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?

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

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.

afrofuturism and #blackspring (new school, #afroturismtns)

welcome to #blackspring!

today as we speak there are actions happening across the country, and here in new york, a massive round of future claiming.

we tend to think and speak of afrofuturism as the far off future, something beyond our current comprehension and planet. but now is the only moment. AND we hope things will be different in the next now. AND I must admit, i am excited about the near future.

what are we about to do after this winter of discontent?

we have been escalating tactics in the face of flagrant injustice.
escalating tactics because we charge genocide,
we charge homicide,
we say no more killing us,
we say no more reckless obstinate impunity,
We say no more white supremacy in governance,

because, we say, black lives matter!

an afrofuturist assertion.

because we see something other than the normative truths of this place…we see something that is NOT here…

we see the future, cast over this devastating present moment.

we see,
and we believe.
we know,
and we bend the world to assert and embody that black lives matter.

that, to me, is the heart of afrofuturism, as i choose to understand it. labels don’t excite me so much, but concepts turn me on. the concept of seeing and creating the future from a perspective that has the lineage of an african seed, of something older and other than western, feels healing to me.

we, of that displaced diasporic seed, who involuntarily reach back to the motherland in our dreams, have been scattered so far from each other.

and in spite of all the odds, we have been resilient.

i cannot speak emotionally about the journeys of the other seed clusters, though i am seeking stories all the time, reading nnedi okorafor and ben okri and credo mutwa and wanting to know more.

but i can speak of the grief stricken journey of the kidnapped african…

and the abused, raped, enslaved, lynched, uprising negro, or in the language of white supremacy, the ‘nigra, or nigger’;

the beaten, vilified, billyclubbed, legally unlovable, disobedient and organizing afro-american, or again ‘nigger’;

the tokenized, mistrusted, mistaken, misguided, self-loathing, entrepreneurial, hoodwinked and bamboozled, boot strapped, assimilating african american, or ‘nigger’;

and the divergent, underpaid, unemployed, sugar soothed, imprisoned, resistant, resilient, awakened, politicized black. Or ‘thug. or nigger’.

so this is a shout out to the uppity nigger beyond all space and time. all along this journey, those who some saw and see as particularly ‘uppity niggers’, i call afrofuturists.

they, we, have cast our lot forward.

lately I’ve been obsessing over the afrofuturism and justice orientation of slave era blacks, because our situation today feels so terrifying, and exhausting and sometimes hopeless, and there’s so much trauma and grief to bear, and yet we survived THAT.

not individually, but collectively.

not all of those black people were afrofuturists, but to focus on afrofuturists in the black social justice tradition, i would note that:

africans leaping off of slaver ships were afrofuturists.
slave era parents teaching their babies a foreign alphabet in the candlelit dirt were afrofuturists.
black women dissociating themselves through to tomorrow while being raped into motherhood were afrofuturists.
those who raised the children of violence and those who chose not to, all were predicting the future and articulating their choices.
slaves who ran to freedom, and slaves who ran to their deaths, were afrofuturists.

it is the emphasis on a tomorrow that centers the dignity of that seed, particularly in the face of extinction, that marks, for me, the afrofuturist.

and of course there are the big ones, whose names have made it through the erasers of history books, into our mouths – harriet, sojourner, frederick, john, malcolm, james, ella, martin, nina, june, toni.

octavia.

now it is our work, and the exciting thing about this time is that we are learning to name ourselves, our distinctions and solidarities. our afrofuturisms and black springs. developing enough of a common dream language that we can be that much more explicit about the real futures we are shaping into existence.

we are touching the future, reaching out across boundaries and post apocalyptic conditions to touch each other, to call each other out as family, as beloveds.

‘all that you touch, you change. all that you change, changes you.’

we are making ourselves vulnerable enough to be changed, which will of course change what black existence means.

octavia butler, who gave us that philosophical spirit poem of earthseed that I just quoted, is a bridge for many of us, between this world, and the narratives that pull us through to the next realm, or the parallel universe, or the future in which we are the protagonists.

this is the essence of octavia’s brood, the anthology of original science fiction from social justice movements which walidah imarisha and i had the honor of co-editing. walidah couldn’t be with us today because she is visiting the political prisoner sundiata acoli, but she sends her love.

what we are all up to, this changing the world willfully, is science fictional behavior.

because all organizing is science fiction.

we are creating a world we have never seen. we are whispering it to each other cuddled in the dark, and we are screaming it at people who are so scared of it that they dress themselves in war regalia to turn and face us.

because of our ancestors, because of us and because of the children we are raising, there will be a future without police and prisons.

yes.

there will be a future without rape.

without harrassment, and constant fear, and childhood sexual assault.

a future without war, hunger, violence.

with abundance.

where gender is a joyful spectrum.
where my nephew would not be bullied for his brilliant differentness.

where each of our bodies is treated like sacred ground, whether we have insurance or not…that one is very real for me right now as i am coming off of a surprise major surgery a couple weeks ago, and that, in addition to the urgency of our movements right now for black lives, and for the planet, all has me in a much closer consideration of the future.

octavia’s brood is 2 essays and 20 pieces of original and beautiful visionary fiction from largely hesitant and skeptical organizers, with breathtaking appearances from some folks who have been creating this kind of work long term – tananarive due, levar burton, mumia abu-jamal, and others.

visionary fiction, (a term which walidah coined, this was what made me start following her all over the internet til she said yes to this anthology) visionary fiction includes sci fi, speculative fiction, fantasy, magical realism, myth, all of it. in addition to this intentional genrecide, visionary fiction intentionally explores:

how change happens from the bottom up,
how change works in collective ways, disrupting the single white male hero narrative,
centering marginalized communities…meaning we are the center of the story, as opposed to the sexy and unbelievably stylish sidekick.
and visionary fiction is hard, and realistic, and hopeful.

it’s neither utopian nor dystopian, its more like life.

in real life, we may make it to a future full of gardens and bicycles, but we may not get to choose who is there with us, and we may never get to leave it.
we may get rid of gentrification but not without violence.
we may get to travel to parallel universes, but only by feeling completely insane in this one.
we may learn to use dissociation and other responses to trauma as a way to teleport and heal, but not without losing our families.
we may create the key to a liberated technofuture, but have to live a life on the run to keep it from being weaponized.
our black skin may become special and valued, but then we have to fight to keep it from those who realize melanin is better for surviving increased sunlight.
there might be angels, but what if the good ones get kicked out of heaven for trying to help us.

all of this and much more is explored in the book. these are writers who mostly didn’t identify as artists, as writers…and yet, we argued, their lives are acts of futurism and creation. when they returned to us on our deadline, and instead of the ten pages we begged for, there were 40-50 pages of new novels and character visitations.

the stories are beautiful. we went through 6-7 edits for each one, loving them up. sheree renee thomas, the editor of the dark matter collections, advised us and let us know they were great. john jennings crafted the cover for us – and created a glyph system, a glyph for each story which is incorporated into the cosmic space of octavia on the cover. i don’t have copies here but if you order online at ak press, use the code octaviafs and you will get free shipping through the end of may. octaviafs.

so…imagination is one of the spoils of colonization, which in many ways is claiming who gets to imagine the future for a given geography. losing our imagination is a symptom of trauma. reclaiming the right to dream the future, strengthening the muscle to imagine together as black people, is a revolutionary decolonizing activity.

when we were in the editing process, these narratives felt important and interconnected – now as i reread the book obsessively, the whole thing feels so audacious. it is massive, the visions of these organizers are in no way small.

and in that way we hope we honor octavia butler’s legacy. she never wrote us a small problem, or a small vision. she offered us nothing stagnant. to speak of her protagonists, i use the term emergent strategy – strategies that create and move complex systems and patterns through relatively simple interactions. if you have noticed a flock of starlings move through the air in a pluralistic dance, or seen geese share leadership moving south, you have seen my movement vision, and what i believe octavia offers one case study after another for:

leading that centers relationship,

decentralization and interdependence,

adaptation…or being in right relationship to change,

resilience, the capacity to accommodate and integrate change,

transformative justice – going to the root of the problem and transforming the conditions instead of just getting punitive and righteous about symptoms,

fractal (or the idea that patterns repeat across scale – the spiral on your finger echoes the spiral of the galaxy, how do we become the small,scale version of the large scale changes we seek?)

and finally creating more possibilities, as opposed to current strategies which seek to narrow options down to one path forward…

some of the key practices that show up in octavia butler’s work, and in octavia’s brood, are collaboration, compassion, curiosity, romantic and sensual and non-possessive love, play, mediation, and the patience that comes from seeing ourselves in a much longer arc of time than we are encouraged to see in the instantaneous culture of the modern world.

so along with touring the book and reading stories to people, we are offering workshops that blend visionary fiction and social justice, in ways we hope are elegant.

one is a training in science fiction and direction action, which we’ll be offering a taste of here. in this we plan actions in some of our favorite sci fi worlds and apply the lessons to our current work.

two is a collective sci fi writing workshop, where we use collaborative ideation to build a world that is a living solution or testing ground to work through a current local issue.

third, i have been offering trainings in emergent strategy, and emergent strategy facilitation. and on one level i am talking about adaptation and resilience and mushrooms and schools of fish and spirals and stardust and stuff.

but what i am really asking, what we are all really asking, what octavia was asking, is how do we who know the world needs to change begin to practice BEING different?

how do WE have to BE for justice to truly be transformative? not them, that massive amorphous them
that is also us,
in our heads and hearts,
or loves us,
or is tired of this shit but is family to us…not them, because maybe they don’t recognize yet that these changes are the key to human survival.

but us, us who are awake and awakening? how do we need to BE for black lives to matter? what do we need to HEAL in ourselves in order to offer a future of any real peace?

or to become the protagonists of this human story – and earn the flip of the page of all the sentient life in the universe?

to claim the future as a compelling place for our miracles?

this is everything.

science fiction is not fluffy stuff. afrofuturism is not just the coolest look that ever existed. the future is not an escapist place to occupy. all of it is the inevitable result of what we do today, and the more we take it in our hands, imagine it as a place of justice and pleasure, the more the future knows we want it, and that we aren’t letting go.

so. start this black spring, start with black lives matter. its the afrofuturist activity of this moment. embody the concept that black lives matter. no matter what your background is, no matter what your struggles are, let black lives matter fill you up, believe it, practice it being true.

all along the journey, all of the afrofuturists i named from movements before this time, all they have been is unapologetically black, uncompromising in their right to take up space. will you promise to do that?

i love you.
black love.

guest blog: cheeraz gormon

while i was in st. louis i met such exquisite humans. one of them is an incredible artist-organizer-healer named cheeraz gormon. she is tenacious and brilliant. a few days after we left st. louis, her book In the Midst of Loving came out. she posted this on facebook that day, and i just wanted to pass on to y’all who she is, how much she is feeling on behalf of herself, her family, the place and people she loves. this is the kind of wisdom you gain by living.

“Today, my mother and I walked in court to endure the last of the painful journey regarding my brother’s death. Part of this process included me reading, “Impact Statements,” one written by my mother, and one from me. For me, this process was like holding a third funeral for my brother, except the person who murdered my brother was present, along with his family, the other victims, officers of the court, a judge, domestic violence prevention advocates, and other strangers. My hands shook uncontrollably, at one point I thought I was going to fall because my equilibrium was knocked off, at points I had to stop, take deep breath and wipe tears away as the prosecuting attorney did her best to support me. And by the grace of God, I got through it.

As to be expected, the young man that took John’s life was sentenced to life without the possibility of parole or probation, and he was sentenced to almost an extra 100-years for the other crimes he was found guilty of.

The judge told him point-blank, ‘You will die in jail.’

These events have weighed heavy on me for various reasons, because just like my brother’s Black Life Mattered, the young man that took my brother’s life, his Black Life Matters. The lives of that young man’s children, three beautiful little girls whose lives he has damaged with his actions, their Black Lives Matter. The young woman, the mother of his children, who had been taking abuse from him all these years, her Black Life Matters!

While that young man may be sentenced to life in prison, he has not been sentenced to death. So as long as he has breath in his body, he has the ability to change, to atone for what he’s done, and to be a different type of person. The choice will be his.

On this Spring Equinox evening, I ask you all to hold my family and all families affected by domestic and community violence in your heart and to send us love and light, as we enter this new chapter and energy.”

report back: loving on st louis

“we need this. we have needed this.”

spannaltaderrek

that is what we heard over and over from the people who showed up to saint john’s church on grand avenue in st. louis this past week. i am now reflecting at home after an incredible and intense week as part of a healing justice team from generative somatics and BOLD who flew in from detroit, new york, cali, hawaii, miami.

lisaalta

deniseprentis

we were invited and anchored by patrisse marie cullors-brignac, cofounder of #blacklivesmatter, founder/co-director of dignity and power now, and general sister goddess extraordinaire. she collaborated with the brilliant ashley yates, one of the first st. louis activists to call the nation to attention. it’s something else to be in either of these women’s presence. both at the same time? black girl magic.

patrissestarsky

ashleystarsky

our host at saint john’s UCC was reverend starsky, who really does give me andre 3000 pulpit edition, and president marco, who gives hugs that feel like rearrangements. they are flanked by uncle/brother cornelius and kara, who took care of everything we could need, and camielle, who hung in with every single thing we did the whole week.

these blessed people have been offering up a space and structure for healing, gathering, song, prayer and growth for a long time. seven months ago their church became one respite in the war that the st. louis police department is waging against the people. so that’s where we went.

i tried to write y’all while we were there, but i couldn’t. the place is both too beautiful and too heavy. and i actually wasn’t even alone to write or reflect the whole week, except for a few ten minute showers. those who know me well will know how incredible the week was, because i didn’t notice not being alone, i just felt love, love and purpose, the whole time.

adaku

octavia butler reminded us that ‘god is change’; st. louis is a city overflowing with god. the conditions and mood change constantly, and each person we met showed that same ever mercurial energy, along and under the surface. they had other jobs, and loves, lives and grief, often very fresh grief, when they were called on to become the front line of a defensive battle.

that is, when mike brown was murdered.

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i have to share with y’all about where mike died. not anything new, but something deeply felt. it is different to see something on the news, and then to touch and breathe it.

on our last night in town, after days of healing and loving up on st. louis, we went to the place where he was gunned down. i always knew it was out in the open, i’ve seen the pictures and film. but there are so many windows looking at the street he ghosts. there it is…on a major street in a housing complex where a thousand eyes of all ages were able to easily look out from their living rooms, bedrooms, kitchens.

as we pulled up, a young boy walked across the street. as he stepped off the curb i wanted to build a fortress around him, knowing it’s impossible, knowing there are so many boys like him. one of the grown men we did healing work with wept as he spoke of being young, large, awkward and black – feeling the fear people had of him in the face of his innocence.

mike was murdered in a neighborhood ringed by three story apartment buildings, many of which now stand empty. he was murdered on a road folks speed down, between a busy parking lot and a slew of yards and balconies. there are two monuments where he died, one long and slender in the middle of the street, the other a mountain around the base of a streetlamp nearby. they are primarily constructed of stuffed animals – teddy bears, toy elephants, soft floppy birds, pink puppies. mixed into this pyre of toys are candles, letters, protest signs, sandals and shoes, v for vendetta masks, flyers, folded banners, cardinals hats, jerseys, photographs.

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mike’s face looks out from the pile, his beautiful young face. his familiar stranger face.

the fur of the toys gives the effect of a muted rainbow in the yellow lamplight, pressed upon by time, slumped, tainted. these teddy bears have been through the first winter mike missed. toys. it’s so sad, so devastating, so enraging.

rage. there is no other way to speak of it. i can’t find anything beautiful in it.

when i stepped from the sidewalk onto the street, my gut started shaking and didn’t stop until we drove away. it’s a stained tar middle passage – the body knows when it crosses a place of hate.

“we who believe in freedom cannot rest until it comes.”

after the memorial we went to the ferguson police department, one night after the police chief stepped down and two officers were shot. there were black activists holding the center – ‘if we don’t get it, shut it down’ – white activists, clergy, politicians.

i have been many places where we yelled ‘no justice, no peace’, and then, for a million reasons, we went home. but in st. louis right now, the truth of those words is so palpable – i feel it in my bones. this is the gift st. louis has given the nation. this small, tight knit, intimate, imperfect place has been showing us, for 216 days now, what it means to deny any myth of peace in the absence of justice.

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being black and loving black people in an armed and militarized police nation infected with unchecked institutionalized racism is traumatizing. the shivers that journeyed my body standing across from the ferguson police department felt like intelligence. i could see the fear, the desperate longing for control on the police faces before me. armed and dangerous humans, and they are in a war against people who are…living and black. some of us are flagrantly and radically living, resisting and calling out the truth.

but the ones getting killed in this war…there’s so much innocence in the murdered ones.

and in the survivors.

“it’s so much scarier when it’s just in your head.”

the people who came to sit with us each day are the heart of this local movement that has captured international attention. they are warriors, comrades, beloveds and people of faith. many of them are young in that way that feels lit from within. several older folks came to check us out and it was humbling to see them look the younger activists in their eyes and say ‘you changed me’.

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every single person who came through our doors had trauma before, after, inside and outside of the moment on august 9 when they learned mike brown’s name and story, when they drove to ferguson and wouldn’t go home.

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our team was led by lisa thomas-adeyemo and included alta starr, denise perry, prentis hemphill, adaku utah and myself. we centered, taught, did one on one sessions and story circles, sang, saged, practiced, listened and held everyone we could reach. we worked with people as individuals and groups to move trauma out of their bodies, and to give them practices for bringing what they care about to the center of their lives and decision making.

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each day was emergent, and each day we learned more about each other’s capacity and the place we had come to. there was a lot of awe, wonder, resilience and love.

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the work we came to do, somatics, is not about healing for the sake of individual wellness, though that is a radical act for any people slated for extinction. it is about healing trauma such that individuals and communities are not operating in reaction to oppression, and not relinquishing control over and over again because of changes outside their power. it is about organizing our lives, ourselves, around what we most care about and long for. and then living positive, generative, whole lives from that place.

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there is always going to be so much devastation to react to, especially for those of us on the wrong side of racism. the trauma won’t stop. if we hope to advance, we have to find ways to move through and out of the vice grip of trauma that so drastically limits our choices.

it felt like a beginning. so much more is needed.

lisa led us in a song the last day that keeps rolling through me:

‘we gonna rise with the fire of freedom
truth is the fire that will burn our chains
stop the fire of destruction
healing is the fire running through our veins’

#blacklivesmatter freedom song

a couple of months ago i was on a piece of special and haunted land in north carolina with BOLD. i was facilitating our national gathering, where we had a lot to look back on and look forward to – #blacklivesmatter was born of three BOLD participants and as we vision the future there is not only the terror of the ongoing and escalating violence against black and brown communities, but in this moment the joy of movement, of having thousands in the streets together, of feeling like justice is possible.

that saturday morning i woke up from a dream in which i was in a massive crowd marching, dancing, singing and blowing brass band horns to a song i had never heard before. i sang it into my phone, and then i couldn’t stop singing and humming it as i got ready. freedom song, freedom song, i got to sing my freedom song – i love my people oh i love us so. i got my freedom and i won’t let go.

then i went into the morning session where sister-doctor alexis pauline gumbs led us in a practice of chanting in small groups using the words of brilliant black feminist ancestors. my group worked with the words of harriet tubman, ‘my people are free’. as with many of the words passed down from tubman, this declaration is futuristic, complex. but as we chanted it, it became – oh – so tender, so simple, so clear that that was the truth that everything tries to make us forget. we wept and rocked and laughed together, and i can still the way each of the women in my circle co-created the opening we felt.

that evening the rest of the song came – black lives matter. black lives matter. black lives matter to me. your life matters, my life matters, black lives matter to me!

i recorded the whole thing wearing my #blacklivesmatter hoodie, my uniform for the latter half of 2014. i sent it to the BLM team for feedback and they posted it. one of the people who saw it, another brilliant black woman in the lineage of harriet tubman, is phaedra ellis-lamkins. because of her, with the help of the black lives matter team (patrisse, alicia, opal and damon), and the recording support of invincible – the song now has an incredible video full of the moments that inspired this song.

here is the video.

my next dream to sing it at a march with a brass band, dancing.

sugar is a white noise

as soon as i slow down i can see it’s not about the sugar, it’s about the pain.

it’s not just eating more greens, cutting out this or that from my diet, doubling my water, exercising. those are good smart things for humans, yes. but i have to give myself adequate room for the pain.

there is a way sugar is, in nature, a way we are meant to have it. the impact of a banana is so different from the impact of a bar of sea salted caramel chocolate with pecan bits…my body knows, because it is of the earth. it remembers surviving and grieving before sugar was our primary collective comfort.

it remembers that pain takes time.

beyond that sweet way of nature, sugar has a disorganizing effect, blurring the edges of life between infusions. i was feeling something hard but then i found the whiskey.

perhaps this is why we start comforting and rewarding children with sugar so early. the pain is coming and it cannot be avoided. but here is something faster, more tangible than god, and it will make the pain taste sweet.

after the service there were cookies, i anticipated those more than scripture.

then later in life you, i, try to make grief sweet.

in the quiet and the stillness i can feel the ache of who i don’t have, the presence throughout my body, the longing to hold my unborn nephew or niece, to look at charity’s smile and tell her how much i respect her, to hold my grandfather’s big hand and let him pray over me, to watch david perform a new poem, to ask sheddy about love, to meet aiyana and treasure and eric and renisha and mike and trayvon and jordan and see how precious they all are.

yesterday i was biking up a hill, and i tilted my head down so that my new turquoise straw hat, which is very glamorous, blocked the view. i convinced myself i was going downhill, looking only at the concrete moving under me, thinking like ender. i willed it into being a coasting, not an effort. it worked most of the way and i was giggling. and then the truth showed up in my thighs, my knees. look up. this is the hill.

this is the grief.

the dissonance comes when the sugar high, the delusion of sweetness, the delusion of control, is gone. the pain is not sweet, even though it is love. and it is not gone. it is sitting as a sharp emptiness in my gut, and it wants to be respected.

not reasoned with. it is, i am the one who has to accept it.

sugar is a white noise i make to block out the sharpness, the wailing, replace it with insatiability. i want, i need, i am alive.

then it’s dark, and there is no desire that will feed me, there is just sitting with what is, humbling myself before the things i cannot have, letting them go.

when i lose something, i try to keep tokens of it in my body. perhaps if i am bigger, softer, i can fit more memories inside myself, carry all the lit flames with me forever. this is semi-conscious now, i can’t claim the cluelessness of my younger grief and comfort eating. now i know, i know what i am trying to do, i know that it doesn’t work, i go through the motions, still hurting.

what i can carry has no weight. the little essence of a human, the distinctions, they don’t need heft, they only need time. i have to sit still and say their names. i have to let that sharp feeling move through me gathering up breath and tears and volume.

sugar is a false comfort, wrapping a festering wound in a beautiful scarf when actually it needs oxygen.

i have to let it out.

everything is undoable, and no two people, even in the most intimate togetherness, remember the same way exactly what is done. even if i can’t remember it, what i have consumed lives in me, what i have loved, when i have fucked up, when i have misunderstood, where i have held my integrity. it’s done, it’s perceived, it happened.

i have to remember what we did. i only have to remember my part of it, but i have to remember it.

my perspective sometimes feels so tiny, compromised. sometimes it seems like only the parts of my memory that hurt are really clear. maybe everyone isn’t like this. maybe it is a choice?

yesterday i felt 36. i was wearing sensible shoes and a wide brimmed hat, overt glossy sunscreen. i thought it would redirect certain attention, but still there were men in town trying to speak to me about sex while using other words, asking me to go swim or walk with them. i felt amused because couldn’t they read the CLOSED sign of my shoes? i felt enraged because couldn’t they see that i was preparing to cry?

i am learning to shake my head no in a more definitive way.

i am learning to care for my body.

i am learning to place my longevity ahead of social norms for how a woman like me should present herself.

i am learning i can’t make everything feel good.

i am learning to be still and quiet for a long time, with myself.

i am learning the limitations of coping.

i am learning to feel.

i think pain is teaching me these lessons.

a perfect action

it’s a beautiful day to be black.

woke up this morning to a brilliant new d’angelo album dedicated to ferguson and occupy, resistance. it’s full of love songs and funky grimy sexy beautiful man sounds over guitar and…so prince, so shuggie otis, so marvin, so bilal, so brilliant, so worth the long wait.

and then ava duvernay became the first black woman nominated for a golden globe (oscar coming soon i’m sure) for best director for selma.

and between those two things, i got to attend an action called by the blackout collective in oakland, flowing together efforts for #blacklivesmatter, #blackbrunch, #asians4blacklives and others.

i wasn’t planning to attend, i was heading to the airport after a tight trip to california mostly spent in petaluma at the strozzi dojo as part of my first generative somatics teaching team. i’ve been in training building to this for two years and think the work we do is mindblowing. and it’s massive, i usually can’t do social or event time around it.

but my ride to the airport was one of my loves, alicia garza, one of the three women who dreamt up #blacklivesmatter and spoke our longing into movement. we were heading to breakfast when the news broke, oakland police department shut down. so of course we had to go skip breakfast and see what was happening because social media had us both texting in exclamations.

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(from the blackout collective)

if you don’t know me, a while ago i was part of the ruckus society staff. going to an action in oakland is family reunion time. today’s action was beautifully familiar, and also different in ways that deserve noticing.

on the action front, oh god it was so good, i was taking in as much as i could as my tears of joy and gratitude blended with the soft cold rain. i couldn’t stop hugging people, people who were white, asian, black, latino, taking actions to assert that black lives matter. i wanted to be close to these massive hearts.

the action, from what i observed, was perfection. every entrance into the oakland police department was blockaded. the street in front of the entrance was blockaded on both ends, abundantly. the banners were stunning and clear – ‘black and breathing’, ‘complacency is consent’, and a flag flying from the OPD flagpole, held in place by a brave human who scaled it with muscle and rope, with the faces of our recent martyrs, stating once again that ‘black lives matter’.

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the action was so incredibly powerful because it clearly centered around the messaging, leadership and visibility of young black leaders, stepping and chanting and singing and marching and fists in the air claiming historical space. the blackout collective. you know that scene in malcolm x where they march to the hospital? it was like that but with no one appearing to call out the directions, with women and queer folks and locs and fros. they seemed to move as a body, dignity head to toe.

just as clearly, allies were providing cover, taking risks, embodying solidarity. such a necessary resource when done right!

the main OPD door was held by loved ones, asian comrades, with the banner #asians4blacklives. another door was held by white allies with a banner reading ‘every 28 hours a black person is killed by a cop or vigilante’. these door blockers were locked down, a good and organized mix of risk. the streets were blocked by what appeared to be white allies, and i saw latino and indigenous leadership as well.

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i cannot overstate how powerful the container felt, with the blackout collective and other blacks yelling ‘show me what solidarity looks like!’ and the allies on the streets and locked to the doors and guarding the base of the flagpole all yelling back ‘this is what solidarity looks like!’

i am getting chills remembering it to share with you.

here are the protocols being practiced in this ally work:

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every time the cops moved in for arrest, a hundred devices popped up, those documenting also chanting, to be clear that there is nothing, not anything, that will go unnoticed or unseen. vigilance. a plethora of roles. an abundance of ways to be OF the moment.

i was so moved, trying to smile and say hello to old friends with so many tears in my throat. the personal difference for me was getting to attend as a black person, not in the action, not in the know. i was dressed for femme bonding breakfast and then the plane, ruby woo on my lips, trench coat, boots, suitcase.

i’ll admit here that the whole time i was at ruckus i felt out of my league, the badassery around me so thorough, and me so library-nook-nerd trying to understand how groups and people change. but i felt so good this morning, like all the right people were in all the right places. i felt beloved and held. i am a facilitator and singer and writer and healer in a movement that evolves from and advances many movements. again, not a beginning or end, but not a phase either. a move forward. it isn’t confusing. i wrote afterwards to one of my friends in the action that i felt beloved. i feel it now, that my life is precious, that my life matters. it surprises me to say this, but…it feels new.

it’s such a tender green shoot of a thing, because i am not saying this about america, where i know it will be a long long time before i feel a real mattering, a legislated, cultural mattering. i don’t expect it in this nation state structure.

no what i mean is in the smaller space of movement, where i believe we have to embody the world we long for, where so many of us have been hurt and broken hearted and ignored and disrespected and kept coming back, where so many of us have been stepped on and over and still stood up and kept finding new ways, kept offering our love to this effort to transform it all, seeing the conditioning, working not to take it personally, finding an open artery to send our love into the blood cells of revolutionary work…i mean in that place? to feel that my black queer woman facilitator thinker writer artist healer lover life matters?

yeah i need to go listen to this d’angelo and feel all my feelings. thank you oakland.