Notes from Kalamazoo

These are slightly edited notes from the day of conversation at Kalamazoo College, first with the Center for Social Justice Leadership Planning Committee, and then with select faculty and students on the topic of Leadership. The intention was to really bring nonviolent direct action into the definition of leadership skills, and to focus on the power of networks (and other collaborative, locally grounded formations) for organizing.

First, we had some Q+A with the planning committee, where they shared where they’re at in the process of the Center, and what their key questions are now.

1. How do we keep the funky side of organizing when a Center at a college is inherently an institution?
- Know the history of nonviolent direct action – it isn’t just the funky part of the work, every social justice movement in history has used NVDA to advance their negotiations. A lot of folks don’t know the role that NVDA plays in movement building and actual wins. And you don’t have to recreate it – we at Ruckus and many other groups teach the history and the theory (helping folks determine whether nonviolence is for them). Ruckus focuses on the best practices of actual action skills. Bring in folks to share these skills.
- Have folks read science fiction, watch documentaries, learn in ways other reflect what we can learn from what the culture is presenting back as key lessons from the margins.

2. How do we develop interesting, out of the box leadership?
- Outside the classroom – apprenticeship and experiential learning. We learn to walk by walking, not by someone giving us a class about it.
- Train folks to participate in collaborative efforts, networks, alliances more than institutions. The age of the institution might be passing at this point…the age of big large growth based thinking might be passed, so we don’t want to invest in things that have to grow exponentially to survive. Networks are organic bodies, each community doing its own work but then connecting to share practices and information.
- Creating a network of people with a shared experience to offer the world. The folks who come through the center shouldn’t see themselves as “leaders”, but as people who have developed the skills of “leadership” – that there are many ways to practice leadership and the skills can be modeled and passed on.
- For really out the box leaders – develop facilitators! Develop folks who practice facilitative leadership. Train folks to facilitate, to hold listening and truth and reconciliation practices…I think that’s more powerful than public speaking and other skills.

3. What are we looking for in a director for this program?
- Someone who defines radical as Visionary, rather than Angry.
- Someone committed to balancing theory and practice.

4. Is organizing something you should teach? How do you do that responsibly with students…and who do they organize?
- I deeply believe organizing is something people should learn by doing. In their community. So campus organizing is totally necessary and a great learning environment for students, and their home communities during the summer. THAT SAID, a social justice framework and a sensibility to fight for your human rights can be taught, and must be taught. You have to undo the training of most public/private early school years, which says to obey, work, obey, work, retire. All teachers can play a part in reframing the world as a place that requires and responds to your actions.

5. Please reiterate the harm reduction stuff you told the students!
I learned harm reduction philosophy so early in my career and I now apply it to EVERYTHING else I do. It’s all about the people setting their own goals, it’s about self-determination, it’s about having compassion for the choices and directions of your life, it’s about releasing judgment, but acknowledging the real world. check it out at www.harmreduction.org – that to me is a fundamental justice analysis that i use throughout my life.

Then the conversation opened up.

Invincible (of Emergence and Detroit Summer) had traveled with Roxana and I to Kalamazoo, and we convinced her to come share about the remarkable work of Detroit Summer’s Live Arts Media Project. She shared their audio hip-hop documentary and the 12 Steps to Illumination comic that comes inside the CD case.

Roxana shared her experience of learning leadership as a young person in Detroit Summer: “The youth dialogues were powerful cause youth chose the topics, after 8 hours of working together, cooking, eating together, etc. And then we facilitated ourselves, and we really got into the topics. We learned to think and challenge and learn and reconcile – it was our space.”

Then they both shared some of the key ideas they have learned from Jimmy and Grace Lee Boggs: dialectical humanism (the spiral of learning, doing, reflecting, and living in cycle); that our role is to birth a movement that is already emerging (not create a movement from our minds).

I spoke about how leadership has a lot to do with having a strategic mind (rather than a strategic plan), because everything changes all the time. And I love that – I am influenced by Octavia Butler’s concept in the Parable of the Sower that “change is god” – and I believe learning that to navigate change with grace is the greatest skill.

The group physicist, Jan, pointed out to us that our leadership model is based on the idea that exponential growth is good. Now, it is becoming clearer that “exponential growth is unsustainable,” and that we need to develop models of leadership that focus on prosperity, abundance, equity, deeply local and small models.

I reiterated my thoughts that this is a time of birth – while folks are experiencing economic “crisis” as a dark moment, the great recession…we can experience this darkness like a womb that is birthing sustainable societies.

Then I got so into the conversation that I stopped taking notes – but here were some key points I jotted down:

BAN PASSIVE AGGRESSIVENESS

READ borderlands

Angle Kyodo Williams says its overwhelming what’s happening in the world and we haven’t developed the soul capacity to handle it. Our communities need to “grow our souls” as Grace Lee Boggs says. I think it helps to localize it to your own community and move through that space.

The sweet spot for where to bring your leadership in your community is where your passion/interest meet you skill set and converge on the need. It’s a triangle.

READ Don Miguel Ruiz’s Four Agreements

Something we are experiencing right now with Ruckus is that the experience of the community (awareness, composting, shared chores, localized healthy food, etc) had just as much impact as the action training. That is to say, the skills are necessary, AND our leadership shows up in how we ARE with each other, as much as what we are teaching.

That’s all for now! Kalamazoo is lovely and we wish them luck and hope Ruckus trains a lot of folks there in nonviolent direct action!

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