Mutual Aid: Reflections from the Major Taylor Project Youth Action Retreat

Beautiful things always happen when community forms. 

I mean it: every time. Even when we gather to deal with conflict, to deliver bad news, or to grieve loss, our capacity increases when we come together.  Peter Kropotkin called this power of cooperation “mutual aid,” which I believe to be an indispensable force in the movement toward a more just world for all. During one weekend last month, the Major Taylor Project Youth Action Retreat was a shining example of why we are stronger together.

The Youth Action Retreat (YAR) is an annual weekend retreat at Camp Long in West Seattle. Designed by the Major Taylor Project team, it is intended to provide students with a chance to connect across schools, further explore their larger community by bike, and dive deeper into conversations about issues that affect our communities like structural racism, family, schools, and oppressions against youth (for more on the latter, see our blog post “Visions of a youth-led future”). It is also a chance for students and adults alike to try new things and step into leadership roles as appropriate.

The weekend kicked off Friday afternoon with students and adult volunteers riding from their respective south King County schools to camp. Upon arrival, it was apparent that everyone had been through a long week; we took a while settling in and getting to know one another through various games and activities. I had imagined that these “icebreakers” would set the tone for the weekend. And, as usually happens when I make assumptions regarding young people, I was wrong. It was not until that night’s barbeque dinner that I had my first taste of the potency of our group.

Let me just say this: the adult volunteers who helped with the retreat were amazing! They came and went throughout the weekend, as their schedules allowed, and plugged in and out quickly and respectfully. But here’s the best part about the volunteer presence: they were always supportive, but they never took charge! Together, the adults provided some support for the youth, yet always left space for students to step up and determine the outcomes for themselves. Starting with Friday night’s dinner, the young people made the most of their opportunities. 

Every student helped with dinner on Friday, and every meal thereafter. Some grilled burgers, washed produce, or scrambled eggs for their first time. Friday’s meal time became an allegory for the weekend at large: we all pitched in without being asked, much less coerced. Everyone had a say in what we did together and how we did it. With all this mutual aid, what did we accomplish? Some of us climbed West Seattle’s biggest hills without pause; some added anti-oppression vocabulary to their toolkits; some changed the way we view our food system; some went in search of a replacement for a bike wheel that broke at the end of a ride; others made art out of the retired spokes and cracked rim! It was a truly special team effort.

I have no doubt that everyone, young, old, and in between, left Camp Long that weekend feeling enriched, energized, and hopeful. My deepest gratitude goes out to our wonderful students and their adult allies for a beautiful weekend of community. Thanks to their efforts, the Major Taylor Project and its YAR prove that we are indeed stronger together.

Support Major Taylor Students Riding STP

This July, many of the Major Taylor Project students will set out to accomplish an endeavor that once seemed utterly unreachable: on their bikes, and with the support of the Major Taylor Project family, they will traverse 200 miles to complete the Group Health Seattle-to-Portland Classic. Your donation of $150 will provide scholarship funds for a Major Taylor Project student to complete one of the greatest physical challenges--and beautifully rewarding experiences--of his or her young life. Please visit www.cascade.org/donation and consider a gift of $150 to support a Major Taylor Project student today.