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From Systems of Oppression to Systems of Care

In this observation piece, Tatiana Garavito looks at some of the systems of care that have emerged around her circles during the COVID-19 pandemic. In particular, she looks at the systems created by racialized women, non-binary, poor, working class and/or migrant peoples.

I spend a lot of time thinking about the possibilities and opportunities that we are creating through trying out tools, spaces and new practices. I am often called an optimist and maybe even sometimes naive. I am certainly guilty of those things I am accused of, and I have many excuses for thinking and navigating the world that way. Perhaps all based on personal experience, starting from the fact that I could not have survived migrating to the UK from Latin America aged 17 if it had not been for others; I could not have survived a nation so deeply shaped by ideas of supremacy if it had not been for the diverse communities I clung to early on, who continue to care for and grow with me.

I am part of social movements that dedicate most of their time to calling out the oppressions and injustices that we face living under an imperialist, white supremacist, capitalist patriarchy1. I do this all the time too. In fact, I think it is absolutely necessary and a key part of our collective healing to name those systems and the harm they create. However, I don’t want to simply talk about the violence of such systems; what I’d like to pay more attention to are the systems of care we create so that they continue to grow. These below are practices that our communities have generated during the pandemic, which are too often ignored or dismissed as insignificant. This piece honours the many people involved in creating these practices, it names and recognises them for their work as the foundations for new systems of power.

“What we pay attention to grows2

In particular, I am documenting practices that have prioritised collective care and healing - grassroots initiatives that are led by those who are living on the front lines: racialized women, non-binary, poor and working class and/or migrant peoples. The following initiatives share a common understanding around the causes of suffering we experience, or the systems of oppression and domination which we need to liberate ourselves from: patriarchy, colonialism, white supremacy, ableism, classism. None of these practices ‘do’ charity, and all of them work side by side with others to make sure we are cared for, well fed, housed, clothed, healthy, loved and balanced. Finally, they are all internationalist, and one of them is based in the Global South.

While it is true that the following practices share a lot of the same values, they do so in very different ways. Starting with the community care circles organised by Jannat Hossain, a campaigner and community-building geek. Every month since the end of 2019, Jannat’s community of friends were invited to share a space online to gather together. She put this call out after the 2019 UK general election which (again!) voted for a hard-right government. This space has allowed me and others who attend to be angry and find joy together, to think about politics and ourselves in them. Also started by Jannat Hossain and her friends, Rita Serghis and Simran Bola, is “Love like Ours”, a new matchmaking service for radical left-wing People of Colour (POC) in the UK, whatever their gender or sexuality. I am including this here to recognise the thought and intention that has been given to the needs of our POC communities looking for love and care by these three amazing people.

Another practice that came about in response to the pandemic is Apoyo Comunitario Sur de Londres3 or Community Support in South London. This initiative came into existence after a group of us, Latinxs, living in South London wanted to respond to the acute needs people from within our community were facing as a result of the negligence of the UK government during the pandemic4. We first started as a network to translate information into Spanish and Portuguese from mutual aid groups in South London, which were mostly sharing information in English. It then expanded to offer a hardship fund which has been accessed by over 50 families in South London so far. The money was raised through a Crowdfunder campaign that more than 320 people have contributed to. The collective has been checking in with people who have no recourse to public funds and people who are undocumented to find out how they are doing and provide support wherever possible. This work is often overlooked by sector organisations, including the ones advocating for the rights of migrants and refugees. We are now thinking about establishing the initiative formally in order to continue collaborating with our community and Apoyo Comunitario continues to crowdfund for these families and members of our communities.

In August last year, Marcela Teran, who also wrote a blog for this series on design as problem-solving in a time of global crises invited a group of us to join Community Explorations. An online conversation to inquire into visions, possibilities and alternatives to individualistic ways of living; this was especially timely when so many people are now realising that the current housing and urban planning systems are inadequate to meet our community needs. A few members of the group have also attended a course to learn from similar initiatives that have succeeded in their attempts. The space, which is open to people with similar motivations, has allowed us to dream of co-housing and co-living options, working on the land and has raised really important questions around visions, timelines, red flags, needs, collective finances, commitment and skills to share with others.

FP apartment blocks

Dorchester Court, a picture taken by the author.

One such example of an attempt to create co-operative housing communities is the Dorchester Court Tenants Union, which is part of the London Renters Union. Neighbours from the eight blocks of flats in the Court have been organising around building repairs and affordable rent, all with the vision of reclaiming the court as a co-op where all neighbours can live in good health. In January 2021 and after a lot of organising efforts, Lambeth Council served an improvement notice on Dorchester Court’s millionaire landlord. As well as the union bringing neighbours together to build power and improve their housing conditions, there are sub-groups within the court supporting people having to isolate; some are working on a food community garden and others are baking and learning new skills and sharing the fruits of their labour.

But we have also learnt that housing is not just about shelter, it is about community shell and infrastructure that can also extend beyond physical boundaries into the digital. An example of this is a space for Latinx witches created by Susy Peña6, a Dorchester Court based filmmaker, to practice yoga and navigate the current moment together. This space has been a sanctuary for us all at different moments, connecting to it, there are Latinxs living in Spain, Venezuela and the UK. The group has been guided by Madhu who lives in Venezuela, and who has also inspired a meditation circle that I started at the beginning of 2021. Since then, we have been sitting together (via Zoom) to meditate and build a spiritual practice in the mornings.

Illustration of two women exchanging hearts and care, by Tati-Marce

"Tejiendo cuidados para el amor" (“weaving care for love”) an illustration by Diana Garcia, Marcela Teran and the author, three Latinx women who live and collaborate in the UK. Artists, activists and facilitators of social processes to build alternative worlds to the hegemonic systems that cause so much damage and oppression, especially to our peoples of the Global South.

Finally, one of the most exciting systems that I have been part of this year is the creation of the Organic vegetable box by the Alianza de Mujeres de Cajamarca or Cajamarca Peasant Women's Alliance in Colombia. I met some of the women of the alliance years ago when I was visiting my family in Colombia; they are farmers and the leading force in the struggle against “La Colosa”, a giant gold mining project by AngloGold Ashanti. As a result of the pandemic and the lack of support for farmer peoples in Colombia, the incomes and livelihoods of women from the alliance were affected. The organic vegetable box was born as a collaboration between the alliance and a couple of us in the UK to build an alternative business model that allows them to sell their products while they continue to educate people about their struggle against AngloGold Ashanti.

As all these examples suggest, I think it is important that we build our collective power using practices that not only challenge but seek to transform oppressive systems. The practices I have described are rooted in a commitment to supporting, protecting and being in relationship with each other. But writing and thinking about these practices has also raised many questions and reflections for me. For instance, I have realised that many of us involved in creating these spaces are often socialised to care, and to put others before ourselves. And that we should never forget this dynamic but must also remember that care is really the keystone to building different systems of power that are rooted in dignity and justice. I also wonder if the ways we organise and practice care understand the range of expression that it takes? I am trying to question what is not clear to me, and trying to listen more.

I would also like to invite you to think about the practices and communities that have sustained you during this time: what and who are they? What time and effort have you put into creating and sustaining them? How can we nurture these efforts? How can they become mainstream and the norm? Pat MacCabe7 talks about how we Inter-Are; how we are because others are, and that there is really no independent self. So the perception of self, of “me”, of “mine” is an illusion and the only way for us “to be” is really as part of collectives, where we are cared for, well fed, housed, clothed, healthy, loved, balanced, where we can be repaired from the ills caused by systems of oppression and where we can live dignified lives. If this is true, as the pandemic has shown it to be, we must all commit to paying attention to and fostering community care and healing practices like the ones I’ve highlighted here. What else is there?

  1. Spivak, G. 1988. ‘Can the subaltern speak?’ In Marxism and the Interpretation of Culture, edited by C.Nelson and L. Grossberg. Grossberg Books, New York, 271-313.
  2. Hooks, B. 2013. Writing Beyond Race: Living Theory and Practice. Routledge, New York.
  3. “What you pay attention to grows. If your attention is attracted to negative situations and emotions, then they will grow in your awareness.” A quote by Deepak Chopra
  4. Apoyo Comunitario en el Sur de Londres’ Facebook page:
  5. Meet the collective supporting the Latinx community in South London:
  6. Susy Peña runs the production company Gato Negro:
  7. Pat McCabe’s website:

About the Author

Tatiana is an organiser and facilitator working on issues around race, migration and climate justice. She is also a long-standing grassroots activist - co-founding London Latinx and Wretched of the Earth, groups she is still heavily involved in.

Feminist Perspectives

Feminist Perspectives is a blog created to publish research-based work – like academic research and think pieces – and art-based projects that use gender as a category of analysis or explore…

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