As a Disabled Person, I Feel Seen in Mutual Aid

Solidarity not charity

Nicholas L Hatcher
May 29 · 5 min read
beehive that says all we have is each other
beehive that says all we have is each other
All We Have is Each Other. no bonzo. Amplifier Open Call for Art.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic first hit the United States, communities across the country have quickly picked up on mutual aid as a framework for both survival and bigger dreams. As the health and economic impacts of the pandemic have pushed virtually every inequality in this nation to the surface, mutual aid philosophy allows us to reimagine our society from one built on exploitation to one built through solidarity. As a disabled person, this structure has given me a new way of imagining what the rest of my life could look like.

Mutual aid is nothing new. In fact, it’s as old as human civilization. The anthropologist Margaret Mead is often cited as saying that the first sign of human civilization was not clay pots or fish hooks or grinding stones — it was a femur that had broken and healed. Mead argues that no animal survives a broken leg in the wild for long enough to heal. Therefore, a broken femur that has healed was a sign that someone who could not gather fruit, or hunt, or walk unassisted was cared for. Not for their productivity, but because they lived in solidarity with other people who took care of them.

Over the past year, I’ve had to navigate what it means to ask for help as I developed a chronic neurological disorder resulting in changing physical and mental abilities. When I first began using mobility aids, many people in my life didn’t know how to respond. I suddenly became delicate in their eyes. Whenever I would try to do something, someone would run up and say, “No, don’t worry about it, I can do it for you.” The first time felt nice; the third felt infantilizing. I had become the charity case.

To complicate things, my disability is unusual. When I first began experiencing symptoms, they were indistinct and I found it hard to articulate what I was experiencing. My family was primarily interested in ‘curing’ me. My doctors investigated bloodwork and my mother set me up with a traditional healer. Eventually, I was diagnosed with a Chiari Malformation, which has a surgical treatment, but no ‘cure.’ My family was overjoyed that I had an answer. While I was a prime candidate for surgery, I had to manage expectations that I would somehow be abled again.

As the health and economic impacts of the pandemic have pushed virtually every inequality in this nation to the surface, mutual aid philosophy allows us to reimagine our society from one built on exploitation to one built through solidarity.

Despite the ingenuity that disabled people have long-employed to navigate our unique lived experiences, we still rely on others. Those of us who live independently still rely on farmworkers and grocers to provide food, on calendars and alarms to keep us attuned to time, and on engineers and manufacturers to produce the medical equipment we use.

My family is worried for my future, because they fear a future in which I inevitably am unable to work full-time to make an income. But the fear is not about whether or not I am able to contribute to wage labor, it’s about whether or not I am taken care of with dignity. I don’t need a cure; I need a world that is accessible for me to thrive in.

The state won’t provide this, but mutual aid opens new possibilities. It offers a way for communities to intervene in cycles of violence and poverty without cops. It offers a way for us to care for disabled people without institutionalization. It offers a way for us to grow food and nourish ourselves without the exploitation of the land or other people. It offers an alternative to taking care of our families beyond the confines of capitalism.

Contemporary mutual aid in the United States is a natural response to a state that prioritizes the wealthy and white and exploits communities of color, which have consistently lived in crisis. Many indigenous communities built their societies around mutual aid and still practice this today. Organizations like the Black Panthers and the Young Lords that were targeted by the state could not rely on it for protection or support, so they created alternative systems to provide free breakfasts and other services to their communities. After Hurricane Katrina, mutual aid cared for people when the state did nothing. Just as activists say, “the police doesn’t protect us, we protect us,” mutual aid offers a future where “the state doesn’t provide for us, we provide for us.”

Because I don’t need a cure. I can still make art. I can still communicate with the people who matter. I can still organize. The specifics may have changed, but the important things are still there. This is still a life worth living.

In our work, we repeat the mutual aid mantra, solidarity, not charity. The more I’ve been able to embrace the mutual aid framework, the more I’ve realized that when I get a voice in the decision-making process, I don’t feel patronized when helped. When I build solidarity with others and we work together to find ways that we can benefit each other, I can envision a life for myself beyond wage labor or meager benefits from the state.

As I worry about a future where I inevitably will be unable to work full-time, mutual aid represents a vision where my inability to generate profit is not a death sentence. It’s a way where I don’t have to feel guilty or burdensome due to a lack of income. And while it is not a silver bullet, implementing a network of care based in solidarity is a necessary step towards building a world that uplifts and supports all people.

Nicholas L Hatcher is an artist, writer, and organizer living in Columbia Heights in Washington, DC.

Liked this post? Follow us on Medium, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to keep up with our content.

Up, Up with Liberation

Amplifying voices of resistance in the DMV

Sign up for Keep Up, Up with Liberation!

By Up, Up with Liberation

A monthly newsletter catching you up on UUWL content you may have missed! Take a look

By signing up, you will create a Medium account if you don’t already have one. Review our Privacy Policy for more information about our privacy practices.

Check your inbox
Medium sent you an email at to complete your subscription.

Nicholas L Hatcher

Written by

Artist/ Writer/ Organizer nerding out, fighting the good fight, and taking myself too seriously. Follow me everywhere @hatcherade

Up, Up with Liberation

Up, Up with Liberation is a digital collective dedicated to liberation through creative expression. Born out of a community of organizers pursuing justice for immigrants and communities of color in the DMV, we are nurturing a culture of resistance through storytelling.

Nicholas L Hatcher

Written by

Artist/ Writer/ Organizer nerding out, fighting the good fight, and taking myself too seriously. Follow me everywhere @hatcherade

Up, Up with Liberation

Up, Up with Liberation is a digital collective dedicated to liberation through creative expression. Born out of a community of organizers pursuing justice for immigrants and communities of color in the DMV, we are nurturing a culture of resistance through storytelling.

Medium is an open platform where 170 million readers come to find insightful and dynamic thinking. Here, expert and undiscovered voices alike dive into the heart of any topic and bring new ideas to the surface. Learn more

Follow the writers, publications, and topics that matter to you, and you’ll see them on your homepage and in your inbox. Explore

If you have a story to tell, knowledge to share, or a perspective to offer — welcome home. It’s easy and free to post your thinking on any topic. Write on Medium

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store