Self-Care as Political Resilience - National Democratic Training Committee

For many folks, simply existing in the current political climate is a challenge, to say nothing of the choice to work in a political field.

Every day we are faced with another headline, article, or news broadcast that drains just a bit more of our resilience.

This feeling is often compounded by the intersections of our identity. This leaves women, Black folks, people of color, members of the LGBTQ+ community, and other marginalized folks to deal with the bulk of the burden.

So how do we deal with it?

‘Self-care’ has become somewhat of a buzzword. Capitalism and social-media depict self-care as spa-days and gourmet meals. These practices can be real forms of self-care for some folks, but not everyone.

Really, self-care comes down to naming accessible tools that folks resisting political oppression can use to both survive and thrive.

What Self-Care Is (and Isn’t)

At its root, self-care is about pleasure. Finding that which actively supports our mental, emotional, spiritual, and physical well-being so we might be more resilient toward the struggles we face on a daily basis.

Despite what Instagram influencers might have you believe, self-care practices are often relatively simple and free. Essentially, any act that allows you to maintain a sense of centeredness qualifies as self-care.

It is at this baseline where we must first focus our efforts in building political resilience.

Self-Care Best Practices

This illustrated guide, published by Girlboss, offers a starting point for us to begin thinking about self-care.

From the very basics of drinking water and showering to the joys of music and the importance of asking for help, this “Self-Care 101” plan works from the bottom up.

This list is by no means exhaustive.

Acts of self-care are bountiful and aren’t easily quantifiable. Further, self-care might look different to different people.

You may be someone who likes to surround themselves with family and friends. Or maybe you prefer solitary meditation. Whatever works for you!

Feel free to explore other forms of self-care, particularly those that are routinely practiced within your own community. Find out what works and what doesn’t.

You can then use this NDTC resource to develop your own self-care plan. Maintain a running list of strategies that you can incorporate as part of your ongoing plan.

The Self-Care Dilemma

The benefits of self-care are real. Those who practice self-care often feel more empowered, centered, and capable. Still, some folks interrogate these benefits.

Cameron Glover, a Black female writer who has appeared in Ebony, Harper’s Bazaar, and The Establishment, says it best when she poses the question: “Can enjoyment and necessary activism coexist?”

I’ve mentioned the ways in which capitalism distorted what the practice of self-care is, but neo-liberalism has undermined its value completely.

Many folks believe the value of our labor is directly measurable against what we produce. If self-care returns nothing to a community, then why should we value it?

This can leave many activists feeling guilty about prioritizing themselves.

Glover says she “knew that the time for action was now and we were determined to rally, march, [and] organize… but struggled with this feeling of guilt for wanting to also indulge in small pleasures… was it right to want to feel pleasure when so many human rights are under attack?”

The Intersection of Self- and Community-Care

The self-care dilemma is one that I, as a queer, Black man, have certainly faced.

How could I morally justify prioritizing myself above fighting for my communities at large?

Well, after exploring the tenets of radical self-care and political activism, the answer was simple: I wouldn’t have to.

Famed Black woman activist and writer Audre Lorde once said, “caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.”

Again, self-care is associated with pleasure. People living in the margins of society— women, racially oppressed people, and queer/genderqueer folks— have their livelihoods and autonomy constantly abused. So for them, the practice of reclaiming joy is intensely political.

Glover, once again, says it best, “to dismantle the systems that keep so many people oppressed and vulnerable to unnecessary grief and struggle, we need to give ourselves permission to enjoy beautiful things in whatever form they may take. Because for marginalized people, pleasure can be a lifeline to the humanity we fight so hard to have others recognize in us — and to see in ourselves”.

A Move Toward Holistic Resistance

Angela Davis Self-care Quote

It’s true that in a politically charged environment, existing at intersection(s) of a marginalized identity is a challenge.

But that very existence is simultaneously an act of protest.

Primarily, reclaiming the humanity we are systematically denied empowers us in a profound way.

Beyond this, we must also acknowledge that only in taking care of ourselves can we become better equipped to fight as a community.

You cannot support your community if your physical well-being is compromised.

Your community itself may not feel like a safe space if your own mental and spiritual safety is in question.

The opposition will always count on our failure. Only in surviving, caring for, and loving ourselves can we deny them satisfaction. For this reason, self-care can and should be our greatest tool in political resistance.

Looking to further explore self-care and identity-focused works? Check out our Creating a Positive Team Culture and Creating a Culture of Inclusivity & Accountability courses!

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Donald Riddle

Donald is an Instructional Designer on NDTC’s curriculum team. Donald began as an intern in summer 2019. After contracting with the organization the following winter, Donald was thrilled to transition to the team full-time in 2020.

Donald graduated from Brown University with a B.A. in Political Science and Sociology. A queer, first-generation college student, the dual degree sort of just made sense, as Donald was committed to marry his studies with his passion for social justice and political advocacy. And through his roles as a Social Justice Peer Educator, president of his fraternity, and a board member of one of Brown's longest running student theatre groups, Donald's extracurricular hobbies also doubled as opportunities for meaningful and systemic change in the way of equality and justice.