protests and actions can give us the highest highs and the most gut wrenching terrors or deepest disappointments. in the midst of wildly inspiring actions and protests happening worldwide, there is increasing racialized violence and the urgency of trying to grab this moment, the feeling of pressing up against our edges.
i invited adaku utah, leah lakshmi piepzna-samarasinha and susan raffo to generate an offering of practices to restore us to ourselves, to recenter us on why we are here and doing this work. autumn brown and maryse mitchell-brody are developing a guide with many others for how to create a healing justice practice space.
remember, audre lorde teaches us: “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.”
we need all of us:
PRE-PROTEST SELF CARE TIPS
Cast a Heart Spell
Return to yourself
Light a candle
Inhale the air that surrounds you, from the soles of the Earth to the crown of the galaxies
Open your heart with breath, with life force
Feel your heart expand with the rhythms moving through you
See light fill all empty spaces
Awaken the tree within
Breathe your limbs tall
Your roots deep
Expand heart muscle even wider
Push past boundaries
Break through chains
Reach for your power
Digest its dimensions
Fill through cracks
Pulse with life
Anchor yourself to the love that is you
to the love that is your ancestors
to the love that is life
to the love that can never be stolen
Radiate this truth
Strong enough to break restrictions
Increase the flow of love
Let each breath be a magic spell you cast upon yourself
If you will be protesting using #BlackLivesMatter, take some time to remind and align yourself with the inspiring herstory of this movement led by the brilliance of Black Queer women Patrisse Cullors, Opal Tometi and Alicia Garza. www.blacklivesmatter.com
Create a poster or chant that is an affirmation and embodiment of the resistance and resilience of Black People. Last week I came up with this chant/mantra I kept repeating to myself during the march:: White supremacy you tryna fuckin rule.. NO.. Black love will rise over you!
If you do not have capacity to hold up a sign during the protest, write the affirmation somewhere you can see. I often write on my palms or glove, a sticker I can place on my water bottle, a cloth patch I can safety pin on my jacket or write something on a piece of my clothing.
Pack a wellness bag for you and comrades. Ask what will sustain and take care of you and your team while you are protesting. Here are some things that I’ve learned to put in mine as I am supporting wellness for myself and community members during protests (Giving thanks to Black Cross Health collective, fellow wise comrades and my intuition for these resources!):
the National lawyers Guild number
Lots of water in a water bottle to drink and to wash of your skin or eyes if needed
healthy snacks and fruits
warm, comfortable protective shoes you can move and run in
extra warm layers if its fall or winter (gloves, scarves, hand and toe warmers)
zip-lock with bandana soaked with cider vinegar (water if nothing else). It can aid in breathing during chemical exposure
shatter-resistant eye protection
fresh clothes in plastic bag (in case yours gets contaminated by chemical weapons)
inhaler, epi-pen, insulin or other meds/healing herbs if applicable
several days of prescription medication and doctor’s note in case of arrest
protective herbs and crystals ie sage, cedar, osho root, onyx, amethyst
Nervous system tinctures: oatstraw, motherwort, lemon balm
Rescue remedy flower essence
tampons and pads
first aid kit
Check out these amazing action additional tips from the Audre Lorde Project.
Learn the language of your body and spirit. Notice how your body chooses to respond in the midst of certain people/certain places/certain types of actions/certain types of inactions/certain times of the day/certain times of the month/certain types of noise/certain types of movement. What do you notice? Does what arises bring you ease or tension? Being numb or not knowing is totally fine too and is also information about how your body is choosing to show up at that given moment. Write down, draw or remember what you discover. Affirm what is happening. Your body, spirit and intuition are such incredible guides that can support how we live. Without judgement, recognize that your body has unique ways of responding to what is happening inside and outside of you. Many of these responses have been powerful protection tools that continue to keep you alive.
Create safety and/or support plans in advance. Ask yourself and community that you trust, what will I/we do if ____________ happen? How would I/we like to be supported? Icarus Project has a great tool.
Figure out what your capacity is. Can you protest for 1 hour or 7? Are you currently recovering from illness and need to shift your form of resistance outside of the streets? Are you someone who is arrestable? If it is cold out, how long can your body tolerate the weather?
Make a TURN UP revolutionary mix tape
SELF CARE TIPS DURING PROTESTS
Continue to remind yourself why you are there. Recite mantras, meditations or chants when you need.
Tilt your eyes up softly to meet the sun, moon or stars. Let them wash over you with their power and embrace. Feel your connection with other forms of life. Allow your breath to move in and out as slowly as a cloud morphing through the sky. Imagine your breath is pulling in the vast expansiveness of the sky, the radiance of the moon, the majesty of the sun or the consistency of the night. Let each inhale awaken the vast possibilities that exist inside and outside of you. Allow each exhale to blanket where you are with a commitment to a world you desire to live in.
Continue to listen to how your body is responding. What sensations are arising? Where do you feel them? Are these sensations telling you to slow down, eat, keep going, call your support buddy, catch up with the crew you are marching with, warm up your body, breathe deeper, walk with a different contingent, head home?
Remind yourself of a moment when you could feel your own power. Allow yourself to feel that energy all over again. Invite the presence of that power to be with you now. Feel it expand. Breathe in the textures of your truth. Send this power wherever you need it. Let each inhale carry this power as far back to your ancestors and each exhale carry it forward through you and into future generations.
If you are near a tree, with permission, sit under or place your spine on the tree. Let the dignity of the tree encourage yours to rise with every breath.
Vibration vibration vibration…hum low in your throat, as low as you can go, and bring that hum down into your lungs and your chest…feel the vibration, taking a breath in when you need to breathe, and then back to vibration. Let the vibration be a small chosen shake, a rattling of what is held inside, the vibration expanding in circles from your throat out through the rest of your body
Movement. It doesn’t matter what kind, just move as you are able. Move from the inside of yourself, inviting your hands, your arms, your face, your heart, your brain to lead the movement. The movement can be small and energetic or it can be big and take up a lot of space. From inside your self, start the movement like a shooting star, sensing when it shifts direction or wants to stop.
Notice what is happening around you right now. The colors of life around you, the texture, the edges between things, the edge of a building against the street, the edge of a car wheels on the ground, a tree against the sky. Notice where there is an edge, a boundary between two things, sense into that. Let your skin feel texture around you in whatever way your skin notices texture: rough bark or cement, hot flat metal of a car, cold slickness of a window. While you are noticing, tell yourself what you are witnessing. There is a red brick building in front of me and the bricks closest to the street are crumbled. My hands can feel the bits of dust and red brick, their sharp and crumbly edges. Put yourself into whatever part of the space around you is safe enough to touch and sense. The color of it. The sound if there is sound. The taste if you can imagine taste.
POST PROTEST SELF CARE TIPS
with one minute or less:
breathe. take three breaths that are a little deeper. imagine the breath filling you up from the heart, more each time, till your whole body has breath.
speak a mantra or commitment that brings you back to your purpose. here are some examples:
black lives matter. (alicia garza, opal tameti, patrisse cullors)
my people are free. (harriet tubman)
all is full of love. (bjork)
love’s in need of love today. (stevie wonder)
i am enough.
black love. (BOLD and many others)
i am a practice ground for abundance/love/fearlessness/ transformation/magic
i do it! (my niece mairead)
i’ma have none of that (my niece siobhan)
i just want to talk about dragons (my nephew finn)
all that you touch you change (octavia)
I am my ancestors’ answered prayer (Leah)
I am significant (Adaku)
I am the love that I have been waiting for (Adaku)
Tell your child self: You are alive. I am alive (Adaku)
when Black people get free, everybody gets free (Black Lives Matter)
who is worth my love, my strength and my rage? (Leah saw it on tumblr on a lot of qTPOC sites)
act in a way your past, present and future self will appreciate (kyisha williams)
no one said this road would be easy/ I don’t think she brought me this far to leave me (Mango Tribe)
think of someone who you love, who you do this work for, alive or ancestor or dream. hold that thought like a rock.
keep a tincture or flower essence with you to use at these moments. i am currently loving one called ‘boundaries in a bottle‘ (from Dori Midnight) which helps immensely in my work. rescue remedy is a go to for lots of people. a few drops under the tongue can help you breathe. good fight herb co has a lovely self-love potion that is also really helpful after the battleground.
I use motherwort tincture as a reliable anti anxiety aid, that also scoops me up in her arms when I’m grieving, mourning or cried out. Hawthorne and rose are great for heart hurts too.
light a candle so the fire can transform your focus and energy. wach it for a while, or let it sit in a sacred space to release what you can’t carry.
with ten minutes
that loved one i mentioned above? spend some time thinking of them at your side, or at your back. lean on them. let them hold you. breathe into it.
meditate. with each in-breath, invite spaciousness and rest into your body and spirit. with each out-breath, release that which is not yours to carry. (some examples: ‘breathing in space, breathing out drama’. ‘breathing in sleep, breathing out white guilt’. ‘breathing in comrades, breathing out fear’. or this one from naima penniman: ‘breathe in beyonce, breathe out condalezza rice’.)
lay down flat on your back, pull your knees up to your chest, hug your knees, and rock back and forth. this gives your body a quick break, your vertebrae more space, a little massage to your hips.
pour yourself a glass of water. drink the whole thing, inviting your body to be like water, transforming to move forward.
write about what you learned at the action/protest. write it for yourself, write it to share with others.
pranayamic breath, or ‘the great yogic breath’ (shout outs to nisha ahuja for teaching me) take a deep breath into your heart, and then into your belly. hold it. feel how full you are. exhale from your belly, then from your heart. repeat.
containment breath (shout outs to vanissar tarakali for teaching me): inhale into your belly. when you exhale, do it in three stages- exhale from your belly, pause, exhale from your middle chest, pause, then exhale from the top of your chest. this breath helps give a sense of containment when I am feeling overwhelmed and EMERGENCY MUST GO EVERYTHING IS AN EMERGENCY.
I also squeeze my arms and thighs and feel the bones underneath when I am overwhelmed and dissassociated- it helps me feel like there is something holding me up all the time, that I don’t have to do anything to get, and it brings me back to my body more than other anti dissassociation exercises.
Train yourself to go outside and take a short walk every couple of hours, if you are locked up by a computer. I was always telling myself “yeah, I know I should but….” and remaining glued to the computer. A recent work gig that told us all to go on quick breaks every hour showed me how much this helped my focus, for real.
with an hour
take a nap. a timed nap so you won’t miss anything, or an untimed nap…whichever one is more relaxing for you.
exchange shoulder and neck massages with someone you feel physically safe around. use your thumbs to move up and out, imagine that stress and oppression are small knots at the top of the spine and that you can smooth them out and drop them off the edges of the shoulders.
cook yourself a meal, alone or with loved ones.
write a note of appreciation (on paper, on email, through social media) to someone (in the movement or in your circle) who you deeply appreciate right now. you don’t have to send it, but you do have to feel it.
put yourself in water – a shower, a bath. let the water remind you who and what you are. anything that feels too big, send it to the ocean.
take care of something alive and revel in the impact of that action. water a plant, change a diaper, play a game, hold an elder’s hand. small miracles grow big ones.
engage in a spiritual practice that brings you into yourself. that may be prayer, meditation, movement, song, art. ask someone to hold this space with you. others from your actions, or those who aren’t/can’t protest but are in alignment.
with two hours or more
What feels good? Figure out how to do the work in ways that feel as good as possible. When Healing Justice for Black Lives Matter blew up and all of a sudden I was getting 48 FB notifications an hour- including from a million white healers I didn’t know personally, who were all eager to join in, without maybe noticing how their presence shifted what had been a majority BIPOC action- what had felt like a juicy, generative, wild freedom song action started to feel like a stress ball in my shoulders. But this time, I actually stopped and said, how do I want to do this? How do I want it to feel? I asked for help. I gave myself permission to turn off the computer for breaks. I breathed. I reminded myself, and got reminded, that it’s ok to check people and set limits! Boundaries are beautiful.
Take time for sex and cute outfits and the gender things that make your body strong and shining. My sephora lipstain and eyeliner are on purpose, they are not sidenotes, they are femme armour and blessing and allow me to teach, organize and show up. So is texting my dates and masturbation as self care.
yes to pleasure activism. remember your body can release a lot through pleasure. be grateful for your skin, softness, hardness, nerves, mysteries, releases.
community acupuncture. let the acupuncturist know you are engaging in protests and actions, what you want to release, what you want to embody.
see another kind of bodyworker or healer. i ride for somatic bodywork and limpias, but there are so many practices that can help – craniosacral, tarot, reiki, coaching. on december 18 a lot of us are offering our healing services at a reduced rate, and/or donating all of our income to ferguson movement work. we are also offering up healing for black activist/organizers involved in these protests worldwide, not just that date, but in general. find more about both efforts here.
go to a sauna or spa or hot springs. i have a list here, they range in affordability. a lot of places have options to sit in the hot tub even if you don’t get a massage or treatment.
Continue to listen to how your body is responding. What sensations are arising? Where do you feel them? Are these sensations telling you to slow down, eat, mastrubate, call your support buddy, catch up with the crew you are marching with, warm up your body, breathe deeper, sleep?
Sit, stand or lay down in silence. Breathe in silence. In the deep quiet, find a word or phrase that needs to be spoken. On your next exhale, scream it at the top of your lungs.
Put your arm around yourself. Take a deep breath. Give yourself a squeeze. On your next inhale repeat an affirmation to your core.
Offer up gratitude to yourself, your ancestors and/or your team for protecting you and supporting your capacity to engage in this action.
Do this with someone your body trusts and feels comfortable being vulnerable and close with:: Embrace each other in a hug (Hugging stimulates an incredibly deep nervous system relaxation response). Mirror each other with each next step. Breathe in through the nose slowly and evenly until you fill your lungs to capacity. Hold the breathe for five slow counts. Breathe out through the nose, releasing the air slowly. Repeat 3 times. If you have capacity, whisper an affirmation into each other’s ear at your very last exhale.
Allow yourself to be heard by someone you trust. Call, visit or welcome someone who has capacity to hold space with you to join you where you are. As much as feels comfortable, share how you are doing and what you might need in the coming moments, days or weeks.
Make a dream pillow to support insomnia, anxiety and panic attacks. (Great recipe from mountain rose herbs).
Give yourself permission to come undone. To cry unabashedly, to laugh wildly, to whip your hair back and forth, to dance ferociously, to summon up the fiercest scream. Tap into the primal nature of your emotions. Let it stir what needs to be heard.
Suck on some honey! my favorite. If you can, mix a tablespoon of honey with a tiny tiny pinch of lavender. Both are incredible relievers of stress and anxiety and fortify the immune system. Suck slow and intentionally. Let the sweetness caress every part of your mouth.
because self care is collective care is disability justice:
Lift up disabled and chronically ill folks for how much we have invented the art of collective care (because we have to live interdependently, because we know the medical industrial complex is not our friend.). Ask the crips in your life for tips first! We know how to make access and share resources on no money, we’ve been doing this for forever!
A place I always go to for disabled wisdom about collective care is this blog, which has all the thinking and all the real talk practice (access audits, how to make a spaces that’s accessible except for the bathroom accessible, and more.) Yashna’s article about collective care also never gets old. To see how we organized Creating Collective Access, a group of disabled and sick folks collectively caring for each other, at the Allied Media Conference, go here.
This blog post – about how sick and disabled and mad folks offer support to each other all the time, and how we don’t have to wait to be “healed” to offer care to each other- is really speaking to me right now.
At the same time, it’s not like sick and disabled and mad people all are a monolith or have this issh figured out either! Years ago, I was part of a group of sick and disabled qtpoc who were trying to figure out how to care for each other. My Virgo moon was all about “let’s just get the google doc going!” but another person was like, wait a second- most of us have experienced people trying to care for us in messed up ways- paternalistic, controlling, disrespecting our autonomy, all the ways people try to “help the handicapped” all the time. We need to figure out first what would even allow us to accept help. She made us journal about a time when someone offered help to us in a way that felt good and was about solidarity, not charity.
A lot of the time, I see folks go “I know I should ask for help,but it’s hard…” And that is totally real. And it’s because of ableism. Ableism, inside the white supremacist capitalist colonialist ableist patriarchy (the WSCAP), tells us that if we ask for help, we are weak, and that’s a bad thing. Most of us have lived in the world in ways where there have for real been nobody we could trust to take care of ourselves well but ourselves (on a good day.) This is embedded in everything from abuse in nursing homes to welfare cuts to jail to our families. I’ve heard politicized QPOC comrades blithely call folks who ask for help, “energy vampires” or say, “Oh her, she has issues, she’s so *neeedy.*”
So sometimes the first step you have to do in order to even feel comfortable asking for and receiving help is to unpack all that. And to start small. Make your list of the shit you could really, really use help with, and another list of the people you think would be safe to ask, and ask for the least risky thing first. See how it feels. See how it goes. Experiment.
Do an access check in before you plan an action and before you start. Ask people what they need to be in the space. Often, people have never been asked before and go “uhhhhh…” That’s fine. Start where you are. Let the needs and their brilliance shape the action. That’s actually stronger than trying to force people into a mold that doesn’t fit them.
If you’re already caring for people, but you are wrestling with feeling depleted, giving more than you can, feeling resentful- unpack that stuff too, because it’s not good for anyone.
If you are nondisabled, don’t be texting your disabled friends all the time going “See you at the barricades! Oh wait you can’t do a five mile march in the cold… oh well, take care!” That’s ableism and it’s shitty and we’re all really sick of it. Figure out ways you can do actions where you can all take part. Roll with the krip/sicko crew when we make it to the march. Ask us how and if we want your support. Re read “Wherever you are is where I want to be” by Mia Mingus
Ask your sick and disabled friends what we need to participate, in what actions, and let us steer the boat of what we want/need instead of doing what you think is good for us- we’re the experts on our own bodies and lives, trust me ;). Bring water and snacks. Offer to push a manual chair ( you can often rent them for cheap from a medical supply place or drugstore) for someone who is a cane user or someone who walks but has chronic pain who wants to be able to be on a longer march. Ask your powerchair using friend if her battery needs a charge, and help people get out of the way of her rolling, if that’s what she wants.
Hold that leaving the protest at any time someone’s bodymind is about to give out is just as radical as staying.
This is a good guide by and for disabled folks doing direct action.
Also, recognize that for some of us with disabilities and chronic illness/pain and/or madness, we may make the choice to push our bodies extra hard to be in the streets- but that we may need extra time to recover afterwards. When we shut down the port of Oakland during Occupy/Decolonize, I had to be there at 4 AM and walk 3 miles each way because the accessible busses were badly promoted and left before I got there. I’m glad I did it, but I totally went into a flare, hurt like hell and needed to sleep 12 hours afterwards. Don’t judge us for our choices or tell us what to do or that we are being irresponsible for being in the streets. Understand that we negotiate many kinds of risk in these bodies everyday, that our relationship to pain is different because we dance with her all the time, and we negotiate stretching our limits all the time. Ask us what you can to do support- if you can bring food after, or do childcare so we can rest.
and if all else fails, read this again, because…
This is power. This is power humming on this page. Reading it settles me in places where I wasn’t aware of the need for settling. Reading this makes me want to show up quietly and fiercely, to rest quietly and fiercely, and to show up again. This is power humming on this page.
please add on more resources you know of, and please take care of yourself. we know you are precious.