The default sentiment among those who cannot think outside of the government is that people in need will starve if the government doesn’t step in and help them. While governments do provide necessary aid some of the time, the reality is that under nearly every government in the world, people starve while their rulers use their tax dollars to gorge themselves on gourmet dinners and live lavish lifestyles.
When people claim that the state is necessary in order to provide charity, often times they completely dismiss the fact that this “charity” is money taken from other people and redistributed. While there is certainly a benefit to the recipient, handing out someone else’s money is hardly a noble feat.
In reality, government charity is not charity at all. It is a bureaucracy that demands something in return, forces compliance, and is purely conditional. Think about it. Millions of people give to actual charities all over the world. Checks pour into places like the March of Dimes and St. Jude. But no one writes checks to the United States welfare department.
As Lawrence Reed notes, from start to finish, what private charities do is a manifestation of free will. No one is compelled to provide assistance. No one is coerced to pay for it. No one is required to accept it. All parties come together of their own, individual volition. And that’s the magic of it.
That magic recently manifested in California after wildfires destroyed homes and left thousands on the street. In the town of Paradise, which was utterly devastated when the Camp Fire swept through, a Walmart—which was already known for a place to give goods to those in need—became the site of that magic.
This case of citizens voluntarily coming together — without government — to help those in need, is particularly ironic as the individuals who carried out this charity were anarchists.
The Walmart in Paradise became a hub for some of the 50,000 residents who lost their homes in the wildfire. Those in need set up tents in the parking lot and Walmart actually encouraged it in the beginning. The place soon became known as “Camp Wallywood.”
As VICE.com reports:
As the people in the lot worked to adjust to their sudden change in circumstances, they were helped by, among other groups, a loose organization called North Valley Mutual Aid. Based on the principle of “solidarity, not charity,” mutual aid is a process of providing assistance to communities by working with and supporting them based on their needs, rather than from a top-down, hierarchical approach to aid.
This principle meant that when a Paradise evacuee named Tammy expressed a need for a community space, NVMA’s cleanup and rebuild working group helped build one in the parking lot. Two large beige tents were set up side by side, with pillows, chairs, books, and some other items inside make up the communal space. A cardboard sign is taped outside, reading, “Come get warm!” For Tammy, this was important for recovering from the collective trauma of the fire. “We all heal in community together and when [NVMA] came out and built this community space, I know they get it because community is how we heal,” she said in a video filmed by NVMA. “Community is how we do everything.”
As the anarchists pointed out, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) approved $12.7 million in funds for those affected by the fire in the area. However, as VICE notes, organizers said the federal response to the Camp Fire hasn’t met the immediate needs for shelter, food, medical care, and supplies, due to the slow nature of bureaucratic disaster response processes.
The noblest charity is to prevent a person from accepting charity by enabling that person to no longer need it. That is not what government charity does, but it is what the anarchists at NVMA are doing. Instead of simply handing out supplies, many of those who are volunteering their time with NVMA were also devastated by the fire. The group is providing mutual aid to each other to build the whole community up.
Rain Scher, an anarchist with NVMA explained that the community “functions like a small town where everyone knows someone who knows someone, which makes us able to hold a public meeting and get a mutual aid network started.”
“We have had bad fires—not this bad—but we’re familiar with the fact this is a real concern and we need to be more prepared as a community,” Scher said, according to VICE. “The infrastructure that exists for the local and federal government to meet the needs of our community is not enough.”
Although the camp has since disbanded in the Walmart parking lot, the mutual aid continues—and it’s working.
One of the organizers summed up the groups actions quite well, noting that now, “people have an opportunity to grow something new and better and we are looking at the cracks, and seeing what seeds we can plant.”
If you’d like to join the community and help them, but are too far away to be there in person, you can visit their GoFundMe page here.