Critical Social Justice organizers Amelia Meman, Lisa Gray, and Megan Tagle Adams share a few of their thoughts about self-care in/as social justice work.
AMELIA: Coming up on CSJ 2015, I’m thinking about generosity, compassion, and sustainability, especially in regard to how these connect with movement building and the self. I think about generosity in regard to the tough situations we get into (the difficult dialogues, you could say), and how I and others should be cognizant about the differences we are bringing into conversations and the mutual respect we all deserve; the generosity we extend is integral to building bridges and coalition. With our selves, in small conversations, in bigger conversations, between movements, I hope we can strive for generosity while continuing to work towards a more critical engagement. Compassion is directly related to how I try to deal with both myself, and others. I try to be aware of the needs of others, to listen and learn from them, to care and empower them, while also trying to know when I need to take care of myself—when I need compassion. This act of self-care and the generosity above are crucial to both my sustainability as a (critical) social justice warrior and to Critical Social Justice itself. As we work towards building a campus initiative that will continue into the years, I am focused on all three of the aspects—generosity, compassion, and sustainability—the cyclical nature between them, and the way they affect both our groups and the individuals in them.
LISA: Yes, Amelia. Your idea of of viewing social justice movement building through the lenses of generosity, compassion and sustainability resonates with me! Far too often, those of us who engage in what we hope is (critical) and reflective social justice work, here at UMBC and beyond, short change the “how” of the work as it relates to self care and community care. It’s hard to be generous with our energies, talents, and skills or have compassion for others when we don’t take the time to give it to ourselves first. And yes, as Audre Lorde so beautifully stated, “caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.” As I think about both my personal role as well as the Student Life Mosaic Center’s role in actively supporting sustainability for CSJ in 2015 and beyond, I believe it can happen only by intentionally engaging in high levels of generosity and compassion as well as empathy and self-reflection. I believe that empathy will help us better relate to one another’s unique positionality as we move through the intersectional aspects of our shared work while self-reflection will keep us honest about how our privileged and underrepresented identities either help or hinder the impact of that work. This year’s theme of Creating Brave Spaces provides a great platform for us to use generosity, compassion, empathy and self-reflection to help our campus to learn and grow as educators, activists and (critical) social justice change agents in person or online.
MEGAN: Amelia and Lisa, that quote from Audre Lorde that you both reference has also been instrumental in shaping my own approach to self-care and sustainability in doing social justice work. While social media has made it much easier for me to constantly learn about various social justice issues and perspectives that I may not have otherwise encountered, I’m also trying to be mindful of the impact of this immersion. I sometimes feel overwhelmed by the (perhaps self-imposed) pressure to be all in at all times. When I feel intellectually and emotionally exhausted after a long day of engaging in these difficult dialogues, even scrolling through Twitter, Tumblr, and Facebook doesn’t provide much of a respite since my feeds are about 90% feminism-related and 10% cat pictures. However, for me it’s been helpful to shift my understanding of what self-care looks like so that it doesn’t necessarily mean taking a break from social change work but rather re-framing my own commitment social justice as an act of self-preservation and self-care in itself.