Astraea has always had a commitment to culture, healing and resilience in movements. Healing justice, though we didn’t always call it that, has been central to our work since our origins.
Recognizing the power of healing, community, culture and joy, one of our first grants four decades ago was to a lesbian choir! More broadly, we have always supported queer, trans and gender nonconforming people of color and migrant-led organizations, rooted in communities that face institutional, state and interpersonal violence and experience present-day and generational trauma. Over the last decade, we have seen organizers in the U.S. increasingly working to revive and practice ancestral traditions and to build new organizing models that center safety and wellbeing—models that are community-led and self-determined, outside of state control and intervening in trauma from multiple forms of violence. We learned from the visionary work of grantee partners like Southerners on New Ground, Communities United Against Violence, Audre Lorde Project, El/La Para Translatinas and Buried Seedz of Resistance, among others, who all lifted up healing as integral to their political liberation. We listened to organizers ask themselves, and we asked ourselves as a community funder: How do we take care of our people? How do we sustain and nourish organizers and movements for the long haul? What do we need to bring about safety and wellbeing as part of our liberation?
During such critical moments as the rise of police brutality, the 2016 election and the rampant increase of transphobic, anti-Black and anti-immigrant violence, we reached out to our U.S. grantee partners and asked them what their most urgent needs were and how we could support their sustainability. The top two needs were mental health/wellness support for organizational leaders and community members, and holistic security support to keep members and organizations safe. We responded by securing resources from a long-term funder of ours to create intentional spaces of learning, practice and support for healing justice. We started by organizing a strategy meeting in 2017 with 12 movement leaders steeped in the use of healing justice practice as part of organizing work. Everyone shared how needed and timely it was for them to connect and build with each other, to not feel in isolation during such a volatile time and to amplify the impact of their local strategies for safety and wellbeing. They shared the feeling of emotional exhaustion from the current political moment and the lack of spaces for healers and practitioners to convene. They talked about rooting healing justice work in intervening in systems that are killing our communities, and about reclaiming our power through an abolitionist perspective. From a healing justice lens, they mapped the landscape of the threats we are facing and the ways that our movements are responding. They asked what was needed and how we could collectively meet that need.
Out of that meeting, we developed plans for a larger skills-building convening as well as a small healing justice grants program. The second convening brought together 30 organizers from across the country, including folks with years of experience in healing justice work and those just coming into it. A strong learning was how place-based this work is and needs to be, despite the reality that everyone is grappling with the same national forces and trends. Participants raised pressing issues such as how to hold immense loss and grief, how to embed and resource the labor of healing in our organizations and movements and how to better support community-rooted practitioners. Underscoring how intertwined healing justice is with the political organizing they are doing, participants also raised the need to politicize the role of healthcare providers and healing practitioners, both to reduce their complicity and to increase the support available for folks in detention and incarceration.
After the convenings, we invited grantee partners to apply for dedicated support for healing justice work. These were small grants, $3,000–$5,000, that supported a range of projects: training staff and organizers on how to better support community members experiencing trauma; facilitating retreats on how to more fully integrate healing work into programming; incorporating healing justice methodology into political education curricula and creating community-specific healer networks.
We learned a lot from this pilot grantmaking. In particular, grantee partners have a wide range of experience with these practices and accordingly have different needs and priorities. More seasoned organizers need more space and time to deepen strategies to respond to the heightened violence, surveillance, criminalization and, in turn, grief and collective trauma in our communities and movements. Organizations and organizers newer to this work need time to dive into healing justice language, theory of change and practice in order to more deeply consider how to integrate healing justice into their work. We need to find ways to support folks in these very different places. We also noted interests that a critical mass of grantee partners wanted to further explore. For example, many folks were interested in developing a deeper understanding of the intersections of disability and environmental justice, which were core to healing justice thinking at its origins but have since fallen out of the conversation. Grantee partners also expressed interest in learning about holistic security and indigenous healing practices that organizers are using in diverse geographies around the world.
Beyond this initiative, we work to integrate a wellness and healing framework into all of the convenings that Astraea organizes, centering the needs of our grantee partners. This started with our U.S. Movement Building Initiative in the 2000s in partnership with the Disability Justice Collective, and now is a central part of our global CommsLabs program, which is a movement-building initiative that interconnects holistic security, technology, media, communications, grassroots innovation, healing and resilience. We’ve partnered with Harriet’s Apothecary and other indigenous healers to organize healing tracks at CommsLabs convenings. The healing tracks integrate practice and strategy, lifting up healing as an ancestral technology that is core to movement-building. Grantee partners consistently tell us that the centering of healing in these convenings has been one of the most meaningful experiences for them. Through CommsLabs, we also support grantee partners to advance projects that interweave healing with communications, media and technology. These projects have included building a network of healers and organizers in East Africa as part of establishing the first East African Trans Day of Visibility and developing an app for recording violence against queer people that integrates healing and support as part of the reporting.
One of the ways we’ve sought to meaningfully integrate a healing justice framework into all of our work has been including it in our learning and evaluation framework. Here is the way we’ve articulated it:
Astraea hopes to see deepened use of healing justice, holistic security, resiliency and/or survival practices that centers the collective safety and emotional, physical, spiritual, environmental and mental wellbeing of communities. Examples of this include but are not limited to:
Naa Hammond, Program Officer & Alexandra Delvalle, Director of Programs
“Groundswell has a long history of supporting healing justice work. We continue to learn what our support for this work can look like.”
“We first began by seeing Reproductive Justice grantees integrating mind-body practices, such as Forward Stance (a technology developed by Norma Wong that is a mind-body approach to movement-building). Healing work has also shown up in our Birth Justice Fund, which is a bit different from our other funds that focus on community organizing in that it has a dedicated portfolio supporting the field of birth workers of color. The Birth Justice Fund was cofounded by practicing midwives, so how we think of that work has a lot more space for supporting a holistic care model. One of the projects this Fund supports is a group of women of color birth workers in the Bay Area who have built a sweat lodge in the back of one of their homes to care for themselves and deal with their secondary trauma as practitioners. This isn’t always named as healing justice work but it’s such an integrated part of the care, recognizing how birth workers of color are focused on legacies of trauma in our communities.
“Our Wellness Fund is another initiative that supports healing justice. Right after the 2016 election, we made a decision to set aside a pot of money to provide resources to frontline organizers and our long-term grantees at this very critical moment. We were witnessing a number of our grantees experience burnout and an increase in health challenges. We really wanted to support leaders in this moment, leaders who we depend on and who were not doing well. We were overwhelmed by the volume of requests that came back; we received three times the amount of requests that we had money to give. In the end, we were able to support 17 organizations with grants. Groups could self-determine what the money would be used for, including organization-wide wellness activities such as working on human resources policies that better integrate social justice values or supporting leadership coaching for staff of color based in white-led organizations. A number of organizations wanted to integrate mind-body and wellness practices into their work on a regular basis, to do yoga or integrate culturally affirming healing practices. We heard a lot about the individual needs of organizers; people really wanted resources to take a sabbatical or offer breaks to their volunteer doulas—in addition, we received a few requests for medication and rent.
“Beyond mind/body practices or sustainable organizational policies, we support safety and security strategies for organizers on the front lines through our Rapid Response Fund. During this time of increased threat our work has become particularly important, whether we are providing culturally competent digital security trainings led by queer and trans POCI folks or supporting work at Standing Rock. A number of groups have come to say that they need training on safety planning with frontline staff who may be undocumented or at an increased risk of police violence. Such safety and security work fits within the larger conversation about healing justice.
“We continue to ask, how do we support a community’s ability to respond rapidly and safely? The midwives and doulas we support are often pressed to serve as first responders in moments of hurricanes, other natural disasters and in response to crisis events like the white supremacist march in Charlottesville, Virginia that traumatized Black communities. We are also thinking about how to integrate a climate justice lens into our funding as a part of our commitment to security.
“Critically, there is a need to respect the self-determination of grassroots leaders in how they define healing justice. Each person, organization and community gets to define what healing, wellness and sustainability looks like for them. It’s essential for groups to work with their own healers and to go at a pace that is appropriate to them. Funders can do a lot of damage by trying to force grantee partners to adopt methodologies in order to get funding, by creating forced relationships between consultants and grantees, or by encouraging groups to work with practitioners that are not indigenous to grantees’ communities and don’t understand their contexts. Self-determination and consent are central to healing justice; they need to be central to our funding approaches too. Also, this kind of work can’t have deliverables—this is part of the reason Groundswell didn’t require reporting, even though two years later, grantees enthusiastically and unprompted still tell us about how our Wellness Fund grants have helped them begin to shift organizational culture, integrate new regular wellness practices and implement new policies to prevent burnout and boost morale.”
Tatiana Cordero, Executive Director, Urgent Action Fund-Latin America & Shalini Eddens, Director of Programs, Urgent Action Fund for Women’s Human Rights
“The concept of holistic security and safety and even healing justice is woven throughout our grantmaking. Our rapid response grants fund a range of approaches, from digital security training to supporting a woman who needs to evacuate from her community because she is being threatened or attacked.”
“Through this work, we’ve learned more together about practices of collective protection. This is why we don’t talk about self-care. We talk about relational wellbeing. We say that we cannot use our economic resources to take care of the one; we have to always take care of the collective. Making care a reality in one’s life happens within this wider network of caring. We talk about care as an ethics of living and that in order to organize around and from a place of resistance, there has to be a willingness to question power. Because when we talk about care or wellbeing, we are talking about risk. There are risks in this work and so broadening the understanding of where risk comes from is deeply important. Risks come from the outside, and yes there are threats and conditions outside of ourselves, but there are also risks that are internal, that have to do with our practices, about the way as funders we relate to activists, about the way we relate to each other. Continuing to deepen our understanding and experience of this has meant also revising our practices and power relationships through the fund.”
Tatiana Cordero, Urgent Action Fund - Latin America
“In mainstream protection and security funding, evacuations only cover the defenders, but we make sure that the defender and all of their immediate people are safe. This could include covering school fees for children, supporting any family that might be dependent on the caretaker and so on. Our work isn’t just about the safety of the human rights defender but about the safety of their whole family and immediate network. We believe that safety is not only physical; we also want to keep the defender safe emotionally and mentally.
“The importance of healing justice and holistic security and collective integrated security is not only necessary for survival, but it’s also an important political framework where we root our movements. When the UAFs talk about care as being political, that isn’t just feel-good stuff. This is a thread that goes through all four of the UAF sister funds. Care is political and that is why we do our work in the way that we do.
“Recently, we invited a series of collective integrated security pilot projects to help us understand what it would look like if we actually funded holistic security. We funded six pilots in six different countries. We wanted to know what it would look like if we supported organizations and movements to think about practices for safety, security and risk protection that moved away from an individual approach to a more collective approach. A key learning was that collective security is contextual. For example, a group in Turkey that works with trans sex workers chose to do a project using restorative justice practices with local law enforcement. This looked different from our partner in Pakistan doing work on cyber harassment with young feminist journalists and bloggers, focusing on how to stay safe.
“We were asking similar questions with our rapid response grants. We provided a rapid response grant to ten Muslim women leaders in New York who were organizing after the current administration’s third executive order. They were exhausted and burnt out—all while continuing to face incredible amounts of trauma. We funded four of them to go on a retreat and learn together about practices of care, stress, anxiety and trauma and then come back and teach these practices to the women they work with in Queens. We asked those who received the support, ‘Has your security situation changed since you received resources to do this kind of work and focus on these practices?’ What we heard from everyone was that no, it hadn’t; if anything, the situation had gotten worse. What had shifted, they told us, is that they had knowledge now. They shared that they had the time and space and resources to talk and think about how they might react to the trauma they faced. They had the time to reflect and strengthen their analysis of what was taking place. This surprised us. We hadn’t fully recognized that knowledge is critical. Sometimes the impact of resources isn’t about changing the environment because we can’t actually do that, but there is value in knowing what to do, in knowing how to engage with your trauma and to be able to name the entity you are fighting or the context of the environment. Taking the space to reflect and know, to remember, is an important part of this work which often goes unvalued and yet, as our partners showed us, it is very important. It’s a part of care work.”
Shalini Eddens, Urgent Action Fund
© 2019 Astraea Lesbian Foundation For Justice