A collage of a medical heart diagram, adorned with yellow flowers. A green winged insect flied in the foreground.
Image credit: “Hopefully” by Martine Mooijenkind

Editors’ note: This article is from Nonprofit Quarterly Magazine’s winter 2023 issue, “Love as Social Order: How Do We Build a World Based in Love?”

This article was excerpted from Let This Radicalize You: Organizing and the Revolution of Reciprocal Care by Kelly Hayes and Mariame Kaba (Haymarket Books, 2023), with permission. It has been lightly edited for publication here.

When someone we love faces a difficult diagnosis or our community is hit by disaster, we come to more deeply understand the value of time and care. If we discover that we may have less time with someone than we had hoped, time does not become pointless or less meaningful; it becomes more precious. When our communities experience disaster, we understand that care and rescue efforts are essential, even if some loss is inevitable. In those moments, we know that care matters and that trying matters, come what may. It may be difficult for some people to imagine extending such sentiments to the larger world we live in, and to all of our relations, but it is possible.

Sometimes we expect the energy and feelings that we need in order to build movements amid crisis to flow naturally as though they were embedded in our personalities. That is the influence of individualism. Just as patience is a practice, rather than a feeling, hope and grief are not simply things we feel but things we enact in the world.

To practice active hope, we do not need to believe that everything will work out in the end. We need only decide who we are choosing to be and how we are choosing to function.

When we enact grief with intention, and in concert with other people, we can find and create moments of relief, comfort, and even joy—and those moments can sustain us. As Malkia Devich-Cyril writes, “Becoming aware of grief gives us more choices about how to respond to grief and opens up possibilities to approach grief not only with compassion for self and others, but also with joy. Joy is not the opposite of grief. Grief is the opposite of indifference.”1

Hope, too, requires us to reject indifference. And like any indifference-rejecting phenomenon, it demands effort in order to thrive. When we talk about hope in these times, we are not prescribing optimism. Rather, we are talking about a practice and a discipline—what Joanna Macy and Chris Johnstone have termed “Active Hope.” As Macy and Johnstone write,

Active Hope is a practice. Like tai chi or gardening, it is something we do rather than have. It is a process we can apply to any situation, and it involves three key steps. First, we take a clear view of reality; second, we identify what we hope for in terms of the direction we’d like things to move in or the values we’d like to see expressed; and third, we take steps to move ourselves or our situation in that direction. Since Active Hope doesn’t require our optimism, we can apply it even in areas where we feel hopeless. The guiding impetus is intention; we choose what we aim to bring about, act for, or express. Rather than weighing our chances and proceeding only when we feel hopeful, we focus on our intention and let it be our guide.2

This practice of hope allows us to remain creative and strategic. It does not require us to deny the severity of our situation or detract from our practice of grief. To practice active hope, we do not need to believe that everything will work out in the end. We need only decide who we are choosing to be and how we are choosing to function in relation to the outcome we desire, and abide by what those decisions demand of us.

This practice of hope does not guarantee any victories against long odds, but it does make those victories more possible. Hope, therefore, is not only a source of comfort to the afflicted but also a strategic imperative.

Practice Spaces

It follows that if we believe having a practice of hope and a practice of grief are important for organizers and movement work, we should be creating spaces and opportunities for this work to occur. As we move forward, we must ask ourselves, Are we making space for grief in our organizing work? Are we talking about the practice of hope, and how we can orient ourselves in these daunting times?

What would making room for grief in your spaces look like? Some groups with a physical space might have “altar hours,” when members can visit the group’s altar to grieve for COVID victims or victims of any struggle. These could also be art-making hours, with craft supplies for people to add decorative commemorations. Making art and preserving stories are essential, particularly in this era of overnight erasure, when atrocities are washed away in a single news cycle. Grief spaces can provide opportunities for people to create and to hold space together and talk, or they can simply allow people to experience grief in a place where their love, their loss, and their continued existence are held sacred.

We must also create practice space for hope. Our movements cannot be echo chambers of doom.

In Octavia Butler’s novel The Parable of the Sower, characters who had previously been deprived of the opportunity to memorialize lost loved ones buried acorns together, to lay their memories to rest and create new life in their honor. Similarly, in our times, memorial gardens for victims of COVID-19, or whatever loss a community is enduring, can create a therapeutic space while also providing a resource for the community. In Chicago, the radical Black youth-directed organization Assata’s Daughters dedicated its group’s garden to Takiya Holmes, an eleven-year-old member who was killed by a stray bullet in February 2017. In July 2022, the Chicago-based groups Love & Protect and Prison + Neighborhood Arts Project invited community members to contribute to the creation of a “seed quilt”—a biodegradable quilt that will disintegrate into the ground as the seeds embedded within it take root. Even as participants stitched together squares to create this symbol of hope, they memorialized formerly incarcerated loved ones who were recently lost. The quilt will be installed outside Logan Correctional Center in Logan County, Illinois, as a symbol of the work of prison abolition, which requires us to counter death-making institutions with life-giving efforts.

Memorials can also be biting and disruptive, and that, too, can be a source of healing for participants. As politicians and corporations push us to accept a society that does not grieve mass death, our grief and stories of the dead can function as resistance. Dirges should drown out their speeches. Pop-up memorials should force them to reconfigure their events. From guerrilla art to direct actions, such as die-ins, where people use their own bodies to memorialize the dead, our practices of grief should overwhelm normalcy’s narratives and imagery. A multilayered community memorial, for example, could draw connections between the forces causing so much death while disrupting a violent cycle of forgetting. Hundreds of memorial messages could be wheat-pasted throughout a city overnight. People could spontaneously disrupt events that erase or perpetuate deaths with poems, prayers, or songs. Acts of rebellious grief can take many shapes, but all are a rejection of mass death and an insistence on the humanity of those who have passed.

We must also create practice space for hope. Our movements cannot be echo chambers of doom. When the news cycle is depleting us or members are worn down by loss or defeat, we should acknowledge this and engage in conversations, activities, and exercises that help us reorient ourselves. Cynicism is a creeping enemy. We must actively evade it. From group dialogues to artistic exercises and direct actions, we must create space for renewal and recommitment.

Sometimes the practice of hope takes the form of mutual aid. In her essay “Dust of the Desert,” Lee Sandusky writes of grief, struggle, and mutual aid in the Sonoran Desert, where thousands of migrants have died while attempting to cross the US-Mexico border. Sandusky notes that the dead go uncounted, unidentified, and, at least half the time, ungathered. Sandusky organizes with No More Deaths, a group that provides mutual aid to border crossers, many of whom are in distress. She and her co-strugglers also go on search missions for people lost in the desert and leave jugs of water for thirsty migrants to find. “The desert landscape is littered with thousands of black jugs carried from the south and clear gallons graffitied with well wishes brought from the north,” writes Sandusky.3

Some of the jugs are slashed open by US Border Patrol agents. Some are found by people in need. By leaving jugs of water, mutual aid workers in the borderlands hold hope and grief simultaneously. Some of the jugs they scatter will alleviate suffering or even save lives, while others will become “plastic memorial stones for those who don’t make it.” But as Sandusky writes, “Border work is predicated on ending the deaths of those crossing—currently an insurmountable task—and much of the action we take is in response to grief, but also anger and hope; the three are inseparable motivations that sustain organizing and action within our community.”4

[A]ctions that help us remain whole, that prevent us from going numb, and that bring us into political communion with other people will be necessary to build a counterculture of care in this precarious era.

How does your community practice hope and grief in collectivity? Are such efforts planned intentionally? For example, has your group created any space, physical or otherwise, for people to process their hope or grief about the pandemic?

One exercise that might allow for the practice of hope and grief simultaneously could be the creation of a memorial time capsule. Members of your group could write messages, detailing what they think activists one hundred years from now should understand about the moment we are living in, and what losses were being erased. This activity might not sound subversive or hopeful, but as it assumes the existence of activists a hundred years from now, there is hope embedded in the activity’s basic premise. Even as we fear environmental catastrophe, we can prepare messages for the activists of the future—asserting their existence in order to help make it so.

This is also a time to cherish poetry, which has always played an important role in fueling hope and making space for grief in movements. Poetry, like prayer, can provide a sense of communion—a joint hope, plea, or promise projected onto the world. Our movements are rich in poems, and we should embrace their anchoring power, incorporating poetry into actions, meetings, and events, dedicated with the specificity that groups see fit. The system we are raging against erodes our compassion and confines our imaginations. In the face of such violence, poetry is a fitting weapon. We should wield it often.

Some will consider these actions insufficiently political. It’s true that memorializations alone can sometimes be politically timid. But actions that help us remain whole, that prevent us from going numb, and that bring us into political communion with other people will be necessary to build a counterculture of care in this precarious era. You choose what you bring to a vigil that you plan. Created thoughtfully, vigils can introduce radical ideas, initiate relationships, foster solidarity, and build power while also fulfilling a fundamental, unmet need.

Regardless of how we choose to grieve or cultivate hope, we know we are living in disastrous times and that we will need one another. We are wading through hell and high water, tasked with dreaming new worlds into being while the worlds we have known fall down around us. Here, on the edge of everything, the work of cultivating hope and purpose, of anchoring people to one another, is as important now as it has ever been, at any time in human history—because without those efforts, we would be lost in the dark. As James Baldwin emphasized at the close of his book Nothing Personal, “The moment we cease to hold each other, the moment we break faith with one another, the sea engulfs us and the light goes out.”5



  1. Malkia Devich-Cyril, “Grief Belongs in Social Can We Embrace It?,” In These Times, July 28, 2021, inthesetimes.com/article/freedom-grief-healing-death-liberation-movements, excerpted from adrienne maree brown, Holding Change: The Way of Emergent Strategy Facilitation and Mediation (Chico, CA: AK Press, 2021).
  2. Joanna Macy and Chris Johnstone, Active Hope: How to Face the Mess We’re in with Unexpected Resilience & Creative Power (rev. , Novato, CA: New World Library, 2022), 203.
  3. Lee Sandusky, “Dust of the Desert,” in Rebellious Mourning: The Collective Work of Grief, Cindy Milstein (Oakland, CA: AK Press, 2017), 23.
  4. , 29.
  5. Richard Avedon and James Baldwin, Nothing Personal (Cologne, Germany: Taschen, 2017), 49–50.