Neither charity nor mutual aid: Hope Packages’ new 10-Point Program articulates a realizable political vision

A grassroots community-led organization, “Hope Packages: Building Unity Through Solidarity” has, since January 2021, provided direct aid to our poorest and most oppressed neighbors. By addressing the needs our state and social system refuse to meet, we build political consciousness and solidarity across various communities, thereby building unity through action! Hope Packages gathers people together, collects donations and solicits monetary donations from friends, family, and co-workers, assemble packages, and distributes them where the need arises.

Founded as a collaboration between Indy10 Black Lives Matter and the Indianapolis branch of the Party for Socialism and Liberation, the organization has expanded, with individuals and community organizations from a variety of backgrounds incorporated into or working with the project.

However, Hope Packages does not simply “serve the people” nor is it merely a “service” provider. We also distance ourselves from the label of “mutual aid,” primarily because Hope Packages is not an end in itself but a means to a larger, more transformative end.

Neither charity, mutual aid, nor service: Resisting the (non)profit industrial complex

As the economic situation continues to worsen, the needs the group addresses expands rapidly. We’re intensifying our efforts to meet those increased needs. We spend most of our time doing whatever we can to solicit donations and financial contributions, organize volunteers, and get our packages to those who need them. Yet unless we understand the causes that produce the suffering we try our best to (but can never fully) address, we will never end the problem of homelessness and poverty.

In fact, even though they help many people, the huge networks of nonprofit organizations are financed by the very same banks and corporations that produce homelessness. They offer an alluring option to many people, including progressives and radicals, because they use certain words and spend money purchasing air time and advertisements. Despite any individual intentions, however, they reproduce the illusion that reforms and charity are solutions and prevent us from realizing that the system is the problem.

The politics of mutual aid

Hope Packages neither advocates for any political candidate or party nor is it bound by any ideology or political tendency; it is, however, an explicitly political organization. In fact, the idea of Hope Packages was born from a political struggle led by our two founding organizations that successfully defeated anti-homeless Prop. 291 in October 2020.

After periods of discussion and dialogue during the initial conception of the project, we decided it was important to name our project with the words: “Building Unity Through Solidarity.” We wanted to indicate that the goal of our project is to build unity and raise political consciousness while directly meeting the needs of our community members.

Capitalism teaches us that homelessness is an individual problem, a moral failing, or the result of “bad” life choices. Homeless people are portrayed as criminals and degenerates or victims of bad luck. This prevents us from realizing our common interests and the fact that we are members of the same class: the working and oppressed of the world. It helps the police and politicians justify their efforts to repress homeless people and constrain their options to an even greater extent. Most fundamentally, it obscures the cause of homelessness today: the capitalist system.

Homelessness exists not because there are too few houses but because there are too many—too many that can be sold for a profit. There are more than enough vacant homes in Marion County for each homeless person to have multiple homes, and we would still have an excess supply of housing! This absurdity is easy to understand and one reality we can build consciousness around.

What is a political program and why is it important for mutual aid?

It is one thing to speak vaguely about social transformation and justice, about inequality and poverty, and about working to end them. We believe today’s struggle requires more than that: it requires a politically clear, accessible, and achievable vision.

Our 10-Point Program is not a blueprint for a utopian city nor is it a “revolutionary” platform that would entail completely overhauling the political, economic, and social infrastructure of the city. Each of the following 10 demands can be easily and immediately enacted. Being part of Hope Packages doesn’t mean you endorse every single point or even every aspect of a single point. Even our founding members disagree on some elements of the demands. That is why it is a political program not a platform.

A program is purposefully broad so it can serve as a starting point for real dialogue about what we want our city to look like and run. We don’t believe or want Hope Packages to become the city government; we want to build a movement so that the people can determine the fate of our city.

Connecting everyday activities to a larger horizon

Every donation made, every package assembled, every fundraiser organized, and every homeless person and volunteer we connect with, contributes to realizing that vision. Our 10-Point Program lists a set of demands with a brief explanation that helps connect these everyday activities to a larger horizon that is not only possible, but necessary.

Whether you agree with all, some, or even one of the demands above, you can be part of our project. The beauty of combining politics with mutual aid is that it helps build broad coalitions and united fronts. As long as you agree that our homeless neighbors should have the basic necessities to survive, you are encouraged to sign up, volunteer, and purchase items off of our wishlist!

1. End Gentrification

Stop building new luxury housing and fill all existing housing with people. We don’t need luxury housing to sit vacant for the profits of financial speculators, we need homes for our residents.

6. Make Housing a Human Right!

Recognize and enshrine housing as a human right in the Indianapolis City-County County Code of Ordinances. Advocate for the right to housing nationwide.

2. Build Public Housing

Instead of giving hotel developers $625 million, invest that money to construct low-rent and affordable housing we need and deserve. Place these in a public trust overseen by a group of democratically-elected Indianapolis residents.

7. Implement a Living Wage and Close All Loopholes

Raise the minimum wage to a conservative $22/hour living-wage, close and prevent any loopholes that let bosses pay below it, and ensure no rents or mortgages exceed 30% of our income.

3. Make Housing Accessible

Expand and enforce legal protections and for all poor and working-class people, including Black people, LGBTQ people (especially LGBTQ youth), and ensure all housing is disability accessible.

8. Expand Public Spaces

Protect and expand public spaces, which are central to our community. Instead of privatizing resources, ensure the adequate distribution of public and fully accessible restrooms and those overseeing public resources, like the Indianapolis Public Library Board of Trustees, represent the people and, if they don’t, remove them immediately.

4. Free Education for All

Provide free high-quality daycare and public education for all poor and working-class residents.

9. Protect Tenants and Residents

Expand, protect, continuously update, and enforce the rights of tenants, renters, and those with mortgages.

5. End Food Apartheid

Guarantee the equal distribution of high-quality and affordable grocery stores in all neighborhoods.

10. Fund Real Public Safety

More jails, police, and surveillance cameras don’t keep us safe. By divesting from the police state and funding community-centered public safety measures like those outlined above, our vision can be achieved easily and quickly.