The Power of Psychedelic Communities, Through the Lens of an Activist POTC
A Person of TechnoColor (POTC) is a person of color who brings their unique lens and diversity of experience to psychedelic spaces and exploration.
Darker than average skin color from my Indian immigrant parents placed me firmly outside an invisible border because my schools were almost exclusively populated by kids with Euro American ancestry. In small northern towns without any African American people, I was called the N-word.
In 1981, just before we arrived in Mobile, Alabama, an African American teenager was murdered at random by KKK members, an incident often called “the last lynching,” near my father’s new workplace. For details on the courageous, historic battle fought by the mother of murdered Michael Donald, read “The 1981 Lynching that Bankrupted an Alabama KKK,” by Erin Blakemore on History.com.
A year after we moved in, our babysitter let her boyfriend’s buddies come rampage in our home. While my little brother and I hid in my bedroom they vandalized and salted our front lawn with racist epithets.
The open dislike many of our neighbors expressed toward my family eased after an African American family moved in and took their attention, so we felt relieved. Sadly, at that time and in my experience, being the subject of racist discrimination and outright attacks did not result in solidarity amongst people of color.
My understanding of the world was as the powerful Euro American majority described it. I felt doomed to be isolated and disrespected because of my skin. To work through my self-hatred, at nine years old I made the idea that I would be strong enough never to need other people into a mantra I repeated endlessly.
After my father was killed in a car accident with a white man who had been drinking and speeding (police decided no one was at fault), we moved to Sacramento, California and the racism we experienced went from overt to mostly hidden.
True, my mother has had multiple encounters while grocery shopping with people telling her “You don’t belong here!” and “Go back to wherever you came from!” (swear words removed), but in California people mostly pretend or believe they aren’t racist.
My most scarring experiences have always been the shunning and othering by peers and friends rather than friends. Now as an adult I never know, but often wonder, if people are responding to or ignoring me from a place of unconscious bias.
One advantage of my childhood for which I’m very grateful is that I am comfortable being an outsider who questions institutions and cultural norms. Never really being accepted makes it easier to move against the mainstream.
In college, psychedelic experiences – and the people who shared them with me – cut through the cultural programming and I established a habit of examining and evaluating structures both within and outside myself.
My personal moral code gained definition and power over societal norms, and gradually, through great intentional effort and good luck finding amazing teachers, I’ve gained courage to express myself and expect to be seen. Not that I believe I am seen very often, but I try to remember that it is their problem not mine. Self-reliance is key.
Psychedelics have been an important tool for me through this lifelong process, and I’ve learned that communities that develop around shared psychedelic experiences offer the most advanced laboratories for social change.
My personal experience as an active member of psychedelic communities is a sampling of groups across six U.S. cities, organized around varied shared interests, some of which have been thriving for decades. I’ve learned about many others from events such as Gathering of the Tribes conferences in the early 2000’s, psychedelic conferences, festival workshops, and simply through my deep curiosity about alternative culture and community organization.
Among the most radical and exciting experiments for me personally are new healing groups that only welcome people of color, where members feel more safe to be vulnerable in their expression. Ifetayo Harvey’s talk “Why People of Color Intentional Healing Spaces Are Necessary,” given at the Women’s Visionary Congress 2019 about the People of Color Psychedelic Collective, is illuminating on this subject. People of TechnoColor is another such group, founded by Emma Sanchez, that is planning its first weekend retreat (postponed by the pandemic.)
I have observed that the concept that all life is interconnected becomes viscerally apparent to most people when they shift their consciousness with psychedelics, giving rise to values and practices that oppose causing the suffering of any being. Psychedelic trips make the trappings and institutions of human culture seem flimsy and transparent while nature and living beings become more vivid and important. Experiencing these phenomena in community with others naturally supports the development of structures that align with these values, and usually results in nourishing strong bonds within the group.
In my experience, underground psychedelic communities, which have spontaneously organized all over the planet, strive to uphold values of equality, respect, and compassion for all beings, and have innovated for resilience. The ethos of non-violence is a defining characteristic of these groups no matter what special interest originally drew them together, and they share a strong current of civil rights activism.
I believe that in this time of instability, which predicts increasing chaotic disruptions of our life support systems, people have the best opportunity to propagate these values and re-order societies of every size. In chaos lies opportunity. One can create desired changes by holding their values close and assessing conditions as they shift.
Experience navigating unpredictable, disorienting spaces, and questioning authority rather than seeking its shelter, are important qualifications for those who would shape chaotic, turbulent systems. Members of psychedelic communities can offer cognitive and material resources like these to support the global revolution:
- Solidarity through empathy that bypasses cultural divides
- Openness to change from within using courageous introspection and self-awareness
- Outsider mentality which allows people to see and analyze oppressive regimes, systems, and propaganda
- Progressive shared leadership structures that are less hierarchical and better at democratic, collective governance
- Members with privilege who can leverage their advantages to further the movement
- Large networks of open-hearted people with a tendency to cohere into extended groups with shared affinities
I call on every person reading Lucid News to double the effort they’ve devoted to changing the world. What unique resources and solutions do you have to offer?
Main image: Stand with Black Youth protest and march from Berkeley High School, June 9, 2020 Photo Credit: Colin Murphy