Who Cares? : The Politics of Care in Radical Organizing

Painting by R. Mehreen
We are happy to share the August 2016 editorial of Upping The Anti journal, which analyzes how care has become individualized and what collective or community care can look like. The analysis in this editorial complements the (collective) care work that we do at Politics & Care.

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In many of today’s social movements, a common framework is taken up with regard to “self care.” In many ways, it seems as though self care is commonly understood as taking some form of “time-out” from the stresses of daily life within capitalism and organizing, especially from spaces that cannot or will not offer care. It can refer to time taken or an activity done intentionally for one’s own personal well-being. Beyond the things we actively do to care for ourselves, self care can also mean not doing certain things: not attending a meeting or action or stepping back from organizing altogether for a period of time. We may need self care to cope with the draining effects of crisis-mode organizing, increasingly precarious work lives, or patterns of discrimination in certain organizing spaces. Self care might also be the activities one needs to simply survive – physically, mentally, emotionally – in a world that brutalizes certain bodies, races, and genders more than others. In any case, it is clear that self care has become a central concept and practice in organizing circles today – a ubiquitous prescription for the tired activist.

Our editorial takes issue with this individualized, compartmentalized characterization of self care. This does not mean, however, that we advocate an “end to self care,” as others have in the past.1 Instead, our critique is aimed first and foremost at the individualization of the responsibility to provide care. While the practice of self care is often individual, we must reflexively consider the ways our organizing spaces and processes fail to take an active interest in our individual and collective well-being. How do our organizing spaces replicate capitalist value judgements about the “productive” activist? Furthermore, understanding self care as a periodic activity or “time-out” is a disabling construction; it does not account for the fact that for many folks, self care is an ongoing and necessary practice that is rooted in community, family, and interdependence. This does not mean our communities, organizing spaces, or other groups are solely responsible for the needs and care of each individual. It does mean, however, that we need to take a greater degree of collective responsibility for each other’s well-being, beginning with an understanding of our collective interdependence, as well as the differential needs that must be addressed through this interdependence. The contemporary rhetoric of self care withdraws collective responsibility and disavows interdependence, and therefore puts our movements at risk of replicating or exacerbating patterns of neglect and harm that many folks experience in a profoundly hierarchical and exploitative world.

In addition to this, the increasingly commodified nature of self care warrants a critical analysis. How have common understandings of self care in radical political spaces mirrored neoliberalism, and how can we resist this? All too often the responsibility of care is the individual’s alone, and it is stratified across dimensions of race, class, gender, and disability. Clearly, then, the current paradigm of self care “leaves us in danger of being isolated in our struggle and our healing,” and all too often results in the “isolation of yet another person, another injustice.”2 In short, if we organize together in the name of collective liberation, why are we expected to care for ourselves individually?

Read the full article at http://uppingtheanti.org/journal/article/18-editorial/

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