“At the risk of seeming ridiculous, let me say that the true revolutionary is guided by a great feeling of love.” – Ernesto “Che” Guevera
“love is an action, never simply a feeling” – bell hooks
in part three i’m going to return to a more personal reflection on healing, how it has felt to come out as a ritual abuse survivor, some of the challenges i’ve experienced in the radical activist community and some thoughts and practical examples of supporting survivors and supporting each other, or to use a phrase from the anarchist lexicon – mutual aid. here, though i’m going to put out some thoughts on healing and why it is so important for resistance movements to prioritize it.
love and healing
writing about healing is writing about love. healing is inseparable from love. human beings cannot heal from emotional hurts without love – self-love, love from family, friends, partners, community, from some mental health professionals, from animals and plants, and from creator.
healing is especially and most fundamentally about self-love and self-compassion: healing is a process where people find where we were and are hurt and where we learn to care, love, trust and respect ourselves again. as we do this, we relearn how to care for, love, trust and respect others and the natural world.
love and healing are also, i propose, central to effective movements for radical social change.
challenges in nurturing radical communities
it was hard work for me to connect with a community that wasn’t cult involved. when i returned (via deportation) to ottawa and canada almost everyone i knew was a cult member, although i didn’t really know this. i had/have dissociated identities and my “main” indentity, the identity that i was used to thinking of as myself, did not know that i was in, and trying to escape from, a cult.
another reason that it was hard work is that the non-cult community i found, the radical activist community in ottawa, was/is, in many ways, not easy to join. this is surprising when you think that we want to foster community and to encourage people to be a part of our communities and to get and stay involved in movements for social justice and revolutionary change.
i can think of several reasons for this inaccessibility, from individual psychological issues, to living in a social context where activists are frequently told we are wrong, bad and wasting our time, all of the pressures that come from living in a capitalist, colonialist and oppressive society, as well as the very real fact of infiltration by state and corporate agents, and the fear and distrust that this type of political repression generates – which is, of course, what it is intended to do.
these are real and understandable reasons that radicals sometimes distrust new people and that we are not as welcoming as we would like to be. i will state the obvious and say that, while it is understandable, it hurts us and our movements and that we need to find ways of overcoming these difficulties.
individual and collective healing
one way to do this, i propose, is to focus on and prioritize individual and collective healing. i think it is challenging for many social justice activists accustomed to focusing on changing government policies and institutions and changing an oppressive culture to really focus on ourselves and our own thoughts and feelings. it is different, contrary even, to what we so often do, and it may not seem like we are actually “doing” anything. the fact is, though, when we heal, we increase our individual capacity in every aspect of our lives: our capacity to have healthy, loving relationships, to think and act strategically, to create and maintain healthy boundaries, to be flexible and assertive, to act and respond, rather than constantly reacting, and in many, many other ways. ultimately, a focus on personal and collective healing can and will make us more effective as individual activists and as communities and movements working to make a better world for everyone.
i want to emphasize that i’m not proposing that we stop working to change policies, institutions, systems and cultures. i am not proposing some new age retreat from the world in favour of individualism and ethical consumption.
i am proposing that we also make time and space in our movements to focus on individual and collective healing, we will be better at organizing for social justice and revolution, and that we value this work and work done changing institutions and policies equally.
it is not a new idea that part of the challenge of really transforming our societies is to overcome the logics of capitalism, colonialism and other forms of oppression and privilege that we have internalized. in my experience, though, this idea rarely gets turned into action in our organizing and in our everyday lives.
this does not mean that there aren’t noteworthy exceptions. one example is the october fourth vigils for missing and murdered indigenous women, girls and two-spirits that happen annually in ottawa. these are, for me, a powerful example of individuals, communities and movements emphasizing the importance of grieving and healing in a struggle for justice for women, girls, two-spirits and their families.
historically, successful mass movements that have profoundly altered society have always, i think, had a healing component, from asserting that “black is beautiful” in the face of brutal white racism, to asserting gay pride in the face of brutal homophobia and heterosexism. these are only two examples. i’m sure that many others could be found.
healing and resistance movements
i want to underscore three interrelated aspects about healing in the context of social movement organizing: one, supporting movements that prioritize healing, such as the movements for justice for residential school survivors, and missing and murdered indigenous women; two, encouraging all of our movements to take the healing part of our organizing seriously – ending police violence and abolishing the police involves working with traumatized survivors and helping them to heal, ending rape culture involves working with survivors and helping them to heal; three, organizing to replace the capitalist, colonialist, canadian government with something better involves confronting state and capitalist repression and violence and this results in activists and revolutionaries being hurt and traumatized. we need to support these survivors, as well, from political prisoners to comrades that have been tear gassed and/or caged to comrades that are targeted for harassment and intimidation by CSIS and the RCMP.
to some extent we are already doing this! i think we need to do it more, and we need to be more intentional and explicit about it. healing is profoundly political, valuing the lives of survivors of interpersonal, corporate, and state violence is profoundly political, valuing our emotional lives and our individual well-being is profoundly political, and it is important that we emphasize this healing work and that we are explicit with ourselves and others about why it is so important.