last week i got to geek out on octavia butler and emergent strategy at solespace in oakland.
about the space – if you are in oakland, ever, this is a place to go and be in movement with others and buy sweet shoes to support the brilliant vision of community and cooperation that owner/innovator jeff perlstein is building there. jeff reached out to me about an event when he heard i’d be in town, and i thought a small talk about octavia butler with some of my homies would be fun. dani mcclain and malkia cyril, both immensely humble and brilliant leaders living in the bay, were game to come play.
about the event…it was pretty magical.
first i read the piece on octavia butler and emergent strategy from the transformative justice sci-fi reader which was unveiled at the allied media conference last year. here’s a few excerpts:
emergence is the way complex systems and patterns arise out of a multiplicity of relatively simple interactions. rather than laying out big strategic plans for our work, many of us have been coming together in community, in authentic relationships, and seeing what emerges from our conversations, visions and needs.
we knew that we were seeing deeper commitment and radical transformation in this community work, but how could we articulate it as being strategic?
we were reminded that strategy is a word of military origin, and refers to a plan of action designed to achieve a particular goal. the fact that many of us were using a military definition in order to achieve an evolution in humanity was both ridiculous and illuminating. that alone was a driver for some redefining. it was also a little funny that we have been saying strategic like its a subjective thing, a sign of good. it simply means planned towards a goal. it can be an inflexible outdated hierarchical colonial imperial urgent haphazard plan towards a goal and still be strategic, technically…
we needed to be able to get more specific in what we meant, what we wanted, and how we could measure our progress.
(input lots of examples from octavia’s work which serve as case studies of emergent strategy)
…we can define emergent strategy as intentional, strong because it is decentralized, adaptive, interdependent, and creating more possibilities. bringing emergent strategy to our organizing means we become creators of our future together.
we are not limited to how things have been done in the past in terms of how we share leadership, how we manage interpersonal justice, how we make decisions, how we grow our work. even our smallest acts of integrity grow our collective capacity to live our visions into reality.
after this reading, we moved into a conversation, first with dani and malkia and myself, and then opened our seats so that anyone in the room could come up and speak. so many powerful ideas were shared. i asked participants to share what impacted them most afterwards, on the facebook event page.
this is no transcript, but here’s some of what folks remembered:
- be careful of charisma (glamouring) in leadership
- it is important to win campaigns, but always know that only gets us from a to b. maybe to j. not to z.
- we need both emergent strategy and more traditional campaign based work. (this is evidenced by the smashing of the Acorn community in parables series after ignoring the radical right wing.)
- “Live from a place of passion.” YES!
- we are made to fear our divinity
- being reminded of the limitations of the noun-centered language we speak, that keeps us from seeing ourselves always as beings becoming.
- the importance of ritual and acknowledgement of ancestors and the native land that we stand on.
- the words of the close-out meditation: “if you are (living your passion) doing what you love, and do it day in, day out… celebrate inside from your head down to your toes. And if you are not doing what you love, lean more towards it.”
- where and how do creative/cultural workers find their place in movement work? so much creative practice happens in isolation. how does that figure into collectivity/collective liberation/emergent strategy?
- (free schools) kids deciding their curriculum year to year, making it work for their needs/desires.
- see everyone as a potential ally.
- creativity comes from making room, rather than pushing.
- honor the erotic as the tie-in to our creativity and play.
- “the arrogance of our opposable thumbs.”
- Even an awkward black girl can lead, even when she doesn’t mean to.
- Play and being curious.
- We are all artists.
- Find a place in movement for what you want to do.
- evoked Dagara ritual of elders council asking child in womb what they are coming here to do, what is their gift. For example, if they say an artist, then artists materials are gathered by community and gifted to the parents for the child. And from a young age they apprentice with and shadow artists so education is based on who they are coming here to be for the community, their calling. While we as a society are a long way from being open to something like this, it would be fascinating to get more curious with children about where their passions lie, and fostering that rather than standardized schooling and testing we now have.
- there are resources available to us in dreaming this new existence into being that we are not tapping as deeply into as we can. Ancestors, Sacred Plants, Madre Tierra, etc are cheering us on and just waiting for us to humbly ask for their assistance. Been waiting for us to do so, and excited to see us awakening on a more collective level.
- always do embodied organizing.
- nowadays my visioning conversations are limited to an organization’s aspirations three or five years hence.
- I need to commit to doing personal work that connects my brain, my heart and my body.
- I need reread all of Octavia Butler’s writings.
- I so needed to be encouraged to lean into my passion. Since I fear it could lead me to create a beautiful reality in relative isolation, I heard everyone saying, “go ahead and build it, there’s a place for your vision within the movement.” everyone has a role to play and we find it by being true to ourselves.
- if we don’t start imagining and creating whole new systems, we will never get past the oppressive hierarchical patriarchal systems we are in.
- through it all, the awareness that climate change will make science fiction a reality in all of our lifetimes. This is real, and we have a great opportunity for transformation amidst the upheaval to come.
hopefully this gives you a sense of the magic that was moving through the room. more events coming soon to a city near you