Self-care without community care isn’t possible

Photo by Mike Erskine on Unsplash

Self-care is a hot topic right now. In fact, a $10 billion industry has been created around self-care – everything from aromatherapy to Zumba to chakra stones. The self-care movement is being seen as white, global north and as something that only middle or upper class, communities can access. This is because self-care for people isn’t always possible, and self-care seems especially hard for those (mostly women) who are often burdened with mostly unpaid (or underpaid) and unacknowledged care work.  Not to mention all the emotional labour – but that is another blog post. Often times, we’re juggling a million things, we’re constantly on call, or we’re working 8+ hour days in low-paying non-profit jobs, often doing activist work on the side. Some of us have families, so, when people tell us to take care of ourselves, we struggle to understand what that actually means. 

The truth is that self-care alone is not enough within activist communities. A few months ago, Nakita Valerio, a Toronto based community organiser, published a post on Facebook that went viral:

“Shouting ’self-care’ at people who actually need ‘community care’ is how we fail people”.

We could argue that community care has existed in communities for thousands of years. After all, most of us grow up being told that we’re supposed to take care of our family or our community. But what happens when we’re not taken care of? What happens, for instance, to a community activist who is sandwiched between taking care of their parents (and in-laws), their children, doing their activist work and works full time to financially support themselves and their family? Who is there to take care of them if they feel like they doesn’t have the time to take care of themselves? Or, for those who live with an illness or disability? 

That’s where community care comes in. The concept of community care is a group of people (think of it like an extended family) who commits to supporting each other, is accountable to care for one another, holds space for each other, and creates areas for community care. It means showing up for one another. It can look like this:

Self-CareCommunity Care
Eat healthier foods  Organise for a meal preparation element to your activist meetings. For each meeting one, or two of the members can take turns to make a healthy vegetarian meal for the whole group. That way you are easing the burden of finding good healthy food after a long day, making sure your activist meeting is also nourishing the members.  
ExerciseHave walking meetings that take you and your social change peers outside. Not only does getting outside and moving your body help ease stress, but walking side by side rather than sitting across from each other also creates more opportunities to eliminate power relations. 
Reduce your technology and get off social  media.  We all know that social media plays a huge role in activists organising and campaigns. But you can create boundaries around when you answer texts/ emails / social media messages. Let your comrades know when you will and won’t be checking your technology. (i.e. – I am offline after 8.30pm of a night) 
Join a new class Create a free event where people gather to share their skills. Sharing skills creates access to practical knowledge and a sense of purposeful belonging. Your event can be focused on one specific topic, with a plan, organized contributors, a schedule, activities, supplies, and more; or it can be an open gathering of people who simply want to share what they know “how to do” with each other. Bring people together, relaxing and learning new skills. Skill sharing can networks and move our community towards self-reliance and resilience, as well as create a fundamental sense of ‘can do’ and feelings of positivity, creativity and empowerment. Skill sharing also can establish and nurture links between old and young as skills are passed on. Organise practical and useful events or work with existing groups in order to share and draw on local skills. 
Get social, meet a new friend or schedule a coffee date/dinner with your friends When you catch up with your activist friend, remember to listen. Ask them how they are doing then let them guide the topic or conversations… and steer clear from giving advice unless asked!!!  
Take a bath Offer to look after your comrades’ new baby, to free up some time for them to have an uninterrupted shower/bath. Get a cup of tea ready for when they get out! 
Turn on uplifing music and dance Make a playlist of activist songs or podcasts for your comrades who are really busy. Give the list or links for them to listen to as they are commuting or when they have some spare listening time during the day.  
Write daily in a gratitude journal Write a sweet message in a card telling your friend how grateful you are for them and what you admire about them. Remind them how they are doing a great job and how you value the change making work they do.
Get creative and design a vision board that will keep you focussed on what’s important Get together with your comrades and think about creative activist interventions. Check out Beautiful Trouble for some inspiration. 
Clear your schedule for a day of rest Respect people’s boundaries and don’t push them for work or commitments they can’t keep. Ask your comrades who are working on campaigns with you if they are scheduling any rest days and help them follow through on that commitment. 
Put your health care first – don’t miss your annual check-ups with your Dr, dentist, optometrist etc Offer to help community members with additional support they may need with accessing heath care. Do they need a lift to or from a doctors? Do they need childcare so they can go and focus on their own health needs? 
Cut something out from your schedule Offer to run an errand or do a household chore like picking up the grocery shopping, popping by the post office or folding some laundry to take some of the pressure off of those community members who are needing additional support.  

The need for community care within activist communities (and communities in whole) is more crucial now than ever before. Our comrades are burning out at extremely high rates. Few individuals want to step into leadership positions and those who do, wind up staying for less time than their predecessors. Self-care alone won’t resolve these issues because self-care alone doesn’t end systemic oppression or injustice. But by creating cultures of community care, we can watch out for one another. We can be there for each other. 

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