• Gray Butler

How to Survive a Crisis: Brief Lessons in Emergent Strategy

I have been struggling to wrap my mind around everything that has been happening lately, and I know I’m not alone in this. But having leaned into the work of the activists and radical BIPOC and queer disabled activists that have come before me and are continuing to do so much life sustaining work I have a few lessons, ideas and reflections about what comes next.

First I have evaluated my own fears in hopes that maybe someone else who feels the same way may find some comfort. First thing’s first, it may feel like everything is crashing down at once, because in so many ways it is. But it is also important to remain a certain level of individual understanding, in that you personally will not experience every single thing that goes wrong all at the same time. Even within marginalized communities how we interact with the systems that oppress us and violence against us does not happen uniformly.

I say this because, while it would be naive to say everything is going to be fine and that you won’t be impacted, I know as an activist I tend to personally empathetically internalize everything that COULD happen because I see myself in every community member who faces harm. Because it very well could have been or will be me. But it is also important that our strategy and resilience is contingent upon the fact that these systems do not impact us uniformly meaning there, in some ways will exist someone to step in and help mitigate in different ways. This is where the interdependence aspect comes in.

Violence may break out, but will it be in literally every single city at the exact same time? Most likely not, the way things unfold are chaotic and asynchronous but it is in that disorientation that there is the possibility to lean into each other, strategize and survive. In order to do this we must look at our collective resilience and understand that tragedy and crisis gets diffused throughout populations, not necessarily all happening all at once at the same intensity for every single member. Now I’m not saying go off thinking “well this won’t happen to me so I’m home free” no.

I’m saying this because identifying where you may find safety or security allows us to then begin thinking how do we collectively build resilience? Where can we offer assistance. Where can we fill the gaps in other folks safety and where can we ask for help in filling our own?

I think sometimes the narrative and reality which we constantly are resisting and organizing against sometimes puts us into a box, in the sense that we flatten and mesh all of the ways in which we experience harm and oppression. We become enmeshed in the struggle in a way that can become paralyzing and obscure what bits of collective power we have. And it is in that paralyzing that white supremacy literally highjacks our capacity to build collective emergent movements towards resistance.

And it’s no one’s fault for being paralyzed. I am not here to shame anyone’s response to immense trauma, and stress. But what I am here to say is that there are tools to navigate through this. Here are some I have seen from other radical organizers, community members and thoughts I have had.

First map out your assets and your pit falls. Do you have a spare room? Room in your car? Discounts for groceries, tactical knowledge, medical knowledge? Know someone who might. Know a lawyer are a lawyer? Have extra funds. And I say this because I know I personally interact with folks who have access to funds etc. through high school and college, I know some of y’all have extra rooms and extra whole ass houses.

Assess your proximity to material danger (not that this is the only kind of violence that matters, but often times material danger and stress will make it such that it is incredibly hard to address the mental and emotional health). Are you in danger of police violence? Are you in danger of losing your home? Food Insecurity? Transportation? Etc. Map out both the assets and the deficits.

Next, start making yourself visible for your assets. I think one of the most difficult things is reaching out to folks, and I have seen a lot of mutual aid podding talking about going up to your neighbors and talking to them, and I’m gonna be honest as an autistic person with anxiety that is difficult, but what I can do is post on a social media platform what my assets are, what I am offering. It may be less daunting to post what you have. Encourage others to do the same. If you feel comfortable you can also post the things you may need.

But I think sometimes there is this shame around privilege and resources. This ain’t the time for that, if you’ve got it and you’ve got enough to spare make yourself visible at least so those who may need it will know who is safe to go to, so we can start surveying what is around us. Post simply if you have a spare room outside of a populated area, post if you have evacuation plans and can spare an additional person. Post if you have extra food. It can be less daunting to put out there what you can offer than what you may need.

And I ask you to imagine, what would it look like if our timelines were filled with radical care? Radical resources, if we could log on and amounts all the chaos we also saw a visual representation of our networks so when shit hits the fan we know we have an array of needs and assets within our communities.

It is terrifying if we feel like we have to face it alone, or face it confined to the handful of people in our households. But divided we are much weaker. Anxiety can lead us to retreat, but now more than ever we need to be turning towards each other and organizing. And guess what! These connections will also be useful when we’re not in crisis mode! Knowing who you can connect with and rely on builds a sense of healthy resilient communities that are better able to navigate even small scale conflicts. It is how we regain agency as we work towards change and justice. It’s how we stay safe.

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