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Friday, December 19 2014 @ 03:26 AM CST

Avoiding Burn Out - Self-Care and Support in Activism


This is a glimpse into a process of investigation into ourselves and each other. It’s neither the beginning nor the end and so it’s open to change. It’s never static. For now, at least, it’s the culmination of a year of conversations around what it might look like to be part of a movement that cultivates an environment of collective and self-care, support, revolutionary love and self-determination. The opinions that will follow are my own but i will use the word ‘we’ throughout this piece to reflect that these ideas were inspired by others and created through conversation and dialogue. I take responsibility for them but am open to suggestions and the possibility that they will change where better versions replace them.

Avoiding Burn Out - Self-Care and Support in Activism

Irish Anarchist Review #7

This is a glimpse into a process of investigation into ourselves and each other. It’s neither the beginning nor the end and so it’s open to change. It’s never static. For now, at least, it’s the culmination of a year of conversations around what it might look like to be part of a movement that cultivates an environment of collective and self-care, support, revolutionary love and self-determination. The opinions that will follow are my own but i will use the word ‘we’ throughout this piece to reflect that these ideas were inspired by others and created through conversation and dialogue. I take responsibility for them but am open to suggestions and the possibility that they will change where better versions replace them.

A little background – we have all come from different places in our political lives. We feel the need to be active in the struggles to effect change in our specific circumstances and beyond. We feel the pressure from the strain we put ourselves under and that we find ourselves dealing with. We have come up against burnout on personal and collective levels. Burnout, which in most cases would have been avoidable if we had had practices, structures and mindsets in place to deal with it. The participants are one of the most valuable assets in our movements and if we cannot sustain ourselves in healthy environments then how do we envision achieving our goals short or long term?

So we started to talk about all of this; the cultures we create and partake in; the martyrdom we act out within our organisations and workplaces; the oppressions we recreate; the bad practices which we continue to do. We recognise that change needs to happen on a societal scale, and we also know that change needs to happen on smaller scales; personally, collectively and within how we organise and act. The way we think motivates the ways in which we behave as individuals and as collectives, which in turn has a knock on effect on us and our movements. We are at once part of something bigger than us and at the same time comprised of smaller parts. Understanding the interplay between large and small scale change is vital. Understanding the interplay between personal and social change is imperative. We do not claim to know which place needs to change first and frankly we don't care (there are way too many good minds focusing on theories which we will never be able to know fully. Claiming universalised truths is not our game). What we do know is that we are ready to start challenging the taken-for-granted on all levels and we await the outcomes.

Self-care and collective-care within movements and campaigns is an area we find to be lacking. Too often do we overwork ourselves until we either drop-out or become disenchanted with what we are doing. We see each other running ourselves into the ground in the name of some cause which is 'bigger' than us and 'better' than us. Worthy causes no doubt, but worthy of our self/collective sacrifice? If our political work is so important to us and the notion of not working toward a better society is unthinkable, then why can we not step back and put our energy into reorganising in more healthy and balanced ways? If we can achieve this then we can sustain our resistance for longer and for the better. We can plan more efficiently and we can work towards our ends, together, keeping in mind, and in action, the ethos of how we want to live 'after the revolution'. So how do we go about this?

Firstly we need to rethink the idea of self-care. This notion has been colonised by neoliberalism. To many of us it conjures up images of over-indulgent consumers buying their karma tokens at the nearest yoga centre. Or individualistic new age practitioners who do not see a collective vision of enlightenment. This is not what we are advocating. But we are also not suggesting that there is no such thing as looking after yourself on a personal level and in the ways that appeal to you. We all have specific ways of sustaining ourselves and having fun and these are not things that we should feel guilty about. Guilty pleasures are a hangover from a time gone by. We should not condemn ourselves or each other for partaking in the good things in life now and again. If we are striving for a better world then that world is also for us to live in. This is not to say that we ignore our privilege where we find it but that instead of getting bogged down in guilt we use these feelings to harness energy to challenge these privileges and change the structures that created them.

People often relate to self-care in an instrumental way. One that has us periodically taking part in something that will nourish us. This, we feel, is flawed. We are not vessels that need to be cleaned every now and again to be kept in good condition. We are vast and complicated beings and self-care needs to be something we make part of ourselves, the way we think and the way we act and react. The type of self-care we are looking for is not an individual thing but a collective act. We do not exist alone, or in some vacuum, we are social, we exists alongside others whether we like it or not and the healthy functioning of the entirety will only do us good. If the people we are engaging with everyday are being cared for then we get to work in an environment which will be much more functional. I’m sorry if this is starting to sound like a managerial or marketing plan, but I am trying to sell this idea to people. Big businesses and corporations have team building and support systems in place because they want to make their workplace as profitable as possible. Our difference is that we are not out to get a monetary profit. We, as anarchists and activists do not view social change in terms of profit, instead we view it as a myriad of things that need to happen on different levels in order for us all to live in a world which is more equal, just and humane.

Something that we have noticed is how we don't have a metric for failure within our organisations. Big businesses have this as a self-serving rule in order not to waste time, energy and resources on dead ends. But what structures do we have in place when we try to evaluate how effective we are being? How do we know when we are doing something wrong or when we should stop when we haven’t collectively figured out what failure might look at? How do we know what to change when we’re doing it wrong when we don’t organise around this possibility. And does it not seem irrational to ignore these ideas? This might be one of the reasons why we find ourselves repeatedly banging our heads off walls. It seems to make sense that we should try to understand the warning signs if we want to be more effective. Putting this into practice is another challenge. Accepting our own vulnerability on personal and collective levels may also be quite useful. Failure and making mistakes is human and can be immensely helpful in teaching us how to do it right the next time. If we can communicate this to each other then maybe we won't feel like we need to be ashamed of needing a break, or time out, or just working less. People accept that self-care is important, who would say otherwise? But when it comes down to it we think it is for other people, and rarely ourselves.

If, as anarchists, we believe that domination needs to be understood on a person-to-person basis, as well as on a wider level then it seems that the idea that self/collective-care becomes integral to mutual support, sustainable communities, self- determination and an effective working practice. Any politics we wish to create become representative of the selves we bring to it. With these ideas in mind we have another way of looking at how we recreate self-oppression, mirroring how we are viewed under capitalism – not worth the care and love that we know people deserve and only good for our incredible self-abasing work ethic.

So how do we do this practically within our groups? What would a reorganised workspace look like if self/collective care were vital parts of the structure? From our perspective we first need to rethink the idea of self-care, critically asking everything we can about how to go about it, what care is, what the self is and how we relate to each other. We don't have answers here that will fit everyone’s circumstances and so it is up to us to begin talking about this together. We have found that simply communicating these ideas to each other or talking about our worries and issues in a group context is a great way to understand our common experiences and so to begin to question how we can do things better. People create themselves in relation to others and so it will only be through others that we can really try and change ourselves. In this sense we see that people are in an ongoing process of constructing ourselves anew and so self-care becomes an ongoing process instead of a periodic one.

We need to adopt a really critical perspective when it comes to thinking about what we think about and why we think it. It also means radically intervening on ourselves and each other when we see the need. An example is about how we relate to others who could be described as 'broken people'. We recognise the damaging effect that capitalism has on all of us – 'breaking' us, in a sense. But when it comes down to it we find it hard to deal with broken people and fittingly we find it hard to see ourselves as part of the broken bunch. If this sounds dramatic I don’t intend it to. Broken doesn’t have to mean damaged irreparably. Instead think of it as something waiting to be reconstructed anew. It’s good to keep in mind here that our thoughts and behaviour may be deeply colonised by our oppressive societal structures.

Simply identifying as anti-capitalist or disproportionately focusing on domination in ‘traditional’ institutional terms – state, patriarchy, race etc. – and forgetting about the selves that make up these institutions and continue their oppressions, ultimately is not enough. It also undermines our abilities and goals to reach out to, learn from and support people around us who don’t identify in the same terms or with the same lexicon but who are nonetheless involved in social change.

Decolonising our brain and our responses is an extremely political act. One that challenges the supposition which much of our groups have that we are doing everything in the best way possible, again leaving no room to talk about possible failure on some level. This is disempowering for those involved who feel that things aren't being done right but who lack the capacity to voice their opinion in an environment which doesn’t hear it.

Consciously organising with collective-self-care in mind makes our unconscious domination over others more tangible and open to challenge. If we maintain cultures of rationality and over-work we undoubtedly push those away who have felt the immense oppressions of living in a deeply unequal and divided society. Caring for ourselves and each other in an autonomous fashion has been one of the building blocks of the feminist movement. Taking the control of our minds and bodies away from others and putting the decisions back into our own hands has been undeniably empowering. But it is not just within the boundaries of the feminist movement that this should happen. Capitalism has devalued the emotional, the spiritual, and the feminine as weak and unproductive. Re-instituting these aspects into our political work can be a subversive act in itself.

We propose collective forms of self-care because in doing so we lessen the potential for care to become exclusively a privilege for white, middle- class activists. Political activism as an act of solidarity with others enlivens the passions and drives us forward and through hard times. It’s ugly sister being the left-wing vanguard rhetoric of work- more, gain-more, martyrdom. This model doesn’t seem to suit the majority in the long-run. Especially not those who for physical, mental or emotional reasons just plain cannot work themselves to the bone and often only survive because of a clear understanding of their necessity for care, love and support.

So how can we protest differently? How can we organise ourselves so group cohesion, fun, positivity and self/collective care can be part of our practice? How then do we also politicise the ideas and realities of failure and sadness and make them part of who we are and how we learn? How do we create spaces for these ideas to be fleshed out more and discussed openly? How can we notice the warning signs along the way so we don't run ourselves and each other into the ground? What do we do when our groups aren't receptive to these ideals? And how do we not pathologies what we do and why we do it along the way?

Many questions. Many answers. We would love to hear your ideas and experiences.

WORDS: Amber O'Sullivan

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Avoiding Burn Out - Self-Care and Support in Activism | 8 comments | Create New Account
The following comments are owned by whomever posted them. This site is not responsible for what they say.
Avoiding Burn Out - Self-Care and Support in Activism
Authored by: rebelmouse on Monday, May 13 2013 @ 06:29 AM CDT

Nice text, I hope it will come in eyes of many anarchists, especially those who are theoreitcal anarchists but in daily life they reproduce capitalism, egoism, etc. So, message for western anarchists: start to share your resources with other people, especially with illegal immigrants who sleep on the street while you enjoy in capitalism. I don't speak only about your home and sharing "too much space" with other people, I speak about many youth and culture centers, squats, etc, which can accomodate more people. For example in Berlin squats, it is not possible to get place to sleep without recommendations, while in swiss and my country, people share what they have, you can get place even if you are fckn tourists, who cares, we are all human in needs. I don't want to have squatted house like my property, because property is basis for capitalism and patriarchy. For example: This is my house, if you don't like it, go out; that's what old people say in my country when they have conflict with young people. Possession of property is basis for authoritarian and patriarchal behavior. So, many immigrants in Hamburg and Berlin sleep on the street while Germans enjoy their privileges in capitalism, will they share their resources? No, they can sleep one person per floor and they will say, there is no place, people in Asia sleep 10 people in small house and they keep such mentality when they become anarchists, they will find a place for one more person. Problem with Germans is also they will not rethink and criticize, they will always just adapt themselves in community, so, if they occupy some house, they will never do anything new, they just copy what other people do. As you see, copying in swiss is good, most squats are open for guests, sopying in germany is bad, they copy egoism and selfishness, suffering for property and cheap living, there is no changing of relations among people in squat, there is no critics. immigrant try to criticize, he is enemy, he is not welcomed, the same like Angela Merkel and Turkish community, good Turkish are those who become like Germans, those who criticize, they can go back to their country. That's German way of thinking, they stay the same after they meet some new idea like anarchism. They have only verbal solidarity but mutual aid is something very hard for them, real nightmare. One place in Hamburg Gangelviertel, it is located in the center and it is very big, they have punk gigs and meetings against racism, etc, but they have empty room just beside the street and nobody use it many months and beside it, I am sure they have a lot of space inside of complex. They have resources which they don't use, they got complex of buildings, and they don't share it with others about sleeping, you can come and make meeting of your group, like in centro sociale, but not to sleep there (beaurocratic nation, rules are more important than humans). The same is with squats in Rigerstrasse in Berlin, 2004 I was there and asked and I was refused, then one day if police attack them, they will ask for solidarity. Why I should fight against cops because of people who watched only their ass and kept all resources for themselves? if they don't care for others, why others should risk and fight against cops because of them? OO yeah, we should fight on the basis of interest, sorry, I didn't grow up in capitalism to make trade and watch only interest. Asking for sleeping is not asking to get stick in the head but they ask others to risk for them. Do you know why squat in Copenhagen had big support, 5 days people fought against cops, simply because many people used squat, it was open, and I got also place to sleep there, I saw at protest people who dislike immigrants, they also come and support protest, simply squat was there 24 years and served many people. people who are egoists and watch only their ass, they will never have so big support in the time of trouble. Anarchists and immigrants sleep on the street while germans enjoy, ok, one day, germans are attacked by cops, immigrants will stand and watch and they will not participate in fight against cops. Give up from capitalism, from taking property for yourself, share it with others, many groups use buildings during the day and evening, during the night it is empty, people can sleep inside. Every day I see crowd of Africans and Polish sleep on the street in Hamburg, they are not included in fight against government, they are left on streets, they are without friends, relatives, school, job, etc, domestic anarchists didn't include them in their social life (it happened even in swiss, Litvanian 17 years old lived in squat 2 years and had totally lonely life, they never included him in their csocial life, he cleaned kitchen 3 hours every day and watched MTV 6 hours per day, he didn't have where to go and what to do). But yeah, 2 German anarchists got place to sleep in squat in Greece, before they were arrested, they should be left on the street the same as they do in germany with other people. as I said, they don't accept critics, I tried to criticize in Berlin in 2004, they disliked me automatically, you are immigrant you must be like we are or you are not welcomed. I am sorry that texts like this above comment will stay just texts, it is idealistic, people are far away from the way of thinking of author. Kropotkin wrote anarchist morality and many other books are written, but people just adapt themselves in their community, they copy behavior of others, and then somebody says: rethink. sorry but they don't think, they just become a copy of others in their community, they accepted anarchist theory but they stayed children of capitalism. Even if they see text like this and this comment, they will not change themselves, they will continue the same as before, because they are there to adapt themselves and not to think or rethink anything.

Edited on Monday, May 13 2013 @ 06:46 AM CDT by rebelmouse
Avoiding Burn Out - Self-Care and Support in Activism
Authored by: ISHI on Thursday, May 23 2013 @ 08:52 AM CDT

 there are maybe 2 sides to every story.  i used to be into sharing and so-called (anarchists) mutual aid, but then people i took in ate my food ('im on a special diet since i get sick)---and their own money they spent in a bar and such.  i would get sexually assaulted harrassed and they would call the police on me since i was the only one who would taske out the trash (and i had an open container to get through the process)   so i'd have to sleep outside (in the snow)  and steal everything that could be sold, smoke dope crack heroin in here shoot bullets through the walls over some sort of domestic issue.  

  also the 'anarchists' i'm familiar with dont put up with this shit.  talk the talk dont walk the walk---unless you are, say a professional dogwalker helping gentrifiers pursue their interests at ISE. or maybe got a job at LSE (debt) or Gtn U or AU f-u

  and i been to both germany and switzerland and worked there too. (and they took my paycheck too cuz i didnt realize they were charging me for lunch and 'rent' (sleeping up in the alps near italy watching cows and fixing up the 'raclette' buildings-swiss cheese).    (www.axiomsandchoices.blogspot.com)

half a (k)nic/fe day    

Avoiding Burn Out - Self-Care and Support in Activism
Authored by: Admin on Thursday, May 23 2013 @ 01:05 PM CDT

Amen, ISHI. Don't call yourself an anarchist unless you are walking the talk.

Otherwise, if you treat people like shit, you are an asshole and parasite. Might as well be a capitalist.


Avoiding Burn Out - Self-Care and Support in Activism
Authored by: ISHI on Friday, May 24 2013 @ 04:21 AM CDT

 and f u 2

asking for $ capitalist?

Avoiding Burn Out - Self-Care and Support in Activism
Authored by: Admin on Friday, May 24 2013 @ 08:34 AM CDT


Avoiding Burn Out - Self-Care and Support in Activism
Authored by: ISHI on Saturday, May 25 2013 @ 06:05 AM CDT

 no offense intended. either i misunderstood something or you did.  if dumpster diving counts as being a parasite and/or capitalist, then at times i am that.

  and i have very low to zero tolerance for garbage---bad   habits, been there and left (tho people want me to stay)--- however you name yourself (see 'don't gimme no lip' on my 'blog' axiomsandchoices.blogspot.com

   it looks like a mansanto day.  tomorrow is walk in park day, then g-o- g-o nite, then quantum theory monday.

Avoiding Burn Out - Self-Care and Support in Activism
Authored by: ISHI on Sunday, May 26 2013 @ 02:41 AM CDT

 i managed to get ron paul types f-king me up; police got rid of them.  then i get 2 secret service police cars and 3 bike cops.  they check me out and im free to go,   g-o g-o rock creek baby   axiomsandchoices blog 

Avoiding Burn Out - Self-Care and Support in Activism
Authored by: ArchStanton on Saturday, May 18 2013 @ 01:42 PM CDT

It's Onward Through The Fog Of Burn Out, baby!