I’ve been waiting for someone more eloquent than me to build an airtight case that therapy is needed in radical circles. My own thoughts are way jumbled up but something’s coming, there is growing unease with the trashing, fighting, shunning and intolerance among people online who are on the same team.
We know this happens online and irl, see evidence of burnout and withdrawal from activism, people spiraling into hopelessness and isolation. We don’t identify this as a mental health issue, we don’t take it up within our communities, the tendency is to personalize and distance, be respectful, phony, polite, encouraging, vague, and treat the person like s/he’s an invalid, which exaggerates the implication that this is indeed about mental health, that they’re dealing with personal “issues” and “sustainabilty”. Polite distancing, weasel words and walking on eggshells may be well-meaning but it’s gutless, and not very revolutionary from people who live for social activism.
I want to understand what’s going on in people when they see themselves beginning to quit, but they go quietly, it’s not cool to be a quitter. If dropping out seems like a personal failing telling the story about what went wrong is an invitation for others to do anything they want to you. When someone is vulnerable you can do whatever you want to them, that’s what it means to be vulnerable. And I guess we leave them alone in order not to make it worse, but things can happen afterwards that we don’t see, and could have prevented if we’d have used what we have to witness and push through. But I have nothing to offer. You have your uncertainty. Uncertainty is cool. You better be uncertain. And because no one is going to ask for help and no one wants to wallow in it, it just makes sense to abandon our projects, drop this effort and move on. Sure. Your life’s work can be canceled out that easily, we’re basically disposable and in agreement that we pay no price in the apathy and bitterness. Which is looming.
There’s no trust in it, no trust in the state I’m in, no trust that feeling whatever is legitimate, and no trust that there is a way to get through it within the milieu that created it. Escape seems the only possibility, disengagement is a poultice, it’s how we go from being miserable to less miserable and there’s something to be said for that, but those 2 options are far from ideal and therefore insufficient for an idealist, who is by definition into challenge and progress. I’m stuck, that ain’t rite, how can a progressive get stuck? Why is there meaning to be made in everything except the fact that I’m stuck in misery? Ok, what’s wrong? I don’t know what to do. But usually when you don’t know what to do you read the directions and figure it out. So that’s not it. I can’t face the humiliation, I’m not supposed to not know what to do. And when you’ve been humiliated before about not knowing what to do you know what’s at stake. The only trust is in the unfinished bad past repeating itself, and I don’t want to go there again, so I will create new unfinished bad events and repeat them too. Why not trust in my ability to learn new things and engage the material different this time? We can’t engage what we can’t face. That’s being stuck. There goes another one.
This weekend I found a blog set up to address mental health in radical circles, I’ve read some hopeful articles there, am glad they’re taking up this burden, and wish them luck in getting a conversation started.
The Bay Area Radical Mental Health Collective is a grassroots group of political activists, who see an urgent need for addressing emotional and mental crises in the radical left community.
Yay, there’s a crises in the community. Every time an ally quits is a crises. Exene Cervenka, my hero from afar and sister in saliva quit 5 years ago, that’s a crises.
Her ex, consort and punk rock icon John Doe talked about that–
Exene was pretty radical in her politics. At this point she’s much less radical because she did a couple of months on the Spitfire tour. And she got so fed up with all the bullshit that people were laying on her about feminism, and about how you have to do this and you have to be this way and you can’t say that and you can’t do this. If you said one thing that was politically incorrect, then you were suddenly a racist. And my attitude about people like that is Go fuck yourself. Leave me alone. I don’t want to have anything to do with you, ’cause you’re a drag. Cut me a break, I’m on your side.
And his solution, or ideal —
…there are two different groups of people, I think. There are the people who are unaware and the people who are aware. And it’s the job of the people who are aware of what our resources are and what our politics are to kind of be nice and say hey, listen to this. Just like the way you would share music with someone. It’s like, Hey this is cool. You like her, well what about her. Listen to this. You like Jewel, but did you ever listen to Joni Mitchell? I do that with my kids. They don’t usually like it, but they still understand it and they’re exposed to it. So it’s just about not being pushy and saying, This is cool. You might like it. Being positive about it.
It would be one thing if people were like that. But we’re not all there, and that’s another thing. I want to know what that other thing is. What are people who give you a hard time, who won’t get with the program? Are they wrong? Bad, toxic, disposable? Fascists, terrorists, traitors, wreckers, obstructionists, allies, hurdles, narcissists, mirrors. Maybe they’re all and none of that, maybe they’re only honest. Maybe truth can’t hurt them and they’re ahead of the game.
“There are no perfect human beings! Persons can be found who are good, very good indeed, in fact, great. There do in fact exist creators, seers, sages, saints, shakers, and movers…even if they are uncommon and do not come by the dozen. And yet these very same people can at times be boring, irritating, petulant, selfish, angry, or depressed. To avoid disillusionment with human nature, we must first give up our illusions about it.”
That’s where I am with it, sheer rantage so far. Thank you for reading, wherever you are.