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Queer Latinx Activist Gilbert Romero on the Importance of Self-Care

Photo Credit: Diego Lozano

Hey there beautiful, I hope you’re taking care of yourself.

On January 20th, 2017, we entered into a new world with a level of fuckery and fascism not seen since the 1940s. If you’re a progressive activist or organizer like me, the world feels dark and uncertain.

I was in Washington, D.C. the day after the election and the whole city felt like a surreal movie and everyone in offices (including myself) were either crying or had a zombie-like expression tattooed on their face the entire day. Mainly due to staying up late watching the election results pour in.

I haven’t been organizing for all that long. Just throughout my college years and afterwards. However, if you know me, you know I’m a very passionate and intense person and this election has absolutely burnt me out because these issues were important to me even before my “professional” career.

I won’t go into details, but I had a mental health crisis that required me to move back home and hit the reset button on my life.

I’m a very political person, but this piece is not going to talk about He Who Must Not Be Named or how the Democratic Partyutterly failed, tripped and ate shit on the pavement in front of the world.

But instead this is about how to take care of yourself whether you’ve been in “the movement” for a few years, a lifetime, or went to your first protest at the Women’s March.

Don’t Compete in the “Woke Olympics”

I’m 100% guilty of this so I don’t want folks to come for me on my Twitter or Tumblr. My friend has a really good and academic term for this. She calls it “Neoliberal performance of radical politics.” 

What the hell does that mean? Well, many activists basically try to out “woke” each other and show others how much more enlightened they are over anyone else. I’ve done this and it’s unhealthy and contrary to my anti-capitalist mindset. When folks participate in the “Woke Olympics,” they are just replicating the same neoliberal and capitalist performativity of radical ideas. It can get toxic really quickly.

And that’s the problem with identity politics: many activists center our oppression where our identities isolate us from others to the point where we think we can’t relate to anyone else. For example, there are issues I can only relate to with other gay men, or Mexicans, or specifically gay Mexican men. But thinking I can only relate to gay Mexican men is problematic because it creates a bubble where my oppression is centered and I don’t interact with the larger world.

Every now and then, it’s fun to hang with my mijas and make fun of straight people or white people, but ultimately it’s not helpful and it doesn’t do anything for the cause. Identity politics and the constant “woke off” is fun and performative, but it doesn’t liberate us.

The activists I admire the most aren’t on Facebook 24/7 performing their activism, but are hustling and talking one-on-one with the community. My badass chingona mentor Alejandra Gomez comes to mind when I think of people making moves and fucking shit up in our city of Phoenix, AZ.

Don’t Let Your Passions Be Exploited

I haven’t had this happen to me directly, but I have seen it done to one of my friends and others. I don’t want to go into the details of the “Nonprofit Industrial Complex” but if you’re interested you should read “The Revolution Will Not Be Funded”.

Passions get exploited in the activist world. Deep down, I don’t think most of the people doing the exploitation are bad people, but they have numeric goals to hit with a limited amount of funding. Unfortunately the way the Nonprofit Industrial Complex works, funding is scarce. Radical organizations compete for a small pool of funding that is quickly going away.

What happened to my friend is they would often be emotionally manipulated by their employer in order to keep them at their job. The organization in question does really fantastic work and I have nothing but amazing things to say about the work. However, whenever they would talk to their boss about leaving, the boss would say things like, “Do you really want to do that to Maria? She needs you. This community needs your dedication. How can you abandon her and the others?”

It’s not uncommon for organizers to be manipulated because of a dire need in the community. Do. Not. Let. This. Happen. Yes, community organizing is naturally a tough job that requires hustle, but my friend would come to me practically crying every day. That is not normal nor acceptable.

Go to Therapy and Drink Water

Don’t be like me and be in crisis mode when you seek therapy. Seek therapy because your mental health is just as important as your physical health. Especially for organizers and activists, talking about oppression 24/7 is taxing on the mind, body, and spirit. I went into crisis mode for a number of reasons not related to activism, but the constant reminder I’m oppressed via my job definitely did not help.

I’m currently in therapy and I really wished I had been before my crisis. I do recognize therapy may not be a reality for folks without health insurance. To them I’d say look up yoga or meditation videos on Youtube or talk with your pastor, imam, rabbi, etc. if you’re religious. Check out a free library book on mental health coping strategies.

The other day I was getting my now one-allotted per week Dutch Bros Strawberry Blended Rebel which looks like this. And the barista asked what I was doing that day and I told her I was on my way to therapy. What’s revolutionary for me is being open and normalizing therapy where I can casually have a conversation about it like a doctor’s appointment.

I mention my one-allowed per week Dutch Bros drink because I gained a lot of weight since I graduated college two years ago and it is mainly due to sugary drinks. I’m currently past one week into drinking only water and I feel fabulous. I’m less bloated, have less headaches, and I’m sure my dentist will be happy to see less cavities.

* * *

These are some tips that helped me deal with the constant bombardment of “woke” Facebook statuses and real-world oppression I encountered while organizing both professionally and in my free time. Organizing and activism needs to be a long-term commitment but the only way we can continue the work long after any election is to practice self-care. So grab your picket signs, protest banners, good walking shoes, and a bottle of water and fuck shit up in 2017. Give ‘em hell!

Follow Gilbert’s activism and life on Twitter: @ComradeGil

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