Astrid Montuclard has become such a dedicated and essential volunteer here at East Point Peace Academy that we were thrilled to welcome her to East Point’s “core team” in early March. In recognition of this special occasion, and to introduce you to her – if you haven’t met her already – I interviewed Astrid shortly thereafter. Our conversation delved into Astrid’s deep commitment to nonviolence, her thoughts on some of the implications of the Covid-19 crisis for future social change work, and what it takes to take care of ourselves as changemakers in a terribly complicated world.
Welcome to East Point’s core team Astrid!!
What excites you about working with East Point?
Working with East Point is my dream come true – really. I fell in love with East Point’s work in March 2018 and have been true to this calling since then, as a volunteer for the organization and an actor for peace in other spaces. I deeply, deeply believe in the power of embodied nonviolence. As a healer in training, I cannot think of a better environment to allow my vocation to flourish. Nonviolence is one piece of the puzzle, and that is the one I want to bring to the table.
I’m super excited to have this chance to work with you and Kazu leading up to the launch of the Yet-To-Be-Named Network, and in the important nonviolence and trauma healing programs East Point is doing in Bay Area prisons, as well as curriculum development for trainings, such as Fierce Vulnerability. [Check out Astrid’s blog post about her experience as a participant of the Fierce Vulnerability training here.]
I’m also hoping to become certified in Kingian Nonviolence so I can start facilitating Kingian workshops with East Point’s team of trainers.
How did you get involved in social change work?
As a little kid, I used to dream about changing the world while playing with Barbies. My dolls represented six continents and held United Nations Peace Council meetings in my bedroom with signs and crayons. I guess that was the birth of my social engagement! As a teen growing up in Tahiti, I was somewhat disconnected from wider, more complex issues but felt strongly about bringing simple practices such as recycling and electing eco-representatives in each class of my high school.
When I entered college in 2013, I temporarily moved away from advocacy and gave my focus to athletics. I was an NCAA I Cross-Country/Track Student-Athlete for the University of Iowa. I eventually left the track team – largely because I realized that running around in circles on a track wasn’t helping anyone! Some friends and I became Student Government Senators and worked on bringing funding for the university’s mental health programs while launching a mental health disorder prevention campaign on campus. Through this, I became more aware of the way money rules the game, and how politics influence the channeling of resources to or away from underserved communities.
It was when I got involved with East Point that my psyche opened up to systems thinking and wider theories of social change – and their practical aspects on the ground. After the Kingian workshop in March 2018, the resonance that I felt with nonviolence as a way of life was so strong that I could not not answer the inner calling that I felt.
What key learnings are you drawing from the coronavirus crisis? What do you think we can take from this experience to strengthen our actions in the future?
Many of us can now feel in our bodies that we might be more vulnerable to social and personal break-down than we initially thought we were. Business-as-usual and routines are powerful forces that kept us from questioning our social structures, beliefs, and daily behaviors before Covid-19. Now, these forces are dispersed, and we do not only know mentally that we are vulnerable, as we might have before, we also know it experientially. Being confronted with governmental inadequacy, interpersonal conflicts, financial shortages, and anxiety attacks is a whole new other level of understanding of our fragility. Obviously many many people have experienced these realities for a very long time, but a lot of us who haven’t been used to that level of experience are now getting a taste of it.
As a result of a heightened awareness of personal vulnerability, I am sensing that many of us are increasingly moving towards seeking for what actually works and what actually brings us ease, meaning, and balance as we aim to soften the pain of these times. Covid-19 seems to be magnifying the impact of certain dynamics that were already in place before the pandemic – and showing their harm – or benefits – clearly. No aspect is spared: lifestyle, workstyle, choice of relationship, personal health practices. I don’t know anyone who isn’t going over at least one of these aspects with a fine-tooth comb right now. Living creatures, when subjected to strain, strive to return to a natural sense of balance that feels truly good, and I think that is what is happening for many of us right now.
Because of the climate unraveling, we might be headed into long periods of social unrest and disruption of business as usual. Covid-19 is preparation for such times. Regardless of what happens in the future, sheltering-in-place is an opportunity to feel in our bodies what works and what doesn’t work – that is, what contributes to keeping us balanced and grounded, and what doesn’t. Communicating what we learn from this with our loved ones, community members, and direct-action teammates is an important way to build the care, intimacy, and trust that I believe is the glue of the world. That kind of care, intimacy, and trust is what I see East Point cultivating, and I’m so grateful to be a part of that.
How do you sustain your personal well-being while showing up for this work?
To me, well-being is highly correlated with my ability to show up within myself and in the world in an authentic, loving, centered, nonviolent, and meaningful way. My personal well-being is not only influenced by what I do for myself – it is also greatly influenced by who I interact with, where, and what I do with them – and how I relate to the whole of it. There are several things I focus on.
One of them I would call making “whole-hearted choices”. I have the privilege to be able to prioritize activities and folks that I deeply believe in and which bring me alive. When I am engaged, I encounter more energy-harvesting situations, which replenish my stocks of joy and hope, and in turn keep me healthy. My challenge, these days, is about saying “no” to opportunities that I know I would enjoy – because there are so many of them coming my way.
Learning to engage with intention in monogamous and non-monogamous romantic relationships, which healthily support everyone involved, is another thing that nurtures my ability to thrive and stay regulated. Societal stigma still plagues polyamory, but I find it to be a fascinating exploration of commitment, love, accountability, pleasure, attachment, conflict, and much more. Navigating the tough situations that come with romance and talking openly about where I’m at helps me stay connected with my true needs and aspirations, as well as my partner’s. This strengthens our capacity to cultivate authentic connections and support one another in tough moments.
Closely related to this is the work of navigating conflict. As hard as it can be – and I am certainly not perfect at it- dealing with conflicts as they arise within myself and with others allows me to feel more grounded and less in my head. As a conditioned conflict avoidant, increasing my ability to engage in conflict also increases my sense of empowerment, which then leads me to make whole-hearted choices – and reduces my stress. Practicing Mindful Nonviolent Communication with Oren Jay Sofer has been a game-changer in that way for me – highly recommended.
The last thing I’ll share is that I’m doing my best to have the various things that I do interconnected in a way that creates a sense of flow and coherence in my life. A couple of pre-shelter-in-place examples are socializing with friends at activism-related events, or practicing meditation in the street while holding climate-related signs to raise awareness. At the end of the day, living an authentic life, to me, is the best way to cultivate well-being.
Is there anything else you would like to add before we close?
Mmmm… I’ve really been resonating with the insight that “What is in the way is the way” – and I’ve been working on gaining a clearer sense of how my actions impact others, even in micro-ways. For this reason I’d love for our community members and friends to feel free to reach out with constructive feedback about how they experience me when we collaborate or share space together.
All living beings grow by receiving resources from other parts of their own organism. This is true for organizations too. I would love to facilitate information flow through our East Point organism to foster positive learning and growth, for myself and for the organization as a whole.