Outside the Circle

Cindy Milstein

Never Stop Caring

Note: This piece is the introductory essay for the 2019 Certain Days calendar. I’m honored to be part of this remarkable project, which raises funds for those behind bars while also dreaming of and organizing toward a world without prisons. If you have not gotten a copy of the calendar yet, I encourage you to do so soon, before they run out: https://burningbooks.com/products/certain-days-2019-calendar-awakening-resistance.

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It was an experiment. As are all such efforts to envision, much less bring to life, spaces where we give ourselves permission, give each other the benefit of the doubt, to stumble toward being fully human, embedded in caring communities, in ways we can barely yet imagine.

Over a weekend in spring 2018, I gathered with several dozen anarchists in so-called Pittsburgh, doing our messy best to engage in collective conversation about “care” in the most expansive, egalitarian sense. Our open-ended dialogue was intended to make visible the abundant ways that do-it-ourselves care is pivotal to reproducing ourselves and our social movements, while prefiguring far better forms of social organization. This idea had emerged out of another new project, the Institute for Advanced Troublemaking, which during its first anarchist summer school in 2017 had cultivated what felt like an otherworldly week – magical in that everyone rose to be their better selves, acting from a deep well of empathy and dignity toward each other. Or what we might call love. For care, if it is worth its salt, must be about love.

Early on in our care conversation, it became poignantly evident that so many of us are battered and bruised by this social order, which we so aspire to transform yet are equally (mis)shaped by. And worse still, the same social order too easily turns our feelings of abandonment into shards of glass, as weapons to lash out at each other rather than the structures of violence we face. I could feel the ache in my breastbone, not merely for myself, but for the myriad pains in the room. Those of us who’d been engaged during the alt-globalization moment of the late 1990s to early 2000s caucused in a corner and realized that we’d learned it’s possible to win, that people can aim toward liberatory notions that embrace us all, in here-and-now practices and glimpses of “a new world in our hearts.” Now, it seems, for those politicized more recently, we are in a “no future” era, cast adrift on our own to drown in a sea of losses.

Soon after, back home in so-called Michigan, I heard testimonies read aloud – stories that people behind bars, or formerly disappeared, tortured, and then imprisoned, had written as a sort of chisel into the wall that divides us. Their voices were only cracks, but they made it through, part incantation, part poetry, part wound, all humanity, all brave vulnerability that wraps us close in something far bigger and more caring, more loving, than our usually compartmentalized pain. The world hurts. It does so much to destroy us.

By sharing that hurt, we start to rip it into smaller pieces that we can hold together, dispersing the weight and giving it less power. Too many, though, seem to have forgotten that of late – that these cracks are a win, messy and experimental and only a beginning. Yet a beginning nonetheless. Or perhaps a continuity, whispered and shouted through centuries of trauma: We must never stop caring.


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This entry was posted on January 14, 2019 by in Uncategorized.
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