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A Round-up and Re-frame of the Community Care Conversation

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An End to Self Care written by B. Loewe has had well over 10,000 views and it sparked a number of response articles and social media flurries.

An End to Self Care written by B. Loewe has had well over 10,000 views and it sparked a number of response articles and social media flurries. There is alignment, there is disagreement, there is push back and push forward. There is a range of responses, and two weeks later, a common thread has emerged: a feeling of relief and enthusiasm that this conversation is opening at this scale, on this platform and with this energy. As I mentioned in the launch of the Community Care Channel, this is not a new topic on Self Care and Community Care within Social Movements but this is a particular insurgence of new fire around this conversation online.

I will review a lot of what we have heard in the debate around this controversial piece, but I want to open by offering a reframing for the conversation, which has been understood as a debate over whether or not we need to “end self care.”

The real question – as it was raised in B’s piece and as many people have been discussing for several years – is: How can we create an end to self care as we know it – which is often individualist, exclusionary, oppressive – and instead focus on a collective responsibility to create conditions of care systemically? This way, our struggle is no longer an isolated fight for self-care but rather a collective commitment that each person should have access to the care they need for themselves and for each other.

With the question reframed, we can move away from the binary between self and other and towards questions of the collective, such as: How do we create a shared responsibility for each other’s well-being on the individual, communal, and systemic level?

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An end to the binary around care

I don’t want to dismiss the need to care for ourselves. Caring for ourselves is important and – as many have argued over the years – even radical work. One of the first responses to An End to Self Care was from Adrienne Maree Brown who suggests a reframing of self-care to “self-determined care” because “the messages we receive are that our lives don’t matter, that we don’t deserve love, or even to exist.” So just by loving ourselves, caring for ourselves we are fighting the system; “to choose instead to value ourselves, our health, and the health of our communities – all as one, not at odds with each other, is radical, it’s self-determination.”

Brown also mentions that part of the drive to her own self-determined care and acceptance of community care is that she “wanted to give to movement from a healthier place.”

We want to give to the movement. We want to give ourselves to the movement. Why? Because we love it. We love our people. We love our communities, and we believe in people power as a force of change. We have also learned that we do not have endless reserves when we do not stop to fuel up.

Subhash Kateel – in his response to B’s article, Care is the Core of Change – poignantly goes through a list of contradictions in our work culture such as the organizer fighting to stop evictions when her own home was being foreclosed on or the “veterans of ‘the movement’ who gave their lives and livelihoods up so we can live in a more just world that are now growing old with no safety net, health insurance or pension.”

To break this divisive binary of “care for myself or care for the movement?”, we need to ask ourselves two questions. One is raised by Spectra in the title of her piece –  How about an End to the Martyr Complex? and the other is raised by B Loewe – “How do we shape our struggles so that they are life-giving instead of energy-taking processes?”

Digging into the archives

Since B. Loewe’s article is not the beginning, I want to pull back for a moment and dig into the archives. Much of the dialogue about this work has been organized around the US Social Forum processes of 2007 and 2010 at both the regional and national levels. These processes have taken this conversation of care and health and healing to new depths through leadership of mostly Women of Color and Queer and Trans Folks of Color who are also developing relationships with the Disability Justice movement.

Kindred Southern Healing Justice Collective did a Needs Assessment that states “Changemakers are dying as a result of spiritual and physical deprivation from trauma, stress and unrest in our movements.” and goes on to explain conditions, needs, and possible strategies. Kindred is one of a number of organizations and individuals that are part of a larger body of work around Health and Healing Justice.

Informed in part by the National Healing Justice work as well as by my own experiences in social justice work I wrote Communities of Care, Organizations for Liberation in July 2011 calling for a “switch in our thinking – individually and organizationally – to including well-being in our work for justice.”

Many people asked if they could share Communities of Care, Organizations for Liberation within their groups or at their conferences, so the conversations continued off-line and within their communities. If you were one of those groups, we would like to hear your reflections and report-backs.

Organizing Upgrade has been hosting articles from the Team Colors Collective of the Autonomist movement. They have contributed to the ongoing conversation by highlighting the great work of The Rock Dove Collective (making dignified healthcare accessible), Philly Stands Up (transformative justice work with survivors of sexual assault), and the Rosehips Medics (street medics providing services & trainings). In this series of interviews we can see examples of communities of care in action.

This is just a small glimpse into the wide breadth of thinking and work that came before the controversial An End to Self Care article and what gives me hope in how we can move beyond it too.

The end to isolated struggle, alienation and burn-out!

B Loewe’s piece came out 2 weeks ago on Tuesday October 16th as an agitational piece with a controversial title and image that overshadowed the message. The provocative tombstone and title aside, the article tried to challenge our notions of individualistic self-care and to recommend shaping justice and community work as healing processes. Loewe says “If injustice results in collective wounds, healing comes from collective struggle.”

Unfortunately, for some people, this message was buried (pun intended) under the more controversial notes of the article which caused in Subhash Kateel an “immediate and viscerally negative reaction to it.” Kateel was not the only one to have this kind of reaction. People reacted to many aspects of the piece, which I will dig into a little later.

Loewe applauds the “advance from movement culture from generations before” in the ways we are now “talking about how we sustain ourselves, honor our personal needs, and prioritize our well-being in this brusque and brutal world”  We need to care for ourselves because doing so is part of community care, it moves beyond the self. It is our responsibility to each other to do what it takes to “have all of our strength in place to counter the systems which would see us destroyed.”

I think that the most important questions to pull of of B’s article are: What would it take to see our organizing and movement work as self care/community care? How would our organizations and practices need to change to be able for that to happen? How do we end the forced alienation that capitalism creates? How can we create a fire that fuels us and others instead of something that burns us out?

Privilege, care and the lessons in both

For some people who have only recently felt okay about taking care of themselves and who often have to fight for survival, seeing self-care on a tombstone was triggering and created a negative affect. For some people, the article showed folks for the first time that they have the right to ask for support and receive help while for others the opposite lesson was true.

Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarsinha’s piece, called out ableism, sexism, and privilege that she saw within the framework of the article and more importantly a broader movement culture. A series of essays and blog posts followed (links below) from a disability justice lens that had critique that demand us to look at the ableism in our language, our frameworks, and our actions and to center the voices and experiences of directly impacted people. “And in much talk about sustainability, there’s not enough talk about how we, as broke/disabled folks, do it- what sustainability means to us.” That is a great question: how do we bring in many voices and experiences into this conversation and how do we talk about sustainability?

Piepzna-Samarasinha identifies a moment of alignment, she says, “I think Loewe has a point I’d agree with within their article- maybe the one they hoped would be picked up the most. It’s the point that collective care should be lifted up…”

Moving back again, I wonder- who should be reading these messages? In Caroline Picker’s piece Privilege, reparations, and communities of care she thoughtfully highlights an audience. Picker says “I don’t think we need to end self-care,” and then she redirects the question to folks “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….So right now, I’m thinking about how reparations and resource redistribution apply to self-care and community care.”

A beginning

This is not an ending, instead we are shining light on the idea that change comes from the collective care effort of healing systemic wounds and generational trauma, and shining light on the idea that movements can succeed when they are built to leave no one behind. In the next six months, I hope that this Community Care channel can be a hub for further conversation, critique and reflection that has been carried for years by many on the ground, and now seems to be breaking into a wider realm online. Regardless of our different reactions to B Loewe’s article, one thing we can agree on is that this conversation is opening up on the scale that it has. Stay tuned, and take good care.


how about a beginning of self-determined care? by Adrienne Maree Brown

Care is the Core of Change by Subhash Kateel

for badass disability justice, working-class and poor lead models of sustainable hustling for liberation by Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha

More healing, more of the time by Midnight Apothecary

an end to able bodied rhetoric by The Root Cellar

On gimp-time: activism and commitment by Building Radical Accessible Communities Everywhere (BRACE)

Bruin Christopher’s Response to “An End to Self Care”

Spectra Speaks on How about an end to the martyr complex

Community acupuncturists took up the conversation on the:  People’s Organization of Community Acupuncture blog

Domestic Left by Jonathan Kissam

An End to Self Care? in Linking Mindfulness with Activism by Kurt

Mindful Occupation by the Icarus Project and allies

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