The work of solidarity and healing

Darning, Tom of Holland

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about the ways in which we are hurt by the world, and about the ways in which we might heal from those hurts. We are hurt by the effects of racism, inequality, political disenfranchisement, sexism, rigid gender and sexual identities, the displacements of migration, ableism, and structures which often prioritise competition over cooperation, among others.


These are structural problems, but they affect us in deeply personal ways. Legacies of hurt come down to us through our families, at the same time as our experiences add new layers. For many people, involvement in activism can be deeply damaging, in part because sexism, racism, homophobia, and other structural inequalities don’t magically disappear within movements.


IMG_20150819_080205011Our movements need to be spaces of healing. Because we are up against vast forces, and we need to be as strong as possible. Because when we damage each other further people burn out and groups split and our work is undone. Because we need to show that there are alternatives, and they are viable and more beautiful than what currently exists.


For us to heal, for us to be strong, it takes work. While I was in Athens, I facilitated a short workshop on emotional labour. “Emotional labour” is often used to refer to the requirement that workers manage their feelings in particular ways while on the job (for example, smiling and looking happy even if they’re tired or annoyed), but emotional labour is also common in activism.


This takes a variety of forms, most of them hidden, and unequally shared. It might include smoothing over disagreements during a meeting; checking up on members of a group who miss events; welcoming newcomers; and meeting with people outside of events to negotiate tensions. Often, women take on more of this work, in the same way that women are still often expected to do more of other ‘caring work’ – cooking, cleaning, childcare, and so on – even when in movement spaces. In many spaces, race and class differences will also contribute to the inequality in who is expected to do emotional labour.


Several people at the workshop asked for more material on emotional labour, so I’ve gathered a few useful links here, in no particular order. This is far from a definitive collection! It’s just a starting point, with a mix of deeper theoretical discussion, specific suggestions, and different perspectives. (I also don’t necessarily agree with every single point in each of these sources.) Please feel free to add helpful sources in the comments, or to let me know if you have any questions.

I hope this is helpful, and I look forward to learning more from the ways in which other people are approaching the challenge of building stronger movement spaces.







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