Mission: small groups to help with practical issues like income, housing, and medical/dental care -- or finding friends, a partner, or a personal mission.
Watch for more communication practices here.
Getting by has usually been hard, but today is deliberately so -- due mainly to a few big obstacles including lack of livable jobs, and exorbitant housing and medical costs. Behold the emerging 21st century economy: a high-tech basket case with billionaires.
How do we live in a corrupt system that worships money, churns out war after war, and privileges corporate "persons" to run governments, impoverishing human beings?
Most "left" movements treat getting-by issues (of their activists, internally) as purely personal problems, even when most people face the same ones. You must solve them yourself, then you can show up to help make a better world. This way of operating does avoid certain conflicts, but at the cost of solidarity. The end result is that millions of people never show up. They could not, because instead they must run the endless treadmill of getting by entirely on their own.
So we propose affinity groups (meeting face-to-face if possible) for mutual aid. Asking for help is the main agenda. Often an individual solution exist, but those who need it don't know about it. Affinity groups could let people say what they need and work with others to find it, instead of trying to solve the whole problem alone. A critical step in movement building is strengthening grassroots institutions, so that people are not so beaten down.
As the world heads into dystopia, could we organize against dystopia itself? Could millions create common understanding, and openly or quietly resist the slaughterhouse, the needless disasters being prepared for them? Ending most poverty will require popular mass movements more sustained and effective than anything we have seen. We cannot do that without meeting people where they are.
Here is our view of how they could work:
(1) An affinity group is people who like each other and work well together. If some don't fit, start another group.
(2) We suggest avoiding regular schedules; instead, each meeting is a one-off. Why? Because no set time works for everyone. And regular meetings waste time because people show up by habit, or to display commitment, when they have no actual need or reason to be there.
(3) Anyone in a group can call a meeting. Whoever calls it needs to: state its focus or purpose (for example, job search); bring some information or resource to the table (for example, local job listings); and make sure no one is excluded due to lack of money. (We created this site as a starting point for useful resources. We happen to be located in Philadelphia, one of the poorest large cities in the U.S., so we are starting here.)
(4) To avoid money barriers we could meet in a public space, like a walking meeting in a park, or in a private home. Or if in a cafe, whoever calls the meeting should find money for coffee, tea, or snacks to share.
(5) We picture small groups, often 3 to 15 people, with side conversations encouraged if facilities permit. The goal is personal interaction, not listening to a leader.
(6) Many people are afraid to ask for help. But that's the whole purpose of these meetings. It's OK and expected here.
(7) We think that most meetings should be by personal invitation, to build affinity groups of friends. But some could be publicly announced.
Churches served these functions traditionally and still do. But churches don't work for everyone. We are suggesting practical groups with no dogma, buildings, money, membership, or mailing list to fight over. Instead, these groups will focus on helping personal friends, and developing new friendships.
Are personal solutions enough? Certainly not. But movements that offer no personal assistance at all, in a corrupt plutocracy that has no use or place for more and more of its people, risk not being credible today.
We want this movement to also develop spiritual practices -- which individuals and groups can use to build cumulative skills as they go about their day (often in boring jobs, relationships, or prisons that otherwise offer little choice or autonomy). But that's another story. The "communication practices" above could be a beginning.
Hundreds if not thousands of antipoverty services and resources already exist in Philadelphia, and most of them do work for some people. It can be hard to find what could work for you -- since these services developed through the work of many committed persons and organizations, but without an overall plan. This is because in the U.S. at least, mainstream institutions have mixed feelings about poverty and whether it should be reduced. As industrial productivity has improved, poverty has actually increased, as major institutions learn to make more money with fewer employees.
It is not our mission to compile a comprehensive list of resources, but others are doing that. Here are some places to start:
BenePhilly is a partnership between the City of Philadelphia and The Benefit Bank, a nonprofit organization that helps people learn about and apply for benefits for which they are eligible. BenePhilly has several walk-in locations in Philadelphia; also, a BenePhilly employee we spoke to said you could make initial contact by telephone. The toll-free number to call is 844-848-4376, 9-5 Monday through Friday.
This organization has compiled an excellent list of antipoverty resources in Philadelphia and surrounding areas. While some of the listings apply only to people with HIV or AIDS, most are not so restricted. So The 2015 Greater Philadelphia AIDS Resource Guide is useful to many people who have nothing to do with AIDS.
This guide is available online at www.aidslibrary.org/getting-help/.
As the name suggests, this new project is a Wikipedia-style database focused on Philadelphia. Just go to www.wikidelphia.org -- you can use the search box in the left-hand column to search for whatever you want. For example:
You can also add your organization's information to this site, and then anybody can find it. To add new information to WikiDelphia you need to get a password from the site administrator. This site uses the same software as Wikipedia, and it takes about half and hour to learn how to add new information, the first time you do so.
This site aims to provide useful information for mutual-aid groups, and for individuals. We want to have a handful of good suggestions for starting points for getting or giving help -- not a long list of resources. The site will have a comment section. The faded links in the navigation bar show that these pages are not yet ready.
We designed this site to work efficiently on any computer, phone, operating system, or browser -- even over a very poor Internet connection. If you have any problem with it, let us know: john2james at Gmail.
This site last updated 2015-07-26.
 Bill Thomas, leader of Green House reform movement, quoted in Being Mortal by Atul Gawande, 2014 (page 113).