Monday, 20 June 2011

Communities of Care, Organizations for Liberation by Yashna Maya Padamsee

Stop talking about Self-Care

In the last 3 years as I talk about the Healing Justice (HJ) work I am involved in I am met with dueling responses of either deep yearning and curiosity about sustainability or a look that says “how sweet” and “call me when you’re ready to do some real work.”

Each response often leads to the introduction conversations that get stuck on the idea that HJ is only about the practice of “self-care.” Self-care is important and essential but lets not get stuck here.

I love the idea of exploring ways to care for ourselves and our sustainability such as- honoring what unions won for us by working an 8 hour day (instead of working 10-14 hour days all the time), or other common self-care options like taking a bubble bath, or eating comfort food. If we let ourselves be caught up in the discussion of self-care we are missing the whole point of Healing Justice (HJ) work.

Talking only about self-care when talking about HJ is like only talking about recycling and composting when speaking on Environmental Justice. It is a necessary and important individual daily practice- but to truly seek justice for the Environment, or to truly seek Healing for our communities, we need to interrupt and transform systems on a broader level.

We need to move the self-care conversation into community care. We need to move the conversation from individual to collective. From independent to interdependent.

Too often self-care in our organizational cultures gets translated to our individual responsibility to leave work early, go home- alone- and go take a bath, go to the gym, eat some food and go to sleep. So we do all of that “self-care” to return to organizational cultures where we reproduce the systems we are trying to break; where we are continually reminded of our own trauma or exposed and absorb secondary PTSD, and where we then feel guilty or punished for leaving work early the night before to take a bubble bath.

Self-care, as it is framed now, leaves us in danger of being isolated in our struggle and our healing. Isolation of yet another person, another injustice, is a notch in the belt of Oppression. A liberatory care practice is one in which we move beyond self-care into caring for each other.

You shouldn’t have to do this alone.

Why are we seeking Care?

There is a growing rumble of yearning for healing in our movement work. Oppression and trauma do influence our well-being. On-going generational trauma and violence affect our communities, our bodies, our hearts, minds and spirits. Racism, sexism, classism, eats at our very beings. This leads us to seek care. We know this. Our bodies know this. Our friends can read it in our faces even if we have learned to ignore it.

We put our bodies on the line everyday- because we care so deeply about our work- hunger strikes, long marches, long days at the computer or long days organizing on a street corner or a public bus or a congregation. Skip a meal, keep working. Don’t sleep, keep working. Our communities are still suffering, so I must keep going. We risk and test our bodies to go further and we stretch our hearts or close our hearts to keep going- whatever it takes- and ultimately what it takes is a toll on us. This leads us to seek care.

We want to deny it- but abelism still shapes our movement work- “go hard or go home”. In the the Needs Assessment by Kindred Southern Healing Justice Collective, they state, “Changemakers are dying as a result of spiritual and physical deprivation from trauma, stress and unrest in our movements.”

We are burning out faster and at higher rates- unable to do the work we love. How can we win when our bodies individually and collectively can’t keep up? We are risking not just burn-out, but organizer loss and movement fragmentation. We cannot afford this.

How do we move from Self-care to Community-Care?

In his Letter from a Birmingham Jail, Dr. King says “I am cognizant of the interrelatedness of all communities and states. I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” In that same spirit- can we be cognizant of the interrelatedness of our own bodies, of our own well-beings? I cannot sit and read a manifesto for liberation of mind without going deep and healing for liberation of body and spirit. I cannot sit and care for my body without being concerned with what happens to the bodies of my sisters. We are connected.

Can we understand how creating another world will require, or rather, demand our well-being? From small-town collectives and national organizations to strategy and pop-ed sessions to shared meals and parties- it is our responsibility not as individuals, but as communities to create structures in which self-care changes to community care. In which we are cared-for and able to care for others.

Disability Justice is mightily leading the way in showing us that we don’t have to keep doing our work in the same way nor do we need to do it alone. For example, Sins Invalid (“a performance project that incubates and celebrates artists with disabilities”) rescheduled an entire production due to a members health concerns and performed when it was safe for every-one’s bodies. Or another shining example is Creating Collective Access- creating a “new model of being in our movements …by resisting against the individualization of access” by organizing for collective care at social movement gatherings.

If your liberation is wrapped up with mine- for me that means that it matters how you feel and what you are feeling. Your well-being is our liberation, and I would hope that you would say the same.

We can take the lead from the field notes of many Healing Justice & Disability Justice organizers, collectives, events and organizations, work from visionary poets and examples from national organizing campaigns that center the principle of Care. There are resources out there and treasures that are many generations old. Find them, talk about them, practice them together, honor them.

Organizations for Liberation

“We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.” Dr. King (Letter from a Birmingham Jail)

As our conversation develops from the limited idea of self-care to the expansive reality of community care we are able to honor the depth of Healing Justice work and the depths of ourselves. We need to switch our thinking- individually and organizationally- to including well-being in our work for justice. Because when we are able to do that- that means we are cognizant of Dr. King’s “network of mutuality.” Because when we do that we will truly be working towards a liberatory and visionary new world.

So go on and call me when you are ready to do some real work.


…and because I did not do this alone- gratitude for the brilliant concept conversations & feedback-B. Loewe
Alexis Pauline Gumbs
Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha
Cynthia Oka
Shonietta Monique

Read the piece on the blog for the links!

Health and Helaing Justice & Liberation Values check out the full document of values here:

Definition of HJ: “‘healing justice’ (is a) a framework that identifies how we can holistically respond to and intervene on generational trauma and violence and to bring collective practices that can impact and transform the consequences of oppression on our bodies, hearts and minds. Through this framework we (continue to build)… political and philosophical convergences of healing inside of liberation.“
Cara Page

Saturday, 18 June 2011

Consent: Some Things To Think About

By: Arti Mehta and Chanelle Gallant.
*a sampler collected from various sources*

*Note: TPYWTGIOW = the person/ people you want to get it on with

1.       Nonconsensual sex does not occur in a vacuum. Instances of non consensual sex happen not just because someone wasn’t able to say no, but because we live in a society where conditions are ripe for nonconsensual sex. We live in a rape culture where it’s expected that we blame the survivor rather than the society which allows violence to happen. While sexual assault and abuse can happen to anyone (and folks who have caused harm can be anyone), we know that folks who experience multiple marginalizations are more likely to experience rape, assault and other forms of nonconsensual touch including two-spirited and trans women, women with disabilities, sex workers and women of colour.

2.       Assumptions suck. The best way to know is to ask. This can be so difficult because our society tells us that we ‘should just know’ when someone’s hot for us. That doesn’t mean that the only way to obtain consent is verbally, but question how you think you know when someone is into it. Smiling, flirting, being on a date, getting paid for sex are not as reliable indicators as just asking. Asking might feel really weird at first but 1. it gets easier and hotter with practice and 2. it’s easier than realizing you’ve crossed someone’s sexual boundaries.

3.       Consent is an ongoing process, even with a long-term partner. Consent must be given each time for each act. Consenting to kissing isn’t consenting to touching, consent to touching is not consent to sex, consent to not using condoms this time doesn’t mean consent to not using condoms next time, consent to a sexual activity with one partner doesn’t mean that other partners can assume consent to the same sexual activity. Consent can be withdrawn at any time.

     People sometimes balk at the idea of getting consent from partners, thinking it's overly cautious and unnecessary. Do I really need to get consent to give my sweetie a hug or kiss? We always have sex in this particular way because I know they love it! Like anything else, you can negotiate that too. Maybe your sweetie is fine with you hugging them whenever, wherever, but they want to be asked about kissing when they've had a hard day or you've just come back from a date with someone else. And now that they think about it, maybe there are times when being hugged in public will make them feel at risk of homo/transphobia etc. Why assume that your partners sexual/intimate interests/capacities/desires will remain the same? Chances are, they will change, even within the course of one day. Rather than assuming, create practical agreements what kinds of sex/intimacy you feel you no longer need to get verbal consent for--and when you'll check in again to see if things have changed.

4.       Consent is sexy. What’s hotter than telling a lover what you want to do to them? It’s also way way hotter when a lover reciprocates that desire. Communicating about your intentions and needs before the heat of the moment makes for amazing foreplay and increases the likelihood of consensual sexy times.

5.       Know yourself. Practice. What makes it hard for you to state your needs/ boundaries? What makes it difficult to listen to others’ boundaries? When do you feel reactive to people’s needs? How do you react? What self care and skills do you need when you feel rejected so that you don’t cross someone else’s boundaries? How do you check in with yourself in an ongoing basis so that you know you’re okay with what’s going on? It’s not only your responsibility to listen and respect TPYWTGIOW’s boundaries/ needs but also knowing how to assert yours. You have to practice saying yes and no and learn how hear it—these are not skills that we learn well in our society so they take a conscience effort to learn.

6.       You can ask for consent for just about anything, including non-sexy activities. For example, you can ask to borrow someone’s pencil and you can ask someone if they’d like to be hugged (or you can non-verbally ask by opening your arms and seeing how they respond before going right in for the hug). In my experience, practicing consent in the everyday not only makes folks in my life feel like I’m respecting their autonomy, but also makes it easier to ask for consent when the stakes are higher (ie: in sexy situations) because I have more practice.

7.       Work through the barriers to consent. True consent is obtained when the atmosphere is free of real or perceived threat or coercion. Think about how power imbalances in your relationship with TPYWTGIOW might affect consent practices. Eg: If you are a masculine-identified boss wanting to get it on with your femme employee, will s/he really be able to say no without repercussions? At the same time, don’t take away the agency of the other person in saying yes/ no; don’t assume that because s/he’s femme or disabled or Asian that s/he will be passive for example. Be aware of the stereotypes and assumptions you have about the communities TPYWTGIOW is a part of. Do remember that as the person who is initiating sexual contact, it’s up to you to get consent. If you think they are too high, tired, emotionally distressed, asleep, etc to give meaningful consent, then back off. Find out what’s okay before folks get drunk/ high and check in constantly. I have a partner, maybe later, I’d rather be alone, I really like you but…, I’m tired, silence, I’m not sure… they all mean no.

8.       No means no is a good start but not quite comprehensive. Consent is often more tricky than just a yes no binary. Often times you’re into what TPYWTGIOW is doing but not exactly how they’re doing it. You’re hot for the kissing but a little less tongue please! Try the “shit sandwich method” to let folks know what you want, which means sandwiching the activity you’re not so into between some compliments. Eg: “I love how passionately you kiss me, it feels so great. It’s even hotter when you use a little less tongue, especially when you touch here while you’re doing it. This is so sexy!” Consent is sex-positive!

9.       Practice emotional consent, that is, get clear about the expectations you all have about your relationships. Is this a one night stand, an ongoing relationship, a life partnership?
Know what your emotional boundaries are. Know when you go from casual to emotional investment, and learn skills to communicate changes in intimacy needs. If you’re not sure what you’re looking for or what your needs are, it might be helpful to take a look at your past sexual or romantic connections to see what your patterns are.

10.    Be accountable to the harm you’ve caused. We all screw up. The goal is to learn how to screw up less by knowing your patterns, but it also means learning how to be accountable when you have screwed up. Be proactive; talk to the person whose boundaries you think you’ve crossed, focus on their feelings--not your guilt--and find out what their needs are. They may want to talk about it and they may not—it’s important that you respect their wishes. (see attached hand out).

Friday, 3 June 2011

Toronto Learning-To-Action Community Accountability/Transformative Justice Reading Group READING LIST

This is the reading list for the 10 week Toronto CA Learning To Action Group we held in fall/winter of 2010/2011. It was designed to include a maximum of about 10-12 pages of reading per week and video/non-text resources where possible. We also had a  training in Active Listening for one session so there are no readings for that session.

The ideas of CA/TJ come largely from women of colour and Indigenous women. We believe we are responsible for being accountable to those we have learned from. Some of our ideas on how to do this follow the reading list.

Like any project, there were oversights and changes we’d now make. If you have suggestions or ideas, please be in touch at Thanks to Jordan and Lisa for compiling this list.
-Arti and Chanelle

WEEK 1 :  Introductions, group agreements, relationship building etc

  1. Patricia Monture-OKanee: Thinking About Aboriginal Justice: Myths and Revolution
(thanks to Krysta from the Native Youth Sexual Health Network for sharing this resource with us)

  1. Andrea Smith: To Stop Gender Violence, Start Changing the Tune
  1. Gen5:  Principles of Transformative Justice (26-32 “Principles of Transformative Justice”)
  1. Andrea Smith: Heteropatriarchy and the Three Pillars of White Supremacy
    1. (supplemental reading)
  1. Andrea Smith: At the CMC Media and Democracy Lecture Series talking about Sexual Violence and American Indian Genocide. Minute 31 to 49. (Film)

  1. The Revolution Starts at Home zine:
    1. "Taking Risks: Implementing grassroots community accountability
      strategies"(Page 64-79) by CARA
    2. "INCITE! Community Accountability Fact Sheet" (Page 83)
  1. INCITE!: Community Accountability Principles/Concerns/Strategies/Models (Working Document)

  1. Young Women's Empowerment Project (YWEP): Girls do what they have to do to survive: A study of resilience and resistance
    1. Guiding Principles (9-12)
    2. Research Findings (28-36)
    3. Vocabulary (48-50)
  1. StoryTelling & Organizing Project (STOP)
    1. Storytelling As Organizing:
    2. Community Response to Racist Violence:
    3. He Korero Iti, A Small Story:
    4. Rachael’s Story:
    5. Friends Take a Car Out of Action:

  1. Boarding School Healing Project: A Critical Appraisal of Reparations
    1. pages 9-17
    2. What are Reparations? International Legal Standards
    3. The Limitations and Unintended Consequences of Reparations
    4. Deciding on Strategic Avenues to Reparations

  1. Philly’s Pissed: What to Do When Someone Tells You You’ve Assaulted Them: A Pamphlet
  2. Give Me Back: Interview with Philly’s Pissed and Philly Stands Up

  1. Born in Flames (Film)

WEEK 9 : Active listening training

    1. From the Revolution Starts at Home: pages 80-82        home.pdf
  1. F.A.R. OUT (Northwest Network)
    1. Please email for the PDF.
  1. Community United Against Violence
    1. pages 4-8

Additional readings

These are readings we’d now add to our list, either because they are new--or in at least one case--because we realized our oversight afterward. This list is not comprehensive, and will continue to grow as we find new resources.

- The Revolution Starts At Home: Confronting Intimate Violence within Activst Communities eds Ching-In Chen, Jai Dulani, Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Saramarsinha (SUPER HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!! It’s different from the zine)
-Action Against Sexual Assault resources
-Finding Ways Not To Call Police
-Resources for ‘perpetrators’ and survivors
- How to Fuck Up
- Disability Justice & community building
The Other Side of Dreaming
-Safety: An Abolitionist Vision

Group brainstorm on ways to be accountable to the knowledge we have gained through studying Transformative Justice and Community Accountability! February 2011

*consider whether you should be the one doing this work, or if you should funnel your energy into supporting people more directly affected by all forms of violence and/or suitable

*start by supporting work already being done (for example, within Indigenous communities), don't just “do your own thing”

*think of who needs to be consulted, from the very beginning. don't exclude them

*centre the people most affected by violence

*draw from your own experience and history. don't appropriate.

*depending on who you are and your relationship to colonization, ask the question: How do you contribute to/participate in the ongoing colonization of the land you are working on?

*critique with credit, respect and recognition for the work people started

*credit, give it!

*honour spirit and intent, don't sloppily re-interpret

*building an intentional anti-oppressive framework

*ask for help! recognize when you need it, but also recognize the politics of who you ask. ask other trusted allies or pay/trade for education

*money! can you support the organizations we learned from or local ones with any money you receive?

*keep questions around charity and racism in the forefront when making decisions around money

*consider advisory committees of people most affected

*work in teams

*develop your self-accountability skills (we need to be accountable, not perfect!)

*generously talk with people you think are causing harm

*initiating conversations around accountability makes other folks feel like they can too.

Monday, 16 May 2011

Sustainable Self-care Practices for Activists & Community Workers: A Learn-Through-the-Body Workshop

UPDATE MAY 20 - BOTH WORKSHOPS ARE COMPLETELY FULL! Please send an email to to be put on the wait list.

with Vanissar Tarakali


UPDATE: Due to the overwhelming popularity of the workshop, we have decided to add an additional workshop date. Workshop content will be identical in both workshops (Please only register for one)

Sunday May 29, 2011
1:00 – 4:30pm
Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE), University of Toronto
Room announced with registration
252 Bloor Street West
$10 - $50 sliding scale
No one turned away for lack of funds


Saturday June 4, 2011
1:00 – 4:30pm
ASL interpretation provided
Location TBA
$10 - $50 sliding scale
No one turned away for lack of funds

*****Registration is required, details below*****

Workshop description:

As social justice and social service workers we are continually exposed to the trauma and oppression of others, often while we work to heal these same traumas in ourselves and our communities. This trauma-laden context calls us to find sustainable ways of doing the work.

This workshop will support people who work with communities dealing with intimate and social trauma (oppression) be more effective and resilient in the wholeness of our lives.

Through discussion, reflection and embodied/somatic practices, we will explore: oppression as social trauma; how internalized dominance & internalized oppression show up in our bodies & communities, working with situations that trigger us, increasing our visceral sense of mutual trust/allyship, honoring our established collective survival strategies while expanding our repertoire of creative responses to trauma. We will practice using “emotional first aid” tools for soothing, calming and centering triggered states, and explore some longer-term trauma-healing principles & practices to prevent burn-out and support personal healing.

Participants will take away practical tools that support awareness, creativity and choice for collective healing and social justice.

Accessibility information: This workshop and washrooms are wheelchair accessible. The workshop is scent free – please do not come to the workshop wearing scents, including essential oils. ASL interpretation will be provided on the June 4 workshop. If you have any questions or access needs, feel free to contact us at

Acknowledgements: As happens all too frequently, we neglected to acknowledge that this workshop will be taking place on land that rightfully belongs to the Three Fires and Six Nations peoples. It is because of their generosity and at their expense that we are occupying this land. Our omission in stating this was pointed out to us by an Indigenous activist, who shouldn't have to do this work, but who are often placed in the position of reminding us that all our work here is being done on stolen land.

About the facilitator: Vanissar Tarakali, Ph.D. creates learn-through-the-body workshops for people who are transforming our world. She teaches how to collaborate wisely with our bodies to heal trauma & sustain social change. Former Healing Oppression Project co-lead at CUAV & current DiversityWorks trainer, Vanissar passionately practices Generative Somatics, Intuitive Reading, Energy Bodywork & Tibetan Buddhism. For more info, please visit or look up Tarakali Education on Facebook.





Registration involves sending an email and pre-paying for the workshop.
We will fill workshop spots on a first paid/ request for scholarship, first served basis. In order to fully register, we ask that you:

1) Send an email to with:
- your name
- the date you are attending – either May 29 (no ASL interpretation) OR June 4 (with ASL interpretation)
- how much you are paying to attend (see below for suggested rate)
- organizational affiliation (if you have one)
- any access/ body needs (eg: child care, ASL interpretation, scent-free spaces)
- email and phone number

2) Pay for the workshop by:
a) Sending an email money transfer to
b) Using PayPal below



Workshop fees are as follows:
$50 – from large organizations
$40 – from smaller organizations
$30 – standard for waged people with a higher income
$25 - standard rate
$20 – standard for waged people with a lower income
$10 – scholarship for underwaged and low income people
$0 – full scholarship

The actual cost per participant is $25. We encourage you to register at the highest level you and/or your organization can afford in order to subsidize low income people’s attendance. All registration includes the same benefits: 3.5 hours of workshop time and snacks. All fees generated go directly to the costs of the workshop, including ASL interpretation, facilitator fees and food. Please only register for one workshop (a reminder that ASL interpretation is only being offered on June 4).

If you cannot pay through the website or through email money transfer, but would like to arrange an alternative way to pay, please send us an email at If you are requesting a full scholarship, please send us an email. We will not be accepting payment at the door unless pre-negotiated.

NOTE: You will not receive registration confirmation and a room number until you have paid, asked for a scholarship or determined an alternative payment system with Arti. Please be patient -- we are a group of volunteers and it may take awhile to hear back from us.


This workshop was generously funded by an anonymous donor, the Centre for Integrative Anti-Racist Studies and the Centre for Women and Trans People at the University of Toronto

All funds generated go directly to the cost of the workshop.

Who we are: This workshop is organized by Teresa CW Cheng, Anu Radha Verma, Zahra Murad, Muna Ali and Arti Mehta. We are a group of community workers, artists, social service workers, organizers and students committed to centering healing practices in our vision of sustainable transformative change.

Statement about Anti-Racism by Vanissar

From Vanissar:

Hi folks:

Arti (one of the organizers of the workshop) has asked me to write about what my name means to me in terms of my antiracism

My last name is a complicated story which began years ago with a series of visionary experiences I had as an adolescent, one of which was a visit from Kali Ma, who appeared as a non dualistic creator/destroyer, and who told me she would be guiding my life. I had no knowledge of her or of Hinduism when this occurred, and it took me years to find out who she was. But I took her seriously.

Later in my twenties I discovered Green Tara and saw her as the embodiment of compassionately acknowledging and entering into the injustice of the world and doing something about it.

Much later, in the middle of a process of healing from child sexual abuse by my father, I decided to shed his name and legally changed my name to what it is now: Vanissar Zondra Tarakali.
That was almost 18 years ago.
My focus at the time was on replacing my father's ownership with a meaningful name that would enable me to join other wounded healers in transforming violence and oppression.
I was unaware of cultural appropriation at the time.
For the last 5 years, as my awareness of and discomfort with cultural appropriation has grown, I have been wanting to change my name again so that it is connected to my genetic culture, but until recently I was in a difficult,  protracted green card process, and did not want to give Homeland Security yet another thing--an additional name change--to scrutinize. So at the moment, this remains my legal name.

The first 8 minutes of the radio interview on March 8th of my blog also cover this subject, if you want to listen:

What does anti-racism mean to me?

I began exploring anti-racism 24 years ago, when my beloved biracial niece was only three and someone called her the N-word. I have made many mistakes along the way, but have kept going. In 1998 I began immersing myself in anti racist trainings, preparing myself to heed the advice of Hugh Vasquez in the movie The Color of Fear that white people need to educate each other about racism. I did my (very personal, experiential) dissertation on the psychology of how white people come to make a commitment to anti-racist practice and action, and as part of that began teaching anti-racism workshops for white people in 2000. Those early courses included Buddhist practices, because I was seeking a way to quickly cut through the typical denial, reactivity, defensiveness and guilt/shame responses of myself and other white people to learning about the realities of racism and white supremacy, and I felt Buddhism would be very effective at reducing white folks’ resistance. It proved to be true, but I became increasingly uncomfortable with appropriating Buddhism. When I discovered generative somatics, I was overjoyed, because it contained principles and practices that were equivalent to Buddhist wisdom, but in a secular form.

I continue to teach white people to take responsibility for racism and support the leadership of people of color, and racial justice is still core to me.
I have expanded my work to include healing the trauma of oppression in our bodies and communities. I collaborate with co-facilitators of color on a regular basis to teach healing oppression workshops, and am held in a multiracial community of accountability in the Bay Area, who advise, support and correct me when my white privilege blindspots. I continue to make mistakes, but I plan to keep going.

Feel free to check out my resume, resources and blog writings on my website if you want to know more about my ongoing commitment to racial justice and healing oppression educator.

Some have expressed concern that I would be coming to teach people of color about their own cultures:

I am a grateful, respectful student of Tibetan Buddhism, but I do not presume to teach Buddhism or Hinduism.
For this Sustainability workshop, I am bringing tools based in generative somatics, trauma stewardship, trauma healing theories, and decades of experience doing direct service and education in social justice and social service settings.

Thank you for questioning me, I deeply respect and appreciate it.

Be well