what are you a fight for?

i wrote a story this weekend that brought me joy. actually it brought me creative ecstasy. it came at a time when i have been hurting, for lots of reasons, many of them connected to collective black and brown grief. in that pain, i have had the opportunity to create, and to lean on people, and be leaned on.

all this vulnerability and vision has brought to light a practice i have been in – being a fight FOR, instead of (or in addition to) a fight against.

i most recently heard this way of speaking about things in one of the somatics courses i was student-teaching, like ‘how can we be a fight for each other?’

i kind of got it – to be moving forward and advancing, instead of always on the defensive.

but the longer i sit with it, in deep relationship with family, friends and lovers, the more i see that it is a series of small choices and actions that pile up into that forward motion. and, as always, it all unfolds in nonlinear concurrent layers and levels of transformation.

it requires first and foremost being a fight for myself – what do i long for? what do i know i deserve? what do i need? how am i going to fight for myself?

being in a fight for myself has led me to be honest about what makes me feel happy, strong, like i am realizing my miraculous potential. it has led me deep onto my writing and healing paths, led me to develop emergent strategy in response to non-profit organizational trauma, to reexamine my food practices, to ask for what i am worth, to surround myself with woes.

i’ve also looked at my friendships and relationships, asking myself how can i be a fight for my loved ones? this means not just listening to them, but listening for the truth within them, listening for what they are longing for, for what they know they deserve, for what they need. and showing up with them in that fight for their dignity, life, health, joy, self-realization.

this month was the one year anniversary of my friend charity hicks passing. while revisiting the fierce and glorious energy she walked with, while touching again my grief for her, i learned that juan evans, an incredible black trans organizer i’ve gotten to know and hold over the past couple of years through black organizing and somatics work, had transitioned from this life. both of them are incredible examples of the next level of fighting for – being a fight for our people, for our species.

in early june i witnessed juan in that brave and beautiful fight for himself, his dignity and that of black trans people. juan told us that ‘when we fight, we win’. before she died, charity issued us the guidance to ‘wage love’.

i want to embody the fight for my people with a passion that honors both of these beloveds.

this past weekend as i was writing my story, which is about a black goddess addicted to eating racism, i got to watch from afar as the movement for black lives gathered the most brilliant and fearless black minds in this country together. what i saw and read about was the creation of a black utopian space for collective grieving, remembrance, honoring, celebrating, narrative shifting, dancing, singing, centering…and then protecting each other when cleveland cops encroached on that sacred space. i am, again, so glad to be alive and awake at this moment as black people fight for our dignity to be recognized, our lives to matter.

there is so much to fight against, so many people who want us to cower and shrink, or, when we fight, to fight defensively, in isolation, against each other, to confirm some degrading concept of self, of blackness, that has nothing to do with black people, with evolving in our human purpose.

but it feels like we are realizing that the way to do that is to fortify ourselves so that we can source from our longings, health, love, dreams and visions, from our strength and our connections with each other. at an individual level, i feel like a rolling rock, gathering speed in the direction of freedom. at a collective level, i feel we are becoming a formidable people at a time when nothing less will do.

so when i see you? all i want to know is: what are you a fight for?

lies for sandra bland

we all know how to make a noose
yeah they teach us when we are young
when we are laughing
then we are in stitches

our cheekbones crack open concrete
you know we got this other pulse
in our nomad hearts
a cyanide vibration

when silenced we string ourselves up flagpoles
let the wind whip us into our own histories
before you script us a horror
and sign our names

we beam joy, breathe calls for justice
tie our names around your heart, and jump
just hoping our weight
will come and bury you

– for Sandra Bland and Kindra Chapman and the million other lied on women.

when we die in police custody, know our lives are being taken from us in so many ways, and our lives are precious. we are being killed, fast and slow, abruptly, methodically.

and this drives us mad and makes us depressed and hopeless.

no one wants to do this, to be grieving and angry and exhausted and disappeared and lied on and terrified all the time.

filling our lives with fear is a taking.

traumatic interactions with ‘authority’ is a taking.

having to grieve over sister-strangers is a taking.

having to explain that even though this country gives us every reason to give up, we do not, that fighters don’t hang themselves for traffic violations, we do not…this too is a taking.

life is a miracle, getting through the day shouldn’t be.

I want to rest, celebrate, dance, love, generate, heal, create. but every time I start to find a rhythm a new grief knocks me down.

everything I’m writing these days is about black rapture, resistance, resilience, black escape and safety, black love, blackness.

but today when I sit still to feel, all that rolls over me is black rage. what can I do to make this useful? what I do to move myself and others to anything better than this pain?

the only thing that pivots me away from the abyss is the question: how did my ancestors survive?

and I don’t know the answers, but I know that they did, and while I breathe I will, and while black people breathe we will.

but at what cost?

at night i pour out all my grief

(Dedicated to Juan Evans)

At night I pour out all my grief
flood the pillow
to the moon

And when I sleep I dream of death
I wonder why
its random, soon

At night I pour out all my grief
With dawn
my cup is full again

I wake to find I’ve lost a friend
With dawn
my cup is full again

What is/isn’t transformative justice?

I’ve been thinking a lot about transformative justice lately.

In the past few months I’ve been to a couple of gatherings I was really excited about, and then found myself disappointed, not because drama kicked up, which is inevitable, but because of how we as participants and organizers and people handled those dramas.

Simultaneously I’ve watched several public take downs, call outs and other grievances take place on social and mainstream media.

And I’m wondering if those of us with an intention of transforming the world have a common understanding of the kind of justice we want to practice, now and in the future.

What we do now is find out someone or some group has done (or may have done) something out of alignment with our values. Some of the transgressions are small – saying something fucked up. Some are massive – false identity, sexual assault.

We then tear that person or group to shreds in a way that affirms our values. When we are satisfied that that person or group is destroyed, we move on.

Or sometimes we just move on because the next scandal has arrived.

I’m not above this behavior – I laugh at the memes, like the apoplectic statuses. I feel better about myself because I’m on the right side of history…or at least the news cycle.

But I also wonder: is this what we’re here for? To cultivate a fear-based adherence to reductive common values?

What can this lead to in an imperfect world full of sloppy complex humans? Is it possible we will call each other out until there’s no one left beside us?

I’ve had tons of conversations with people who, in these moments of public flaying, avoid stepping up on the side of complexity or curiosity because in the back of our minds is the shared unspoken question: when will y’all come for me?

The places I’m drawn to in movement espouse a desire for transformative justice – justice practices that go all the way to the root of the problem and generate solutions and healing there, such that the conditions that create injustice are transformed.

And yet…we don’t really know how to do it.

We call it transformative justice when we’re throwing knives and insults, exposing each other’s worst mistakes, reducing each other to moments of failure. We call it holding each other accountable.

I’m tired of it. I recently reposted words from Ryan Li Dahlstrom, speaking about this trend in the queer community. But I see it everywhere I turn.

When the response to mistakes, failures and misunderstandings is emotional, psychological, economic and physical punishment, we breed a culture of fear, secrecy and isolation.

So I’m wondering, in a real way: how can we pivot towards practicing transformative justice? How do we shift from individual, interpersonal and inter-organizational anger towards viable generative sustainable systemic change?

In my facilitation and meditation work, I’ve seen three questions that can help us grow. I offer them here with real longing to hear more responses, to get in deep practice that helps us create conditions conducive to life in our movements and communities.

1. Listen with ‘Why?’ as a framework.

People mess up. We lie, exaggerate, betray, hurt, and abandon each other. When we hear that this has happened, it makes sense to feel anger, pain, confusion and sadness. But to move immediately to punishment means that we stay on the surface of what has happened.

To transform the conditions of the ‘wrongdoing’, we have to ask ourselves and each other ‘Why?’

Even – especially – when we are scared of the answer.

It’s easy to decide a person or group is shady, evil, psychopathic. The hard truth (hard because there’s no quick fix) is that long term injustice creates most evil behavior. The percentage of psychopaths in the world is just not high enough to justify the ease with which we assign that condition to others.

In my mediations, ‘Why?’ is often the game changing, possibility opening question. That’s because the answers rehumanize those we feel are perpetuating against us. ‘Why?’ often leads us to grief, abuse, trauma, mental illness, difference, socialization, childhood, scarcity, loneliness.

Also, ‘Why?’ makes it impossible to ignore that we might be capable of a similar transgression in similar circumstances.

We don’t want to see that.

Demonizing is more efficient than relinquishing our world views, which is why we have slavery, holocausts, lynchings and witch trials in our short human history.

‘Why?’ can be an evolutionary question.

2. Ask yourself/selves: what can I /we learn from this?

I love the pop star Rihanna, not just because she smokes blunts in ballgowns, but because one of her earliest tattoos is ‘never a failure, always a lesson’.

If the only thing I can learn from a situation is that some humans do bad things, it’s a waste of my precious time – I already know that.

What I want to know is, what can this teach me/us about how to improve our humanity?

For instance, Bill Cosby’s mass rape history is not a lesson in him being a horrible isolated mass rapist. It’s a lesson in listening to women who identify perpetrators, making sure those perpetrators are not able to continue their violence but experience interventions that transform them, make that injustice impossible. If the first woman raped by Cosby had been listened to, over 40 other women could have been spared.

What can we learn? In every situation there are lessons that lead to transformation.

3. How can my real time actions contribute to transforming this situation (vs making it worse)?

This question feels particularly important in the age of social media, where we can make our pain viral before we’ve even had a chance to feel it.

Often we are well down a path of public shaming and punishment before we have any facts about what’s happening. That’s true of mainstream take downs, and it’s true of interpersonal grievances.

We air our dirt not to each other, but with each other, with hashtags or in specific but nameless rants, to the public, and to those who feed on our weakness and divisions.

We make it less likely to find room for mediation and transformation.

We make less of ourselves.

Again, there are times when that kind of calling out is the only option – particularly with those of great privilege who are not within our reach.

But if you have each other’s phone numbers, or are within two degrees of social media connection, and particularly if you are in the small small percentage of humans trying to change the world – you actually have access to transformative justice in real time. Get mediation support, think of the community, move towards justice.

Real time is slower than social media time, where everything feels urgent. Real time often includes periods of silence, reflection, growth, space, self-forgiveness, processing with loved ones, rest, and responsibility.

Real time transformation requires stating your needs and setting functional boundaries.

Transformative justice requires us at minimum to ask ourselves questions like these before we jump, teeth bared, for the jugular.

I think this is some of the hardest work. It’s not about pack hunting an external enemy, it’s about deep shifts in our own ways of being.

But if we want to create a world in which conflict and trauma aren’t the center of our collective existence, we have to practice something new, ask different questions, access again our curiosity about each other as a species.

And so much more.

I want us to do better. I want to feel like we are responsible for each other’s transformation. Not the transformation from vibrant flawed humans to bits of ash, but rather the transformation from broken people and communities to whole ones.

I believe transformative justice could yield deeper trust, resilience and interdependence. All these mass and intimate punishments keep us small and fragile. And right now our movements and the people within them need to be massive and complex and strong.

I want to hear what y’all think, and what you’re practicing in the spirit of transformative justice.

Towards wholeness and evolution, loves.

post nationalist on holiday

I don’t believe in
Or celebrate
Your borders

But I love fireworks
(as an act of magic
I suspend my memory of violence)

I love your black ribs
I love the laughter
Inside them

But I don’t wave flags
Even rainbows have
Ownership intentions

I love all the people
But I smell my blood
In the dirt

I am free
Not because of this place
But in spite of it

– July 4, 2015
#blacklivesmatter

when are we / #whoisburningblackchurches

If 7 white churches had burned down in 14 days, after 9 white people were killed by a person of any other race in a house of worship, can you imagine what would be happening right now?

Imagination muscles flex…right now we’re calling for media coverage of the horror of it, yes. But that’s not all, not hardly.

Imagine further – National Guard, militia, local police and folks flocking to the region to support armed guard shifts of those churches still standing.

Millions raised to rebuild and never forget.

Terms like terrorism and war thrown about.

And, accurate or not, we’d have been had a clear answer to #whoisburningblackchurches as well.

So that’s why #blacklivesmatter can’t be all lives matter. The racism and hatred black people are up against is so devastating that most days all we ask for is folks to look at the fire.

But it’s not enough – fire spreads…that’s the law of nature. We have to pinpoint who is playing these death games with fire.

We have to be an ocean.

Again.

==================

When are we
I feel I, we, all mine
Are lost in time

They raised the battle flag
In Avon Minnesota today
To show the borderlessness
But we already knew
Everywhere is war

But when

And why
Do we hear bugles
Do we smell smoke
When we hug black bodies?

Oh, the church is on fire
No another one
No another one
No another one
No another one
No another one
No…another one

It’s those ghosts again
Their children’s children are
Non-linear haunts

But
Isn’t this the future

How are a million eyes open
But no one will look…
When can we run go hide

When are we

These days of ashes
We wake up wary

Which illusion is killing us
Which construct
Is it our flesh hunted
Or our time

Each moment fills up with smoke
We are catching fire
Again

We feel the rocking of ships
The grief of the sea
We stumble
We moon walk in chains
We dance free

But when could we
Just be

we are so fantastic/it hurts so much

this morning i woke up and again watched bree newsome take down the confederate battle flag from the capitol of the state my family is from, where most of them still live.

i cried watching the video.

i watched her all day yesterday too, slowly hitching herself up that pole, which i know from my ruckus years is hard as shit to do.

she did it beautifully, like a warrior in trance, in meditation, from a center outside of here-now.

and it felt like, in the wake of the charleston murders, i needed that flag down to properly mourn.

i am proud to have met bree last year – she is a sci fi filmmaker social justice warrior and tananarive due had us on a panel honoring octavia butler‘s legacy at spelman.

i’m proud to be alive at the same time as bree. and patrisse, alicia, and opal. and mervyn, deirdre, ashley, celeste, thenjiwe, malkia, adaku, prentis, moe, phil, denise, dream, hiram…there is such a beautiful blackness emerging right now, what intelligent mischief is calling a black renaissance, an explosion of artistic and strategic resistance and world changing. there are too many creators to even begin to name us all. and we are so fantastic and complex and different and learning to love each other and grow together.

as the charleston 9 are folded into the earth, and smoke from black churches floods the sky, i can only sleep at night because i look to my left, right, front and back and see multitudes of black people willing to be afraid together, and honest with each other, and keep advancing on our dignity.

and now we can get married.

it was beautiful to see the divergence of responses to the end of straight-only marriage in my circle – from straight friends putting a rainbow wash on themselves and posting their own wedding pics (are there a lot more trans people in my network than i realize?) to queer/trans folks explaining marriage abolition. i felt an internal spectrum…tears to see my friends for whom this really matters proposing to each other, and also a niggling sense that we’re celebrating something that never should have been an issue.

i call this my alien sensibility. being human, being american, means having to fight for and then celebrate things that should just be a given. my many kinds of love are equal to anyone else’s, so when anyone thinks otherwise and then comes around to reason, my celebration is actually for their liberation, not mine. my love has been good and real and sacred all the time.

i also saw a lot of issue juxtaposition in these last few days…like ‘oh gays can get married but black lives still don’t matter so i can’t celebrate’. this seems to move in the wrong direction, not because there isn’t a hierarchy of isms that are playing out in legal time…but because gays getting married is not equality, it’s not liberation. it’s a step towards those things.

just like if cops were disarmed. it wouldn’t eradicate racism, but it would make it harder to practice racism with such violent state-sanctioned outcomes.

there is very little in my identity profile that is beloved in this country, and for now love is not what i expect. where we are in the arc of change is awakening, and reducing harm in a nation strung out on supremacy and patriarchy.

i say this not to belittle our victories, but to encourage intersectional thinking. lots of queer black people have an increase of basic shoulda-been-had freedom with this ruling, and there’s no need to self-compartmentalize.

you can whoop-whoop and propose to someone if that’s in your heart.

and also sign the petitions about to be circulating to redistribute HRC funding to struggles for queer and trans health and safety.

and also cry a million tears for charleston. and also feel tender when the president sings amazing grace for those lives.

and also wish he would go sing at the border, some song of welcome.

and also feel terror that racists are burning churches down across the south as the unnamed civil war of values within these borders escalates.

and also cheer on bree, and tear down every hateful flag you see, including the american flag anywhere its not at half-mast over this onslaught of lynchings and burnings.

and also curl up with your poly boos or your monogamous other or your super besties, or your beloved pets, and revel in your non-married love and post-normative family.

and rest up, because we are in no way finished, not on any front line, not in any direction. we celebrate not the end of anything, because every moment we are awake it hurts so much to be black and queer in this country.

we celebrate because with these steps and these action, we show each other the future. and we know that we will win.

in octavia’s lineage

happy Octavia Butler birthday!!

last year i was beginning the inaugural class of VONA’s Speculative Fiction workshop on Her birthday.

this year it’s her day and i’m up early for the first day of the clarion sci fi writing workshop – six weeks of reading and writing original sci fi!

i’m nervous and excited. Octavia attended this workshop, her first draft stories are in the archives and i’m going to visit them today as part of my celebration of her existence.

i learned last night that another of my favorite writers, kim stanley robinson, has read my stories and will be around here. we also get to attend comic con, my first one, and there’s a chance of total nerd immersion. those kind of things really make me fangirl out.

leading into this i was on a 12-city run, so i am definitely on fumes and anticipating being in one place for six weeks (even if that place is a cement dorm block with cafeteria food), meditating, yoga, reducing sugar intake, being still-ish.

just before this i was at the Allied Media Conference in detroit and it was deep to feel the growth and transition pains, and also be reminded of the utterly unique, self-evolving and unicorn-loving space that it is. i’ll be posting more from that experience, including notes on a debrief of a racist incident, emergent strategies for organizations, and new Earthseed verses for grief.

part of being in that space that was so hard, and will make it hard to be here or in any space that isn’t all black, is that less than a week ago there was an act of terrorism in charleston that is incomprehensible. for some of us it’s hard to function in the aftermath.

yesterday as i flew here, i wrote a lot about it, about the hour the wolf was amongst the black sheep. i wept a lot, but couldn’t pull anything out to publish, it hurts too much. this morning i woke up with a short story about it coming forward, and am going to write it this week.

i want to encourage all of y’all to also find a way to create – create from rage, from grief, from anguish – do not be silenced, creation is the finest tool we have.

i love y’all, and may blog less during these six weeks, but trust that it’s because i’m writing so so much.

i love y’all. send me focused, restful writing energy.

besos!

p.s. i received a partial scholarship, but the workshop still costs a couple thousand dollars – if you want to support my being here, feel free to become a member of this blog, or just make a donation via paypal.

Dolezal Affectation and other sci-fi poetics from Rachel

We are piles of secrets
We construct truths to survive
Now we are all looking at yours

At first glance
We are appalled
How does this disgust feel to you?

It is a black thing.

***
Scenario 1:

RD: My cover is blown. This family ain’t loyal.
White Supremacist Overlord: Well. I told you the knee length faux locs were pushing it.
RD: Naw son…it was my family. We should have relocated them. Anyway, all eyes on me, and I wasn’t able to seduce anyone at NAACP national yet. What do I do now?
WSO: We’re going to reassign you to South Africa. Maybe go colored instead of full black. We don’t want to lose the investment in you. The weave alone, my god.

Race is a construct
Criminal walls and nails
Used to justify
Miniscule and massive horrifics

Are you in construction?
Are you an architect?
Are your hands coated in dust?

Scenario 2:

RD Howard Diaries:
I’m feeling so isolated again, so lonely. I wish everyone could see my heart. I feel like I was born in the wrong skin, but nothing I do shakes me loose.

Black is magic. Black is where I feel home. Black is my real family.

We are all from Africa, this is my journey home. Why can’t anyone see that? Why doesn’t anyone welcome me?

Did you think
You could taste blackness
Could transform blackness
Cast it lightly around you
And be safe?

Are you of blackness?

Black centuries are heavy
Dragging behind, they put a shape
Into the bones

Does it trail behind and inside of you?
I have only seen you walk away

Scenario 3:

2035

Blackish Students Organizing Hall
Dolezal Affectation Orientation

‘Welcome.

Based on your emogenetic profile, you currently believe you are Black in spite of your DNA testing which shows less than 1% African lineage.

Look at each other. This is your first day, and first assignment. Not one of you has modern African diasporic ancestry, though it’s hard to tell now, given your thorough practice of Black culture.

You may just be coming into your Dolezal Affectation, or you may have been raised in an environment that supported or encouraged this transgression earlier in life. Either way, this will be your political home for the next year. You are not a prisoner precisely – you are a student who has been consigned to this area of study on the mandatory recommendation of your friends and family.

We have therapists on hand for any potential trauma this causes. In the long run we hope to eliminate your unique affliction and all the trauma in which it is rooted.

You are welcome to be here and study Blackness, and to explore your own relationship to it. We commend your curiosity and your study.

However, there are guidelines. This is not a place to emulate or appropriate Blackness – I’m more lenient about hair than other decolonizing instructors. But no Black or Orange face, and no code switching.

Tomorrow you are to show up with none of these, so we can begin the work of self-seeing. You will learn to love you.

You are here to find right relationship with the construct of Blackishness, an iterative construction of your ancestors which was then innovated upon by survivors of the slave era genocidal effort.

You will learn why trauma is not something to opt into, and ultimately what solidarity looks like.

Ready?

Did whiteness break you in half?
Or did you need to drop it
Like a hot stone the size of 2/5 of your hand?

Did it regress you to origin?

Do white people dream of the motherland
Epoch-deep in the cells?

I never considered origin-grief.
It cannot be held.

Scenario 4:

RD: My cover is blown
Reverse Integrationist Radical Front: Well yes honey, going full NAACP might have been pushing it, boo boo.
RD: What should I do?
RIRF: we’re considering if you’ll have to go public about us. This might be a good time for a mass unveiling, or at least for a few of the celebrities. White people will feel under attack otherwise – and really this is about loving them.
RD: ‘loving white into blackish, eradicating white supremacy one life choice at a time’
RIRF: how long will it take the latest treatment to wear off?
RD: one more week
RIRF: ok radio silent. and stay in the house. When you emerge, you’re Rockwell white. You’re grieving that integrated life. We’ll get Diane Sawyer.

People ask you questions
Maybe you know these things

I don’t even know all the answers
I grew up away from here
With a white mother

You study us, or nah?

#askrachel

Harriet Tubman was a) a dreamer b) a superhero c) a black woman

Rekia Boyd was a) incredibly young b) a martyr c) a black woman

I am a) light skinned b) fine haired c) a black woman

You are a) a white perpetrator b) a betrayed black woman c) an alien beyond our comprehension

I am not black because of a quiz
Or a sibling
Or a longing
It’s shaped in my bones
Memories live in my cells
Escape dreams and owner searches

Scenario 5:

RD, journal June 9 2015

Now she is threatening me. She says if I don’t concede the case she will go public with the story that I am white, the story she constructed by bringing her white saviour into the hospital of my birth.

I know the truth, I know who my father is, I know who I am, I know the family has all been turned against me, but I will survive this like a strong black woman always survives in the face of oppression – head held high, dignity intact. She will not break me with her time traveling shame. I’ll pass any test of blackness. Any test.

If you have been wearing culture
Like a masters degree
An earned identity
A reward for study and attention

Or

If you’ve been maligned
In an act of complex familial scandal
Even misled

Or

If you are an alien
Finger outstretched to understand
The wounds of race in our species

You know
we’ll need to see your blood

BALLE 2015 Closing Plenary Speech

Here are the notes from my talk today at the BALLE 2015 Conference! Enjoy.

Thank you first and foremost for your work to bend the future towards justice, love, cooperation and liberation.

I would call your work science fictional – being concerned with the way our actions and beliefs now today will shape the future, tomorrow.

You are excited by what we can create, you believe it is possible to create the next world, you have been building it here these last few days. You believe.

So do I. as michelle mentioned, I’m the Co-editor of an anthology of original science fiction from social justice movements called Octavia’s Brood, which has just sold out its first print of 10k books, so i suppose now it’s public…but I’ve held this belief that we can create new worlds for a long time.

This might be because I was born to a trekkie – meaning one who watches star trek obsessively. My dad watched Star Trek in a way that seems logical to me now. He watched the way a black man from the deep south bringing mixed race children into a racist world would always watch a post racist narrative – eyes wide, faith bubbling up.

We all watched it together, as his military career took our family from place to place. My parents intentionally took us away from the US for our early years and I think they believed that by the time we came back here things would have changed.

When that didn’t happen, they brought us back anyway and took us to Georgia. I think what I experienced there, the casual and constant presence of white supremacy, the knee jerk assessments of my intelligence and humanity, is one of the foundational catalysts for my study of sci fi, apocalypse and post-apocalypse, emergence and complexity.

i thought then in middle school, and i think now…This can’t be all. no one survives this approach, not long term. This can’t be the purpose of our species, to constantly identify each other as ‘other’, build walls between ourselves, and engage in both formal and informal wars against each other’s bodies, build an economy that could never serve the whole.

I feel miraculous. its confusing to feel so miraculous when so many people hate my skin and my history.

i see the miraculous in others – even those who hate me have heartbeats, and, I generally assume, have people they love. why can’t they love me? should i love them anyway? how can i hold these massive contradictions?

I started reading sci fi, obsessively, looking for options. Other worlds where I wasn’t dismissed as an idealist or an inferior.

On that path I discovered octavia butler. Decades before my birth, she was working these same edges in her heart, pendulum swinging between curiosity, possibility and hopelessness. Because if we can’t articulate more viable futures, and adapt, our human future is pretty hopeless.

Octavia Butler wrote novels with young black women protagonists meeting aliens, surviving apocalypse, evolving vampires, becoming telepathic networks, time traveling to save slave owner ancestors. But woven throughout her work were two things: 1) a coherent visionary exploration of humanity and 2) emergent strategies for being better humans.

I’ll say more about emergent strategy in a second.

First I want to say that what my Octavia’s Brood Co-editor walidah Imarisha and I call or work is not actually science fiction. We call it visionary fiction.

Fiction that disrupts the hero narrative concept that one person, often one white man, often matt Damon, alone has the skills to save the world. we write Fiction that explores change as a Collective process. Fiction that centers those who are currently marginalized – not to be nice, but because those who survive on the margins tend to be the most experientially innovative – practicing survival based efficiency, doing the most with the least, an important skill area on a planet whose resources are under assault by less marginalized people. In these ways visionary fiction is constantly applying lessons from our past to our future(s).

Visionary fiction is neither utopian nor dystopian, instead it is like real life: Hard, realistic…Hopeful as a strategy.

We’re here in Arizona, a land where the voting majority believes in aliens, and where my safety is determined by the proximity of my passport. also, the future is unfurling here. Utopia? Dystopia? Perspective is everything.

As long as the future comes from imagination, there will be divergent paths that are moving in and out of alignment, in and out of conflict. Our ideas of right and wrong shift with time – right now it’s clear to me that something is wrong if it hurts this planet. But if we don’t claim the future, that sense of loyalty to earth, of environmentalism, could become an outdated concept. Kenny Bailey from Design Studio for Innovation shared that recently on a panel called black to the future – that justice, rights, things we take for granted are not permanent.

That affirmed to me how important it is that we get into the game, get dirty, get experimental. How do we create and proliferate a compelling vision of a new economy that centers humans and the natural world over the accumulation of material?

We embody. We learn. We release the idea of failure, because its all data.

But first we imagine.

We are in an imagination battle – Claudine Rankin and Terry Marshall speak of this. Trayvon Martin and Mike Brown and Renisha McBride and all of them are dead because in some white imagination, they were dangerous. And that imagination is so respected that those who kill based on an imagined racialized fear of black people are rarely held accountable. imagination has people think they can go from poverty to millionaire as part of a shared american dream. imagination turns brown bombers into terrorists and white bombers into mentally ill victims. imagination gives us borders, gives us superiority, gives us race.

We have to imagine beyond those fears. We have to ideate together. The poverty that results from our current system allows all of this Imagining to be fed by the results of scarcity economics. We must imagine new worlds that transition us from seeing black people as murderers, or brown people as terrorists and aliens, to ones that can see black and brown people as cultural and economic innovators.

Black lives matter, which has issued a clarion call to us in this time, is brilliant on so many levels. they created products to support their work almost immediately, making the look of the movement irresistable and undeniable. Now they are gathering stories from black people about what the world will look like when black lives matter. This is a time travel exercise for the heart. This is ideation – what are the ideas that will liberate all of us?

The more people who collaborate on that ideation, the more people who will be served by the resulting world (s).

Sci fi is simply a way to practice the future together. I suspect that that is what many of you in this room are up to, practicing a future economy together, practicing economic justice together, living into new stories. it is our right and responsibility to create a new world.

And what we pay attention to grows, so I’m thinking about how we grow what you are all imagining and creating into something large enough and solid enough for a tipping point of humans to cross over?

Ursula Le Guin recently said “We live in capitalism – Its power seems inescapable. So did the divine right of kings.”

she went on to say It’s up to authors to spark the imagination of their readers and to help them envision alternatives to how we live.

I agree with her. We must make an alternative economic future, as Toni Cade Bambara taught us, irresistible. That was our goal with our anthology, to have a collection of compelling, irresistible stories.

I think you are amongst the protagonists of what might be called the great turning, the change, the new economy.

And I think it is healing behavior, to look at something so broken and see the possibility and wholeness in it. That’s how I work, when a body is between my hands, I let wholeness pour through.

And I think you are healers too – because you are creating possibilities, because you are seeing a future full of wholeness and equity and hope.

I suspect this is in part because you are practicing what i call emergent strategies.

Emergence is the way complex systems and patterns arise out of relatively simple interactions. My mentor Grace Lee Boggs first raised this concept with us in detroit after reading Margaret Wheatley’s work , about biomimicry and mycelium magic. Grace started asking us what our movements would look like if we focused on critical connections instead of critical mass.

We need each other. I love the idea of shifting from ‘mile wide inch deep’ movements to ‘inch wide mile deep’ movements that schism the existing paradigm.

Strategy is a military term meaning simply a plan of action towards a goal. We use it to mean good or bad, but it’s not that discerning. Horrible plans can be pitched as strategic. We must be more precise.

Emergent strategies are ways for humans to practice complexity and grow the future through relatively simple interactions. It was what made sense to me when I was trying to explain the kind of leadership in octavia butler’s books.

It wasn’t just that it was black, female, or young leaders. Or perhaps it was because of all of those things, who leads matters.

But what I noticed is that her leaders were adaptive – riding change like dolphins or surfers ride the ocean.

Adaptive but also intentional, like birds migrating south who know how to get where they’re going even when a storm pushes them 100 miles west. I just came from supporting a meeting naomi klein called in canada, to set an intention to build a clean energy economy. I was so moved by their work to build a shared intention. that is radical imagination.

Octavia’s protagonists were also interdependent, often polyamourous, because the personal is political, because pleasure evokes change perhaps more than shame. right now there is an effort called BOLD, black organizing for leadership and dignity, is cultivating a safe space for black vulnerability and mutual support of leaders, countering the usual model of leader isolation. we all need a place where we can weep and be held and feel our feelings and figure out how those feelings can direct our next evolution. what amazes me is that in the space of such constant black trauma, we get together and we celebrate and love on each other, we laugh, we find the pleasure of community, of interdependence. it feels good together.

Octavias leaders were also decentralized, and they were generative – resilience came from that decentralization, no one person held the power. Ferguson showed us the power of individuals willing to act without a single leader, their leaderfull example is inspiring others to stand up in real time, offline and online, to change legislation and perception.

Ferguson and other movements right now are fractal, practicing at a small scale what we most want to see at the universal level. no more growth before experience. There’s a group in new Orleans called the wild seeds that’s doing this fractal work – women of color practicing pop up galleries and stores to sustain themselves on their radical creativity.

Rather than narrowing into one path forward, her leaders were creating more and more possibilities. that is what i see here – not one perfect path forward, but an abundance of futures, of ways to manage resources together, brilliant together.

So I have become obsessed with how we can be movements like flocks of birds, underground power like that mushroom under Oregon, the sea shell representation of a galactic vision for justice.

I invite you to join me in writing ourselves into the future, naming the principles of total transformation, building an economy in which black lives matter because every single life, and all that supports life, matters – let us practice in every possible way the world we want to see.