Monthly Archive for October, 2016

election exhale

i spent the past weekend at a gathering called with/out ¿borders? hosted by the arcus center for social justice at kalamazoo college.

it was a well structured gathering, four plenary conversations over two days, each one with a set of related breakout sessions afterwards. there was an ‘unconference’ as well, emergent sessions and film screenings that bubbled up from a brilliant participant body.

i got to speak on the first plenary and the election came up. as i was speaking i realized that i have been feeling unexpectedly calm about this election lately.

but how is this possible!

i was returning from a hot springs off-grid moment after a six day facilitation extravaganza, so i’m not sure how coherent i was.

but here is some exploration of the feeling, and the context.

to begin with, i feel like all the people i most respect and admire are playing their positions well – in movement, in life, and in relation to history.

the vision for black lives platform is brilliant, complex and clear. it really helps as a guideline to any and all who would hope to lead in or shape the future of this country.

in each place/movement i get to facilitate, i see people moving towards complexity and alignment with each other in ways that support being able to advance the leadership of grassroots and directly impacted communities.

these organizers i look up to are aware of the election, and doing work around it that makes sense. none of them are dropping everything and doing reactionary electoral organizing – their work is much longer term. most are not endorsing any candidate, because our standards are high.

and! we are not ignoring the election, primarily because many of the people we care about are looking through the election lens right now, and we dance between the attentions of the people and our visions for justice.

rosa clemente and others are reminding us that in spite of all the fear drums, there are other legitimate and politically aligned options, especially in blue states, and no individual has to bear the brunt of a broken system – everyone should have the right to vote their values.

the conversations i’ve been in are nuanced, and this, more than any particular individual or formation, gives me hope.

mostly we recognize that candidate pump as a hilarious and offensive attention-suck is not himself the problem, it is the ideologies he is playing with, the animus he is stoking to get attention – that’s the problem. still, he is doing us the favor of showing how vast and solid white supremacy and economic fear are in the u.s. right now. mapping the opposition. and white house or not, white supremacists are turnt way up right now.

and…that is what we expected, and should expect, in response to this moment of nonlinear black political, economic, athletic and entertainment flexing.

the death throes of white supremacy are vile to witness. it never stops shocking or hurting us to witness and be prey to white supremacist vitriol. but i am focusing on how many white people are standing up, stepping back from the table, and finding ways to learn self-love that don’t require dominance, looting, destroying.

i am also impressed with the radical compassion of leaders who can see through the fragile surface of white supremacy, see through to the pain, all the way to economic alignment, and are reaching through to speak about shared oppressions and shared possibilities.

regarding clinton, mostly we recognize that while having a woman president will be a move forward, we won’t be tricked into ecstacy over symbolic gains again. constructs such as race and gender expose themselves most when they are fully indulged. the mind and values of each woman are different, are not to be assumed. yes she is a woman, and familiar, and ridiculously competent, and a survivor, and a human being. and a hawk, and a zionist, and so on.

clinton is not the first woman to run for president, but she does seem to be the most experienced human to ever run for this office. still, she doesn’t align with or advance many of our values (“Who do you trust to be the president? The Republican, or Donald Trump?“), particularly in the ways she has used the tool of war.

we have under our belts two or three shared experiences (at minimum) of overattending to the office of the president. one is the panic of george w bush’s presidency, the terror that was drummed up, the heartache of watching critical funds move away from what we cared about and towards war and destruction. the stolen elections upheld by the supreme court, which shaped eight years of history, left us cynical, and in a mounting racial and climate catastrophe.

two is the thrill of obama’s election to the presidency, followed by years of seeing the limitations and compromises that defined his position, guaranteed his second term, constricted his legacy.

he is perhaps the best president we will experience, the most feminist and facilitative. but in a capitalist imperialist nation it’s hard to measure or celebrate such a thing.

an example of the contradictions needed to consider the obama presidency: i pray for him and michelle’s black love and safety daily, but i don’t trust him to free mumia and peltier.

i trust the savvy organizers who are using this election frenzy to move important stuff down ticket – sheriffs and school boards and policies matter so much more than presidents in our daily lives.

in detroit we are organizing people to vote on prop A, which will allow communities to hold corporations accountable for what they do in our city.

and during this time the exciting news is not happening in the media-election frenzy, but on the front lines of the Standing Rock struggle to stop pipelines that were prophecied to destroy the land and water from being built across North Dakota, as black people continue to live and die at state whim and to learn to love and protect each other in real time. and Flint and Detroit fight for basic water rights, and learn to love and protect each other in real time.

what i am saying is, our priorities are in order, we are aware of the paths of fear and limitation, and we are choosing to organize, collaborate and grow what we long for.

so no matter what happens? we gon be aight.

critical connections

last night i was hosted at Exit the Apple for a very sweet community potluck in Baltimore. the potluck brought together people who have been doing beautiful justice work around the city, but not necessarily together.

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i introduced myself by telling of my journey through organizing, electoral organizing in a panicky fear to stop george w bush, direct action and civil disobedience, and landing in visionary fiction, emergent strategy and pleasure activism.

we focused on the aspect of emergent strategy that is about critical connections, and i wanted to share the exercise we did. it took about 20 minutes total and people reported back surprisingly deep connections with each other (a lot of exchanging information and wanting to continue building at the end, signs of healthy community longing).

1. i had people raise their hands if they knew everyone in the room, 80% of the room, 50%, just one other person. often we assume everyone else is friends and we are the only stranger or outlier when it isn’t true. this scan exposes the patterns already in the room and the needed pattern making.

2. i asked folks to partner with someone they didn’t know and get lined up. this meant chairs were facing each other, hearts and eyes were facing each other. too often we work together and never actually consider the person in front of us, or we work off of assumptions and stolen glances. so the invitation is to actually see this person in their humanity, in their desire to transform the world. i invited people to reflect to each other first what they noticed in each other.

3. next people shared what they love about baltimore, and the work they do for/in this place. in an ideal place-based movement or life, those two things are connected. for instance – i love the radical blackness of detroit, so i center black liberation/freedom fighters in all my offerings of somatics, writing and healing space.

4. after pairs talked for about ten minutes, i asked people how they were doing at connecting. i noted that often we talk at each other, and we listen through our preconceptions. it is important to shift away from trying to fit people in our existing internal boxes, to shift towards curiosity in each other.

so the next step was a version of the question game. for a full minute, each pair had to go back and forth only asking each other questions. in this case, it was questions related to what they had heard in the other person’s baltimore love/movement story.

as a facilitator i noticed the shift in the room. there was laughter, people leaned into each other and became more collaborative, a team on a mission of curiosity.

5. as a final step, each person got to choose one of the questions asked and answer it as honestly as possible.

img_0508 photo credit Jason Harris

in reflections on the exercise, people said they were amazed at how deeply they could go in such a short period of time.

i referenced the incredible barbara holmes here, a black scientist who taught me years ago about the vibrational field of the heart, which extends about ten feet around us, strongest in front and back. when we sit face to face with someone, we are in each other’s vibrational field – it’s a practical way to connect.

so often when we speak of movement building, we look first at how to achieve critical mass. but margaret wheatley and grace lee boggs and octavia butler taught me that the quality of connection inside each pair, group, community or movement is what makes transformation possible.

facing each other and getting curious are two very simple tools for generating critical connections. focusing on place and what we long for really helps with alignment – there are a million places to diverge and we have been taught to focus on those, to deconstruct. but what we pay attention to grows, so the invitation for critical connections is to find the places of alignment and common interest and grow towards interdependence from there.

also, food helps. our community potluck was truly baltimore style with fresh oysters! and tons of other small, precious offers of sustenance.

also, children and babies help. there were teenagers in the group and 2 young children running circles around our pairs while a 3-month-old observed us and took naps in the back. watching the young children make connections by chasing, hugging each other, rolling around on the floor and shrieking with joy reminds us that it is in our nature to connect and play, that it brings delight when we give into the friendship available in the moment.

grateful to baltimore, exit the apple, lester spence and especially ailish hopper for pulling this together.

it only needs a million hands

the task before us is impossible
the scale of the many tasks before us is incomprehensible
we cannot agree on the tasks before us into the abyss
there is no way enough of us will change in time
some things may never change
we cannot keep up with the data
and we cannot keep up with the grief
and no one is trustworthy
not all the time
we cannot be trusted with this gorgeous place
with this gorgeous miraculous life

it would take so much direct and real talk
but no one learns that language at birth
it is easier to lie to each other’s faces, to keep quiet
or to rant about nameless villians
and by the time you unlearn lying
and realize the person was never reading your beautifully constructed critique
there is so little time left

and the people in power want a world of walls
and the taste of power, its rotten and sweet-tho
as we argue about how much shit to throw in the sky
and how fast to use up all the earth
and if this miracle is more worthy than the other
some babies grow up to be monsters
we argue about the words someone else used to speak about everything
and we create defiant new languages that we all learn to say
but there are no definitions, and there is no way to hear each other
the surface of the world is shifting, turning to catch the change in a mirror
did we look righteous enough, do we sound radical enough
flitting from flower to philosophical flower, or meme, or crisis
hurting ourselves, as if we are unworthy of this beautiful home

but we are of this place, it is us and home always
and even though we are overstimulated and tired
and there is no way to do what needs to be done
we have done it, and taken deep breaths, and done it again
and so we will do it, by which i mean
give ourselves to it, fully, and faltering, and then a bit more
only ever able to carry our part
learning slowly it is enough, just enough
it only seems impossible
it only needs a million hands

lessons from solange

just listened to a delectable remix of “Cranes in the Sky”, Solange’s song where she looks in everyone’s whole life and Ripertons thru all our coping mechanisms so pretty style.

the remix is from Kaytranada, via Taylor Renee Aldridge of arts.black and “my faves” fame. putting CITS on repeat (original or remix) while reading this review will make it more accurate for you.

i put CITS on after a long day of life work and i start dancing around, leaving the hard day in piles on the floor.

i think i should write a sci fi short/book about Solange, but not tonight. tonight i am just sitting with her wisdom:

when everyone else is being smooth, jut and jitter and be an angle that must be observed and accounted for.

make it all sacred.

it’s good to roll with the squad nearby, just being themselves.

when everyone is trying to be hard and cool, be soft, sharp and ethereal.

even when simple and forgettable are trending, be complex and irresistable.

when there is too much fear to breathe in, or even take it all seriously, be a balm. a tuning fork in the ground beneath us, making us praise dance. be a healing energy, nourishing not because you ignore our suffering, but because you make room for our wholeness.

be you, and make no concessions or apologies.

(this fractal extraneous review of life lessons applies specifically to “cranes in the sky”, inclusivally to the entire album, and generally to Solange Knowles)

pleasure activism is contagious

yesterday i got to be a part of Arts in a Changing America – ReMap: Detroit. the effort of this work is to address the changing demographics of the US and understand the role art has in shifting narrative and opening justice-based futures.

the day started off with six workshops to immerse people in innovative artistic practices for social justice. i offered a workshop called Writing the Future where i had folks do future memoir entries about art they had been a part of that shifted the course of human history.

in another room folks were writing poetry with tawana, another group was foraging in the wilds of Detroit with shane and mama myrtle, and another group was processing grief with sounds and song with rebecca and ron.

after the workshops we all gathered together for a call and response. the speakers were dream hampton and favianna rodriguez, talking about this moment for Detroit, for Oakland, for artists and activists.

favi showed some of her more recent work, which is focused on challenging the phobias that make us feel shame around our desires and bodies, pussy power, claiming the human right of pleasure. dream spoke about the patterns of mass incarceration and drug sales, advocating for the right of black people to use and sell weed without being criminalized.

i, of course, was the loudest member of the amen chorus in the audience.

to close out the session, both women spoke about the role that masturbation has in their self-care, creative and work processes. i was whooping and hollering with joy!

abby dobson came up and sang while a video of women assaulted and killed by the state played, uplifting the #sayhername campaign to make clear that black women, cis and trans, are being targeted and killed by the state. i must say it was a shocking transition – the work, her voice, were so powerful. i have chosen not to watch most of the footage that comes out, i know we are under attack. to see it with others, with a sacred sound around all of us, was deeply moving.

afterwards a group of us sat, immobilized with grief. slowly, laughter, sweetness, hugs and pleasure helped us to acknowledge that a constant truth of our lives right now is grief, but we are complex, we have so much resilience.

we have the right to each other.

we went out and got “sun all over” our skins, as richard pryor taught us.

later in the evening many conference attendees gathered around dream’s table overlooking the city, and the pleasure principle was the center of our conversation.

i mostly want to talk about pleasure these days. for a long time i have been unknowingly quoting mae west: “an orgasm a day keeps the doctor away,” because pleasure was my health care plan for years before i knew how to talk about it.

at the table we shared survival strategies of pleasure and asked each other questions, to repeat things. we wrote notes, book titles, names. we were learning together, this was sensual scholarship.

we talked about sexual, reproductive, mental and emotional health, favorite toys, increasing the practice of pleasure, decolonizing desire, getting into real practices of consent, asking for what we need, putting action behind our radical sexual theory, how oppressed people cultivating their own pleasure can be an act of resistance, and how ridiculous it is that sex and the pleasures possible in the body are still such taboo topics.

the next book i will be working on is all about pleasure activism and it feels right on time. this day made me feel…titillated to get to work.

solange’s table

first reaction to A Seat At The Table, from Solange Knowles:

solange made a black love note album to me and you and us and new orleans and louisiana and master p and all the black people and she included zero fucks. she said this is for us and don’t touch my hair and that she is mad for a reason.

“I am a very complex, nuanced, messy, ever-evolving and changing and growing woman. I live that out through my work.”

precisely.

and she sounds like a bell in hades.

deeper listen reaction:

i drove from Detroit to Nashville to see Beyonce with my Sisters and basically listened to the whole Solange album as nutrition and scholarship. i was dipping into certain songs by putting them on single song repeat, delighting in each eddy before returning to the stream so steadily moving the way i need to go.

‘cranes in the air’ was the most played song. it is so beautiful, it sings itself all the way into our/my grief. i watched so many of my beloveds put the words up as they listened, saying this, this:

“i tried to work it away/
but that just made me even sadder/
i tried to keep myself busy/
i ran around in circles think i made myself dizzy/
i slept it away/
i sexed away”

and

“i traveled 70 states/
thought moving round make me feel better/
i tried to let go my lover/
thought if i was alone then maybe i could recover/
drive it away/
or cry it away/
(don’t you cry it baby)”

i don’t know many woke black people who won’t feel themselves in these words.

and then after these words she soars up into riperton falsetto, and we know that beautiful pain, that love pain. the album touches that pain with medicinal tones, saying we have the right:

– to be mad (in the digital booklet for this album there is a stunning piece that lists the years, then endless years (“when it’s been about a thousand years”) of black american suffering, going into the future…”i got a lot to be mad about”)

– to have boundaries (in ‘f.u.b.u.’, which starts with the delicious distinct call in to “all my niggas in the whole wide world”, she tells white folks: “don’t feel bad if you can’t sing along/just be glad you got the whole world/some shit is for us”)

– to let go (while lil wayne gives a vulnerable direct offer of this wisdom, i was deeply moved by ‘don’t wait for me’, which guides us not to “waste the time to know” people/drama that aren’t part of our journey)

– to value ourselves, not seeking the approval or investment of those who don’t understand us (mama tina and master p weave this lesson beautifully. master p is a radical griot, his every word a rejection of white supremacy. my favorite line, as a creator: “if you don’t understand my record then you don’t understand me, so this is not for you.”)

Solange names her inspirations, which show up in beautiful collage and hint in these songs.

i also hear amel larriuex, erykah badu, denice williams (thanks celeste faison for helping me find the riff), marvin gaye, bjork (the pulling back sensuality of ‘possibly maybe’), little dragon, diana ross, aaliyah, janet jackson.

i also hear the bloodline, i hear Beyonce in the root system, and deeply respect these sisters each holding such distinct spaces of creative black femme brilliance.

and then with all of those touches and flavors and notes – Solange is so herself-in-the-world, a pure sound moving like a candle through an apparently burnt out landscape, unveiling that its a lush obsidian galaxy with its own honors and rhythms.

Solange has set her own abundant black love and healing table and she is generous, inviting us to have a seat and just chill in it, soak in it, nod and grind and bump and revel in it.

i am so here for this. i give thanks to matthew and tina for what they brought into this world.