Cultures of Care | Elliot Kukla | Provocations


One of the driving forces of capitalism is the need for ever increasing speed and efficiency. In part, it's why Amazon has grown into such a powerhouse; they’ve mastered the logistics of speed and efficiency at a global scale. Rabbi Elliot Kukla takes us a different direction; directly to the soft heart of catalyzing radical social transformation in our current era. Drawing from disability justice (a framework developed by Black and Brown, queer and trans disabled people), queer wisdom, Judaism and his experience in end of life care, Elliot reflects on the ways that care and rest are not only necessary, but potentially the only path forward that includes all living things and the planet. We highlight three ways that Elliot’s care work, particularly rest and healing, unravels the complexities of our systems and supports belonging.


Rest can radically transform systems

In our interview, Elliot reflected on how much systemic change would be required in order to establish something like a “Department of Rest and Dreaming” in government. What would we have to shift in order to have enough vacation and sick time, enough basic resources, enough care for children and elders? A lack of rest, Elliot reminds us, is connected to a lack of sick leave that fueled the pandemic, burnout as individuals, the practices of factory farming, and much more. Rest is a central tenet of Judaism (the practice of Shabbat) but antithetical to capitalism which requires speed and efficiency to constantly increase profit. At the core of this is a question of what humans and the planet are for, and who is afforded value and when. But a growing body of research speaks to the importance of Elliot's practice of rest, from universal basic income to a four day work week, both of which create space for rest. It's increasingly clear that if we are to value all living things over the requirements of capital, rest must be a dedicated practice, supported by policy interventions in labor, housing, food production and healthcare, as well as social expectations of ourselves and others. As Elliot shared, “It's not an individual responsibility to make your time to rest, but a collective one that we all have time to rest.”


We need practices to metabolize rapid change and loss

How are we processing the rapid change and loss we are experiencing today? OBI director john powell has commented that rapid change leads to anxiety, but that it is the social context and stories of leaders that informs whether or not that anxiety prompts more conflict (breaking) or a drawing together (bridging). In his work around grief and healing, Elliot creates ways for people to metabolize change and grief individually and collectively. At the outset is the basic acknowledgement of grief and loss and creating the space and time for this. The lack of systemic protection and space for this process is a reflection of the lack of humanity within our systems. Further, it erases opportunities to create connections across differences of identity, experience and ideology, as Elliot has experienced in holding grief circles with people from a wide range of backgrounds. How can we hold space for collective and individual grief while not glossing over the way that loss and impact lands in inequitable ways and with varying levels of accountability?


The wisdom of disability justice is essential for addressing the climate crisis.

There is increasing acknowledgment that we are not in an “on or off” situation with climate change. Similarly, disabled people and people living with chronic illness are not in an “on or off” experience. Many parts of the planet and many communities that are already impacted by climate change have been deemed expendable or marked as sacrifice zones. Again, this language parallels social responses during the Covid-19 pandemic that prioritize care for younger, able-bodied, White people and the rationing of care for disabled people of color, as happened with Michael Hickson. Reflecting on this, Elliot takes inspiration from disability justice as a way to address the climate crisis. Rather than seeking to “cure” disabled people or gauge whether someone’s “quality of life” is good enough, Elliot counsels that we must think about adaptation to what's right in front of us and how to make life more sustainable and whole right now. Disability justice leaders and disabled people have already been theorizing and practicing adaptation and wholeness in the context of survival. For example, Elliot points out that the difference between giving and receiving care is often only a question of timing. This is increasingly clear with climate disasters striking every state in the United States in 2020. A more nuanced and responsive approach to climate adaptation (for example the Lead with Listening guidebook on climate relocation developed by the Climigration Network) reflects a core idea of disability justice put forward by Patty Berne that all bodies have strengths and needs that must be met, and that we create a stronger collective response by working with all of the available strengths and needs we have.

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