Stories of Collective Care
I have another larger writing project brewing about sharing stories of collective care. The more time I spend thinking about solutions to the ailments of late stage capitalism, the more I keep coming back to local community.
Collective care can manifest itself in a lot of different ways and I think people will each have their own stories that naturally pop into their minds when thinking about collective care. It might be inter-generational families working together, it might be co-operative businesses, it might be volunteering with local non-profits, it might be specific instances of financial mutual aid to help those in need. The beautiful thing about collective care is that it can be all of these things.
Caring for our communities transcends political ideology, it doesn’t require huge transformations of socio-economic systems, and you can participate in collective care without much time, money, or energy. You can participate online, in person, through the mail, over the phone. Acts of collective care can be infinitesimally small or enormously complex and far reaching. You don’t have to commit to anything long term, you can participate even while you’re working or parenting.
Collective care is both accessible and effective. Low effort, high impact.
A lot of the work that I’ve dedicated my time and energy towards in the last decade has had a common theme of collective care, although I don’t know if I would have made that connection until recently. Basically, I’ve been trying to find ways to help people in my community live more rich and fulfilling lives and coupled that with a deep desire to live outside of systems that perpetuate oppression and injustice. I think that intersection is really important: it raises our collective quality of life without lowering the quality of life for others (human and non-human) around the world. This is the lens that I’d like to look through when talking about collective care.
I’ve also seen a lot of reference to collective care as an alternative to the ever-exhausting self-care movement. Where self-care encourages us to focus on providing rest and respite for ourselves, community care helps us take care of each other. Toronto-based organizer Nakita Valerio made this fantastic statement a while back:
Shouting "self-care" at people who actually need "community care" is how we fail people.” (source)
I’ve also said before, there’s no amount of yoga or meditation that’s going to fix the culture of oppression in which we currently exist. We need to help each other, get connected, and support each other. We don’t need self-care, we need collective care. We need systems that support communities and focus on collective well-being instead of profitability. We need collective rights of passage as we transition through major life changes. We need to lean on each other so we’re not exhausted all the time.
Part of the problem is that collective care - true collective care - flies in the face of capitalism. It contradicts the hyper individualized culture in which we are currently embedded. There is no immediate extrinsic reward for providing free care for others or building systems that battle against others that require a fee to participate. There is, however, deep deep intrinsic rewards and long term benefit which can sometimes be hard to measure. It’s hard to measure communal well-being on a graph, especially when that graph is interpreted through a capitalist colonial lens.
While I have plenty of stories to tell around collective care, large and small, I’d also love any references: books, authors, thinkers - if you know folks that are doing good work in this area, drop them in the comments. Whose work have you enjoyed learning about? What books should I start reading? Online essays, blogs, substacks, podcasts? Send them my way and we’ll see where this goes!