Cara Page | Lifting Up Legacy, Place and Healing

Image Credit: Susan Raffo

Cara Page is a Black queer artist,organizer, and healing arts practitioner in the South, who is building regional and national healing and leadership collaborations through her independent company, Deeper Waters LLC.  She is co-founder and coordinator of Kindred southern healing justice collective, which seeks to build and regenerate traditions of healing as tools of liberation. She continues to organize in the queer, environmental and reproductive justice, anti-violence and youth movements and creates spaces of reflection, healing and transformation that will build sustainability and well being for organizers and our movements. She is also a co-trainer and co-designer of the  Southerners on New Ground (SONG) Organizing School, an organizer with the Atlanta Transformative Justice Collaborative and a featured storyteller in the book, “Telling Stories to Change the World.”

Some of the first things that you will notice about Cara Page upon meeting her are her thoughtfulness, her warmth, her ability to articulate layers of complexity and meaning, her abiding interest in the impact and responsibility of legacy, her commitment to centralizing healing into movement building as much as strategy and political theory, her deep Love for the South, her capacity to hold contradictions, and the way she lifts up the importance of naming place and space.

Currently  based in Atlanta, Georgia, Cara was not originally born in the South. She was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. She’s a descendent of the Black Seminole Nation from Florida, African-American sharecroppers from Georgia, and English and Austrian immigrants who migrated to New Jersey.  She says, “I span the geography, and regionally. I’ve re-rooted in the South, by way of my ancestors, by coming home.”

For Cara Page, the role of healing in social justice comes through the lens of anti-violence, reproductive justice, and the health justice movement, where since age 13 she’s been an advocate for pregnant teens through Planned Parenthood and an underground peer educator on sexuality and birth control at her high school.  For Page, since the beginning, organizing and healing have gone hand-in-hand.  She shares, “My sense of healing entered through the realm of  feminist women’s health clinics, access to abortion and choice,  and birth control. At that time, it was a very liberal access and entry point.”

Another significant influence that shaped Page as an activist was the AIDS epidemic of the late 1980s.  She watched as the epidemic swept up everyone in its wake. She says, “I don’t know if you know this, but AIDS was called GRIDS at first.”  GRIDS stood for Gay Related Immune Deficiency. She vividly recalls a month’s worth of nationally televised news stories targeting one sex worker in New York, in particular,  as being the original source of HIV and AIDS.  “It was a full-on attack on people who were on the periphery, who were on the margins…sex workers and gay people.”

Page entered college in 1988 and says, “I found myself intersecting a politic of my own Black lesbian identity in relationship to health and well-being and in relationship to black feminist identity, couched inside of a global, international response to gender, sexuality, and race…it was a nexus of transformation and change.”  During that time framing question for her, with regards to social justice and healing, was, “How will we keep our communities well?”

In the midst of answering that question, Page’s activist work continued, specifically she began organizing with Black women around HIV and AIDS. She traveled to Atlanta, Georgia in the early ’90s to for the opportunity to work with SisterLove (a prominent Black women HIV/AIDS organization) and the National Black Women’s Health Project. She also worked on transcriptions for a book on Black women and AIDS with Kitchen Table Press.  “As the increase of the AIDS epidemic was impacting Black women I was pulled to organize for our rights to quality care and conditions. At the same time I was watching our gay community; I was slowly watching Black gay men die.  We were losing cultural and political mentors like Marlon Riggs, Essex Hemphill–people that were still very much alive as I was growing up and informed my relationship to Black lesbian and gay politics, collective well-being, social justice, and liberation work.”

Page says, “For me, healing didn’t come to me, conceptually, really, until later. And I think I was able to radicalize my notion of health and wellness from watching the HIV/AIDS epidemic, at the onset, take state medical institutions and use them to dismiss, isolate and target our communities.”  The question of safety arose for Page as she asked, “‘How is it possible that we are calling this intervention when we are being targeted? When we are not having access to the medicines that white men are having or tests that men have access to and not women?’ Things didn’t shift until Black communities took intervention and prevention into our own hands and raised a whole other set of questions that still have yet to be unpacked.”

She goes on to say, “For me it has always been a  question of safety. If our conditions do not keep us safe, then how will we have the capacity to heal, intervene and prevent?  How are we safe if some public health institutions have built themselves on the backs of unethical testing and experimentation on Black bodies with the assumption that we are less than human and carriers of disease?  There are so many contradictions. And in the words of Audre Lorde, ‘How can we use the master’s tools to dismantle the master’s house?’ In this case, the Medical Industrial Complex.”

Page was further challenged by the notion that the systems that were already in place for health in this country, did not ever initially exist to serve the wellness needs of peoples on the margins.  “Public health systems were based on philanthropists identifying who was the best labor force and never about being well. It was based on “survival of the fittest.””

While she acknowledges that there were very powerful liberatory tactics used during this time, Page admits that she became disillusioned by the HIV/AIDS movement, saying, “I couldn’t get in, to fit in on it…Suddenly, we were fighting for the right to be treated with this disease and at the same time be pathologized as a social disease. I needed to step back…and reflect on these contradictions and a deeper analysis of how health systems pathologize communities and profit from our lack of well being.” As a result, Page went back to into l/b/g/t/i/q youth justice work and reproductive justice organizing, using political performance and theater work as a means of uplifting leadership and identity with queer people of color and young women of color.

In the late 1990s, Page recalls that activists in her generation were burning out. “Some folks were choosing to commit suicide, feeling like the social justice work that they’ve been committed to wasn’t shifting, so they wanted to leave the planet entirely.”  At the time, Page says she didn’t have a lot language about this phenomenon. Now, she asks, “How do we even look at our sense of well-being collectively inside of the trauma and grief we are holding as a society?  We have something to learn from countries in the middle of civil war and unrest in a constant cycle of traumatic incidences of state violence.  And how do we hold the historical trauma and contemporary legacy of the U.S. are constantly aware of their trauma?”

She goes on to say, “[In] the realm of health and healing, I saw people taking a righteous turn:  there is something that we are looking for more than getting access to HIV/AIDS medicine. We’re also looking at: how are we taking care of ourselves beyond survival? What are the cumulative affects of generational trauma and violence? And how will we transform these things without isolating survivors and people who do harm?  And how are we thinking about safety and response to violence outside of state mechanisms as the ‘rescuer and savior?’”

Page noted that at this time newer movements like reproductive justice, environmental justice, Indigenous people and transgender movements, were evolving into the early 2000s.  They were asking questions that looked deeper into health and healing within organizing work than had been historically done in racial and economic justice movements.  She says, “There were newer movements evolving that I felt were imagining, ‘There’s not enough of something for us in the current racial economic, racial work that we are doing.’  There seems to be some re-imagining, some other movements that are perhaps larger in scope, that are crossing this health-healing line to transform trauma and bring back collective memory of what has happened to our land, our bodies collectively.  Environmental justice and Indigenous organizers, saying, ‘If the Earth isn’t well, then we are not well.’  The Reproductive justice movement saying, ‘If we are not embracing the conditions that we are living inside of and asking for quality conditions and safety so that our well-being is prioritized, how can we even imagine reproductive health?’”

Her work with Kindred southern healing justice collective certainly reflects this as does her work with many other social justice organizations–regionally, nationally, and globally.  The role of trauma cannot be underestimated in the way that it has shaped our movements. Page says, “There are traumatic incidences of violence on a cumulative level that we are holding in our individual and collective bodies. And health doesn’t quite cut it, because what I am seeing is a rise of people who are returning to school to become acupuncturists, massage therapists, reiki masters…. And I am surrounded by elders who lived through HIV/AIDS, choosing to do more healing, integrative work, because they saw that the healthcare system was never for, by, or about us. Nor did it embrace the safety or well-being of those that we’ve lost.”

Page entered healing and social justice in the 2000s, asking “How will we transform our well-being that is clearly connected to massive genocide and traumatic incidences of state and communal violence that we put on each other?”  This period of time represented a significant shift in the way Page began to hold health and healing. It was no longer enough to consider the individual or interpersonal impact of trauma; attention had to be paid to the collective–movement-wide.

Page underscores the importance of looking at the legacy of trauma in regard to organizing work, saying, “How are we going to harbor each other with having a complete understanding of history? [One where] we really haven’t had the opportunity to unpack how many of our communities experienced, or are [currently] experiencing, genocide and historical trauma, that’s now very much present trauma?”

Page has learned much from the numerous organizers that she has met through the years, and she has integrated the importance of political framing and strategy with the equal importance of understanding energy at the people, place, and planetary level.  “Healing is not something you do outside by yourself…we are having a multi-sensory experience at every level.”  She notes that more organizers are slowly willing to have a multi-sensory conversation in which they would be willing to talk about trauma in the same way that they would talk about political strategy.

It is clear that Cara Page walks a path that honors healers and the wide scope of impact and legacy that they have on transformative social change.  Her courage and commitment serve as inspiration for all of us to align what we most care about with the work we do in the world.

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