Mutual Aid Toolbox!

We cannot rely on the government to provide what people need, especially when vulnerable people are under attack by government agencies and agents. One very important type of work that should be taken up right now is mutual aid projects—projects that help materially support people facing some of the worst dangers like eviction, deportation, criminalization, poverty, isolation and violence. Building projects aimed at increasing safety, decreasing harm, and meeting essential needs is urgent right now. It is a way to get people who are newly mobilized to participate, and a way to build the infrastructure we need to decrease harm now, and to prepare for future natural and political disasters and the eroding of infrastructure.

Click here for more reading about what “mutual aid” means, why it is different than charity or non-profit social services, and why it is needed.

This list is still in formation. We would love your help to expand it. It includes concrete tools for starting mutual aid projects and for maintaining them. Please send us resources that you would like to add to this list at bigdoorbrigade at gmail dot com. (We are not including general articles, videos and other education pieces that help to understand an issue. This list focuses specifically on models and tools for starting mutual aid projects.)

Bail Funds

Bystander Intervention/Transformative Justice/Alternatives to Police Responses to Harm

  • The Arab American Association of NY is working on bystander intervention training, and is working toward creating neighborhood-based networks that can do rapid response to ICE raids and other emergencies, trying to keep each other safe with those of us who are less vulnerable taking more risks. They have not yet published their curriculum, but keep your eye on their website for its emergence.
  • Here is a very useful handout from the People’s Response Team in Chicago about Bystander Intervention that may be a good basis for community discuss/training.
  • The Bay Area Transformative Justice Collective (BATJC) “is a community collective of individuals working to build and supporttransformative justice responses to child sexual abuse. We are based in Oakland California. We envision a world where everyday people can intervene in incidences of child sexual abuse in ways that not only meet immediate needs such as stopping current violence, securing safety and taking accountability for harm; but that also prevent future violence and harm by actively cultivating things such as healing, accountability and resiliency for all — survivors, bystanders, and those who have abused others.” BATJC has a framework around understanding how we are in “pods” with people who we would call upon to support us around violence. This is a page that explains the concept and provides a worksheet for mapping pods. This could be a tool for discussion in local groups toward building safety.
  • GenerationFive, an organization focused on ending child sexual abuse in five generations, created a very useful guide to understanding transformative justice and beginning steps to create transformative justice collectives.
  • Creative Interventions made this very practical toolkit based on their work to stop interpersonal violence. It includes a storytelling section where you can hear people’s stories about what they tried and what happened.


Cop Watches

  • The People’s Response Team is a multi-racial, intergenerational group committed to supporting efforts to end police violence in Chicago. We seek toRESPOND as soon as possible to violence by law enforcement in Chicago, to DOCUMENT and counter mainstream media and law enforcement narratives, and to CONNECT families and loved ones of victims of law enforcement violence with resources and organizations that provide support during this traumatic time. We do not collaborate with or talk to law enforcement.” PRT provides this “Pro-Tips for Copwatching” document, as well as this “Do’s and Don’t’s for Bystander Intervention” document. PRT was trained by the Anti-Police Terror Project’s First Responders Team, a powerful rapid response team in Oakland, CA, led by Black women of the Anti-Police Terror Project. This might be a useful resource if you are trying to start a similar project.
  • Assata’s Daughters does copwatch and other abolitionist direct action work. “We grew out of a critical gap in Chicago of programming for young women to get trained up in the radical political tradition of Black feminism, and to learn how to organize around the demand of abolition.”
  • Useful tips in this article about how to copwatch.
  • Rose City Copwatch’s website is full of useful information.

Emergency Preparedness/Disaster Relief

  • Lightning Bolt is a website about preparing for current and future political emergencies, and natural disasters. There are resources for how to start discussion groups about preparedness, places to share what you are doing to prepare, and more.
  • Occupy Sandy was a grassroots disaster relief network that emerged to provide mutual aid to communities affected by Superstorm Sandy. Like other mutual aid projects in the face of disaster, it recognized the perpetual failures of state responses to disaster, and directly supported people in danger after the storm. Here is a video about it. This resource page is filled with useful links about how to clean up and rebuild safely, how to help people navigate governmental programs and get what they are supposed to provide, and more.
  • A Katrina Reader: Readings by and for Anti-Racist Educators and Organizers This collection is a phenomenal collection for understanding the racist context that created the unnatural disaster that happened in New Orleans and that structured how it was address. There are articles that outline the kinds of anti-racist organizing that was going on both before and after the storm, including examples of mutual aid work. This collection might be particularly useful for groups wanting to think deeply about how racism structures disaster relief as they plan mutual aid projects related to emergencies of all kinds. Also a source of inspiration for learning about anti-racist and anti-poverty mutual aid and community work in historical and contemporary New Orleans.

Food Distribution

  • Food Not Bombs has been distributing food in public for over 35 years. Here is a link to how to start a chapter in your town or find one that might already exist. “We recover food that would have been discarded and share it as a way of protesting war and poverty. With fifty cents of every U.S. federal tax dollar going to the military and forty percent of our food being discarded while so many people were struggling to feed their families that we could inspire the public to press for military spending to be redirected to human needs. We also reduce food waste and meet the direct need of our community by collecting discarded food, preparing vegan meals that we share with the hungry while providing literature about the need to change our society. Food Not Bombs also provides food to protesters and striking workers and organizes food relief after natural and political crisis.”

Housing/Homelessness/Foreclosures/Tenant Organizing/Eviction Defense/Squatting

  • Standing Against Foreclosure and Eviction (SAFE) is “a grassroots organization based out of Seattle, dedicated to building a mass movement to stop bank evictions, achieve principal reduction, and put people before profit. SAFE uses a Defensive and Offensive strategy. The Defense is knowing your legal rights and defending yourself legally. These rights should be used together with the Offense. The Offense is public protest and public pressure on the banks.”
  • Take Back the Land is a movement that includes many local action groups engaging in strategies aimed at changing land relations, including public protest, actions to protect public housing, moving people in to squat vacant government or foreclosed properties, and defending against foreclosure. The website has videos, stories, key principles, and information about the book that examines the movement.
  • Jane Place Land Trust in New Orleans, an organization focused on building affordable housing, especially in the wake of Hurricane Katrina’s devastation of housing in New Orleans and the intensive gentrification after the storm that displaced black and poor populations.
  • SHARE/WHEEL Seattle:
    • “SHARE is Seattle Housing and Resource Effort (co-ed).
    • WHEEL is the Women’s Housing, Equality and Enhancement League (women-only).
    • We are partner organizations of homeless and formerly homeless men and women.
    • All of our efforts are self-managed; run by the homeless members themselves.
    • We are King County’s largest shelter network, with 15 indoor shelters and 3 Tent Cities.
    • In addition to shelters and Tent Cities, we facilitate a Storage Locker Program and a Housing-For-Work Program called SHARE2.
    • We are not a social service organization; we are a self-help group.”

How to Create Discussion Groups, Affinity Groups and other Containers for Reflection and Work

  • The Social Emergency Response Center model is being proposed on the Design Studio for Social Intervention According to the site, “SERCs will be temporary, emergent, and creative pop-up spaces co-led by activists and artists around the US. They will function as both an artistic gesture and a practical solution. As such we will need to figure out the balance, like how will we feed people–and their hunger for justice? How will we create a shelter–where it’s safe to bring your whole damn self? What will reconstruction–of civil society–look like?”The site includes interesting diagrams about what SERCs might do that could serve as a basis for planning and discussion for local groups. At this writing, the site also includes information about the first SERC, opening January 2017 in Boston.
  • Gabriel Arkles, Boston and New York-based trans anti-prison activist and educator, responded to the call for models with this description of a group he is in that may be a useful model to try: “I’m part of a tiny group that has decided to meet together regularly. We’re thinking of it as a sort of support group for action. Our model is basically to gather and go around, with each of saying how we’re doing emotionally and physically, reporting on what actions we’ve taken in the last week (or whatever other length of time), sharing what actions we want to take in the coming week, and then asking for whatever help we want or need from others. Then we have some time to either just do work on our various planned actions, or work on helping each other in ways we asked, or have dinner together, or whatever. We don’t have any materials about it, but that’s pretty much our whole model.”
  • Five Tips for Forming and Affinity Group from Resilience Circles. They also provide a guide for your first meeting, and lots of other information about building small groups and circles.
  • War Resisters International provides a guide called Techniques for Consensus Decision Making in large Groups: The Spokespersons Council Method and a guide called Groups for Action that talk about the purpose of affinity groups, how to run groups, how to make decisions, roles within groups and more.
  • This zine from Activate Grand Rapids addresses how to form an affinity group.
  • On Conflict and Consensus is a very useful book about how to do consensus decision making.


  • Sonoran Prevention Works: “We provide direct service to people who use drugs and their families by facilitating free trainings and by distributing risk reduction materials and condoms to prevent the transmission of blood-borne pathogens. We advocate for widespread Naloxone accessibility, a 911 Good Samaritan bill, and syringe decriminalization in Arizona. We do this all in solidarity with the individual’s autonomy and right to self-actualization.”
  • Trans Buddy Program, Nashville, TN : Provides trained peer advocates to accompany trans people to any medical appointment.
  • The Iowa Harm Reduction Coalition “provide[s] safer injection supplies, opioid overdose prevention supplies, and reproductive health supplies including emergency contraception/condoms/pregnancy tests. Some case management for folks + peer to peer street based model.”
  • Ujima Medics is a black collective of healers who teach health/emergency response skills like responding to gunshot wounds.
  • Jane was an underground feminist abortion provider that operated from 1969-1973, providing over 11,000 abortions when it abortion was illegal in the United States. Here is a movie that was made about Jane. Here is a book about Jane.


  • The Immigrant Defense Project has several tools on their website that can be used for local mutual support including a Guide to Defeating ICE Hold Requests, a Deportation 101 training and more. These tools could form the basis of a mutual aid project to support prisoners in a location immigration prison.
  • Another resource for this work is the Northwest Detention Center Resistance/Resistencia al NWDC. This Seattle/Tacoma based group runs a prison letter writing program for people inside the Northwest Detention Center, has held many rallies and other events, including Peoples’ Tribunals at the NWDC, and works to support the families of the prisoners. The group also supported the long hunger strike undertaken by prisoners in the facility and has used direct action strategies to block deportation buses from leaving the Center.
  • The Repeal Coalition in Arizona does rapid response work to support immigrants in the face of ICE raids. Here is a useful article that talks about their strategies.
  • Organized Communities Against Deportations “OCAD is a community-based organization in Illinois that organizes against unfair and inhumane immigration enforcement practices that impact immigrant communities. We fight case by case, person by person, at the same time that we work to change the implementation and enforcement practices that criminalize our community.“
  • Queer Detainee Empowerment Project provides court support, prisoner support, support for recently incarcerated people.

Mutual Aid Projects by/for People in the Sex Trades

  • Stroll is a Portland-based project by and for people in the sex trades. Stroll runs a sex worker support group, an art and film fest, puts on talent shows and field days, and has a zine project.

Parole Preparation Projects

  • The National Lawyers Guild is in the process of setting up a webinar about how to start a parole preparation project so keep your eye out for that.
  • A Parole Preparation Project is currently underway in New York City that has over 80 volunteers helping prisoners prepare for parole hearings. This project plugs non-lawyers into this vitally needed work to support prisoners to get out.

Supporting Prisoners

  • Black and Pink supports LGBTQ prisoners. There are chapters all over the country where people gather to reach out to prisoners, process mail, connect prisoners with pen pals, and support imprisoned organizers. The national organization provides support to the local chapters on how to get started with the work and how to work through questions and problems—start a chapter in your town!
  • Anarchist Black Cross guide on starting to support prisoners: (to get the whole guide you have to go to their site, click on get involved, then resources, the prisoner support guide and it appears in chapters you can click on)
  • Jason Lydon from Black and Pink wrote a document for the Unitarian Universalist Prison Ministry of Illinois about how congregations can support prisoners. It is a thorough document covering many topics including how to start letter-writing projects, how to do visits, how to support GED programs and more. Read the google doc here.
  • Education Justice Project of Illinois provides classes, reading and writing and study groups, a radio program and more to Illinois prisoners. Here is a list on their website of other resources about supporting prisoners and prisoner education.
    • Chicago Books to Women in Prison.
    • Liberation Library – sends books to youth in juvenile facilities throughout Illinois:
    • One strategy that has been powerful is forming a Support Committee for a particular prisoner. Here is an example: Support Committee for Ms. Afrika, a long-time member of Black & Pink and Black trans elder who left prison in February of 2016.  Video here.  Gofundme link with description of her support committee.
  • F2L “is a New York City based group of indibiduals doing support work for queer and trans people of color facing time in the New York State prison system. We fight for queer and trans people of color who have been charged with felonies and other high level offenses, and individuals who are appealing those convictions. We do this by resourcing individuals with commissary, housing, care packages, book, cash money, and more. We also provide media support, courtroom support, and general advocacy within state systems. F2L is a volunteer run project primarily made up of other queer and trans people of color in New York City. On Tumblr here.
  • Hearts on a Wire is a Philadelphia-based prison letter writing project. They published the report “This is a Prison, Glitter Is Not Allowed” which examines the experiences of queer and trans prisoners in Pennsylvania’s prisons.

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