Building communities of resistance

"Self care is not an act of self indulgence, but an act of self preservation and that is an act of political warfare." - Audre Lorde

This is a guest blog by Karen Larbi a Bootcamp 4 graduate and Bootcamp 5 organiser. 

“Self care is not an act of self indulgence, but an act of self preservation and that is an act of political warfare.”

– Audre Lorde

Coming into activism as a result of experiencing injustices and/or supporting those that do can leave us feeling overwhelmed, traumatised and exhausted, especially if our work consists of constant fire-fighting or being reactive.

We often feel the stress of living in a system that makes us feel crushed, erased or invalidated.

We often work on issues where there doesn’t seem to be an end or win in sight, leaving us feeling demoralised, disheartened and uninspired.

We’re often working in under-paid jobs in under-funded organisations, on time-limited project-based contracts, or providing unpaid labour.

All of this contributes to a lack of job security, financial stability and career progression, which can cause tension and stress, no matter how dedicated we are to the cause. These feelings can also cause feelings of guilt and shame. We feel guilty and ashamed for wanting more money, more financial stability, more career satisfaction, when the people we are supporting are barely able to survive.

As activists we are are often working on the frontlines, with marginalised communities that are unheard and erased by the mainstream, where people experience violence and brutality. We are often waging prolonged campaigns for justice and social change in the midst of our own oppression, bereavement and loss.

Our work is hard and we often feel that we don’t have the luxury of switching off at the end of the day when our work is so urgent and there’s a lot of it to be done.

But the fight is long, and we need to be able to keep going. That’s why I believe, as activists, we need to prioritise self care. In ourselves, and in our communities. 

I’m new to the world of campaigning but as I have a long history of mental health problems, I’ve been using self-improvement techniques for a while, in an attempt to manage my symptoms, overcome a legacy of trauma and build on my healing abilities. It’s been a long journey; one of constantly looking for new techniques by devouring books, podcasts, webinars, online conferences and more. I have discovered techniques such as mindfulness, meditation, emotional intelligence, and yoga in my efforts.

If you look at the world around us today it’s clear that i’m not the only one exploring these techniques. From yoga studios on every corner to large corporations offering mindfulness to employees, the language and the practise of self care surrounds us. It’s easy to be cynical about the adoption of coaching, mindfulness and other meditation/holistic techniques by large multi-national companies as an effort to maximise staff productivity and decrease absenteeism. Without a doubt the emphasis on material wealth and profit promoted by the self improvement industry deserves critique.

But we should not use this as a reason to dismiss this work. These practices can also be a tool for encouraging healing, growth, creativity and inspiration within “communities of resistance” a term coined by Thích Nhất Hạnh, Vietnamese Buddhist monk, teacher, author, poet and peace activist.

Our communities of resistance are collective spaces where we can return to ourselves. They also help us develop the self compassion, vision and clarity needed to heal from the wounds of oppression and societal assaults on our wellbeing, and within this healing is resistance to being assaulted and destroyed by the system.

We feel called to do this work to fight for and create a world that recognises our humanity and the precious earth that sustains us, and these spaces can encourage an outward focus for our healing intentions. Therefore, the aim of self-care is to restore and preserve ourselves to help us deal better and more productively with the challenges that our life and work throws at us.

For me, self care includes practising slow forms yoga, participating in mutually affirmative communities of people of colour, and watching the odd make up tutorial. For others it’s knitting warm clothing for refugees, twerking, creating art. Whatever we do to bring us back to ourselves is vital. And it’s important to build communities and facilitate collective activities that aren’t just campaign focussed, in able to support each other to heal, grow and survive.

Because as the good Lorde said, “we were never meant to survive.”

By surviving and thriving, we can work towards creating a more caring and just world.

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