Collective emotional lift

As often happens, when I sat down to write this morning, I wasn’t sure what the subject would be. I’m aware of looking forward to being with my Mutual Aid friends this morning. I know they feel the same from comments I’ve heard over the past couple of years. I’ve heard my friends say this is the best part of their week.

In contrast, I sense so many people don’t have much joy in their lives. So many things are going wrong, things we could once rely on, we no longer can. We are entering a time of collapse. There is a general malaise, a fear for our future, the feeling we have no control, a spiritual poverty.

David Pollard has identified skills needed to deal with this developing collapse (listed below). I wrote about that and included my own vision of dealing with collapse here:

Pollard asks four questions related to how we deal with collapse.

Dave Pollard, in How Do We Teach the Critical Skills Needed to Face Collapse? raises these questions.

  1. What’s the most effective way to voluntarily get billions of people to the point they are capable of exercising the skills below?
  2. How do we get the timing right: Not so early that there’s not yet a sense of urgency, but not so late that we’re trying to do it in an environment of chaos?
  3. How might we begin to identify, improve the competencies of, and empower the right people to do the mentoring, teaching, training, demonstrating, connecting, modelling, and other hands-on imparting of knowledge and skills needed to make it happen?
  4. How can we make this new, crucial learning easier, and fun?

What caught my attention is how can we make this new learning fun? I think of endless committee meetings related to justice work, for example, and how they were not fun. And usually not effective. My friend Alvin at the Kheprw Institute always asks, “what actually changed as a result of what was done?”

Those of us who have organized rallies and marches know how difficult it is to get people to participate. If participating in something isn’t fun in the sense of being enjoyable, exciting, fulfilling, and meaningful, there will be little enthusiasm for people to participate and they won’t.

Our Mutual Aid work is fun and effective. We enjoy working together to put boxes of food together and enjoy our interactions with those who come for food. We are meeting an immediate survival need. But it does require a commitment to be present as often as possible. And it is very physical work. I remember when Ronnie was explaining this to me, he said at the end of the food distribution you were tired, sweaty, and feeling good. And so it was.

That is captured in this quote. “There is an aspect of self-determination and ethical engagement in organizing to meet our peoples’ material needs. There is a collective emotional lift in doing something worthwhile for our peoples’ benefit, however short-lived that benefit might be.

You and your relations, my friend, are (still) busy building a different world at the end of this one. This is something I’ve emphasized over and over again in my own work. I cherish the belief and practice that it is never enough to just critique the system and name our oppression. We also have to create the alternative, on the ground and in real time. In part, for me, because Nishnaabeg ethics and theory demand no less. In part because in Nishnaabeg thinking, knowledge is mobilized, generated, and shared by collectively doing. It’s more than that, though. There is an aspect of self-determination and ethical engagement in organizing to meet our peoples’ material needs. There is a collective emotional lift in doing something worthwhile for our peoples’ benefit, however short-lived that benefit might be. These spaces become intergenerational, diverse places of Indigenous joy, care and conversation, and these conversations can be affirming, naming, critiquing, as well as rejecting and pushing back against the current systems of oppression. This for me seems like the practice of movement-building that our respective radical practices have been engaged with for centuries.

Maynard, Robyn; Simpson, Leanne Betasamosake. Rehearsals for Living (Abolitionist Papers) (p. 39). Haymarket Books. Kindle Edition.

I imagine you have experienced this. As I think of this in my life, I remember how significant it was at Scattergood Friends School when we did our assigned, rotating crews together. Such as preparing meals, baking bread, pruning trees in the orchard, even laundry crew that did the laundry for the entire student body. We had to have name tags sewn into every piece of our clothing so the laundry crew could separate everything out when the clothes were dry.

We experience this when we respond to community needs, such as weather disasters.

This is why I urge us to create our own, local Mutual Aid communities. Perhaps as important as providing essential resources to people is the experience of doing something meaningful. People have a desperate yearning to feel they are doing something worthwhile, something that fulfills their need to feel appreciated.

Collapse is coming at us far more quickly than we had anticipated.

In response to Pollard’s questions (above), the right timing is now. The way to get billions of volunteers to engage is to build Mutual Aid communities everywhere now, in part because Mutual Aid work is fun, meaningful, satisfying.

Soft skills

  • Critical thinking
  • Group facilitation
  • Helping people cope
  • Preparing healthy food
  • Caring for the young, old, and sick
  • Imaginative, reflective and creative skills
  • Mentoring
  • Listening, noticing and attention skills
  • Conversation
  • Community-building

Hard skills (that require some specific technical knowledge/experience

  • Growing and harvesting food
  • Making and repairing clothing and shelter from the elements
  • Accessing clean, safe water
  • Weaving, fabric-making, pottery and other crafting skills tha that make life much more pleasant and comfortable
  • Medical, medicinal, and injury-healing knowledge and skills
  • Food preservation
  • Bicycle construction and repair
  • Basic engineering skills
  • Ecological skills
  • Decommissioning-nuclear reactors and petrochemical sites

How Do We Teach the Critical Skills Needed to Face Collapse? by Dave Pollard, How To save the world, September 10, 2022

    I’m reading a book about the lives of people in the most polluted, least educated, most disadvantaged, and most dangerously toxic (and most conservative) part of Louisiana (more about that in an upcoming article). What emerges from the author’s study is that (1) these people are living in a ‘world’ that is already in a very advanced state of economic and ecological collapse, one that may foretell what the rest of us in ‘affluent’ nations will soon face; (2) they are far more of a ‘community’ than most people living in cities could claim; and (3) they are not particularly interested in paternalistic ‘grief professionals’ ‘coaching’ them on how to manage the massive grief and other emotions they and their families have been dealing with for generations.

    How Do We Teach the Critical Skills Needed to Face Collapse? by Dave Pollard, How To save the world, September 10, 2022

      But capitalism and colonialism created structures that have disrupted how people have historically connected with each other and shared everything they needed to survive. As people were forced into systems of wage labor and private property, and wealth became increasingly concentrated, our ways of caring for each other have become more and more tenuous. Today, many of us live in the most atomized societies in human history, which makes our lives less secure and undermines our ability to organize together to change unjust conditions on a large scale. We are put in competition with each other for survival, and we are forced to rely on hostile systems— like health care systems designed around profit, not keeping people healthy, or food and transportation systems that pollute the earth and poison people— for the things we need. More and more people report that they have no one they can confide in when they are in trouble. This means many of us do not get help with mental health, drug use, family violence, or abuse until the police or courts are involved, which tends to escalate rather than resolve harm. In this context of social isolation and forced dependency on hostile systems, mutual aid— where we choose to help each other out, share things, and put time and resources into caring for the most vulnerable— is a radical act.

      Dean Spade. Mutual Aid: Building Solidarity During This Crisis (and the Next) (Kindle Locations 111-121). Verso.

      Sikowis Nobiss speaking at the beginning of the First Nation-Farmer Climate Unity March

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