appreciate that.
I think that maybe one question is, it just seems to me that ironically, it's so easy in congregations. Just like to actually I guess one thing is a difference between bridging from just the kinds of care people might be giving inside their own congregations of hospital visits and support for each other's rituals and things like that to build and form deep relationships with communities that may not be part of the congregation that are in the immediate locale or further and being like, we want to do mutual aid work with with you and just having people have the experience that I was talking about earlier of doing something on purpose together that they care about and believe in and is based in shared values.
And the other thing I'll say is, you know this from reading the book, I strongly believe in creating nonhierarchical structures as much as possible. And I know that some religions and like clergy structures are very hierarchical. What we want is as many people as possible to feel like they can take initiative and do stuff in their communities. So we want people, we want to open up spaces. I think I've seen this like I think of my foster mother like teaching at Sunday school.
I do think a lot of congregations actually make space for a lot of ordinary people to take on real responsibilities and projects. But I'm just thinking for myself, how could we make sure that we notice authoritarian dynamics or ways in which people become kind of passive? Oh, that person can tell me what to do. We really want to move people into being like, No, no, I have an opinion about how this project should go. I want to hear everyone else's opinion and I want us to come up with the best ideas together, even if we're inside the context of a congregation in which there is some kind of formal leadership.
I think that's an interesting question for faith groups like how to combat what can be- in a culture like ours that is highly authoritarian, people have learned a lot of passivity. And so how do we have people be like, oh, yeah, I'm inspired by what that person said. And also I can question them and also I can take initiative and say, Hey, let's do this project. I don't need to wait to be told by the person on top. I think that varies a lot.
When I think about people I know who are in different congregations at the level of kind of hierarchy and authority really seems to vary depending on how it's traditionally organized in that faith tradition and also like the personalities and, you know, and dynamics from that particular congregation. But I think that would be one concern.
And then also I think I would be concerned about the moralizing piece in some faith communities, that sort of moralizing around sex or drugs or family formation that could dovetail with some charity stuff about who we think is good enough to get this support. And so how to be people who are or unconditional in our support for those in crisis and in our desire to end suffering. And I think that there's actually in all of our faith traditions, there's lots and lots of good ideas about that. But we've had to pick those instead of sort of some of our traditions of moralizing.
Ry Siggelkow [00:36:16] Well thanks so much for joining me today for this conversation. I really enjoyed your book and enjoyed this conversation and I really appreciate the work you're doing and I look forward to connecting with you further in the future. And in fact, I'd love to have you speak someday to pastors about this work, how we can kind of connect, you know, the insights that are generated in the work of pastoral care to social movements and building a politics of care and infrastructures of care in our communities. So I really appreciate you taking the time and I'm grateful to you for that.
Dean Spade [00:36:57] Thanks for the invitation.
Ry Siggelkow [00:36:58] Have a great evening.
Dean Spade [00:37:00] Thank you.