By Mike Templeton
The Urban Appalachian Community Coalition has presented articles on this blog in support of people in places like Eastern Kentucky after catastrophic floods. In these articles there are always links to offer donations and other assistance to organizations that help people in need. Some of these organizations are well-known such as the American Red Cross and other disaster relief agencies. Other groups are not as well known, and one of these groups is Eastern Kentucky Mutual Aid. Eastern Kentucky Mutual Aid does provide relief and assistance during times of crisis such as the recent floods in Eastern Kentucky, but the work of EKY Mutual Aid is continuous.
In the words of EKY Mutual Aid, they are there to help people who are struggling on multiple fronts. Their Facebook page explains: “We know that things are extra tough in the hills and hollers right now. And we know how us folks from the backwoods have learned to come together in the hard times to support their friends and kin, their community and their neighbors. This group was created for just that reason, to help people come together to ask for help in times of need.” Of prime importance in this statement is the emphasis on people coming together to help, thus the term “mutual aid.”
Eastern Kentucky Mutual Aid is not a government agency, nor is it a disaster relief organization. It does much more than that. Mutual aid groups exist all over the country in various forms, and what they provide is a medium through which individuals can provide direct assistance to people in a great many ways.
The concept of mutual aid goes back more than 100 years and was first fully formulated by the Russian philosopher Peter Kropotkin in his collection of essays entitled Mutual Aid: A Factor of Evolution. Kropotkin’s fundamental premise is that mutual aid is an inherent tendency among humans, that the drive to provide for each other is a basic feature of humanity. He explains that “ethical progress… viewed in its broad lines, appears as a gradual extension of the mutual-aid principles from the tribe to always larger and larger agglomerations, so as to finally embrace one day the whole of mankind.” Kropotkin’s insights demonstrate that, given situations of mutual need, we will always tend toward providing mutual assistance.
A key feature of mutual aid groups in general and Eastern Kentucky Mutual Aid in particular, is the fact these groups are not tied to corporate or government agencies. It is a direct social arrangement in which individuals provide material assistance to other individuals in need. This is a completely reciprocal system, yet it is one in which assistance is given freely without the expectation of being paid or compensated. The idea is that what you give, you will receive when your time of need comes around.
The idea of neighbors helping neighbors is something that is deeply rooted in Appalachian life and culture. Indeed, one could easily make the case that the Urban Appalachian Community Coalition was built on the idea that we need to look after each other in the most basic and material ways.
Just a survey of some of the services offered by EKY Mutual Aid include tutoring for school children aged 8-18, direct scholarships of up to $1000 and assistance in applying for other scholarships, material help for mothers and expecting mothers, Wi-Fi hotspots (something that can be indispensable for people looking for employment), and help obtaining cell phones. EKY Mutual Aid, while directly involved with crisis moments like flood relief, is working everyday to provide direct help in areas of life that benefit people in need.
We all feel the pull to do something during a crisis, EKY Mutual Aid is there for people all the time. EKY Mutual Aid provides meals for people who are recovering from illness and injury. This is the kind of basic need provided for by EKY Mutual Aid, and this is precisely the kind of social arrangement envisioned by Peter Kropotkin.
Misty Skaggs, who participated in UACC’s roundtable discussion, “Mountain Movers and Shakers: Women of Appalachia Leading Thriving Communities” at the Appalachian Studies Conference, is one of the people who drives and directs Eastern Kentucky Mutual Aid. She and Olivia Qualls moderate their social media, and are driven to stay focused on the processes of helping people. A quick look at the Facebook page will show you that Misty means business and will remove anyone who does not treat others with respect. The page is entirely focused on communication toward the goal of providing mutual aid. You can listen to Misty Skaggs talk about the issues and goings on with EKY Mutual Aid on the “Oak Tree Story Hour” on WMMT 88.7 FM which can be streamed online.
Mutual aid is founded on the simple premise that there are people who are in need, and there are just as many people who want and are able to help. The idea of providing for each other is something so simple and radical that it can get lost in the whirl of modern-day information overload. But Eastern Kentucky Mutual Aid exists to provide for folks on that simple premise. There are people within the Urban Appalachian Community Coalition, and a great many others throughout Greater Cincinnati, who maintain ties to Eastern Kentucky. It is a helpful reminder to all of us that Eastern Kentucky Mutual Aid continues to not only provide for people in need, but also to make it possible for all of us to pitch in with what we can offer.
To follow Eastern Kentucky Mutual Aid on Facebook, the link is here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/2557126217948530.
You can also become a monthly patron of Eastern Kentucky Mutual Aid at https://www.patreon.com/EKyMutualAid/posts
The Twitter for Eastern Kentucky Mutual Aid is at this link: https://twitter.com/ekymutualaid
If you would like to tune into WMMT online, the link is here: https://wmmt.org/. The streaming link for “Oak Tree Story Hour” is here: https://spinitron.com/WMMT/show/258329/Oak-Tree-Hours
Mike Templeton is a writer, independent scholar, barista, cook, guitar player, and accidental jack-of-all-trades. He is the author of the forthcoming The Chief of Birds: A Memoir. Available later this year from Erratum Press, and Impossible to Believe, forthcoming from Iskra Books. Check out his profile in UACC’s new Cultural Directory. He lives in downtown Cincinnati with his wife who is a talented photographer. They spend their free time walking around the city snapping photos. She looks up at that the grandeur of the city, while Mike always seems to be staring at the ground.