A Space for Post-Election Healing
by Tracey Corder & Beth Gunston
“Our post-election healing retreat was so powerful and beautiful. A colleague used to say: ‘The work will never love you back.’ In many ways that's true. But today? Today, it loved me back. And it felt damn good.” - Retreat Participant
Earlier this month Oakland Rising hosted a day of reflection and renewal for our voter outreach staff who worked on our fall campaign. Our first ever post-election “Healing Retreat,” we invited all campaign staff and full-time Oakland Rising staff and collaborative partners to participate. Held at the Holy Redeemer Center, the retreat provided space to be in community with one another, debrief around the wins and losses of the election, and learn how to be more healthy and sustainable in this line of work.
The hard work and dedication of our outreach staff propels forward our civic engagement campaigns. Staffed largely by people of color from East and West Oakland, we prioritize hiring folks from the neighborhoods in which we work who have been previously incarcerated, and who are most impacted by the policies for which we advocate. During our Fall 2016 campaign, we employed 60+ members of the community to talk to our neighbors about issues on the ballot which would fund education and healthcare, reform the criminal justice system, and expand tenant protections. Six days a week, our outreach staff spoke with voters about these ballot measures concerning issues that were close to home for them. Two members of the team lost their housing during the course of the campaign, three came directly to work from school every day, and everyone in the room had been impacted in one way or another by prisons and policing.
Members of the outreach team, staff and collaborative become community ambassadors of these ballot measures. Many of us told our own stories over and over to convince people to vote yes on our issues. By connecting the policies to our personal stories often rooted in the trauma of systemic oppression, this line of work carries an intensity in which people invest a deep part of themselves. Our offering of a healing retreat provided our staff and team with a safe venue in which they could decompress and reflect in community, and useful tools to sustain ourselves when doing this intense work. Whether celebrating local wins or mourning national losses from the election, having a space to reflect and heal helps our on-the-ground and most impacted staff work through the intense emotions that mounted over the campaign. Additionally, participating in our healing and self-care retreat provided all of us with tools and committed community with whom to work through some of the trauma in our personal lives.
Liza Rankow and Mahsea Evans of OneLife Institute led the healing components of the retreat. We had 24 participants in the retreat and everyone reported that not only was it useful, but that they would like to see more activities like this hosted by Oakland Rising in the future.