Mutual Aid (Part 1): A Message of Love

The Twin Cities have seen a string of highly-publicized incidents of police violence against Black men prior to the recent George Floyd incident (2020), including with Jamar Clark in 2015 and Philando Castile in 2016. Black transgender man, Tony McDade, was shot dead by police in Tallahassee, FL a few days after George Floyd was killed. A recent assault against a transgender woman of color named Iyanna Dior in the Twin Cities shook that community further.

These incidents (and others) have led to a number of national movements: to support Black lives, to address police violence, and to acknowledge the particular burden on Black transgender people. Last week, Transfaith posted a statement, Hearing Our Kin: George Floyd, Tony McDade, and our Black Transgender Siblings, which was a follow up to Hearing Our Kin: Trayvon Martin and Our Black and Brown Transgender Siblings, which was written in 2013.

This week, I (a white person) am writing inspired by the work of one of our former board members, who has been a part of Black transgender organizing in the Twin Cities for many years. Enzi Tanner is a Black transgender Jew, who is currently involved in a mutual aid project focused on supporting Black transgender people in his area. He is also one of the voices quoted in our 2013 article.

Act Now

To support his work, you can send funds to Enzi on Cash App at $EnziTanner or on Venmo as enzi-tanner. Add a note something like “Black mutual aid.” As funds come in, they are reaching out to Black trans folk in community to share that love. 

Most recently, he says that they were able to pay for the replacement of glasses for a Black transgender person who had theirs broken in one of many recent police encounters with protestors. The project is considering expanding nationally.

What is Mutual Aid?

(Read The Race Game to understand why I’m talking so much about my own whiteness.)

I, a white transgender person, was recently talking with a white suburban mother of three about how we are responding as white people in this time. I (a white person) tried to explain a little about what I (a white person) know about how organizing has changed from the 1960s–or at least from what we (as white people) have probably been taught about the 1960s. The idea of mutual aid is not actually new. The Black Panthers and others before them have often organized around mutual aid.

I (a white person) know mutual aid can be a larger philosophical concept or something more complicated (one resource list), but “mutual aid” is just what it says it is. It is community helping community. It is a tangible way to send love and support to folk who are struggling. Not even because they filled out an application to demonstrate their need. Not even because they asked for help. In times like these, it is simply a way to express love.

In a world where capitalism has caused tremendous harm by emphasizing profit (for owners or shareholders) and resource extraction (from labor, community, and the earth) rather than any more enduring notion of the common good, a concept like mutual aid is very revolutionary–and quite beautiful. 

Governmental organizations consistently fail marginalized communities. Whatever community trust may have existed has been badly broken in many places, especially the Twin Cities.

Government support is especially questionable right now due to police violence. 

Mutual Aid in Minneapolis

Obviously, mutual aid goes hand in hand with other things that are going on in the neighborhoods that are most impacted by recent events. For instance, we’ve seen news reports and also heard from loved ones on the ground that, in the Twin Cities, communities have stepped up to protect and care for their neighborhoods. They had to because the police have refused to serve and protect, even while white supremacists are roaming the streets looking for trouble. Even when the police are not actively causing harm, they have walked away and abandoned neighborhoods. 

Meanwhile, neighborhoods are stepping up with community-based vigilance and mutual aid–demonstrating that local communities do not need to depend on military-style police force or other “authority” to be taking care of our own.

According to Enzi Tanner, “The concept of mutual aid is actually pretty basic. There is a need. How can I address it? We go from there.” He says that the project he is involved in has been funded by allies — both white or non-Black allies to Black folk and Black cisgender allies to transgender folk have been sending funds to support the need. 

The project started when a Black cis ally reached out to help meet some needs of Black transgender folk in the community. Allies generated more than enough funds to meet the initial need, so they started sharing the funds more widely. 

After the initial push, the original cisgender organizer reached out to transgender organizers like Enzi because they did not want to be the gatekeeper for an on-going redistribution project of this nature. There are now three Black transgender people managing the project (including Enzi).

Enzi says, “This ally is someone that I know and trust, but they were being thoughtful about how to sustain the project beyond that initial moment of crisis.”

Mutual Aid vs Systemic Change

Of course, systemic change is also important. Still, we need to acknowledge that non-profit organizations are persistent perpetrators of anti-Black and anti-trans violence, even if it’s something we don’t talk about much in public. 

We need infrastructure for long-term change–and maybe if we are handling million dollar funding streams, we need more of the financial controls that a formal, not-for-profit organization can provide. But managing smaller donations as mutual aid can be really impactful.

Making donations to organizations that share your values, that you are passionate about should not be off the table. Small or even medium size donations to an organization like Transfaith or other organizations that are doing work in community can make a big difference.

Still, the truth is that, unless you are doing the bookkeeping personally, you don’t actually know where 501(c)(3) funds are going either. We have been taught that organizations are more trustworthy than individuals, especially organizations structured according to white assumptions over Black individuals. We’ve been taught to mistrust individuals, in general, and Black folk, especially. 

There are a lot of ways that funds going to organizations can get sidetracked from meeting immediate needs. Even a GoFundMe takes out transaction fees. With mutual aid, the funds are not going to transaction fees or supporting a non-profit institution’s infrastructure. Small donations from individuals to individuals through mutual aid can really show a different kind of support that is more immediate and intimate.

Folk are hurting now. Folk have needs right now. These kinds of gifts go a long way. Mutual aid is typically being handled by community organizers who have long standing relationships in the community–whatever community they are working in. 

“The folk who talk to me about receiving the funds are so thankful.” Enzi follows up, “I am able to tell them that this is from allies who are saying ‘We support you. We got you.’ It’s a message of love.”

What’s Faith Got to Do with It?

Since we’re connected through Transfaith, I asked Enzi what his faith had to do with his work on this mutual aid project.

He said, “I’m a Jew. It’s my ‘faith,’ but it is also my community and my family. I look at it as a mitzvah. Am I my brother’s keeper? Yes. A resounding ‘YES.’

Enzi continued, “My rabbi once said to me, ‘We’re Jewish. We don’t have the right to walk by someone on the street who is hungry.’ So, it’s important to me that we take care of one another. It’s saying ‘I got your back! We’ll do this together.’

Read more: Mutual Aid (Part 2): Trust Black People

More Mutual Aid

Twin Cities Black Trans Mutual Aid: Cash App at $EnziTanner or on Venmo as enzi-tanner. Add a note that says something like “Black mutual aid.”

Iyanna Dior Survivor Fund through Black Trans Women Inc

Black Trans Community Response Grants through Black Trans Advocacy Coalition emphasizes support for Black Trans folk in the Southern states.

There is a GoFundMe for Tony McDade’s family, which has far exceeded its goal.

Please contact office@transfaith.info if you want to suggest additional mutual aid projects.

More Articles from Transfaith

Hearing Our Kin: George Floyd, Tony McDade, and our Black Transgender Siblings (2020)

  • How will you respond to the call to declare racism a public health emergency?

Hearing Our Kin: Trayvon Martin and Our Black and Brown Transgender Siblings (2013)

  • Reflecting on how racism impacts Black transgender people.

Mx Chris Paige is a white, OtherWise-identified author, publisher, organizer, currently serves as Operations Director for Transfaith, and is deeply grateful for the Black, Brown, and Indigenous (BIPOC) trans and queer folk who have shaped so much of who they have grown to be.

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