There is so much violence going on in the world right now.
From the families being broken up at borders (and indeed the very existence of borders themselves) to the destruction of the planet. There is so much that needs to be done to stop injustice, to challenge domination, to build a better more hopeful society.
When we know quick fixes and short-term solutions just won’t cut it, how do we stay in the struggle for the long haul?
How can we survive if we want to change the world?
A year ago I burnt out. Campaigning all hours to get the Tories out of government, feeling like nothing I could do would ever be enough. I went into overdrive. Once the campaign was over, I was done. I couldn’t face the thought of going back out there again.
Over the last twelve months, I have found out a lot about self-care: Unlearning patterns that lead to burn out and finding ways to sustain resistance.
Here are some of the things I have learned.
1. Self-care: an act of political warfare
Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.
Lorde roots the concept of self-care as self-preservation. The systems of this world from racism to patriarchy, abilism to capitalism, do not want some of us to survive.
To have somebody, to be a member of some group, to be some, can be a death sentence. When you are not supposed to live, as you are, where you are, with whom you are with, then survival is a radical action.
It is important to acknowledge that some bodies struggle more than others to survive. Those with less privilege struggle more and privilege acts as a support system for those that have it.
If self-care is the pursuit of survival, what does this mean in practice?
Self-care is not separate from the struggle – it is fundamental to it. Self-care enables us to stay in this work for the long haul. Daniel Hunter, from Training for Change, has shared some excellent tips for how to stay in the struggle in hard times.
2. You don’t have to go it alone
Self-care is often individualised – something we have to fix alone. But collective care is vital to sustaining both ourselves and the work of changing the world. Throughout the history of social movements, people have come together to hold each other in this work.
Coming together with people who share our struggles, who share our values, who we can reflect with, not only supports us to stay in the work but can prove transformative. It can break down assumptions of individualism and self-reliance. It collectivises our struggles and our capacity to transcend them.
Natasha Adams has some great advice on how to practice collective care. It means building in the time where we care for each other, take time to check-in and hear what is going on for each other. This time makes all the difference.
3. Creating spaces for liberation
When we come together with those who share our struggles, we create spaces where we can heal and thrive. We can create spaces for liberation.
Our political spaces have the potential to be liberational. Imagine being in activist groups that nourish us, that help us feel well and heard and empowered to make change in the world.
What would these groups look like? How different are they from those we are currently part of?
So many of our groups and organisations actively burn us out – through replicating systems of oppression, through demanding more and more from us on little or no pay, making it hard for us to survive.
So how can we transform our organisations/build new ones in the image of liberation?
4. Group culture matters
As Frances Lee writes in their article “Excommunicate me from the church of social justice”, culture does the work of power. In our pursuit of social justice, we can both replicate systems of oppression in our own organisations and in our attempts not to we can punish and harm.
Being intentional and reflective about culture is one antidote to this: Ask some of these questions,
- Can you survive in this space?
- Are you welcome here?
- Can you be heard?
- Can you laugh?
- Can you cry?
If not, do you want to stay?
There is some excellent work being done around organisational culture in social justice organisations – especially by Kaytee Ray-Riek who offers powerful tools to strengthen cultures where we can thrive.
Sometimes, in order to survive, we just need to leave. Knowing which battles to fight is part of the work of self-care.
5. Dismantling oppression, building justice across the movement, across the world
The only way we can create group cultures in which we can thrive, create spaces that are liberational, spaces where we can come together and heal, spaces where we can survive is to dismantle oppression within ourselves, between each other, and in the structures that surround us.
Our activism will be intersectional or it will be bullshit.
To do the work of intersectional politics is deeply about self and collective care. It is about unlearning the ways we oppress each other and finding new paths that bend towards justice. It is messy and difficult and complicated. And essential in caring for ourselves, each other and the world. For excellent training on building collective liberation check out Resist+Renew.
If you have come here to help me you are wasting your time, but if you have come here because your liberation is bound up with mine then let us work together.
My liberation is bound up with yours. In a world that doesn’t want us to survive let us work together!
Kat Wall is a facilitator, trainer and consultant who works with social movement groups and organisations to build power across difference for the long haul.