After COVID-19 struck in spring 2020, the absence of a concerted federal response prompted people across the country to begin self-organizing everything from food distribution to sewing squads to shelter. That work continues today, drawing on a long tradition.

“Mutual aid,” a concept coined by the Russian naturalist and anarchist Peter Kropotkin in his 1902 Mutual Aid: A Factor of Evolution, refers to the principles of cooperation, and of people joining together to help each other. It ran counter to the then-hegemonic Darwinian theories emphasizing competition and survival of the fittest. Kropotkin did not deny the role of competition, but he argued that the cooperative spirit has gone under-examined.

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