Challenging power is hard work, so how do we support each other through the tough times?
One of the amazing things about activists is that we are often willing to expose ourselves to stressful or potentially upsetting situations when we believe it is necessary as part of changing our world for the better. This work of confronting and speaking truth to power, and disrupting the status quo, is not easy.
Over the past few years, a number of us have witnessed an increase in police violence at blockades in Wellington and Auckland against the Weapons Expo and the Petroleum Summit. After the Petroleum Summit community blockade in Wellington last year, many of us were left exhausted, burnt out and either experiencing, or supporting those experiencing trauma as a result of the violent police response.
Sometimes we might underestimate violence from police, sometimes we are not prepared for the stress involved in a political action. Some of us have felt ill-equipped to support eachother as both individuals and groups when witnessing trauma after actions. For some, the trauma is accumulative after being involved in activism for a number of years and witnessing or experiencing repeated violence. Witnessing or experiencing police violence for the first time can be a deeply shocking experience. But for others police and institutional violence is no new or notable thing, and its effects can be left unrecognised.
If we wish to transform our world for the better, and do the difficult work that entails, we need to talk about how we both prepare ourselves for, and support eachother through our responses to stress and trauma, whether it be from police brutality, another institutional force, or from conflict within our own communities.
Some of us, mostly from various Wellington activist groups, have been having many conversations over the last year about how we do this work well. We have more questions than answers, but we wanted to start somewhere, so a few of us came together to create this resource. It includes some accessible info on what trauma is, how stressful situations affect us, and ideas on how we might support ourselves and eachother.
We hope it starts some conversations. We are continuously impressed by the resourcefulness of community activist organisations to do what needs to be done, and know we have the skills and capacity to support each other. We hope this booklet is a step in drawing out and articulating the skills and knowledge that exist in our community, and making conversations about trauma and mental health within them feel possible.
Thanks to members of Peace Action Wellington and Oil Free Wellington for their contributions and typo-spotting. We worked with mental health professionals within our community to write this booklet and want to thank Julia Rainsford, Lenka Rochford, and Gaayathri Nair for their valuable contributions. We are grateful to Te Ao Pritchard for her reflections on trauma and Māori activism including insight on the community’s response to the 2007 terror raids. Thank you also to Chloe Palmer for her stunning artwork she created for us.
We would love to chat to anyone about this booklet, get feedback or chat about ideas for the future. Feel free to get in touch with us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
In strength, solidarity, love and whanaungatanga
Valerie Morse and Jessie Brea O’Scarry