Mutual Aid and Storytelling: Powerful Reciprocity

Mutual Morris has been collaborating with the Rutgers University Humanities Action Lab (HAL) for nearly two years on the power of storytelling and how that creates more powerful mutual aid networks in our community. We were asked to present to a mutual aid class as well as a virtual conference made up of researchers, educators, and mutual aid practitioners. We were grateful to be asked to contribute our own part to such a wonderful community.

It might seem like joining the HAL classroom would be easy for those of us who are already educators; but as any teacher knows, every classroom is different and every group of students brings their own set of unique ideas and experiences to learning spaces. Especially since we came to this classroom planning to tell and share stories, we were ready to embrace our own vulnerability and empower students to do the same.

We were so fortunate to have learned that the Rutgers HAL students are working on semester-long mentorship projects that require community storytelling as a vital component. For that reason, we began with a discussion about the importance of storytelling to our communities and to our collective humanity and ended with workshopping activities that encouraged students to move beyond theory into meaningful practice by sharing their own stories with each other, working to break through the anxieties that keep us apart.

Since the very beginning of our journey as humans, storytelling has been a way to connect and engage deeply with each other. We can tell stories that attempt to explain and make sense of our world and experiences, and in doing so, we share our voices and discover our ancient, instinctual interconnectedness. We can access our empathy that’s been buried beneath years of capitalist conditioning that would have us believe that we are separate and in competition. Storytelling is a vital element of mutual aid because it allows for mutual understanding on the community and individual level. It shows us how we have all been harmed by capitalist systems and policies so that we can see and realize—sometimes for the first time—that we’re not alone. We can awaken to the very specific ways that the mental and physical health of our neighbors has suffered as they struggle to meet basic needs and survive.

We were able to share our own stories, with the HAL classroom and also within the larger group of researchers and activists organized by the University of Maryland, of how Mutual Morris came to be and how and why we do the work that we do for each other and the larger community. Through photographs and short narratives, we were able to show our pride and gratitude for our own member’s contributions, from getting and delivering groceries to building relationships with local store owners and gathering for celebrations in the spring and summer months. These opportunities to share with people on a national, state, and local network, along with our recent experiments with digital storytelling within Mutual Morris, weave the fabric that become our shared time and memories, our collaborations and experiences, our challenges and joys. We heard from other Mutual Aid groups doing radical work that told moving stories of what they have learned, the people they are helping, and their plans for the future. Participants wrestled with what it means to do this work and exist in Mutual Aid spaces and go beyond temporary and insubstantial levels of support to instead provide long term love and care.

In sharing our stories, we find solidarity and inspiration, building bridges that we can all cross together. This seemingly most basic of actions is actually quite profound in its power to remove barriers to freedom and connectivity. The act of storytelling replaces the harmful narratives that we have been sold, and erases the silencing and suppression of our voices to replace it with authenticity, honesty, and the courage to be louder and larger in our presence . Such collaborations are not just the domain of academics and researchers and should not be confined to the classroom. We are all a collection of stories. Mutual Morris wants to hear your story, and share ours, too.