CN: Discussion of resistance based activism, mention of trauma and violence
“Social Justice Warrior” is now both an insult and a reclaimed label of honor, but where this term becomes really intriguing is when you take the concept and expand it to include other classes from traditional Role Playing Games.
The idea behind the RPG metaphor is that at least one member of each class is needed in a successful organized resistance, just like one of each class makes for a balanced party in an RPG. Social Justice Warriors, Mages, Rogues, and Healers (and other classes, depending on which RPG system you’re working with) each have an important role to play in creating the world we want to live in. Which one are you?
The Basic Social Justice Classes
Warrior- The relentless in your face people. The ones who will back you up and defend you if someone else is attacking you. The people with white, male, cis, and/or able-bodied privilege who talk loudly in defense of the people who don’t have it.
Mage- The big picture thinkers, the planners, the strategists. The people who write long twitter threads about racism or three-paragraph facebook comments. Their work takes longer to prepare, and that makes them more vulnerable to attacks.
Rogue- The jokesters, the pranksters, the trolls, the meme writers. These are the people who poke fun at those in power and get everyone else to laugh at them. Their job is to distract and piss off the target, making the target less credible and less effective.
Healer- The caretakers, the nurses, the spiritual guardians, the people offering their shoulders to cry on. These are the party members who are invested in taking care of the Social Justice Warriors, Mages and Rogues, helping them recover and enabling them to fight longer.
Healers and Emotional Labor
Being part of the resistance to our current administration is exhausting and never-ending. As much as you want to eliminate the harm they are causing, you cannot possibly do it all. Breaks for recovery are necessary to maintain long-term resistance and even when you make a point to prioritize self-care, maintaining a balance between basic life necessities, activism, and tending to your own mental health is incredibly difficult.
Aiding in recovery is where healers come in. In order to better support our warriors, mages, and rogues, we need healers to be performing the emotional labor, while the others focus on fighting and recovery. Increasing the number of available healers is particularly important because the people socialized to do the majority of emotional labor in our society are also the people who are working the hardest in the resistance– Women, people of color, trans folks, people with disabilities, etc. These are the people most affected by our administration and they are the most in need of support.
Because marginalized people benefit from emotional labor performed by people who are not constantly worn out from fighting, the job of the healer is perfect for a person who has a relatively large amount of privilege but is inexperienced or intimidated by the process of activism. If you have looked at your friends who are highly involved in social justice and thought, “Wow, I could never do that,” but you also badly want to contribute to their cause, a healer might be the perfect role for you. Here are six examples of what taking on that role could look like.
1. Volunteer for Chores
No matter how important the protest or how upsetting the recent news story is, basic functions of life must continue. If someone you know is regularly involved in activism, you can free up their time by volunteering for everyday tasks that are required for continuing functionality.
If you have transportation, bring meals or supplies to someone with mobility limitations, or stop by for a visit to do some cleaning. Offer to give rides to a protest or run errands for someone who’s swamped with work. During elections, make it known to your community that you are available to drive people to polling stations or drop boxes to aid in voter turnout.
Take on more than your fair share of the cooking, cleaning, and other household responsibilities for the people you live with or for a friend. Childcare is time and energy consuming and hiring someone to do it for you is prohibitively expensive, so consider babysitting for a friend for an afternoon. Increasing the resources available such as time, energy, and money means fewer resources spent on day-to-day tasks and more spent on activism.
2. Listen, Don’t Solve
Activists surround themselves with other activists, and when all your friends are dealing with the same high-stress load, it can be difficult to find someone who has the energy to just listen. Having someone who is not at the center of the conflict step up to offer this support is particularly needed after life-altering legislative developments or devastating targeted violence, but no conflict is too small for this kind of support.
Make some time to sit down your activist friend, make them a cup of tea, and let them talk out their stress. Listen more than you talk. Affirm that their feelings are valid. Tell them that you’re sorry for what they’re going through and it’s shitty that the world is like this. If you can’t see them in person, shoot them a text or a message. Even just a quick check-in can make a difference.
Unless you have already negotiated a relationship where problem-solving and feedback is welcome, don’t focus on fixing their problems. I tend to avoid confiding in people about activism struggles if that they aren’t very well versed in social activism because I want to avoid having my request for support turn into an education session. Even simple and well-meaning responses like, “Oh, they aren’t worth your time,” or “Try not to think about it too much,” can come across as insensitive when worrying about societal-wide problems. Stick to validation and active listening.
3. Provide Distraction
Because the majority of people in the US get their news from social media, it can be difficult to escape the constant stream of activism related stressors. We are human and we all need to take breaks. If you’ve been doing nothing but reading horrifying news articles for days, it can help to get out of the house and engage in an activity completely unrelated to activism.
Offer to take your friend out for fun activities, like going on a hike, seeing a movie, or getting dinner. If you find that they are continually sucked back into the conflicts online, make a No-Phones or No-Social-Media-For-One-Hour Rule and help them stick to it. Assure your friend that it’s okay to spend some time on themselves. What activities you choose to offer should be informed by financial and physical limitations, so sometimes a cheaper, at home version will be necessary.
4. Self-Care Reminders
When you’re already worn out, feeling awful about the world and yourself, it can be hard to remember how important self-care is or that you are even worthy of it. But taking care of your basic physical and mental needs is necessary for survival, and doing so makes you more effective as a fighter.
If your friend is struggling to take care of themselves, ask them if they’ve remembered to eat, take their medications, or drink water (especially after a long cry). Remind your friend about their personalized self-care routines. Encourage them to engage in hobbies you know help them feel better. Provide gentle guidance towards empowered and solution-based thinking, while still providing plenty of validation as described in #2. Social justice warriors, mages, and rogues literally cannot survive without basic self-care. They may need your help to stay afloat.
5. Crisis Support
News stories, conflicts with friends online, or protests turned violent can be more than upsetting. It can be traumatic. Coping with trauma or intense conflict is a terrible mind frame from which to face new threats head-on. If your friend is suffering an emotional crisis, you can offer support in a number of different ways.
Offer physical comfort–but make sure to ask first!!! If they’re comfortable with physical touch, hold your friend or be a literal shoulder to cry on. Offer acceptance for their big feelings. If you have experience in crisis management or counseling, guide them away from catastrophic thought patterns or self-deprecation. Just letting someone know that their experiences are seen and heard can be enough to help. Let them ride out the wave of their emotions and help them get back on their feet when they get to the other side.
If the emotional issue your friend has is a reocurring one, you can offer gentle suggestions for your friend to contact their therapist or other mental health support if they have one. If they have no mental health professionals in their life, offer to do some of the work required to find one, such as looking up therapists in your friend’s insurance network or making phone calls to inquire about availability. If mental health care is not accessible to them or not something they are comfortable with, switch back to offering comfort and validation, and help your friend hang in there.
Above all, ask your social justice warrior/mage/rogue friend what kind of support would be most valuable to them. Any support you offer someone should be informed by their preferences. If you are very close to someone, it can be okay to gently encourage them towards something they don’t think will help. But if you don’t know for sure whether they appreciate gentle nudging or tough love, then don’t push them. Ask what might be helpful to them, offer suggestions for forms of support you can give them, and then listen to their answer.
Healers are equally important as other social justice fighters. We need healers in order to recover from our injuries, which is what allows us to keep fighting. Because marginalized folks are so experienced at emotional labor, many warriors, mages, and rogues end up doubling as healers but pulling double duty makes them less effective at both. We need more people in this role to balance out the party and increase our overall success rate.
We need more Healers.
Note: This blog post was revamped and updated on March 30th, 2018, but was originally published on March 22nd, 2017 under the title, “We Need More Healers.”
About the writer: Kella Hanna-Wayne is the creator, editor, and main writer for Yopp. In addition to creating a collection of educational resources for social justice, she works as a freelance writer specializing in content about her experience with disability, chronic illness, mental health, and trauma. Her work has been published in Ms. Magazine blog, The BeZine, Betty’s Battleground, and Splain You a Thing. You can find her @KellaHannaWayne on Facebook, Twitter, Medium, and Instagram.