The Politics of Trauma: Foreword Excerpt by Ai-Jen Poo

Posted by – November 18, 2019
Categories: Bodywork & Somatics Excerpt General New Release Society & Politics

Below, an excerpt from Ai-Jen Poo’s foreword to The Politics of Trauma: Somatics, Healing, and Social Justice by Staci K. Haines.

The work of #metoo is about healing. It’s about healing as individuals and healing as communities.

—Tarana Burke

Beware that, when fighting monsters, you yourself do not become a monster … for when you gaze long into the abyss, the abyss also gazes into you.

—Friedrich W. Nietzsche

There are things we have control of in life and things we don’t. But a mentor of mine used to say we always have choices. We cannot control the actions or behavior of others—but we do have agency over how we respond to those actions. We cannot control what systems or culture we are born into, but we can control how we engage with or attempt to change those systems.

The organization I lead, the National Domestic Workers Alliance, serves the more than two million women—mostly women of color—who work in our homes as nannies, cleaners, and home care workers. This is the workforce we count on to care for our loved ones and whom we entrust with many of the most precious parts of our lives. And despite their importance to millions of families, they are among the most undervalued workers in our economy today. Excluded from basic labor protections and working under extreme isolation, this workforce is vulnerable to a range of abuses from the everyday violence of poverty to the more extreme—including human trafficking and sexual violence. Many of the women who do this work are survivors in every sense of the word—literally carrying the suffering and the dreams of their families across borders and on their shoulders.

Most of us experience some form of trauma in the course of our lives. It shapes us in conscious and unconscious ways. For many of us—the events that cause trauma are deeply rooted in our culture and society, reinforced by a set of beliefs, norms, and policies that are structural and hierarchical in nature. While we experience them as individuals, they are not caused by individual choices or failure.

We have many tools to heal from trauma as individuals. And we also have some tools to change policy, systems, and culture. But rarely do the two meet; somehow the minute we are talking about violence and trauma at a systemic level, the human element gets lost. And when we’re trying to heal as individuals we often attempt to do so in a vacuum, as if the therapist’s office or the meditation cushion were islands in a sea devoid of systems of power and privilege.

For those of us working toward social change and justice, it sometimes occurs to us that we may be missing something. When you realize that meeting you attended about inclusion feels exclusive. Or the rally for justice features speakers who dehumanize one group to humanize another. The truth is that we are all, as human beings, a work in progress. We are shaped by trauma, deeply and profoundly flawed and imperfect. We’ve internalized our trauma and adapted in healthy and unhealthy ways including judgments against ourselves and others. But if you claim to seek progress and social change, you will be held to a higher standard of intentionality about how you manage that imperfection and proactively seek to develop, evolve, and heal.

At the National Domestic Workers Alliance, we knew that if we wanted the people with the most at stake leading the way in transforming domestic work, we would need to address trauma head-on and create a movement that would not only not re-traumatize us, but help us heal. Not only win policy change to heal social injustice, but support individual change and resilience. We believed it would be impossible to achieve one without the other. With the help of the author of this book, we created leadership programs that promote healing from trauma. We created a culture that includes practices to help us stay centered and connected—to one another and to our shared purpose; practices that support our individual well-being and our ability to truly be powerful collectively. And it’s made all the difference in our ability to be powerful together.

We live in a time of profound change in every aspect of our culture, economy, and politics. Deep divisions are being sown by people in the highest levels of elected office. Violence and trauma show up everywhere—and it’s nearly impossible not to internalize it. The #MeToo movement has shown us the potential to wrench change out of trauma in positive ways; opening an unprecedented cultural conversation and truth-telling about the reality of sexual violence, and moving us toward healing and long-overdue solutions. The activism of women is powering a new movement to protect and expand our democracy. Much of the work of this time is to ensure that in the midst of so much change and volatility, we begin to set new patterns, new relationships, and a new culture that allows us to heal through all the change.

Unfortunately, harm is part of the human experience. Healing, in our systems and in ourselves, is core to realizing the human promise. It’s not easy. In fact, it may be some of the hardest work we have to do.

That is why we need this book—full of insight and ideas at the intersection of personal transformation and social change. As you seek to make change in this rapidly changing world, take it with you and keep it close.

AI-JEN POO, Director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance

Tags: Staci K. Haines

About the Author

Bevin is the publicity and marketing manager at North Atlantic Books.