Solidarity and Healing in the Movement: A Short Reflection on the Need for Radical Care

Image caption: on a white cloth banner is written “I.C.E. IS ROUNDING PEOPLE UP IN A SANCTUARY CITY I.C.E. GET OUT”

By Tubman Brown, photo by Joshua Ramey

On a rainy Sunday afternoon in early September, some of us in Philadelphia came together to reflect on the trauma that we experienced at the hands of the state. Most of us knew each other at this meeting–some from this summer’s turbulent streets protests during the various Occupy ICE encampments, the Anti-Blue Lives Matter march, solidarity actions with the prison strike, and other less public events.

With us, there was one person experienced with therapeutic practice, who guided the conversation. Having a facilitator skilled in therapeutic practice was crucial to having this conversation. During our meeting people were encouraged to be intentionally vulnerable with each other and to reflect on state violence in a freely associative manner. It wasn’t until some of us took part in this meeting that we even began to think about the trauma we had recently experienced, which some of us had repressed and disassociated from. One person didn’t even realize that they had had a panic attack at a protest that was attacked by cops earlier that week, until they started to talk out loud and share what they were feeling.

Besides processing our experiences with state violence, we also talked about how to foster a political culture that prioritizes mental health-care alongside other kinds of work we do—workplace organizing, legal support, medical support, food, study groups, research, agitation, etc. We talked about the importance of organizing a collective of people with skills in the mental health field who can offer those skills to those experiencing post traumatic-stress in the revolutionary movement. This collective should not only provide their skills but help people develop these skills themselves so that the skills can generalize and become part of everyday political life.  

To encourage the development of a strong revolutionary movement, we need to regularly check in with each other, before, during, and after actions, not only to consider the effectiveness of our strategy and tactics, but also to reflect on our mental-health. All of it is connected. A better planned out strategy can contribute to the mental health of militants in the movement. At the same time, a practice of collective care can contribute to better street tactics and group dynamics on the ground.

Mental health shouldn’t be an afterthought, but a central part of what we do as revolutionaries. A truly revolutionary movement—a movement that actually destabilizes and supersedes state-power—will inevitably experience violence from the police, prison guards, and other armed agents of capital, and will inevitably produce highly traumatized subjectivities. If such a movement is to succeed in its revolutionary task, it will need to address and process the question of trauma and the mental-health difficulties that arise from it, simultaneously as it challenges state-power.

How do we build such a practice? Here are some suggestions:

  1. Meet regularly to engage in and develop a practice of radical care. Open up homes for meals/social gatherings not necessarily centered around an action.
  2. Hangouts/check-ins before and after actions. Establish post action space for anyone not wanting to be alone.
  3. Probe personal connections for community care resources in an effort to offer them to people coping with mental/physical distress related to political actions.
  4. Reach out to elders who have experienced state violence in order to learn coping skills in relation to state violence.

Let us hold our comrades close! A new world is possible!

Solidarity and healing forever!

. . .

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