Sascha Altman DuBrul is a lifelong activist, a former member of the punk band Choking Victim, and co-founder of the Icarus Project, a peer-to-peer mental-health support network. The group’s stated mission is to “advance social justice by fostering mutual aid practices that reconnect healing and collective liberation.” We spoke with him about maintaining our sanity while a sociopath occupies the White House.
The Indypendent: Donald Trump's win has been likened to a political 9/11. Do you have any thoughts on dealing with grief and going beyond it?
Sascha Altman DuBrul: A political 9/11 sounds like an appropriate way to talk about it, but what we need to remember is that we are part of a long tradition of people who are fighting fascism, fighting for control of our lives all over the world.
I remember a conversation that was happening shortly after 9/11, that maybe we’d realize that there's not this American exceptionalist thing, that we can die in big terrorist attacks too. But that's not what happened. We turned to American exceptionalism. Part of what we need to do is look to our brothers and sisters around the world who have been dealing with these fools — these power-hungry fools who have been in office for a long time.
A lot of folks get involved in political activism because they're sensitive, because they feel things more strongly than others. It's of the utmost importance that folks like us understand that not everyone is so sensitive, and that we need to learn to take care of each other.
If you were going to reduce it down to something very basic, a good question to ask is how to make sense of craziness, or of being sane in a world that's obviously really crazy. Maybe we can diagnose the society that we're living in a little more and look at the ways that we're not raised to have each other’s backs. At a moment like this, it's really important that we have each other’s backs.
The epitome of that social madness is Trump, right? How do we prevent this irrational man from driving us crazy?
A very tangible, practical thing that I've been practicing with people in my community for a long time now is getting together in groups and writing down what things are the most important to us — what are our goals, what are our missions? How do we know when we're healthy? What are the signs that you're struggling, that you're having a hard time? We all have those signs and they look different for different folks. People can tune in to themselves and it's a really useful thing to do in groups.
Anyone who knows me knows that if I'm kind of glassy-eyed and staring off into space, I need to eat some fuckin' food. I need to get some rest! And I have the basic things that I know I need to do to take care of myself. At times like these — times of crisis — it's actually really important to go back to the basics; getting enough food, getting enough sleep, making sure we exercise, making sure we have routines, and then making sure that we have a community around us to be able to support us.
Where does spirituality factor into mental health?
I like to be in the company of people who have a spiritual practice, who meditate. Having a spiritual grounding, and once again, having a sense of being part of something larger than yourself, that's something that communities around the world have that we have a lot to learn about in our Western culture.
A lot of people are feeling under attack. I'm thinking about immigrant communities, Muslim communities, women. How would you suggest that people address feelings?
One of the most powerful things that I've seen since the election is the groups of concerned citizens getting together to do trainings on what to do in public spaces when people are being attacked. The answer is solidarity.
In some ways I'm speaking as a white man who's not under attack in the same way that immigrant communities are. I think the question on my end is more like how to make conscious acts of practicing solidarity with other people and make it clear that I'm an ally.
We're going to be looking at a lot of rollbacks on gains that people have fought for. I guess this ties into grief and a sense of loss, but would you like to add anything on girding ourselves for loss?
When I was growing up my old Communist grandpa had a little pin on the sailor cap he'd always wear that said: "Don't mourn, organize." At some point I realized for myself that mourning was a really important step: first you mourn, and then you organize. Mourning is an incredibly important part of the process that will allow us to build into the future. We need to be able to recognize what we've lost and not just jump straight into action and replay the whole thing over again in our unresolved trauma. And we have to do it together. We have to create spaces where we can mourn with one another and then move forward.