Interview with Francisca Porchas, Mijente and Resilient Strategies:
“In March of 2018 I held a meeting in Phoenix of about 40 people, with half from different places across the country. I wanted to have a conversation about healing justice, criminalization and deportation: a Black and Brown conversation about state violence and trauma. We took the time to name what is manifesting in our communities, some of the ways that our communities are addressing it, and then, without ignoring or undervaluing what we are already doing, some of the gaps and contradictions in our work.
“Trump has been very disorienting for our movement. We are not clear on where the opportunities are to win or even to stop anything. That is a very hard place to be morally. Family separation was a hard blow where we had actions happening across the country, but even with these actions, we still aren’t clear how we are going to stop this separation of children from their parents. But this isn’t the only movement in history when we have gone through medieval times. We aren’t the only movement who has asked, ‘How we are going to get out of this onslaught of possible devastation?’
“This is a time where healing work can remind us that in these moments we care for each other. We build each other up morally and spiritually. I built a collective of healers and our folks have been tending to our people. There are healing sessions that happen twice a month on Saturdays and every other Thursday. There are healing circles, emotional literacy classes and basic care like acupuncture. We have healers saying, ‘We are here. We care for you.’
“People are more open these days than ever. I am being hit up by folks in different places about needing therapy, about being open to counseling of some sort because people are suffering losses or being deported. Our people know they need help to move through this. Right now the first and most urgent step I have felt we need is the creation of a Latinx network of mental health practitioners. We call this Healing in Resistance.
“And while we take care of each other, the organizing doesn’t stop. I never could have dreamt that ‘Abolish ICE’ as a rallying cry was going to spark people’s imagination. We need to continue organizing and focus on the issues that have caught fire. We are going to keep fighting and caring for each other and we have to figure out how to resource this work, particularly when funders focus so much attention on how you are going to win.
“We are living under a regime my generation has never before experienced, and while the organizing still needs to be front and center, this is a moment when healing justice also needs to be centered. Organizers are telling funders, ‘Hey, healing matters; we have to be able to rest and support each other.’ When we come out the other end of this I believe we will come out stronger. We are going to learn how to create a sense of safety. This is one of the big questions we have to figure out right now. How do we create a sense of safety knowing we are never safe under this kind of oppression and state violence? We have never been safe. We have to create a sense of safety and at the same time transform this harm so that we come out on the other side.”
Healing circles are defined in many different ways: as pop-ups in moments of urgency, as ongoing spaces for learning and sharing healing practices, as opportunities for communities to come together around an identity or an issue and in remembrance of a time in history or in honor of ancestors.
Almost every person we spoke with referred to different kinds of healing circles organized for those impacted by state violence in a particular moment, for those experiencing the loss of a beloved community member or for times when there’s a break in organizing and care is given to those experiencing burnout and exhaustion.
Interview with Kindred Southern Healing Justice Collective:
“Community organizers from across the South increasingly began to call on us to show up and hold healing space or partner on a gathering or conference with them. We would say that we want to honor the legacy of healing and medicine, so we would ask participants to bring objects that represent their lineage of healing and medicine. Together we would then create sacred or reflective space where people would have the opportunity to transform energy and honor lineage. As part of Summer Solstice and Juneteenth celebrations, for example, we would create reflective spaces with Project South in Atlanta, Georgia to understand how our medicines, foods and traditions built our resiliency during slavery and continue to sustain us despite systemic violence and oppression. We created reflective spaces as part of harvest and seasonal festivals.
“We also started doing mobile aid stations on site at rallies and actions during increased migrant justice work, responding to anti-immigrant hate and ICE raids in Southern states in the mid-2000s. Organizers and movement leaders like Southerners on New Ground (SONG) asked us to have stations where we supplied water, juice and sweet snacks for people with diabetes. We also had nurses for basic aid and energy/body-based healers to provide practice, as well as social workers and harm reduction counselors to provide de-escalation support for any traumatic incidents or violence with cops or counter-demonstrators. As marches became more prevalent, we began to build out mobile teams that had a healer, an organizer and a nurse. We taught organizers skills to support people in breathing and grounding practices if anything traumatic happened on the march. Oftentimes people working security came to us after the marches in need of support to move the intensity and stress of the march out of their bodies.”
Interview with Guadalupe Rocio Chavez, Dignity and Power Now:
“Freedom Harvest is a program where Dignity and Power Now lives out our values of abolition, healing justice and transformative justice beautifully. During Freedom Harvest, we set up outside of Los Angeles county jails to provide care for family members going to visit loved ones who are incarcerated. Those spaces are so cold and cruel, not a space where love, freedom and interdependence can be easily nurtured. The concrete buildings, the tiny windows … and then all the emotions of family members; it can be a somber place most of the time. We literally set up in the parking lot of the jails. Some of the jails are in desert-like areas where the parking lot is scalding hot concrete. There are very few spaces where there is shade and a few benches. And there is always a long line of people visiting their loved ones. This particular jail is called the Wayside, Pitchess Detention Center. People show their ID and then wait in another area before they are bussed up and down some hills to where their loved ones are. To set up our wellness stations, our art-making stations, in a space like that is life-affirming to all those who participate. It begins to chip away at that concrete. It transforms the experience of the folks who are going to visit their loved ones.
“In the summer we have what we call a ‘large scale’ Freedom Harvest series, where we set up our pop-up clinic every other week for two months. The summer series has about eight stations. During the rest of the year we host a Freedom Harvest at Lynwood Women’s Jail every other month with fewer healing stations. We have a team of committed acupuncturists who do community acupuncture and we give massage and foot soaks. Our member healer offers crystal bowl healing and chakra re-alignments. We offer this healing for people, many of whom are turned away from their visit because they forgot their ID or their purses are too big or one of the hundreds of reasons the sheriffs stop families from coming in. It’s inhumane: we often receive people who are devastated, who have traveled a long way to visit their loved one and are kept from going in. In Freedom Harvest we have places where people can sit and drink water or tea if it’s cold, and just be listened to. We also offer concrete support, helping people learn where they can go to make a complaint, helping people fill out paperwork and connecting them with other resources, including our campaigns.
“A highlight of the clinics are the flower crowns we make. This has been brilliant. You have these beautiful children and older women mostly who are drawn to these flower crowns and learn how to make them for themselves. You see folks leaving with flower crowns from the jail. Flowers have many healing properties and uplift folks in connection to the earth. It can be so hard to get to a patch of earth in LA, let alone access to growing space.
“Another special thing about Freedom Harvest is that it is facilitated by a team of volunteers, healers and consultants called Building Resilience. We also have a new program where formerly incarcerated people receive support from Dignity and Power Now to pursue the study of a preferred healing modality. Our member healers lead this work. We build relationships with one another and make hundreds of wellness kits. The kits are simple: a bag with a Dignity Power Stick sticker on it and a healing quote, handmade gifts like bath salts, spritzers, tea and aromatherapy rollies. We also skill-share with folks how to make the items we put into the kits. We offer these kits outside the jails. Folks can take them home and continue their self-care.
“The principle of abolition is very present in this work. We don’t believe that wellness kits or pop-up clinics will bring an end to these cages, these concrete buildings, but they are a form of showing up in protest. Through our presence we are stating that instead of these jails, this is what we believe in. We believe in healing together, coming together in community, sharing meals together. We share water. We share stories. We write songs together. This is how we heal and this is how we organize.”
© 2019 Astraea Lesbian Foundation For Justice