Reflections from Detroit: Transforming Wellness & Wholeness

[tweetmeme source= ‘yourtwittername’ only_single=false]

Continuing our Reflections from Detroit series, Cara Page describes the work of organizing for healing justice and liberation at the US Social Forum.

***

“She had learned to read the auras of the trees and stones and plants and neighbors.  Had studied the sun’s corona, the jagged petals of magnetic colors and then the threads that shimmered between wooden tables and flowers and children and candles and birds…She knew each way of being in the world and could welcome them home again, open to wholeness…”

Toni Cade Bambara, The Salt Eaters

Transforming Wellness & Wholeness, by Cara Page

I come by way of Black Seminole, African American and Austrian ancestry a mixed creed despite eugenic laws that would render me dead or expendable.  I write this piece in memory of my ancestors and allies.  We will find our way home again and again despite bloodshed and oil spills; despite the misplaced and displaced; despite the forgotten memories we will always find our way home … and make a way out of no way.

This past year I took a deeper dive into the notion of wellness for our movements and the role of well being for organizers.  I sat with my dreams and wondered, ‘How far have we been able to come despite noxious toxic waste dumps near our homes, and oil spills and sterilization abuse, population control and genocide…just a few things on our map of oppression.  How have we survived?”  I’ve been asking these questions to the ‘salt eaters’ and the ‘dreamers’ and the ‘shapeshifters’ among us; what is wholeness? Not an ableist notion of wholeness that implies one specific body or blood type, but a shape of wholeness that intrinsically knows what each individual and collective notion of feeling whole and safe and well can look like.  Not the bought ‘wholeness’ you can find only in supreme retreat packages at sunset salons but the kind of ‘wholeness’ that calls on whole communities and whole movements to be well, sustainable and resilient.  Who will answer the call to our hurts, our wounds, our double/triple/quadruple pains of oppression and desperation?  How will we answer our own calls to wellness and safety?

I’ve been sitting with southern and national healers to remember the role of healing inside of liberation.  I am leading a storytelling gathering project with the KINDRED southern healing justice collective to tell the stories of southern healers in the U.S. to map our sites of transformative practice as conduits of social change.  Call it a quest for what the role of healing is and how healers move us to and through liberation.  What keeps us resilient in our hearts, our blood, our bones?  What helps us to rebuild a home? How do we reclaim and re-imagine safety in our homes and movements?

The role of healer as a Black queer woman in the South for me has been to demystify the notion that we are not wrong to use our imaginations and dreams for action? That we are not odd to believe in plants and herbs as integral parts to our paths of liberation? The role of healer as women of color teaches us we can heal ourselves and our own; that we can live, and birth and bury outside of institutional notions of wellness.  Yet what is the role of women of color healers inside of liberation?  While it has been our legacy it seems to have come undone, uprooted and unnoticed in our collective memories and notions of justice.  As a poet, healer, organizer I helped to envision the role of the ‘healer’ and ‘healing’ inside of liberation at the US Social Forum in Detroit (June 2010); a four day convergence of ritual, rallies, workshops etc. pulling together our movements to rebuild, and regenerate new alliances and vision towards strategy and of what is just.

The role of healing at this convergence took the shape and presence of many things.   We created two spaces of political and practical application of what we have named ‘healing justice’; a framework that identifies how we can holistically respond to and intervene on generational trauma and violence and to bring collective practices that can impact and transform the consequences of oppression on our bodies, hearts and minds.  Through this framework we built two political and philosophical convergences of healing inside of liberation.  One was the US Social Forum Healing Justice Practice Space which created a free multimodal practice space to respond to trauma and triggers for organizers; to accept that many of us are tired and burnt out and have not fared well on responding to conditions of our movements and communities by putting our literal bodies on the line.  We provided practices such as reiki, acupressure, acupuncture, sound and somatic therapy with practitioners from across different regions in the U.S..  We used energy, body and earth based traditions alongside doulas and midwives to provide knowledge on birth, breath, resiliency and balance.   The Healing Justice Practice Space at the US Social Forum was a large room sectioned off for different practices simultaneously that gave us ample space to respond to the conditions of Detroit including; acute asthma, diabetes, and nutrition while also responding to the conditions of our lives and movements (eg. depression, burn out, and survivors of emotional, physical, sexual and psychological abuse and trauma).  As we so poignantly stated in our outreach materials, ‘We are responding to a lack of quality of life and conditions, a pattern of systemic abuse and oppression that reinforces the controlling of our bodies/wellness/systems/cultures and our capacity to remember and transform our conditions. We stand in solidarity as a national collective of grassroots healers, medical practitioners and health justice organizers who seek to create systems of wellness outside of state and corporate models that profit from these conditions.’

In our political and practical application of healing justice we also created a People’s Movement Assembly: a four hour interactive session to imagine new strategies and unlikely alliances towards building action.  The People’s Movement Assembly (PMA) we held was for Health, Healing Justice & Liberation’ to politicize the role of healing inside of liberation from the perspective of health justice organizers, grassroots healers and integrative medical practitioners.  Our vision in the creation of this PMA was to dream for organizing that uplifted the role of healing inside of liberation that will transform our conditions from generational trauma and violence.

Our goals at this convergence were to:

  • Map the frequencies of where we are in our movements to ground us in our vision towards strategies of sustaining and resourcing our collective wellness
  • To create spaces that value and honor equal exchange of resources/energies/economics towards obtaining new models for wellness that restore the earth and are adaptable to the current state of our emotional/spiritual/physical/psychic and environmental conditions
  • To locate the bridges and paths that connect us to memories, dreams and our ancestral legacy of healing traditions towards new models of healing and justice inside of our communities and movements

The questions we began grappling with at the PMA included: How do we redefine what it means to be healthy that is not profit driven or derived from one type of body, and one type of wellness? What are our shared understandings and memories of healing practices as tools of resistance and organizing?  How will we sustain, renew and uplift healers and traditions that are being co-opted, displaced, replaced and criminalized?

These questions are large and the next steps many but there was a sense of belonging and visibility amplified for healers, and the participants who came to both of these spaces.  As organizers and healers we mapped a way home to well being that did not isolate nor stigmatize our individual and collective bodies nor underestimated our need for wellness.

As a Black queer woman survivor of family and state violence, uninsured in the South I am often coming up against the notions of wellness, who is worthy of wellness and who is deserving of well being based on who can afford it.  At the Social Forum I was able to measure a different landscape.  What does it mean to be well in our collective bodies and in our collective memories inside of traumatic incidences of state/familial and communal abuse?  What does it mean to take care of one another as Women of Color, Queer and Trans People of Color, as communities in the South escaping unethical and horrific practices on our bodies to test our mental and physical capacity for labor and slavery?  Is the question really ‘Are we well?’ or is it ‘How can we be well with the overwhelming idea that we are less than human in the first place?

How can one be well if we are not well together?  And how will we get well when our sense of wellness often does not include the whole?  As Toni Cade pondered in her book The Salt Eaters we have to open ourselves up again to wellness and wholeness, because what is in our memory and intrinsically a part of us has been separated and often taken away from us.  It is something we will need to find again as part of understanding our role as organizers who once were healers, or healers who once were organizers.

Cara Page

Cara Page is a Black queer organizer, artist, healer, poet living in the state of things in Atlanta, GA.  She comes by way of Pennsylvania and Massachusetts to her home.  She is inspired by and works with the KINDRED southern healing justice collective, INCITE!, Project South, Southerners on New Ground, UBUNTU, the Young Women’s Empowerment Project & the Atlanta Transformative Justice Collaborative.  She is committed to remembering our memories of resilience and resistance to transform continued slavery & genocide.

The Healing & Health Justice Collective Organizing Principles that were developed at USSF are available after the jump!

Continue reading

Reflections from Detroit: Oh Octavia

[tweetmeme source= ‘yourtwittername’ only_single=false]Continuing our Reflections from Detroit series, Alexis Pauline Gumbs shares her experiences at the Octavia Butler Symposium at the Allied Media Conference.

Oh Octavia
by Alexis Pauline Gumbs

Octavia Butler

Octavia Butler came to me in a dream once.   Did she advise me to get my water-purifying pills ready for 2012?  Did she offer to assist my lover and I Oonkali style? Did she shift into a million earth-life forms right before my eyes?

Nope.  She smiled and told me she hated me.  Then she lovingly played with my hair, and moved on to discuss mosquitoes.

And the thing is Octavia Butler must hate me and probably a whole bunch of us…with my incessant belief in the essential good nature of human beings despite the incriminating evidence of genocide, war and all other forms of oppression, and my tireless work towards accountability with people who sometimes seem not to care, but a especially.

Octavia Butler, in my dreams, and in the nightmare mid-apocalyptic settings of most of her books is a reminder that some things cannot be saved, and the changes our ecosystem and solar system are about to put us through are even more radical than we think we are.    So in an urgent time of terrifying complacency Octavia Butler’s work is crucial for those of us who feel the world changing in our communities and in our bodies.

Adrienne Maree Brown, long time student and teacher of Octavia Butler’s work and all-around divalicious genius, knows this.   And she acts accordingly.  So she learned how to bake bread, and she convened the Octavia Butler Symposium at the Allied Media Conference in Detroit this June where so many of us were gathered to collate our intentions for another world.

The room filled with participants.  People who had read all of Octavia Butler’s books, people who had read one book or series and were still in shock.  People whose friends had been telling them to read Octavia for years and who had one of her books sitting on a desk neglected and unread because of all their frantic activist work.

Adrienne designed the session so that everyone could speak and learn from the bodacious body of work of Ms. Octavia by creating a fishbowl exercise where people spoke in four chairs in the middle of the room to each other until someone in the erstwhile audience tagged them out to add their take on the questions Adrienne asked about why Octavia Butler’s work was revelant in our specific work?  Why the work was important for this time in history? Etc.   People expressed their dreams and fears, their views that the capitalist anarchy that Butler prophesies in the Parable series is already upon us, questions about whether representations of sexuality in Fledgling and the Patternist series provide us with new ways of responding to abuse, thoughts on the function of science fiction in general in our time, claims that Butler’s work is much more fact than fiction to begin with.

Bloodchild, by Octavia Butler

With all of these questions dancing in the air we split into break out groups to brainstorm visionary questions for a reader for social justice visionaries for the each of Octavia Butler’s series of novels, the Patternist series, the Parable series, the Xenogenesis series and her collection of short stories, Bloodchild. This gave us the opportunity to develop specific critical questions and to share more deeply with each other.  I was in the group that discussed Bloodchild and in our addition to our critical questions about the stories and Butler’s reflections on the work of writing, we spoke of our own dreams, our own prophecies that we have watched come true, and the sacred fulfillment of our connection to each other.

In other words…it was deep y’all.  I would definitely attend a whole day or a weekend or a week of inquiry like that.   Looking forward to the reader!!!

See the raw notes from the symposium here: http://adriennemareebrown.net/blog/?p=1471

Be transformed!

Alexis Pauline Gumbs is the instigator of Eternal Summer of the Black Feminist Mind (www.blackfeministmind.wordpress.com).  Alexis, Moya Bailey, Renina Jarmon and Summer McDonald will be speaking on a panel about Octavia Butler and Queer Futures at the conference Critical Ethnic Studies and the Future of Genocide: Settler Colonialism, Heteropatriarchy, White Supremacy Conference at University of California, Riverside March 2011.

Octavia Butler

Add to FacebookAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Yahoo BuzzAdd to Newsvine