On April 4, 2022 we celebrated the launch of our Cultures of Care project with a fantastic panel of care practitioners who talked about what care means to them, and why it matters more than ever today. This project was initiated in the fall of 2020 amid the pandemic, deepening economic inequality, and popular uprisings as a way to highlight some of the beautiful interventions in response to the multiple crises our world was facing. Cultures of Care celebrates those practices and the people behind them. Check out the Cultures of Care website here.

Transcript

Speaker 1:

(Silence) There has never been a moment in the history of the world where gratitude has been a bad thing.

Speaker 2:

All any of us should really be trying to do with our time and energy and talent is create space for people to be able to take care of themselves.

Speaker 3:

People care for each other in the planet in ways that our current systems cannot and will not. What is the radical potential of care for this future of people, planet and all living things.

Elliot Kukla:

As long as we're all exhausted, we're never going to be able to dream how to get there. The first step is having the time to dream. And that, just that, feels hard to imagine. How are we going to get to a place where we all really have time to rest and dream? It's not an individual responsibility to make your time to rest, but the collective one that we all have time to rest.

Giovanna Fischer:

Right. Good morning and afternoon to everybody. And welcome to the Cultures of Care Launch. My name is Giovanna Fischer. She, her pronouns. And I'm an educator and cultural strategist based in Los Angeles and from Los Angeles, California. I'm the co-founder of Neon Study, a learning studio working at the intersection of creative industry in education. And I serve as the co-director along with Evan Bissell of the Cultures of Care Project.

Giovanna Fischer:

I'm a black woman with curly hair. I'm sitting in front of my plant and a painting that my grandma drew. Thank you all for being here. We're so excited to talk about care and really dive in. And we have a beautiful panel of people to help us explore that. However, there's a few acknowledgements we need to make before we begin our programming for today.

Giovanna Fischer:

I do want to acknowledge that today it is April 4th. On today's date in 1967, Dr. King spoke out against the war in Vietnam. A year later, Dr. King was assassinated. I think in the legacy of care and the work that's required of all of us, it's important to name that. I'll also take a moment too for land acknowledgement. For me, this work today happens on the unceded land of the Chumash, Tongva and Kizh people, both in what is called Inglewood and Los Angeles, California.

Giovanna Fischer:

If you'd like to name the place you're calling in from, please do. If you are learning the name of the land you're on, we're going to drop a link in the chat to help you locate it. I engage in this land acknowledgement both to acknowledge the land and the people who are its original and current caretakers. The land acknowledgement is a step toward truth that the land is unceded, meaning it was taken rather than given, and of the grave harms enacted on native people by means of taking.

Giovanna Fischer:

This is a single step on the journey of repair, not its end. Repair includes self-educating, learning about how you can support work of local native people and initiatives in your community and our national campaigns, like LANDBACK by the NDN Collective, that teach about remediation of everything that was taken, including the land, language, ceremony, food, education, housing, healthcare, governance, medicine and kinship.

Giovanna Fischer:

We are dropping the link to the NDN Collective in the chat on YouTube. I didn't say that earlier. Pardon. To engage with the repair. I would like to introduce today our ASL interpreter, Toi Bogan. She'll be helping us out through the duration of the program. All right, so let's get into the project and the work itself. Let's talk about Cultures of Care. The project was initiated in the fall of 2020, as we faced a deepening pandemic and economic inequality, popular uprisings against state sanction violence against black people, and an expanding border wall and a deluge of traumatic climate events. The context.

Giovanna Fischer:

Now, personally, I've always sought and found refuge in spaces of possibility. Imagination has been my favorite tool. However, I have found my own littering sense of faith in the future that is caring and joyful and healing and just. This project is inviting me back to that space. The work of everyone profiled for this project is the present. Their work emerges from and exist amidst these truth.

Giovanna Fischer:

It builds upon the rich legacies of people who have been in the work of care for so long, and it seeks to transform and heal and make space. It honors grieving as part of the process, prioritizes rest. Their works demand that we expand the notion of what care work is and could be, and we'll get into some of it today.

Giovanna Fischer:

Now, it's a beautiful thing that we've got here in the space all by virtual. We've all become familiar with that context of the past two years. Most of us have been navigating ways to feel connected and in touch in spaces like these. But let's shout out the YouTube chat space, where we invite conversation, reflection and thinking through this program. And hopefully the space becomes a space of connection. I trust that it could be.

Giovanna Fischer:

This is a call to lean into it. Lean into the chat. Lean into the space right now. We're all here. We came here. And leverage it as a side of possibility. To warm it up, I pose a question to which I invite you to respond in the chat. If we were going to make a collaborative playlist titled Cultivating Cultures of Care, and you are asked to contribute one song that makes you feel cared for, which song are you going to be contributing?

Giovanna Fischer:

Let's drop those answers in the chat now. Thank you everybody. (Silence) I see john powell contributed Need to Belong by Jerry Butler. Rise up by Andra Day. I see Erykah Badu, On & On. We have a laugh. Thank you. Great Blacks by Georgia Anne Muldrow. Yes. All right, we'll be taking notes of all of these songs and these selections. We'll see what happens to them. Thank you all. Now, we're going to be moving into our Let Me In by Sean Angus Watson. Wonderful.

Giovanna Fischer:

All right, we're going to pivot from the playlist and we're going to move into introducing everybody to the website, which is the hub of all things Cultures of Care related. It's where the project lives. I'm going to take a brief website-guided tour before we get into our panel today. All right, I'm going to share my screen. Give me one moment.

Giovanna Fischer:

All right, welcome to the Cultures of Care website. We're going to navigate this a little bit together, just so we can really unpack all the parts of this project. This is the homepage. We have the navigation bar at the top, in addition to headshots of all of the practitioners that we've profiled through the project. If you hover over a practitioner's headshot, you'll see a little clip of the video in addition to the animations that are connected to the video.

Giovanna Fischer:

Here is where all of our profile is. And I'm going to bring our attention back to the top, the green navigation bar. Right here is a dropdown menu of all of our profiles. You can also access their profiles from clicking on their headshot below. I'm going to bring our attention down to Sonya Passi's profile to reference. All right, here we've arrived at her page. We see another navigation bar at the top, which links to provocations in the learning guide. We'll get through in a moment.

Giovanna Fischer:

If we scroll down, we'll see a full video connected on YouTube of the full interview that we did with Sonya Passi, beneath that are video transcripts for the interview that we did. And in the margins, you'll see timestamp specific locations, where that part of the video picks up on the conversation, broken down by themes, in addition to connections to the learning guide, which we'll explore a little more in a second. We can keep scrolling down. All the learning guide connections and videos are there. Some animations.

Giovanna Fischer:

And then we go back to the top, clicking the arrow here. Next, I'm going to bring us to the provocations. Here, you'll find writings connected to the interview that identify key themes, connects the work to research and action. These are broken down by key themes and are available for all profiles. I'll bring our attention next to the top and I'll click on the learning guide. Here, the learning guides or resources to facilitate conversations or deeper discussions around the content connected to each profile.

Giovanna Fischer:

You can click here for a PDF version of each learning guide to download. And you'll find the key themes in addition to the discussion questions and additional resources to really bring this interview and the content from each profile to life. In addition to some extended learning activities and projects, to deepen your engagement, whether you're a teacher, whether you're in the workspace, whether you're at home. All right.

Giovanna Fischer:

You can find all that information on the website itself. And now I'll bring our attention back to the top of the page in the home bar for the overview. Here you'll find different elements of the project and an explanation of them, hear a little purpose behind the project. And then if I scroll to the right, here are suggestions for how do you use Cultures of Care in your work. Scroll to the right, here are some key takeaways from the project.

Giovanna Fischer:

You'll find 14 practices to create belonging through care that are listed right here. I highly recommend clicking right here to access a poster version of the takeaways, which will be sent to you. And beneath that are provocations from the practitioners that align to the writings that we covered earlier. Bringing our attention back to the top.

Giovanna Fischer:

We have the podcast where you'll find the interviews and you can access them on all streaming platforms. There's one up now. There are more to come soon. And if I click home, it'll bring us back to our home page. Just to frame it up, each of the profiles consist different parts. We have learning guides, provocations and the interviews themselves. Okay. We're going to move on to the next part. Thank you.

Giovanna Fischer:

Now, the website is the portal to the work of so many people expanding on the notion of what care looks like in practice, and our dream is that it amplifies the innovative work that is and has been done. Inspires people to build upon this work and practice care in their lives daily. And that facilitates a deeper inquiry into what care looks like in practice.

Giovanna Fischer:

We hope it insights new thinking. It creates new channels of connections between people. And today we have a conversation on care that we hope will operate similarly. We encourage you to reflect, respond and express your curiosity in the chat as you listen in. I'll pass it to the co-director of the project, Evan, now.

Evan Bissell:

Greetings everyone. Thank you, Gio, for walking us through that. We are thrilled to be here and finally be having this work out in the world. I'm going to get us into our panel. My name is Evan Bissell. I'm the arts and cultural strategy coordinator at the Othering & Belonging Institute and co-director on this project. I am a white man. I have short cropped brown hair. I'm wearing a white button down shirt with black buttons. And I have some wonderful birds of paradise behind me with their brilliant colors. Welcome, Kent. Thank you for joining us as the second ASL interpreter.

Evan Bissell:

We're really excited to introduce this panel, because in practice and also in its deepest roots, in their deepest roots of their work, each one of these individuals reflects a worldview that's centered in care. And one of the questions that we've been asking essentially in this project is how care might guide and shape belonging at a societal level. And how does care require the transformation of our political and economic spheres as well as the micro-connections that we have between us relationally as individuals.

Evan Bissell:

We know from our work at the institute that othering suspends care in pursuit of other priorities, like profit, power, speed, or resource extraction. That's some of the context we step into. We also want to just name, and also as evidenced by this panel, that this work builds on and is informed by people who have been thinking about care in this way for a long time.

Evan Bissell:

I just wanted to name some of the folks who have influenced this project and that we are hopefully building on that legacy of work. So disability justice leaders, Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha and Patty Berne. Black feminists thinker, Audre Lorde, ranging from the mothers for welfare and wages for housework campaign to today's work on policy with the National Domestic Workers Alliance.

Evan Bissell:

We're also thinking a lot about the writing and leadership of Winona LaDuke, and from Winona LaDuke's work to the just transition strategy framework, from the Black Panther Free Breakfast Program to the mini-mutual aid projects that popped up during COVID 19. All of this is to say that we wanted to expand through the nine profiles that we did. We wanted to expand the conversation and to reflect how Cultures of Care are created and what they can do.

Evan Bissell:

Culture shapes are political and economic systems, and we wanted to celebrate concrete ways of creating belonging in the context of othering. I'm going to introduce our panel and then we'll get right into it. First up, Kristina Wong is a performance artist, comedian and elected representative. Thank you, Kristina. Kristina is the founder of Auntie Sewing Squad or Auntie Sewing Squad, and is also has a new book out called Auntie Sewing Squad Guide to Mask Making, Radical Care, and Racial Justice.

Evan Bissell:

And Kristina's Off-Broadway show, Kristina Wong's Sweatshop Overlord, I think, is now moving out of New York and into various different places around the world, so check that out. Thank you, Kristina, for being here. Dani McClain is an award-winning journalist, a soccer player, who reports on race, parenting and reproductive health. Her 2019 book, We Live for the We: The Political Power of Black Motherhood, is really a phenomenal black feminist text and just an amazing example of how this lens of care can help us think about society as a whole and social analysis and historical analysis.

Evan Bissell:

And so we didn't get to interview Dani for this project, so I'm so glad that you're here with us, Dani, and you get to join in this conversation. Elliot Kukla, thank you, Elliot, for being here. Is a rabbi, a writer, a painter, a disability activist, and transgender activist and a loving parent. And for over 15 years, Elliot has offered spiritual care to those who are dying or bereaved.

Evan Bissell:

I've been hugely grateful to your writing, Elliot, particularly in these last two years since I've come to kind of know your work and the way that it helps us think about disabled in queer wisdom, guiding us in adapting to this moment of planetary transition, but also just as a parent, and so I just really appreciate that. Thank you.

Evan Bissell:

And then last on our panel is john powell, who I am grateful and honored to work with as the director of the Othering & Belonging Institute here at UC Berkeley, which is a research Institute that brings together scholars, community, advocates, communicators, artists, policy makers, to create belonging without othering.

Evan Bissell:

And john is constantly expanding how we think about care and how we can grow this circle of human concerns. So thank you, john, for creating this space for us to do this work. The question I want to start with is that it's really just the revisiblizing of care. And so we want to start with just a little bit of a personal question, and this is one of the things that, Elliot, I think you shared in your interview, but builds on the work of Patty Berne, which is that we all need care at some point, right?

Evan Bissell:

It's just really a matter of timing. And so just to say who has cared for you these past two years, who do you want to express gratitude to for that care, and what does that care maybe allowed you to do. And so, Kristina, I'll pass you to get us started. Thank you.

Kristina Wong:

Hi. I thought we were starting with Elliot, but I'll go. I'm Kristina Wong. I'm on Tongva land right now, specifically the boardroom at south coast rep where I'm working on a project, so behind me are photos of past productions. And I would like to say that I have so much gratitude for the aunties of the Auntie Sewing Squad.

Kristina Wong:

The aunties are cisgender, trans, non-binary. We use aunties just as a term of endearment, and it was actually kind of a very lucky thing. I started Auntie Sewing Squad in March, 2020 to sew masks for vulnerable communities, thinking that it was going to be just a two or three week stop gap until the government did their job and distribute masks to everybody, and we know that's not what happened.

Kristina Wong:

We went on for 17 months, grew to about 800 aunties across the country, across 33 states, distributed 350,000 masks for vulnerable communities, First Nations, for migrants at the border, farm workers, incarcerated communities, sex workers. And the work didn't happen just by me commanding that everybody sew masks. It was a lot because we had to build a culture of care. It became very clear that it wasn't sustainable to just demand that everybody, so and so and so, and give and give and give, but that we had to find ways to take care of each other.

Kristina Wong:

And so we had everything from Zoom yoga classes that other care aunties offered up. We had a whole system of care aunties, and me as sort of a comedian, never done this kind of mutual aid work before, sort of a running joke was I was the Sweatshop Overlord. And I think leaning into the humor of how unreasonable it was, the whole joke was I'd be like, "You don't sew, I'm going to cut your fingers off."

Kristina Wong:

And that was clearly, at least to most of the aunties, such a joke that it sort of pointed to how necessary it was for us to take care of ourselves and each other, which I think is from Jerry Springer, but it does have real ... It's real that we do need to take care of ourselves. Maybe we don't have to listen to Jerry Springer do this, tell us to do this.

Kristina Wong:

But anyhow, that's who cared for me. And it was all sorts of displays of care, from just messages, just reaching out, to people dropping off home cooked meals, to me also relishing in moments to shower aunties and care and let them know they're worthy of care.

Evan Bissell:

Thank you. Elliot, yeah, we'll go to you next.

Elliot Kukla:

Hi, I am Elliot. I am a white non-binary person. And I am in my green office with lots of green plants. And I love this question. The first thing that comes to mind really is my immediate family, which is my partner. And I also live with queer chosen family and my kid. And really, the pandemic has made it very ...

Elliot Kukla:

The enormous amount of care that has gone into maintaining my family unit and home during pandemic that's made it possible for me to do the work that I do in terms of supporting people around grieving illness and dying, and writing and teaching about that, as well as being with people directly, the pandemic's made what has always been clear to me so much more clear in terms of how much care goes into home itself, and how we care for each other in the most immediate relationships and how much care our individual family members have gone.

Elliot Kukla:

We're a high-risk family to sort of maintain and are still maintaining a pretty shut down and closed physically, although we're on the internet all the time, family unit to make it possible for all of us, my partner is a therapist, to be doing all of this care work for others, but to be caring for each other and with each other 24/7 in this different way.

Elliot Kukla:

This conversation also brings up for me the question also brought up for me, the fact that we have had a paid care worker who was part of our pod, doing both disability access support for our family and childcare that made it possible for everything that we have done during pandemic, and really how vital paid care work is and how often it is not paid properly or recognized, and how vital domestic work is to this whole care work conversation.

Elliot Kukla:

I just feel a lot of gratitude for having had that support in my life and wanting to visualize that as well, and really having seen through the work that I do in institutions how much the devaluing of that work is really a part of the valuing of care in society as a whole. Thank you.

Evan Bissell:

Thank you, Elliot. Yeah, we'll get deeper into that too. Dani, what about you?

Dani McClain:

Well, hi everyone. I'm so glad to be part of this conversation. My name is Dani McClain. I'm a black woman in a red turtleneck, sitting in front of a white and wooden screen that's hiding the mess behind. And let's see. I mean, I so appreciate this question, because what an opportunity to thank and acknowledge all the care that I've received in the past two years.

Dani McClain:

I think what's important is that there was a period in March to December, 2020, when I would say the primary people who I was receiving care from and in community with were my friends with whom I was on group chats frantically trying to figure out COVID safety guidelines, because we felt like we weren't adequately getting any information from government institutions about how to socially distance. I think especially as a single parent, living alone in a home with my child, I was really confused about what social distancing would mean for our family.

Dani McClain:

And so I really think about my friends and just my network of people who help me think about how to make life work kind of at the height of those stay at home orders. I think about the preschool teachers who created and maintained a safe environment for my child to be able to go to school, my mom who was part of our bubble and really helped care for my daughter. And then things really shifted in January of 2021 when my mom had a massive stroke.

Dani McClain:

And my role shifted from thinking about care, primarily in the context of caring for my daughter to thinking about how to be a caregiver for my mother. I'm an only child. My mom is unmarried and lived by herself. And so my life as a working unpartnered, single parent really shifted so that I could provide care in the midst of a crisis, a health crisis that my mom was going through.

Dani McClain:

And so I would say in this past maybe year and a few months that I've been in this situation, the people who have provided care for me have been a community of family and friends who have done everything from fundraising, doing research to help me better understand Medicare, and a whole range of medical and legal complexities that we were suddenly faced with. People who showed up at my house and built a ramp and made other accessibility changes to really my mother's home, so that she could come here after her hospitalization and stay at inpatient rehab.

Dani McClain:

The people who helped me go through a frantic move to merge two households into one so that I could live with my mom and take care of her, my daughter and I. Friends from all over the country who flew into at the height of a pandemic, many of whom had very strict social distancing practices got on a plane in 2021 to come here and help me. People who stayed with us overnight as I learned how to do things, like wheelchair transfers and help someone, my mom, who now had limited mobile shower. And there were just a whole bunch of skills that I didn't have that I needed help with. People who cooked and brought food.

Dani McClain:

People who offered childcare, people who sent gifts, people who helped me remember who I am as a writer, as a person with an intellectual life during this past year and some months when all of that has really had to go on the back burner. I also, as Elliot did, paid caregivers. I mean, the two in particular, I just want to call them by their first names, Daniqua and Candace, who have helped me and helped us care for our home and care for my mum.

Dani McClain:

Another one of the gifts that they've offered me is really the opportunity to learn about their work, to learn about the intermediary role that agencies can play and how their ability to make money. Just the role that agencies play, I still have a lot to learn about that. But I also learned a lot about what it means a pair paid and continuing to learn about what it means to be a paid caregiver during a pandemic, both in terms of their health and safety, but also I've watched them parent their own children through school shutdowns and remote learning.

Dani McClain:

And I've watched them be on the phone while they're here at our home, helping their kids with homework and doing all the things that they need to do in their own homes. But their care has allowed me to at least turn some of my attention back to paid intellectual work, while I also know that my mom is getting kind, compassionate, professional care. I'm so happy to be a part of this conversation and I still look forward to hearing from everybody on this important topic.

Evan Bissell:

Thank you, Dani, for sharing. I love just the reflection of how many places care touches, right? And how complex the system is that you're speaking to. And for folks who are just kind of starting to think about this concept, right, that it touches all of these different parts of our lives and society. john, what about you? Who has cared for you or who would you like to express gratitude to?

john a. powell:

Well, thank you for hosting this. My name is john powell. I'm director of the institute. African American man. I use he, him. I have a gray shirt on. And I'm sitting in front of a painting of a quilt in my house. I was thinking about the question. And I think a great question, like a lot of good questions, it could take all day and we still wouldn't be done with it.

john a. powell:

First of all, I think care is a very complicated concept. And that's been professionalized in the United States, it's also been feminized. Think about who's in the role of care, and often times they are underpaid and underappreciated. And so all of us need care, but some of us are more on the giving and receiving end, and I think that needs to be acknowledged.

john a. powell:

On a personal level, when I was thinking about the question, there's so many people that have participated in caring for me. And I start really with the institute, and we have a thing at the institute where we talk about a circle of human concern where no one's outside the circle. And even though we say human concern, that concern extends beyond humans. It extends to different expressions of life and the earth itself.

john a. powell:

And that's aspirational, but that's what we try to move toward, a circle of human concern when no one is outside the circle. There's care from strangers, but there's also care in my context from families. People who know me know that I have this pretty amazing family and we care for each other in hundreds and thousands of ways. I'm busy. I'm too busy. I don't get enough time to rest. But I have an assistant. You may know her if you tried to reach me. Her name is Mara.

john a. powell:

But she's more of an assistant, she's a friend. I care about her. She cares about me. It's more like a family. There's a saying, which is everybody needs somebody, and so we really need each other. And in the midst of the pandemic, two things, I actually contact WHO and suggested that they had made a mistake by asking for social distance. They should ask a physical distance and social solidarity.

john a. powell:

And they actually changed that on their website, partially, I think in response to my provocation. But also in the pandemic, I had a operation. And a number of people, and I can name them. I hesitate to name them because they're so many, and I don't want to leave people out. But I will name a couple of people. Gerald Lenoir and Karen, his wonderful wife, brought food over on a daily basis.

john a. powell:

Two friends moved to in with me because I was not mobile. Paul from LA and Alana. And again, it was in the midst of the pandemic. My neighborhood just really rallied around me. And so it was really a sense of ... Well, it was actually a beautiful thing. I mean, I was recovering, but I was also in the midst of all these caring and loving people, and so I appreciate that.

john a. powell:

The work of the institute is really try to make caring, mutual and regular, and part of our culture in society and not something that we expect from women or from people who are "not having the high paying jars, the high paying position." And I'll just end by just saying, I think it's really ... When we talk about self-care, self-care is limited. We need each other.

john a. powell:

And nobody gets their life alone. No one comes into life alone. We're literally born into world connected to another person. We don't survive without care from others. Sometimes we get this in our individualistic society, so I'm glad you're doing this and that we're having this conversation.

Evan Bissell:

Thank you, john. And that teases up really well for the next thing I'd like to ask you all, because all of you work in a way that really prioritizes kind of collective care in the ways that these kind of almost the micro-analysis, the micro ways that you work. The deep focus on relationship and connection actually becomes a lens or a portal into thinking about broader change.

Evan Bissell:

And so I'm curious about how care guides the work that you do at another level for shifting kind of a broader social change. And how does care specifically help inform that work that you're doing? At this time, I am going to start with Elliot. Elliot will leave us a little bit early today, but I just want to start there, Elliot, just so you can get some time in there. Yeah, go ahead.

Elliot Kukla:

I was thinking about this question, and in many ways, care is the broader social change for the work that I do. It's both the micro and the macro. The work that I do is all concerned with being with people around illness, grieving and dying, and becoming more disabled or living a disabled life. And that individual care is also about thinking about also how do we create a more caring world. And I think that the two are very connected.

Elliot Kukla:

One of the things that I've really come to feel from my disabled life and being with other people in their disabled lives, as we're in this moment of transition and world change in a very profound way, is that so many of the things that I've learned from being with people at the end of life as they die and also through navigating my own disabled life is that the same things that we need for our disabled individual lives are also really needed in this moment of when the planet is disabled.

Elliot Kukla:

And also some of the things that I've really learned from dying people really apply to this moment when many of the ways that we are used to living and being are dying. And that's hard to name, but it really does feel very applicable. To just kind of name a few of those that I think all really revolve around care, one of them is interdependence.

Elliot Kukla:

That being chronically ill has really made it impossible for me to maintain an illusion of independence. Slowing down, needing to have more rest, prioritizing loving relationships over a sense of achievement or a kind of linear sense of my life, needing to draw on relationship with my ancestors on regular basis and really prioritizing the time that I spend sleeping.

Elliot Kukla:

I'm someone who has a chronic fatigue and have really struggled with thinking of that as wasted time, and struggling to find that as time that's extremely meaningful in terms of what can I dream in that time in terms of a new way of being and living. All of those things that's really helped me survive in my chronically ill life and have helped me to be cared for and offer care for others also really feels like what we need for the future right now and what this planet needs.

Elliot Kukla:

Really the work that I do in terms of bringing more care to my own life and to other people's lives is really exactly the same thing as my sense of social change care. Care is the goal as well as the process for me. Thank you for asking that question.

Evan Bissell:

Beautiful. Dani, I want to pass it to you to build off of that, just because I think your work particular around black mothering and thinking about the legacy of that care and the way it's built in. I'm kind of curious to hear you answer this question with Elliot's provocations in mind also.

Dani McClain:

Hmm. Mm-hmm (affirmative). Well, I mean, I so appreciate Elliot really pointing out that care is at the center of what he does. As I explain, honestly, care is my work right now, so there's that. But there's also, yeah, the fact that my beat, professionally, my beat has been parenting and reproductive justice, and so that's I've been writing about. I've been covering reproductive justice organizing since 2012, the past decade. And it's all about care, right? It's all about care for and sovereignty over our bodies.

Dani McClain:

The book that I wrote is called We Live for the We: The Political Power of Black Motherhood. And I'll just share a little bit about where that title came from. And it's funny because We Live for the We has almost become like a different way of saying you're welcome in my circles. Someone will do something really kind for me and for my family, and I'll thank them and they'll say, "Hey, we live for the we." That's just what we do. That's how we roll.

Dani McClain:

And I want to share a story that's actually relevant to where at least our hosts are based, there in the bay area. I was interviewing Cat Brooks, who many of you know. I don't know if Cat's still hosting the KPFA morning show. But at the time that I interviewed Cat in the summer of 2018, she was running for mayor of Oakland. And I got to know of Cat's work because her work with police accountability, supporting the families of people have been killed by police or died while in police custody.

Dani McClain:

And I think she supported Oscar Grant's family. Oscar Grant was killed in 2009 by Bay Area Rapid Transit officer Johannes Mehserle. Anyway, I'm interviewing Cat, it's the summer of 2018. This book is about motherhood, for this project on motherhood. She's telling me about her relationship with her daughter who at that time was 12. And she was saying that sometimes her daughter would ... Cat is an organizer, she's an activist. She would have her daughter at rallies, at meetings.

Dani McClain:

They had a life that was very much connected to community work. And she said, "My daughter will sometimes say, 'Why can't we spend more time just the two of us? Or can we go on this hike? Can we go to Disneyland? Can we do these things?'" And I mean, of course Cat and her daughter did these things, but she told me, "I tell my daughter all the time, and it's harsh, that we don't live for the I, we Live for the we."

Dani McClain:

And as soon as she said that, I was deep in my interviewing process at that time, but as soon as she said that, I knew that, that was going to be the title of the book. Because everyone who I had talked to, black mothers, grandmothers, people who had raised kids that weren't necessarily their own biological children, all expressed that they saw their role as being bigger than just caring for some small family unit, from the people in their homes or their nuclear families.

Dani McClain:

They saw their role as a parent as having a much broader focus. And that just as much as they were responsible for their own child or children, they were responsible for their children's peers and for transforming the conditions that their families lived in so that they could thrive, not just as individuals, not just as a nuclear family, but as a community. And so I think that has really set kind of the goal for my reporting, both with the book and then in the articles that I've reported ever since, is just really this desire to better understand how we take care of each other.

Dani McClain:

And I know that there's a question later, and I'm really interested to talk about this. How do we take it to scale, right? Are there policy solutions? Are there a series of policy solutions? What are the cultural shifts that need to happen so that this isn't just the work of kind of people who have awakened to this as an approach, but that we can start to take this to scale and more of us take on this work?

Evan Bissell:

Thank you, Dani. Yeah. And Kristina, I want to turn to you just because I think Auntie Sewing Squad, in some ways you actually created something at scale or, I mean, at a degree of scale, right? How did care guide the creation of those systems and then that as a model for broader change?

Kristina Wong:

Sure. It became really clear at the top of the pandemic that capitalism wasn't going to save us. And it became clear to me how used to transactional relationships everyone was. People knew I was sewing masks, they were like, "Can I buy some masks?" And I'm like, "I'm actually not selling. I'm doing this because your health is my health." Right?

Kristina Wong:

And trying to reteach people that just because you sent me $1,000, it's appreciated. Capital will be used to maybe pay for shipping or materials., But really what is the most important thing is people. I don't care if you make six figures in your other life, I don't care if you are an award-winning filmmaker, right now you're a cutter. You're going to cut this fabric. You're going to cut this bed sheet up for me, right?

Kristina Wong:

And so it was this moment where I realized we have to reteach people how to understand how to transact with care labor. That this is not something you don't get in front of the line because you have more money to offer. In fact, the most valuable thing you have to offer is what you have to give up yourself, whether it's sewing labor or care labor. And very much, it wasn't a matter of like, "Oh, we need to figure out how to pay everybody so that they stay," it was like, "We need to create a community in this scary time in which people feel invested in the work they're doing."

Kristina Wong:

Because we're caring for all these communities that are in need of masks, but we also need to ask those if we're going to be accountable to the health of others, you have to be accountable to our health. And so this is not as black and white as right as a check so we can pay ourselves, it's express care in other ways. And it was really incredible. We had kids write us thank you letters. We encouraged if I couldn't put your kids to work.

Kristina Wong:

We had kids who baked brownies and we distributed those to aunties. We had one Mrs. Wan, she's like 90 years old, or she's in her late eighties and she used to be a customer for Disney, and she sewed a lot of masks. And she was really missing her sister because she couldn't travel to Michigan. And so her daughter, Sunny, asked us all to write postcards from wherever we were in the country to her mother, and her mother collected those. It was these very different ways to express care.

Kristina Wong:

We had a care coordinator, Auntie Gale, who some of the requests that she got from aunties who needed support were just things like, "I just need some words of encouragement written out to me." And it was really incredible to sort of understand this moment that was sort of suspended from capitalism, fixing a situation, and really understanding how our relationships to each other and the care and support we gave each other was actually more valuable than a check.

Kristina Wong:

So much of that time I was like, "Wow, I've never had relationships like this where I don't even know what these people do for a living outside of this." I just know they're willing to do this work too and that we are connected in our generosity. And wow, I wish I could have more relationships like this, just minus a pandemic we're all scared about dying and our relatives dying and our friends dying.

Kristina Wong:

I think about a lot of that moving forward and how to just create more meaning in relationships. And can I approach new friendships or relationships or situations not for what I'm going to get out of the situation, but is this something really meaningful where we could just both take care of each other in this moment? It's very abstract, but this is what I'd gotten out from this experience of Auntie Sewing Squad.

Evan Bissell:

I mean, it's abstract, but you also ... Auntie Sewing Squad, I think one of the things that's really significant and unique is that you created a whole set of systems and roles around it, right, in order to care for each other in a reciprocal way.

Evan Bissell:

And I think that's one of the words that we haven't necessarily brought up, but I think reciprocity in care is something that lives in so many of the profiles that we did in the way that how do we create systems and structures that have an element of reciprocity in them, right?

Evan Bissell:

And so john, thinking about that in the ways that belonging creates a space and the way that circle of human concern creates a space for us to think about broader social change, where does care fit within that for you and how does it guide how you lead and do your work?

john a. powell:

Well, a number of things that people have already spoken to. Dani's thing of we live for we, I love that title. And it's right. It's the way to right to world, the idea that this is not just transactional. The work you're doing with aunties, I mean, to me, even hearing that, it's like it's really powerful, not just for the number of people involved and the number of people who serve, but also for showing a different way.

john a. powell:

But I do think we have to then get it to scale. And when you think about healthcare and the idea of putting care back in healthcare ... I work at UC Berkeley, so I have a gold standard health insurance, but it's such an inhumane system. If something happened and it's like before they ask you what happened, before they ask you if you're okay, before they ask you if you're going to live or die, it's like, "Do you have insurance?"

john a. powell:

And it's like this whole, "Do you have money?" And these are not "people on the front line." They're not bad people. It's a system. It's so inhumane. And so we've worked a lot with trying to help put care back in the healthcare system. What does that really mean? Think years ago I was asked to write a policy paper for a foundation on how to reduce black poverty, and I said, "No, thank you." They said, "We're open to pay you." I said, "No, thank you." "We'll pay you more." I said, "Look, it's a waste of time."

john a. powell:

And this is before Black Lives Matter had become a part of our culture, right, as a saying. But I was saying, "Black lives don't matter in this country. The problem is not a policy. The problem is a lack of caring. The problem is black people don't belong." The problem is not a problem of poverty. Poverty is an indication in this country of not belonging.

john a. powell:

And if you think about someone like Reagan, who talked about the undeserving and deserving poor, so who's the undeserving poor? When he's saying undeserving, it's like you don't deserve what Judith Butler calls grievability. Your life doesn't count. And we have a system that reflects that in thousands of ways. It's not people personally, but it is. It's not just people personally mistreating people, it's people systematically being mistreated, being invisibilized, being dehumanized, being othered.

john a. powell:

And so that to me is the heart of the work, is to make everyone visible, to say that everyone counts. And it's tricky. And we can think about it in terms of top-down, but it's also horizontal. Sometimes I wrote a small piece in some of the height of the Asian attacks in the country and people were like, "Why are you writing about Asians?" It's like it's another marginalized group, but you get into, "Well, they're not the real group. We got to focus."

john a. powell:

And we don't have a deficit, a limited amount of care. We can care for everybody. And when we care for everybody, there's more care. It's not like, "Well, I have five [units] of care and I'm going to use them on my family." And so part of it is to try to change the discourse, to try to change our relationship, but also try to change systems and structures that reflect care.

john a. powell:

And this is huge tension in this country and in this world as to who really counts. It's amazing. We think the whole mean Black Lives Matter, and then you get a pushback saying, "No, they don't. Not really." And so this thing I wrote something for Teen Magazine and they were saying ... And people asked me to write something about this young white readers. Millions of them. It was a large magazine, and it said it's still struggling with the concept of Black Lives Matter.

john a. powell:

My first reaction was to say, "Really? I'm not even going to do that," but I did it. And one of the things I said is, "In response, you get off the top, all lives matters. All lives can only matter if black lives matter." I mean, having that discussion upfront. And what we see in not just in the United States, what we see in Ukraine, what we see all over the world of ways in which we say certain people's lives don't matter, the earth doesn't matter, except if it can be extracted to give us stuff, this is not sustainable. This is not human, not humane.

john a. powell:

I think this is the heart of the work of belonging to say that, again, all lives matter, with the circle of human concern, but all lives matter only has meaning if all lives matter. If you don't have police shooting people and then hiding behind qualified immunity. So that's not the police to create qualified immunity, it's the lawmakers, it's the whole system of saying some lives don't matter.

john a. powell:

It's okay to kill these people to keep these other people safe. I think it's a huge job, but I also think it's the right job. And I'm hardened by the fact that I get to work on this, but also that all the people on this panel are doing this work in various ways as well.

Evan Bissell:

Thank you. Yeah. I think it's, we mentioned it earlier, but just this shift in worldview or cosmology around care, right, as a kind of guidance for the ways that, that shows up in our policing systems, our economic systems, our political systems, right? That I think there's been some really great quotes pulled out in the chat, if folks want to pull those. But there's some really wonderful things about the ways that care shapes those broader systems.

Evan Bissell:

And so we want to offer just a video and kind of hear your response. This is coming from a place that has a longstanding worldview rooted in reciprocal care with land and ecosystem. This is an interview we did with the Karuk Department of Natural Resources with Analisa Tripp and Vikki Preston. We'll just play it. It's a short one minute video, and then we'll talk a little bit it about this. Mark, if you could play that, that'd be great.

Speaker 10:

If there's only one, you won't want to take it. But if there's more than one, then it's like you can gather there. And then if it's like a whole bunch, then you and your family or whoever else could possibly gather there. And so that's what you look for and that's how you know that it's not somewhere that you could just go, even at some place that your family could go, or your whole community could go.

Speaker 10:

And I think that's important to recognize the impacts that you have on what is able to be shared amongst other folks. And so that kind of spreads it out to like how is it not just one plant able to care for you, but maybe multiple plants being able to care for a whole community of people?

Evan Bissell:

Great, thank you. Yeah, part of what we loved about this clip is it's a reflection of the acknowledgement of how we are in relationship to each other and how we treat those relationships, right? Is it one of kind of extraction? I'm going to get everything I can for myself and then give that to other people, or do we cultivate things in a way that creates space and opportunity and independence for others?

Evan Bissell:

And so I wanted to ask about how care has helped you think about who and what you're in relationship with, ecosystems, humans, animals, and how has care made you think about this larger we as we do this work. And john, you're really speaking to this, so maybe we'll come back to you and kind of see if that inspires more of this conversation, then move in. And I'll also prompt folks who are listening in. If you'd like to drop questions in the chat, please do for now and then we'll take a couple of those, hopefully.

john a. powell:

Evan, I don't know if you're asking me to respond or ...

Evan Bissell:

Yeah, sorry. Yes, I was asking you to kind of continue on with that, but this as a provocation for that.

john a. powell:

It's actually interesting because I think we talked about interconnected. I would push us even further, and that is the idea of I am because you are. I only exist because you are. It's in a sense caring for you is caring for me. And so I think, unfortunately, what we've done is commodify relationships. And so it's what can I get from you? And it's really about a deeper sense of being, and how do we organize a society, a world, a culture that reflects that?

john a. powell:

And so part of the thing that, that video suggested to me is that when we started off with the scarcity model, there's only one. I'm going to take it. I'm sorry for the rest of you all, but I'm taking this and going home, right? And then I have to build a fence or build a wall because you might come try to get my stuff. And this is classical Thomas Hobbes. It's like we need a state so we can protect ourselves from other people taking our stuff.

john a. powell:

It's not our stuff, and what we have of value is each other. And so I think the reciprocal nature, and even reciprocal might point us in the wrong direction. It might, again, point this to a transactional, but it's more like we are deeply profoundly interconnected. And so it leads until we often times don't talk about a spiritual dimension. And we certainly don't talk about that in the context of the economy, on terms of capitalism. It's like how much money I'm going to save, how much money I'm going to make.

john a. powell:

I listen to a podcast, there's a professor at Yale who has one of the most popular course on happiness. And she talks about the students have shifted. The major reason they want to think about what they should study, not to learn, but to enhance their marketability when they get out of Yale. It's all about, "I need to make more money. That's why I'm here." That's not reciprocal relationship. That's not a relationship at all. It's a predatory relationship.

john a. powell:

And the good news is, and I think it is good news, what she says to them is, "That will not enhance your wellbeing and happiness." Right? And that's good. I mean, it's like you're heading down a very dark road. And so I think the more places we could say that, the more places where people can belong, and belonging means that everybody is participating, that we care about everybody.

john a. powell:

I'll just end by I was in Toronto a number of years ago. No city, no country is perfect, but there was a shooting, and a young black teenage girl had been killed. And there was this police officer who was, I think, the chief of police for Toronto at the time. And visually he seemed like a large white guy. And he was on television talking about the killing of this young black girl. And he was visibly crying.

john a. powell:

And I was thinking, "You would never see that in the United States," a white police chief crying over the killing of a young black girl. Yes,, it's wrong. Yes, we have to do all of the law enforce stuff, but what he was doing saying, "This affects me. I care. This hurts. I'm vulnerable. We are connected." And I think more expressions of that, more acknowledgement of that is part of what we need.

Evan Bissell:

Kristina, yeah, I'm curious about reflections.

Kristina Wong:

Sure. Everything john said. One thing I want to say is I didn't realize what I was doing was mutual aid until people kept saying that. I didn't go to that conference. What's mutual aid? And I looked up on YouTube and I was like, "Oh, it's like an anarchist version of charity in that we don't have a non-profit number. We don't have a board of directors." But the goal of our group is to actually become obsolete because we want to meet the need, we've done it and then close.

Kristina Wong:

And there was a lot of talk in the group of like, "We could totally become a non-profit. Kristina, you could pay yourself a salary," and I was like, "No, I don't want to do ..." Everything will shift if this becomes about me making this my job and getting paid. And then how do we justify all these aunties sewing for no money if suddenly we have this structure in place?

Kristina Wong:

And it's okay for things to not be big and big and big and big. And I think when I think about non-profits and charities, additional kind of charities, there's so much inequity built into this and this thinking around scarcity. Okay, we have resources and we give it to those who don't have it rather than respecting that everyone has something to give, even those who don't necessarily have the material. What am I saying here?

Kristina Wong:

For example, the Auntie Sewing Squad, we sent eight vans over the course of the pandemic towards the Navajo Nation initially filled with sewing supplies, because there was a sewing group there that was sewing masks for tribal citizens. And I think it's so important this structure of thinking of the groups that you're supporting as also having their own agency.

Kristina Wong:

I got to meet so many organizers who were tribal citizens, who are farm workers themselves, right, they just, because of structural inequities, they don't have the same amount of access to resources as other people do. But they were organizing before the pandemic, during the pandemic and they will continue to organize after. And I think that sort of understanding that everyone has something to bring to it, even if it's not the actual stuff, which we don't own in the first place, right, as john said, is important.

Kristina Wong:

And to kind of think about how to have more reciprocal relationships, even in the process of giving from one to another, that it's not that someone is needy or poor or helpless, it's just a matter of that these equities are in place if they don't give them the access. And so I don't know, I feel like I'm so much more sold on what mutual aid is and this idea that things don't have to become these, "I've got to become the biggest non-profit in America."

Kristina Wong:

That's not actually ... Maybe it's a good goal for some groups, but I think that just follows the thinking around capitalism, and it takes the meaning away and sort of the mutual love and consideration of each other away when you get into that kind of big thinking.

Evan Bissell:

Dani, thoughts or ... Yeah, go ahead.

Dani McClain:

I have so many thoughts on this. I mean, I talked earlier about just my personal situation that I'm going through with my family now and all the people who showed up for me. It wasn't like we did a GoFundMe, we didn't do it in public. But I mean, there was a lot of fundraising, there was a lot of support. And I've been thinking about how I was supported by a network that I have because of all the places I've lived all over the country, all the institutions that I've been connected to, the type of professional and political work that I've done over the past 20, 25 years.

Dani McClain:

I just keep coming back to this question of scale, which is really what Kristina was getting at in this, and what she was saying is, "My question is, how can this kind of incredible support be available to all of us no matter how well connected we are, or how good we are at making and sustaining friendships, or how many of our friends are organizers and know how to kind of step in the middle of a crisis and help you mobilize resources?"

Dani McClain:

I think this issue of like ... And I also appreciate that Kristina said, "Oh, mutual aid, what's that? I didn't go to that conference." Mutual aid has become this kind of buzz phrase in the past few years, right? But for a lot of us it's just like that's how we do life, especially in particular communities. You depend on your neighbors, you depend on your extended family. It's just that's what it is.

Dani McClain:

I mean, again, I'm a journalist, I'm not an organizer, I'm not an activist. For me, where I go with these things is like what are the stories that I want to tell, what are the stories that I want to report? And I am very interested in this question of how do people who aren't so well networked benefit from and contribute to these very important in mutual aid?

Dani McClain:

I'm not being very articulate about this, but I feel like it's really important. And it kind of also connects what Kristina was saying about (c)(3). You start something and then is it going to be a 501(c)(3), is it going to be a non-profit? There are so many of us who need to benefit from others' aid and who have so much to offer as well, but we're maybe not connected to a 501(c)(3), we're not connected to an organization, we're not as well network.

Dani McClain:

And so I'm really curious about how we start to just think a little bit more creatively about mutual aid and how we connect people who are on the margins and people ... How can we all start to benefit from what is available, and what is available and being offered, and how can we more of us offer what we have to those who we don't personally know but want to support?

Dani McClain:

Just the one, the last thing I'll say is, this phrase came up earlier, so I think it was something Elliot said about needing care is just a matter of time, right? We're all going to need it at some point. I think of the phrase ability is fleeting. And that's something that Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha, who's the author of Care Work, her name was called earlier, it's just so important and it's something that I think about so much.

Dani McClain:

You might not think that you're in need of care right now, but you will need care at some point. And what I've learned through my own personal experiences, and john talked about this earlier, a lot of the systems that we have set up are not going to be there to meet our needs. And I just welcome all the conversations that are blossoming about how we can begin to better meet each other's needs.

Evan Bissell:

Thank you, Dani. Yeah, and I think one of the things that's clear from our work and our research on this project is that it is this both end, right? Sonya Passi says in one of the interviews, "How do we create the conditions for people to take care of themselves collectively?" Right? How does our healthcare system allow us to take care of each other? How does our wage structure allow us to take care of each other? How do these systems from multiple places create this, right?

Evan Bissell:

Because what we focused on in this project is the spaces that are not considered spaces of care that are creating this care, right? The dance floor, the drag show, the Auntie Sewing Squad, the Department of Natural Resources of the Karuk Nation, these different places, right? And so there is this kind of multiple scales that we're talking on simultaneously.

Evan Bissell:

We're just about almost out of town, not out of town, out of time, in which case we will be out of town. And so this question, there's a number of questions coming up about non-profits and working within non-profits. And as to what you're saying, Dani, if there's one of you who'd like to respond just very briefly about thoughts on that. How do you create those systems or Cultures of Care within a organizational structure, particularly if you're not somebody in a leadership position? Do you have any thoughts briefly on that?

Kristina Wong:

I will say that we, as a mutual aid group, worked faster than non-profits in that we didn't have the red tape of like, "I've got to check-in with the board. We have to approve the budget." We just went and delivered care. That said, we were able to use a non-profit named Art For Action, which was actually a performance company, right, to be our fiscal sponsor.

Kristina Wong:

We were able to receive the donations from donors who wanted a tax write-off without the structure of due in that. I don't know if that answers the question, but I feel like it's going to be a long time since we can rework the whole non-profit system. But non-profits can support mutual aid groups by signing on as a fiscal sponsor. Other than that, I don't know what to do.

Evan Bissell:

No, thank you. And unfortunately, we are out time. And like john said, we could have this conversation for the rest of today and tomorrow and the next day and on. And this is the work that we do, right, at the Othering & Belonging Institute, and that Kristina you do, and that Dani you do, and that Elliot does as well, and John that you do in creating this space for many of us. Just to close out-

john a. powell:

[crosstalk 01:13:57].

Evan Bissell:

... Oh, go ahead, john. Yeah, yeah, go ahead.

john a. powell:

... I want to lift up one thing Kristina said about what we're giving to people they're giving to us. It is reciprocal. Too often we don't appreciate that not does everyone count, but everyone has something to give. And so it's not just one directional. I think it's really important to sort of acknowledge what people who are in need are also continuing to give to us in society at-large.

Evan Bissell:

Beautiful. Thank you, john. As a thank you gift for everyone who has stuck with us this hour and 15, we want to offer a physical print poster of the 14 practices of care that we kind of reflected on through this project. We're going to drop a link in the chat. And if you'd like to receive a free poster, please put your address in that link, in that registration form. Joel will drop that in, so look out for Joel Williams and the link will be there. Please sign up for that.

Evan Bissell:

And just a huge thank you to all of you. I thank you many times, but thank you again, Dani, Kristina, and john, and Elliot, and Toi and Kent as well. And also just really want to thank the folks who made this project possible, so Yuri Sakakibara, Alex Lemire Pasternak, Majo Calderon, Joel Williams, Erfan Moradi, Christian Ivey, Marc Abizeid and Cecilie Surasky.

Evan Bissell:

Please engage the project, share it, use the resources. Reach out to Giovanna or myself, and we would love to hear from you. Thank you so much for being with us. Gio, any last word? No. All right, cool. Well, have a wonderful day, have a wonderful evening, everyone. And hopefully you get some juice to take some space for care for the rest of today.

Giovanna Fischer:

Gracias.

john a. powell:

Thank you, Evan.

Dani McClain:

Thanks everyone. (Silence)