Monthly Archive for April, 2010

if at first it’s not received, post, post again…

i was just reminded that i read the hopi 11th hour prophecy aloud at a gathering last year. as arizona implements the policy equivalent of a cross burning in their state yard {which daisy hernandez wrote a brilliant piece on how to boycott, and we at ruckus are providing action support to folks on the ground around…} and as oil coats the ocean life and coast line in the gulf region, and as the stakes rise and the need to be effective organizers gets more dire, i think it is a good time to revisit this prophecy:

“You have been telling the people that this is the Eleventh Hour, now you must go back and tell the people that this is THE HOUR.

And there are things to be considered…

Where are you living?
What are you doing?
What are your relationships?
Are you in right relation?
Where is your water?
Know your garden.

It is time to speak your Truth.
Create your community.
Be good to each other.
And do not look outside yourself for the leader.

This could be a good time!

There is a river flowing now very fast. It is so great and swift that there are those who will be afraid. They will try to hold on to the shore. They will feel they are being torn apart and will suffer greatly.

Know the river has its destination.

The elders say we must let go of the shore, push off into the middle of the river, keep our eyes open, and our heads above the water. And I say, see who is in there with you and celebrate.

At this time in history, we are to take nothing personally. Least of all, ourselves. For the moment that we do, our spiritual growth and journey comes to a halt.

The time of the lone wolf is over.
Gather yourselves!
Banish the word struggle from your attitude and your vocabulary. All that we do now must be done in a sacred manner and in celebration.

We are the ones we’ve been waiting for.

Oraibi, Arizona Hopi Nation

It’s also a good time to listen to my friend Toki Wright’s remake of By The Time I Get To Arizona – enjoy!

justice at the council on foundations

wow…i love good surprises!

i just left the council on foundations annual conference in denver, co, where i got to speak about movement building as part of the social justice track.

the fact that such a track exists in that space is apparently a victorious thing in and of itself…to have several sessions focused on a nuanced exploration of improving the impact of philanthropy on large scale justice-oriented goals is not to be taken for granted in this historically conservative space. i was allowed to go for a day, and met several participants and speakers who do really noteworthy investments in deep movement building.

i was there because i got invited to participate in a fishbowl conversation moderated by tim sweeney of the gill foundation, who was just delightful. a few weeks ago we had a conversation to prepare for this one, and i already had a clear sense that there was openness to truly new thinking on what the relationship between philanthropy and social justice movement building could look like. the track organzers, suzanne siskel, anna pond and jessica bearman, were really thoughtful in pulling us together, and deeply curious about the new ideas we were bringing…even down to little things. i suggested they use wordle to quickly show what our panel worked on, and they ended up creating wordle spreads for all the sessions.

the other panelists [whose full names and bios are below] were carlos, ryan, katherine, chet and erica. i think i managed to grab noteworthy quotes from all of them, and the conversation was pretty juicy for a panel at a philanthropy conference. from the audience, stephen bradbury, kavitha ramdas and akwasi aidoo — were also key to shaping the lessons we were sharing.

one particularly thrilling unexpected piece was on the power of nonviolent direct action as a strategy. kavitha asked how we realistically build movements when the communities we are supporting are in deeply violent circumstances where their actions, particularly in self-defense, gets highlighted while the circumstances surrounding their actions aren’t mentioned. this led to a deep conversation on how important it is to have groups like ruckus which focus on strategic and creative nonviolent direct action tactics. its not fair to tell a community which is being erased off the planet to choose nonviolence if its not working – and yet we have more and more cases that show that nonviolent direct action and civil disobedience is a crucial component of successful movement building, and usually much more strategic for an oppressed community than violence. the strategic argument carries much more weight than the morality of it – i cannot speak to morality in war torn zones, when my whole family has been killed or separated from me…and i mean zones from detroit to dakar. so we went there, and i was really impressed with the depth and complexity of people’s responses.

i hope this leads to some solid resources – not just for ruckus, but for groups who engage in action!

now i wanted to just offer some of the quotes from the session which i think speak for themselves:

How much pressure does it take to transform you? — slam nuba, the opening performer [the metaphor was diamonds]

One element of social movements is a common narrative – a new story. — Ryan Friedrichs

To me a social movement feels local no matter how big it gets. A social movement is visionary, but also creates tangible changes in people’s lives. A strong social movement is adaptive and decentralized, growing in many directions from a point of shared vision. — Me

I don’t know if we have movements in the U.S. – issues yes, networks yes, but can we stop Arizona’s racist policy? Will we really boycott Arizona in a meaningful way? — Me

I think a major question we are asking here is: Are we in it to win it? Social movements are messy. One thing is for sure – when you write out the most impacted communities, we all lose. – Katherine Acey, Astrea Foundation

If we don’t work together at a large scale, globalise our movement work, then we just migrate problems from one region to another. — Chet, Global Greengrants

Social movements are self-organized, complex, adaptive systems – and must be resilient. — Chet, Global Greengrants [this quote THRILLED me!!]

You have to have the long view, which is not something philanthropy has done much of yet. Civil rights was a long arc, starting with slaves trying to break free, not just with the bus boycott. — Erica Hunt, 21st Century Foundation

I look at the Zapatistas, who built movement by building relationships, slowly, in people’s living rooms, building a shared dream and a longing for community. I also think of sustainability – investing in embedded leadership so that communities don’t depend on organizations or funders, but on themselves. — Me

Culture and arts are not a side piece, but a critical piece of our movements. It tells the story. – Katherine Acey, Astrea

Fund movements such that they can fund themselves..have a strategy to move small dollars, be cooperative. – Ryan Friedrichs

As a funder how do you buy space for groups to make mistakes, do long arc work and eventually connect to policy change? – Erica Hunt, 21st Century

We have to make sure folks understand and are invested in reforms so that our policies aren’t empty. — Stephen Bradberry, Gulf Coast Fund

Strong national work is only possible when built upon strong local work – whether its policies or practices. — Me

We have to keep our eyes on the prize: we seek collective behavior change, not policy change. — Chet T, Global Greengrants

Philanthropy needs to think like communities, which are not sectioned off into issues, and are not short-term. Intersectionality, long-term thinking…whole communities are like whole people. — Me

Don’t restrict funds. Do return phone calls. Don’t increase tension among allies by asking us for dirt on each other. Do fund people to do their work in the field, not something you decide outside of their experience is right for them. Do invest in growing organizers’ capacity to evaluate their work and adapt. Do practice w/us, don’t just visit – do some work and get to know the people. — Me, on tangible things philanthropists can do as movement builders

Roots don’t do very well when they are unearthed…how do we make sure we don’t do more harm than good {when we bring community leaders our of their community to work with philanthropy, when we try to dig to the root of a problem}? — Akwasi, Trust Fund Africa

I want to talk about violence. Chet said movements are nonviolent – but what about places where violence is the setting? Palestinians are supposed to be like Gandhi no matter what circumstances they are up against. I want to ask how far we will go in supporting social movements, and how we honestly address the violence. — Kavitha Ramdas, Global Fund for Women

I look to groups like The Ruckus Society for creative ways to be nonviolent, because violence will never work, strategically. – Erica Hunt, 21st Century

We really work hard not to make a moral judgment call on nonviolence when we are not in those situations of having our families killed, having no options. We make it a strategic call, a tactic that works when up against overwhelming odds – to commit to nonviolence and be disciplined, and be creative. — Me

We act like nonviolence is easy. We have to teach what it means and doesn’t mean! – Carlos Saavedra

From my own experience I must say, violence will never work – it simply puts more barriers between people But we need the courage to fund creative tactics, including nonviolent direct action. – Avila, Community Foundation of Northern Ireland

One point to emphasize – strategic plans are vulnerable to changing landscapes. Strategic minds are fed by changing landscapes. We need to fund in ways that grow the strategic capacity of communities in ways that are not stopped cold by economic crisis or new policy, but can adapt and use change as a strength. — Me

Groups we sited as doing good work: Resource Generation (developing new donors with a justice analysis), Smartmeme (changing the foundational stories upon which we build our movement strategies), Movement Generation (reorienting communities from an oppositional/victim frame to a resistance/resilience eco-justice frame) and GIFT (training communities in grassroots fundraising tactics).

Here’s the full description of our session:

Movement Building for Social Justice

How can philanthropy best contribute toward the core social justice strategy of movement building? This session will explore ways foundations support movement building in a variety of social justice issue areas —from same-sex marriage, to immigrant rights, human rights, and campaign finance reform. Presenters will discuss strategies that have and have not worked—from attempts to connect the dots between policy and organizing, to incorporating technology to support activism or using the arts to challenge perceptions. Workshop participants will distill these into lessons for foundations working in and around social justice.

Moderator: Tim Sweeney, president and CEO, Gill Foundation
Presenters: Ryan Friedrichs, executive director, State Voices; Carlos Saavedra, executive director, United We Dream; Adrienne Maree Brown, executive director, the Ruckus Society; Katherine Acey, executive director, Astraea Lesbian Foundation for Justice; Chet Tchozewski, president, Global Greengrants Fund; Erica Hunt, president, Twenty-First Century Foundation
Session Designers: Suzanne Siskel, director, Social Justice Philanthropy, Ford Foundation; Henry Izumizaki, CEO, One Nation, Learning Director, The Russell Family Foundation; Karen Zelermyer, executive director, Funders for Lesbian and Gay Issues

common fire

i’m at the common fire board retreat, building with old friends and new ones around of vision of developing intentional communities that are grounded with and led by urban, grassroots folks. it’s a really inspirational process to go through, as part of a set of communities across the country learning and figuring this out.

my friends, jeff and kavitha, founded a coop house in ny which was one of the greenest buildings on the east coast when it was built. now there are two further communities – one in beacon, near nyc, and the other is common fire west, growing in oakland, both just getting started.

a vision document was developed, and a video, both of which lay out deeply and specifically what the essential criteria of communities needs to be in order to support a truly radical vision for a new world.

we are not the first to think on these things, or the last. but we are doing a ton of research, reading octavia butler, traveling around the world to see how intentional communities look in other places and thinking about what that could really look like in the u.s. and how communities can get started…

the essential characteristics that have been identified thus far are:

1. true diversity and accessibility [not surface, and not token, but really a variety of race, class, ability, sexuality, spiritual, age and gender voices in leadership]
2. ongoing personal growth and interpersonal dialogue. [many of the folks in common fire use the Be Present model of deep listening and direct, emotional, wholistic communication. but other models are present as well.]
3. aligning actions with values, or achieving means-to-ends consistency. that the community doesn’t espouse one set of values while practicing another…for me this is deeply aligned with ruckus’s “actions speak louder than words” value which has repeatedly shown up in my life and is how i grant credibility to folks i come across.
4. bridging transformation in the community with transformation in the world…for me this directly addresses the way that transformation is often an internal process – for a person or a small community – and that we have to be more accountable to playing a political and relevant role for the world which is full of people we love.

i am thinking a lot about octavia butler’s acorn communities, and the earthseed belief system she puts forth there in the parable series, and how crucial it is for a community to develop a shared culture that honors the divinity and beauty and brilliance and offerings of each member of the community.

this work is deeply tied to food justice, to self-sufficiency, to health at a community level, to birth and life and retreat and teaching and learning. it’s super inspiring and we’re just figuring out the very beginnings of this – but it is so crucial that this vision sparks in our hearts and minds to hold in light of racial profiling in arizona, in light of the world we are in right now.

i’ll keep you posted!

don’t settle.

there is this pledge which came into my life through the art of change yearlong. i want to share it here, again:

- i am at peace with the life i am leading
- i take responsibility for my life and my choices
- i make changes in my lifestyle that i want to make
- i don’t complain about what i am not committed to change
- i am at peace with that which is not changeable.

there is a vast space between being at peace and settling. our lives are a gift! all that breath moving through us, the way we can feel one with each other, the marvelous pain and pleasure of the body. we aren’t here to numb it out and just get by – we must struggle against any systems within or beyond ourselves that suggest we should curl up and accept less than a deeply present, deeply fulfilling life.

what you practice is who you are. don’t practice settling, tucking away your dreams in a self-deferral process you think you deserve for some crimes you didn’t commit. practice radical forgiveness and acts of expansive kindness and wholeness – to yourself and to everyone you meet.

your life is not a litany of sins and mistakes – it was all learning, and the lesson is that you deserve the best life, a deeply good life, that you have to let go of self-denial for it, and it’s a fight to the death to submit constantly to the calling within you, that deeper calling to what you are MEANT TO BE and how you are MEANT TO LOVE.

the pledge is just between you and the miracle of your life – to let it come.

don’t settle!

Big Changes at Ruckus!

Blog family – I want to share with you the exciting news about my transition out of the executive director position at The Ruckus Society. My co-workers of the past year – Megan Swoboda and Sharon Lungo, are stepping up as co-directors…which anyone who has ever been through an organizational transition knows is a dream come true.

Here is the letter that I sent out to all of our members and I just wanted to share it with you. I am beyond thrilled about reaching this point – it was a lot of work and I have learned so much. My next steps are finding facilitation and organizational development that excites me – I’m sure there’s plenty to do.

Wish me luck :)

a very wide wingspan

my friend lottie wrote this poem to celebrate a woman i am just getting to know – linda campbell, long-time movement builder based here in detroit. wanted to share it with y’all as i come off a weekend of very tangible creating. enjoy:

Concerning One Woman with a Very Wide Wingspan

We hold Oya.
this warrior spirit
Urban Orisha from the
east coast

we sit at your feet,
soaking in your spirit,
furrowed brow, and
thoughtful word

we go forward

we tell our story of
what warrior women do
we of strength,
courage, wisdom

we love with our ears,
we just listen
for the silent voices
we turn up the volume

we cook from scratch
we pull causes up by the root
we craft bowls to cradle
gentle new simmer stew

we seed generations
to come
we hold candles
we cry, we cry, we cry

we lightning bolt power
shocking it into truth
we whirl our skirts into
tornadoes

we change clothes

we put our pants on
we grow our beards
we are Pharoahs
we joust with strap-on dicks

we don’t blink when smoke is thick
we carry bricks to break mirrors
we are shape shifters,
movement builders

we do what we have to.

we begin by listening

this weekend i am representing ruckus at an allied media projects earned income strategy session, sharing and learning about how to generate resources for and with a network.

we started the weekend last night by reviewing AMP’s principles, which the board and staff co-created. i’ve been on the board for years, and the naming of these principles was a codifying of my politic which was/is so satisfying and exciting that i wanted to share the principles with y’all! enjoy:

PRINCIPLES

Since its inception in 2002 and going back to the initial conference in 1999, Allied Media Projects has been learning from its network of participants. Through the AMC vision statement, case statement, and conference program, we attempt to articulate what we learn back to the network each year, continuing the process of listening and learning and speaking. We adapt our way of organizing based on what we hear and learn from the network. 

Year to year, many things have changed and continue to change, giving our shared work and the conference vitality. Especially in the past few years, though, we have drawn certain lessons repeatedly, from a variety of sources. Together, we have tested, adapted, applied, and honed these lessons. At this point, some of the concepts are so consistent and widely practiced throughout the network, that they amount to a set of shared principles. We articulate these shared principles here, to the best of our ability, so that we can all more clearly understand the work we are doing together… 
 
- We are making an honest attempt to solve the most significant problems of our day.

- We are building a network of people and organizations that are developing long-term solutions based on the immediate confrontation of our most pressing problems. 

- Wherever there is a problem, there are already people acting on the problem in some fashion. Understanding those actions is the starting point for developing effective strategies to resolve the problem, so we focus on the solutions, not the problems. 

- We emphasize our own power and legitimacy. 

- We presume our power, not our powerlessness. 

- We are agents, not victims. 

- We spend more time building than attacking. 

- We focus on strategies rather than issues. 

- The strongest solutions happen through the process, not in a moment at the end of the process. 

- The most effective strategies for us are the ones that work in situations of scarce resources and intersecting systems of oppression because those solutions tend to be the most holistic and sustainable. 

- Place is important. For the AMC, Detroit is important as a source of innovative, collaborative, low-resource solutions. Detroit gives the conference a sense of place, just as each of the conference participants bring their own sense of place with them to the conference. 

- We encourage people to engage with their whole selves, not just with one part of their identity. 

- We begin by listening.

aren’t those beautiful? this is how those principles look to me:

this weekend we at Ruckus are here with Detroit Summer, People’s Production House, Institute of Popular Education of Southern California (IDEPSCA), Climbing PoeTree, Palestine Education Project, Young Women’s Empowerment Project, Prometheus and Emergence to think through how what we know about earned income can grow these principles into a sustainable strategy.

these principles are deeply aligned with ruckus’s work, and with how I am inspired by and approaching the US Social Forum.

Simultaneously I am reviewing a Gloria Anzaldúa reader and seeing how similar principles emerged from her life’s work.

It’s a beautiful synergistic moment.

:)

mind blown

yesterday was one of the highlight days of my life.

i sat in a room with people like me, as octavia butler might suggest are ‘close in the pattern’. we were there because hip-hop artist invincible pulled us together to have a round table on concepts she is exploring for her next album project – complex sciences and social movements.

we got to hear from a teacher who addresses racism and misogyny with her 5th graders. she broke down for us how important it is to address social justice through a science lens. she taught us that many of the foundations of superiority – racial, gender and other – are grounded in scientific processes of measuring craniums and leaping to conclusions about mental capacity.

we had presentations and deep conversations on decentralization, small-scale and relationship-based organizing, adaptive and facilitative leadership, the singularity, indigenous technology and time travel.

!!!

the other people on this journey included writers, healers, facilitators, organizers, artists. we danced around each others minds, connected and explored.

at the end of the day i got to speak with a friend who is a doula on the path to being a midwife. this has been a recent call in my life that i am trying to determine how to respond to…a doula? a doula. a doula!?

the whole way home i was processing all of these new ideas, new structures, new metaphors, new ways of things. i thought about how octavia butler’s writing speaks to all of this and what a scholarly engagement with her work could yield. i thought about healing and useful skills in a community. i thought about major lessons on how organizing works and how to share that information.

i thought until 5 am! it’s been a long time since my mind was so active till the wee hours of the morning.

i cant stop thinking. my mind is blown all open – i know its all possible. that’s inspiring and invigorating. it makes me feel completely alive. what would make you this excited?

dwell on it, manifest it, begin to do it every day.

what is liberation of the mind?

seriously, i am celebrating over a year of not following the traditional news cycle, and it feels like i am unhooking my mind off all kinds of toxic crack.

i was just chatting with a friend about some top secret DC strategy listserv, and my whole being went ew, while laughing…the matrix holds itself up with a news cycle that tells us what is important, what is drama, what is controversy, and what is acceptable. and almost all of it is counter to my belief system of people powered change in a real where ‘change is god’ (octavia butler who I am proposing a session on at the amc).

i started small, by not indulging in negative and reactionary news bits – stuff where the whole story is a back and forth between privileged people jockeying for dominance over each other on a theoretical level. i was too often amazed at how angry and up in arms folks would get over situations they truly knew nothing about, debating based on tiny morsels of subjective information presented like shadows on a wall in plato’s allegory of the cave. I thought I might feel like an ostrich burying my head in the sand…

instead, it almost immediately became clear to me how repetitive and uninteresting the news cycle is. the process – news drops, everyone obsesses, takes sides, gets vehement, and then another piece of news drops…it can destroy minds. good minds, totally distracted from the actual world happening in front of them, building nothing.

i now ignore whole cycles of news that have nothing to do with my life or my community. when i hear a piece of news that is tragedy, i let myself feel it, light a candle and mourn, rather than obsessing over morbid details. i am trying to learn all i can about detroit, because that news is relevant to me, and because i am committed to doing the work needed not just to change the message, but to change the whole story, the whole reality.

i am not ungrateful to those who do watch those cycles and point to the larger patterns, the way the influences are happening. but i do know through my work with allied media that the way to really shift people’s understanding of an issue in the face of reductionist media is to deepen and expand your relationship with them. i send people i love in-depth pieces, rather than debating with strangers in the comment boards of fox stories.

i don’t feel like an ostrich! i feel like a phoenix :)

in related news – buy erykah badu’s new album and listen to it on repeat till you get it.

how to make miracles.

i have had a skeptical relationship with jesus – an active relationship which has looked different over the years, ranging from doubt to jaw dropping awe-inspired belief and back again. i love talking to those who believe deeply – it moves me. i’ve landed in the ‘many prophets’ zone [connected to many worlds and many universes theory] – jesus, buddha, muhammad, khalil gibran, my nephew, octavia butler…depends when and where you enter the human experience as to which will work for you, but i feel comfortable calling on all of them.

i have had a similar journey with miracles. i love miracles, but not the type that folks write ancient tomes about. i love the miracle of nature, the way there are these gorgeous and precise matches of prey and predator; i love ecosystems, i love birds flocking, i love sunrises and sunsets and the miracle of the michigan sky most of the time. i love finding whale skeletons at the top of mountains; the miracle of time.

lately i have been meditating a lot on three kinds of miraculous occurrences.

first: our existence as miracle. breath moving through the body, heart pumping, the speed of blood, the relationship of our emotional and spiritual selves to our physical selves. if we acknowledge this, it isn’t a huge leap to realize that our actions must be worth that miracle. so just realizing that we live, and all life is miraculous, that’s first.

then second miracle is the result of more and more people dedicating themselves to the mundane daily practices of existence that align us with the planet and with our own long-term survival. the meditative practices of composting, farming, baking bread, growing mushrooms, raising chickens, preserving water, using and being midwives and doulas, building and retrofitting homes, riding bicycles, healing each other, creating music and art, reaching consensus, holding each other accountable, working in community, learning self-defense together and applying restorative/transformative justice processes and so forth. the experience of being alive grows deeper when we value and work for (and with) all existence.

the third kind of miracle is the sacrifice of life for future generations, for a vision of justice in the world. this is nothing less than a miracle to me.

today is the anniversary of the assassination of martin luther king, jr, who foresaw his death and had this to say about it: “If physical death is the price that I must pay to free my white brothers and sisters from a permanent death of the spirit, then nothing can be more redemptive.”

it’s also easter sunday. i grew up searching for eggs and eating chocolate out of baskets and hearing the story told again and again: jesus was crucified. nailed to a cross and bled out hanging there – was died, buried, and rolled away the rock to rise again. jesus died for our sins, for every sin from killing to coveting, including even the sins of those who persecuted him. he not only forgave them, he was their redemption.

the parallel between these stories strikes me deeply – to have a clear vision of a liberated world {liberated from sin, from racism, from superiority, from hatred}…to KNOW this other world is possible, that it is within us, within our own behaviors – to have such faith in this that you literally sacrifice the life you are experiencing for that greater possibility – this is a miracle of love and faith.

i was always told that the miracle was the rising from the dead, but…i am older now. i look around me and see those who are sacrificing themselves daily for these visions of justice, for this love of humanity.

perhaps because of the ages during which jesus and then martin lived, it was necessary for their sacrifice to be a masculine hero story, a singular miracle. these days i see it much more often as a community act, a giving of one’s life to the practice of taking care of others and being cared for.

i am the first to admit, i am not as selfless as those i surround myself with, and those around the world who risk their lives every day to live…simply LIVE…in tibet, in palestine, in colombia, in haiti, in detroit. i see mothers and fathers make this sacrifice for their children, and later i see children make these sacrifices for their elders. i see organizers do this for their communities – pushing out past sustainability.

of course, we have to have balance….but/and/yet the thing is, we are dying a bit every day anyway. we can either struggle to grasp on to life that is fleeting, or hustle to accumulate as much fleeting material as possible, or we can use the time and space of our lives to be miraculous. and the path that seems to most consistently yield miracles is working to increase our collective capacity to love.

miracles are possible when we let that love consume us and use us, when we give ourselves over to understanding that our existence is a miracle.

life is most meaningful to me when i see it as a great arc of all things, possibly all existing at once but with circles, cycles, spirals, movement to it beyond my own individual days. the stories in history and in the present that most move me are all aligned with the belief that “the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, or the one.” [star trek: the wrath of khan, 1982]

so whatever the circumstances were, if there was endless bread and fish involved, wine or water, a mountaintop…it was all a dream. a dream so dangerous that the dreamers were murdered before they reached the age of 40. a dream of miracles for the meek, mundane masses. and that dream continues today in a million ways…only time will tell which ones are right.

i have been thinking about what we have to practice in order to become miracle makers…it can’t always be as tragic and dramatic and isolated as being gunned down or nailed to a cross, there has to be a daily action. i am pretty sure it is love, in all it’s forms. love is the act of miracles.

to love is radical, to love in the face of human behavior is faith, and to love those who hate you so much that you would sacrifice your life for them…surely that is a miracle.

at grace lee boggs’ house there is a sign on the wall that says “community organizing is to the collective what spiritual practice is to the individual.” yes, yes, yes…and its all, every small and great act, love.