Thinking about and with Collective Care.
I want us to use this website as a space to extend community conversations that enliven radical frameworks for navigating marginalization, neglect, and the inequitable distribution of life and death chances (Puar 2017), as well as community vitality, resilience, and flourishing. This post shares some of my current thinking about and with collective care. If you are interested in a more practical, hands-on introduction to this website please take a look at this introductory post.
Disability Justice is a movement, a framework, and a practice led by disabled people of colour and queer/trans disabled people working towards dismantling interlocking systems of oppression and a world that recognizes and embraces the “embodied humanity of disabled people” (Sins Invalid 2020, n.p.). “Disability Justice is Simply Another Term for Love,” a Keynote shared on her phenomenal blog, Leaving Evidence, Mia Mingus writes about the interrelated relationship between love, liberatory access, and disability justice. She encourages us to work to transform the world, leaving legacies and stories detailing how we “practice transformative love together in the face of fear, isolation and heartbreak. And I know that there’s a lot of heartbreak”(Mingus 2018, n.p.). She continues, “this is how we practice interdependence. This is how we practice trust and belonging and hope. This is how we practice disability justice in its most powerful and magnificent potential” (Mingus 2018, n.p). So much heartbreak. So much magnificence. I truly believe in marginalized communities' wit, wisdom, and resourcefulness and that the transformative work that we do together is revolutionary and necessary.
Care is Complicated
Before I get too far into this post, I just want to acknowledge that I understand the multiple complexities surrounding care. Care is complicated, contextual, and relational. Care is a feeling, a concept, a practice, a form of labour (both paid and unpaid). Care can connect us. Care can harm us. Care is political and operates within the flow of power. Care work is gendered and racialized. Care is connected to historical legacies and current enactments of both state and interpersonal violence, control, and containment. Care is also at the very heart (pun intended) of historical legacies and current enactments of resistance and community building. While this post is focused on care collectives, care is a critical concept and component of collective care. In what follows you can trace some of my thinking around care, which exceeds this blog post. I have opened a forum on this website called Care Conversation Corner so we can discuss this foundational and complex topic.
Why We Need Collective Care
“Cultures of undesirability” is a concept I began using around 2010 to articulate the multitude of ways marginalized communities are systemically situated as ‘undesirable others’ (Erickson 2013; 2016). Marginalized people are subject to an ever-quickening cycle of poverty, violence, isolation, criminalization, and medicalization. I wanted a term that drew attention to the impacts of this social process of designating and rendering people marked as different from the norm as both “less than” and “too much.” Designations that are connected to both historical and contemporary manifestations of eugenic legacies and impacts on all of our lives. I wanted a framework that spoke to this connection, linking together multiple communities' experiences with specific systems of oppression (like white supremacy, disableism, cishetero-patriarchy, and colonization). After all, sex workers, disabled people, incarcerated people, indigenous people, immigrants, queer and trans people, racialized people and many others all bore the designation “undesirable others” under eugenic policies and practices (Withers 2012). I wanted language that was inherently intersectional and interdependent. How we determine who is valued and who is even granted status of personhood is always determined by and through a complex, interlocking system.
Isolation, individualism, and exclusion are key tools of the ways that cultures of undesirability operate in order to depoliticize struggles and fragment communities in efforts to undermine collective worth and resistance. Marginalized people are further harmed by neoliberal cuts to services and practices of privatization, which increase carceral state interventions. For example, rising austerity means that there is often inadequate state funding for providing care support that allows disabled people to stay in their homes, despite the fact that it actually costs the government less money to fund homecare than institutionalized care. However, as people are forced to turn to institutionalization/incarceration in private for-profit care facilities to get their access needs met, they are transformed into commodities. Control utilizing the guise of care is used to profit corporations and companies. These interventions are presented by states as inevitable, rational solutions after necessary social services are gutted. In the past several years, more and more people are reaching out to me as their decreasing access to social services means that people are not getting the type of support from the government they need to survive and thrive.
Learning from Indigenous Activism as Caretaking
Where there is destruction there is also creation. Heartbreak AND magnificence. As part of her work decolonizing settler notions of kinship, sexuality, and science, Kim Tallbear describes the activism and organizing of women-led Indigenous water and land protectors as caretaking kin (TallBear 2016). Tallbear’s framework extends and expands what “care” and “care politics” looks like, feels like, and entails. Her work prompted me to think of community organizing and activism as forms of care work. After all, organizing is mostly about making change so that people can get their needs met and thrive.
The multitude of ways that marginalized communities enact complex exchanges of limitation and possibility remind us that we do not only suffer and navigate oppression. We also live with, draw on, and create legacies and daily practices of resilience, survival, and transformation. Thinking about this interdependent dance lead me to explore various moments, both historically and contemporaneously, when marginalized communities come together to take care of each other in the face of structural inequality, government neglect, and so much discrimination and violence (Wilson et al. 2016).
Learning from How We Care for Each Other
I recognize these caregiving networks, expansive practices of care and interdependence, in queer chosen family and other non-normative family and kinship structures (Cohen 1997; Halberstam 2005; Weston 1997; Clarke and Haraway 2018) which provide emotional, financial, and practical familial support. As I shared in my last post, my care collective started with my queer chosen family and closest friends. Together we recognized the glaring inadequacies of institutional, state-funded care and built an alternative. We awkwardly practised how to take care of each other in a way that works from a principle of mutual aid, access intimacy, and care that embraces every person’s whole messy complex self. I also love the stories shared by Morgan M. Page on her podcast, One from the Vaults, about the work of STAR (Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries) started in the early 1970s. STAR under the leadership of Marcia P Johnson and Sylvia Rivera was concerned with the multiple intersecting issues impacting their community of street involved, sex working, BIPOC, trans youth. STAR was participating in a long history of marginalized queer and trans people coming together to share resources and skills. In Page’s podcast, she shares how older folks in the group would hustle and do sex work so the younger community members didn’t have to. They lived together in trailers and apartments without electricity and shared whatever food and money they had. They survived together. STAR also shared and cultivated community skills for keeping themselves safe on the streets “against bashers and police” (Nothing 2011,n.p.). As their very existence and their work were criminalized, the police were a major source of violence and oppression, therefore the community came together to keep each other safe. They also agitated for systemic change within the assimilationist gay liberation movement and beyond (Nothing 2011).
As these and many other stories illustrate, marginalized communities turn to community-based collectivized strategies, like care collectives and community accountability. These strategies seek to transform oppressive systems and create liberatory practices and community generated resources and frameworks for keeping community members safe and accountable for any harm they may cause (Generation 5 and Incite!). This work, termed Transformative Justice (TJ), creates non-carceral community-based alternatives to the Prison Industrial Complex (PIC), Medical Industrial Complex (MIC) and NonProfit Industrial Complex (NPIC). Transformative Justice, originating from groups like Critical Resistance, Incite! And generationFIVE, “seeks safety and accountability without relying on alienation, punishment, or State or systemic violence, including incarceration and policing”( 2007, 5). TJ comes from Black, Indigenous, and People of Colour communities who experience long-standing and continuing practices of state and medical violence “administer[ing] death, disease and injury”, while simultaneously excluding the same communities from care, resources and services (Durazo 2016, 181). Transformative Justice work is about imagining abolitionist futures. Futures without cages and carceral logics. Futures where communities work together to ensure the survival and flourishing of all.
I recognize collective care as part of this transformative justice work. Collective care puts into visceral practice queercrip strategies that change the way we think about care, embodied difference, intimacy, and social organization. Collective care also makes practical interventions, building new practices to disrupt the disposability, commodification, and individualism that shape violent forms of state-based approaches to care and cultures of undesirability.
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