These last two weeks of July, I have the pleasure of co-leading a social justice training program for a rockin’ group of teen social justice activists. They come from all over the country to hang out and learn together with the Unitarian Universalist College of Social Justice’s National Youth Justice Training program. Many of these folks identify as Unitarian Universalists, and some do not. The program is aimed at providing a spiritually grounded approach to social justice activism (see this book for an example of how that can work), and we partner with other awesome organizations, lots of them, to work with our students through anti-oppression trainings and internships.
We try to frame this approach in order to take seriously the toxic and real consequences of racism, classism, sexism, homophobia, ableism and more in the contemporary United States. We also want to take seriously the reality that it is easy, in sight of the mountains of justice work that have yet to be crossed, to lose our way–to be discouraged, to work so hard we burn ourselves out, to become cynical. Speaking for myself, I believe that grounding our work for justice in the wisdom of spiritual traditions–wherever we find them–helps us all to approach that work with the tools we need in order to do it well, and to do it for the long haul, to do it without burnout.
I do not believe that grounding activism spiritually is the *only* way to do it healthy and for the long haul, though. It seems to me that there must be something that feeds us as activists beyond the bare necessity to do this work–because the bare necessity will never, ever go away, and progress is usually incremental. There are other ways that people feed themselves, care for themselves, beyond explicit links to a spiritual tradition or set of principles that they can turn to, in community with others, when they need support and solace.
What are some of those methods and tools for you?
How do you feed yourself as an activist of whatever stripe while doing the work you do, whatever it is you are called to?
One of my main tools is tea. LoTs of TeA!! Usually of the nervine variety. I’m hoping to share some lemon balm and rose petal tea with the students tonight (in “iced” form) during our “down time” activity, and open up a space for talking about self care. I’m excited by the chance to hear what their own experiences are with feeling overwhelmed, and what tools they use to get their feet back under them.
I’m also excited to share with them some reflections on why it matters really, really deeply that we care for ourselves–and why it also matters that we reach out to everyone in our communities and beyond and make it possible for more and more people to care for themselves. After all, it ought not to just be activists who recognize the need for this kind of time and space–and for me at least it is part of my work as an activist to make a world possible where self-care, time off, relaxation, and re-inspiration are accepted as norms for all people, rather than taken as “cool,” “radical,” or otherwise outside of everyday experience.
There are many aspects of healing justice beyond the question of self-care: think about health care equality in terms of access to care, as on indigenous reserves around this continent. Think about disparities in respect and treatment quality at hospitals based on class and race. Think about worldwide inequities in the cost of medicines for debilitating diseases like HIV/AIDS and malaria. Think also about the way that most medical systems treat a symptom, rather than a person with a whole life–with a community–embedded in an ecological reality. Think about the toxic burden placed on communities of color and economically marginalized communities in the form of refineries, factories, garbage dumps and more that are placed in their neighborhoods.
These matters and many more are central to discussions of what it means to seek healing justice. Given a principle of starting where we are, though, I start with ourselves–asking how we may nurture ourselves in order to better understand and resist the oppressions offered by the current status quo.