Category Archives: community care

Privilege, reparations, and communities of care

So my friend B wrote this blogAnd then some amazing people responded to it.  Absolutely all of those pieces of writing are worth readingEvery single one. So many brilliant things have been said about ableism, class, burnout, grassroots healing, and care.

I’ve been thinking about B’s piece a lot since I first read it a few days ago. I have had a lot of different responses and big emotions related to it since then, about privilege and other things, but right now what I’m thinking about is how different our roles in this conversation are.  I’m thinking about how so much of this discussion is so relevant to our different relationships to heteropatriarchy, capitalism, and white supremacy.  We with privilege tend to universalize our experiences, to mistakenly assume that what happens for us can be assumed to happen to others with less privilege.  That’s one of the things B’s writing missed, while it also raises lots of important and challenging questions about what collective care really is and how we get there.  So I want to respond, but this response has an audience.  This response is directed towards white people, men, cisgendered people, straight people, middle/upperclass/rich people, people with ability privilege, people with citizenship status in the place where they live.   There is so much incredible and challenging writing coming out right now about care from people of color, queer and trans people, disabled and chronically ill people, women, working class and poor people that we should be paying attention to and learning from.  I don’t have much to add that hasn’t already been said and in more articulate and profound ways, but I want to ask those of us with privilege some questions about where we in particular stand in this conversation.  So to people out there who experience privilege in one way or another, who are reading this, I say “Take a deep breath and keep going—disagree with me if you want, but please follow me through to the end.  This is going somewhere and your defensiveness is worth overcoming.”

I don’t think we need to end self-care—that’s an intentionally provocative title that I’m not so interested in.   We all deserve the time, the space, the support, and the resources to have a movement practice that works for our bodies, nourishing food, healers who we feel comfortable with, time for rest and reflection, safety, connection, and love.  Healing our collective body, this world, involves healing our individual bodies, families, neighborhoods, communities, and movements.   But in all this conversation about self-care and collective care, there are huge questions and silences we need to grapple with about how our various relationships to privilege relates to all this.

I’m in acupuncture school and the best way I can think to describe this is with an example from the way I am learning how bodies work.  In the version of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) that I am learning, and that is taught in most acupuncture schools in the U.S., the Spleen is responsible for the transformation and transportation of food, nutrients, and fluids throughout the body.  When your Spleen is deficient, you may have an over-accumulation of Dampness in your body, which can manifest in many different ways—say sinus congestion, bloating or fluid retention, swollen, achy joints.  The way that you treat this condition with acupuncture or herbs is two-fold: you have to fortify the Spleen and get rid of the excess dampness.  In the end, both treatment strategies are about bringing the body more into balance, although they are opposing techniques.

So with transforming care in our lives and in our world.  Some of us who live at an intersection of more privilege in this world, be it because we are white, middle/upper class or rich, considered able-bodied by the world, straight, cisgendered and/or male, could stand to listen to B’s challenges about showing up for movements in deeper and more committed ways as part of truly realizing communities of care.  I don’t think that means we shouldn’t take care of ourselves in the process, but maybe for us, who have so been taught that our comfort and ease is the most worthy thing, sometimes it’s good for the world and therefore good for us to skip a meditation session and do childcare at a meeting or go to a meeting instead.

For people with privilege, it is often so much easier for us to disengage from movements in order to “practice self-care” then it is to fully commit with our hearts, minds, and bodies to collective care, to healing justice, to communities of care that include all of us. I think there are parts of B’s piece that should hit home in deeply challenging ways for those of us who prioritize care of ourselves and our precious bodies over (and often at the expense of) the care of other people’s selves and equally precious bodies.

Yes, some of the ways I take care of myself are related to my own struggles with physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual health.  And some of those ways are related to the particular way as a white person with class privilege I have been taught to prioritize myself.  Everyone should be entitled to care, comfort, safety, and connection.  Some of us have our right to exist denied and threatened every second.  Some of us have never had that experience.  Many of us exist in some complicated relationship to both of those realities.

There is a way that self-care in privileged communities can manifest as resource hoarding.  I think about how much I learned in the predominantly-white DIY anarchist communities I used to be a part of about how to take care of myself outside of the medical industrial complex, about herbal medicine, how my body works, how to care for it in meaningful and self-determining ways.   I think about how many others that I know from those worlds continue to learn and learn about healing work without ever facilitating the spread of that learning beyond  a small, insular, and relatively-privileged social world. We learned other peoples’ traditional medicines and then we only shared with others like us.   It’s not that those of us with privilege shouldn’t value our physical, emotional, spiritual, and mental health—it’s just that it is deeply embedded in our psyches that our individual health is 1. not related to the health of our community and 2. Of a higher priority than anything or anyone else.

So right now, I’m thinking about how reparations and resource redistribution apply to self-care and community care.  How asking questions about what care reparations and healing resource redistribution can look like allows us to challenge our privilege as we transform how care works in the world.  I want those of us who experience privilege to actually learn how not to over-value our well-being compared to the rest of the world’s.  This plays out in subtle and intricate ways: because of how much privilege invisibilizes our position in the world, we may not see the many ways we CHOOSE self-care AT THE EXPENSE OF community-care.

I don’t think the answer to that is to “burn the midnight oil,” to work 18 hours a day for the movement.  That replicates guilt, shame, and martyrdom that reinforce white supremacy to begin with.   And it encourages us to continue to grow our movements based on some capitalist model that makes them look like industries, that leaves behind so many in our community (like kids, elders, parents, and people with disabilities to name a few) and leaves out anyone who can’t commit their whole live to organizing. But I do think one of the ways we confront privilege,  is to question our emotional, spiritual, and physical comfort.

I think it’s important to say right now that we can’t ever know why anyone makes the choices that they make, nor is it ours to know.  The spectrum of care that we choose and need to survive in this world is not something you can tell by looking at us.  Disability justice and harm reduction teach us that resilience strategies in this world take many forms and are always acts of resistance.  I’m not necessarily asking for us to start by questioning and judging each other’s self-care decisions.  I’m asking others who experience some form of privilege to wrestle with the complicated questions about how the ways we take care of ourselves, each other, our communities, and our movements do or don’t move us closer to dignity, justice, and collective liberation.  I’m asking other white people to question when they generalize their experiences, assuming that everyone “chooses” to practice self-care at the expense of movement work.  I’m asking men to question thinking of knitting as counter-revolutionary. I’m asking other white women to question our complicated place at the intersection of misogyny and white supremacy, to look at the ways we have been taught to martyr ourselves as caregivers and also to prioritize our own comfort.  I’m asking other people with privilege to consider the ways that each of us practices self-care as a way of hoarding resources, time, money, quiet, space, and then to consider the ways we could take care of ourselves and our communities by re-modeling our conception of care to include resource redistribution and reparations.   How do we transform care not out of charity but out of deep solidarity, collaboration, and connection, an understanding that we are all in this together?

People with privilege, we have a lot of work to to make healing resource redistribution and care reparations. Maybe some of us do a little more childcare not just for meetings but also for acupuncture appointments, offer a little more transportation, pay higher on the sliding scale for our local healer or community clinic.  B writes about a co-worker and he returning from a meditation retreat with hugely different access to quiet, reflective space and therefore ability to continue a practice of meditation and stretching.  What if, more than an example of how broken our world is, that was an opportunity to share resources?  What if B and his coworker had figured out a way for one to  help with the others’ busy life one night a week, one to have access to quiet space to engage in reflection and rest?   Sure, that’s a small response in the face of all that we are up against, but doesn’t this struggle need us to be working to transform it in so many big and small ways? Hand in Hand is an amazing example of people organizing around privilege and challenging that privilege in order to transform how care works.  

Dori Midnight offered a beautiful vision the collective body that we are all a part of.  What I want us to engage with is how do we get there:  what will it take to move from a model of self-care that is often so individualized, that is often about those of us with lots of privilege taking even more time, space, and resources to increase our comfort?  What will it take to get to what Dori describes? What is the role of people with privilege in helping to get us there?

We share beautiful visions of transforming care, building our communities into places where we are all cared for.  And here we are today.  We can dream big and vision and we are also trying to survive and fight and live and dream another day.  Here we are, and we have a long way to go.  We must recognize ourselves for who we are and where we are, now, today, in order to dream how to get from here to our visions of collective care.

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Filed under community care, healing justice, self care, Uncategorized, unlearning privilege

Moving through acupuncture school (while Fat)

At my school, one of my requirements this first semester is Qi Gong class.  Qi Gong is a movement practice that comes from the large and dynamic body of theory and practice that we call Chinese medicine.  It has to do with energy, electricity, meditation, and a lot of other things that I am just beginning to understand through studying them in acupuncture school.  I love it so much and it also makes me nervous all the time.  It’s not that I have qualms about taking Qi Gong—in theory, it’s really exciting.  I just have qualms about group movement* class, what it means to be a fat person in group movement class, over and beyond what it already means to be a fat person in acupuncture school in a world that systematically equates health with weight loss.   One of my learning-to-love-my-body practices is figuring out how to incorporate movement in my life that involves as few other people as possible (or making sure I time my lap swimming with water aerobics classes—universally one of the movement classes I have witnessed that contains the largest diversity of differently-sized bodies).

Group movement practice is something stolen from us fatties by a society that has decided there is one kind of acceptable body, and it’s not ours.  I’ve been to a million yoga classes in my life, and still every time, the teacher without fail assists me too much or not enough. Or I get weird looks—sympathy, pity, anger.  If you are not fat, you might be surprised how much maliciousness people feel towards fat people in group movement settings, like we are their personal internal enemy, which I suppose, when the diet industry frames weight loss as a battle, is true.

There is a deep-seated cultural myth that tells us fat is the opposite of health.  This just isn’t true.  Not only are more and more evidence-based biomedically legit research studies coming out that question this widespread assumption, but most of us could spend five minutes and find ample anecdotal evidence to counter this rampant and destructive belief.  Saying that fat is the opposite of health implies that all not-fat people are healthy, implies that “healthy” practices (a whole other bag of worms, but for simplicity’s sake, let’s call it some combination of taking care of ourselves in ways that work best for us, having love and support, time with people we care about and time by ourselves, food that gives us energy and nourishment, sleep, water, movement) change our weight or the size of our bodies, that health is about appearances more than internal experiences of wellness.  I am a relatively healthy person and I am fat.  I’m not a paradox or even an anomaly.  It’s just that you can’t tell by looking at me how well or ill I feel, despite institutionalized attempts to the contrary.

We didn’t always think this way.  We know that there are times, whole systems of medicine and wellness that understood health as something attainable by people with a wide diversity of bodies, that didn’t create some fake epidemic in order to hide the fact that it is the stress and trauma of oppression  or corporate pollution that makes people more prone to the “lifestyle diseases” of Type 2 Diabetes, hypertension, heart disease.

In my Qi Gong book, interwoven with a history of this particular movement practice, is a brief history of vitalism-based movement in the West, how it was informed and augmented by Qi Gong practice.  It talks about the history of gymnastics, how over time western scientific materialism (read: nothing exists but what you can put your hands on, no spirit, no emotional body, etc.) replaced a system of movement based around cultivating energy, life force, vital energy, what have you, with one that was based on the appearance of that hard-to-name quality via the trappings of stamina, flexibility, strength.  It’s a profound difference: movement that is based on feeling better as opposed to looking better, like we know work towards.  Though Gymnastics as a sport is now far from its vitalist roots, this means we all have something to go back to, a place in our collective embodied memory when we moved together to feel better, not to look better.

I want to move with other people, and I want to do it in settings in which movement is about building together, collaboration instead of competition, in which different bodies are respected for what they can and can’t do, more than that maybe that different bodies’ capacities aren’t even the point. What it feels like individually to do the movement as more important than anything else.

In the post-industrial capitalism of the Global North that I live in, group movement practices have been stolen from almost everyone by the institutionalized systems of oppression in place, which include fatphobia, and also ableism, patriarchy, white supremacy.  Moving together to move towards health and wellness has become a luxury commodity as opposed to a basic necessity.  It’s a far cry from what it should be, could be: movement for wellness as a way we build solidarity with each other, as a way we come together in embodied community that doesn’t ask us to leave any of our selves behind, as part of the creating of other kinds of dynamic movements.  Qi Gong was banned from public practice in China during the Cultural Revolution, which tells me that there are many points in history when group movement practice, when growing our collective wellness together, has been considered subversive.  Maybe it’s because it’s related to the building of strength, the building of armies, guerilla forces ready for uprising.  Maybe it’s also because when we are well together, we have it in us to build the world we need, no matter the forces against us.

It’s not just group movement that has become more about cultivating a look than about cultivating an internal experience of health.  The history of colonialism on traditional medicines is one that is constantly shifting the focus to practitioner’s diagnosis and away from client’s experience.  Just think about this taken to an extreme: one thing it might look like is almost complete reliance on technologically sophisticated diagnostic tests and then practitioners spending five minutes with clients, mainly reporting on the results of said technologically sophisticated diagnostic tests.  Sound familiar?

All of this makes me realize that part of the goal of me writing this blog is accountability:  over the next four years, I will be schooled in how to diagnose people.  It’s a useful skill, and also a slippery slope.  Healthcare schooling teaches us to disregard people’s experiences for our own external perceptions of them; sure acupuncture school probably does this less than med school, but it’s still covertly and not-so-covertly part of the curriculum.  It’s my third week of school and I can already see how it can sweep over a person—I’ve already heard numerous teachers and students rant about how Fat people are automatically unhealthy.  This systematic silencing of peoples’ experiences of our bodies is a slippery slope and yet those of us who dedicate our lives to learning how bodies work do have something to offer, if we can combine that with listening and shifting the power dynamic ever towards empowerment of those we treat.  Fat is just one of the ways that we are taught we know about a person’s health just by looking at them, by using our far-from-objective observation skills without any sort of dialogue with the real expert in the room, the person seeking healthcare .

And one more thing: fat healthworker friends, where are you?  The first day of qi gong class, my teacher rhetorically asked, “who would want a 200-pound overweight chain-smoking doctor?”  In my head I automatically answered, that’s exactly who I want to be my doctor, and I realized that I have a lot of friends who do healthwork and none of them are fat.  I can imagine a million reasons for this, but I also know you are out there.  Fat healthworker friends, come to me.  We have some things we need to talk about.  In a body shaming, fatphobic culture, we are doing something powerful, transformative, even revolutionary—we would do it better if we were doing it together.  Doing health and doing movement together is part of collective liberation: it’s how we get to the world we need.

*I have used the word movement instead of exercise throughout this rant.  Partly that’s because the word exercise makes me think of all the ways white supremacist capitalist patriarchy frames the ways we move our bodies: that it is more about the appearance of health than the experience of health.  There is no monolithic experience of health.  Partly because as movements for collective liberation, what are we working for except broadly, a world in which everyone gets to live well and healthy, whatever that means for them?  Isn’t part of that learning how to move together?  We march and we dance and we eat together, sometimes we sleep together and we care for each other.  There is another basic pillar of wellness, and I want us to do it together, in anti-oppressive spaces that are working towards access and safety for all bodies.  I want vitalist movement practices together, as part of the world we want to create.

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Filed under #fatacceptance, #healthateverysize, acupuncture, body positivity, community care, fatphobia in healthcare, healing justice, self care, story telling, Uncategorized

Healing can bring us together: why I’m going to acupuncture school

Because I’m really lucky, four of my best friends came together a few nights ago to hold me a ceremony as I am about to start acupuncture school.  They are some of the most important people in my life for lots of different reasons, including playing integral roles in my developing my thinking and practice as a radical healthworker, the intersections of story, healing, and justice that are my life’s work.   As I start acupuncture school, which is a big deal step towards making the work of health and healing and collective care central to my life, I’m thinking about lineage and humility.  Of honoring where I come from and who and what has shaped where I’m at.  It feels like part of a direct challenge to the privilege that is making it possible for me to become an acupuncturist, in a world where holistic health practice and service is reserved for those with access to vast amounts of resources, like me.  I know that the healthwork I do in the world and will continue to deepen is intricately linked with the continual undermining of systems of power and privilege that currently barricade the way to collective liberation.  Part of that personal work for me, as a white person with class and educational and ability privilege, is honoring, bringing to the forefront, centering where I come from: the people and movements that have struggled before me and opened the space that I now inhabit, complexly, lovingly, always striving towards humility and freedom for us all.

My entry into acupuncture was learning the NADA protocol, a group ear acupuncture treatment with a revolutionary history.  When I had graduated from college about seven years ago and was just beginning to acknowledge and pursue the ways that healing and trauma recovery work intersected with the more conventional social justice organizing work I had been engaged in, my dear friend Lee said, “hey, come with me to this training in New York.”  And I did and it changed my life.  I was trained in the NADA protocol at the Lincoln Recovery Center, primarily by Michael Smith and Carlos Alvarez.    In 1970, the Black Panthers and the Young Lords in the South Bronx came together to occupy a wing of the local hospital in order to create a community-based drug detox center, the only service for folks struggling with addiction in the area.  Originally, the clinic used methadone in order to support people through withdrawal, but soon started using ear acupuncture, a uniquely innovative approach to supporting people coming off heroin without the use of another addictive substance.   The NADA protocol (5 points in each ear) was developed and used in conjunction with political education classes, peer support groups, and workshops in how to advocate for services from medical and social service providers.    Something about this community-based holistic model for addiction recovery led by people of color was so threatening to those in power that Lincoln was surveilled by Cointelpro, and raided and shut down by the New York police and accompanying SWAT teams, while the then-Mayor of New York claimed that “Lincoln Detox was a breeding ground for revolutionary cells.”

Lincoln still provides revolutionary client-centered care and support to people struggling with addiction in the South Bronx today, through a daily NADA clinic, 12-step groups, and the first drug detox program for pregnant women and mothers with young children in the country.  These days, they more quietly shift the paradigm of recovery by doing the amazing work that they do within the bureaucratic world of detox that has grown since they began.

The NADA protocol is easy to learn and to teach, is often performed by lay people/community members, and can and has been practiced anywhere: in parks, community centers, people’s living rooms, make-shift tents erected in recent disaster areas, refugee camps.    It is meant to be given in a group setting: part of the treatment is being around other people also receiving the treatment.  Since its development, NADA has been used successfully to aid people struggling with trauma, depression, anxiety, stress, and insomnia, as well as addiction and withdrawal.  It’s been described as “community self-help:” healthcare for the people, by the people.

Receiving healthcare in a group setting begins to undermine the conventional power dynamics that inherently exist when a client, a person receiving care, is alone in a room with a practitioner, a care provider.  By depending on group healing, NADA becomes a trauma-informed practice, one in which there is minimal touch involved, no moments of privacy with an “expert,” and can be performed by a friend or a comrade just as easily as a licensed acupuncturist.  NADA is rooted in a community’s collective response to oppression.  Oppression harms everyone in its path, creating stress and trauma, chronic disease and lack of safe and recuperative spaces, compounded by the criminalization of traditional healers and the turning of holistic healthcare into another marketable commodity available only to those with access to wealth.     I see NADA and Lincoln as one of the most notable models we have of health and healing justice in action, of the trauma- and oppression-informed healthcare that we need in order to create collective care, collective liberation, resilient communities that can overcome capitalism, patriarchy, and white supremacy, challenging individualism and power and expertise in healthcare.  As a practice, NADA is not just accessible or holistic but revolutionary.

Through the work of NADA, I get glimpses of what it is like to be a healthworker in solidarity and alliance with a grassroots movement for collective liberation.  I recently watched this video of the late and great Wangari Maathai, about being committed to small acts of change even in the face of overwhelmingly huge catastrophic destruction and oppression, about being a hummingbird.  I had a moment of hummingbird insight a few weeks ago, getting to participate in and experience a microcosm of what deeply transformative and politicized health and healing work can look like.

I have had the honor of offering ear acupuncture at two health fairs at the Arizona Worker’s Rights Center, a worker-led organization fighting wage theft and unjust labor practices that harm day laborers and other workers whose human rights are so often trampled.   Their health fairs are amazing and inspiring, with people involved with the Worker’s Rights Center and other community members coming together to engage with their health with the support of nurses, doctors, physicians assistants, midwives, community organizers, massage therapists, and health and healing educators.  There were dental exams, resources about accessing services, a survey about people’s health needs and priorities, workshops about mindfulness and meditation, people coming together to share a meal, some peace, get their blood pressure checked for the first time in 30 years, some conversation and connection, a chance to recharge in the face of daily violence, criminalization, targeting, oppression, and attempts to dehumanize whole communities of people.

Providing healthcare that is accessible and client-centered is always a political act in this country, where corporations greedy for profit have turned our healthcare system into more about money-making than care-giving.  Here in Arizona, it’s downright revolutionary to extend services to everyone regardless of immigration status, given all the blatant hostile racist attacks on people without papers, including an attempt last Spring to turn emergency rooms into immigration checkpoints.

What moves me so much about the health fairs that the Worker’s Rights Centers hosts, though, is something beyond access.  Free care that recognizes oppression and that not all people and communities are the same, free integrative care, that includes services other than conventional “western” medicine, is a rarity and we need it, all the time.  Health and healing that encourages individual empowerment, informed consent, folks taking charge of their own health needs and learning how to advocate to is also a rarity and we need it, all the time.  Health and healing that is both of those things AND based in community, in movement building, in coming together to connect and to struggle against capitalist white supremacist heteropatriarchy, is something we need all the time and something I, for one, have never seen or experienced before in my life.  Even though I have been schooled in NADA and its history, I had never before felt in my body the possibilities of moving beyond individual access and empowerment to truly liberatory, transformative, movement-building healthcare.  It’s a huge part of what’s made it possible for me to start acupuncture school tomorrow, knowing that I can be of service to movement building, collective care, to tearing down white supremacy culture so often created when white service providers try to show up for communities of color, of actively creating the world we need in which we are all free to be well together.  It’s something that Lincoln’s history, the Black Panther’s health programs, have made me dream of it.  It’s like Arundhati Roy famously said, “Another world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet dayI can hear her breathing.”  It’s a real and crucial part of the answer to some of the questions we need to answer, like:  What does it mean for health and healing to deeply, intrinsically be a part of movement work?  What does it mean for movement work to be deeply, intrinsically a part of health and healing?

I don’t think I ever really got it before, the true depth of what NADA was developed to do, that it is a healing modality that was designed to go beyond accessible holistic care, beyond individual empowerment to health and healing grounded in collective access and transformative, community-building social change work.   Health and healing as a site of politicization, of coming together and organizing and unifying and figuring it out, of gathering strength for the struggle, like the way things are supposed to be, like revolutionary movements have slowly built and struggled for, time and again.

And now I know what it is I need to do, and what I can aspire to, and what learning I need to pursue in order to get there.  Acupuncture school, here I come, for so many reasons: so that I can teach and support more people practicing NADA in more settings, so that I can support people in their unique individual and collective processes and healing, so the work I do in the world to support myself is in line with what my passion is, for a start.   Tomorrow, I begin that process.  Tonight, I am thinking of how I got here, on whose shoulders I continue to stand.

We are where we are because of the people that surround us, the ones we know intimately and the ones we have never met.  We are here because of each other, always.

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Filed under #nadaprotocol, acupuncture, community care, family, healing justice, health justice, resilience

Making the way with love

I wanted to write something in honor of Samantha Jane Dorsett, but I didn’t want it just to be about her death.  There is so much to say about the holding of collective grief and healing justice, the way we as movements, communities, individuals do and don’t do this.  The ways that our grief and who/what we have lost has to be part of our liberation and our healing and our transformation.  But then I re-read Samantha’s novella Troubled Sleep on the second anniversary of her death, this past June 20th, and was inspired all over again by how amazing, how revolutionary it is.

Samantha made beautiful art, mostly before I knew her.  She drew hilarious and inspiring comics and wrote a genius novella and poems and so many other things.  In addition to just how plain amazing her creations are, I think that Sam’s art, her drawing and her writing and her flyers and her organizing and her friendships and her soup, were a way she took care of her people.

There has been lots written about how art is a part of movement building in the more conventional sense.  We have countless examples of artist-revolutionaries breaking silences, bearing witness, fighting against oppression and repression, inspiring grassroots explosions of struggle and freedom.  Samantha was such an artist, and she was something else besides.  It seems to me that the things she made, all of them art, were as much about caring for the people immediately around her, about survival and holding and comfort and tiny shreds of hope, as they were about  contributing to large-scale movements for justice.

Her art is an incredible example of art as an act of love, therefore of care, support, and healing.  When we think about love as an action, as bell hooks talks about, making can be just one more way we love each other and maybe even ourselves.  And all of this can become a microcosm of what our larger movements look like, how we feel when we are participating in them, what the work is.  Yashna Maya Padamsee wrote an amazing piece about how healing justice work is about moving beyond self-care to community care, to fostering organizations and movements and communities and networks and cultures that intrinsically value and support our well-being.  She writes,

“Can we understand how creating another world will require, or rather, demand our well-being? From small-town collectives and national organizations to strategy and pop-ed sessions to shared meals and parties- it is our responsibility not as individuals, but as communities to create structures in which self-care changes to community care. In which we are cared-for and able to care for others.”

The practice of revolutionary art-making is often framed either as an act of individualized self-care, that one steps out of the “real” work of organizing to do, or as a tool for moving the hearts and minds and bodies of masses of people to collective action.  It can be both of those things.  And then there is this: art as a way we show love to those around us, as one of the ways we make it possible for all of us TOGETHER to move forward and fight, to heal and carry on, to grieve and hope.   Perhaps our most liberating, transformative artists are the ones who were just writing to give their friends, families, and selves something that would help them make it to the end of one day, and then the next.

I have lots of questions about revolutionary art as an act of love, liberation, healing.  About what access means in terms of art making and sharing.  About when we break silences and when we keep our secrets safe.  About what it means for me to share my writing  as a white, able-bodied, cisgendered (not trans) person with class privilege, someone with so much in common with people whose stories and voices have been elevated at the expense of the silencing of others for centuries.   About how to tell stories that will give hope, inspiration, glitter, and heart.  About how the things we do to take care of ourselves can also help us take care of other people and about how the things we do to take care of other people can also help us take care of ourselves.  Asking questions, challenging ourselves and each other, being humble, moving and making in a way that respects the dignity and self-determination of all people, all of this is building love, like developing a new muscle, like visioning and creating liberation—the slow work of threading together our bodies, our hearts, our words, and our creations.

Dorothy Allison—up there with Samantha as one of my revolutionary/loving artist role models—writes in “Muscles of the Mind” in her book of short stories, Trash:

The only magic we have is what we make in ourselves, the muscles we build up on the inside, the sense of belief we create from nothing.  I used to watch my mama hold off terror with only the edges of her own eyes for a shield, and I still don’t know how she did it.  But I am her daughter and have as much muscle in me as she ever did.  It’s just that some days I am not strong enough.  I stretch myself out a little, and then my own fear pulls me back in.  The shaking starts inside.  Then I have to stretch myself again.  Waxing and waning through my life, maybe I’m building up layers of strength inside.  Maybe.’”

The art that we create and share is part of building that muscle, part of building truly loving communities that can hold us all up even in the face of the most horrific violence and oppression and trauma.  And the deep love we create and share is often all that we have.  Someone told me today that what makes it possible to live through grief is the moments when you feel the presence of the person you have lost as a strong beam of pure love.  That is stronger than death, stronger than oppression—it keeps us going even when there is no hope.  And at the end of the day it is what we use to slip through the cracks, to rage and live and fight another day. Samantha wrote, in Troubled Sleep:

“In Franco’s Spain, it was illegal even to hold hands in public streets.  Was there really something good, something inherently good about affection, another thing that brought people close?  So much affection was channeled and controlled by pimps and husbands.  But still there was something special about the way people gently touched and reached out to each other, some tenderness that can’t be controlled.”

Thank you, Samantha, for being a bunny princess beam of pure love, for the chance to know you, and for leaving behind your art that pulls us up and through and together.

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Filed under community care, healing justice, resilience, samantha jane dorsett, self care, story telling