Why The Icarus Project Needs To Decolonize, And What We’re Doing About It (Part 1)

Share +


By Daniela Capistrano, National Organizer

The Icarus Project is a support network and media project by and for people who experience the world in ways that are often diagnosed as mental illness. We advance social justice by fostering mutual aid practices that reconnect healing and collective liberation. We transform ourselves through transforming the world around us.

I was hired by The Icarus Project collective members in December of 2014 to support the support network by advising on and participating in the next wave of The Icarus Project’s developing national organizing strategy and organizational development.

What is the support network? It's the 15 local chapters and affinity groups that make up the Icarus Project in the US and worldwide, who provide peer support through face to face meetings and events, as well as online engagement. The support network also consists of folks who help The Icarus Project collective with big picture/strategic thinking, as well as friends of the organization who share their ideas, resources and mentorship.

So, what does "decolonizing" have to do with The Icarus Project's sustainability? Everything.

The Icarus Project may have been co-founded by two white folks and supported by founding members who were mostly white, but their intention was never to exclude anyone based on skin color, gender, class or any other quality. However, without any consistent systems of mentorship, accountability or formal intervention processes in place —or any people dedicated to coordinating these processes in collaboration with local groups—that is what happened: people were excluded, silenced and abused.

The Icarus Project originally followed a Food Not Bombs model of organizing; anyone could start a group and call it an Icarus Project local chapter, which resulted in both incredibly positive outcomes as well as problematic models of organizing that reinforced misogyny, racism, classism, transphobia and other forms of oppression due to lack of consistent mentorship, no formal accountability or intervention processes and volunteer turnover.

The Icarus Project local chapters have supported thousands of people over the last twelve years, but many women and trans folks, POC and other marginalized individuals ended up leaving local Icarus groups after feeling abused, silenced or devalued. We also know that others stopped engaging on The Icarus Project Internet forums after going through interactions that left them feeling like the only voices that mattered in the TIP community were those from white “manarchists.”

It is clear to the collective and many long-time supporters that TIP needs to decolonize. What does "decolonize" mean in the context of a grassroots radical mental health nonprofit?

The Icarus Project needs an organizational and cultural shift that will center the voices of Indigenous, Black, People of Color, Disabled, LGBTQ and other folks from marginalized communities within The Icarus Project. By doing this strategically over time, we can all work together to sustain true accessibility and safety for all people who attend local Icarus meetings and events, as well as effectively collaborate on initiatives that support collective liberation.

In early December of 2014, I began a process of speaking directly with local organizers, reading and following threads on The Icarus Project forums, and responding to feedback on Facebook and Twitter. My goal was to evaluate how systems of oppression on the individual and collective level were tangibly keeping The Icarus Project from furthering its own mission.

The proposal I shared with TIP collective members shortly after being hired was to create a process and timeline for TIP to decolonize - inside and out. This means different stages of healing and growth for TIP collective members/Icarus National, the emerging advisory board and all TIP volunteers, including but not limited to:

1) Evaluation & Discussion

2) Individual/Local Chapter Work Plans

3) Defining & Implementing Systems of Accountability & Intervention

4) Training & Resource Capacity Building

5) Developing & Implementing Shared Resources (physical and digital)

The decolonizing process isn’t going to happen overnight, or even be completed in 2015. Decolonizing is an open ended journey, and decolonizing an organization from the inside out takes years. It's a commitment to life-long evaluation, improvement, education and healing.

To decolonize The Icarus Project from the inside out means a commitment from all participants to make TIP a truly accessible and safe resource for all. More than just giving lip service to diversity and inclusion, decolonizing means starting the revolution inside of yourself and at home; doing the work and being courageous about being accountable for how we all contribute to systems of oppression in various ways.

Parts 2 and 3 of this statement will unpack specific points made in this first announcement, and we look forward to your feedback on this first statement as we compile an FAQ that we can share with the community.

We will also devote a post specifically to further defining decolonization and examples of its application within other organizations.

Collective liberation isn't truly possible without decolonizing, and we're looking forward to continuing this conversation with you as we share our progress.

Email Daniela Capistrano your questions and comments: nationalorganizer@theicarusproject.net


Image credit: Mohammed Fayaz