It is our duty to fight for our freedom. It is our duty to win. We must love and support each other. We have nothing to lose but our chains. – Assata Shakur
The foundation of Northeast Arkansas Mutual Aid Society (NEAMAS) is rooted in long standing traditions of liberatory and transformative thought and action. Our principles inform our praxis and are derived from those living, evolving traditions. Becoming part of a mutual aid society isn’t the same as just joining an organization or committing to a movement, though it is a commitment. It both asks and gives back much more than other types of engagement.
Each word in the phrase “mutual aid society” is literal. The purpose is to move toward birthing a healthy society through community building and deep cultural influence. Our commitment to provide support and hold space for each other in societal, material, and personal struggle is critical. The underpinning of power-shifting movements isn’t the marching and demonstrating, nor electoral influence. It’s constantly challenging the dominant culture’s presumptions and language, while consistently and pervasively providing alternatives to its poisons of patriarchy, colonialism, and capitalism. It is constantly and simultaneously resisting and building on societal, relational, and personal levels. The power of the community we build depends on our cohesion, reliability, and accountability to each other’s liberation; the strength of the communal bonds we form; our commitment to this transformation; and, how intent we are on infusing the broader community with those thought processes, values, and behaviors.
Members aren’t expected to personally agree with every declaration in the following statement of principles, nor to support actions related to anything that conflicts with their ethics. On the other hand, it wouldn’t be workable if members actively opposed any of our efforts. These principles can be revisited and amended by members’ consensus as to the need and nature of said amendments.
We believe the only way a free, just, healthy society will be built, is by the Common People. We believe that the Common People have the authority and responsibility to build it. We believe in insisting on creating that society now, rather than seeking permission. And, we believe history proves that ordinary people can do this.
We’re part of creating that society parallel to the broader existing one, through praxis and ongoing education and analysis. We’ll integrate those efforts with creative systematic approaches to radically changing conversations and culture, material circumstances, and power mechanisms in our local communities. In both cases, we will use and advocate for instruments and practices such as participatory budgeting; community land trusts; cooperative businesses and farms; restorative, democratic financial institutions and tools; community owned broadband if/when possible; community gardens, farms, and edible greenspaces; People’s Assemblies; popular education and research; and other solidarity economy practices. We strive to replace capitalism, meritocracy, and authoritarianism with ever expanding direct democracy, individual choice and dignity, and community autonomy and control regarding our shared resources and needs. We embrace the principle, “to each according to their need, from each according to their ability.”
We believe in climate and environmental justice. We acknowledge our collective, disproportionate advantages as North Americans due to centuries of colonization, exploitation, and racism. We also acknowledge disproportionate advantages of some North Americans over others, due to internal racist and classist municipal and business practices. We seek to affect policies and programs in local government that aggressively address the most pressing of our injustices, including ensuring that all our local communities are well prepared for withstanding the destructive effects of climate change. We will advocate for and practice urgent action to drastically decrease the causes of climate change and other serious threats to our survival, such as water and soil pollution and depletion. We will simultaneously ensure our own best practices for dealing with climate and environmental threats as we develop parallel societal structure and governance.
The lack of food sovereignty nationally and in our local communities is not justifiable. We’re committed to making full food sovereignty and justice, with dignity and self determination, a permanent fact of life in all our communities. We believe in honoring the Earth, our only habitat, and our communities’ bodies with clean, safe food and other agricultural production.
We believe that land is power. We commit to acquiring as much as possible as soon as possible, with the goal of assuring that all have shelter and a place to call their own. We intend to do this using community controlled trusts to prevent land ever being used for profiteering or exploitation of people’s needs. We especially support Black and Indigenous land ownership and believe that expansive reparations policies are necessary. We commit to advocating for such policies to the extent that our local governments have capacity, and we stand for them nationally. As a mutual aid parallel society in the South, we especially commit to the goal of Black land ownership and related needs and opportunities as our capacity enables us.
We believe in the abolition of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and until that’s accomplished, we’ll promote local non-compliance with their operations by individuals and institutions, especially law enforcement. The nation’s policies regarding our American neighbors to the South have destabilized, plundered, and otherwise ravaged their homes, from which they would not find it necessary to leave had those policies not rendered safe and stable living conditions impossible. We stand against such policies and will fight to mitigate them locally. Without corporate globalization, racism, and American entitlement, immigration wouldn’t be an issue for anyone crossing on either side of a border, and all would come and go in peace and comfort. We’re committed to protecting, defending, and supporting undocumented immigrants and learning what we can do to resist the crimes of our government against refugees and asylum seekers.
No one should have unjustified authority over others, and the burden of proving justification is on the person(s) seeking or calling for such authority. Everyone is a leader, and we seek to help each other develop confidence and skills as such. We support the abolition of the current criminal justice system, born of a devious and resentful attempt in the South to cling to the practice of enslaving humans; and, in the North, of the violent repression of labor organizing, for similar abusive and exploitative ends. It has been the operative factor in the virulence of American racism; the massively disproportionate accumulation of the nation’s wealth by a few families; diminished political and economic power—to the point of nonexistence for the poor and working class; the continuation of profiting by trading in humanity, through the privatization of incarceration; and, the treatment of “collateral” unjust loss of Black lives as mere externality. This system was designed to enable theft, murder, and power mongering, and is no more than marginal at best in effectively protecting and serving the Common People. Likely, the Common People can do an exceedingly better job of designing ways to meet those needs. We realistically acknowledge that we have yet to do so here, and that we must rely on and work with law enforcement and the courts at times. But we commit to creating a successful harm free zone system, empowering and training the community to deal with as much as possible in the way of truly problematic or threatening behaviors. Meanwhile, we oppose the current system. We advocate for institutional reforms, and redirection of funds to services that reduce risk of vulnerable individuals enduring systemic, authoritarian driven abuse.
We believe in transformative and restorative justice processes. We are committed to learning and practicing them in addition to nonviolent conflict resolution when internal discord or harm occurs and in other situations where they’d be helpful. NEAMAS will work to develop a framework for progressively increasing capacity to use, understand, and expand the social and personal benefits of these and similar healing processes.
We believe in the power of women and their full control of their lives, choices, and all societal matters pertaining to them. We particularly affirm transgender women, disabled women—including the mindful respect of invisible disabilities, and Black, Indigenous, and all women of color across all intersections. We believe in this for all people but must prioritize the safety, security, and dignity of these especially vulnerable and traumatized classes. This includes the expectation and support for all cis men—especially cis White men—to do the personal work we also expect of all White people to reduce their social footprint. We acknowledge the harm done to cis men by toxic masculinity. We commit to both holding them accountable and showing them loving support as they wrestle with difficult and painful personal revelation and struggle to change generationally embedded reactions and assumptions. Beyond civility, people in the traumatized classes should not be the ones expected to go out of their way to show more support than their healing allows. We acknowledge the reparations owed to women as well.
We believe in the liberation, dignity, and self determination of all people. We believe justice demands partiality to the most vulnerable and oppressed among us in all decisions and policies. We believe in deference to those who have learned what the more powerful don’t know by virtue of being made invisible by the powerful. We support and encourage intergenerational solidarity among all age groups. We believe in religious freedom and respect the faith of all people, as well as those who hold no faith traditions. We believe people know their needs, who they are, and who they love. We insist on respecting people’s knowledge of themselves. We respect and honor, without qualification, all identities regarding gender and sexual orientation. We commit to making this intrinsic to our parallel culture and to standing up for it in all aspects of society.
We believe in direct democracy rather than power held solely by a few. In keeping with our values of equity, and the restorative empowering justice due each person, NEAMAS’ plans and decisions will be based on consensus as fully as possible. In doing so, we pay particularly close attention to the voices and guidance of the people most affected by injustice. When we use consensus, we approach decision making with humility and compassion, being mindful to listen deeply and hold space for one another. The process requires that individuals engage in honest personal inventory in determining our crucial priorities and needs, and more critically, how much we can in reality concede without consternation. How much we can concede is usually more than our first reflexive inclination, due to the strongholds of colonization’s patriarchy and competition. For this reason, consensus is an excellent dismantling tool and is adequately efficient when people act in good faith. But, mindfulness of rhetorical focus, other people’s time, and the right to expression is important. The rare exception would be an occasion of necessary grappling with conflicting moral convictions or capability concerns.
We are a member organization of the Southern Movement Assembly (SMA), a collective of many organizations mostly located in the southern U.S. and global South. In addition to these principles specific to us, we also adhere to SMA’s nine Principles of Unity found here: http://southtosouth.org/principles-of-unity/. As one of many organizations, we participate in general planning and events with SMA to increase our collective power. We have access to invaluable resources, experience, and expertise through them, and it often feels like being part of a large extended family. The SMA hosts an annual assembly where members democratically, through synthesis, create a plan of action for the upcoming year. We commit to participating in the SMA’s annual action plans.