No More Sugar Coating It: The Harsh Reality Staring the United States in the Face

The state of the world, and specifically of the United States, is tenuous at best. Unemployment rates are at an all time high, evictions, bankruptcy, and destitution are looming for many; natural disasters seem to be occurring on an endless loop, and a political circus is playing itself out right before our very eyes. Politicians and legislators who seemingly have control over the fate of so many Americans remain content to reapply their clown makeup and adjust their shiny red noses while human lives are being squandered. So where does that leave us, the working people and back bone of this country?

For most of us, we’re swirling around a deep dark hole of despair. 50% of Americans report facing serious financial problems with 26% depending on credit cards (which they are unsure how and when they’ll be able to pay down) to make ends meet. 23% of Americans report being behind on their mortgage or rent payments, 13% are behind on car payments and facing imminent repossession, and 23% are in danger of having their utilities shut off due to late or non-payment. 17% of Americans report that they are unable to afford enough food for their families and are turning to food pantries and other charities on a weekly basis. 13% of your fellow Americans are currently ignoring severe medical problems and skipping or rationing crucial medication. Our national annualized economy is currently sitting at -32%, worse than the Great Depression where is bottomed out at -13%.

For as much as we all wax on about how bad everything is and how 2020 is simply a disaster of a year, many of us are remaining ignorant to how bad the state of those around us is rapidly becoming. Things are not getting better at any noticeable rate and suffering is increasing at an exponentially on the daily. In the entire year of 2018, 48,344 people completed suicide and data trends are predicting that that number will be up by approximately 65% by the end of 2020.

I think by now, most of us are starting to realize that surviving on our own will prove to be extremely difficult if not impossible. None of us are immune to the hardships that are to come and I implore of you to reach out to your neighbors, your friends, your community, to band together and take care of each other. The worst is yet to come and many of us truly will not make it out on the other side unless we all bear up under the weight of this crisis together. Organize. Build mutual aid networks. Take care of each other because nobody else will.

Uncertain Times? Always Has Been.

As long as there have been societies there have been people within those societies falling on difficult times. Be it due to illness, exhaustion, or even the death of a loved one, there will always come a time in a person’s life when their ability to contribute or even care for themselves and their family will come under strain. In the thousands of years before the idea of state sponsored welfare came in to existence, the responsibility for that person’s well-being would then fall to the rest of their community, a favor to be repaid in turn at a later date.

Unfortunately, this system has mostly faded away to be replaced with an incredibly faulty and unreliable network of charity and government programs, both of which come with their own set of requirements and hoops to jump through and both of which are falling short during this time of record high unemployment, accumulating debt, and illness. While indeed the government could shift more of our tax dollars towards social welfare programs to compensate for the current situation, that solution is becoming more and more of a distant hope as politicians continue to wield the well-being of the American people as a political weapon. As it stands, it seems only a return to a community based safety net will allow for a continuation of a stable standard of living for the American people.

These community based safety nets, also known as mutual aid networks, are not a completely unheard of concept in the United States. There is a long history of neighbors and community members banding together to provide financial support during illness and unemployment and, perhaps more importantly to provide emotional and social support. Classified as tax exempt “Fraternal Beneficiary Societies” by everyone’s favorite government entity, the IRS, mutual aid networks are composed of members that are “bonded by a common purpose or ties and engaged in substantial fraternal activities.”

These networks serve several different purposes and can be structured in a number of unique ways. Based on an understanding of mutual trust and accountability among members, mutual aid networks rely on social activities to create community bonds which then serve as a safeguard against abuse of the network. Traditionally, members will come together to pool money and resources on a regular basis, contributing to a lump sum which can then be loaned out at a zero percent interest rate to the members who are democratically chosen to be most in need at that point in time. Members will often also set aside a dedicated emergency fund to be used only should a sudden non-negotiable expense arise in their community.

The investment in mutual aid networks not only provides a safety net for a community but they also serve to ensure that the dollars of working people are used to benefit their community rather than benefiting large banks and the ever-looming Wall Street. At the same time, mutual aid networks remove the stigma of receiving charity and allow people to help each other and to be helped while maintaining their dignity and sense of self-worth, factors which are equally as important as financial security to a communities well-being.

Throughout our history it has been proven that mutual aid networks run by the working class, in the absence of a coherent system of government welfare provisions, provide more aid than any privately owned institution. In a time when people are becoming increasingly isolated, the need for unity is unparalleled and as we build unity around the communities needs, we also build up the strength and power of the people in those communities.