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Burnout and renewal of the Decolonising Geography project

It is difficult to describe what we have witnessed in the Palestinian territories, including Gaza and the West Bank, over the last eight months. The loss of life and destruction of landscape caused by Israel’s military campaign is painful to observe. Our solidarity with the Palestinian people is more important than ever to resist the normalisation of colonial violence. During this same period, the Decolonising Geography collective has faced significant challenges, including emotional and physical burnout, amidst severe underfunding in UK schools and broader austerity impacts. This blog post explains our recent work and reaffirms our commitment to the decolonising geography project.

The last year has been draining emotionally, physically and intellectually. Working in a context of massive under-funding of UK schools, as well as in contexts where cuts to local councils have hugely eroded supportive services for child, youth and adult mental health and well-being care, has been hugely challenging. The wider impacts of austerity and economic crisis mean that many of the children in our schools, their families and friends, and our communities, are all struggling just to get by. The social and economic crisis of our times has had dire educational implications, and no political party is facing up to the seriousness of this.

We’ve been doing what we can to contest this situation. Over the last year, we’ve invested significant time and energy in our trade unions. We’ve organised workplace and MAT-wide meetings, organised and stood on our own picket lines, attended branch and district meetings and attended, spoken at and helped organise for strike rallies. We’ve made solidarity visits to the picket lines of other striking workers and in some cases thrown ourselves into the work of locally-centred trades councils. In our schools, we’ve tried to oppose racism and class prejudice, whether it be in the curriculum, in classrooms or in behaviour policies and systems. We’ve given what we can to winning the fight for better pay, funding and working conditions.

In spite of the efforts of teachers to organise against it, the combined crises of under-funding, overwork and reduced teacher autonomy have taken their toll. Additional workload pressures from OFSTED inspections too have had negative impacts on teachers health and wellbeing. Teaching is experiencing an unprecedented recruitment and retention crisis. We’re losing excellent colleagues from our profession, and the burden on those that remain is ever-increasing. Support staff, too, are leaving in droves as a consequence of the appallingly low salaries and huge workloads they face. This is devastating for the education of young people, which depends upon whole-school systems of care that require support staff being able to feed themselves and their families and live a good life. Again, no political party is taking this situation seriously.

This is perhaps all to simply state the obvious: our working conditions have become more demanding at the same time as our activist energies have been drawn towards campaigns around pay, funding and workload. Our collective activist energies have become depleted, and have been put under pressure as they’ve been spread across diffuse projects and organising efforts. In short, Decolonising Geography as a project has been suffering the effects of professional and activist burnout.

And then there has been Palestine. The unfolding genocide of the Palestinian people and theft of their land has been a trauma that we’ve been wrestling with internally but finding it difficult to articulate publicly through our projects. In part this is because many of us have been organising and participating in the remarkable solidarity demonstrations, both the national demos in London but also countless weekly - and in some cases more frequent - small scale protests in our towns, cities and communities, as well as working in our schools to ensure the educational response to this crisis befits its seriousness and works towards the reduction of violence.

We abhor violence against all civilians, Palestinian, Israeli or any other, and we want to see hostages and political prisoners held in Palestine and in Israel released. Ours is a political and intellectual project committed to reducing violence and building an ethic of care. The violence of settler colonialism continues to afflict us all, and forces us to recognise and reaffirm the global geographies of solidarity embedded in the chant “In our thousands, in our millions, we are all Palestinians”.

We commit to doing more intellectual and educational work on the question of Palestine, as well as remaining in the streets on solidarity demos as long as is necessary. We hope also to recommence occasional publishing of both resources and articles on our website, and we will continue to commit our activist energies to the struggles outlined above. We apologise to all those we have not communicated with effectively during our prolonged burnout phase, and we will begin the work of trying to rebuild bridges and make good on our failings. We make no promises for where our project will take us next, but we will be doing what we can to reinvigorate Decolonising Geography as a project once more.

Our regroupment and attempt to re-energise the Decolonising Geography project began with a Decolonising Geography gathering in March 2024. This event, our first self-organised in person event, was a major undertaking and an important moment. Here we reflected, we organised, and we began to rebuild. We hope you’ll join us in solidarity.

Please see new resource: Environmental Warfare in Gaza