First Published by the Solidarity Economy Association
The Covid-19 crisis has inspired the creation of a myriad of new ‘solidarity funds’ across the world. Micro solidarity economies in all but name are growing more rapidly than in any recent memory. We thought it valuable to share a story of the growth of a recent but pre-covid fund.
The following article was contributed by two members of the Solidarity Collective.
The ‘Solidarity Not Charity’ Autonomous Crisis Fund
It is hard to believe that as recently as last summer, nobody had any idea that a pandemic was about to hit, and the name Covid-19 hadn’t even been invented yet. It is in that world, if you could cast your mind back, that friends and I created what would now be commonly understood as a mutual aid crisis fund.
I was facing an imminent visit by bailiffs to my flat door after a debt collection agency had traced a former flatmate to my address. She was facing prison as a result of over £4,000 of unpaid legal fines that she had never quite found the courage to tell me about. I was calling round friends to get advice on how to deal with the situation.
The details of my friend Aida’s* situation became clearer. She had suffered an ectopic pregnancy some years ago, which caused her to lose her baby and almost her own life, sending her spiralling into depression. She managed to fight through and survive, but lost her home in London. Because she had failed to notify housing benefit about a change in circumstances, she was dragged through the courts and eventually received the maximum penalty: 250 hours of community service, which was completed in full, and a fine of £5,000 which she kept on top of paying for a few years at £5 per week until becoming homeless again. Now she was ordered to pay the remaining £4,500 in full within two days, or face a prison sentence.
There are some relationships where I use the word ‘comrade’, despite it being somewhat unpopular in these isles. A comrade is not quite the same as a friend. It is someone you are on a journey with, who shares some of the same values and a deep belief that a better world is possible. Someone who has a commitment to helping shape that world around us, and acting according to principle, in solidarity with others. Some people say you can choose your friends, but you can’t choose your comrades. It is times like this when you know who your comrades are – who will drop everything to call and talk you through how to handle bailiffs, and who will tell you it is not even your problem and to basically drop her in it.
Then, one comrade, who had never met Aida, and who none of us knew had any money at all, just paid off the entire debt, just like that! I remember he sent me a message saying “I have sorted it.” I called him right away – “What do you mean you’ve sorted it??”
After some discussions, he and I decided to crowdfund back this money and then use it as an autonomous crisis fund. We agreed to use the money we raised via a crowdfunding page to support people in crisis (to be decided as and when we became aware of them), and then crowdfund it back again each time. We also wanted to find other methods of growing the money, rather than depleting it.
I asked my friend (who would like to remain anonymous) who donated the money and co-founded the crisis fund to write something for this article about why he chose to give £4,000 to a total stranger:
“After I heard about the situation with Aida, the first thing I agreed to do was participate in setting up a crowdfunder. I got as far as setting up the page before reflecting on the situation. She was facing tangible violence from the state and a situation with a lot of time pressure. I am from privileged background and have money that I never worked to earn. In the end it seemed to me that if I didn’t decide to take the most direct course of action to resolve the situation then I would be abandoning my principles of solidarity.
The aim of the fund is to act as a tool for the practical implementation of solidarity and as a microcosm of how we can imagine redistributing wealth.
We decided to name the fund the Solidarity Not Charity Fund because we want to break with the understanding of capital as gift being given by a benevolent superior and to highlight the necessary and ultimately mutually beneficial nature of communalism in supporting our friends and comrades.
In the future I hope that the fund can grow both in it’s resources and scope. At the moment it has been able to make important but singular interventions of solidarity. I hope that if more people, especially people with financial privilege, commit to making solidarity a practical exercise then we can make mutual aid into a deeply powerful force.”
Neo-liberalism is hitting hard, and it is affecting people in many different ways. In our social movements, community and grass-roots political organising, there is a huge disparity in the amount of resources that people have access to.
Since the original crisis that this fund was set up for, the crowdfunding page has raised £6,300, and hundreds of pounds have also been donated via other means. As people have heard about cases supported by the fund, they have wanted to contribute to its growth. The fund has now supported people dealing with many more crises – as well as keeping Aida out of prison, and bailiffs away from my front door, it has also kept bailiffs away from another house; enabled someone who has suffered multiple overlapping traumas to get three months of therapy; funded an emergency passport for someone who is NFA (no fixed abode) to care for a friend at risk of suicide in another country; paid for a month’s supply of painkillers for someone who is unable to get prescriptions, and an hour of osteopathy for a young homeless woman whose back was in agony, and it has given someone diagnosed with fibromyalgia a bursary grant of £300 to get through the month while waiting for their PIP payments to kick in. This grant also helped them with travel costs as their condition stops them from travelling a lot on foot.
The fund has overwhelmingly supported poor working class individuals who are facing a combination of homelessness and mental health crises. In early 2020 the fund bought a caravan for a young homeless couple to live in. More recently, it funded two nights in a hostel for a young woman who was rough sleeping in Bristol when her sleeping bag was urinated on. She had called the number of her mutual aid group, which fortunately was staffed by people who went out right away to give her the money and then applied to get it back from the fund. Now the fund has agreed to cover a six month phone credit subscription to enable a dedicated queer activist who lives in a hostel to carry on organising throughout the lockdown.
Solidarity comes from having a feeling of responsibility to each other, and in a society that is so deeply characterised by class, it is the responsibility of those who have financial or other forms of capital to redistribute it to people that need it. In the situation that kick-started the fund, £4,000 for one person was money sitting in a bank that had been untouched for years, but to Aida, it was the difference between prison or freedom, between being with her daughter or the trauma of separation, between justice and injustice. How can we collectively make decisions about responsibility to each other, when very few of us deliberately choose the paths or lives that lead us to having such vast imbalances in capital?
This fund has given money to people in crisis for needs that cannot be met by the state, and although this can sometimes make the difference between life and death or can begin to heal some traumas, there is a need for long term infrastructure to address the structural imbalances that shape our lives.
The fund is now being managed by the Solidarity Collective, a small autonomous group that is working to develop processes of community and transformative justice in social movements. The Solidarity Collective also supports people dealing with and confronting issues of conflict and oppression in grass-roots political and community organising.
The beautiful thing about this fund, aside from the fact that it is literally helping to save and transform lives, is that while money is created from debt, this fund was created from the cancellation of debt, as an act of solidarity.
Support the crisis fund by donating here.
*Aida is not her real name, and no names that are able to identify people are used in this article. This is because the people being supported by the fund are not able to choose their situations, and having the agency to decide when and if to be identified is an important principle we wish to uphold.