Building cultures of care

From Le Hub/The Climate Justice Organizing HUB
Revision as of 20:19, 19 March 2024 by Mediawiki (talk | contribs) (→‎What about when needs conflict?)
(diff) ← Older revision | Latest revision (diff) | Newer revision → (diff)
Jump to navigation Jump to search

This page was created to support activists in building towards cultures of care in their groups. Activist burnout continues to be a major problem in movement spaces, leading to increased internal conflict, decreased retention and ineffective efforts, among other issues. This page is a work in progress that will be added to over time. The information included comes from existing organizer databases and resources by movement thinkers, plus thoughts from participants in our care 101 workshop. This page also includes thoughts shared during our self and community care learning circle, and navigating turnover in student groups learning circle. Included are _______________

Identifying and advocating needs

Understanding your own care needs is important for your wellbeing, health and to limit distress. However, this is hard if you've suppressed, downplayed or ignored your needs! The following steps to identifying and advocating needs come from "The Neurodivergent-Friendly Workbook of DBT skills" by Sonny Jane Wise, @livedexperienceeducator

Suggestion: do this 3 step activity as a team! It's a great way to proactively surface needs, where support can come from, and what support looks like.

1. Brainstorm your regular (daily to once a month) needs

There are 4 main categories to start with (add your own as you see fit!)

a) Physical (taking medication, getting enough sleep, having breaks, drinking enough water, stretching)

b) Emotional (therapy, expressing boundaries, words of affirmation, engaging in interests)

c) Social (time with friends, time alone, boundaries)

d) Sensory (sensory breaks, avoiding busy places, sunglasses/headphones, stimming)

It's important to get curious, and build an understanding of which needs:

  • you can accommodate yourself
  • you're building skills to help address yourself
  • fluctuate, and
  • require external and/or community support

Step 2 can help begin these reflections.

2. Use a support and accommodations wheel to identify where support is needed/can be given

It's one thing to list our needs. It's another to understand where we can support ourselves vs where we need support. This wheel can be used to identify the areas of your life where you can provide support, and the areas where you need to receive it.

The categories in the wheel are:

a) Sleep (falling asleep, staying asleep, sleep schedules)

b) Work/study (due dates, flexibility, instructions)

c) Communication (phone calls, appointments, non-verbal)

d) Daily living (cleaning, organization, hygiene)

e) Sensory (home, noise, light, clothing)

f) Finances (cost of aids, debt, impulsivity)

g) Eating/cooking (sensory/dietary, executive function, shopping)

h) Relationships (social norms, stigma/oppression, boundaries, communication)

Here is an example of a completed wheel:

Draw a small circle, and surround it with 5 increasingly larger circles. Divide the circles into 8 'pie slices', and fill in each category based on where you need the most support.

  • 1/5 filled in = I have significant trouble in this area of life
  • 5/5 filled in = nailing this area of life

Categories that scored lower (i.e. 1-2) are areas that you need regular support/accommodations. *Typically the lower the score, the more likely it is that these needs cannot be met yourself.

Categories that scored in the middle (i.e. 2-4) are areas that you need occasional support/accommodations.

Categories that scored higher (4-5) are areas that you can provide support.

Suggestions on how to use these reflections:

  • Have each team member share back at least 1 area that they scored lower in (you don't need to disclose scores if you don't want to), and 1 they scored higher in. Share, based on these, how support can be provided, and an example of an accommodation/support that would help.
  • Identifying strengths and support areas is a stepping stone for building a 'care web.' E.g. "I'm really good at cleaning, and I struggle with eating enough. I can take on cleaning up the meeting space when we're all done. Can someone else take on bringing snacks?"

3. Advocating needs

The following are prompts for advocating your needs proactively (or in the moment, if applicable). *Note: not all needs are appropriately met by teammates. Consider who else in your circle is best to respond (e.g. a friend, partner, caregiver, family member, professional etc).

a) "I need your help when" E.g. "a protest gets really packed. It's distressing for me." E.g. "I forget my fidget tool at home."

b) "I will ask for help by" E.g. "seeking you out as my safe person. I may go non-verbal from the overwhelm. You can ask me to type out instructions." E.g. "Asking at the top of the meeting, so I can focus better throughout."

c) "You can help me by" E.g. "linking arms with me and moving to a less packed spot to engage in the action. When overwhelmed it can be hard to do this myself." "Providing me with a pen, or something to fidget with."

d) "I would like to hear" E.g. "an affirmation that your proud and thankful I sought your support. I feel guilty about this sometimes." E.g. "from others who would benefit from a pen or something to help focus. It makes me feel less alone!"

What about when needs conflict?

[Paraphrased] We can't meet everyone's needs equally. Access needs conflict. Part of organizing a space is being flexible. Go to disabled folks; ask the person impacted by it. An example of conflicting access needs would be in online spaces. We at the partnership work in a multi-model language space; english, spanish and ESL. There are so many different access needs. We figured out how to operate well by talking to people in the community. It's about building these relationships and moving forward together. And there's no such thing as perfection. -Priya Penner, Partnership for Inclusive Disaster Strategies, as part of our disability justice is climate justice live.

Thoughts and examples from HUB team members:

This is to be expected! While it can be frustrating, these can also be reframed into opportunities to problem solve together, collaboratively, as a team

Let's refer to some scenarios for examples.

Scenario 1:

-Person A has sensory needs that are best accommodated with dim lighting. They often accommodate themselves with sunglasses, but it's not an ideal solution.

-Person B falls asleep when lights aren't bright enough.

The team could:

  • Prioritize person A's need entirely, asking person B to accommodate themselves with a fidget toy to stay awake.
  • Prioritize person B's need entirely, asking person A to accommodate themselves with sunglasses.
  • Look for a possible compromise. Can we dim the lights on half of the room, and have people sit where the lighting is best for them? Can we take 'light breaks' and do parts of the meeting in bright light, and parts in dim light?

Person B has a need relevant to showing up at all, and person A has a need relevant to showing up safely and healthily. A compromise is best here.

Scenario 2:

-Person A cannot attend meetings because the meeting room is not wheelchair accessible.

-Person B cannot attend meetings because they live too far away.

-Person C would like all attendees in-person because it supports relationship building.

The team could:

  • Reduce the frequency of meetings and/or adjust the frequency of in-person vs online meetings.
  • Move meetings online or to a public space, until the team can secure funds for a meeting space that meets physical accessibility requirements, OR pressures the building to prioritize these changes.
  • Person C can take the lead on finding a ride for person C to attend in-person.

In this scenario, it's important to recognize the difference in the needs stated. Person A and B cannot physically attend meetings. There are also several other reasons people may not be able to attend in person (see the following article by Devon Price for more). Person C prefers in-person relationship building. While still a valid need, priority should go to towards equitable opportunities to show up at all, safely and healthily. Once these basic needs are met, then we can focus on creating equitable opportunities for relationship building (e.g. can the virtual joiners and physical joiners have dedicated social time to connect?)

Knowledge from the HUB's care 101 workshop

Participants in our care 101 workshop were asked "Have you ever left, or thought about leaving, the climate movement for a period of time? Why?" They shared the following...

Disconnection from other systems of oppression
  • Other struggles take priority (e.g. job loss, family emergencies, caretaking with limited support and capacity, etc).
  • Other injustice takes priority and isn't addressed through climate involvement (e.g. police violence, poverty etc).
  • Climate movement can feel depoliticized/disconnected from other social struggles
Poor or lack of conflict engagement
  • Lack of conflict resolution processes/engagement
Anti-oppressive structures/practices not in place
  • More privileged perspectives holding more/all space
  • Whiteness of climate spaces
  • Lack of COVID precautions and/or care for meeting accessibility needs
Not enough rest/joy in organizing
  • A never-ending sense of urgency = limited experiences of rest/care/free time
  • Burnout
  • Feeling disconnected socially from team members
Feelings of hopelessness and ineffectiveness
  • Lack of clarity on what focus/tactics to take
  • Hopelessness
Lack of appreciation
  • Imposter syndrome/efforts not acknowledged or appreciated

Slowing down to make space for reflection, checking in and meeting needs creates space that can be used to surface, and help address, many of the challenges listed above.

Our Care workshop discusses building 6 key care practices into your team

1. Check-ins, adjusting and holding space for needs that arise''''

2. Encouraging self care as political warfare

One of the most prominent uses today of the term “self care” is for the purposes of increasing one’s capacity as a productive worker or shopper. But the concept of self care originates from the civil rights movement. As Audre Lorde put it, “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.”

3. Challenging colonial time

When British colonies landed on Turtle Island, they viewed Indigenous societies as being ʻtime-lessʼ for not using time 'productively' based on British standards. Today, the legacy colonialism left remains. Time for rest, being on the land, and health-related activities are not prioritized as valuable or productive.

Larissa Crawford suggests exploring what a seasonal work-cycle would look like, by beginning with asking your teams ʻhow does our demand, health, and energy change with the seasons?ʼ It could also be beneficial to include connecting with the land as part of our work as activists. 

4. Reflecting, appreciating and feedback

  • Start telling your teammates during meetings things you appreciate about their contributions!
  • Encouraging positive feedback can be done using prompts such as “what did we do well together, and what’s something we could improve next time?” Both of these examples involve taking the time to reflect. See this resource for more.
  • Holding space for reflection to help create space for moments of appreciation, and when needed, redirection.

5. Reflect on care webs

See care web for more.

6. Make space for joy!

See below for ideas shared by participants!

Workshop participants shared thoughts on...

Why we should prioritize care

Workshop participants discussed the following:

Care is central to climate justice

We are impacted by, and/or concerned for, the violence being inflicted on people/the planet. Centring care in a society that centres violence is transformative.

A better world is possible and it will be built on interdependence.

To strengthen our communities

Caring for ourselves helps us show up to care for our community.

  • We want everyone to access our collective fight, rather than leaving those most impacted behind

To exhibit the values we’re striving for and challenge oppressive ideas on care

Those of us who grew up in a western, Eurocentric, neoliberal culture have become averse to forms of care and have to re-learn to care for ourselves and each other, while we learn to live how other cultures have always known and are trying to sprout anew in the cracks of the current system.

Important to note that care is seen as something women do in colonial, patriarchal culture so is its often devalued. 'Care work needs to be decolonized.

To foster generative conflict, reflection and problem solving

Having a code of ethics, and practices including a conflict resolution strategy can sometimes be a helpful reference to guide through conflict/wobbly stuff.  Introducing this can be helpful in itself because it recognizes that conflict/differences can happen and it's okay, it can be worked through.

Consider: Do we demand a certain amount of time and labour from marginalized voices? Do we slow down to address things and make sure everyone who wants to move with us can?

To surface and utilize our emotions effectively
  • We are holding challenging feelings regularly in this work!

If you're not moving at the pace of your 'slowest' members, it can burn out your movement. While you don't need to address everyone's every concern, there needs to be general collective alignment and a sense that effort is made to meet everyone's basic needs. Members should feel they can participate equally and that they are valued.

The co-option of care

Workshop participants shared the following:

Care work is devalued

As someone who is providing care on a daily basis, I honestly dread when people ask me what I “do”

Connection to the land

Disconnection from the land and sky and water is how colonialism weakens us. When we return to a relationship with the land, we can heal more easily. Parks and large trees and grassy boulevards are usually part of privilege and wealth in our society. Yet, access to nature and wild places is integral to a life of collective care.

When I think of community care, I also think of caring for animals, trees, rivers, lands, etc. and being cared by them.

Individual care keeps us separate 

Care being commodified and professionalized. This separates individuals from each other.

Spiritual and religious teachings

I think this also includes the cooptation of spiritual and cultural practices that come from Indigenous nations. They're marketed under capitalism.'Teachings about forgiveness and kindness have been co-opted into narratives of obedience and silence. 

Intervention ideas to further these discussions in groups:

  • "I started a book club at the ENGO where I work with “Care Work: Dreaming Disability Justice” by Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha so folks could do some unlearning/relearning on their own and come together to brainstorm how we can integrate it collectively in our workplace."
  • "If anybody’s interested, Shake Up The Establishment also just launched a Climate Dreaming Journal/book based on the importance of rest, recovery and resistance. I see a lot of parallels between this workshop and the book, which you can learn more here:"
  • "People's hub has some great offerings."

Ideas for engaging in joy as a team

Participants shared the following ideas:

Connect with nature!
  • If you can have a fire outside that's a great winter activity 
  • A friend and I routinely go to the ocean after meetings - the sound, smell is soothing and we have the most generative conversations sitting by the ocean
  • Seasonally appropriate hangs: - park hang - tobogganing in winter - hikes  -etc
  • Going for food together after actions
  • Sharing food! Potlucks are the best 😄


  • We've been doing board game nights every 1-2 months, so that theres time to just hang out and build friendships with each other outside of actions
  • There’s online board games website my friends and I used during lockdown, they might prove nice for organizing groups as well
Make/groove to music! 
  • Drum and sing and make music together!
  • Karaoke or dance out
Show up for one another!
  • Showing up to cheer on individual members’ personal projects (eg: if they perform somewhere, sharing about it and going to see their performance)

Knowledge from learning circles

Self and community care learning circle

Participants in the learning circle were asked, "think of a person in your life who makes you feel comfortable sharing how you feel or raising a concern, idea, or question. What are some of the ways this person creates that feeling of care and comfort?" They responded with the following, which can be used to help group leaders to encourage a culture of care in their team:

Encouraging showing up imperfectly; a prerequisite to learn and grow
  • Permission to make mistakes and be curious
  • Understanding that everyone joins the fight/cause/movement at a different time and we may not all be at the same point in our learning
  • Living by “I trust you are doing your best, as am I”

  • Acknowledging that we are both learning and share interest in caring 

Listening to understand, rather than to respond

  • Really listening (or careful reading) and reflecting back how I feel without reacting
  • Leaning in, listening and asking questions
  • Avoiding defensiveness/reactiveness

Prioritize finding common ground/understanding

  • Genuine understanding from shared perspective
  • Feeling heard, even when disagreeing

Role modelling vulnerability

  • Compassion for real emotions
  • Role modelling vulnerability to increase feelings of safety for others to be vulnerable.
  • They lead by example: not just someone who “you can go to for anything” but also voices their concerns for things, vocalizes how they’re doing, 

Devoting time
  • Spending a lot of time together (takes me a long time to feel close with new people)

Participants were asked to share their thoughts on care in the context of the pandemic. They shared the following:

Care more relevant than ever 

Lots of organizations didn't have care practices pre-pandemic; this was exacerbated by the pandemic.

Safety practices vary Safety practices like masking etc. for events has been less and less present.

Scale of safety measures for events is often based off of size & the nature of the event.

People feel excluded

Difficulties created by people acting like COVID is over when it’s not (ex. Propaganda, medical “advice”).

Challenging joining local groups during pandemic (difficulties navigating existing dynamics as a newcomer, especially a COVID safe one).

Balancing priorities is difficult

There are pros & cons of virtual vs in person meetings (purpose, vibe, logistics).

Navigating turnover learning circle

When asked about incorporating more social and fun activities to build relationships, students who participated in learning circle suggested…

Social events

As someone who started a group during the pandemic, in my experience it was important to designate someone or a group to organizing social events. When people stopped coming to online social events, we included social time in the online meetings. People were demotivated from the online time, so we had to include it in the meetings

  • Have a different theme for each meeting (hat, pijamas...)
  • Use interactive online tools to share thoughts

Check ins

Extended time for check-ins and check-outs with fun questions like “what plant do you feel like?” 

Thoughtful of time

Not exceeding meeting times so as not to exhaust people

Holding space for emotions

Connect through discussing emotions like shared frustrations and joys

Holding 'easy' actions

Holding actions without the pressure of going bigger, larger. Hold small actions and focus on the relationships that actions deepen.

For example, an easy activity to organize is a banner drop with picture taking. The point is to gather people.

Escalation of relationship building tactics

Escalation of relationship building tactics: start by planning things like an email campaign or phone zap (no relationship building), then something like an open letter campaign, distributed and signed (opportunity to build relationships), and then organize a demonstration.

If you have any suggested revisions or additional resources to share related to the above content, please email them to

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

Back to Homepage