We Are Our Own Safety Nets, We Weave Together
Sometimes when I close my eyes I can see it: like a spiderweb or a bunch of intersecting tree branches in the forest or the outlines through the chlorophyll on a mature maple leaf when you hold it up to the sun. It’s the safety net my friends and I are weaving for ourselves to take care of each other in this crazy world, and it’s as real and as strong as the energy and passion and hard earned skills we put into it. Sometimes I feel it viscerally when a bunch of us are working out in the fields side by side or sitting around a table eating a meal we’ve all had a hand in preparing. Sometimes I even feel it when I’m all alone or surrounded by strangers in unfamiliar territory, the knowledge that my people are out there somewhere and I know they have my back when times get hard. Our net is partly physical: our house, our barn, our tools, our cars, the fields and the woods on this land where I live with my friends. But the net extends way beyond our farm and has so much more to do with the trust and friendship between people - our local crew and all of our loved ones and their loved ones and their loved ones spreading out like branches in an incredible network that reaches across the world. The safety net is like a force we create together woven in spirit -- like the sum of our collective that is so much greater than the individual parts.
I used to travel all over the country meeting new people wherever I went. Part of me always figured that if I made enough friends then I’d never get into too much trouble because I’d always have a bunch of folks to look after me through the rough times. A big anarchist family of freaks and rebels. But too many times I learned the hard way that things don’t really work like that. You can have hundreds of phone numbers and email addresses in your Slingshot Organizer or little faces and profiles in your Myspace Account, but still be totally alone and helpless if you ever really need a friend to be there for you. There are a lot of lessons to learn on the road but not so many lessons about stability and continuity. And the Internet is great for lots of things, but there’s no substitute for another person running their hands through your hair and rubbing your shoulders and holding you when you need to be held. It’s taken me awhile to figure out that the way to make real friends, friends that I can trust to have my back, is by working together with people on intense projects and sticking around to see things through the hard times.
But it’s more than just working together on projects with your friends: building the kind of social safety nets I’m talking about is also about finding the language to talk about our internal worlds, very consciously learning your friend’s stories and personal histories, talking honestly and openly about our issues and our triggers and what we’ve learned to do about them. Do we stand guard over each other and really know what’s in each other’s best interests when times are rough? Do we know each other’s warning signs and know what to do when they appear? We all have warning signs before times get rough and it’s really important to know what they are. Do we make sure that the people in our community are all taking care of the basics: getting enough sleep? Eating enough good, healthy food? Exercising everyday? Keeping a routine that works for them? Doing things that they love and feel passionate about? Do we know how to talk about our past traumas in a way that feels safe? Do we create regular spaces and times to talk about the really hard stuff? Do we respect the people in our communities who’ve made it through really hard times and have lessons to share? There’s always so much to learn from each other. What does it take for people in our communities to feel comfortable asking for help if they need it? And when they ask for help do we know how to respond? What issues can we deal with on our own and when does it make sense to start exploring healing modalities from herbology to acupuncture to homeopathy to western psych drugs if that’s what it takes? Can we respect the different personal decisions we make to take care of ourselves?
I’m really inspired by all the folks I’ve crossed paths with in recent years who are out there taking an active role in organizing mental health support in their communities, weaving these safety nets out of all their hard earned lessons and singed wings. In recent months I’ve quietly watched dozens of people on the Icarus Project website talk about forming mutual aid support groups in their local communities. In New York City there’s a thriving little scene of folks who come to regular meetings that mix support and community organizing. Pretty soon we’re going to start having Mental Health Skillshares: regular times where folks can get together and talk about their personal coping strategies and open forums to share their stories and lessons. We’re doing another art show in July. We’re organizing student support groups on college campuses. We have people doing support group organizing as far away as New Orleans, Portland Oregon, and Northampton Mass.
Meanwhile, it’s early spring in the Hudson Valley of New York. I’m living on a collective farm with nine of my friends. It’s a first year farm and we’re outlandishly busy: taking care of our goats and chickens, tending to the vegetable seedlings in the newly built greenhouse, weeding and watering all the beds of greens coming up in the garden, putting up deer fences, getting ready to plow and till a new field, setting up the irrigation system, setting up our tool systems, patching up and cleaning out the barn, organizing big work parties. We work really hard around here, we’ve been working hard all winter. We get up early and eat breakfast together. We have a lot of meetings. None of us are experts, we’re all young and inexperienced, but we’re figuring out how to do it together. We’re going to be growing a whole bunch of really good food this season. But the real harvest at our farm is the community we’re building and the friendships we’re forging with one another. This is how we hold each other up through the long haul. This is how we weave our own safety nets together.