Toward Caring Social Change without Partitions.

his is perhaps a little late, missing the moment of dialog around self-care that emerged on the internet following an article by B. Loew. I’m a bit slower on the uptake when it comes to these things. I work in print, which means I often take a little longer writing something because I assume I have a longer production timeline. I also took my time with gathering feedback from close friends and fellow organizers (or rather they took there time in giving feedback…hehe). I wanted to be sure to get feedback from people who would be implicated in this piece before I sent to its fate in the interwebs.  So better late than never I suppose.

Toward Caring Social Change without Partitions.

Growing up my mother worked nights. Her weekend was Sunday and Monday. Knowing Sunday was a full day off, my mom would sleep late, usually until noon. As a result my brother and I would also sleep late on Sunday’s. Maybe not as late as noon but at least until ten, which for a little kid is pretty late. Once she was up my mom would always cook a breakfast of eggs and bacon for all of us. Then she’d drift away to read the Sunday paper for hours while my brother and I destroyed the house with our play. As I’ve grown up and become an adult in my own right I’ve kept up the family tradition of not starting a Sunday until late. I sleep in. I lay in bed for an hour listening to Wait, Wait Don’t Tell Me on NPR and then have a bigger than usual breakfast, read the paper and go from there. My brother acts in pretty much the same way, except I think he still watches cartoons and eats bacon in the morning. My mom’s life has changed; she now works a different job that doesn’t include nights. But it remains for her too that on Sunday’s you sleep in and take it easy. For our family this is a tradition of self-care.

Something that has struck me through all the articles about self-care that have percolated on the internet is that I don’t yet see a definition being debated. It is more about how self-care is made a part of our lives in relation to our movement work.  B came at from a movement work perspective but was clearly focusing a critique on a specific area of movement work. Adrienne Maree Brown added a community friendship/kinship perspective and the very important idea of self-determination in what kind of care you need and ask for; Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha wrote of self-care through social and class identities and also added some much needed analysis around privilege and self-care. For everyone, this discussion of self-care has come to bring up personal emotions related to the self and our sense of place in our communities and our political work. For me it almost immediately brought up my mom and her Sunday morning routine and how it has influenced me in how I live my life.

In B’s original post I noted that it was directed primarily at folks engaged in movement work. In this context I appreciated a lot of what B wrote. I have seen people burnout and then use the term self-care to generally become a flake. People who have spun their wheels to death and have felt too little reward for their work start to pull away. Some continue to make commitments they just flak out on, cause conflict with their indecisiveness, or try and shut down whole projects with their foul mood. Still others just drift away and are not really heard from again leaving things unfinished and a bit of bitterness in those left holding the bag. I’ve been frustrated by this issue that I see not coming from pure selfishness but from not building movements that like Adrienne and  others write, counter the messages of the dominate culture that our lives, health and wellbeing don’t really matter.

But B, who were you writing about? You do seem to be directing your comments towards something specific, yet unnamed. Through the lines of you article I read a reflection that brings to mind an idea of privileged entitlement to self-care that I see as linked to white models of community and organizing. I see many of your points through the snark, but would have liked you to be more explicit about whom you indictment of self-care is directed toward. Your critique holds many valid points, but implicates so many (parents, the disabled, the chronically ill, the old, the young…everyone) in a critique that was directed at something more specific that’s got you ticked off. This is why Leah’s response is so needed.

When B makes his remark about not knitting our way to revolution he is, I think, not referring to the same sort of thing as what Leah means in bringing up a quilting bee. I was glad Leah brought up quilting bees. As community and cultural traditions, quilting bees have offered great gathering points for social organizing. But again, B is bringing up a specific critique of self-care within a specific context but without specificity we’re all dragged (knitters, quilters and the like) into the critique.

Leah compels us to remember that there are many community traditions that are rich in both social justice/community/movement work and self-caring traditions. Our work must be a place that supports us and where our ways of caring for ourselves and others are supported and sufficient, not separate.

But whose culture or community doesn’t support this and what gives? Not everyone experiences the work for social justice the same way as to be chewed up and spit out by the endless churning of work. Nor does everyone experience movement work as separate from the rest of their lives. But B’s piece and much of the subsequent discussion has left me feeling like the conversation is being partitioned into how we take care of ourselves in movement work is different then how we take care of ourselves in the rest of our lives.

A few months Back By Jonathan Matthew Smucker wrote an excellent piece on Alternet about the dangers and limitations of the activist identity. He writes about how the stratification of activist doing activist work and everyone else lets people off the hook and sets up an us/them dichotomy that actually works against the interests of deep social change. I think of that article now as I think of my traditions of self-care and commitment to being engaged in social justice. To be engaged in movement work is as much a tradition in my family as sleeping late on Sunday’s. You don’t get one without the other. What is more, for some the act of engaging in social action work is the start of self-care.

I think of the community I work in; HIV+, poor and heavily challenged. I think of what self-care means to chronically ill, drug users, to those in recovery to those living on the streets, to multigenerational care takers living with not only HIV but also diabetes and heart disease. I think of the complex trauma histories of many in this community and wonder what they would think of this conversation. Instead of an end to self-care they may call for a start of self-care. Not because community and family don’t matter, but because those things or the dugs or the streets have always come first. But on AIDS Lobby day they show up. At 4am at South Station they are getting on a bus to DC for a protest. They, very often, see those acts as putting themselves first. Collectively joining forces through shared bonds is both a function of community and an act of healing.  Is this not also true for many of us?

On community care –

Of course I want my community to be there for me, to support me in taking care of myself and to take care of me when I can’t and to let me be a part of taking care of others. But I am still the one most responsible for taking care of me.

A dear friend of mine, Brenda who recently passed away after over a year battling health scare after health scare, was often heard saying “we have to teach people how we want to be treated”. I can’t just expect people to know how to take care of me when I’m depressed or consumed with grief. I have to teach them by asking for what I need and sharing what’s on my mind. In having supportive community I am able to take care of myself.

As a person who struggles with depression and ongoing complex grief surrounding the death of my dad I’ve needed my whole community at different times and in different ways to keep me going. I’ve had to learn to ask for help, advocate for myself and let people know what I’m capable of contributing at any given moment. What Adrienne wrote in her piece about self-determined care struck me hard. It has been just over four years since my dad passed away. Since about a year after his death I have been receiving messages that I need to be beyond my grief by now. In many aspects of my life I feel a pressure to have moved on through the grieving process – that my hurt, anger and sadness shouldn’t be so acute. I felt a great sense of relief in reading Adrienne’s article. It reminded me to stay strong in my conviction that the community that in working for social change and community justice needs to also have a place for my grief. It breaks my heart to think that this part of me would not be supported or a part of movement work I am engaged in. Perhaps this is partly why my movement work looks so different today from four years ago.

In the past year as Brenda’s health deteriorated her community rallied in a way that I think exemplifies the give and take of supportive community care that is connected to community justice work. Over the year friends helped Brenda by taking her to medical appointments, staying at the hospital and driving her to events. Through it all Brenda stayed involved with her organizing work in the HIV+ community. Recognizing that this sort of involvement was a part of her health and self-care, her friends helped her to do this. For Brenda, who had become so dependant on others to still have a role where others were depending on her to get work done was a source of strength. For Brenda, caring for her community was a way to also care for herself. As both B and Adrienne said – movement work can be healing work.

Communities are amazing sources of care. When my mother had cancer her friends responded to her need to be taken care of by stepping in and coordinating support. I’ve been to many “rent parties”, organized by a group of friends to help another friend raise money for the next months rent when times were hard. This is the stuff we and many other pockets of community just do for each other. These are the same people I’m in struggle with for social justice. A lot of the carrying on with the carrying on of life is just part and parcel with working for social justice.

I won’t pretend that it’s as easy as just saying “be gone your silly boundaries!” Social movement organizing has gotten a little more complicated then all that as B points out. Given the rise of the 501 c3 empires what is social movement work is so differently defined by different groups of people its almost useless to talk about. In fact I keep using the word ‘movement’, but I’ll admit it….I don’t know what that means. I haven’t felt a part of a movement since 2003 when we I was in the throws of the last hurrahs of the anti-globalization movement. Since then I have simply been in it to win it with my friends and community members working to hold each other safe from a world out to get us.

Self-care and community care are to me the stuff of life; Rooted in identities and forged in tradition new and old. They are the things we hold individually and collectively that bring us closer together, give us joy and rest and tie us to our past and prepare us for the future.

6/10: Stick with me on this one; it mostly makes sense in the end

The other afternoon I was having what I considered an average conversation with a good friend. It was about politics, love, life, friends, and sci-fi. She presented me with a problem she was experiencing with another friend. This other friend feels like if it’s not political it’s not worth writing or reading. Appalled at this proclamation my friend, shall we call her VegasaurusRex , challenged our other friend who we shall call D.B. Downer to explain himself. I’ll spare you a transcript laden with profanity and give you the essentials.

D.B. Downer hates to feel vulnerable; that kind of vulnerability that comes from being open and receptive to the world around us. Making everything about politics and political identity makes it possible to look at the catastrophe of the world around us and not feel pain, confusion, fear, sadness, rage, or hope. When you wall yourself up you miss out on the chance to feel things that remind you what you’re fighting for. For example, we’re not just fighting for everyone to have a home, but I’m fighting for Helen, the women I buy street my copy of Street Sense (the local homeless paper) from because I’ve talked with Helen and her fear at another winter on the streets is in her every word. I fight for the clients I see each day who speak of hopes that one day they will one day be cured of a disease that as of yet has no cure. I certainly fight for the memory of the forests around the place I grew up that were so mercifully clear cut.  Because when I visit those clear cuts the energy of the earth to want to regrow is palpable. I don’t fight for anarchy, I don’t fight for revolution. Those are things that may or may not come to pass. What I fight for is what it will feel like when we are free – calming, cooperative, joyous, smooth, seamless, loving, hardy, healthy, growing, lustrous – just to name a few ways I think it will feel.

Alas, D.B. Downer only feels for the political. Politically he will say how it will or will not feel. Politically he can identify what needs to change. VegasaurusRex on the other hand is like a porous sponge that sucks up the feelings of the world around her for processing and wringing out over and over. But where this argument started was with writing. D.B. Downer saying that only the political I worth writing and VegasaurusRex arguing, rightly I would say, that the articulation of the world to come is one that can be written in so many ways.

In the end D.B. Downer just couldn’t see it and VegasaurusRex in a huff asked me how to fix D.B. Downer. I thought for a moment. Thought real hard. In the end my mind when straight to what I know best – fiction books. I find a great power in the use of words to tell fantastical stories of great meaning for every day use. Fiction, particularly speculative/fantasy/sci-fi/visionary fiction can help us to articulate whole new ideas of making and shaping the world we live in, new ways of relating to each other and the earth, and help us grapple with big questions of power, violence, and race.

So I brought to my friend this: In Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series there is the concept of the One Power. This power moves the Wheel of Time. Half of the One Power is male and the other female. Some can channel the One Power, but most cannot. It can’t be controlled, the One Power just is, but it can be tapped into, or channeled for use by those who can channel.

In a great battle to defeat the Dark One (again with dark and light) the saidin or male half of the One Power was corrupted in an effort to seal the Dark One in a prison. This corruption, which I will simplify for you, led to the breaking of the world and war, strife and general chaos and upheaval. Another thing it led to was that now any males who can channel will eventually go insane and often become quite dangerous.

Ok, still with me? This is where I remind you to stick with me; it comes out in the end.

What I said to my friend was something like this:

It’s sort of like he can’t tap into the One Power without going insane. It’s a lot to take on, feeling the world around you – being empathic and open to pain as well as joy. To this she replied by asking why he would go insane if he really started feeling things. Well, I thought about it again and said, the world’s been busted pretty badly by men, mostly men and that’s heavy stuff. We all feel our privilege differently and some have a lot more than others. Some of us can hide bits of who we are and where we came from, while others can’t. My dad talked to me a lot about privilege. He referred to privilege as bags we carry and that we have to start opening up those bags and casting them off. You do this by living in real time with the world around you, feeling everything. Deconstructing differences you feel with other people because of privilege, not just recognizing these differences. Building relationships with people, being genuine, living with and among people in a cooperative way, highlighting similarities instead of standing behind differences  – this is a lot of how my dad looked at privilege. VegasaurusRex called this “keeping it real”. That pretty much sums it up.

Well anyway, D.B. Downer maybe can’t handle taking a look at his privilege and doing more than just taking a look at it. He can’t live without looking at…he can’t live actively trying to deconstruct it.

To this VegasaurusRex asked again how she could fix D.B. Downer. I said the only thing you can do is just love. Be open and boundless with love. It won’t fix people but it will be a source of power and comfort.

So another part of the One Power and the corruption of the male side is that the female side can do what is called “gentle” a saidin. This is sort of like a frontal lobotomy. Not cool. But so, stick with me here. Applied in this context it could be that to gentle someone is to love them, boundlessly and openly. For real. Martin Luther King knew it, Dorothy Day knew it, Mother Jones knew it, Ammon Hennacy knew it…shit. Dumbledore knew it. Yet love, in activist circles, especially white ones that are very male, is an over looked and under appreciated source of power. Well, deal with it. Love is, to get unreasonably cheesey, like a One Power. It’s kind of scary but don’t worry, we won’t let it make you go insane.

All of this is to say: you can learn just about anything in a fantasy novel if you try hard enough and if that fails you can always turn to the movie Clueless – you can always learn something from clueless. Always.

PS. VegasaurusRex called this our corniest conversation ever.

URGENT ALERT! Leonard Peltier Assaulted in Prison

peltierl1Friends I just received word that Leonard Peltier was brutally assaulted in prison. As many of you know Leonard was recently transferred even farther away from home to a high security facility in Canann, Pennsylvania. I have included a statement from Leonards Family below. Please take a moment to spread the word and make a call on Leonards behalf. Call the Canaan Federal Prison 570-488-8000 and demand that Leonard be treated with dignity! Also, now is the time to begin to contact Obama about Leonards case. His family is asking that everyone Please write the President, send it priority or registered mail. Email to Change.gov or email President Obama. Call your congressional representatives and write letters, not email, to them. Do what you can to get the word out to insure that Leonard is receiving adequate medical attention for his injuries.
Read a statement from Leonards Family

Gaza – Enough is Enough End the Siege

Israels suffocation of Gaza can not be allowed to continue. Over 800 Palestinians have been killed since the beginning of Israels latest military incursion into Gaza. Despite blatant violations of human rights, war crimes and an obvious intent on not bringing peace and reconciliation to the region but to eradicating the Palestinian people the international community is still lacking the political will to put an end to Israels actions. Oh, isn’t it so lovely to lump it all into whose a terrorist and who is not based on a ridiculously narrow minded definition of terrorism put forth by the US Government to support our allies. It is not about support Hamas or Israel. It is about supporting truth. If we can’t speak truth to power then what use are we to the work for justice in the world? Do your part! Speak truth to power and call your member of congress, write a letter to the editor, learn about the history of the conflict and talk to your friends and neighbors. Here are some resources to help you get started:

Anarchists Against the Wall
– support the Israeli Peace Movement!

Human Rights Watch – get updates on the current issues and the history of both sides.

60 Years of Nakba – Palestinian Refugees and the New Anti-Apartheid Movement

U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation

Free Gaza Movement

Gaza: Stop the Bloodshed – Sign a ceasefire petition

Tell me a Story Harvey Milk

milk1Tell me an effing story! That’s what I asked of the movie making world after enduring the film adaptation of Twilight. My god! Just tell me an effing story! Well, ladies and gentleman, tonight I was told a story. I was told a story so amazingly well, with such skill and passion that I am rendered nearly mute. Tonight I saw the movie Milk, the new Gus Van Sant biopic about the first openly gay elected public official in California, Harvey Milk. Milk, the man, was elected to the county board of supervisors for San Francisco in 1977 and on November 27th, 1978 he and the then mayor of San Fancisco George Mascone, were assassinated by Dan White a fellow member of the board of supervisors. The film beautifully weaves together the intersecting pieces of Milk’s life, loves, and friends. It captured a moment in history and a man who was actively making that history. It did not glorify Milk as the savior of a movement or the reason for its existence. Rather it depicted him as he was, a leader within his community…a sharp, savvy and kind man dedicated to making life better for gay people in California and beyond. Gus Van Sant used his skill as a director to call on his actors to act, to be the characters they were cast as and to distinguish themselves from one another. Thus a cast was born and a story told.

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Leonard Peltier Holiday Gift Drive

gift-driveFor 33 years Leonard Peltier has been held as a political prisoner for a crime he did not commit. From prison, his life’s work has been to raise awareness about his case and the U.S. Governments mistreatment of native peoples. For many of the past 33 years Leonard and his support committee have organized an annual holiday gift drive for the young people on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in Oglala, ND. Pine Ridge is among the poorest place in the United States and the gift drive plays an important role in easing the hardship of life for many who live there.

Please Read More