Collaboration, reciprocity, and shared creation defined the practice of mutual aid. It was and remains a collective practice of survival for those bereft of the notion that life and land, human and earth could be owned, traded, and made the private property of anyone, those who would never be self-possessed, or envision themselves as acquisitive self-interested proprietors, or measure their life and worth by the ledger or the rent book, or long to be the settler or the master. Mutual aid did not traffic in the belief that the self existed distinct and apart from others or revere the ideas of individuality and sovereignty, as much as it did singularity and freedom. The mutual aid society survived the Middle Passage and its origins might be traced to traditions of collectivity, which flourished in the stateless societies that preceded the breach of the Atlantic and perdured in its wake. This form of mutual assistance was remade in the hold of the slave ship, the plantation, and the ghetto. It made good the ideals of the commons, the collective, the ensemble, the always-more-than-one of existing in the world. The mutual aid society was a resource of black survival. The ongoing and open-ended creation of new conditions of existence and the improvisation of life-enhancing and free association was a practice crafted in social clubs, tenements, taverns, dance halls, disorderly houses, and the streets.
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