Support and Accessibility in Movement Work

The personality shall remain as the highest value in the socialist culture. This personality however can develop its inclinations in all possible luxury only in a harmonious society of equals. We do not forget the right of an individual to his own peculiar development. It is not necessary for us to cut short a personality, to cheat it, to cast it into iron molds, because the stability of the socialist community is based not on the uniformity of the barracks, not on artificial drill, not on religious and aesthetic deceptions, but on an actual solidarity of interests.

Preamble to the 1918 Education Act of the Russian Socialist Federative Soviet Republic

In place of the old bourgeois society, with its classes and class antagonisms, we shall have an association in which the free development of each is the condition for the free development of all.

Marx and Engels

In carrying out our revolutionary socialist perspective, we are actively fighting to build a society that prioritizes the needs of working class people first and foremost. This is our goal. In a capitalist society, the opposite is true. In building this world we fight so ardently to achieve, we all have signed on to committing to this fight for the long haul. And sometimes it can feel very long. 

Under the current conditions of capitalism, many of us face struggles in our personal lives. Some of the struggles working class people face include economic, emotional and physical health, lack of safety from abuse and state sanctioned violence, or a lack of resources and support to get through the day. The Covid-19 pandemic has shined the brightest spotlight on all of these economic and social inequities. Some of the inequities include families who either have a shared living situation with elders or rely on elder support for help with their children because they have had to work during the pandemic and also risk exposing their elder family members to the virus, communities who lack funding and resources in public education, access to healthcare and equitable jobs and housing.

What are we doing to support comrades when they are going through it? Are we actively building mutual trust, understanding, compassion and support for our fellow comrades? Are we creating spaces that encompass a mindfulness of shared struggles and barriers working class people face? 

Support looks different for everyone and is usually on a need-basis. Depending upon what your current needs are, you might need support in a variety of areas or just a specifically focused one. Because we can’t rely on the state to provide these needs to us, many folks ultimately end up struggling in silence without their needs met. 

Generally, the types of support people often need fall under a few different categories; Tangible, Emotional, Inclusivity and Accessibility. 

Tangible support means having survival and basic essential needs met such as food, clothing and toiletries. We’ve seen this become a larger need for folks during the Covid-19 pandemic. Food insecurity and a lack of access to healthcare are just two of many issues that have been a direct impact of job loss during the pandemic. 

Locally, mutual aid groups have formed to disseminate these items to families who have lost their employment due to the pandemic or have contracted Covid and have needed to quarantine and recover. While we don’t want to rely on mutual aid as a means to the end, it’s helpful at times to provide temporary assistance to those struggling most. Coupling mutual aid while addressing and fighting against these holes in the system can even benefit the very people who are actively involved in organizing. Relying solely on mutual aid, however, takes the pressure off of the state to provide those needs to the working class. This is not our goal. We want the state to abundantly provide these needs for working class people for free and on demand.

Much like philanthropy, mutual aid can become a way to hamper long-term movements and change. Philanthropy often stifles dissent and activism under natural circumstances, rather than helping to build it. Instead of building power for working class people, it becomes beholden to bureaucracy and limits the actual work that can be accomplished and the services that can be provided. 

Emotional support can include a better understanding of and removing stigma around mental illness, being mindful of each individual’s capacity, recognizing burnout and the mental health impacts of capitalism that working class people face. 

Questions we should consider are: is someone coping with a mental health struggle or life event? Do they need and want to take a step back, support with organizing work, resources, or do they just need a friend?

Accessibility to mental health services are rare and many working class people don’t have the health insurance to pay for these very important services. While we fight to achieve a world where access to healthcare is not a barrier to mental health services, being mindful of these struggles in our organizing can not only help to unite working people and build power, but also provide some understanding and support to sustain our fight. Ensuring that as many non-neurotypical people as possible can fully contribute to organizing efforts instead of seeing the struggles of theirs duplicated in organizing spaces should be a central goal of our organizing.

Burnout is a common indicator that support is not being provided for the activist experiencing it. What are we doing as organizers to support folks experiencing burnout and how are we preventing it from occurring? 

Many of us have been involved in groups or organizing situations where our capacity is expected to be limitless and our free labor has been exploited, often with the fruits of those efforts being directed towards undesired goals chosen by bureaucratic leaderships that further their own interests instead of our own. As Russian Revolutionary Leon Trotsky said, “If the leaders seek only to preserve themselves, that is what they become; preserves, dried preserves”. This mirrors the very wage-labor system we are actively trying to eradicate. 

If we want to create a system that not only benefits the working class but has the working class interests at the forefront, then we need to be modeling those systems within our very own organizing. We need to be aware of and recognize each individual’s personal capacity, bandwidth, strengths and limitations. 

A lack of Inclusivity and accessibility is also a common barrier to folks being able to become or remain active in organizing. When your group or organization is hosting meetings or events, do you have language translators, access to closed captioning for virtual events, ASL translation? Is your meeting or event in close proximity to public transportation and wheelchair and visually impaired accessible? Are you offering virtual access to meetings and events, and how do you accommodate for child care, and are we including families? Are we ensuring that the content we are discussing is multi-lingual and the content is digestible for folks with learning disabilities?  Are we making space for questions about the content?

The working class consists of people with varying abilities, needs, skills and backgrounds. If we are committed to building power and a new society for the working class, then we need to include the working class as a whole. 

I am a union member and a member of the Boston Revolutionary Socialists (which is an affiliate organization of the Revolutionary Socialist Network). In one of our recent meetings, I presented to our group what I have outlined in this piece and we each dissected and discussed each part. One way we thought we could put words to action would be to create a poll for members to fill out when they have a need or an ask. It can be anonymous or just made known to a small select few to accommodate for privacy concerns. This idea was popular within our group and made folks feel more open to reaching out for support. Another idea we discussed was chipping in to pay the cost of a babysitter for members who have children and may not have time to attend meetings, instead of hosting our own childcare. That way, families have the option of the childcare provider of their choosing and children can be in the comfort of their own homes.

We also discussed other groups who have previously hosted virtual or in-person self-care and supportive sessions. By practicing this, it was reported that it gave members an opportunity to relate on more personal levels of the difficulties of life under capitalism and the stress of organizing.  

As a long-time single mom, I constantly faced a variety of economic, emotional, and tangible support needs. Lacking these needs while being heavily immersed in union and community activism made me feel depleted and often unsupported. I know that we can do better. The only way we are going to win our fight in the long run is by refusing to adhere to the same bureaucratic systems that keep people feeling isolated, ashamed and hurting. We need solidarity, and solidarity begins with understanding and compassion. 

Love and solidarity,

Amy Banelis

Mom, BRS member, union member, labor council delegate