Movement Building in 2014

It has been said that there is never a better time to build a movement than now. This sentiment has been shared over and over with every generation of activists; with any luck, this sentiment will continue to be expressed well into the foreseeable future. It should always be the right time for movement building and it will always be the right time for change.

The Boston Liberation Health Group has grown over the course of ten plus years of struggle and comradery. Conceived as both a form of peer supervision and a way to centralize organizing efforts, the Liberation Health Group has expanded to include members around the world. As we move into this new era of organized struggle, it’s important to think about what has changed and how to adapt.

The landscape, as always, has changed over the past ten years. Electronic activism, or “hacktivism” has become a staple of the struggle against power and all its various invocations. The past decade has seen a rise in meetings between unlikely combinations: immigrants rights groups and privacy advocates, healthcare justice groups and copyright activists. The new alliances have grown despite the ever-present threat of encroachment by state and corporate interests.

But what has facilitated this alliance building? What fruits have been born of these unlikely mergers? I can provide an example close to my heart (although I ask in advance for forgiveness for the inherent privilege this is example is drawn from). In January 2013, internet pioneer and activist Aaron Swartz took his life, facing an outrageous and unprecedented abuse of power by an overzealous prosecutor for downloading articles from JSTOR, an online repository of scholarly journals. What emerged from this tragedy was an amassing both physically and electronically of students, scholars and electronic activists. The question posed was an essential one: what are the other costs of ivory-towered knowledge?

The question posed was an essential one: what are the other costs of ivory towered knowledge?

In my own clinical practice, working with children and families in greater Boston, I’ve often considered this question at what might appear to be the unlikeliest of times. I graduated from social work school three years ago. In that short amount of time, I have lost all access to the best and most heralded treatment texts available for practitioners in my field of child trauma. We can only learn so much in graduate school, any newly-graduated student can attest to this.

What happens then when clinicians, freshly divested of their ability to access journal articles are faced with challenges they did not learn to surmount in school? One night I spent hours reading over what was publicly available for “nightmare rescripting” a technique that has been used by trauma-informed practitioners for many years. It is a technique done in total collaboration with clients, and it harnesses the creativity and resilience of the client to change the outcome of recurring nightmares. It was exactly what I needed for someone whose care I had been charged with. But I couldn’t find it. The definitive text available was available with a pricetag heavier than that which I could afford.

In this example, I came face to face with a reality faced by many pracitioners: access to quality care is dependent on the quality of access community practitioners have to good continuing education, free reading resources and quality supervision. It is not enough to publish journals, if only those who write the articles and hold the knowledge have access to the journals in the first place. Information is only as good as how far it can spread and who it can help. For those of us working in the community, information is essential to the lifeblood of good practice.

Given that movement building is a task of forging alliances and making new connections, I look optimistically to the future of building this movement; the Liberation Health movement. I see a future where community members, clinicians, students, professors and community activists can sit at the same (potentially electronic) table and reach out to one another with the promise of facilitating lasting change, and with that, lasting healing.

Jared Kant, LICSW

Boston, Massachusetts