Audrey Verma & Heather McKnight
This project was supported by a CHASE Climate Justice Network Small Grant
In early 2021, climate change activist Disha Ravi was arrested for alleged involvement in an online social justice toolkit. Solidarity for Ravi poured in from across the world, her arrest highlighting how states are increasingly desperate to suppress social and environmental protest, and the clear dangers of Big Tech complicit in the erosion of rights to organise and dissent. But her arrest also showed the radical potentiality of virtual organising across borders and the potency of online activism, moving the needle past dismissive ‘slacktivist’ narratives to show how offline and online are intertwined in critical ways within many current social movements.
While digital tools are now widely and routinely used for activism, however, resources have tended to focus on the dangers of online activism, recommending mitigation in the form of individual precaution and self-care. There has been less reflection on the collective care-based implications of online activism for social and environmental justice campaigners and activists, and this was the starting point for our carekit.
Self-care is vital, particularly the powerful black queer feminist self-care heritage of Audre Lorde, for whom “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.” Such radical care is profoundly necessary and a powerful means of liberation and reclamation. But there is a need now to redress the balance of self-care narratives that have been problematically co-opted for neo-liberal ends, in ways that commodify care and individualise responsibility for taking care. At the same time as such versions of care have proliferated, the lack of collective care structures and communal provision has become painfully apparent .
In the digital carekit, we understand activism in terms elegantly articulated by the Care Collective in their manifesto, as “a form of caring in a careless world, as hope in hopeless conditions and a way to recognise our interdependencies with each other within the social and natural worlds we inhabit” . We thus centre intersectional, environmental and collective considerations of care, moving away from ‘care-washing’ approaches that isolate responses to pressures encoded in online spaces. We recognise too the fraught connections of technology and nature, that the tools of activism are compromised ethically and environmentally. But we remain hopeful about the possibilities of a reclaimed digital commons – not least as the carekit was a remote, cross-border collaboration from start to finish, enabled by online facilities such as RiseUp.
The carekit covers aspects of collective digital care for campaigners over the journey of standing up for a cause, from forming online communities, maintaining these spaces, keeping them safe and celebrating these communities. We highlight, from the outset and throughout, the importance of strategically modelling mutually supportive, generous and collaborative ways of organising online, to resist replicating the discrimination, exploitation and exclusions already rampant in digital spaces. We also suggest that practices of shared learning and working together through the messiness of online activism is key to the collective process, since “We do not get there from here by ignoring all of the mud in-between those positions”. Cross-pollination drawing on the connective possibilities of the digital, e.g., reaching out to experienced allies for advice, should be firm parts of the communities of care we build and the pedagoges of activism we develop.
Our carekit is ultimately not just intended as a resource. It is not definitive, being instead a starting point for thinking about how we care for ourselves and each other as activist communities online. More than this even, the carekit is a call to all who care and continue to plug away. Ethical failure appears to be a given in online activism, but the possibilities should not be dismissed. Alternatives have to be imagined and enacted urgently. The stakes are high; we must critically reclaim the digital as our common space now, not least through online resistance practices based on mutual care .
The carekit may be viewed and downloaded here:
The carekit has been written collaboratively by Dr Audrey Verma and Dr Heather McKnight, and illustrated by Griselda Gabriele.
Physical copies of the carekit are also available. Please get in touch to request these. We also welcome feedback, discussion and compliments!
 Audre Lorde, A Burst of Light: And Other Essays (Later Edition, Dover Publications Inc 2017).
 The Care Collective, Care Manifesto: The Politics of Interdependence (Verso Books 2020).
 The Care Collective
 Audre Lorde
 Verma, Audrey, Heather, McKnight & Griselda Gabriele (2021) Digital Carekit: Developing Activist Communities of Care Online.