Text AA

Self-Preservation as an Act of Political Warfare

Dear harm reduction family,

Left to right, Adam Butler, Mary Howe, Monique Tula, Holly Bradford, and Banjo.

Left to right, Adam Butler, Mary Howe, Monique Tula, Holly Bradford, and Banjo.

What happened in Charlottesville is deeply troubling and we’re all affected. Each of us may be carrying feelings that range from denial that last weekend’s events aren’t much more than an isolated event, to believing that we are on the precipice of civil war, to a personal sense of betrayal.

But in the midst of all of the terror, confusion, and pain, we know that harm reductionists still have work to do. And sometimes that means we have to board planes, trains, and buses heading into the belly of the beast. This week, our colleagues Tanagra, Kiefer, Emma, and Daniel are in West Virginia—less than 250 miles from Charlottesville—working to spread the harm reduction message. Please keep them and all of our comrades in the area in your thoughts during this difficult time.

The concern for our colleagues is heightened by the recognition that some of us are in the very cross-hairs of hate. Which got some of us thinking: in the context of Charlottesville, and the very real potential that what happened there is not an isolated event, how do we protect ourselves and the people we care about from harm?

From an organizational standpoint, we all need to plan for emergencies and there are tons of resources from which we can draw upon, like this one. OSHA describes workplace emergencies as “an unforeseen situation that threatens your employees, customers, or the public; disrupts or shuts down your operations; or causes physical or environmental damage. Emergencies may be natural or man-made and include the following: floods, hurricanes, tornadoes, and fires; toxic gas releases, chemical spills, and explosions; and also, civil disturbances and workplace violence resulting in bodily harm and trauma.”

Harm Reduction Coalition is already working on an emergency preparedness and response plan for natural and man-made disasters, that include any events that threaten our safety. Because many of us travel, we also need protocols for what to do when we find ourselves away from home—who are our allies/friends? Where can we go in case of an emergency while traveling? These are important questions to answer and it’ll take a minute to get it all sorted out. Once we have a solid draft of the emergency preparedness plan, we’ll share it with all of you as you consider ways to keep all of our people safe during these troubling times.

Monique is a big proponent of personal safety too. At the risk of sounding slightly alarmist, if you haven’t explored ways to keep yourselves, families, and friends safe, please consider doing so soon.

This morning the Oakland team debriefed about the travesties that took place this weekend. We talked about our fears and anger, and shed some tears. We appreciated how quickly Kiefer reminded us of our responsibility to voice our outrage about Charlottesville, and he even went so far as to putting together a statement on behalf of the entire organization. Kiefer’s piece is short, but powerful—a reminder of our obligation to publicly state our condemnation of the racist demonstrations and violence that push us further and further apart.

Yesterday in the New Yorker, Jelani Cobb published an article in the New Yorker daring us not to turn away from this moment—one where civil society must unequivocally declare claims of racial superiority as antithetical to our common humanity and future.

On Sunday a few of us found each other at a vigil in Oakland that was quickly put together by other social justice activists. Some of us made signs, some of us spoke. But mostly it just felt good being together and in the presence of other allies. We didn’t feel alone.

But not everyone wants to gather in public spaces—especially when it could lead to harm. A few years ago, Southern Poverty Law Center put together a list of alternative ways to protest.

They implored us to do something: “When hate happens, we are faced with two choices: do nothing, and let hate go unchallenged. Or do something—rise up, speak up, and stand against hate.”

Money helps too. If you have some to spare, please consider donating to one or check out this list of local people and organizations in Charlottesville who are working to reduce the harms caused by white supremacy.

In the meantime, many of us are overwhelmed and grow increasingly weary of the constant barrage of terrifying images scrolling through our social media feeds and “news” outlets. It’s enough to make us all want to stick our heads in the sand to get a bit of relief. Maria reminds us of Audre Lorde’s words:

“caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.”

If you’re wondering how to do this, adrienne maree brown shared a few strategies you might want to try out.

Be good to yourselves family—we need you.

Yours in the struggle,

Harm Reduction Coalition

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