Healing Justice

By: Shirley Coenen, FCCAN Coordinator

On Friday October 5th, we are holding space for an event we’re calling, Healing Justice, where we will move together on our yoga mats and sit together in conversation with an intention of building an understanding of how our social and environmental justice movements must integrate personal and social transformation.

In this blog post, I will be sharing a preview of this work we must do together.

The untold story of internalized violence

Within social justice and community organizing work there exists an untold story of what happens away from the streets, the rallies, and the gatherings. It is when our failed attempts to hold onto the source of all nourishment and deep connection begin to pile up like dirty dishes, becoming as destructive to movements as state co-optation. The wave of insurrectionary hope halts to a standstill, and imagining another world no longer feels possible.

That social fallout (which nobody warns you about, even if you study this in graduate school) shows us that the revolution is about tearing down not just the hierarchical systems that control us but those deeply embedded within ourselves. When people caught up in a movement are unable to do that collectively, or when we have trouble being our authentic selves, the communities we attempt to build devolve into another variation of dominator culture.

The way that we have internalized systems of domination and control means that we hurt each other in familiar ways even when we claim to strive for the same political change. We are all deeply hurt by colonization, genocide, war, rape and the everyday biopoltical violence that is enacted on our bodies, and in this world where we are born and taught violence, it is important to remember that no matter how much we try to deconstruct it, the ways we have absorbed power dynamics mean that we do and will continue to cause others harm- physically, spiritually and emotionally.

That is to say, this is not an excuse for people to treat each other like shit, it just seems to be what happens when we don’t approach the work as a path to healing, while building collective power.

Everyone comes into the movement with all of their previous internalized trauma, feeling isolated and abandoned by this world, and is happy to meet people that make them feel like they are no longer alone in recognizing the myth of normal that is this insane culture. At first, there’s this counterstance that feels so good to inhabit- with consciousness raising,  you begin to deconstruct the assumptions embedded within our social arrangement. You begin to look differently at the people in your life and the things that once brought you joy. You lose yourself in a hypercritical analysis of the world, but you tell yourself it’s okay, because you’ve found people who are also growing and changing and deconstructing too.

Healing as resourcefulness

I’ve been thinking about how good our movements on the left are at being resourceful, at wielding and reiterating power analyses, and being critical of the power structures. Most importantly, its amazing how we are asked to be so resourceful with such a lack of material resource! One aspect of what healing justice has to offer is really tapping into this resourceful. There is so much magic, healing capacities, power and resilience that already exists within ourselves- in the wisdom of our body-mind intelligence (as I tell my yoga students).

Oppression limits our own sense of self and possibility, we internalize this scarcity mindset, this distrust of our bodies, and it causes so much pain and violence everyday.

Healing justice as a pathway to embody our movement, is not just an analytical approach but a visceral way to taste the freedom that is being our authentic selves, so we can hold space for those around us. Healing trauma is core to liberation.

The convenient split of depoliticized healing and political movements that perpetuate trauma

Currently, there is this incredible divide between the abundance of healing modalities and depoliticized spiritual spaces and the overly analytical, euro-centric, political movements that are despiritualized and disembodied. 

This is a convenient split, because it exists by design to perpetuate oppression. Healing justice is being fully committed to weaving these things together, to cultivate the ability to recognize how we are both shaped by trauma and oppression and privilege. We can’t act that out unless we’ve done the deep work of transformation. Healing that has to do with social location of privilege and oppression is more than just cognitive understanding, its in our bones. Its how we can be with someone. Its a deep skill set of how to be in relation to ourselves and one another, of learning how to be whole with ourselves, and to un-compartmentalize ourselves as a survival strategy. Its a pragmatic way of thinking and being with one another. I can’t see a liberation movement without healing and healing cannot happen without a collective liberation movement.

How we organize together

So much of resistance culture and rhetoric is about sacrifice and martyrdom. “Organize!” we shout. “We must sacrifice ourselves for a better future, and if you’re not organizing towards that, then what are you really doing?” This guilt-tripping reveals a weak analysis for how we value each other’s labor, and also shows how capitalism, ableism, and other systems of oppression still conceive what we consider to be activism. It encourages burnout and rewards overextension while belittling anything less as a failure to do “real work.”

Yet, the magnetism that pulls us into a wave of resistance is intoxicating. The hope and energy you feel when you first come into a movement is what threatens the state and authoritarian power. This is why that seed of connection, that feeling of solidarity, must be crushed and destroyed. This is why power must repress our movements and burn us out, it must de-center us,  and this is also why those who have participated in the tumult of recent years must talk about more than just better times. We must hold space to talk about the pain we hold in our bodies, the trauma, the betrayal, the loss, the sadness, the loneliness, the isolation, the depression, the suppression, the suicidal feelings, the fears, and the despair.

I often wonder how some of my elders who have been entrenched in movement politics for longer than I’ve been alive, stay optimistic. How have they not felt destroyed by the repeated violence that occurs on every level and layer of involvement? Is their optimism even real? Or as Frantz Fanon described, is it another mask that we must wear? The one to hide from the other surveillance state- our peers lurking and watching as we emotionally unravel for everybody to witness on social media 24 hours a day.

To Conclude,

There needs to be more contemplative, politicized spiritual practice to guide our reflection on these waves of resistance in the midst of their unfolding. Less focus on what all the dead white men would do and more examination of how unaddressed and unhealed trauma and conflict contributes to the failure of movements. The inability to address unchecked hierarchy in real time has led to the demise of many attempted collectives and organizations. 

It’s not surprising that resistance spaces and movements tend to be so toxic and abusive.  The truth is that even though we may try to build intentional spaces to relate to each other in more horizontal ways, we still continue to produce the same abusive dynamics that surround us.

My hopes for a world where communities exist relationally and thrive together are quickly dampened by the reality that antiblackness and white supremacy will always persist regardless of a group’s stated political philosophy. That gender violence will continue, and authoritarian figures and ideologies will rush in to fill power vacuums. So, whether I live under an authoritative state power or in within a grassroots activist community, it seems that I constantly need to defend myself against someone who feels entitled to wield power over me.

If our work is to hold accountability for violence- to organize for a deeply different relationship to the planet, and all beings- its much more than just concepts and theories, but how we be, do and relate to all beings. This takes a deep level of healing and transformation to do that. Healing and justice work must go together. 

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Fort Collins Homeless Coalition: Dedicated to the decriminalization of poverty

By: Lynn Thompson and Shirley Coenen 

For many of the members of the Fort Collins Homeless Coalition (FCHC), their daily experience of being homeless in Fort Collins revolves around trying to stay out of sight and find someplace safe to sleep where they won’t have contact with police, rangers, or security guards. But security guards and city employees are one thing, and police are another. This is because sleeping outside is one of the many activities deemed illegal in parts of Colorado.

 

The state’s 76 largest cities have collectively passed 351 ordinances that target the homeless, from bans on camping to sitting or lying down in public to simply sharing food outside. That’s how cities in Colorado have, for the most part, opted to deal with their homeless populations: by passing and enforcing ordinances that criminalize basic acts of survival and wasting resources that could otherwise be spent on services, making life even harder for those without roofs over their head.

 

“It’s illegal to stand still, it’s illegal to sit down, it’s illegal to lay down, it’s illegal to eat. You’re breaking the law as soon as you stop walking.” – Paul Boden, Executive Director of the Western Regional Advocacy Project

 

If someone is cited, they first face a fine and a court date. But most homeless people can’t afford to pay a fine and can’t make it to court. It’s a cycle of criminalization. People get a citation, they can’t pay it, they get a warrant for their arrest … then they spend anywhere from two to three days in jail. Then they can’t get a job because they have a criminal background.

 

The ordinances could, on their face, apply to anyone. But that’s not how they’re enforced. A  high percentage of people who have gotten tickets under these ordinances are homeless. For example, most of downtown Fort Collins has a smoking ban that should impact anyone who lights up a cigarette, and yet the vast majority of people given citations for smoking since it’s been enacted were homeless, with 37 out of the 43 smoking tickets written to people experiencing homelessness in the first year of the ban. Similarly, in Denver over half of all the trespass citations issued between 2013 and 2014 were for homeless residents, even though homeless people represent just 0.6 percent of the population.

 

Cops are only going to enforce ordinances against those people who are ‘the problem;” Homeless people are not the only people sitting on a sidewalk, but they’re the only ones going to jail for it.

 

Colorado’s cities appear to be particularly vigorous in their enforcement. Video from 2016 showed Denver police officers taking blankets from people in freezing November weather. And it’s only intensifying. FCHC’s research found that camping bans and “move along” orders are increasing as well in Fort Collins. In fact, from 2010 to 2017, Fort Collins saw a 465% increase in camping tickets.

 

That may be because the state’s homeless population is increasing, due in part to a lack of investment in public housing, coupled with skyrocketing home prices. According to the latest point-in-time number, there are around 11,000 homeless people in Colorado, nearly 4,000 of whom have nowhere to sleep at night. That’s up from about 2,300 homeless people in 2008, 1,800 of whom had no shelter. Existing shelters usually don’t have enough capacity to give everyone a bed, plus many people can’t comply with all of the rules regarding who’s allowed in and where.

 

Fort Collins has not been able to effectively support their homeless communities, so instead they try to scare them off and use the police to enforce laws which criminalize their existence.  

 

Criminalizing people’s attempts to survive outside, however, only makes it harder for them to become housed. For example, landlords do rent checks in ways that filter people out if you’ve got any criminal history. It raises the bar that much higher. It also makes finding a job or even accessing public benefits — such as subsidized housing or, in some places, food stamps — nearly impossible.

 

Criminalizing homeless people can also make them less likely to take advantage of the services that might be available. When you give police officers the power to ticket and arrest and put people in jail they’re no longer seen as someone “deserving” of services. However, It’s much more complicated than that in Fort Collins because we have diversionary sentencing (“Special Agency Court”) that specifically tries to use the criminal system to connect people to services. Meaning that when someone gets a camping ticket, they have the option to plead guilty and go to special agency session. Essentially, you accept a court-ordered sentence of working with a case worker for some amount of time (six months is typical, but it’s not really limited), instead of things like fines or jail.

This system is set up as a great way to mitigate the worst harms inflicted by our broken system, without actually fixing what’s broken.

People go to special agency court, stand in front of Judge Lane, and say: Well, I’m here for my camping ticket. But just so you know, Judge, I don’t have anywhere else to stay tonight, so I’ll be camping again. Moreover, the City has taken to arguing that thanks to special agency court, camping tickets actually help connect people with services/housing. Which makes in total- zero sense.

Connecting the Issues: Lockers and Anti-Oppression Tactics 

FCHC will be having an organizing meeting on Saturday, September 15 from 3-5pm at Buckingham Park, where we will discuss this year’s plan to organize around these social justice and a human rights issues- for people’s ability to live with full protections in the community of their choice. No local communities should be able to pass ordinances that criminalize the presence of people they don’t like.

In the Old Town Library park neighborhood right now, there is a lot of talk about public safety at risk because of the Fort Collins Mennonite Fellowship installation of twenty lockers to provide space for those experiencing homelessness to store their belongings.

Instead of acknowledging the anti-homeless violence that disproportionately affects people who must carry all of their belongings with them, or the overall increased risks to their safety from lack of storage that comes from theft- the library park neighborhood is acting out of fear of allowing people to exist in a public space. Further, storage affects people’s ability to move around, feel safe, and be treated fairly in our community. Often times, we find that our non-homeless allies often get confused when we advocate for small-scale service improvements because they instinctively frame it as a social services role (“how heartwarming, people want to help the homeless!”) instead of an recognizing our work as a part of an overall anti-oppression tactic.

Solidarity Not Charity

In order to be committed to the decriminalization of poverty, the FCHC works with a critical analysis that recognizes the intersections of race, class, gender and disability. We are a small group of activists, composed primarily of those who have experience with homelessness first hand. We are both working tirelessly (since October 2014 when the need for lockers was first recognized) to advocate for the rights of those experiencing homelessness and poverty, as well as critically analyzing the larger systemic conditions and ideologies which are producing the oppression that we resist as a daily practice.

As  bell hooks (2000) has made clear, class matters:

To challenge racism or sexism or both without linking these

systems to economic structures of exploitation and our collective

participation in the upholding and maintenance of such structures

. . . is ultimately to betray a vision of justice for all. (p. 161)

The hegemonic economic and political power imbalances are what create and reify the oppressive realities that FCHC has been working to heal, prevent and transform, such as the eviction of residents of Choice House, the sit-lie ban, camping tickets and the criminalization of homelessness, the right to rest legislation, access to bathrooms and clean drinking water for all, and so much more.

Everyday we witness firsthand some of the challenges of systemic advocacy aimed at changing implicitly and systematically racist and classist institutions. But there is reason to be hopeful. Through hard work and community-centered advocacy, institutions can be changed. The problems we face are colossal and deeply entrenched. But there is a path forward and much to be done. 

 

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Welcome to TimePeace

A chronicle of social justice activism in Fort Collins, TimePeace has twice surfaced as
a print publication, first in the 1980’s by the Foothills Peace Center, and then twenty
years later by the Fort Collins Community Action Network. Many of the issues
discussed in the now 30-year history of TimePeace are still painfully relevant:
homelessness, civil liberties violations, the unsettled alliance between feminism and
peace activism to name just a few. In order to keep these conversations alive and
meaningful, we bring you TimePeace in the format of a blog. Here we will be highlighting the organizing work that stems from this long lineage of grassroots activism in Fort Collins with guest writers from the community, our affiliate groups, members of the spokes council, and all of the activist circles in between and amongst FCCAN has been fostering for the past twenty plus years.

For our first post, we are so excited to bring you a flash from the past- an excerpt of one of our first TimePeace newsletters back in 1989.

Feminism: An Introduction

By: Sally Norman

One of the most potent features of patriarchy is its invisibility- its ability to masquerade as the  “natural”form of social organization. Becoming aware of the pervasive effects of male dominance- not only within distant power structures but also within our communities, relationships and souls- is a constant and revolutionary task.

It requires us to question every institution in our society; to risk horror and anger; and above all, to lead the examined life…This issue of Timepiece is a forum of Fort Collins people exploring their perspective of feminism. It is offered in the belief that peace is not just the absence of war. It also requires the dismantling of those aspects of society- of our daily lives- which do violence to our persons and spirits.

Excerpt of The Uneasy Alliance Between Feminism & The Peace Movement: One Woman’s Perspective

By: Liza Daly

My experience with peace activism parallels my experience with feminism. Both movements inspired a deep and lasting passion, both gave me intellectual frameworks with which to decode the craziness of life in the late twentieth century, both rescued me from sleepwalking through the 1980’s, and both helped me begin the tremendous broject of learning to define and express my own identity. However, in spite of the fact that I see peace activism and feminism as essentially the same- challenges to the premises and privileges of power- they are not always the harmonious compatriots that I wish them to be.

When I think of my first year in the peace movement, I am reminded of the poetry of W.B. Yeats-

“All changed, changed utterly: A terrible beauty is born.”

The premises I had built my life around, primarily my belief in the future, in eternity, in the fact that I too would one day be an ancestor, were suddenly called into question…As I studied the history of U.S. imperialism, I began to evaluate the complex psychology of oppression. How does oppression gradually assume the invisibility of normalcy? How are human beings made to feel powerless and complacent in the face of oppression, sometimes to the point of defending it? I remember reading about the Nicaraguan feminists’ struggle against institutionalized machismo and recognizing some uncomfortable similarities between the reality of their lives and mine.

Around the same time, some of the other women in the Poudre Nuclear Freeze Campaign began to articulate their dissatisfaction with lack of women leadership in our organization by pointing out that the men were organizing the citywide referendum for a nuclear freeze and the women were organizing bake sales.

I read the eloquent works of Adrienne Rich, Mary Daly, Alice Walker and Andrea Dworking, and their words brought a startling clarity and sense of grief to my life.

“No matter whether my probings made me happier or sadder, I kept on probing to know,” – Zora Neale Hurston

Me too. I enrolled in women studies classes at Colorado State University, I went to Take Back the Night march. My fear of nuclear war was coupled with the more immediate fear that I would be one in three women victimized by rape. I noticed that, with the exception of Dr. Helen Caldicott,  every speaker on peace and justice issues was a white male…

Finish reading and discovering more gems from Fort Collins feminists on topics that range from third world alliance, nonviolent resistance, and abortion rights in our community in the full PDF version of the 1989 TimePiece newsletter here. Trust us, its worth it!

Are you interested in joining our writing group or being a guest blogger- get in touch here.

 

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