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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