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Imagining the Collective: Where We've Been, and Where We're Going

It’s been over a year since our last intentional communication about how we are organising together, Moving with Intention as a Collective. We shared with you then that we needed to slow down, take a step back from the rush of project work and social media and all the rest. At the time, we had several project streams running concurrently which seemed important and also overwhelming as a purely volunteer-run collective.

Now it’s the end of the year and we are transitioning into new spaces - much has changed and, yet, we are still dedicated to building liberatory futures. We have grown as individuals and as a collective. Some of us have gone through this transformation together - and others have taken breaks and come back. We are building new ways of working with each other, and with you - our community. We are writing this now to try to share some of that journey and our learnings from it. Our intention in this process of sharing is to connect with you - we hope that, through this reflection piece, you can learn about the trajectory of the collective. It is also a method to capture and record our learning over the past 12 months for ourselves.

navigating our changing and turbulent landscapes

Last year, we spent several months thinking about our identity, values, mission and vision. We chose projects and envisioned how we could work together in non-hierarchical ways. Unfortunately, this did not work out for us. Our new methods of working, project workload and leadership model raised more questions than it answered. It was a difficult time in the team - projects seemed immense, the work started to feel too much and there was a sense of being lost. 

Most leftist spaces, even with the best of intentions and the most nuanced of outlooks, do not have a template for being slow, for critically critiquing or questioning the nature of their existence and taking a chance on just stopping for a short moment. As a  collective, we did just that. We’re not sure it was a choice so much as an imperative if we wanted to continue existing and build our relationships.  For many of us, the collective served as an escape, a carefully curated space where we come to be with and for our community. So, when conflict arose, we questioned the purpose and impact of what we do and why we do it. 

We think that was a difficult pill to swallow for most of us. To put a pause on something you carefully, intentionally, and meaningfully created because it is not working in ways that feel generative and intentional. It wasn’t easy, but that is perhaps why it was the most radical act of love and care for ourselves and the collective. It was also a demonstration of trust in each other. We feel this truth in our bones. Radical, feminist spaces often end up leaning on corporate and capitalist frameworks because other templates have simply not existed, been documented or lasted long enough to become the norm. We took the chance to break free from something that was not working, something we spent months and months of work on.

The discussions that ensued  led us to where we are now. We stepped into intentional slowness. We chose the priority projects we wanted to focus on, and dropped everything else, while we figured out our own ‘ways of being’ Some decisions were difficult such as pausing the zine, a zine that has had international readership and lots of love poured into it. Others were a little easier since they didn’t really have much shape or thinking behind them yet.

Loss has been a word that has been used several times in this piece. Loss and to feel lost have been emotions that we have felt individually, and as a collective many times over this past year.  But through that feeling of loss and allowing ourselves to feel the fear of losing, we also learnt how to let go.

we hold the power to define who we are

As a collective, we’re spread out across the country (and often further afield), so our work tends to take place in digital space, shared documents, video calls and group chats. Fairly quickly, it became clear we needed to work together to figure all of this out; really together, with coffee and post-it notes, music and art in each other’s presence. 

In April of this year, we began this process by spending two full days working together, sharing food and ideas in a co-created retreat. We each brought texts from our personal libraries, including academic references and poetry, and read aloud together for the first morning. Sat in a circle, we passed on the reading to one another after a paragraph or two, sharing the work and sharing a voice. As we read, thematic commonalities began to emerge  - nature, gender, labour, joy, care, all ideas we had been holding together for a while. To encounter them again in this way, together, was incredibly nourishing, seeing how many people before us were working with the same values we were, and how much work there was to guide us in our journey. 

Some of the texts we read included: 

  • Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer, from whom we learned the necessity of pulling and tension in this work, relying on each other to make things happen; braiding ourselves as individuals into the collective.

  • Marsh/River/Raft/Feather by Clarissa Álvarez & Petero Kalulé, who set the intention “To owe dependably on each other”, showing us the mutual responsibilities we each have towards the collective, the work, the community.

  • The Ga(s)p by M. NourbeSe Philip, which revealed the truth of circular breathing: that we all began life with someone breathing for us until we’re ready to do it for ourselves. Our work descends from those who came before, spiralling into a helix across time and into the future

  • Emergent Strategy by adrienne marie brown, who taught us the adaptability of plant cells, of trees; we each are who we are, and we are important to the collective tree as a whole

We recorded this portion of our weekend for us to listen back as needed, and also to share with those in the collective who couldn’t attend the retreat. Beginning the work with this shared moment of learning was incredibly powerful, allowing us to meet each other on equal footing as we moved towards the work. We then moved to journaling and conversation, sharing our ideas and dreams for the future of our collective. However, in order to do the work we wanted to do, we also needed to build our trust in each other, deeply and radically. To do this, we began the second day with a mapping activity called ‘The River of Life’. 

This exercise involved drawing out a pictorial timeline of our lives as a river, with key events and milestones taking the form of tides, rocks, boulders, plants, aquatic life, and more. Once drawn, we shared our life stories with each other, everything that had brought us to the collective. It was incredibly cathartic to be with each other and delve into our pasts and presents. We had, perhaps,  underestimated the joy we had in our life, and were surprised about the intense emotion we carried deep within us. Things came up that were hidden or pushed to our peripheries; we laughed and we cried and we held each other. One of us joined online, separated by a computer screen and also two hundred miles, but said: 

“The connection I felt with the collective had never been stronger. I cried, I broke and I regained composure… I spoke about things I have buried so far deep… and I realised that no matter where TRC is in its journey, we will always be there for each other.”

The activity opened us up to feeling and finding our connection with each other. Our ages, life situations, experiences and relations may have been completely different, but there was an inherent understanding and connection to each other. This, we understood, is what it feels like to be able to imagine healing, to be with and at one with a community. The retreat allowed us to navigate our personal timelines but also use that to think about, imagine and begin laying the foundations of the collective’s future. We began to work on the collective calendar and mapped out, with intention, what we would work on and why those specific projects. We took inspiration from the seasons to help shape our calendar, with each season infusing its essence into each quarter, and aiding our focus on specific projects. 

immense gratitude and trust 

We took a real break after the April retreat. A full summer to rest, recover, return to our parallel lives - where spaciousness is difficult to come by at best - all the while processing everything that we’d learned together. As co-conspirators, we already know so much about each other’s values and practices, but now we could see our life-rivers laid out in front of us, overlapping and connected. There was so much to be done, but we knew now how desperately we needed the rest. And so we did. 

This required us learning how to rest, in healing, nourishing ways. To do this, we decided to go on a residential trip in September, together with some of our peer advisors and members of our wider community. Our friends at the Anne Matthews Trust, including Hana, Lita, Panchita, and so many more wonderful people, kindly offered us their beautiful community space in rural Wales, the Braich Goch Inn, as part of their Walking the Walk programme. The five days we had there were co-created, filled with workshops, nature, creativity, and time to cook and clean for each other. We had several themes to address during our time away; one crucial focus was the notion of capitalist time, and how we could resist this. On our last full day together, we put any timekeeping devices we had aside - including phones and laptops - and had a day completely without time. All meals were had when we were ready to eat; any activities we did happened organically, checking in with each other and allowing everyone to move at their own pace. We rested, finally, knowing that we were all there to look after each other as we needed. 

The intentional slowness we cultivated during this time away was just as educational as our co-learning from April. Learning each other’s daily patterns, how we each navigated time to meet our individual needs while living within a group, taught us so much about the different ways in which we each make up the collective. After the residential in Wales, our weekly meets resumed with a sense of chargedness; excitement, undoubtedly, but also anxiety. Could we really live up to our dreams for this collective? Could we achieve everything we wanted, for ourselves and for each other? 

we are committed to “the work” and will embrace the messiness that comes with that, together

Within a few weeks of us returning from the residential, our focus and pace needed to change. The devastation and violence we have borne witness to in historic Palestine and West Asia, enacted by the Zionist settler-colonial project, demands active solidarity with the Palestinian people from us all. No matter how small it might seem, our platform as community organisers had to serve the ongoing call for resistance. By building partnerships with South Asian organisers across London and further afield, we are working to bring our radical politics and grounding in community to this crucial work. Everything we have learned this year - from Palestine, from all those who came before us, from each other -  drives us forward, into a future that we can dream for together.

We’re still creating our collective. Piece by piece, the work we’ve done together is building The Rights Collective anew, and there’s so much more to come. Some provocations we’re currently working through include: 

  1. What do we believe in as a collective that we commit to enacting within and outside of us? 

  2. What do our roles and commitment to this community look like?

  3. What do we do when there is a rupture, within the collective or beyond?

  4. What does our creative learning practice look like? 

  5. When do we make space for celebration, relationship and trust building, intimacy? 

  6. How do we hold space for healing and care when collective members need it? 

We began teasing these questions open during our April retreat, and hold them with us as we move towards the future. 

our lives are better having participated together

On reflection, the final paragraph of Moving with Intention feels particularly poignant: 

We’re excited to feel joy in our work again, to spend time with the parts of us that got hidden over the past few years, to rebuild relationships beyond the transactional, to be with our community, to rest when rest is needed and to move from depletion towards nourishment. 

All of these intentions - joy, rest, nourishment - have felt abundant in our move towards slowness. The work never stopped; there are several projects ongoing, upcoming and we’re so excited to share them with you in time, but the space we’ve afforded ourselves by stepping back has been invaluable. Taking time in this way has been a gift.

We will always be grateful for our incredible community. We’ve missed you, and can’t wait to reconnect with you, as we’ve reconnected with ourselves. 

We hope you’ll stay with us on this journey!

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