Tools for Engagement and Action in this Time of Crisis

Dear Catalyst community,

We are sending each of you so much care and love. However you are feeling in this moment, is completely fine. Shock, anxiety, anger, fear, calm, numb, it’s all ok. 

The moment calls us to act boldly to protect each other and those who face the worst impacts of these public health and economic crises while we strive to advance the work of collective liberation. We know that the impacts of this crisis are landing differently on different communities and the inequities that are baked into the system are magnified in the crisis (even as everyone’s lives are being upended to varying degrees). In this moment we wanted to offer our community two tools to help you tap into your ability to engage with making change in this time when already critical struggles for racial and economic justice have become even more high stakes.

First, we offer the Engagement Zone, a tool to help you assess where you are at and what support you may need to stay engaged in work for racial justice at this time of crisis.

Second, we offer a meditation as a tool to help bring you into that engagement, by both soothing your nervous system and coming back into more connection with yourself and others. Our hope is that this meditation provides grounding towards taking action. (You can read and/or listen to the meditation).

Finally, at the end of the email you can find many resources for action including how to get involved in mutual aid projects and campaigns for things like housing homeless people and getting people out of jail, during this crisis and afterwards. Collective action has the ability to limit the worst impacts and contribute toward a struggle for collective liberation that extends beyond this immediate crisis.

Yours in solidarity,
Rahula and Catalyst Project

The Engagement Zone:

In our workshop “Anti-Racism for Collective Liberation,” as well as in our Anne Braden Program, we introduce participants to the “growth zone.” In the workshop, our goal is to help participants stay grounded and present to engage as much as possible with the heavy content of the workshop and the training, and to recognize when they are moving away from learning and growth into either panic or comfort.

This drawing of the Engagement Zone is inspired by a visual used by Training for Change

Here we offer an amended version of this for today’s time: with panic, engagement, and complacency as the zones.  As anti-racists and as people committed to making positive change in this world, our goal is to be in the engagement zone, a place where we are grounded and can move with intention and purpose.  And, as people experiencing this moment in a wide variety of ways, most of us are probably spending at least some time in the panic or complacency zone. We offer this in the hopes of supporting all of us to be able to move into an engaged and intentional way of being during this crisis so that we can continue the work of changing the world for the better.

Before assessing where we are in terms of how we’re coping, it’s useful to assess where we are in reality. Are you in cities or states that are under a shelter in place order, with all but essential services shut down, or are you in a place continuing with business as usual? Are you working from home, with four walls and a roof and an ongoing income? Are you an essential worker, still reporting every day to the grocery store, making sure that people are fed, and exposing yourselves and your families to the virus on a daily basis?  Are you a medical worker, facing the disastrous shortage of essential protective gear to stay safe in order to continue to treat people for Covid-19 and all the other ailments that continue? Do you have housing? Were you already struggling to meet basic needs before this crisis? Are you imprisoned or do you have loved ones who are imprisoned facing crowding, unsanitary conditions and inadequate health resources? All of us are deeply impacted by this global pandemic, and all of us have ways to engage that can continue the work for justice.

When we are in panic mode, most of us revert to our oldest coping strategies that are based, at least emotionally, on fear for our very survival.  That isn’t always based on whether or not our survival is *literally* at stake right now. In panic mode, we shut ourselves off from each other, we lash out, we obsessively refresh the news page, we hoard toilet paper, we act based on our fear rather than on our deepest values.

In Complacency mode, we separate ourselves from the urgency of the moment and act from a place of self interest. We center our own experience and actively avoid acknowledging or engaging with the experiences of those who are more impacted than we are.  We tell ourselves that things are not as bad as they demonstrably are, which, in the case of this pandemic literally makes things worse, and we become so focused on finding a way to look on the bright side and possible positive outcomes that we disregard the actual situation, in which people are actually dying.  

In the engagement zone, we still feel fear and anxiety about what is happening, but we operate from our deepest held values, and we act with intention, knowing what we hope to achieve and having thought through how best to achieve it.

So, how do we move from the panic and comfort zones into the growth zone?

This looks different for all of us and calls on us to engage with, or develop, our self awareness, and work to bring our perspective into alignment with our reality.  Food scarcity is a trigger for many people, and seeing empty shelves or hearing about hoarding can bring survival panic right to the surface. AND the literal reality for someone who is panicked by empyt shelves but has food and money to buy more is very different than the reality of someone who has nowhere to store food and no way to buy any. Being confined to our homes threatens our autonomy and freedom in ways many people are unaccustomed to, but the loss of freedom is very different than the loss of freedom experienced by incarcerated and institutionalized people. What helps you move from panic to engagement?  What helps you move from complacency to engagement?

A Meditation to Ground in Action

You can read this meditation or you can listen to it here. Listen however you want: eyes closed or not, sitting still or pacing or lying down, whatever works best for your body. Take what works for you and leave the rest.

Circle expands for 3 seconds says: Breathe in. Says: Hold for one second. Shrinks and says: Breathe out for 3 seconds. Starts again.Take three deep breaths.

Allow to yourself to feel the things you feel, allow yourself to slip in and out of focus.

 We invite you to notice your body. You can feel what you are sitting on, feel your feet against the floor, or your body against the bed. Take time to check in with the top of your head, with your face, with each part of your body, until you get down to your feet. [You can pause reading to take time to do this].

The world is in shock.

Now is a time for compassion, empathy and care for yourself. As we adapt to a life that for many of us includes far less human contact than we are used to (and for some of us includes a lot more — sheltering in place with housemates, kiddos, partners, parents and other family), make room to feel, make room to pause and make room to listen to your body as it tells you what you need.

Circle expands for 3 seconds says: Breathe in. Says: Hold for one second. Shrinks and says: Breathe out for 3 seconds. Starts again.Take three deep breaths.

If your eyes are closed, open them, and take a moment to look at the room around you. See your surroundings and notice what’s on the walls. [Pause reading if you need to]. Imagine your neighbors in the apartments and houses next to you, sharing in this experience. Imagine the neighbors in the apartments and houses, and your neighbors who don’t have houses: What are they doing? Cooking? Scrolling fb? Making a hot TikTok video? Talking to loved ones? What are they feeling? Do they have work/health-care/stable housing/safety within their home and family? Imagine how they’re doing. Imagine your city or town and the people in it, the grocery stores and warehouses and hospitals furious with activity, streets empty, the air, the birds, the trees.

Now is a time for compassion, empathy and care for your communities.

Think about the different communities you are connected to – family, friends, neighbors, co-workers, parents. [pause] Consider your connection to people, and their connection to each other. How are those connections right now?  Can you feel them? How are you showing up for each other already? How can you show up for each other in new ways? Allow yourself to feel how people are showing up for each other right now. Mutual aid projects and initiatives for transformative change are springing up around the U.S. and around the world, led by those already most impacted/most likely to be impacted by this — people with disabilities, service workers, undocumented people, incarcerated people, other poor and working class folks. Some of these communities are formalized and many are not. There is much to be learned from the communities already most practiced in caring for each other, strategizing to get needs met in crisis. How we take care of each other now sets us up for whatever comes in the future, we can build these communities of care now. We are planting these seeds. We are doing for each other while we demand what our communities deserve. We are bringing each other groceries and we are organizing for national rent and debt strikes. We are sharing from our own shelves, and we are demanding that the government bail out people and not corporations. We are sewing masks for our healthcare workers, while we call on the state to meet the needs for medical supplies.

Circle expands for 3 seconds says: Breathe in. Says: Hold for one second. Shrinks and says: Breathe out for 3 seconds. Starts again.Take three deep breaths.

Now is a time for compassion, empathy and care for people all across the globe, especially those who are and will be hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic due to the global violence of racial capitalism.  

Feel into those communities bearing the brunt of this moment. We know that people over 70 and people who are immunocompromised face the greatest risks associated with the disease; and workers, including medical workers and essential services like grocery clerks have increased exposure. 

Racial capitalism shapes how public health and economic crises land – extend your empathy and commitment to Black communities, Latinx communities, Asian communities who are again facing racist scapegoating, poor and working class communities coping with loss of income and inadequate healthcare. Incarcerated people and their loved ones in prisons, jails and immigration detention. Unhoused people without access to running water and forced to live in tight quarters. Disabled communities threatened with denial of medical care because society treats their lives as less valuable.

Whose communities lacked adequate medical care before the crisis? Who has access to information to stay safe? Who has health insurance? Who is going to be most impacted by the loss of jobs and income?

Feel into how imperialism further shapes the impacts, as the U.S. imposes additional sanctions on Iran. And countries robbed for centuries by Europe and the US must face this with fewer resources. Three-quarters of households in developing countries do not have access to running water. Refugees living in crowded conditions, who will be the last to receive aid. The systems that baked these inequities into this crisis have been there for hundreds of years – and this moment calls us to reground in what we could have and what we are fighting for.

Circle expands for 3 seconds says: Breathe in. Says: Hold for one second. Shrinks and says: Breathe out for 3 seconds. Starts again.Take three deep breaths.

Staying home is one way to do our part in reducing the spread of COVID-19 and its impact on those who will be most harmed. Hundreds of millions of people  around the world are protecting each other by practicing physical distancing, which is itself an act of social solidarity.

This moment emphatically highlights our interdependence. So much has changed, and among those changes are real gains that we have all been organizing for that are making big differences for people right away:  

As our friend Pam McMichael, long time anti racist organizer and co-founder of organizations such as SONG and SURJ says, “If we can live that way in a crisis, we can do it every day.”

People have been fighting and organizing for these things for years, and it is because of that organizing that these possibilities were on the table and ripe in this time of need, illuminating that they have always been possible.  As Marta Harnecker says — politics is the art of making the impossible possible. What else is possible in this moment, and in the future? How do we insist that these changes happening now are, in fact, what we need all the time? 

Take a breath, and picture what it will look like to work together to increase our gains, and hold onto them.  What can we do now to ensure that the ways that our society is working together to care for each other becomes the bedrock of our priorities? If you have been listening to this meditation, take a nice, deep. Long and slow breath, and let it out.  If your eyes have been closed, open them, and look around. Take these visions of the world we can build together forward, and take care, of yourselves and one another.

Resources for Taking Action

Many of the resources and actions below are national in scope, but people are also organizing to address the many different impacts of the crisis on the local level. Be sure to check in with your local organizations to find out how to address people’s needs on the local and state level as well.

Mutual Aid

Prisoner Solidarity

Immigrant Justice

Workers’ Rights and Relief

Housing and Homelessness

Disability Justice

International Solidarity and Antimilitarism

  • Livestreamed Rally and Twitterstorm to lift the siege on Gaza on March 30th
  • Solidarity Not Sanctions – From the National Iranian American Council: Urge your congress people to sign the letter initiated by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to provide humanitarian relief from sanctions for Iran.

Confronting Racism Against Asian and Asian American People