People Who Struggle to Stay

Tim Jackins and others at a teachers’ and leaders’ workshop in Warwick, New York, USA, December 2015

A workshop participant: I’m thinking about a bunch of mostly Black working-class and raised-poor Co-Counselors who have been solid Community members for decades but whose heavy chronic distresses are taking them down.1 We can’t seem to get enough resource to them to keep them around. How do we keep them from leaving? I feel like it’s about discouragement. The bigger question is, how do we organize for this? How much resource can we put to it? If a local Community hasn’t enough resource, how do we think about it as a bigger Community?

Tim Jackins: A lot of people have been badly hurt by this society. We don’t always have enough resource to take that on.2 Many people start RC, gain some traction, move ahead some, and then hit something hard. It becomes too restimulating, and they are too alone not to feel discouraged and confused.

Is there any way to inoculate against that? We know it’s going to happen. It happens to a good percentage of us. If we are lucky, we have enough resource. We have enough of a relationship with somebody that they don’t let us drift off alone in restimulation.

We often try to make RC sound attractive to people so they will try it. We generally don’t give them an accurate enough picture of how they will have to face hard struggles at some point.

That people have difficulty staying doesn’t mean that there is anything wrong with them, or that they are too hurt, or that there is something wrong with our understanding. There simply are hard struggles. They can be won, but it often takes decision. I think we often rely on discharge too much, hoping it will take care of everything. We hope it will ease the feel of the distress enough that people will be able to see a difference, feel enough relief to stick around. We can forget to talk in early classes about how they need perspective, need to stand against distresses. We need to give people a picture of how powerful they are and what they have to go up against.

People who are struggling against oppression are likely to understand something about this. We don’t have to say as much to fill in the picture. They know what it means to go against an oppressive structure. But what they don’t know is that the oppressive structure has taken up residence in their head, in their distresses, and that they have to fight a battle there.

They also often can’t tell3 that they have allies in their struggle. As nice as we are, as helpful as we try to be, we are still struggling with relationships. So they can’t tell that we are committed to their liberation when times get hard. We often don’t say explicitly enough that we want them with us and that we know there will be hard times.

I do the monthly introductory lecture at RCCR (Re-evaluation Counseling Community Resources, in Seattle, Washington, USA) maybe a third of the time. I like doing it. Usually it’s a small enough group that I can figure out what to say to them. I always say that I am sure that Co-Counseling will work for them and that I know it won’t always be easy. I tell them it hasn’t always been easy for us. There have been battles to fight through. It is always in our interest to fight those battles, and we try not to fight them alone. I say that doing this will make a difference in their lives, that it will be hard at some points, and that they don’t have to fight alone; they can build the relationships that will make it possible.

We can also organize counseling support and resource early on, and people can take part4 in that. They can learn to offer resource to someone else, and receive it, before they hit heavy and confusing distresses. Local intensives are a way to do this. People band together to support somebody and take turns doing it for each other. This changes the picture of what counseling can be and what these relationships can be. Having that in place before people hit hard material5 can make a difference.

Another participant: I would like to add a couple of things. We are increasingly trying to think about BLCD6 not so much as an annual workshop but as a local Community development project. That’s why we’ve decided to organize it regionally. Our goal is to collect resource and bring more Black people into RC.

How do we create conditions in our Communities so it will actually work for Black people to be there? That often means slowing things down, having people do a lot of work so they will have enough attention.

Sometimes white allies listen to me talk about how terrible or hard my life is without their having figured out the perspective piece. They don’t see my need to have power and agency in my struggle. They don’t know how to just be in there with me and “learn” my life rather than sympathize with me about it. Sympathizing with Black people about their lives is not going to help them re-emerge.

Another participant: Despair and discouragement are built into the oppressive society. We breathe them. They’re in the air. I experience this culturally as a Latino. I like what you said, Tim, about having to decide. I can feel like shit, but I can decide that it’s not going to ruin my day—that there are hard things in my life right now, but that’s not my life. We tend to expect tragedy rather than victory. My hunch is that we have to model deciding that we are going to win, even if we don’t believe it. I think that is the correct perspective. And it’s true that we are going to win.

(Present Time 183, April 2016)

1 “Taking them down” means defeating them.
2 “Take that on” means handle that.
3 “Tell” means see.
“Take part” means participate.
5 “Material” means distress.
6 The RC Black Liberation and Community Development Workshops

Last modified: 2017-04-06 23:13:23+00