american revolutionary

i assert my solutions as the living embodiment of my nationality…

i’m testing that statement out.

for a long time, most of my conscious political life, i have not thought of myself as an american (and not a nationalist at all, especially not of a colonial empire). i have been a world traveller. a future ex-pat. a staunch critic of the ways america is failing at everything from dreams to execution of values, from founding to present. and i hold these critiques to be self-evident – how can anyone with a mind and a heart not see the failure, the epic moral failure of the country i was born into?

recently, 3 things have made me reconsider my relationship to america.

one thing is sitting with the words of the late james boggs and being with grace lee boggs, and their clear belief that we have to understand the context of where we are, that there is a real place in which we have the right to be revolutionary. jimmy said, “i don’t believe no one can run this country better than me,” and he said that as a worker. now i feel challenged by grace’s latest thinking, that a new “more perfect union” is ours to envision and embody, and i think we have to believe that no one can run this country, community by community, better than those of us with clear visions and practices of justice and sustainability. if we believe that, then we must take on the responsibility of bringing our visions into existence – through our actions, not just our words.

the second thing that has made me reconsider this is a conversation that happened at web of change. it was hosted by anasa troutman and angel kyodo williams, and i wasn’t even there, just got to debrief how powerful it was with several participants afterwards. one of the key components was the idea of being able to say that those things that offend us at the deepest level, which seem inhumane, which give us feelings of shame by association – we have to step up to say “that is not our America.” leaving the space open for american identity to be defined only by those who are driven by fear leaves us with what we have now – policies of walls and borders instead of open arms and visions, prisons and penalties instead of communities that hold each other accountable and safe, poverty and joblessness instead of meaningful roles in communities where we each feel our worth and get honored for our contributions. america holds an international role which we who have citizenship here can’t shake off – unsolicited and violent judge, oppressor, manipulator of resources and relationships, bringer of trash/waste/dehumanizing work. what we are within our colonized borders is amplified in our external actions. and there are enough of us who know a better way that if we truly took on the responsibility, the practice of being american revolutionaries, it would have a worldwide impact. scaling up, yes, but only by going deep in accepting the privilege and responsibility of being american at this moment in time and taking up new practices wherever we are.

the third piece for me is looking at my family in light of recent stories i have heard from immigrant families living and dying to get a hold of a status i have taken for granted. my sisters and i were born in texas, in el paso. folks who are brown like me and whose ancestors’ blood still bakes in the earth of my birthplace, folks who were born 10 miles away from me, they have died because of long-term impacts of our foreign policy, trade policy, drug habits. on a fundamental level, being an american means being responsible for the human cost of our way of living, our mistakes, our policies. i may not agree with the policies, but that doesn’t much matter to the people impacted by them if i do nothing to change the ways of this country. my family has had a chance at happiness that was made possible because of american military endeavors and i have to attend to that reality. can i face it completely and instead of feeling shame, think of what can bring justice to my family, to my nephew and niece as they begin their young political journeys? this feels like huge work for me.

i see more and more that my path is not necessarily an organizing path, be it electoral or community. this is not simply because i am disappointed in our movements, though i feel, viscerally, that we/they are mostly practicing what i could call the old american ethic: spread, grow, mainstream yourself, prosper in competition, value new ideas over ancient wisdom, colonize by spreading as many chapters with cookie cutter action plans as far and wide as you can, don’t apologize, pitch first and listen later, etc.

all of that is there, but my calling is underneath that critique, and it feels like yearning, it feels like a budding set of solutions. i am interested in connecting with, building with, and supporting folks who are interested in the next american revolution – in holding space for a new american ethic that speaks to the experience of masses of people within these hyper-enforced borders: we start by seeking indigenous wisdom for how to be in this place and honor those who have been here the longest. we stand with the world in calling for america to evolve as we practice these new-old ways of being here. we build our economy of relationships, not dollars. we see ourselves as part of a global network of citizens of one shared planet who have a collective responsibility towards home. we respect each other and the land, we practice restorative justice, we begin by listening, we accept the responsibility of where we are. instead of being known for our critique, we embody the revolution wherever we are, in whatever work we are called to.

i know i can’t change the past, not even the very recent past, our actions of yesterday and even this morning. but i am also more and more aware that i can’t put off this being of a place for even one more day. i have lived in many places, and i have loved many places, but i have papers for one place, voting power for one place, family all rooted in one place. it is this place where i will make my stand.

in a way this is another coming out, full of terror and bravado…and pumping out of me like blood. i will test this out, here, as a truth and an invitation: i am an american revolutionary.

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!

deep change

i’m sitting in the wonderful asheville airport after a weekend with other people who, like myself, are interested in transformational personal and political work. we were all brought together by rockwood, stone circles, movement strategy center and the seasons fund for a conference called Deep Change.

i was very very excited for ruckus to be invited, because i have been with ruckus through a lot of changes, and on a fundamental level i believe direct action is a spiritual and potentially transformational act. i also believe that right now there is a need to transform the justifiable anger that many communities we work with are feeling into visionary pro-Action.

i learned so much – it feels like it was much longer than three days of time. i took a lot of notes in the process, and feel like the best way to share some of the experience is to share the questions, words i heard and moments of clarity that occurred to me throughout (in no particular order, in quotes, and with no names unless i reference some larger ongoing work that folks are doing):

– for a caterpillar to become a butterfly, it has to go into a cocoon (or pupa, or chrysalis) and become complete “goop”. the caterpillar is compelled to create and go into the cocoon, but the resulting butterfly shares no DNA with the caterpillar it once was. that is transformation.
– what is a collective metaphor equivalent to the path of the butterfly, as that is such an individual journey? (i heard something about monarch butterflies the last day that might address this – i will research this and keep y’all informed)
– what we long for is embedded in our genetic and/or ancestral memories; i remember flight and long for it. i remember wholeness, and long for it.
– “i carry everything that happened to my ancestors in my blood.”
– “i come from a circular belief system.”
– i have to heal my relationship to the south; that is where my family is from, and where my extended family is now. i thought love kept me away from the south – the interracial love that led to my birth, the woman i love now. but it is racism and homophobia that keep me from the south, and love that will bring me home.
– i am the living embodiment of love that overcomes seemingly impossible odds. that is my legacy.
– gender is not a determinant in how i experience love or attraction.
– my capacity to love is limitless.
– how do we hold the limitless dimension in our clearly limited body?
– when i sit directly across from someone who knows how to open themselves, it is possible to create a shared energy field in which words are unnecessary.
– “our efforts should not be to do no harm, it should be to do love”
– i am an earth sign, i need water all around me, over me and through me, every day.
– each human being is mostly water. “The human body is more than 60 percent water. Blood is 92 percent water, the brain and muscles are 75 percent water, and bones are about 22 percent water.” when we are in the water, and drinking water, it is home, sustenance, part of us. bless and honor water before you drink it, or while in the shower, know the water you are from and go often to the water near you. (a lot of this thinking is from Kathy Sanchez and the work of the Tewa Women’s Collective, also Masaru Emoto’s Hidden Messages in Water)
– our potential for truly DEEP practice and change is limited by two external factors that we have internalized. first, “colonization has moved us away from our ancestral practices,” and second, “capitalism has commodified the places and practices that lead us to depth.” we are displaced, and as soon as we discover something we try to mass produce it, instead of letting it root deeply.
– we have ego invested in our current form. when most of us speak of change, we mean improving or reforming our current form. most of us are not ready to truly surrender to complete transformation – practice creates the space to releasing ego and surrendering to that greater yearning.
– being in community is a practice. actually living and being accountable to other people is a key piece of knowing yourself and offering your gifts. also mentioned were prayer, meditation, song, ceremony, dance, deep listening, martial arts (folks were learning aikido principles, doing tai chi and jo kata throughout our time together). swimming has been a deep practice of mine recently.
– truth and reconciliation is a necessary part of a functional community.
– practice allows us to birth new worlds.
– “we don’t have the depth of political analysis and of personal practice we need”
– rather than continuously attempting to tell others what they lack and convince them of the need for transformational work, we must embody depth. if enough of us are willing to engage in deep practice in our political and personal journeys, and we embody the vision, the centered-ness, and the depth, then it’s possible we can create a tipping point in the culture.
– we must engage in this embodiment at the individual level, and bring it into our work so that our groups and/or organizations reflect deep and grounded visionary work. our networks, coalitions and alliances must also reflect this. the structures in which we do our work – currently 501c3s for many of us – must evolve to reflect transformational intention.
– at this moment, we must accumulate mass by growing depth in community, while staying connected to those beyond our immediate community and sharing our learnings. the other option is watering down the depth in order to make it easier to consume for the masses, engaging in the practices of our opposition, rather than the practices of our own liberation. we have to make our own communities long for their deepest, truest, free-est selves.
– “identity politics (especially as expressed by labels and self-stereotyping) is a phase”; knowing and sharing our full and complex selves, our lineages, and our life experiences is part of our path towards healing.
– nonviolent direct action has been and should be a deeply transformational and spiritual practice
– we are warriors in each nonviolent direct action we do – our action is us extending ourselves towards our visions.
– shared and emergent leadership is possible in spaces where we trust each other to stay in community
– we must bring practice – meditation, physical practices, prayer, ceremony, song – into all that we do. we might not call it “practice”, just say let’s breathe together, lets sit in silence for a few moments, let’s get grounded. but we must seek to be our most balanced selves, oriented towards our longing, in every space we share together.

whew. writing up this list rejuvenates me, and i hope it makes sense to you, dear readers.

other things that happened included getting very lost on a muddy pitch-black path in the forest, trying to get to a fire circle. there was a dog, there was the rumor of bear, there were men thrashing out ahead through the bushes, there was a woman who told me to breathe deeply and see it as an adventure, there was my fear and complaints and desire to turn back, my urbanity welling up inside me. but we made it. i learned maps can have a lot of information, but still not get you there. i learned that i can go into the darkness as long as i am with others, and particularly if i can hold another person and feel their breathing.

so – let’s go deep together. let’s practice. let’s go into the dark together, holding each other tight. as angel kyodo williams says, “this is our time.”