Horizontalist and participatory characteristics of mutual aid projectsCharacteristics of hierarchical, charitable non-profits and social service programs
De-professionalized survival work done by volunteersService work staffed by professionals
Beg, borrow, and steal suppliesGrant money for supplies/philanthropic control of program
Use people power to resist any efforts by government to regulate or shut down activitiesFollow government regulations about how the work needs to happen (usually requiring more money, causing reliance on grants, paid staff with professional degrees)
Survival work rooted in deep and wide principles of anti-capitalism, anti-imperialism, racial justice, gender justice, disability justiceMay be a single-interest group, or operating with funds restricted for certain purposes
Open meetings, as many people making decisions and doing the work as possibleBoard meetings may be closed, responsibilities may be separated between volunteers and staff
Distribution of supplies may be unquestioning or anonymous, facilitating emergency actionEligibility for aid may be determined based on an application process or other criteria
Give things away without expectationsConditions for getting help or participating in something—you have to be sober, have a certain family status, have a certain immigration status, not have outstanding warrants, not have certain convictions, etc.
People participate voluntarily because of passion about injusticePeople may participate because of employment opportunity
Efforts to flatten hierarchies—e.g. flat wage scales if anyone is paid, training so that new people can do work they weren’t professionally trained to do, rotating facilitation roles, language accessEstablishing and maintaining hierarchies of pay, status, decision-making power, influence
Values self-determination for people impacted or targeted by harmful social conditionsOffers “help” to “underprivileged” absent of a context of injustice or strategy for transforming the conditions; paternalistic; rescue fantasies and saviorism
Consensus decision-making to maximize everyone’s participation, to make sure people impacted by decisions are the ones making them, to avoid under-represented groups getting outvoted, and to build the skill of caring about each other’s participation and concerns rather than caring about being right or winningPerson on top (often Executive Director) decides things or, in some instances, a board votes and majority wins
Direct aid work is connected to other tactics, including disruptive tactics aimed at root causes of the distress the aid addressesDirect aid work disconnected from other tactics, depoliticized, and organization distances itself from disruptive or root causes-oriented tactics in order to retain legitimacy with government or funders
Tendency to assess the work based on how the people facing the crisis the organization wants to stop regard the workTendency to assess the work based on opinions of elites: political officials, bureaucrats, funders, elite media
Engaging with the organization builds broader political participation, solidarity, mobilization, radicalizationEngaging with the organization not aimed at growing participants’ engagement with other “issues”, organizations, or struggles for justice