Interview: Jess St. Louis on sustainability in social justice work

Jess St. Louis

Jess St. Louis

Who are you?

I am a femme, lesbian, white trans woman who lives and loves in Greensboro, NC and does strategic communications and narrative change work within movement-building organizations. I am also an alum of the 2016 Advanced Training and am really excited about the work I am doing with CSS as a Network Associate. I am also a student of generative somatics and through really interested in the ways we can transform ourselves and our movements so we can be as powerful as possible.

What are you doing with CSS?

I’m working on two projects with CSS which are both really exciting. The first is developing a spokesperson workshop that’ll be online in March that’s grounded in story-based strategy and integrates story-based strategy tools throughout. The second is working with CSS staff to create new tools to address personal sustainability and burn out in the social justice and movement building work we do.

Click here to participate in Jess' survey on burnout in social justice work.

Why are you doing that?

We’re doing the spokesperson workshop, because while CSS doesn’t generally do spokesperson trainings, spokesperson moments like media interviews are powerful points of intervention, and we can use story-based strategy tools to inform talking points and engage in the battle of the story in powerful and strategic ways - and get more practice in with the tools themselves.

As for developing the new tools around sustainability in social justice work, the issues of burnout and trauma within the work kept on surfacing up in conversations I would have with friends, comrades, and other amazing and powerful leaders doing this work. For years, there’s been been an active discussion and conversation on self-care, community care, burnout and transforming trauma movementwide.  Examples that come to mind are the short collection of essays ‘framing deep change: examples of transformative social change’ in 2010 or the the self-care and collective-care series on the online site Organizing Upgrade in 2012 & 2013; to adrienne maree brown’s recent essay on Mashable, “How to keep the resistance going in in 2018, even when you’re impossibly tired.”

What’s clear is that burnout and trauma is a real issue experiencing, both individually and collectively. So the question is what are we doing about it and how are we addressing it?

That said, there are real questions about how much agency and self-determination we have over our lives, our work, and our job descriptions. Not to mention the urgency of the work we do to change the conditions of our lives; because the impact of our work could mean the difference between life and death and the quality of our lives for ourselves and the people we love and work with.But in the moments where we do have agency, control, and self-determination over our lives — what do we do in those moments that sustain ourselves for the next day, the next week, and the long haul?

The goal for these tools is to create something that organizers, communicators, and other social justice workers can use to practice self-care, feel more generative in the work we do, and see our lives as part of the stories of a world with more justice, safety, and dignity that we advance in our work every day.

And how folks can get involved?

Join us for the workshop online March 15th — save the date in your calendar and there’ll be more details soon. And if you want to help inform the tools around burnout, self-care, and sustainability in the work, fill out CSS’ survey by February 7th!