We share an article co-authored by a member of Politics & Care, published in Briarpatch Magazine July/August 2018 issue.
by Rushdia Mehreen and David Gray-Donald
Aug 29, 2018
“I felt exhausted and alone. I didn’t feel like my comrades had any affective relationships with me or each other. The struggle had actually become a job. We rarely wondered what everyone was going through. […] Over time, I found no meaning or value in my activism. I felt emotionally and physically empty. I no longer wanted to move myself to go to the demos or to meetings because it exhausted me instead of leaving me energized.”
This is what Laykü,* who was an organizer with Palestinian solidarity and migrant justice groups in Montreal, told us it felt like at the beginning of their burnout.
Why are activists burning out, and what can be done to stop it? During the 2012 student movement in Quebec, Rushdia contributed to forming the group Politics & Care, a collective of activists and community organizers dedicated to addressing this question. The group’s activities include holding discussion circles and facilitating workshops on integrating care into political work.
Collective care refers to seeing members’ well-being – particularly their emotional health – as a shared responsibility of the group rather than the lone task of an individual.
This article unpacks the most common organizing dynamics that lead to burnout, and explores ways in which collective care can be integrated into organizing politics and practices. It is directed mostly toward anti-authoritarian, non-hierarchical grassroots groups.
Collective care refers to seeing members’ well-being – particularly their emotional health – as a shared responsibility of the group rather than the lone task of an individual. It means that a group commits to addressing interlocking oppressions and reasons for deteriorating well-being within the group while also combatting oppression in society at large. It places an emphasis on joint accountability, with the aim of collective empowerment. These ideas originate from queer and Black feminist organizing, such as the Combahee River Collective, and disability perspectives. It’s encapsulated in the phrase, “Be careful with each other, so we can be dangerous together.”
We build on previous discussions of problematic dynamics, and critiques of neoliberal notions of self-care – notably, an editorial from Upping The Anti, “Who cares?: The politics of care in radical organizing” – to further the conversation about collective-care-oriented solutions.
Power and control
We all know of an activist group that brands itself as “non-hierarchical” but is riddled with unspoken and insidious hierarchies. When some activists organize without sleeping for days or can dedicate all their time to organizing, it puts pressure on other members to match their standards of productivity and output. Those who contribute at extreme levels often gain more knowledge of the group’s goings-on, build more social capital, and claim more decision-making power. The invisible hierarchies that are created are hard to name and harder to dismantle.
Read the article in full online on Briarpatch Magazine: https://briarpatchmagazine.com/articles/view/be-careful-with-each-other