On Catherine Ferguson Academy and the People’s Movement Assembly

(this post is about the school closings in Detroit, particularly the effort to close Catherine Ferguson Academy, which came to national media attention after a dramatic action. my analysis includes a report back from a detroit-wide meeting last night, the action, and what to do.)

we had an intense/amazing people’s movement assembly in detroit last night. the principal of catherine ferguson academy (CFA) and others who work at CFA were in attendance, along with about 250 other members of the community.

first, i wanted to share what folks came up with last night. we laid out an education on the mayor’s “detroit works” plans, which include shutting down half the schools, firing all the teachers, closing the libraries (as elena herrada put it last night, this is “even more devastating than the school closings. That’s where people go to find jobs, and to teach themselves”), foreclosing people out of their homes in neighborhoods the city wants to use in other ways, shutting down bus service, threatening to pull police and fire houses out of neighborhoods where folks live, etc. all without meaningfully engaging the community as a source of solutions.

we then had folks break into groups to generate resolutions for action aligned with a people’s plan for Detroit. folks came back with making detroit a sanctuary city, boycotting fast food, developing a people’s media network, demanding local businesses hire local people, keeping our money in Detroit, and more.

education transformation was the largest break-out group last night. they discussed calling for a moratorium on school and library closings, and beginning to think about community-owned charters so we can pull our schools out of this cycle of being threatened with closure every other month.

on Tuesday, May 3, starting at 2pm, there will a hearing for 18 schools including Catherine Ferguson and the Day School for the Deaf (which is the only school for the deaf in Detroit). we’re asking folks to come and flood the hearing with a massive rally of support.

After Tuesday we’ll have a better sense of the status of the schools and a landscape of the fight. If you are in Detroit or MI, come through; if not, spread the word to all your MI folks.

other things to do:

sign petition to robert bobb

check out this assessment of mainstream media related to the catherine ferguson incident, from a detroit media justice perspective.

now, my big p.s….

you know I LOVE good direct action, almost as much as I hate talking about people. I deeply respect the young women of CFA who took the risk for their lives and their school.

because I think all of you are organizers, or potential organizers, and may come across similar issues in your work, I am going to share what I have learned about the group that agitated this action. i have learned this from a cross-section of organizers in the city.

for full disclosure, I share this from a space of having spent nearly 6 years under the influence of responsible movement support action work with The Ruckus Society. nothing makes me more furious than seeing a community taken advantage of when they want to take action for themselves.

bamn (by any means necessary), is a sectarian group that’s a youth arm of revolutionary workers league. they operate nationally, but are michigan based and do most damage locally.

their strategy here is to have a presence in the teacher’s union, recruit teachers with good intentions, who then agitate students with good intentions & encourage actions w/no strategy. emphasis on the no strategy – a few years ago I watched them get a bunch of 3rd graders pepper sprayed, and now this. in spite of how completely amazing and brave the young women of Catherine Ferguson Academy are in general, and were in the action, it was a mock-upation that left these young black women in the hands of the police without galvanized community support or any plan for escalation.

for bamn this action was a success – they enraged folks and got themselves in the news.

I’m not against the tactic of enraging spectacle in general, I have seen this tactic executed beautifully throughout history, but in this instance it’s counter-revolutionary.

creating a spectacle with people of color as the sacrifice and getting headlines for a minute before people’s attention turns to the next big thing while the community loses it’s school and support (deep breath) is NOT good organizing, it’s NOT an effective media strategy, and its NOT a path towards the changes needed in detroit.

what it might do is channel local and national people’s anger into shortsighted rage-based actions that bring martial law into effect. and let’s not mince words – we may have to take it to the streets in detroit and shut the city down ourselves to keep the mayor from displacing the whole community.

if you leave people no option but rage, you get a riot.

but that kind of uprising has to come from the people of detroit, not a sectarian agitation group who is making money off every step they take…

In terms of people sending bamn donations (which was the publicized action to take after the police took the girls) – bamn’s fundraising strategy is in effect – they agitate an action, send a press release w/their name on it, show up with their banners and messaging, are the press reps on site for the action, and then when shit hits the fan they become the legal representation. they make their money off of putting communities at risk through action, so they don’t need your additional funds.

i say all this because it needs to be said, not because it gives me pleasure to say it. i would love to say i think bamn can change, but through all my years of organizing, i have rarely seen a sectarian organization that could actually put the people before their own politic – and i think that is no better than putting profits before people. i say this because I believe in detroit, and don’t want to see the city manipulated when its longing to be organized and powerful.

we have a city of visionaries and changemakers. we have a people’s plan for detroit that speaks to housing, schools, libraries, water, the environment, food, safety. we are living that plan, every day. its slow going. we have internal differences like any community in the world, and bamn is a part of all of that and hopefully we will find ways to hold them accountable at the local level. we also have outsiders on all sides who think they can tell from their vantage point what we should do.

we are at war for the soul of this city. we are on the ground, shifting our resources amongst several front lines, fighting as cells towards a common goal so deeply ingrained in detroiters its hard to articulate – a people’s detroit, an actual democracy (“a form of government in which all citizens have an equal say in the decisions that affect their lives” – sound familiar?).

we are building a city that places people before profits, that lives in its own abundance, rather than barely surviving on what it can import and ship out.

i would call it a post-capitalist city. but i am one of many voices, who would all articulate it differently. i am learning a lot about movement building. i am learning so much about the glacial pace of community change – how it can move so slow, then suddenly change (completely) so fast.

so we will come out to events CFA announces, we will flood the proceedings to show how much that school means to us. we will fight for the School for the Deaf and all the rest. we fight for an educated detroit, not educated to work in someone’s factory, but educated to live, to take responsibility for our city. we will fight for the libraries, and we will keep teaching each other, feeding each other, and holding on to each other as this river of change overflows its banks.

and me? i will stop talking bout folks now and just promise to keep you posted.

we only surrender (new song for detroit)

We won’t settle
We only surrender to the
Future that waits
For us to awaken

We not afraid
Of you and your scheming
We over
That love is enough

We not afraid
Of your fear and weakness
We see
All the way
to that
Justice road

We won’t settle
We only surrender to the
Future that waits
For us to awaken

We said
We won’t be moved
But we come to move you
Open the places
Where we are the same

We said
We won’t study war
We lay down our arms
But we will
Battle forever
To save your soul

We won’t settle
We only surrender to the
Future that waits
For us to awaken

We must
Forgive each other
For that next transgression

We must
Accept each other
As our sacred lessons

We must
Believe each other
Through partial translation

My pain to your pain
Can you hear my love

We won’t settle
We only surrender to the
Future that waits
For us to awaken

“it’s not a phase, i want you to stay with me” *

here’s a vulnerable post, because i need to be that right now.

i have gone through so many phases in my life, most of them related to food. finally, finally, i am truly knee deep into a health food kick that is delighting me. i am getting actual pleasure from eating beets, sunflower sprouts, spinach, kale, brown rice…it’s happening. i long for salads now, doused in nutritional yeast dressing.

i wish i could say i just woke up one day and was like ‘mmm health food.’ but i’m 32, i have been overweight my entire adult life [it gives me stomach quivers to write that to y’all even though most of you have known me a long time and you know i’m thick/fat/thick/whatever], and not because i have been eating so healthy.

i have been thick/fat/thick/whatever because i have been surviving, processing, hiding, socialized, fetishized, objectified. because i was given the wrong messages as a little girl by people who loved me. because i found a safety and anonymity, and then power in my weight.

it’s also become a sort of prison, a source of unnecessary pain and discomfort. as i have found new ways of experiencing safety and power, i am wanting to just be deeply good to my body, and i know losing weight is a part of that.

i have tried different programs to lose weight that were both body and mind related. most fat folks are obsessed with food, and i am no different. sadly, all of the programs fed into obsession with food, tracking every single thing that went in and only eating this kind of food or that many points or something packaged and mailed or liquids or…you get it. changing the specific angle of attack perhaps, but still making my body a target of food, with every bite, step, or word a weapon. as a result i, like many thick/fat/thick/whatever women, have vacillated between wanting to kill myself and wanting to kill everyone else and just wanting some goddamn pizza.

something has shifted. i don’t yet know what it will mean for my body, and my life. i won’t take it for granted, like i have transformed foreva-eva. but since i have been vocally positive about being thick/fat/thick…fat/whatever, i wanted to be accountable about this other side of it.

i want health now.

not an obsessive calorie counting gimmick fad phase of health that is a promise at the first of each year.

i want health that doesn’t hesitate to bounce up and down stairs, get on the floor with my niece and nephew or chase them a mile down a dirt road in minnesota. i want health that tears up the dance floor, gardens, swims and looks fabulous because i feel fabulous.

i want health that makes me believe i will be alive and WANT to be alive in my 50s – past the age my grandmother was when she died too soon. And in my 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s…however long is the longest you can happily be alive by the time i am an elder. I want to want to be there. i’m a futurist – i want to see as much of it as i can before i transition to the big spaceship in the sky.

and its not gonna happen if i am die-hard committed to being thick/fat/thick/whatever. not if i am seeing my body as a political statement of defiance against the men who told me “nobody wants to marry a fat girl” and “you are too pretty to say no.”

i want health that heals those wounds and more, and i know my body is telling me every single day that where i’m at is not healthy for me, for my joints, my bones, my skin, my poor liver and kidney and stomach who have seen the dark side of my secret self.

i am not saying that fat people can’t be healthy. i know that my body and mind have not been healthy since i was at least 13.

for me, unhealth has taken on many disguises – bread, cheese, sitting down all day every day, cigarettes, alcohol, obsessive working out and dieting, binging, purging. those are the external factors.

internally there are all of these voices in constant debate over my choices, something like:

“you gonna eat that?”
“damn right i’m gonna eat that. just cause you asked.”
“you know that’s not good for you.”
“why does she get to eat it and not me?”
“you better take a lot of it. what if someone else comes and takes it from you??”
“when do you get to eat again?”
“what’s for dinner?”
“it’s breakfast. why you thinkin’ about dinner?”
“luckily you carry your weight well.”
“yeah nice face.”
“except for that one picture…”
“are you even hungry?”
“it smells delicious.”
“aren’t you full?”
“just one more bite.”

i want health that feels like peace, of mind and of body.

lately i have been noticing a shift, in my mind, and deep in my soul. not a quieting of all of those voices, not at all. but i feel like i have been doing some kind of organizing, inside my mind, of my impulses.

i have been on a high horse about my right to be thick/fat/thick/whatever and still be sexy, desirable; while simultaneously wanting everyone to see fat folks with a different level of awareness and compassion. there are lots of healthy fat folks. AND there are a lot of folks who are symbols of everything that is going awry in this country in terms of the food choices available to people. this is certainly related to my food justice work – the more i learn the grand conspiracy of processed foods, the less i want to be a pawn in that game…

but i want to step out now, from the political debates, from other people’s ideas. i have to step into something deeper than that, for me – something my body knows.

my body knows i love to swim, live to be in the water, and am happier if i am in it every day.

my body knows what to eat – if i listen i can hear the call for stuff i don’t even know the name of. i often find myself accidentally eating something healthy and then learning it’s exact healing properties are just what i need. i am falling in love with simple healthy fresh foods. not raw, for me, not yet anyway. i like warm foods living in this cold place. but i like it fresh, and local, and organic. i like knowing who grew it.

i feel a butterfly just starting to form in this cocoon i crafted for myself almost 20 years ago, when i needed safety and transformation more than i could articulate. i hope that other people who are longing for health in their lives can read this and understand that what i am sharing is observation, the process of coming into deep awareness of myself.

simply being present with my own wants, needs, and reality is awakening senses that refuse to go back to sleep. i have been sleepwalking. now – i’m either yawning or roaring, but i can’t ignore myself anymore.

* title is from weak, by SWV, which has been on my mind after a rough winter (year? years) of knee injuries and hearing this song flit through my mind “i get so weak in the knees”…i want to reclaim it, getting weak in the knees only from love for myself and others, never from neglect. that is all.

The Tao of Facilitative Leadership

I can’t stop reading this piece of the Tao Te Ching, by Lao Tzu. I’m working with the translation by Stephen Mitchell, but also found one online that is also wonderful…I feel like this might be the essence of true facilitative leadership:

Do you have the patience to wait
till your mud settles and the water is clear?
Can you remain unmoving
till the right action arises by itself?

The Master doesn’t seek fulfillment.
Not seeking, not expecting,
she is present, and can welcome all things.

Empty your mind of all thoughts.
Let your heart be at peace.
Watch the turmoil of beings,
but contemplate their return.

Each separate being in the universe
returns to the common source.
Returning to the source is serenity.

If you don’t realize the source,
you stumble in confusion and sorrow.
When you realize where you come from,
you naturally become tolerant,
disinterested, amused,
kindhearted as a grandmother,
dignified as a king.
Immersed in the wonder of the Tao,
you can deal with whatever life brings you,
and when death comes, you are ready.

When the Master governs, the people
are hardly aware that he exists.
Next best is a leader who is loved.
Next, one who is feared.
The worst is one who is despised.

If you don’t trust the people,
you make them untrustworthy.

The Master doesn’t talk, he acts.
When his work is done,
the people say, “Amazing:
we did it, all by ourselves!”

Organizing Trick: Stop, Drop and Roll

(just unearthed this from a journal amidst songs and poems i am transferring to my hard drive. thought y’all would get a kick out of it…)

if something is off – in your team/organization, your plan/strategy, your integrity, your message?


don’t keep going on a path that is flagging itself in your awareness.


breath, connect, be more vulnerable, call everyone into seriousness (the post-bullshit zone), review your guiding principles, get your collective selves to a deeper level of consciousness before moving on.


find the right path forward, and it will open up before you like a red carpet, a parted sea, a birth canal, a snowball down a hill.

years ago my boys Biko, Khari and Dave would flame each other up – “you on fire!” – when something was off.

don’t sit there on fire.

stop, drop down to the miracle that keeps you in this work, and roll forward with gravity.

absentee blogger, casual poet

i know i haven’t written much of late. i go through periods where i am living too fast or too deeply for this space, no offense…lately it’s been a combination of both. traveling and healing and being sick and being around babies and looking my future in the face and wondering who i am anymore and remembering and rooting down deeper into my commitments to myself, to Detroit, to my life.

i have been thinking mostly in poems for a bit now, so i have been posting poems here. for those of you who want something else, come back another time, i’m sure i’ll be back to prose in no time.

here are some poems from my 10-poem day last week.



if i should be
so intoxicated with love
so flattened out
sunlit on your petal
if i should stumble with the headiness
of being in the path
of your smile

if i should fall silent
slurred by the dark musk of that grand intimacy
tilt forward with my
fill of magic
batted at you
lean too close
into the sub-terrain of your neck’s curve

forgive me my love

i have been out seeking home
and here you lay, hearth

i suck that sweet liqueur off your lip
losing the myth of difference
down through a million verdant layers
sap, drizzle
you are the scale of ocean and sun

nothing parchment can bind or separate
such a pure thing
i didn’t even know to long
for such a love

(inspired by an elder’s story)

i went to the grove again
the softest place
away from the lights
that illuminate my bones
for your clumsy artist’s touch

i go where the roots fall all over each other
no one seeking depth
just eternal company

when you have brought blades against me
smiling and pressing
through year after year,

when you couldn’t love the master in me
the goddess
the all powerful in me
the sweet warrior,

i would scrub your dishes
your floors
i would sweep away your messes
bathe your children
and your feet
take your words wrapped in cloth
to unravel over the small fire
the ritual i offered
to the trees
whom i held
and wept into
getting the love
i needed


i see another continent in you
i see the plains covered with a people’s prayer for grain
under a rug of synthetic lawns
a Sahara
with your own band of Bedouins

i see an old man atop a horse
at full gallop
after a terrified buffalo, so alive

i see deep breadths of space
great walls and ridges
i see abundance in you
in sunkissed roads
that all lead to moonrise
and harvest

i have blood in your soil now
i can’t ignore your total desire

i see rivers opening up and down your thighs
as you continue to never say no
at least
not to mean it

someone has you
under his calloused thumb
to think you are some foreign land
something different
from the world

but my love
i see in you that same dust
distracted by stars and myths of tomorrow
i see you clustered up
fenced up
hemmed up and penned up
longing for yourself
in another
faith held in the potential
of your eldest lover
his greed
bruised fingers and nightshade
all over your sumptuous flesh

you still believe it
someday he will love
without breaking

i see a whole woman in you
operatic landscapes conducted by god
fjord’d, tundra’d, scraped and blasted away
but unashamed
to let the sun fill your hunger

i see your dinosaur years
when the steps were heavy
but not so deep

i see your human years
such laughter and violation

i see your healing cycles
all alone,
and frigid

i see you always changing
dropping off into forever
rising up as if you mean to fight

my love
don’t you know yet
who you are?

i see you whole
no borders, no walls
the beauty under your armor
the abundance
that comes through your suffering

i see another continent in you
i see the taut skin that begs for drumbeats
held on every side
by her arms

i see you offering up your roots
opened up
the salt and dirt
the hatred of self
the vulnerable cities
huddled together
terrified you might survive
but be alone

end the tantrum now my love
you are vast
you are only
you are beloved
you are powerful enough
you have enough
a million times over

the desert is full of life
that is all that you are

and yes
even now
the devastating one
are loved
without condition

love is an emergent process

i stand before my love
and let the tendrils unfurl
in every direction
i am whole
and becoming

time is one instance
examining itself
seeing each other
and blushing
into eternity

i am the ant
who carries grandfather to the grave
in my palms
you lift the next day’s meal
enough for everyone we know
we in rhythm
leaving home
and returning
on the wind

love can’t look away from itself
vibrating in the cell
fluttering breathless
into sustained migration

i feel you
like dust feels water
and remembers
the home galaxy

it appears nothing is new
never was
and nothing is truly massive
when seen in its wholeness

until i took this breath
repeating the miracle
i didn’t know i would say it
could not have known…

i look to the sky
taste the wind on my tongue
and fling myself
into the pattern

when i forget –
when i think the end is near
i realize my insignificance
as important as yours
and begin
to love


i never sleep while i’m flying
it’s still such a new knowledge
i don’t yet trust myself to the sky
to the constant wind

i feel the rhythms of my comrades
that intimate biology
as we crest on a change
lean in
and drop

we’re going to that unknown place
and we all feel her calling

i never sleep while i’m flying
i’m still pressed up against the window
telling myself
it’s a breathless height

i feel the sweet
hush hush hush
let my fingers run that cloud length
then this one
an eternity of curvings

we defy the heart of the world
teasing back against her pull
held aloft
by imagining we can fly
when we are falling

community supported activism: the new CSA

this brilliant invitation just in from my sister Autumn Brown, so inspiring that i just have to repost it here and encourage you all to support her (she’s the one holding my niece, below):

“Want to support health justice and get a gorgeous handmade journal? Here is your golden opportunity:

This year, I am trying something new, different, and unprecedented in my own work! You have heard of Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) – where families pay a monthly fee to a farmer, who then provides them with fresh food for the duration of the growing season – but have you heard of Community Supported Activism?

This year, I have the privilege of serving as the Rock Dove Collective’s representative on the National Coordination Team for the Health and Healing Justice Track at the Allied Media Conference, which takes place in Detroit on June 23-26, 2011. This means that I will be working with two other incredible organizers, Adele Nieves and Anjali Taneja, to create and facilitate a process at the conference where healers, health workers, and health justice organizers can gather, share strategies, and learn from each other. We will also be organizing a healing practice space at the conference, so that attendees in need of care can have access to what they need.

As you can imagine, this is a big job and it will take a lot of time and careful planning. Most of you know that the Rock Dove Collective is a no-budget organization, meaning that we do not raise money for our work unless absolutely necessary. In order to engage in this national process, we have determined as a collective that raising funds for my position is a necessity. But we want to raise this money in a way that represents our values and our firm belief that the resources we need to heal each other and to heal ourselves can be found within ourselves and within our communities.

So I am asking you to become a part of a new kind of CSA, where you donate money to make it possible for me to do this critical work. Read on for details of how this works, and why it works!

How do you donate and how much can you give?

My goal is to raise enough money to pay myself a monthly stipend of $600 for the work of national organizing from February-June. How much you donate is up to you, and any amount is appreciated. You can donate a small amount monthly ($5-10), or you can make a one-time donation of any size.

* You can send money to me online using Paypal by clicking here
* You can send a check to me directly. Ask me for my mailing address!
* You can make a tax deductible donation – ask me how!

What will I do with the money?

My work as a national coordinator involves organizing the national health and healing justice community to propose sessions that fit with the vision of the track, reviewing and selecting session proposals for the conference, managing the logistics of the healing practice space, and coordinating fundraising efforts across the country to get presenters and organizers to the conference, with a strong emphasis on making it possible for people of color, young people, elders, queer and genderqueer people, and low-income people to attend.

What do you get in return?

Everyone who makes a donation will be added to my donor-list, and you will receive monthly updates on the progress the National Coordination Team is making in our work on the track. You will also be the recipient of a video blog at the end of June, made by yours truly, that gives you a taste of what people experienced in the Health and Healing Justice Track.

For people who make a donation of $50 or more, you will receive a unique, hand-made book, which I make using paper that is locally constructed from sustainably-harvested Minnesota grass as well as other locally sourced materials! Or I can bake you some cookies.

What is the Allied Media Conference?

The Allied Media Conference, held every summer in Detroit, unites the worlds of media and communications, technology, education and social justice. From this unique intersection, some of the most innovative community organizing models emerge each year. The AMC cultivates strategies for a more just and creative world. We come together to share tools and tactics for transforming our communities through media-based organizing.

The Allied Media Conference is the only conference I have ever attended where I felt that we were truly building the world we wished to see in that space. It is a visionary gathering, and it is organized in a truly participatory way!

What is the Health and Healing Justice Track?

The theme of the track is Health is Dignity, Dignity is Resistance. Our vision is to build a national movement for healing justice by answering two important questions: 1) How do we utilize and decentralize all forms of media so as to build a post-capitalist health care system here and now? 2) How do we imbue our social justice movements with a healing framework that frontlines conversations about race and racism, bodies and connectedness, and alternative resourcing?

Who are you and Why should you donate?

You are community organizers and community developers, artists and media makers, faith leaders and community leaders, healers and health workers, educators and mediators, facilitators and union workers, anarchists, libertarians, democrats, and green-workers – you are people who have touched me and who have in some way been a part of my work. You are someone who shares my vision for a better, more just world, and shares my hope that we can and are creating it NOW. You should donate because participating in alternative models for resourcing the work of changing the world is EXACTLY what it takes to change the world!!

Thank you so much for always supporting my work. And thank you in advance for any financial contribution you can make to this project, which is so dear to my heart, and which is so critical to the movement.”

raising tomorrow

Pt 1

I wish I didn’t have to ask
I wish you believed
Wanted it as deeply as I do

The longing for that
other way
Throbs in me
Pulses and quakes
Moves me

Don’t you feel it?
Don’t make me carry it all
And you too
Don’t you feel it?

Are you sleeping?
When I’m so tired
Are you sleeping
on my chest, in my arms
When I’m so tired?

Pt 2

in everything
You have enough

What is extra
We will put into our new world
Where there will be a room for you
And your enough
And anything more that you need
And nothing that will empty you
Of yourself

‘we will live
And not die’
We won’t sit in the death
Of false love
We won’t sit in the death
Of greed’s dream

We wake up
We choose to wake up
That is our power

We only have a lifetime
An entire lifetime
That is our power

that new world

Who you gonna build that new world with
The pain of it, of letting go
Of holding the future for moments
Then dropping back into
The steel cages
The proper ways to be in
Capitalism, whatever you call it

Your family suffers through all your dreaming
Loving you
And at peace in the darkness
Something akin to faith
Can also keep you going

But you, spoiled
Have glimpsed something immense
Knowing about it
Threatens to break your mortal heart
The world where it is
It all is, that loving living place
Where you belong,
And nothing, nothing belongs
In any way, to any one

You have tasted that freedom
Of being present without attachment
The rich dark place
Of different kinds of love
All true, all whole

Now, it is theory
For the few from now
You’d like to be with then
Your sacred hoard
Your grand familia
Your deepest laughter
Your sweetest day

And who you gonna build that future with

The intimate stranger
Who may give you everything
Except your joy?

Or the heavy stones
Who make you grieve and truly smile
Trying to lift them
As they cling with both hands
To the farthest shore