Ritual and Self Care for Protesters

Had enough?

World just about all you can take?

Well, first of all, if you aren’t one, welcome to the world of black and brown people. Maybe reflect on that for awhile.

But beyond that, let’s talk about tools to help us manage. To help us feel better despite the Plague, despite the horror, despite the injustice and the violence and the betrayal by those who were supposed to help.

It’s Wednesday evening as I speak. It has been two weeks and two days since the murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis policeman and his accomplices. Protests continue to thunder around the United States and elsewhere in the world, and the nation itself has been shaken to its core with the power of the outrage and anger.

I have written about this. And I still want to rage and pound and scream right now.

But I am also a student of history. I know that the Freedom Rides in 1961 lasted seven months. The lunch counter protests that succeeded in forcing the desegregation of Woolworth’s lunch counters took six.

If we want to rein in police abuses and brutality–indeed, to reenvision policing–we’re going to need some staying power. Power will not cede one inch unless it knows we are not going away.

And that brings me to self-care, and how to stay together and functioning when it seems the world is falling apart.

First and foremost, keep disease risks minimal. Wear a mask. Shower after you protest (if you weren’t arrested–if you were, you don’t have a lot of choices, but you should consider quarantining for 14 days after release). Sanitize your signs and anything else being handled by others.

Next: when you can, make protest joyous. Protest doesn’t have to deplete you. It can feed you. When you feel the solidarity of your comrades, when you dance in the streets you know the freedom that is the end goal of this work: the freedom for every human being to be equal and liberated.

Use your ritual skills. Not just for yourself before you go out, but in moving groups of people in ritual activities like singing, chanting, drumming, and spoken-word motivation. In jail, sing, gather in a circle with your fellow protesters and speak your vision of the future. At home, light a candle after you take that shower, saying, a better and more just world.

Don’t forget your body. Drink water. Eat meals. Get sleep. This is a marathon, not a sprint. Be prepared.

Have strategic objectives. It’s great to protest and march, but what can make the most impact on public opinion? What’s the most dramatic photo op (without deliberately provoking police, because they’re going to get violent pretty much regardless)?

Work an inside-outside strategy. When you have their attention, they’re going to want to sit down and parley, in many cases. That’s all right: do it. See what concessions they’re offering to end the protests. If it’s not enough, tell them so, and keep it up.

Be expendable. Successful protest movements don’t have “essential personnel”. If one spokesperson or organizer is sidelined or arrested, make sure there are people who will step right up to take their place.

Finally, don’t quit. History belongs to the victors, and the victors are always those who didn’t give up.

This is a pivotal moment in history. Essential transformation in the US will ripple around the world, just as the rise of neo-fascism has.

Be a part of it.

Go make some history.

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