I’m in Philadelphia this week with a few thousand organizers for the 29th annual Creating Change conference.
The first time I attended, in Denver, CO, I co-presented on the intersections of climate change, faith, and sexual orientation and gender identity with Peterson Toscano, J Mase III, and Rev. Nancy Wilson.
This time around, the conference is in Philly. I’ve already fallen in love with the city’s downtown area, and I’m also envious of its Amtrak station (New York Penn station is nothing if not chaotic!).
The first full day of Creating Change features a racial justice institute: an opportunity for attendees to dig into models of the cycles of oppression, socialization, and liberation, share coping and resistance techniques, explore each others’ stories about being raced in this society, and practice new strategies for participating in frank conversations about race, racism, and racial justice.
A major part of racial justice work for people of color is the work of self-care, and that’s what I focused on today.
The small group I participated in reflected on statements such as “Self-care is a divine responsibility” as well as Audre Lorde’s classic definition in A Burst of Light of self-care as both “self-preservation” and “an act of political warfare.”
Lorde, I learned a few years ago, died in her late 50s from breast cancer.
If the US had a healthcare system that allowed people to nurture their health proactively and receive sound, affordable care when needed, Lorde might still be with us. She might also be with us today if all of the communities in which she worked—academic, artistic, and activist—held in common a vision of “work” that didn’t consume workers’ lives but rather provided them with space to imagine and contribute and recover from labor at a humane pace.
This is an element of contemporary activist culture that still needs a lot of attention. People are working relentlessly on issue after issue year after year and there are structural reasons why: workplace culture, movement culture, precarious jobs and the over-performing that often accompanies precarity, as well as the passion and compassion that drive many activists to keep pressing for justice even when they aren’t compensated.
These factors aren’t about individual will to live and die on the treadmill. I’d bet that most of us aren’t conscious about the demands our routines make on us: we’re only conscious that we don’t wake up rested, or keep contracting colds, or feel overwhelm altogether too often.
Spaces like the room I spent this afternoon in are a rare chance to reassess that common routine. Over the next few weeks, I’ll be revisiting my routine, the obligations I’ve taken on, and those I’ve created for myself—including my daily writing practice.
I encourage you to review your routine too. Even if you’re sure that “everything is fine,” sometimes “fine” is not good, and we can do better.