Protecting Connections and the Collective

Human rights and social movements are unique experiences that would be impossible without groups of people coming together with a common aim. Social struggles and the defense of human rights are inevitably collective. Why? Because the systems of power—capitalist, heteropatriarchal, and colonial—and socio-political violence are too tenacious to face alone. Collectively we can discover that the impacts of violence are more common than we had imagined. What I experience may also experienced by my colleague, and this helps free us from the guilt or discomfort that arises from the fact that we feel affected. And because the human rights violations we fight touch a collective fiber, beyond a specific damage, beyond the victimizing act, they move our sense of humanity.

It is common to hear that defending human rights can cause deep feelings of isolation, which can sometimes be alleviated through acts of solidarity, camaraderie, and alliances. Psychosocial accompaniment takes into account this solitude, places it at the center, creates a framework of understanding, and seeks to transform it. In this context, loneliness is easily tied to hopelessness. If I feel alone, I don’t see myself as capable and if I don’t see myself as capable, I stop believing in what I want to achieve. One of the main objectives of sociopolitical violence is precisely to divide, to create feelings of loneliness, incapacity, and hopelessness. What can we do to not fall into despair? How can we build hope? This is one of the big questions. A possible answer is: believe in and strengthen the collective, the process, so that they can provide balance for our wavering sense of humanity.

Meeting on Psychosocial First Assistance, MOVICE, San Francisco, Cundinamarca, June 2022

Additionally, collectives and teams that work or move in violent contexts constantly face shocking events and tension that tests their confidence and their ability to treat each other well. “Trust is not something that is given, it is built reciprocally and is favored by the creation of shared spaces, to talk about our expectations and visions, our emotions, but also our displeasure. Trust makes it easier for us to empathize and share how the work affects us, to celebrate achievements, layout challenges, and grow personally and professionally.[1]” For all these reasons, it is essential to protect the collective and the connections woven within the organization to defend life. How? Through mutual care and collective care.

Within our organizations and communities, we have thousands of ways to work, communicate, manage conflict, and strengthen ourselves in the face of adversity. These help us to carry out the required tasks, knowing that if we have more tools as a group, we have increased abilities to achieve our goals. On the second ring of the protection circle[2]—a tool we use at PBI— we ask ourselves: What are our relationships like? What does it mean to move in an environment of positive treatment? What values do we express and what do we value in our work? How would we like to communicate and address internal conflicts? What institutional spaces do we have to care for connections, group cohesion, and trust building? How do we welcome new people who join the organization? How do we transfer our standards, protocols, and work methods? A lot of these questions have to do with internal capacity building and conflict transformation with group protection tools.

National Meeting for Female Human Rights Defenders, Cahucopana y CCALCP, February 2022

How to strengthen the collective? Here are some mutual care and collective care proposals:

  • Create collective spaces to learn about our stories, experiences, and current lives, as well as the fears and values that move us, to strengthen connections and be able to identify when a colleague is worried, restless, or in need of specific support.
  • Share spaces to express how we are doing and our needs. If emotions are not talked about, you can’t be in tune with the group. This is not about feeling exposed and always showing our vulnerabilities (although sometimes it can be about that), it is about creating knowledge and mutual care mechanisms so that we can recognize when it is important to think about or value a specific issue.
  • Have a permanent eye on and reflect on the power relations that may be taking place within the collective, organization, or community, based on the cisheteropatriarchal, capitalist, and colonial systems we live in.
  • When there are critical moments, it is important to stop, assess, and give space to process what happened in the collective.
  • Give importance to the reception of new individuals in the organization or collective, think about the initial induction and training.

For all these reasons, PBI’s Support for the Reconstruction of the Social Fabric area is committed to coming together in this circle. Finding ourselves in this ancestral way, where we can speak from a place of equality and look each other in the eye. We recognize the importance of valuing the group and strengthening it, as a path to build, as the Zapatistas said, “a world where many worlds fit.”

PBI Colombia

[1]     Vilma Duque Arellanos: “ Towards a Culture of Good Treatment and Well-Being. Promoting self-care and equipment care

[2]See more about the circle in “ Protecting the Essence” and “ Protecting the Body, Mind, and Heart ”.

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