What you hold in your hands is a rough toolkit of ideas and visions. It is meant to be shared, discussed and used for action as the Occupy* movement evolves. This booklet is the result of a bunch of dedicated people working together, friends and strangers, online and in person, in living rooms and out in the streets, all across North America.
The folks who put together this booklet come from different backgrounds, all involved with on-the-ground Occupy protests in various cities and towns. Many of us have been working on issues of radical mental health and activism for quite some time, involved with groups such as the Icarus Project, MindFreedom International, and the Freedom Center. Others are mental health professionals and street medics who have been involved in supporting the Occupy protesters on the ground. What binds us together is respect for each other’s personal experiences, and our commitment to community-based approaches to emotional support.
We are all passionate folks who care about the people in our movement. We know that involvement in activism can make people, including ourselves, especially prone to highs and lows. Sometimes we feel incredible, knowing we are part of shaping history in the streets with our friends, and other times we may find ourselves desperate and burnt out, feeling the entire world suffering under our solitary skin. In creating this booklet, we aim to address the need for attention to mental health, healing, and emotional first aid within Occupy groups.
Occupy is an evolving movement, affected by the forces of passion, time, police, government, corporations, tactics, weather, creativity, and the growing pains that all activist movements experience. Some suggestions in this booklet are about making sustainable encampments, many of which have been temporarily destroyed by the police and government. Other suggestions are applicable for any and all activist groups working on making social change. Still other suggestions are general helpful ideas for taking care of ourselves and others as we live our lives.
[note: We have decided to use the term “Occupy” because it reflects the current language of the movement. However, we recognize that this word can seem to both reenact and erase violent histories of colonization and imperialism. We find other terms less problematic and more useful (e.g., “Decolonize”, “Liberate”, or “Unoccupy.”)]
We envision a vibrant movement made up of locally based community groups and professionals in the field, a movement that understands the importance of language and telling stories and knowing our history, a movement that has reverence for the human spirit and understands the intertwined complexity of these things we call mental health and wellness. We understand the importance of economic justice, diversity and global solidarity. We see the critical need for accepting, even celebrating, mental diversity, while evading the trap of fitting into a society that is obviously very sick. Fundamentally, we recognize an urgency: if we are going to shift the current paradigm, we need a movement that has both the political savvy to understand how to fight the system, and the tools to take care of each other as the world gets even crazier.
There is an urgent need to talk publicly about the relationship between social injustice and our mental health. We need to start redefining what it actually means to be mentally healthy, not just on an individual level, but on collective, communal, and global levels.
The Strength of Our Collective Hearts
Our psyches, souls, and hearts contribute to collective social change in unique and important ways. We need to create a space for them to speak, and be heard, in the communities in which we work. It’s important to remember that we don’t have to always show our “strong” selves; we are trying to create a world in which “weakness,” emotion, and vulnerability are not seen as problems. To be strong, we should be able to feel the full range of emotions, not just keeping them bottled up inside. This is extremely important when it comes to activism, because we are much stronger as a community if we allow this full range in one another. If we deny our feelings, or hold them in until they explode out in unhealthy ways, we are more likely to burn out, or to bring other people down in the process. We also risk ignoring what our bodies are telling us about our selves, each other, and what’s going on around us.
This booklet offers some useful ideas to strengthen our psychic, soulful, and heartfelt contributions to making the world a more nourishing place. Some of the writings and art here have been previously published in different form, and some of it was created within days of going to press. All of it was written in the spirit of mutual aid and cooperation. Let’s take really good care of each other out there!
Through working together—all of us in our different ways of psyche, soul, and heart—we move toward real solidarity!