On a rainy Sunday afternoon in early September, some of us in Philadelphia came together to reflect on the trauma that we experienced at the hands of the state. All of us were involved in the turbulent street protests that happened this Summer and so far this Fall in Philly, including the various Occupy ICE encampments, the Anti-Blue Lives Matter march, actions in solidarity with the prisoner strike, and other less public events.
Although we all knew each other at this meeting—some before this summer, others as a result of this summer—there was one person, experienced with therapeutic practice, who most of us meet for the first time. This person facilitated the discussion and did a great job doing so. It’s important to know people with this kind of expertise.
Besides processing our experiences with state violence, we also talked about how to foster a political culture that prioritizes mental health-care alongside other kinds of work we do—workplace organizing, legal support, medical support, food, study groups, research, agitation, etc. To this end, we believe there should be a collective of people with skills in the mental health field who make their expertise available to those experiencing post traumatic-stress in the revolutionary movement. And this collective should not only provide their skills but help people develop these skills themselves so that the skills can generalize.
For example, some of us attended a communist camp this summer which promoted the concept of the “care-camp” or “care-commune.” According to this concept, caring for each other was meant to be part of everyday camp life, which was primarily devoted to intense theoretical discussion and debate. The idea was that emotional/physical care should happen simultaneously alongside the more political, theoretical activities. Care activities included collectivized child-care, artistic activities, physical training, meditation sessions, live action role playing, a talent show, music, swimming in the river, and other informal interactions that promoted a general spirit of the care-commune.
During our meeting people were encouraged to be intentionally vulnerable with each other and to reflect on state violence in a freely associative manner. It wasn’t until some of us took part in this meeting that we even began to think about the trauma we had recently experienced, which some of us had repressed and disassociated from. One person didn’t even realize that they had had a panic attack at a protest that was attacked by cops earlier that week, until they started to talk out loud and share what they were feeling.
To encourage the development of a strong revolutionary movement, we need to regularly check in with each other, before, during, and after actions, not only to consider the effectiveness of our strategy and tactics, but also to reflect on our mental-health. All of it is connected. A better, more planned out, more refined strategy and tactics, can contribute to the mental health of militants in the movement. Conversely, a practice of collective mental health-care can contribute to better street tactics and group dynamics on the ground.
Mental health shouldn’t be an afterthought, but a central part of what we do as revolutionaries. A truly revolutionary movement—a movement that actually destabilizes and supersedes state-power—will inevitably experience violence from the police, prison guards, and other armed agents of capital, and will inevitably produce highly traumatized subjectivities. If such a movement is to succeed in its revolutionary task, it will need to address and process the question of trauma and the mental-health difficulties that arise from it, simultaneously as it challenges state-power.
So where do we go from here? How do we build the care-commune?
Here are some suggestions:
- Meet regularly to engage in and develop a practice of radical care. Open up homes for meals/social gatherings not necessarily centered around an action.
- Hangouts/check-ins before and after actions. Establish post action space for anyone not wanting to be alone.
- Probe personal connections for community care resources in an effort to offer them to people coping with mental/physical distress related to political actions.
- Reach out to elders who have experienced state violence in order to learn coping skills and to normalize trauma affects in relation to state violence.
Let us hold our comrades close! A new world is possible!
Solidarity and healing forever!