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We Need Collective Healing, Not Commodified “Self-Care”

“What is our freedom if we don’t take care of each other?” asks Erica Woodland, co-author of “Healing Justice Lineages.”

Part of the Series

In this episode of Movement Memos, host Kelly Hayes talks with Cara Page and Erica Woodland, authors of Healing Justice Lineages: Dreaming at the Crossroads of Liberation, Collective Care, and Safety about collective healing, collaborative care, and surviving the onslaughts of our oppressors.

Music credit: Son Monarcas & David Celeste


Kelly Hayes: Welcome to Movement Memos, a Truthout podcast about organizing, solidarity and the work of making change. I’m your host, writer and organizer Kelly Hayes. Today we are talking about ancestral survival strategies, healing justice, and why we must reject commodified notions of self-care. These ideas are explored in a crucial new book, Healing Justice Lineages: Dreaming at the Crossroads of Liberation, Collective Care, and Safety. In this beautiful anthology, editors Cara Page and Erica Woodland take readers on a journey through the history, legacies, and liberatory practices of healing justice, which is a political strategy of collective care and safety that intervenes on generational trauma from systemic violence and oppression. Today, we are going to take our own journey with Cara and Erica, two amazing thinkers who so generously shared their insights for this episode. It was a conversation that felt like a necessary intervention in my own life and work, and I am betting it’s an intervention that a number of you could use as well.

In the book, Cara and Erica invoke the ancestral healing practices of communities that have survived genocide and oppression. They also challenge us to center collective care and a refusal to abandon each other, as we build power and fight for the future. As I read the book, and as I talked to these incredible organizers, I felt strongly that these are some of the ideas and energies that we need most right now. Many of us in this moment are struggling, wounded and grieving, and we could really use a framework for healing and renewal. So if you are struggling with burnout, or with systemic or generational trauma, or if you are simply trying to figure out what to make of these times, I hope you will find Cara and Erica’s words as helpful as I did.

Cara Page: I am Cara Page. She, her, hers. Calling in today from Lenape, Munsee land, otherwise also known as in relationship to Brooklyn, New York. I am a Black queer feminist organizer and cultural worker, a co-founding member of the Kindred Southern Healing Justice Collective, which is an architect of healing justice. I’m also the founder of Changing Frequencies, which is an abolitionist organizing project that designs cultural memory work and installations to disrupt and tell stories about the harm, violence and abuse of the medical-industrial complex. And also have the honor of being co-founding director of Healing Histories Project, which is working on political education tools, like a timeline on the history of the medical-industrial complex and the resistance that has happened in the U.S. to dismantle, challenge and transform the medical-industrial complex. And of course, co-author of this amazing book.

Erica Woodland: My name is Erica Woodland. I use he, him, his pronouns. I’m currently based in Baltimore, also known as the Land of the Piscataway. And I’m a Black queer, trans facilitator and psychotherapist and I’ve been doing work at the nexus of abolitionist organizing and collective care for the past 20 years. And I came into this work by way of harm reduction and organizing around the abolition of the prison-industrial complex and as well as the freedom of all political prisoners. My primary work right now is focused on politicizing and mobilizing queer and trans Black, Indigenous, and people of color who are working in roles as mental health practitioners through an organization I founded called the National Queer and Trans Therapists of Color Network. And our not so secret agenda is, we are trying to organize practitioners to disrupt the harm and violence of the medical-industrial complex while also building out alternative care systems that are rooted in abolition.

KH: Healing Justice Lineages is an incredibly timely book. So many ideas about our right to be cared for, and to survive, have been warped by individualism. In the book’s introduction Erica and Cara write, “We challenge the popularization of self-care and healing and the consequences of mainstreaming our spiritual and political work for liberation.” I believe that challenge is one that every organizer and activist needs to hear.

CP: This book has many folds to it. It really is an invitation to understanding the role of collective care, collective safety, and what we are calling healing justice, which is a political cultural framework seeking to intervene on generational trauma and to build collective power towards our resistance and towards our collective survival. And healing justice as a framework is a community-led response to hold collective grief, collective care that will sustain our communities. And why we make such a distinction between self-care is because that is very much monopolized by the commodification or capitalism that says you have to be individual to experience care and wellness, if you will.

And there is an industry of wellness products and self-care products that is at times important for individual people to pursue individual care. But our quest, our charge is to actually understand what is the interdependence and collective reliance on each other to imagine care that’s deeply embedded in being in relationship to community. Not being in isolation, but actually being rooted in an abolitionist, liberatory way of thinking about care that is deeply rooted in dismantling these concepts of “healthy” or “better than” or without disease. But to actually say, who are we in our collective bodies with our disabilities, with our genders, with our sexualities, with our lived experiences? And how we transform that into, then designing, co-designing ways of building care strategies that are deeply embedded in safety, liberatory, feminist abolitionist practices.

And so for us, this book is critical in this moment to say, we’re not going to talk about the commodification of care. We’re actually going to talk about this moment of shifting cosmologies, right, in a global pandemic at a heightened moment of fascist backlash, of anti-Black racism, of xenophobia. What do we need to build that is rooted in a framing of power, that is rooted in dismantling oppression, that asks for the role of healers, the critical role of healers and health practitioners to not be complicit with state by understanding insider-outsider strategies that really center collective care as part of our political liberatory strategies. And ask the question, how do we reimagine care that isn’t deeply embedded in slavery, capitalism and colonization of our people?

EW: Living in this political moment with the mainstreaming of healing justice, we also want it to be really, really clear that our people’s wisdom and scholarship and strategies are not for sale. And in the context of capitalism, we really want to offer up different ways to be in right relationship with this framework, different ways to be in right relationship with the lineage. And the myriad of examples that we lift up in the book about what our people have a right to in terms of care and safety inside of our political work. And also really thinking about how we draw from the lessons of living warriors and our ancestors during this time, while holding care and respect. And this piece again around how we move collectively, whether we’re talking about our liberation work, whether we’re talking about our care work, is very central to the distinction that we’re making here.

KH: As some of you know, I had another surgery last month. The day after the procedure, I was curled up in a ball on my couch, hurting and miserable. I was exhausted, but wide awake, and my pain and boredom were mingling in the most intolerable fashion. My mind needed something comforting to grab onto, and I remembered the first chapter of Healing Justice Lineages, which is an essay by Alexis Pauline Gumbs called “Learning to Listen.” Erica and Cara describe the chapter, which is about Harriet Tubman, as a “spirit conversation,” and it is by far my favorite chapter of the book. So I cued up the audiobook, and just dwelled in that beautiful reflection. Harriet Tubman may not be the first name that comes to mind, for most people, when they hear the words “healing justice,” but as Cara and Erica explain, Tubman modeled the principles of healing justice long before organizers would give language to the framework.

EW: This chapter, “Learning to Listen,” is by far also one of my favorites because it really I think anchors a lot of the political and spiritual intention of this project, which is, A, how are we in deep reverent relationship to our revolutionary ancestors? When we think about the work of Harriet Tubman, also known as Mama Moses, and the work that she continues to do around abolition and liberation work, from the land of the ancestors, we knew that we needed to really set the stage by lifting up her work around healing justice and what she’s contributed and continues to contribute to the lineage. I think it’s no coincidence that we’re living in a time where there’s so much more continued focus and study of her life and her work and that so many folks are really feeling drawn to learning from the ways that she organized, the ways that she led liberation, and the ways that she provided care for herself and her people.

Some of what I think Harriet brings to this project and to the lineage of healing justice is really this reminder that we need to hold fast to some of our ancestral ways in the midst of confinement, in the midst of enslavement, in the midst of attempted genocide. And being really thoughtful about what are the things we need to bring forward to ensure that our peoples exist in the future. And so what I love about this chapter is that Alexis beautifully lays out her deep reverent relationship to plants, to waterways, to her ancestral traditions, to move her and her people towards freedom. One of my favorite pieces about Harriet’s work is that she’s really a great example of what it means to be in constant assessment of context and conditions. And how her understanding of the context and conditions, whether it was when she was liberating folks from the South, whether it was related to her work as a spy and soldier in the Union Army, that she was very clear that she needed to understand the environmental, cultural, political, spiritual and psychic context in order to do what she did.

And so she’s a great example also of how we use different strategies for liberation based on what is possible. So when she was doing her work to escape enslavement, she was breaking the law, she was taking risk, but she also, then, aligned on some level with the state to also further her liberation work. But I love the fact that she really lifts up an example of how we understand risk and what risks we have to take collectively in the context of our liberation work. So, her care work is so central to her story and it’s so central to the lineage of healing justice. And so when we think about the work that she did after the Civil War, when she moved to upstate New York to create sanctuary for elderly folks, sick and disabled folks to live in dignity and respect, she really, again, married these ideas of care, safety, and liberation. What is our freedom if we don’t take care of each other?

KH: In Healing Justice Lineages, Cara, Erica, and others address the HIV/AIDS crisis and some of the care and struggle that activists waged in the eighties and nineties in the U.S. in order to keep people in heavily impacted communities alive. As someone who grew up during that era, I think a lot about the way AIDS was regarded when people were told, or told themselves, that the HIV virus only impacted gay people. I have felt a similar energy around issues today that are depicted as only impacting disabled or trans people as though these are not everyone’s issues. Even in some activist circles, there is a lot of dismissal as though we cannot alienate people by asking them to care too much about trans or disabled people. So, what lessons should we be taking in this moment from the care work and the battles waged by activists during the height of the AIDS crisis in the U.S.?

CP: This is a beautiful question, Kelly. I really appreciate it. Having survived that time period as well or pulling forth from the traditions of that period just to name, there was a lot of divide and conquer during HIV/AIDS. There was so much blaming and shaming of different communities, in particular sex workers, in particular Black people as a people, in particular queer and trans. But the care work had a particular lens on white bodies, gay bodies as you’re speaking to, had left a lot of us behind at the beginning. So to ask the question, what we learned from that time is how do we not fall back into this divide and conquer way of thinking about disease or dis-ease and pandemics.

Because here we are in this heightened moment of a global pandemic really needing to understand, I feel in a very different way, I think we reflect in the book, this is a moment of immense change and opportunity to do this entirely differently. To respond to a pandemic that centers those lives that are most at risk of being deeply impacted for the long haul, that including Black Indigenous people of color, queer and trans, working class, people living in street economies, incarcerated and institutionalized people and disabled people. All of us that are on the front lines of struggle already, prior to the COVID pandemic, prior to HIV/AIDS that were already fighting for our survival. And here we are thrust right into this fast momentum of a survival care strategy in response to the state literally policing how we can move inside of a pandemic, much like HIV/AIDS in the eighties and nineties. So what I think we learned from that period was how do we bring it back? How do we center our survival and our care and do not rely on the state to take care of us? That’s never been an option for many of us, and we do not intend to live our lives led, controlled, contained, policed by the state.

So giving a shout out to Shira Hassan’s new book and her chapter in our book, but her framing inside of saving our own lives in her book is the Liberatory Harm Reduction, taking out the sort of mainstream devoid of cultural political analysis harm reduction by the state. And offering a liberatory harm reduction frame that says, how do we take care of each other and center care and safety is integral to our political spiritual imperative? How do we understand centering bodily autonomy and not following state driven ways of care that are not community and survivor led? And what is the possibility of that? Especially now in this moment to pod up, crew up, team up with our people to say, “What does safety look like for us on the ground right now? What does it feel like to imagine transforming conditions that we don’t feel policed from living with chronic illness and disease? What does it look like to build in strategies of creative, collective grief from immense loss from the COVID pandemic or from immense loss from policing and imprisonment and incarceration?”

These are the conditions our literal bodies are responding to, the disease of being commodified inside of capitalism and slavery by the United States government. So what is the moment here that we can say as sick, disabled, queer, trans people of color, Indigenous fighting for our lives, the possibilities of understanding the ways of reimagining care that’s deeply embedded in an abolitionist frame while we’re still fighting fascism, while we’re still fighting immense poverty and oppression of our people. That these are not separate things. They are all bonded together. And that to build care is to build safety is to build power at the same time.

KH: Another chapter of this book that I really appreciated was Erica’s interview with Eddie Conway, who recently passed away. Conway talked about the need for care in our movements and how a lack of care impacted members of the Black Panther Party, many of whom burnt out. Conway said, “We were engaged to the point we kind of sacrificed our own care, and we didn’t make time for our own care because we were so busy.” His account of people resorting to escapism in the absence of healing really resonated with my own experience. What lessons should we take from the insights and experiences that Conway shared?

EW: Thank you so much, Kelly, for this question and sending love and respect to Eddie Conway who transitioned actually on February 13th just after the release of this book. And so his work and his legacy have deeply shaped my political understanding and spiritual understanding of the work of healing justice. And one of the pieces that I love about the interview with Eddie in the book is that he’s really pretty candid about some of the revolutionary work that was really impactful that the Black Panthers contributed and also some of the lessons learned. And what I will say is that we know care was so central to the work of the Panthers and what those legends and ancestors and warriors did not have access to that we have access to now is a real different conversation around trauma and the long-term impacts of state violence and the trauma that comes from that violence.

So when we think about things like escapism, when we think about things that get pathologized like self-medicating and substance abuse and addiction. We know that our people’s ways of recovering and surviving have been criminalized. And what we can draw from over the decades of time, since the state and COINTELPRO intentionally disrupted and assassinated our movement leaders, we know that the state will weaponize and capitalize off of our suffering and our attempts to heal and recover. So as a young organizer, this question of how former Black Panthers in particular and political prisoners, how they have navigated trauma has been a question that I’ve come back to over and over again. And it feels really special that I got to have that conversation with Eddie and that it’s included in the book because a lot of survivors are not in a place to really talk about that pain and what it required to survive that pain.

But what I would say is that the desire to escape our suffering is completely human and understandable. And what I think this interview can offer in this moment is that reminder that if we’re not conscious of our patterns of escapism, if we’re not conscious of the ways that our recovery and healing strategies can be weaponized against us, then will be more vulnerable to the state through surveillance, through criminalization. And a really clear example of that is a war on drugs and the way in particular the war on drugs undermines the work of groups like the Black Panther Party. So the title of this chapter is “Don’t Give Up and Don’t Make the Same Mistakes” because I think it’s really a call to action that we need to hear. We do not all have access to elders like Eddie, who are willing to share the mistakes that were inherent in the work. And I think that Eddie has been really clear that we need to do better with the resources we have available to us.

I think that some of the political conversations that we’ve had over the past two decades really center on, here’s what the elders are bringing forward to the younger generations. And it’s our responsibility to actually integrate that information into our work. And we know that our ancestors did so much with so little and they did that because they had robust systems of care and survival. And they also did that because they had access to some of these intergenerational teachings that are being destroyed and lost at this time. So, just sitting and listening to his stories about the ways that addiction, in particular, undermine the political work, were really hard to listen to, especially as we see all of the ways that unhealed trauma is moving through our movements and leading to increased polarization, conflict, burnout, and physical, emotional, and spiritual degeneration. If we don’t pivot now, we’re going to be in exactly the same place. And the urgency to intervene on trauma and state violence and its impact on our people and our movement work, the urgency is very clear in that conversation.

KH: The idea of “collaborative ecosystems of care” comes up repeatedly in the book. Can you talk about what that means and what it can look like?

CP: Yes. Thank you for this question. And this really builds off of what Erica was just speaking to because when healing justice emerged as really a political, spiritual imperative for us in the South, in the early 2000s, when we etched out and mapped the ways liberatory practices of care were deeply embedded in the traditions of Black liberation, the Yellow Power movement, the Chicanx student movement, Latinx movement, so on and so forth. Really looking at global south, southern traditions of care inside of liberatory movements and asking the question, how will we collectively take care of each other inside a heightened moment of trauma? Generational trauma, not only from colonization and slavery, but in the early 2000s, the conditions of an immense backlash that was Islamophobic, that was transphobic, that was xenophobic. All the things we see again now and all the things that are dividing our movements and putting us at the whim of the state.

There was a similar height moment in the early 2000s of war and attempted genocide. So here we go again, seeing another cycle and still deeply rooted in relationships. We are seeing base, over time communities that have been in relationship to each other, building what we’re calling “ecosystems” or sites of practice, sites of transformation, where at the crossroads of understanding my liberation is connected to your liberation. My safety, my care is connected to your care and safety. Here we are in community, in movement building. How do we actually pull in collective care as integral to a safety strategy, as integral to a care strategy? And how do we name an ecosystem that moves in formation that says, “How will we actually build traditions that actually move over this false notion of divide between allopathic Western-based practitioners and energy, earth, body-based practitioners?” How will we ask the question, “How can practitioners of healer health care strategies actually build an ecosystem of care that’s deeply rooted in abolition, deeply rooted in building power that will dismantle and confront the oppression of structural racism, ableism, transphobia in our healthcare systems?”

And so that ecosystem to us is very much about collective relationships that evolve into building action and care strategies. And one example is the Shut Down Irwin campaign in southern Georgia, all these southern organizations building an anti-detention center, anti-prison abolitionist movement, particular to the South because of the heightened mass incarceration going on of Black and brown people in the southern part of this country. Of course nationally, but also a very Southern corporatization of prison expansion. This campaign was brought to the forefront when a Black nurse, Dawn Wooten, stepped out and said, “I’m going to blow the whistle on the Irwin County Detention Center that has been medically harming, abusing my patients.” Including all these survivors of sterilization abuse, forced sterilization abuse, which we know is going on in detention centers and prisons all over the world. But she had the guts to step up, name it and say it as a Black woman nurse living in the South, living in her community saying, “I will not be complicit with this.”

And then from those relationships connected to her, led to organizations coming together that have been working together for years, including the Kindred Southern Healing Justice Collective, Project South. And then we brought on new organizations based on relationships, National Queer and Trans Therapists of Color Network, the Latinx Therapists Action Network, to say what is a strategy that will interrupt this abusive behavior by the state, by this detention center? And how will we hold the survivors? How will we take care of the survivors and support them in their grief, in their loss, in their experience of this harm and abuse? So just sort of understanding that ecosystem as a concentric circle of care that is rooted in relationships that are politically thriving to change conditions.

KH: In the chapter “Why We Organize Practitioners,” Erica writes:

There is a huge gap between the number of practitioners we have with a strong knowledge and practice of healing justice and the number we need to survive and win. It takes many years to train, educate, and develop practitioners committed to healing justice as a political strategy, and at this point we don’t yet have the structures or support for this type of knowledge transfer.

The importance of organizing practitioners, in a society that often pits clinicians against patients, feels especially urgent in these times.

EW: We will not achieve liberation without health and healing practitioners. And one of the pieces that I think is so important that we try to lift up in the book is that health and healing practitioners have always been a part of our liberation work. So when I think of the Young Lord’s takeover of Lincoln Hospital alongside the Black Panthers, but also alongside the Health Revolutionary Unity Movement, which was a body of organized health practitioners who were really clapping back around extreme violence and neglect that they saw inside of this hospital. We know that without an organized base of health practitioners, that those takeovers that happened in 1970 would not have occurred. So groups like Kindred and other healing justice organizers have always been really reminding us that we have to not only organize practitioners, but include practitioners in our broader conversation and strategy around our organizing.

And so in order to do that, we have to be in space together. So Cara can speak more about this in a moment, but I think listening to stories around the healing justice organizing that was part of the U.S. Social Forum and the People’s Movement Assembly are really clear reminders that we are not going to get free if we don’t have our practitioners at the table. And also a lot of our practitioners are also organizers. So this kind of false divide around role, really interrogating that. And when we think about the intersection of care and liberation, you cannot exclude those of us who are holding down the physical, spiritual, emotional, and psychic wellbeing of our people. So when we think about the intersection of the prison-industrial complex and the medical-industrial complex, practitioners play such a pivotal role in these institutions and they actually have a very pivotal role in disrupting and also doing organizing outside of these institutions to dismantle the violence of the MIC.

So I think we really need more strategies to help practitioners understand their role in movement to say, “Hey, not only are you important, but here’s how you can contribute. We don’t all have to play the same role.” And we want to offer that role up as an alternative to identify with this professional class of care providers. So some of the examples that we lift up in the book, again, the work being led by the Latinx Therapists Action Network. They’re really working with Latinx therapists to understand and get politically developed to understand abolition, to understand the legacy and current reality of detention and deportation. We also lift up examples like the work of the JusticeLA coalition, shout out to Frontline Wellness and Dignity and Power Now who are part of this work to interrupt a huge jail expansion project to create a mental health jail. But saw early on that if we don’t organize practitioners away from carceral strategies and towards abolition, then you will have public health practitioners, social workers, nurses, and doctors saying, “Yes, a mental health jail is what we need to care for our people.”

And so for us at the National Queer and Trans Therapists of Color Network, we’re looking at how to do this work specifically with queer, trans, BIPOC practitioners. And really, again, interrupting this divide between those of us who were deemed legit by the medical-industrial complex, so people who are licensed, versus the vast majority of folks who are doing this care work around our emotional and spiritual wellbeing outside of the state. And so we want to just lift up again that practitioners have always been part of our movement work. We’re not going anywhere, but we do need really specific strategies to organize practitioners who have to consider things like licensure, who have to consider things like liability and risk, who have to consider things like confidentiality and the sacred responsibility that a lot of us hold when we are choosing to be in roles where we’re providing care for people, especially those of us who are most impacted by structural violence.

CP: I love how Erica lays it out, always. And I just want to add, I’m in particular very aware right now the risk of practitioners challenging any what we’re calling “critical race theory” inside of academia or medical institutions to see health practitioners really be targeted violently, attacked on social media being followed by neo-fascists. The risk looks very different now than it did 10 or so years ago when we had our People’s Movement Assembly on health, healing justice, and liberation at the U.S. Social Forum in Atlanta, Georgia, a convergence of social justice organizations and movements across the U.S. When we had that meeting in 2010 in Atlanta, Georgia, the first piece was to demythologize, as Erica beautifully said, this false divide between health practitioners, social workers, nurses, doctors, healers, birth workers. Just understanding the stigma around different traditions of care that are not perceived as real as having integrity and validity because they are not inside of Western-based allopathic medicine. So we really were looking at a frontline of the decriminalization of practices and traditional healers. Now, fast forward, we are really looking at a heightened moment of counter fascist backlash to any Black and brown traditions, healers and practitioners that are trying to do this differently. And so the safety and the risk assessment that is part of the healing justice strategy is really key in another level that in my lifetime, I’ve never witnessed the kind of targeting and attacks that we are now seeing based on the fascist government that we’re living in, and time.

KH: In the chapter Return to Spirit, Erica wrote, “Criminalization, co-optation, and commodification work together to convince BIPOC that our traditions are evil while white people steal our practices and then sell them back to us.” Can you talk about how the culture of co-optation we are living in is robbing us of meaning, and damaging the intergenerational relations we need in order to win our liberation?

EW: Yes. What a good question, Kelly. This question of co-optation and what it means in this moment when there are so many BIPOC folks who are in a process of remembering and reclaiming ancestral traditions. We have to always be very, very cognizant that we’re living in a time where we actually don’t know how to be in right relationship with anything. We’re not in right relationship with where things come from. We’re not in right relationship with the centuries of traditions and the sacred containers around these traditions that our ancestors cultivated over time. And at this point, I fully expect white folks to take our things. I think this chapter is really a call to BIPOC folks to think more critically about where things come from, to think about who our teachers are, to think about the role of capitalism inside of our healing and spiritual traditions.

We’re in a time where I’m in my early 40s, so technology was not giving what it’s giving now when I was in my early 20s, when I was becoming politicized and becoming conscious. And so with the role of technology and social media, the speed with which we can get access to things, out of context, can be quite scary when we think about this conversation around co-optation and the interruption of that intergenerational transfer of knowledge that’s so central to our survival. So as BIPOC folks who are trying to reclaim ancestral traditions from our lineage or as BIPOC folks who are attempting to be in relationship with traditions that are not from our lineage, how are we moving with respect to this cultural co-optation? Not from a place of performance, not from a place of self-negation, but really from a place of asking what do our ancestors want us to bring forward in this time? And what is right for us individually and collectively to bring forward, given our relationship to lineage?

We’re living in a moment where we’re seeing the erasure of ancestors, we’re seeing the erasure of elders, we’re seeing the erasure of folks who have been in this work who have been on this podcast. And we really cannot participate in that. So, we’re asking folks to think about how we’ve been complicit and to also understand that this disconnect from our elders and our ancestral wisdom is by design. The state has been very intentional to cut us off from our language, from our history, from our culture, from our spiritual resources. And when we unconsciously participate in a culture of co-optation, and sometimes folks are consciously participating because you get a lot of reinforcement in the context of capitalism when you take things and proliferate them on the internet and disconnect them from their origin. So this piece around the damage that it does to our intergenerational relations is really, really central. And I’ve thought a lot about what that healing looks like because yes, we’re in a culture of co-optation that’s connected to racial capitalism and these legacies of genocide and enslavement that are part of our experience here in the U.S.

But we also know that there are deep wounds of anti-Blackness and white supremacy, patriarchy, ableism, and transphobia moving in our spiritual communities. And I think particularly of BIPOC and QTBIPOC folks who are survivors of abuse in spiritual and religious communities. And I think a lot about how we actually create the conditions to tend to some of those wounds while also honoring elders, honoring the wisdom of our ancestors, but also knowing that not everything an elder or ancestor has done is good for us. But we don’t even get to have these conversations when we’re on Instagram sharing the next meme. And I love memes, I love all these things, get your life. But we actually have to come back to relationship and to people and to teachers and to elders and understanding what it means to be a good student and understanding the sacred responsibility of being a spiritual elder or leader in this particular political and spiritual moment.

KH: The idea of not leaving anyone behind is a key theme in a number of books I love. As I have said previously on the show, I believe that a refusal to abandon one another is becoming increasingly revolutionary in these times, as most people embrace a return to normalcy that’s nothing but an accelerated capitalist death march. Can you speak to the importance of refusing to abandon each other in these times and how a healing justice framework can help us defy norms of disposability?

CP: Yes, beautiful question. I feel like I’ve said it many times, but I’ll say it again. That healing justice, when it emerged again as a political cultural framework in the early 2000s as a necessity for how Black Indigenous people of color organizers in the South, in particular transformative abolitionist healers and health practitioners, asked of ourselves how do we imagine expanding the role of care as integral to political liberation? And how do we then ask of ourselves how to center our relationships to our collective bodies, our collective spirits, our collective understandings of traditions and belief of care that are liberatory? And for us, that really meant, us being the Kindred Southern Healing Justice Collective, again, a network of healers, health practitioners, organizers, and cultural workers sitting, much to what Erica said, sitting in relationship to each other, asking what are our traditions of care that we want to bring forward? What are the ones we want to leave behind because they’re not working anymore for us? And how do we not leave our people behind?

And we understood there were certain political frameworks and movements that were evolving at that time that we needed to lean on and learn from. And that included the emerging disability justice movement, the reproductive justice movement that were really wrestling with this understanding of disability as a liberatory frame, understanding bodily autonomy, and going way beyond a anti-abortion frame. But more how will we build families, how will we build communities that are valuing, more than valuing, elevating the lived experiences of the different ways we live in our bodies with our different ways of being. And while were also exploring the liberatory harm reduction that we’d learned from the eighties and nineties, and understanding how does healing justice relate to environmental justice, to the fight for land and seeds, so we’re not leaving behind traditions of farming and cultural traditions, literally of our ancestors that were very much based on feeding our people and healing our people.

But this is a big question because healing and health are so intertwined with colonization and these ideas of who is healthy and who is diseased, who’s expendable and who is not. Deeply embedded in like this eugenic framing of literally our Black genetic materials, our disabled genetic materials, our Indigenous genetic materials are not valued if they are not producing labor to build in wealth for the elite, the elite wealthy capitalist structure. So if you have to roll back and really look at the ways health care in this country has been intersectional with slavery and genocide, then we had to start from scratch, but not really. We had to say, well, who were we pre-colonization? How did we take care of each other when it wasn’t relying on a white male, able-bodied, wealthy Christian idea or ideal of care?

Wow. So healing justice asks of us to really expand, to really get imaginative and to ask the question: What is our cultural, spiritual, and political imperative to our people to make sure that we are defining how we will build collective care in relationship to each other? And that’s why this book is really mapping this constellation of all the different ways this looks on the ground, based on conditions, based on being rooted in place, based on being connected to ancestral possibilities, and again, mistakes. Our ancestors were not perfect in any sense of the word. So, what do we draw from and what, again, do we leave behind? And so we elevate different projects like the Intersex Justice Project, holding institutions accountable for unnecessary intersex surgeries that are violating and non-consensual surgeries of young people, or the RYSE Center building power with young people and understanding how to heal and transform conditions and trauma in California.

We could keep going, but the book is so much about understanding how we haven’t left our people behind. But we really have to be in right relationship to what we have done not so well and what we can build that needs to look different from anything we may have seen before because we have been purposefully separated from our traditions of liberatory care as part of the colonialist project.

KH: In the book’s conclusion, you all write, “It’s not healing justice if it’s not building power towards our liberation.” Can you say more about that?

EW: Absolutely. Because of the mainstreaming misuse and misappropriation of healing justice, we had to name clearly over and over again in the book that healing justice is a political framework. And what I would love to see is for folks to really return to the political intention that Cara and Kindred Southern Healing Justice laid out for us around healing justice and really understanding that healing justice comes from movement. It comes from practitioners in movement responding to generational trauma and violence and grief and crisis. From practitioners who knew that something more was possible inside of our liberation work, from practitioners who did not want to see their comrades die due to medical crisis, die by suicide. And when we think about healing justice, it’s a very specific strategy to address specific things. So what we’re asking folks is if you’re going to use this framework, be committed to understanding the movements and political frameworks that it’s built upon. We’re asking folks to consider who are you accountable to, and who are you building power with, and how does healing justice inform that work?

Because without that, you might be doing great work, but we would ask that you not use healing justice as a framework to describe that work because of the ways that the state is already weaponizing the confusion around HJ and the conflation with individualized self-care. So when we think about healing justice as a collective strategy that comes from movement that’s rooted in power building, that completely changes the conversation about what care and healing look like. So one of the things I often say is that your individual yoga practice is not necessarily healing justice. It’s great, do you. And if you’re not grappling with things like abolition, anti-capitalism, disability justice, reproductive justice, transformative justice, environmental justice, and liberatory harm reduction, and collectively building power with folks, maybe you should use a different framework or maybe you should align with folks who are on the ground in your community who are already mapping out healing justice strategies to take care of folks.

So it’s a lot to ask in this moment. It’s a lot to ask because to the earlier points I made around how quickly folks are getting access to information with a lack of understanding and a lack of understanding of where things come from, this is something that we’re going to have to say over and over again. And one of the things I love about this project is we just lift up so many examples and we’re going to continue to do so over the next year.

CP: Beautiful. Just to really just echo, this is an invitation of what the shapes or formations of collective care need to look like. And we know that not everyone will call it healing justice. That’s not the question. Erica broke down the frame and what we believe healing justice means distinctly different from individual strategies. That being said, in the 21st century, we are looking at such a moment of immense fear, grief, and attack on our people and our communities. So if this work is not rooted in place, if it’s not rooted in response to the conditions of our communities and is not survivor, community-led, what’s the point? We have to be at the center of generating and imagining our own liberatory practice of care or it will, again, impede us, be imposed on us, and continue to erase us.

So whatever needs to happen to feel connected and accountable to the work, do it. We all need to do it so we can really build care strategies that are in right relationship to the communities we’re actually trying to build survival with. And it is, at the risk of saying this in my 50s, I’m starting to feel like we are out of time in many ways. To see some of the conditions repeat themselves or actually get worse from the generation of our parents’ time and to see new cycles of violence and abuse manifest… I mean whatever, war, it will always exist. But the urgency, it feels more heightened than I’ve ever experienced. So, we don’t have time not to be in right relationship to our land, to our bodies, to our spiritual cultural imperatives. So this is, it’s an invitation and we really hope people will invite themselves to doing this differently.

KH: This is such a beautiful and important book, and it’s one that I believe challenges us in the best of ways. As Cara and Erica write in the book’s conclusion:

What we are asking for from all of us is accountability and sacrifice to co-imagine this next blueprint together. To protect and care for BIPOC and undocumented communities, Queer, Trans, and Nonbinary folks, our people engaging in the street economy, sex workers, active/former drug users, our people who are unhoused, our sick and disabled people, people living with HIV/AIDS, incarcerated and formerly incarcerated people, organizers, activists, artists, cultural workers, birth workers, and our health, healing, and spiritual practitioners who refuse to collude with the prison and medical industrial complexes.

This is a call to action for our times. Because if we do not address our need to heal, and our need to protect and care for one another, in this era of catastrophe, nothing we attempt to grow will take root. Fortunately, the work before us is not unprecedented. It stems from lineages that have so much to teach us, if we are willing to learn, listen and build differently in this world.

I am so grateful to Cara Page and Erica Woodland for talking with me about Healing Justice Lineages. Please do yourself the kindness of reading this anthology, and considering its lessons, as you find your way forward. And I also hope some of you will engage with Cara and Erica in the coming months as they mark the launch of this book with a listening and cultural memory tour. They will be traveling to regions that are discussed in the book to listen and gather more stories around healing justice, collective care, and community safety strategies. I hope some of you are able to participate in those events, because we all have so much to learn from each other, and I believe that weaving those lessons together is going to help us get free.

I also want to thank our listeners for joining us today, and remember, our best defense against cynicism is to do good, and to remember, that the good we do matters. Until next time, I will see you in the streets.

Show Notes

  • Don’t forget to check out Healing Justice Lineages: Dreaming at the Crossroads of Liberation, Collective Care, and Safety by Cara Page & Erica Woodland
  • The National Queer and Trans Therapists of Color Network (NQTTCN) is “a healing justice organization committed to transforming mental health for queer and trans people of color (QTPoC). We work at the intersection of movements for social justice and the field of mental health to integrate healing justice into both of these spaces. Our overall goal is to increase access to healing justice resources for QTPoC.”
  • The Kindred Collective is “a network of grassroots energy, body and earth based healers and health practitioners seeking to create mechanisms for wellness and safety that respond, intervene and transform conditions of generational trauma and violence in our communities and movements.”
  • The Healing Histories Project “is a network of abolitionist healers/health practitioners, community organizers, researchers/historians & cultural workers building solidarity to interrupt the medical industrial complex and harmful systems of care. We generate change through research, action and building collaborative strategies & stories with BIPOC-led communities, institutions and movements organizing for dignified collective care.”
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