Be the Change: Take Care of Your Community, Take Care of Yourself

feature image via Taylor Hatmaker


Welcome to Be The Change, a series on grassroots activism, community organizing, and the fundamentals of fighting for justice. Primarily instructional and sometimes theoretical, this series creates space to share tips, learn skills, and discuss “walking the walk” as intersectional queer feminists.


We all know we need to do self-care. We know this. But, honestly, self-care takes time and time isn’t something organizers and activists tend to have in abundance. For anyone with marginalized identities or at the intersection of marginalized identities, self-care is something that may just not feel possible, even if it’s more needed than ever. Having the funds or time to cook a hot meal, for example, may just not be realistic.

A few years back, there was a hefty debate in the community organizing world about self-care, started by a blog post on Organizing Upgrade by B. Loewe titled, “An End to Self Care.” The various responses both in agreement and not started a dialogue on the community care, self-preservation, movement sustainability, and basically the answer to the question Loewe posed originally:

“What must be done so that each one of us can maximize our participation in efforts that move us toward a world where we are more free?”

One discussion that came out of this was the radical idea of rejecting the binary of caring for yourself vs. caring for the movement. For organizers and activists, pulling yourself away from “the work” isn’t always healthy. Part of the reason we’re called to social justice is because it feels necessary and important and doing important work makes us feel good. Our work can be draining and simultaneously energizing.

There can be a symbiotic relationship between caring for our communities and caring for ourselves. Individual care is community care is individual care.

In other words, we are our best when we are investing in caring for ourselves and we are able to give more of ourselves to the community and to the work. We are also most able to care for ourselves when supported by our communities and when fed by our passions for fairness and equality.

When our communities are strong, we are strong.


Ways to Engage in Community-Oriented Self-Care

  • Break Out of Isolation: Call a friend. Go to a meeting. Visit your loved ones.
  • Create a Wellness Plan: This template from the Audre Lorde Project is a perfect place to start.
  • Ask for Help: Don’t let pride or the myth of self-resilience stop you from asking for the things you need, whether that’s food, housing, money, or friendship and support.
  • Do the Work You Love Most: Some parts of organizing work can be really draining or just not fun. Other parts are like an unlimited brunch buffet for our souls. Do the kind of work that feels awesome to give yourself a boost.
  • Evaluate Your Compassion Satisfaction: Complete this Compassion Satisfaction and Fatigue Scale evaluating the last thirty days to get a better understanding of how helping others is impacting you positively and negatively.
  • Create Space for Community Connection: Whether it’s a potluck meal, a speak-out, a support group, or a meet-up, invest time in making space for others to find safe space and engage in community-building.
  • Combine Your Art and Caring Skills with Social Activism: Make art that speaks to your activist ideals. Teach a free yoga class for folks who might not otherwise have access.


Got other tips, tricks, advice, and thoughts on self-care and community care? Share’em in the comments. Meanwhile, do take care of yourself and each other!


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Profile gravatar of KaeLyn

KaeLyn is a 34-year-old (femme)nist activist and the reigning Queer Fat Korean Immigrant Ms. America Pageant winner. You can typically find her binge-watching TV, over-caffeinating herself, standing somewhere with a mic or a sign in her hand, eating tofu, or just generally doing too many things at once. She lives in Rochester, NY with her spouse, a baby T. rex, a xenophobic cat, and a rascally rabbit. Talk sexy about intersectionality, cult movies, or theatre nerdiness to her at @kaelynrich.

KaeLyn has written 153 articles for us.

19 Comments

  1. I wish it was easier to make a community. Like, what if your possible community is full of introverted and shy girls and you are shy too? How the hell will a meeting ever happen? Do we have to bribe each other with cookies to be supportive?

    Love the idea of making activist art though. It gives me an excuse to buy some prismacolor markers and colored pencils. 🙂

    • Hello fellow shy queer!

      I don’t know if this would work for you, but I’ve had pretty good luck with queer book groups. I go to a queer genre fiction group that meets at a library and to another group that reads a fair amount of queer stuff that I found through Meetup.com.

      I’ve been surprised at how much meetup.com is the introverts friend – I like to go to meetups where there’s a clear agenda / presentation so I don’t have to worry abou making small talk. And it really has helped me find community. I started going to meetups when I was looking for work and I still mostly use it for professional networking but I’ve also found good social / queer things.

      If you can’t find something, you could start your own meet-up to do whatever your focus / interest is.

      • A clear agenda sounds nice! I will check meetup.com to see if I can find anything geared towards my interest or something that my wife and I can both enjoy!

        I love fiction. It would be wrong of me not to ask for a few book recommendations! Do you have any?

        • Some recs from my book groups:

          Ethan of Athos by Lois McMaster Bujold – sf space opera starring a gay man from a planet of all men, encountering women for the first time. Much better than that description makes it sound. I really enjoyed it, especially after he fell for a man not a woman.

          Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie – sf space opera – either the least queer or most queer book on this list depending on how you count it. The narrator is an AI who used to run a spaceship and is now in a human body – they’re from a culture that has but doesn’t see gender.

          The Vast Fields of Ordinary by Nick Burd – ya, gay teen of color coming of age in Iowa. The writing style was a little self consciously clever for my taste but I enjoyed it.

          Alex as Well by Alyssa Brughman – ya with trans and intersex protag. The author is cis and I’m not sure how accurate it is – it was an excellent book to discuss.

          Recognize; the voices of bisexual men, ed.by Robyn Ochs and H. Sharif Williams – mostly non-fiction anthology. Very diverse collection.

          Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin. This is for next month so I haven’t read it yet but I’m excited for it.

    • Community doesn’t have to be in physical spaces. I was feeling like I was lacking a queer community a few years after graduating from college. A lot of my friends weren’t close by anymore and we were all busy with work, family, life, etc. Joining Autostraddle–like really participating in the online community, not just lurking like I did before–in 2014 opened up my whole queer universe. You all here are part of my community and part of my community-oriented self-care plan, for SURE.

      So all that to say that for shy folks, communities found across social media platforms, in online fandoms, on sites like Autostraddle, etc, can be just as meaningful as meet-ups IRL.

      I hope you make and share some beautiful art! <3

  2. I got involved with a charity that helps people with food and education costs. They contact us and we visit them in their homes to see how we can help. In a world where everything is so scary right now , its nice to be able to help people on the ground, by filling their fridge or paying for their school books. Volunteering is really good, look into what organisations are in your local area.

    • Bill Clinton said the best advice he ever got was from a farmer who was very much a republican. He stated we don’t need a hand out. We need a hand up. Its like they say give a man a fish and he has a meal. Teach a man to fish and you give him food for life.

      • However, there are people who need more hand ups then other people, due to personal circumstance, illness etc. Even if we had helped someone multiple times before, i wouldnt hestitate to help them again. I come from a privilged home and its the least i can do to spend 3 hrs a week assisting people.

  3. Yes! Community self care! I started a self care club on my college campus, with the point being to get a group of people together who either generally are looking to take care of themselves or people who experience mental health challenges, like myself. The community that has come from the club has been great, we don’t always have a very large group, sometimes it can be challenging to get people to join, but I’ve seen friendships form and even just a general familiarity that can be comforting since mental illness can be a very isolating experience.
    I would love to see more events, activities, and groups in general practicing self care together. I’ve found it to be sometimes challenging to facilitate but when you find something that works for a group of people it is really beautiful to see.

  4. I feel like we comment a lot about The Struggle re: community for those who are shy and / or awkward, but we don’t talk about what it’s like being a chronically lonely person who would prefer being covered in hateful spiders to leaving the house, socializing.

    ALSO where tf do people GO? Like people just GO PLACES. What places and WHY

    I missed a class on basic human interaction

    Is there a way to volunteer when you’re too broke to donate but also would like to avoid making eye contact with other Humans? Is basically what I’m asking here

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