The fight for liberation is not new to the citizens of Grays Harbor. In the beginning of the 20th century, our immigrant workers joined the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) in the fight for workers’ rights. These strikers fought for the eight-hour work day and to overturn a municipal law that removed their first amendment right. They argued for their right to free speech, and they won. Today, the fight for liberation and basic civil dignity lives on in Aberdeen, through the Chehalis River Mutual Aid Network (Network), which offers solidarity with those who struggle to retain dignity in a world that seeks to remove and displace them.
The Network began in November of 2020 when one individual decided to give out vegan burritos in Zelasko park, to any and all who were hungry. After a few weekends spent planning and communicating, three people stood together to begin a program that ignited the fire for the rest of the Network’s work. The Food Not Bombs program is designed to feed those along the Chehalis River who are food insecure and to work with local businesses and farms to repurpose food that may have otherwise been wasted.
Soon after the Network’s start, donations piled in beyond expectations as members of the Harbor community jumped to help, offering clothing, hygienic products and food. “It was like people were wanting to help our vulnerable community but were waiting for a vessel,” shares a Network member who wishes to remain anonymous. Those involved noticed just how much was needed in the town, so they targeted their support to the low-income individuals, the unhoused, and to eviction defense.
The Network’s first program spawned a myriad of projects, and the individuals involved have been putting in the hours to positively affect their community. Working mainly in Aberdeen to support the houseless, and by extension the wider community, those involved in the Network provide a wealth of resources. The Network offers mobile meal delivery handing out hot food to those in need Monday through Sunday every week. They now have the mobile shower as well, which supplies hot water and hygiene supplies for 50 showers every Thursday at 6 p.m. Every Sunday at 3 p.m. behind the Aberdeen library the Network provides free store supplies and literature.
Because the Network is not a registered nonprofit, the members don’t see any state-funded grants and can’t use those to support their programs. Instead, the Network relies on individuals of the community to come together and donate to the cause, offering power in numbers. One member summed up the organization, “Our infrastructure consists of our time, dedication, social media accounts and a great graphic designer.” The amount of work the members have been able to accomplish is astounding when one realizes it has all been community driven.
A main focus for the Network is on the difference between charity and solidarity. A member explained: “Charity reinforces rich people giving to poor people. It only exists in an inequitable world to begin with.” Solidarity, on the other hand, seeks to destroy the line between rich and poor and us and them. Solidarity means, “An injury to one is an injury to all,” following a slogan coined by the IWW. By standing together with those who typically stand apart, the Network shows its community how working together to implement actual change may be a better method than doling out charity without action. The Network wants to inspire its community to act rather than wait for a go-ahead. t Mutual aid offers a chance to build bridges and come together for the betterment of our city as a whole, shares an anonymous member for the Chehalis River Mutual Aid Network.
Though the members of the Network already have a lot of work to do with their current projects, they have big dreams for the community. Operation Home Base is their biggest goal yet, with plans for an eco-village, housing for the unhoused and spaces for co-ops. “After another winter losing people we love to the streets, and with a hostile political climate in town, the need is clear,” shares a member of the Chehalis River Mutual Aid Network. “If we need safe spaces to exist, live and thrive, we must build them. If we want stability for our community, we must obtain it ourselves.”
The Network has been developing this plan for months and is stretching its crowdfunding strategy to fundraise for a property that can house these big ideas. Those interested in supporting can donate and those in need can reach out to let the mobile units know where they are.