Strategic Science Fiction Reader Caucus with a Splash of Transformative Justice (notes, Allied Media Conference 2011)

I got to be a part of this team, which included Leah, Jenna and Alexis. We started by geeking out, and brainstorming all of our favorite radical science fiction materials and creators.

Here’s the list of works/creators, followed by the full collective notes from the session (taken on a collective notepad!)

writer Iain Banks, (The Culture Series)
writer Octavia Butler
writer Samuel R Delaney (esp Dhalgren)
writer Nalo Hopkinson (Midnight Robbers)
writer Daniel Heath Justice
writer Madeleine L’Engle (esp Wrinkle in Time series)
writer Ursula Le Guin (esp Four Ways to Forgiveness, The Dispossessed, The Left Hand of Darkness, story The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas)
writer China Mieville (esp Un Lun Dun)
singer Janelle Monae (all albums)
writer Joanna Russ
writer James Tiptree Jr’s short stories

Doc & Fluff, Pat Califia
The Stories of Your Lives and Others, Ted Chang
Black Wine, Candas Jane Dorsey
Who Fears Death, Nnedi Okorafor
Woman on the Edge of Time, Marge Piercy
Fuzzy Nation, by writer John Scalzi
Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, by Rebecca Skloot
A Door Into Ocean, Joan Slonczewski
Truth or Dare, Starhawk
Anarchist Farm
Battlestar Galactica
Firefly (tv series) + Serendipity (the movie)
Avatar: The Last Airbender

session notes:

– Presenter Intros
– Why Sci-Fi Reader Workshop?
– Octavia Butler Strategic Reader
– Presenting three science fiction texts with transformative justice threads.
– Fishbowl on transformative justice in science fiction

Presenter intros

Adrienne: Sci-fi geek, co-editor of Octavia’s Brood anthology
Jenna: Sci-fi nerd from Philly, working on sci-fi comic book
Leah: Watched Battlestar Galactica 17 times, likes using sci-fi to explore creating a
world without violence
Alexis: Engaged in project to amplify queer black brilliance across generations, haunted by Octavia Butler

Why are we having sci-fi workshop here?

– Vision is important
– Sci-fi is all about imaging world as different, social change is oriented around same premise
– It’s fun and makes me happy
– If we can play out dystopias, we can play out utopias
– Sci-fi stories change how we think about the world
– gives us opportunities to try out the worlds we want to live in
– Fun and dynamic and better than reading theory
– Gives us the opportunity to talk about issues we normally couldn’t (if you make the person purple or green you can suddenly talk about race)


The Octavia Butler Strategic Reader

Developing this reader started last year and was the jump off for our scifi track this year. We discussed radical genius science fiction writer Octavia Butler – What implications does her
work have for our work today?

(Adrienne + Alexis) introduced strategic reader, created through series of fishbowl conversations about Octavia Butler’s work and why it has been so transformative for us as political beings.

What came up was not so much this answer or that answer, but these are the questions and emotions that arise. Person who has thought about the apocalypse and brought us into an emotional run through.

Then we broke up into groups and discussed individual works. We didn’t cover all books.

We asked what kind of questions do we want to raise before walking into an Octavia butler book so we can get a lot out of it?

Looked at overarching themes in Octavia’s work as a whole. For each series, there’s talk about themes, how we related it to our world, additional questions that would be useful to a reading group.

If you have edits or feedback, we can make changes, this is not a published work.

For almost all folks in the room last year, Octavia’s books gave people survival strategies or meaningful contributions to their work.

–> Could we put it online as a wiki? [yes. hot. on the AMP site hopefully]

What is a strategic reader? We don’t know! We’re making it up. Not like cliff notes.

So, it’s something that isn’t like cliff notes but…the way we’re told be to strategic comes from a status quo that we don’t agree with — “manipulate and outfox your foe” — in Octavia, opening your mind, opening your power, being present, being part of a whole — those are strategies but not the kind of strategies we come across in organizing work.

We tried to write the reader in accessible language, especially for younger folks, to make sure it doesn’t fly over their heads.

How many other books and authors and series are out there that are affecting how we think about things?

Another thing that makes a strategic reader is that it changes the way that we think, lets us read in a way that changes our thinking. There are sacred texts that can transform our communities…what makes it possible to be a strategic reader is a political belief about the
power of reading.

Last year people were very open and naked — not concerned about getting it just right. Speak it from your heart and that’s what we want to put out as strategy. What touches us is what we need as strategy. (not too cosmic, right?)

What are the things that most touch us, because that is what transforms us.


Presenting three science fiction texts with transformative justice threads.

This is when we jump into talking. There are so many texts that revision the way justice works. We want to start by talking about three, and then pull more into the room.

Women on the Edge of Time (by Marge Piercy), with Leah:

As an abuse survivor i read a lot of feminist sci-fi to escape my reality and informed my political reality. Part of my work with a group called Generation 5 was how do we end childhood abuse in 5 generations — that’s sci-fi right there. We had these documents, if a generation is 25 years — how do we change conditions so that in 100 years everyone knows how to intervene if they see signs of a young person being abused?

We had study group that was dry, i wanted to explore feminist utopian texts.

Women on the Edge of time by Marge Piercy – this is a visionary novel. Working class, feminist
queer writer.

The main character is a Latina who is incarcerated, has visions of good future society. She’s not actually experiencing alternate consciousness/craziness, but is actually contacted by a good future society — capitalism is over, everyone is in a small village, some interesting
things around birthing — not just assigned to uteruses. everybody is queer, they have basically broken connections between genetics and race. lots of interesting stuff that happens in this book. I would live there, it’s awesome.

learned a lot of her working class feminism. I stole her books — doesn’t have sterilized feminist 101 politics. Sometimes she gets really real.

Looks at justice system: no police. We don’t want to have the infrastructure to support that. Because everything is small scale, so everyone is trained to intervene. Anyone could be randomly picked and would be the coordinator of your region for a year. In terms of the
justice system, in this world, there is no scarcity. If someone hits someone, we ask if they intended to do it? If they say no, they are “sick” and they address the emotional reasons why they did it. Otherwise, everyone gets together — and ask what needs to be done for reparations? It could be taking sheep somewhere high or going to a remote space station — but not locked up. And afterwards they are considered to be healed — for real second chance.

The really interesting thing about this future is the question about what if you rape or murder a second time. They execute people. They don’t want to have prisons or people repeatedly raping or hurting someone. At first I thought that was kind of fucked up, but this isn’t
a non-violent future, it’s very real. They also got their world through armed struggle. I’ll hold some of my thoughts about that, it does bring in a question about that there’s a spectrum of what rape and consensuality is. And they don’t talk about the details of what execution looks like.

The Fifth Sacred Thing (by Starhawk), with Jenna

(movie coming out soon, weird! check out the blog)

The year is 2525, I forget the word they use, but it’s been 20 years since the big change has happened. There is a total war zone a total horror – not enough water, and water is used to hold over people’s heads, there’s not enough food, etc.

Then there’s this other zone, a feminst utopia, queer and mixed race. in this place the earth is sacred, people have enough to eat, everybody loves each other. (It’s complicated in that “no one sees race anymore”.)

The way healing happens is interesting — trance work that Starhawk bases on some scientific research – healers are not just doctors – cell – what’s a cell — blood cell — the healers presence is able to go into this cell and move disease from here to there – every way of
imagining agriculture, healing, science is infused with trance. There are work guilds that are important – your work guild can change but its site of community for everybody. It’s also how people are held accountable.

The gardeners guild is present, teachers guild, … different parts of the community. Before they start the circle they sing. “no one goes hungry, no one lacks shelter. There is sickness but all have care…we have guarded our waters well .. all the gifts of the earth are
there …”

I’m going to read a few sections — it’s like San Francisco…

A character named bird from the south…Madrone a character, a healer in the north makes a journey to the south. As a reader you go back and forth between the north and the south. No one leaves the north – why would you? through Madrone’s eyes you learn how bad and how scary things are (in the south). … She meets a resistance group of southern christian white ladies. The first thing they ask Madrone is what you do in the case of rape and child abuse – (she is surprised they don’t ask her about her 11 lovers or the trance healing they do)… in this book sexual assault is described as something only can be done by men …

so in this book she’s talking about shame. “first everyone would talk to his friends and lovers … who are shocked at his behavior …there’s a long haul process for transformation .. maybe he goes off to live with the wild boar people. They are exiled .. they hunt wild boars, –they smell really bad, Once you are banished to south you cannot go back, clear moment of exile
reminded that you’re in the south – what if you won’t go, do you have police? “as we get older we learn peace keeping … ‘but if someone has a gun?’ then he might be killed…'”

It’s a thick book with a lot of detail, which makes space for the discussion of nitty gritty like how spokes councils work, conflict resolution works. Like Woman On the Edge of TIme, having the juxtaposition of [positive] and [negative] makes the discussion of the
utopia more powerful.

The book Truth Or Dare I consider to be Starhawk’s manual for writing this book.


is there any sort of race, how does this work in the book?
– race is only invisible in the north part, in the south people are very racist. In the south it’s really white and racist. There are demarcations, mapped out.

San Francisco is the site of the utopia and LA is the south?
– communications are down and people don’t know what’s happening in Japan or elsewhere. A lot of disasters. Part of the creepiness of north and south characters meeting is that
there is no other way for them to know what is going on.

Midnight Robber, (by Nalo Hopkinson) with Alexis

We started with Octavia Butler, she focused on trying to get other black women writers to write science fiction

Hopkinson is in some way a great continuation of Butlers work, but in some ways represents the same sort of tokenism. She is Trinidadian and uses those cultural themes in her work.

Midnight Robber, her second novel, addresses transformative justice.

Planet called Toussant, place called carnival, so carnival is how people live. When people cause harm they are sent, one way, to another dimension – to a place called New Halfway Tree, like exile into the universe, one way trip, no way back, helps to imagine a sort of diaspora, there is no coming back.

In Halfway Tree the things that are mythological, in Toussant are real and on the ground. in New Halfway Tree, dreams and nightmares are real, raising questions of where the stories really started.

Tan Tan, main heroine, her father is exiled, and he takes her with him so they are not separated. In New Halfway Tree they have created a sort of utopian, survivalist society, based on all of them being exiled. Her father begins to sexually assault her in this society. She moves to live with beings that are tree like, she become exiled from her community.

Midnight Robber is a character in carnival who uses language in a way that turns language upside down to disrupt power structure, symbolizes what is happening to tan tan and how she has to embody the Midnight Robber and find a way to tell the community what life is, and what it means.

For a survivor of sexual violence, the book raises questions of how can we be realistic about the stories we tell each other about what life means, and how they inform how we navigate life when abuse happens, and where the stories and mythology come from.


Fishbowl on Transformative Justice in Science Fiction:

Start having fishbowl conversation: a few people are having a conversation in the room, once someone has spoken someone else can come in and tap them on the shoulder to take their place and participate in the conversation.

Talk about these texts and other texts we know of — what are best strategies for transformative justice in the sci-fi we know of? We want to lift up questions — it’s OK to say
when I read this book, it makes me think about this — or what’s up with this?

Going to make strategic readers from the notes from this conversation.

What is transformative justice?

There are a lot of arguments about what it means. Basically idea is — right now the system we live in is punitive justice. You steal something, you go to jail.

Restorative justice (some people say) alternative idea — oh harm happens we need
to return conditions back to how it was before the harm happened. But in capitalism if i stole your radio I was broke before and broke afterward, so we need to address the conditions that brought rise to the harm.

In transformative justice we have to transform the world, so maybe if I stole your radio, I’ll give it back but we need to make sure everyone that has a radio.

What are some of the strategies in these texts around transformative justice that works, what are some of the questions that they raise?

– The only book that I have read is midnight robber, but it was a long time ago, want to bring up another book, Adore into Ocean, Joan sancheski? Such a hippy dippy book I feel embarssed to like it. Moon: waterworld gilled purple people nonviolent lesbian women, over terrible
partiarchal capitalist world. A boy who goes to live on this moon. The planet is trying to colonize world to take resources. non-violent resistance on moon. thinking about how they deal with harm. they all get together to talk someone does something wrong gets sent into
exile. also keeps a check on themselves. my name is neville — but when I come of age i take on a name that embodies my worst quality. so every time i introduce myself i am reminded, and others know. Bernice, not native to the moon, everyone suspects her of having alliances with her old people, takes on the name Nice the Deceiver, and then is renamed Nice the Traitor. Everyone is totally good but everyone has these names that embody the worst in them. Their language — kind of like the dispossessed — they don’t use possessives,
instead of saying i will teach you, they say ‘lets share knowledge’. not ‘he killed her’ but ‘we shared death’. the soldiers who kill them are also taking the death into them.

Represencing the question: thinking about these texts and others, what are transformative strategies or questions you’ve seen that you want to uplift?

– lingering question: something especially in first two novels, both talked about peaceful society, but were still preparing citizens for taking care of themselves, is that militarization in a time of peace? when we all have the capacity to be violent, how do we remain peaceful? Might apply to a lot of our cultures nowadays.
– When I read starhawk when i was 15 and isolated, I responded to it differently. I remember a specific time when a soldier is prepared not to enact violence, but to take on violence, so starhawk tries to embody non violent resistance, instead of violence.
– I guess I’m just not talking nonviolent resistence in scifi — madeline engel the wrinkle in time almost every time resistance is brought up it’s about joy and really being emotionally present (like butler). reread that series two years ago and really struck me.
– thing that i struggle with particularly with starhawk is in terms of transformative justice that white supremacy is so embedded in the text and also in writers that i actually can’t get to transformative justice. i always want to draw from new things that everyone is trying, but some of the strategies are really live from white supremacy land in this way that doesn’t feel unpacked in the book because the authors feel so secure. I struggle with even saying starhawls name, so I struggle to even hear her strategies, how do we grapple with hearing strategies when they come from privilege
– we are all in this society together, so we can find worthwhile things, while also acknowledging the lenses that people have form the experience of being a part of this society.
– How do we deal with texts that have great things in them but also alienate us at the same time, as someone who is disabled, queer and indigenous, most texts will alienate me in some way, but I can still extract things from them that are worthwhile, need to find tactics to
extract worthwhile things
– then how can those tactics, and how can those fucked up parts serve our transformation, we lift up the good parts and ignore others? in octavia butler the answer for earthseed is to go colonize other planets, and yet, and yet…
– There is a text that speaks to this – The Ones that Walk Away from Omelas – Ursula Leguin.
A utopian society made possible by a child being abused, who is locked away. when people come of age they are taken to see child, they decide whether to stay in Omelas or not. Some people decide to walk away and not be complicit, she says that we don’t know where they are going, but we need to go with them
– Questions: what is the purpose of psychic and intuitive powers in transformative jsutice, coming form a family where intuitive powers are passed down, how would that play into a transformative justice system?
– What would starhawk’s book look like if it was written by a radical feminist of color?
– I want to talk about a scifi text that has a similar vision of transformative justice that leaves me cold but is similar to previous visions we’ve discussed. Ian banks, Culture Series, socialist space operal, no scarcity, vision of justice is that if you do something bad you don’t get invited to dinner parties anymore. Sounds too much like what has happened in my own family w/ past sexual abuse — this doesn’t feel to me like justice, it feels like what actually happens when it isn’t dealt with, people are invited or not invited — but not really dealt with, not real healing. Also I have questions about these descriptions of worlds with mostly good people and bad people — but that’s not like our world in which people do good and bad things.
– I like darker side, BSG, people are all doing bad things all the time, feels more like the world that we live in
– Can I respond to the dinner party thing? Part of the way that many of us exist is by shutting down and ignoring interdependence, not being aware of privilege, in a world where interdependence is acknowledged and held up in that way, what it means to not get invited to dinner parties has a much larger implication
– What I hear a lot is talking about purity, one work that deals with that is Avatar the Last Air Bender, television show, main character has to grapple with what he is willing to do to end the war, moral line he may not be willing to cross within this character its shown that there
is a really sort of dark place that he goes into, destructive powerful force that is risky, interesting way to have a character there is no really pure characters
– Add on about the culture novels, in some of the other ones they address justice, its not just that you are not invited, more serious things you have a robot that follows you around to stop you before you do something bad, or maybe they exile you to a planet where all your needs are taken care of but you never see anyone
– in these knowledge, technology is so evolved, everyone can do anything that they want, how do we take something so beyond our capabilities and learn from it?
– questions related to midnight robber, is exile a transformative space, there is something exciting and nuanced to me in how we think about solitude, and taking space, and have a conversation about survivors and perpetrators that doesn’t see them as separate
– there are political decisions we can make about what works we can center, centering texts by people of color, and not only the one text that’s well known, this is really important, we don’t only have to critique the dominant text, we can center other texts
– another example is Mists of Avalon, Marian Zimmer Bradley, retelling of king arthur, if
you are talking about exile, what is the choice to withdraw? in that book the good guys withdraw to another realm and don’t come back because things in medieval England have gotten so bad, what is that space to remove yourself and maybe not come back, and how does that relate to exile?
– Have a question about what are the good and bad things that are happening, how do we define badness and trying to flesh that out more, talking about what the acts we are talking about are
– as far as understanding good and bad, there’s a text called The stories of your lives and others (Ted Chang). in that story has evolved people that withdraw into themselves and become enlightened, but end up opposed. some see social change as altruistic manipulation of the market, another sees it through enlightenment. switches back and forth
between antagonist and protagnost.
– people are concerned about changing the goal OR concerned about changing the culture and intention of the society.
– I just have a question, because I haven’t read these texts: good and bad, we keep saying, what are the good and bad things — how do we define what is good and what is bad? Taking people out of their communities — what are we talking about?
– problem with a lot of utopias: brian aldiss wrote a short story — utopia where people don’t lie, surgery given — zap part of brain where you lie. one person made a world in which all the lies were true, so they could get around that.
– Harlan Ellison said that Scifi talks about the world we see now — scifi from 30s is very different from the future we see now.
– been thinking about how authors have a lens, but haven’t talked about how readers bring a lens to what they are reading, I have read books and realized after the fact that some characters I read as white and straight…that was not what the author intended, want to encourage people to think about

Jenna’s closing:
Sci-fi is made up of sacred texts that save a lot of our lives and give us strength and let us do the work we do, gives us strength and ambition to focus on what is bigger and larger than what is in front of us now. grounding us strategically in our work and part of our spirituality. testify. giving sacredness to intention for the world.

Notes, Writing Sci Together

Writing Sci-Fi Together

Today I got the honor, blessing, geek-out of getting to jump in on the Writing Sci-Fi workshop with Walidah Imarisha, my co-editor for Octavia’s Brood: Science Fiction from the Movement (a real book that’s coming out next year!!!)

She crafted a brilliant agenda and we had an incredible time. I wanted to share some notes with you:

What is visionary fiction and radical sci-Fi?

From Facilitators:
– it explores current social issues
– it’s conscious of race, class, gender, sexuality, ability, identity and power, and explores intersecting identities
– supports change from the bottom up
– it moves or places power in the hands of the oppressed
– not neutral…the purpose is social change

Other brilliant ideas, from participants:
– it offers us a way to test drive responses to issues
– gives us freedom to break life’s stereotypes
– makes us question ‘what is human?’
– it’s revolutionary, versus reactionary
– let’s us imagine a new society, and new solutions
– post-colonial
– makes the perspectives of oppression palatable to folks who otherwise couldn’t grasp it

we had folks read an excerpt from Derrick bell’s space traders short story as an example of radical science fiction, and then break into four groups and build stories together, mapping out characters, setting, backdrop and conflict.

here are four synopses from the breakout groups! we hope you agree they are fantastic 🙂

1) Checkpoint Apocalypse: Robots are defending borders in an apocalypse where we no longer have nations. All families are required to donate a child to be robotized. Our character is on a quest to find his robot sibling after his parents die, only to find that his sibling wants to turn him into a robot too!

2) Smash Patriarchy: The main character in smash patriarchy is a gender nonconfirming alien who crash lands in the tent city of the oppressed – queer and trans, poc, immigrants – around the Washington Monument where they have been displaced by the new ruling majority (white women who feel the revolution is done now that they have “smashed patriarchy.”) The white women in charge want to co opt the alien who is old and the alien has to decide whom to align with.

3) the Constructs: main character is a tenant in an animate building in a world where everything is alive and shifting. The building doesn’t want the tenant anymore because she and her intimate are always fighting. dialogue includes: woman: “you’re a construct.” building, “YOU’RE a construct!!!”

4) Quanta: living in a world with the Earth is emitting a numbing agent that dulls human senses so they will no longer be driven to destroy each other and her. the dream world is the only place where people still experience their senses. quanta, our lead character, is able to be in two places at once and she is working in the dream and waking world to help humans evolve so that they can have their senses and be in harmony with planet.

folks shared stories and got applause. we were amazed by each other!!

where i will be during the allied media conference

in case you want to give me a hug, say hi, or indulge in the things i think are awesome, here is where I will be during the amc:

Writing Sci-Fi Together, Friday 10:45 am, McGregor L

workshop | For all ages | #AMC2011 #writingscifi

* Walidah Imarisha, Co-Editor, Octavia’s Brood: Science Fiction from the Movement
* Adrienne Maree Brown, Co-Editor, Octavia’s Brood: Science Fiction from the Movement

Walidah Imarisha (along with Adrienne Maree Brown) is in the process of editing an anthology of original science fiction from organizers/activists, with the belief that we who work for change hold powerful visions of alternate realities and futures within us that manifest in our work, and need to manifest in our stories. In this session, facilitators will guide participants through a set of exercises to brainstorm ideas and then write a collective science fiction piece, imagining a new possible together.


Opening Ceremony, 5:30, Community Arts Auditorium
(The tracks have co-created this brief dip into the whole intersectional amazing conference.)

ReBirthing: From Pathology to Power, Saturday 5:30pm, McGregor Room L
caucus | Not interesting for kids | #AMC2011 #rebirthing
Presenter: Detroit Full Circle Doula Collective

This session is for birth workers, doulas, abortion support people, midwives and anyone else engaged/interested in providing emotional, physical and educational support to people across the full spectrum of pregnancy (pre-natal, abortion, adoption, birth, postpartum care) in home birth, birthing center, hospital or prison experiences. Together we will examine how to transform reproductive cycles in our communities from pain or pathology to power, using creative media strategies for access to care and information across the digital divide. Regardless of your level of experience, come share your communication strategies, ideas, stories, and wisdom in facilitated large group discussions and break-out groups.


Strategic Science Fiction Reader Caucus, with a Splash of Transformative Justice, Sunday 10am, McGregor M
strategy session | For all ages | #AMC2011 #scifitj

* Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha, Revolution Starts At Home
* Jenna Peters-Golden, Philly Stands Up
* Adrienne Maree Brown & Alexis Pauline Gumbs

This session will be dedicated to developing strategic reading guides for our favorites science fiction authors/series. We’ll unveil the Octavia Butler Strategic Reader, developed by AMC participants in 2010. Then we will identify the sci-fi authors/series most known to participants in the room (from LeGuin to Battlestar Gallactica), and break into small groups to develop as many strategic reading guides as possible! Special room will be given to the Science Fiction and Transformative Justice breakout group, where we’ll examine the ways radical science fiction novels like The Fifth Sacred Thing, Woman on the Edge of Time, Dhalgren and The Dispossessed have found to deal with violence and harm and how we can use them to create a world without prisons.


Why & How to Start a Facilitation Cohort, Sunday 2:30pm McGregor J
workshop | For all ages | #AMC2011 #facilitation

Adrienne Maree Brown, AMP/EMEAC/Food Justice/Digital Justice

Facilitation is the art of holding a group together through visioning, planning, conflict, growth, loss, and change. It can be done from outside or within a group. It requires heightened awareness of self and others, listening, willingness to follow the group, and willingness to be transformed. A facilitation cohort is a group of people who determine that together they are going to grow their collective capacity to hold space – in a community, an organization, an issue area, or a process. Through reflection and skillsharing, the group grows themselves, and becomes a force for solution, safety and transformation in their community. Get involved with the citywide facilitation cohort in Detroit, or take the tools home with you to start cohorts in your area of work.


Closing Ceremony, McGregor Lobby
Celebration, babies, awesome!!


Then to the Cass Corridor Commons for the Midwest Health and Healing Gathering 7-10pm Sunday evening.

Self-Image Workshop

I just did a workshop for Detroit Summer‘s 2011 Summer Program Youth that was really fun and short. I offer it up here in case other folks want to use it!


Self-Image Workshop (1 Hour)

    1) writing exercise

(10 minutes):
– how do you see yourself?
– how do others see you?
– how does how Others see you impact how you see yourself?

pair/share (6 minutes)
– each person share for 3 minutes: what did you just learn about the impact of others on your self-esteem?

    2) identity

writing exercise
– what makes up your identity? (1 minute)
(if needed, explain what identity is, as opposed to personality traits. identity is race, sexuality, gender, ethnicity, religion, ability, age, etc) write the most visible facets of your identity clearly on a post-it note.

– unveil/populate grid (15 minutes):

x axis: least accepted <--> most accepted
y axis: proud <--> ashamed

looking at your identity – are these areas places of pride? place your identities up on this grid based on how have you felt the majority of your life?

discussion: what is the relationship between what is accepted in the world, and how you experience your own self-image?

note that in terms of self-image, the least accepted + proud quadrant often = revolutionary

    3) how to transform society through transforming self-identity.

(20 min total)

unveil image that shows that society is made up of communities.

encourage participants to think of each identity area as it’s own community. black community, gay community, etc.

how can we transform a community self-image?

what makes up communities?

how do you transform your own self-image image?

–> small groups to come up with share best strategies you have used to transform your self-image in the past. (10 min to brainstorm)

each group shares one strategy at a time, and keep going around the circle of groups til all the strategies have been shared with NO repeats!

–> share examples of people reclaiming a wider range of identities to accept, feel proud of [phat camp, young women’s empowerment project, etc]

    4) closing (1 minute)

close eyes, stand up tall. deep breath. what would it feel like to feel fully confident in who you are? how would you feel in your body? in your mind?

now everyone yell: “i am priceless!


prepping for the AMC (

dropped off recycling.

rearranged the house for guests.

got my motherload of avalon vegan granola bars.

got my motherload of seaweed snacks.

finalized the AMC mixtape.

finalized the octavia butler reader for print.

finalized the radical love zine with my sister autumn.

reviewed the agendas for my workshops.

opening ceremony mostly prepped.

got my reiki treatment.

stocked up on salad fixings.

got bike in working order to get around this weekend.

did email aikido to hopefully avert any crises of non-communication during the conference.


follow the magic:

“the soul is not a substance, it’s a power”

what a stunning day.

i was out and about, rolling with invincible for some of her shows (of which she had 4 today).

it was a community day, starting with a block party on willis with avalon, goodwell’s, flo’s boutique & the spiral collective. grace lee boggs spoke of “the essence of revolution being love”, invincible performed with the rosa parks orchestra youth strings ensemble (ADORABLE), everyone was out on the street looking gorgeous and saying hello to each other, eating vegan pocket sandwiches, learning garden basics with ife and kadiri, and so on.

we then rolled to yusef shakur‘s annual ‘state of the neighborhood’ address, a block party BBQ with a line-up of gifted speakers and performers. i was particularly impressed by a young poet named ju hall who did an economic breakdown of how selling drugs is not more lucrative than a minimum wage job. of course – in a city where we don’t have enough minimum wage jobs we have to stay committed to changing our whole relationship to work, valuing ourselves not for what we can earn, but what we can give and do and be for our people.

invincible performed, with the youth orchestra again. DS Sense was there and her lyrical skills are really mindblowing – i was SO impressed.

one thing that deeply inspired me was speakers sharing how “parenting was possible from prison” – as evidenced by yusef’s father writing him letters and guiding his political development from prison.

the one low point for me was that one speaker chose to read a letter that yusef’s father had written him from prison that had a lot of homophobic comments in it. after watching invincible and ds sense take everyone’s breath away with their brilliance, which has recently been honored on an international level by the guardian, i was so hurt and confused to hear this as a chosen text.

still – i know we are “smashing the walls of hate” when i look around a space like that, at the babies blowing their granddaddy dandelions into the summer wind and backflipping in front of the stage, seeing how much love folks had for all of us there who are gay/queer. its a process that must shift at a generational pace i know, one relationship at a time.

we stopped by to see grace lee boggs again for a moment, and then went to celebrate the graduation of a detroit summer youth, the younger brother of someone i have recently fallen for as a writer, niles heron, who was there for last few minutes before his flight back to l.a. wonderful gifted guy, and the youth are all so deeply smart and funny and good.

while there i had brief talk with a friend about someone we both love and are inspired by, who has recently embraced a very homophobic religious belief system that is rooted in judgment. we talked about how complex it is to love someone who operates from fear and judgment – how much space is needed in that love, to not take things personally.

and there is a truth – i can be inspired by a homophobe, while hoping s/he can someday see me whole, and accept me, from that same deep well of love that inspires me.

so after all of that i took one of the detroit summer youth with me to see india arie. i have been an on again, off again fan of india’s – waiting for her to grow into that incredible voice and spirit and social justice intention she has.

tonight i felt she almost did that. her performance was something she called a songversation, where she shared her whole new album with us, as well as thoughts, hopes, lessons, emotions. and it was good – the songs were amazing, her voice sounded amazing, she had her mama come out and sing with her, she was personable, deep, energetic, real, healing – truly wonderful.

thing is, in two days india travels to israel, to perform with her israeli co-creator on this new album of hers, Open Door. and she did a song that spoke to honoring different choices. she prefaced it by saying that earlier today she asked deepak chopra what to do about the fact that some folks are boycotting israel, and that deepak told her boycotting and closing borders and boundaries is an old tactic. that deepak told her to go into the heart of israel and sing of peace.

my heart hurt so much to hear this, from people clearly so moved by spirit, so into evolution. how do you sing of peace against the backdrop of a razor wire border wall containing the people from that land, without medicine, with rationed food and water, with no right to travel…that sort of peace?

in the same way homophobia surprises and hurts me, it continues to amaze me that folks can know about the call for cultural boycott, the call from palestinians (many of whom are living behind this apartheid wall with very few non-violent ways to leverage pressure for their rights) and still perform in israel.

india said at one point in the evening, love will win the battle. i think love is a function of time – love moves us through time. in the long run, time will win the battle, show where the love truly is, and where it is lacking, in the region.

in the same way it took action to bring down apartheid south africa (where i hope india would not have considered performing) it will take action to bring down apartheid israel. the horrors that israel is enacting on palestinian people are dismissed when artists go perform there in spite of the very clear, heartfelt, logical and strategic call for cultural boycott.

and in a city where we are living into vision while often having to draw on ancient tactics to be heard, it is particularly harmful to announce to a crowd that boycott is a tired tactic. it makes this a very political thing, to dismiss the freedom cry of an entire nation.

i had a thought though, on the power of time and lessons. india was sharing lessons from the last ten years of her life, and in the same song where she reduced the crimes of israel into choices that could be honored, she speaks of a man and his husband, and woman and her wife.

in this same song, and same space, on this same day, i saw this woman using the stage to address the hatred i had experienced earlier in the afternoon. this is a learning process, which we are all in, in which there is no perfect.

most likely, india is going to go to israel, and perform. even if there is a major public outcry, even though many of the people from that land won’t be allowed to come see her sing her peace. but i hope – i pray – that she sits down with palestinian leaders, organizers, people, while she is there. that she goes to see the settlements and has an open door to that experience, and that request for respect of human dignity.

india has proven she has the potential to transform herself, and i felt the power of her unleashed energy tonight, the freedom in her dance, song and words. i hope she chooses to stand up for that same freedom for others.

in the same breath, i have to look at myself and wonder – am i being a hypocrite, sitting in the audience while homophobic words pour over me, seeing the beauty and the intention, and then asking india to look behind the curtain of the beauty and intention she has experienced in israel and see the cruel policies and practices?

i don’t want to take away from the survival and growth of an amazing spiritual artist…i know if there was a boycott of homophobic artists, that would make it nearly impossible for most of the women in hip-hop i know, love and follow to make a living.

thankfully, there are a lot of other tactics available to gays in the u.s. right now. in the u.s. at this moment there are incredible education campaigns, and policy shifts, already moving this debate. the boycotts in the u.s. have to be about immigration, because it is migrants in this country who are being treated like palestinians in the israeli apartheid, like black south africans during apartheid, like the jews during the holocaust, like africans during slavery, and so on back through history. when we turn against our humanity, we must all hold each other accountable for the evolution needed to move forward.

and we are moving. the next generation is right here with us watching, learning, and shining. there was so much wholeness and restoration in this whole day – i feel uplifted, proud to be in detroit, in a state of transformation.

it’s going to be in an incredible summer.


for papa, june 2011

same moon
same hot wind blown over the yard
horses dignified against the fence
mourning the same one I do
same exhaustion comes over us all,
drained as love emerges in concentrate

same words
inaccurate, trite, insufficient
but true
same sorrow pressed into hollows
waiting for a dark
same expectation
unbent by logic

what I know doesn’t release my hope from its hinges
my door is opened up
my heart is hunting your arrival
in the woodlands and hallways
child’s ghost
doctor’s miraculous mistake
I long for you against all truth

and its only one thing that’s different

for all this ritual emotion
and pattern of ours
where you filled up a world
with your promises,
your brows and palms
proverbs, psalms
sleep and questions
your absence beckons

letting us know
memories are what you are now
stories as long as we live to say them
stories with a rhythm embedded
we all learn quick
we pass it on
a new gossip
john wayne colored
each of us newly aware

we are to hold
the million small pieces
of your greatness
we, who all came from you
on our way home

decaying potential

found this note I scribbled from my dream self to my waking self some time last week:

there is a new world folded into this one.

we are all decaying potential.

seeing my nephew and niece I understand humanity. the way they are so new and magnificent – we all do that. we all come out full of curiosity and potential, then lose it as we learn to fit in to what already is.

how do we keep open the portal to our whole potential?

and if we find it closed, how do we re-open it?

Grief and Gratitude

Grief is perhaps the most visceral experience I have ever had, each time it happens.

This time I am experiencing grief for my grandfather, who died last Friday. He is one of the most influential people in my life, and in the lives of most people who know him.

I have been writing poems and memories down.
I have been floating off mid-sentence, mid-task, my breath catching in my throat when I try to say anything directive or clear.
I’ve been trying to practice non-attachment and celebration, and then seizing up with longing for his big hugs, and then releasing again.

On Sunday I went down south, and walked into my grandfather’s house and he was everywhere inside it. I felt him behind me in the living room, smelled him on a shirt in the laundry room, saw all of his things, untouched, his world.

I stood with my family at a southern visitation, where folks who knew my Papa came to pay their respects. All these people who loved him and wanted to connect, but I couldn’t really say anything without tearing up.

I stood by his casket and sang ‘his eye is on the sparrow’, just for him, because of how his faith brought him such joy and how that song makes me feel full of faith and joy no matter what.

I sat with my family through the funeral, where my uncle spoke on behalf of Papa’s six children, and my cousin spoke on behalf of the 19 of us grandchildren. Both shared perfect, perfect words about him. I wept, we all did. The whole church sang Amazing Grace.

Then we sat around my grandparent’s house and looked at his arm chair, his dining room chair, his pictures, the hall to his bedroom. My nephew looked up at one point and darted backwards, saying he saw a ghost. My dad told him it was a good ghost who was looking out for us, and to say ‘I love you.’ We all got chills.

Then I came home and proceeded to enter another phase of grief. My dear friend Sofia articulated it well – everything feels out of focus, only this loss is clear. It feels like a brightness on me, the tenderness of the transition. I keep trying to do things, wanting to do things, and losing my way.

So now I am just sitting still, feeling, and writing. And praying, in my own way, for my mother, for my father (to whom Papa was a major father figure), for my grandmother. For my family, that we internalize the wisdom my grandfather was always sharing with us about having faith, and letting things go, not letting grudges and anger and pain become the legacy you carry, but letting go, letting love be your guide.

I am looking at all of the people in my life who I love and thinking…how can I love them better? What do I need to do to make sure they know, and feel, my love for them?

Sofia says eventually the rest of the world will come back into focus, and I know it will, but I wanted to document this moment. I am so blessed to be in a family, and surrounded by a community, that is supportive, giving me space while sending me love, checking in on me and reminding me to feel. I want this to be a mindful part of any community experience, too, holding each other with love through the coming and going.

Through the grief, I’m full of such gratitude I can hardly voice it, and everything feels smaller than it…to be responsible for remembering such a magnificent man. I am grateful. To be in and of this world is such a miraculous experience. I am grateful.