Corporations Ain’t People: An Interview with Adrienne Maree Brown by Dani McClain

This conversation is a compilation of talks and emails between two writer-activists. We welcome other voices in the conversation – we decided to share this because we want answers and dialogue in our communities about this issue. There are more questions than answers here, but they feel like crucial questions.

Dani: You’ve been thinking a lot about corporate personhood and your belief, as you put it, that “the threat is the control of the new world by corporations, who are ‘people’ and have rights.” I want to understand the full implications of what happened a year ago (1/21/10) when the Supreme Court issued it’s Citizens United ruling — a decision that unlimited corporate dollars are allowed to influence political campaigns and that money = speech and so is protected by the First Amendment.

Adrienne: Me too! Though I can’t shake the suspicion that the ruling was just formalizing the way things already are. Dick “Halliburton” Cheney is a great example of what a myth it is that corporations and our government are necessarily two separate bodies. Maybe it wouldn’t bother me so much if the language was more honest – “corporate democracy,” or “corporate governance.” But, corporate personhood seems incredibly dangerous and unjustifiable.

Dani: I also want to get better acquainted with the 14th amendment. I’m just learning that corporations have always turned to the 14th amendment (which I’ve always thought of broadly as the amendment that gave formerly enslaved people rights as citizens) to make claims that they have rights on which the government can’t trample.

Adrienne (jaw drops): See, this is why I avoid the news. I adamantly feel like it’s useless to engage in the news cycle unless there’s something I can do. I don’t want to live a reactionary life – our movements spend so much time trying to become overnight experts on the latest scandal or tension, whatever corporate media has decided to focus our attention on. But this is the kind of news that makes me feel like things are happening that deeply impact my future, and even though I am a informed, political person, I am out the loop.

In terms of the ruling, when it happened it wasn’t a surprise. Capitalism is all about individuals competing to amass more than they need (profit) at the expense of humankind and the earth, and corporations are the institutions for that shady behavior*. This feels like a major advance on our rights, one of those foundational rulings that will ultimately reframe politics, from food justice to environmental struggles to joblessness. But how can I approach it in a creative, impactful way?

Dani: I’m glad you bring up your desire to be on the offense rather than reactive. You and I have talked a lot about the importance of giving people a vision that ultimately moves them beyond whatever paradigm the status quo (e.g., the greedy, the exclusionary) set up. Do you think the answer to fighting corporate personhood is passing a constitutional amendment to reverse Citizens United? Or is it some psychospiritual or human development response that’s outside the realm of policy, legal battles and lobbying in a traditional sense? Instead of looking at the Supreme Court ruling as some “evil” thing that we should mobilize against, do you see it as just another challenge pushing us to evolve and see the issues through a new lens?

Adrienne: I absolutely see this as a place to practice both/and strategies, with more energy in the realm of developing viable alternatives. Actions speak louder than words, no matter how constitutional the words are, so the majority of our actions should be visionary – building the world we want to see. But there are a lot of people who feel it is irresponsible to not hold the line against the advances of corporate power, and I hear that. I just don’t think a constitutional amendment matters that much if most of the people in the country don’t understand what’s going on. There’s such an imbalance of corporate vs. community influence in our government at this point, so it feels like we need a cultural campaign that really highlights for people the potential benefits of elevating human/earth rights in their own lives, and ways to challenge this corporatization of government, of society. People forget that they matter, that their voices should be what’s represented in decisions around their lives.

Dani: But is it possible that democracy has run its course? Between this ruling, the influence corporations have long had on our news media, and the fairly recent practice of threatening filibuster in the Senate to force legislation into a dead end, I’m starting to wonder. What next steps do we need to take to make people feel like they have a role in governance?

Adrienne: Provocative…I believe that corporate democracy is going to destroy the human race and planet, and if it won’t die through global financial crisis then we have to evolve past it. But this is the crux of the issue – democracy is supposed to be government by the people. There’s a reasonable argument to be made that we have never actually practiced democracy in the US – we’ve always had a representative version here, where the decisions are truly made by
an “informed”/elite body, not by the people.

Grace Boggs always talks about how this is a society where the masses have primarily been seen as a labor force for the elite bodies of this nation, through both agricultural and industrial eras. The people have not been engaged and educated to truly be interested, active participants in the governance of the nation. Now corporations are a new electoral college – they have unlimited capacity to influence elections. “The people” have every reason to feel less and less engaged.

Dani: I wonder whether that’s the case. It’s easy to think that one reason more people aren’t up in arms over the growing influence of corporate power is that they don’t yet see it as a problem. They’re not educated to be engaged, as you suggest. But a few weeks after the Supreme Court issued its ruling, an ABC-Washington Post poll showed that 80% of those surveyed opposed (and 65% strongly opposed) the Citizens United decision. So people are aware and concerned. What can we do with that awareness? How can we harness and direct it?

Adrienne: Something I learned at Ruckus is that awareness isn’t enough. We have to connect people’s awareness to their behaviors, to their own lives and choices and the struggles they experience. We have to move people past the inertia of their fear or sense of powerlessness by uplifting the viable alternative. There are so many people who are interested in the process of actual government by the people, but their relationship to it is that of a consumer, watching and reading about what is happening without feeling empowered to engage. The root of that potential power is education. Democracy relies upon education appropriate to the cultural make-up of the country, education that yields a population who can participate in governance, education that grows the capacity of people to thrive.

Dani: I know you find a lot of inspiration in science fiction and that you look to that genre to help generate new thinking around solutions. What would Octavia Butler say about the way corporate power is growing? What solutions would she write into a novel in which people who had for generations gained citizenship by virtue of their humanity and place of birth are slowly edged out of citizenship because they lack access to money?

Adrienne: Oh, she foresaw this. In the Parables she knew this was coming and warned us, in her way. Her solution was to rethink our purpose as human beings, and change how we live – even if that means leaving what we perceive as safety. Part of why we held the Octavia Butler Symposium at the Allied Media Conference** last year was to explore how we connect ideas like hers to how we are living and organizing in the world. I feel like she did a powerful job, for instance, of challenging the idea that our future lies in the struggle to act as a nation, when our destiny might actually be something much more global, or universal. In her stories, our way to evolve is to leave behind the right-wing politics and struggles of earth and go to space. And that truly makes me pause – is corporate personhood even something to address through national organizing? Are we thinking too small? Look at how much energy we spend now demanding humane policies and programs in a country that still defaults towards borders, prisons, segregation and poverty.

Dani: It’s interesting that a year after the Supreme Court confirmed an interpretation of citizenship that’s broad enough to include corporations, right-wing forces are attempting to narrow its interpretation to exclude natural born citizens who are the children of undocumented immigrants. This is a real fight that’s heating up now, with the new Republican chair of the judiciary committee launching hearings to figure out how Congress can strip the children of some immigrants of their citizenship. So in that context, you raise a really provocative question: Does fighting to retain certain rights as US citizens open us up to the same criticisms that segments of the LGBT movement have faced because of their focus on gaining access to institutions like the military and marriage? Are we fighting our way into retrograde, static spaces? Are there more meaningful battles we should be waging? Or are these questions naive and offensive in the face of people’s immediate needs?

Adrienne: I tend to believe that struggles for human rights – or living rights which would include people, animals and the planet – are more important and foundational than struggles for national rights, aka citizen privileges. To me there is behavior that we need to root more deeply than national pride, more than something that can be given to you (or taken from you) based on where you are born. Human is what we ARE, our rights are what we grant to each other on the basis of being born, anywhere, period. These national struggles to have equal access to the institutions of the ruling class don’t seem to demand that we evolve our own behavior and beliefs.

But I am also aware that I’m always resistant to getting deeply involved in nearly impossible struggles. Corporations can never truly experience the violations of human rights that they inflict on the world…there’s very little accountability. When shamed, they just rebrand. How do we fight that?

Dani: The widespread public concern regarding the Citizens United ruling — like the groundswell of opposition to the bank bailout — seems like a clear opportunity to join forces with members of the Tea Party and stand against corporate interests. Should that be a priority? And why are the Republicans so good at convincing (mostly white) people without wealth that their interests are aligned with the wealthiest Americans?

Adrienne: Ah the Tea Party…these questions posed together are great, getting to the root flaw in us/them thinking. The Tea Party does seem to consist mostly of folks not so different from those on our side – poor to lower middle class, community oriented, even interested in decentralized organizing models (I heard they call The Starfish and the Spider their bible). This is why we must battle ideas and not people. If we start our organizing from the mindset that irresponsible corporations claiming the rights of individuals is bad for all people, we are allowed to see that those are our people – all people are our people. What separates us is ideas, not race, not class (which both grew from ideas into a tangible experience we must call reality), but ideas. Finding the ideas we can align around opens up the space to really evolve beyond a partisan population, only half of whom are voting anyway, where we’re all getting taken advantage of by the same people.

Dani: You’ve mentioned the connection between the corporate personhood debate and the fight for net neutrality. Could you say more about that?

Adrienne: Yeah that connection occurred to me as I’m learning about the Detroit Digital Justice Coalition. They believe “communication is a fundamental human right”, which got me thinking about where that right is being challenged. The internet is what the town hall or town square used to be – a place to discuss policy and politics and to develop and shape a shared governance and a common culture. It’s multidirectional and open, unlike previous forms of news. The net neutrality debate is ultimately about whether individuals have the right to communicate with each other or not, and whether we have equal access to practice that right. It’s appalling that our government would allow corporations – as corporate persons – to control (or have majority influence over) not only our policies through their unchecked lobbying and political contributions, but also control over who has access to communicate. These plans of fees to access certain sites, monopolies between the largest of those sites/businesses, and profit driving the development of the internet, its just the new colonization.

Fortunately there are warriors in that battle – folks building open source tools, meshed wireless networks that liberate internet access – folks showing us that the internet is another ground of the commons, an unlimited space we can approach with an outlook of abundance that actually isn’t possible when we look at land and the earth’s resources. If we can maintain access long enough, it’s possible that we can carve out a space beyond the reach of corporations. And there are folks fighting corporate personhood, I support their work even as I dig in deeper here in Detroit trying to see what I can build.

Dani: Our conversations remind me to imagine what I’d like our world to look like, rather than focusing solely on which established victories we can’t afford to see chipped away. That’s where my day-to-day focus is — not losing ground. So thanks for drawing me back to the big picture. It helps give meaning and context to the small steps.

I’ve been reading a book called The Warmth of Other Suns, a narrative history of the Great Migration, and in some ways it’s reinforcing this idea that you promote: That people’s experiences are much bigger than what policy dictates, and that true self-determination lies in this awareness.

I’ve often thought of the Civil Rights Act (CRA) and the Voting Rights Act (VRA) as mid-20th century legislation that confirmed and gave teeth to the 14th and 15th amendments. And I’ve thought of the CRA and VRA as providing the necessary path for black Americans to live with dignity and full citizenship. But reading the book has made me realize that even before that landmark legislation passed, black people were determined to find a way to live safely and with as much freedom as possible in their country of origin. And if that meant they needed to leave places where Jim Crow was the law of the land and brave some unknown frontier, they often did so. As early as the period following WWI, they did it. They didn’t wait on civil rights legislation or the movement organizers who made the CRA and VRA possible, they voted with their feet and went north or west.

The connection, for me, is the importance of a do-it-yourself, or DIY, culture. The thread through so much of what I hear you say is that a focus on policy and lobbying — convincing people who control the levers of power to do the right thing — is not enough. And that even when those tactics achieve a desired goal, they don’t fundamentally change people’s sense of what’s possible or their ability to think beyond the established terms of debate.

Adrienne: I feel like this exchange is helping me understand why the work I am doing with food justice, digital justice and birth justice needs to be as creative and communal as possible, strengthening non-corporate networks to be resilient in any possible future. We who don’t have resources or run institutions are continuously pit against each other, played against each other, Cains and Ables forgetting we are brothers and equals and our very existence is divine. This circles me back around to the power of relationship. We have to build relationships to build communities strong enough to evolve past these omnipotent institutions.

* A shout-out to socially responsible corporations, who are, to varying degrees, providing an alternative to the traditional profits-over-people dynamic.

** Full disclosure: both Dani and Adrienne are on the board of Allied Media Projects.

Adrienne Maree Brown is an organizational healer, pleasure activist, facilitator, singer, doula-in-training and artist living in Detroit. She co-facilitates the Detroit Food Justice Task Force.

Dani McClain is a writer living in Oakland. She is on the campaigns team at The opinions expressed here are her own.

we will survive!

many of you may have caught on to this by now, but i am obsessed with survival skills. part of why i went to be a part of ruckus was because of the time we spend out camping.

it’s not easy for me to indulge this obsession – i came of age in nyc and developed a whole different set of survival instincts. also, i have bougie tendencies, i recognize it, and so does anyone who was with me on those ruckus camping experiences. but living off the land/going back to nature appeals to my post-apocalyptic revolutionary self, and i am slowly accumulating skills.


i read lots of science fiction, i live in detroit which feels as rural as it does urban most of the time, and i pay attention when i am around folks who could teach me something important, like how to start a fire, or how to compost in the city (even through the winter, which i just did), or how babies can be safely birthed without meds or hospitals, or how to dig a toilet.

so imagine my joy this past weekend when i went to spend a day with detroit summer at a cottage far off the beaten path outside the city, and there was no water! no toilet flushing water, no hand washing water, no dishwashing water. what to do? we had 10 youth in the cottage on the lake, which was totally frozen over (folks – not us – were driving on it later that night), we were surrounded by snow and the heat was working.

once we determined that we weren’t going to turn around and head home, we started thinking of creative solutions. within an hour we had come up with a system for managing the toilet – melting snow on the stove-top and using it to flush the toilet, not putting paper in the toilet unless it was a more significant contribution, and encouraging those who felt comfortable with it to actually go to the bathroom outside.

a neighbor, in the meantime, helped us to isolate the section of pipe that had frozen, and showed us how setting up a light bulb next to it would eventually resolve the issue. he also legitimized our strategy: “well, we got lots of snow – that’s how they used to do it!”

i was incredibly satisfied each time i flushed the toilet with melted snow water, and somewhat disappointed when the pipe was finally unfrozen and the water came back on. it wasn’t until later that i became aware of just how sparked i was by the challenge of applying survival skills in a way the youth could experience.

it also wasn’t until later that i realized how funny i must have looked, mixing my snow on the stove, self-assured that we would survive.

go ahead, laugh now.

i feel pretty!

i feel pretty!!

anyone who knows me well knows that this is not my default feeling. like many women i know, i process the feedback i receive from the world through the many filters of my own socialization. as a thick woman, as a woman of color, as a woman who doesn’t often wear make-up or heels, as a queer woman, as a woman who feels most at home with super short hair, as a woman who wears glasses, etc – i am an acquired taste.

i don’t generally feel ugly, but i don’t expect to stop people on the street.

but the other night my friend tunde had me get all made up and dressed up in a gorgeous costume – his team was SaRyne on make-up/hair and Christine on costume – for his sci-fi fantasy film. he’s the lead singer of stereoluxx so over-the-top awesome is his daily wear.

sweet SaRyne worked on my make-up for an hour and a half, creating a work of art of my face, especially my eyes. she was so intent as she added a layer, tweaked and tweezed and painted. i was calm through it, just trusting the process to work out well, no expectations other than having fun.

well maybe i expected to look dramatic.

but when she was done, and i looked in a mirror, i immediately heard the song start in my head, from west side story…”see that pretty girl in that mirror there! who could that attractive girl be?”

i was overcome by this foreign, interesting emotion. a love for my face, my eyes, my lips, my physical embodiment on this earth. i saw myself in a way that i have not seen myself in years – maybe ever. not perfect, not like a movie star, but just me. and pretty, at the same time! she didn’t turn my face into something else, or hide me – she turned up the volume on my face.

and i have to smile, because it’s been such a long journey to this place. and it may or may not stay. and because people take for granted that thick sisters with big laughs have confidence that we may or may not have, forgetting that everyone deserves to feel pretty sometimes – not just smart, or funny, or “awesome”.

and it wasn’t the make-up, ultimately, because i am still feeling it, in sweatpants and just waking up, days later.

pretty. like this:

the thing i want to be best at is love…

Today I had several powerful conversations, interactions and realizations.

A friend reported back to me that a line I had tweeted, “the thing I want to be best at is love”, had become a foundational part of a memorial she gave for her grandmother a day later.

My grandmother* has been on my mind because a great-aunt just passed, my grandmother’s sister, another link to my mostly unknown lineage.

When my friend told me her story, we had a moment of remembrance and tears for our dead grandmothers, both of whom were best at love, who shaped us – with what they gave us in real life and the stories they sparked in others’ mouths after their lives. The gift of having a grandmother whose legacy is love, “this life story of being a lover”, is immeasurable.

Sometimes people cry with longing, sometimes with relief, sometimes with hormones. Sometimes they don’t know the difference.

Having love as a core ambition shifts what I consider success to look like. Instead of racing towards something in the future, I simple have to drop more deeply, with more awareness, into what I can offer now.

There is enough time for me to do all I want and need to do, I can stop wasting time on worry.

When we make leadership health and wholeness a more interdependent and mutually supportive experience, we are extending the lives and energy of our leader-workers, and thus the resilience of our community.

A friend’s dream indicates that there is a body of new leaders out there who have not yet even begun to flex their transformative power.

Network building is simply another form of weaving.

Professional polyamory might be the way of the future. I am no longer convinced there is one penultimate calling, “the one” profession for life. It is becoming apparent that one life-long monogamous partner is not necessarily the only or healthiest or most common experience of love…maybe the same is true of work. There might not be just one calling or profession best suited to us any longer. If we stay present, we may find we have many gifts to be brought many places, only visible when it’s the right time.

While it is still hard to present my work to people these days, because I draw from such a non-linear toolbox, people are willing to hire me because of how focused I am on love.

A friend reminded me that in Ursula LeGuin’s The Dispossessed there is one word that means both work and play.

One of my longest held dreams, to be able to dedicate a portion of the year to just writing, is within reach.

It is most likely important to document our thoughts and our dreams right now, understanding that that which seems prophetic might be worth writing down.

* when i search my grandmother’s name, every article that comes up is about an amazing activist i worked with at ruckus. i was willing for us to do work with this activist on faith because i took the fact that the leader had my grandmother’s name as a sign. that was a major piece of the ruckus transformation…from which i can only conclude that my grandmother is with me, reminding me to love.

**reading Fractal Mode, Book 2 of The Mode Series

may you keep your hope in a place that’s safe

i have a hard time with this holiday. celebrating the vision of this man who was assassinated for bringing his beautiful dream to us all. celebrating this vision in a world where most of us reject beloved community every day. this day can make me feel cynical sometimes, about how we like the idea but we are so challenged at living up to our own dreams.

the part of myself that dreams and stays hopeful sometimes feels battered by the hypocrisy of symbolic days and/or months of honoring people who we seem to work against in our own actions…i am disappointed in myself, in us as the generations who say we are picking up his dream, still stuck in our own militaristic and imperialistic daily practices.

but, “there can be no deep disappointment where there is not deep love.”

what shakes me out of this martin melancholy is returning to his words – his shifts, his changes, his patience. he reminds me to keep my hope, keep a deeper faith in a safe place, a faith beyond what i can or will see, a faith that let’s me be a part of humanity, instead of my hopeless individual self.

so here are some of my favorite of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s words:

Have we not come to such an impasse in the modern world that we must love our enemies – or else? The chain reaction of evil – hate begetting hate, wars producing more wars – must be broken, or else we shall be plunged into the dark abyss of annihilation.

I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.

Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into friend.

A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual doom.

If physical death is the price that I must pay to free my white brothers and sisters from a permanent death of the spirit, then nothing can be more redemptive.

It is incontestable and deplorable that Negroes have committed crimes; but they are derivative crimes. They are born of the greater crimes of the white society.

A riot is at bottom the language of the unheard.

The limitation of riots, moral questions aside, is that they cannot win and their participants know it. Hence, rioting is not revolutionary but reactionary because it invites defeat. It involves an emotional catharsis, but it must be followed by a sense of futility.

All progress is precarious, and the solution of one problem brings us face to face with another problem.

An individual has not started living until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity.

Means we use must be as pure as the ends we seek.

Philanthropy is commendable, but it must not cause the philanthropist to overlook the circumstances of economic injustice which make philanthropy necessary.

At the center of non-violence stands the principle of love.

Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.

Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?’

The question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be… The nation and the world are in dire need of creative extremists.

We must use time creatively.

Recovery (from Nichola Torbett)

Got this in my inbox from Nichola Torbett with the Seminary of the Street and felt it was a great way to examine personal need for transformation. Check it out:

Could you benefit from Recovery from the Dominant Culture?

The only requirement for membership in the Recovery from the Dominant Culture (RDC) fellowship is a desire to be more fully alive. If you are wondering whether you could benefit from attending our meetings, these questions may help you decide.

1. Do you find yourself doing and saying things that do not reflect your deepest values or your highest vision for the world?
2. Do you sometimes wonder if this is all there is to life, or struggle with meaninglessness or despair?
3. Do you worry frequently about money or about the future?
4. Do you worry about what others are thinking of you?
5. Do you compare yourself to others?
6. Do you find it hard to take care of or love yourself?
7. Do you have “secrets” and feel as if you have to hide your failures, mistakes, and vulnerabilities?
8. Do you have trouble speaking up when injustice happens?
9. Do you overextend yourself and become exhausted?
10. Do you have difficulty identifying, trusting, or expressing your feelings?
11. Do you find yourself trying to control people or situations?
12. Are you constantly angry, or do you have trouble expressing anger at all?
13. Do you often make decisions based on what will please, appease, or satisfy others rather than on what would be good for you?
14. Do you crave approval or praise from others and fear criticism?
15. Do you find yourself competing with others for power, status, or credit?
16. Do you worry about whether you have been productive enough?
17. Have you had trouble with compulsive use of food, alcohol, drugs, television, the Internet, sex, or work, or do you tend toward obsessive relationships?
18. Do you have trouble with intimate relationships?
19. Do you become obsessed with perfection?
20. Do you have trouble giving love, receiving love, or both?

If you have answered “yes” to any of these questions, you may benefit from Recovery from the Dominant Culture.

staying warm

as the freezing sideways snow continues to attack both air and ground outside, boggling my mind with the reality, once again, that each snowflake is totally individually unique, it seems a good time to catalog what i have learned in my 2 detroit winters about staying warm.

here i mean staying warm as opposed to looking warm, trying to stay warm, or staying cute.

from the inside out, documenting my staying warm strategy:

– drink lots of water. i can’t prove it, but i suspect that when you get dehydrated your skins cracks and then the cold slips in through those cracks into your bones. cold weather is dry, and at the very least, your miserable cold cracked skin is painful and awful. so drink tons of water.

– eat heartily. this is not time to have your body fighting for fuel. it takes additional energy to just walk in this kind of weather, much less walk, stay warm, dig out your car, get up after you slip on ice, etc. soothe and sustain your body with soups, breads, good fats. since you are stuck inside for long periods, cooking can diversify the time.

hot water bottles. my friend kat reminded me of the miracle that is a good hot water bottle. fill it with hot water and it radiates heat – into your body, throughout your bed, onto your pillow. it is much safer than electric heating pads or blankets and the one i have stays warm all night. you can reheat the water inside by pouring it into a pot and getting it hot again, so it’s sustainable as well.

– space heaters [electric or fireplace!]: find a reasonable level you can keep your house at all the time, and then use space heaters wisely to adjust as needed, rather than going for tropical wonderland in every room. in our house the kitchen stays warm cause i stay cooking in it. at my sister’s home they use a woodburning stove and add a few logs when they need more heat. rustic. or not. i am on a journey to perfect this strategy.

– plastic the windows! this conserves the heat you are putting in the house, and blocks the wind which is nearly buffeting down the walls, theoretically. while i have not done this, i have the kit and the ladder and the intention. i can see the difference it makes in other people’s homes and am (shame) trying to see if there is an aesthetically pleasing way to do it. (unshame)

– lotion. see water. lotion is what you do to moisturize the outside of your body and help the water with an inside/outside moisturizing approach. i am loving lavender and honeysuckle shea butters from the pure shea store near eastern market in Detroit.

– underwear. you have to change how you think of underwear. you need some panty-draws like usual [if you usually wear them…if you don’t, no judgment], some long underwear (top and bottom). this is not the place to buy the crap from a big box store that falls apart immediately. this is the time to go to an outdoors-people type store and ask what they use in the arctic.

– wool socks. you want your socks to play an active role in keeping your feet warm (if i sound a little militant there remember my roots)! a couple of great pairs will do, you can layer normal socks closest to your feet under them. you should have a good pair of wool indoor socks too – the kind with the piece of leather sewn to the bottom that work like inside boots? yes those.

– legwarmers. not for style, chunky wool legwarmers that can be a layer of protection for ankles and most exposed part of leg. woven armor. i just got a fantastic hand knit pair from my girl megan in oakland!

– waterproof warm boots. muckboots, Frye boots, snowboots – invest in comfortable boots that protect your feet. this generally means avoiding lace-up boots which can leak, cheap material boots which will get holes around the base, anything NOT a boot, and anything with a heel on it, even if it’s masquerading as a winter boot.

– clothing that layers well. staying warm also means being able to unlayer and adjust your outfit when you are indoors. if you are too hot while indoors and get sweaty, that will lead to a colder outdoor experience. but you don’t want to strip down to layers that leave you cold indoors either. long-sleeves! i am particularly a fan lately of the middle layer – you want something between your coat and your outfit that you can add/subtract based on the indoor temperature – while mostly sweater, this can also be a large well-placed scarf.

– coat/hat/gloves: puffy, fluffy, easy to get on and off. between your coat and your hat you want to make sure that your entire hairline, ears and chin can be protected. lately i have also been looking for options to cover my whole face. the gloves need to really cover the wrists, and i recommend putting them on before coat to leave no opening between the two. also make sure you can move your fingers in case of an accident. and then fur (faux preferred by most people I know unless you can find responsible fur…) is a great sign of warmth which is why all other winter mammals are covered in it. we got stiffed on that one, so faux-up!

– non-caffeinated tea or hot chocolate, early and often. you can hold it between your hands while drinking it as a warmth-strategy (without hyping yourself up past the point of sleep with coffee). soup is also fantastic in this way, especially in a mug. you can blow on it and it heats up the air and blows it back!

– shared struggle. i don’t know why, but connecting with other humans out in that cold, even smiling, going so far as that “it’s so cold in the D, right?” laugh…it makes you feel connected on a deeper level.

– realizing you are so lucky. because you are – if you have all the default privileges on which my plan relies: a home, a bed, a warm place to be, people who are looking out for you, something warm to eat, something warm to drink, and can choose to have warmth? no complaining. you are lucky, and you should be as generous as you can in making that kind of warmth a normal experience for everyone.

a reaping

today i join the rest of the country in sadness and shock hearing about the assassination attempt on gabrielle giffords, and the deaths of bystanders, including a 9-year-old child.

9 years.

i’ve watched in silence as everyone grasps for where to lay blame. on a crazy man, acting alone? someone mentally ill enough to open up machine gunfire on a crowd of people in front of a supermarket? the violence of military service which breaks young minds? the careless radical right media which have been working up such a violent frenzy across this nation? sarah palin and her maps of targets in the crosshairs and predatory language?

i am overwhelmed with a desire to take up all these people in some massive hands, with some massive love, and tell them there is another way. i long to take them away from this awful…reaping.

but perhaps there is no escape from these seeds of hate that have been sown, no way out and no way back. no bystander innocent enough.

there’s only a path forward. we must not let hate become our way of operating, at least not a hatred of people. it is the ideas that are so abhorrent, and we must understand how these ideas can come to have a grip over people in such similar struggles.

and on the off-chance that palin, and glenn beck, and other leaders who have been calling for violence against those who express political difference in this country have any sense of how their words are manifesting into such a horrific reality, on the off-chance that they care: they must step up, they must say, authentically, over and over again until everyone can hear it and believe it, that this is not what they meant.

because this is not what they mean, is it? surely this is not how to claim some ideological victory…

my sister offered this poem on her newsletter:

“Here is a poem, from It by Inger Christensen. It was shown to me by a man I love dearly, and I think it is strangely befitting the times.


When the insane roll in the dust
when they hug a plastic amoeba close

to them sing the praises of the culture
when they pick up the toppled statues

and bear them together in procession
single broken fragments or whole skeletons

when they lift the frozen canopies
from the Pentagon the Kremlin the world

and raise them high over the finest statue
of the president speaker general

and write the one word love
in the middle of his gleaming forehead

then love is probably compromised
but power is transformed”

cosmic permission

“today was a good day…”

today i got a fellowship that i am really excited about, negotiated two contracts that i am really excited about – one local and one national, got excited about a possible way to spend a chunk of summer with my babies, and caught up with an old friend who is doing really well in a way that has been deeply earned.

the themes throughout the day were – when you know what you really love, and you begin to do that

(saying it out loud,
applying for jobs or school or other opportunities related to what you love,
taking classes in it,
praying about it,
lighting candles for it to come,
saying no to things that are NOT it,
and so on)

it’s like you are unshuttering your dream house, letting light and air come into it, making a place you can truly live in.

i am beginning to understand the link between happiness and success more experientially. when i do what i love, i am happy and curious and can work very hard in a way that doesn’t feel like work, but like living and contributing in ways that are needed. that happiness is interpreted in the world as a confidence which makes more people want to bring me into their work.

i have also been reflecting on why so many people i know are putting off their happiness, don’t feel they deserve to just do what they love, right now.

there is a strength in commitment, and in patience. but stop waiting for some external factor to give you cosmic permission to be happy, for life to happen to you. as far as i can see, in my own life and the lives of those i love, the happier you are, the more resilient you are, and the more the universe is a learning ground – not a game to lose but a creation to participate in.

so on the off chance that you aren’t doing what you love, what are you waiting for?

the water’s fine.

the hour for making

do you have a special time when you are at your most creative?

i have tried and tried to set my creative hour during the daytime, but no matter what i do, i find that it’s not til the sun goes down that the world is quiet enough for me to really get into my creative process.

for 2011 i am in a process of opening and learning and questioning.

the last phase of my life was in many ways defined by trying to know more than i could possibly know, in part because i was a young executive director, in part because it’s hard to make the distinction between facilitation and leadership and often in my effort to support transformation through facilitation, i would find myself in a position of leadership. it didn’t fall on me, i took it on…but when i think about shifts i want to make in my life, a major one is learning to hold the boundaries of facilitation more carefully, and explore what facilitative leadership and collective leadership really means.

this is challenging for an introvert virgo with a wild side, but i am committed.

one part of this practice is continuously putting myself in situations where i know, and everyone else around me knows, i am not an expert.

a second part of this practice is approaching the world with curiosity and questions and an eagerness to learn – rather than my default judgments and criticisms. it’s so much easier for me to make time to critique than to create, but i know when i make the choice to create it is more powerful than any old tired critiques.

part three is getting my house in order. i do this often, and it always liberates my mind from clutter. little improvements – getting the bookshelf i needed, the butter dish, rearranging things to be more instinctual – release my mind from obstacles and worry.

and the fourth part is what has me up so late: creating. tamara warren said, as many other wise writers have said, write every day. so i am writing, or creating art, every day. nothing i create fits into the hour i set aside for it, the creation time stretches for hours and i have to make way for it, move my reasoning self out of the way so a story can really emerge from me.

and then i feel awake, and alive, and unfinished – like there is a reason for all that i feel and think.

what is your hour for making?