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Jan 27, 16

Not Alone in the Struggle: Supporting Mental Health in the Movement

From Earth First
by Nettle with Elan

Discovering the Earth First! movement and the Earth First! Journal can be a very liberating but also intense part of someone’s personal path in unplugging and unpacking from a destructive society that we are forced-fed from a young age to be complacent to and a part of. For new-comers and seasoned activists (including those returning after a hiatus) EF! action camps and regional meetings can be overwhelming, especially if you don’t know many people, or what the term Security Culture means,… or own any camo gear.

It’s true, not all Earth First!ers are exactly alike. Not everyone identifies the same way. Folks are drawn to the movement from different geographical places, may they be urban or rural, as well as different subcultures. This is a good thing, and to foster the presence of all the individuals that are drawn to the no compromise, biocentric and direct action approach to protect the wild — and disrupt the business of planet killing operations — our movement has been expanding on safe(r) spaces at Earth First! action camps. Safe(r) spaces is a term that is used to express the intention and commitment a community or gathering of people have to create space absent of oppressive language and behaviors.

These spaces, whether they be collective houses or action camps, are also places that are vocal about and encourage consent, good communication and spaces that make perpetrators and informants known and, usually, unwelcomed. But there’s more to creating safe(r) spaces. We need the heart and courage to expand these spaces to cultivate a healthy and thriving EF! movement. A movement that is able to attract people of all sorts of backgrounds, abilities, disabilities, identities and ages. Attracting people is one thing, but to keep folks returning and involved, it takes folks apart of various shared identity groups, as well as those who are more comfortable and familiar within EF!, to support the presence and function of safe(r) spaces. For some folks, it has a lot to do with mental health and the need to feel safe with folks who know what it is like to struggle with trauma or mental distress , in whatever state that may be for the individual — post-traumatic stress, anxiety, personality disorders, the list goes on.

Today, a lot of children and young people are being diagnosed early on with mental disorders that are being linked to nature deficiency — not having enough access or time in and around nature. Hopefully those kids will find their way to the woods and rivers some day, and fill a giant void that industrial civilization has carved in their heart. Until then, let’s be sure we are creating space for every person in recovery from civilization at our action camps when they are ready to join us on the frontlines!

At the 2012 Rondy some folks in the organizing crew who personally needed a warm and inviting space for mental health created this incredible Wellness Center that not only hosted the medic tent but always had a constant supply of hot tea and a fire going, there was even a zine library with resources on consent, mental and physical health care. As a decentarlized movement of pro-active people it’s important that we collectively help to create the spaces we need to feel safe and comfortable, such as the sober fire and camping areas, Kid’s Camp, TWAC (Trans and/or Women’s Action Camp), meeting and/or camping areas designated for POC (people of color), as well as handicap accessible camps and toilets, whenever possible.

At the 2013 Rondy the heavy rainfall was starting to weigh on me. During one of the anti-oppression workshops someone pointed out in the discussion that often in radical spaces, much like the rest of the world, there is a lot of oppression around people who struggle with their mental health. From that spark came a brilliant fire, we decided to add a mental health discussion to the Rondy schedule and to our surprise 15 people came out of the woodwork to sit on the soggy ground to listen and share. We arrived with guarded hearts and left with open hearts, feeling more than ever that there was a sense of support here, room for us to share and discuss what ails us, but also that we could join the rest of camp feeling not alone in our struggles —which, in turn, makes us stronger in the fight for the wild and our collective liberation.

At the 2014 Organizers’ Conference & Winter Rondy we hosted the first Mad Camp — a camping area specifically for folks who struggle with and/or are present with their mental health. It was amazing! So many of us felt like we had the support we needed to stay focused in workshops, be social even when we were feeling anxious and connect with folks with shared life experiences who know what it’s like to not feel ok in lots of situations.

The name for Mad Camp was inspired by other radical mental health projects out there like the Icarus Project and Mad Pride. We ain’t mad as in angry, y’all, we just want to reclaim the words that society has been using against us to make us feel like we are a problem. Folks involved in the initial workshop and Mad Camp talked extensively about
creating a language that resonates with our lived experience. Some of us used “psychovariance” instead of mental illness or disorder, because it implies that our experiences fall outside the range of what society deems “normal.” Accordingly, it means that ourselves are not the problem, but that society tends to pathologize anyone who doesn’t conform to its standard of “mental health.” These standards, unfortunately, also exist in radical communities. For us to work on moving past this kind of oppressive behavior there would need to be a collective and conscious shift in the ways we support people’s variance.

With so many root causes of mental health problems and the varying ways our psycho-emotional needs pervade our lives, it’s important that we don’t push folks out of our communities and the EF! movement because of what they’re going through. Compassion teaches us to be present, be active listeners, be healers and confidants to our peers who have been harmed or are hurting from the battle of their mind. Our collective compassion will lead us to the realization that when someone is in distress, it’s a calling for mutual support and care. Sometimes “self-care” means “deal with your shit yourself.” Ultimately, this mindset has, and will continue to, push people out of our communities, a mathematical equation that over time does not help our movement grow. In addition, that mentality invariably means greater pain and isolation. Usually the best thing to do is simply to listen, and let others know they are not alone. If you want to support someone whose mental health affects you personally, your collective or affinity group, especially if you don’t struggle with your own mental health to the same degree, I suggest you ask that person if there’s anything you can do to support them.

In conclusion: we can do this, we can grow as a movement in numbers, continue to be a threat and a road block on the path of a destructive society, and we can learn how to effectively support each other. Without the amazing folks who initiated the first TWAC it’s true that some folks may have left this movement, never to return again. Let’s continue to collectively create safe(r) spaces for all the folks drawn to the frontlines of eco-defense and really have each other’s back in the struggle for a wild and free world for us all to grow old in. Then let’s have a workshop on what an EF! retirement community looks like (Rocking Chair Camp!)

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