These are my notes (roughly what I said) for framing the closing plenary of the EGA.
Apocalypse is not in the future. It is a current condition. In places like Detroit, where I live, or New Orleans, where I just was for the ten year anniversary of Katrina…or hearing the news from Syria, or the Marshall Islands where my family lived for a while, the apocalypse is all around us. It is happening now.
Apocalypse is not linear, with an end point. I was raised with a Christian concept of apocalypse….four horses, and scene. But there are places that are post-apocalyptic, people beginning again in toxic soil, surviving after what was an end to the economy or environment as we knew it.
Apocalypse and temporary utopia co-exist. We are all interconnected, which means we are all, right now, living in an apocalyptic time. When I go to California I take three minute showers and don’t flush anything, then I leave and I go back to “normal”, instead of holding that the water crisis is interconnected.
The reality now is that there is no science that can account for our future. According to Movement Generation, we are living in the effects of our technology and pollution from 40 years ago, it takes that long for the impacts to fully show up. In 40 years we will feel our impact now! There is no science, no math, nothing to account for the survival of places like New Orleans. Now is a time for imagination and magic that can move us beyond what we think is politically possible now, which is simply not enough.
This is why I write science fiction (after spending so long in social justice work). To cultivate radical imagination. I believe, Octavia’s Brood proposes, that all organizing is science fiction, all efforts to bend the arc of the future towards justice, is science fictional behavior.
How we do that work really matters.
Emergence is the way complex systems and patterns arise out of relatively simple interactions (give examples). We are all interconnected. Denying that, we die. Surrendering to that, we live.
Relationship is key! Relationship, quality relationship, may in fact be everything. To create a shift, we have to learn to be in authentic relationship with, to listen to, voices that are ‘on the ground’.
What does that mean for you? Do you just go up to an organizer and write a check? Perhaps. But aligned with the Jemez principles, ground up happens at every level. In your foundations, it means putting more power in the hands of program officers, who are forming relationships with the field. In organizations it means really listening to the organizers in the field for strategy. And so on.
this year’s allied media conference felt like one miracle after another and i wanted to share out with you all (especially those not there or unable to get into certain workshops) a few stories, agendas, occurrences and the link to the emergent strategy handbook which is now available for viewing online or downloading.
storytelling black women’s lives
this friday morning workshop was proposed as a five person panel of storytellers, featuring some of my favorite scholars of black women ancestors. the panel shifted a few times, and by the time the session rolled around we had two panelists in person and one on a google hangout. but it appears that certain ancestors were so pleased to be told on that they made it not just work, but become a time for praise, healing and magic.
we realized the night before that what we were really engaging was the fine art of being oracles, imparting wisdom as presented through the lives of these ancestors. the oracles were sister doctors alexis pauline gumbs, moya bailey and ayana jamieson.
alexis made an alphabetical list of ancestors and we filled it up as far as we could, trusting that the workshop would be able to keep growing it.
the first part of our workshop was the oracles channeling. a participant would ask a question, and the oracles would let the right story come to them, about octavia butler, or toni cade bambara, or harriet tubman, or another black woman ancestor.
the questions included how to we honor our ancestors as we transition into our own power, how do raise multi level genius babies if we don’t see ourselves as geniuses, how do we tell our mother’s stories in a culture of shaming?
the second part of the workshop gave everyone present a chance to give and receive guidance. i have heard lots of feedback of how accurate the guidance was.
we closed by sending love to sister warrior charity hicks as she sat between here and there in an ICU unit. we conjured up a shared sense of her aliveness and power, and let the universe know we want to learn the next chapters of her life, whether it was to stay or to go.
the brood had two fantastic experiences at the AMC.
first, we got to present four brooders as part of the opening ceremony. alexis, gabriel teodros, dani mcclain and leah lakshmi piepzna-samarasinha (whose name is a joy to my tongue). they hadn’t heard each other’s stories, and it was exciting for us as editors to hear these stories in their voices.
my co-editor, walidah imarisha, was delayed in portland and arrived literally five minutes before we took the stage. we threw on our heels, had a mindmeld and walked out there.
the next morning we got to offer our first behind-the-scenes session. the brooders, including the editors, shared where our stories came from, engaged with the participants about the art of writing visionary science fiction, and offered lessons from the overall process.
walidah and i have learned so much about ourselves and each other in the effort to do this project in line with our principles. we have learned to laugh at each other, keep it real, and offer each other support as our personal lives have unfolded in parallel to this life’s work.
it was beautiful to share that with folks who cannot wait for the book to be out, the transformation is not the end product, it’s the entire journey.
emergent strategy train the trainers
this workshop felt like it’s been building for a while. i created a handbook for it, which you can download now.
i want to decentralize emergent strategy, share it in a way that others can deeply engage and take ownership over and keep learning and shaping.
our room was much much too small. we had 80 people inside and somewhere between 40-50 outside and upset. next time i will request the auditorium, i want so many people to be in practice around this approach and these tools.
i started by reviewing the handbook (shout out to eli feghali for getting it printed the morning of!), which includes three different pieces i have written about emergent strategy, in chronological order, as well as a clear illustrated articulation of the elements of emergent strategy thus far.
the elements were up around the room, and we used emergent strategy methods of flocking and adaptation for the group to engage these elements. while they were flocking about we found a larger room and reconvened the group there.
people were then partnered up with one other person to make emergent strategy commitments. the idea behind this is that you ‘transform yourself to transform the world’. the best way to implement emergent strategies is to become emergent in how you process information and show up in the world. it was beautiful to watch the energy with which people claimed their commitments.
we then came together to reflect back learning and lessons. here are the lessons i offered as a way of deconstructing what we had done:
– collaborative ideation. at the root of generating our ideas, we want to learn to be collaborative, to see the best ideas as growing through conversation and sharing (rather than competing, isolated moves forward).
– begin by listening. this AMC principle is the key practice of emergent strategy. we are tuning into each other, listening not just with our ears but our awareness, understanding, bodies.
– deepening one-on-one connections builds the strength of the whole. to change what is possible in a room, let people connect with each other directly.
– people are more passionate about the things they articulate themselves. don’t over-structure an agenda, let people articulate what they most want to work on together.
– passion over obligation. understand the motivation for people being in the room.
– lao tzu on trust: if you don’t trust the people, you make them untrustworthy.
– make room for the conversation that wants to be had in the room.
– reach for the horizon but realize that it is only a limit of your sight, keep checking for new horizon info as it changes.
emergence is the way complex systems and patterns arise out of a multiplicity of relatively simple interactions. it emphasizes critical connections, authentic relationships, listening with the body and the mind.
in emergence, the whole is a mirror of the parts. fractal – the health of the cell is the health of the species and the planet.
there are examples of emergence everywhere.
birds don’t make a plan to migrate, raising resources to fund their way, packing for scarce times, mapping out their pit stops. they feel a call in their bodies and they must go, and they follow it, responding to each other, each bringing their adaptations.
clara reminded me today of the WAY of flocking: staying separate enough not to crowd each other, aligned enough to maintain a shared direction, and cohesive enough to always move towards each other. destiny is a calling that creates a beautiful journey.
emergence is beyond what the sum of it’s parts could even imagine.
a group of caterpillars and nymphs might not see flight in their future but it’s inevitable. it’s destiny.
oak trees don’t set an intention to listen to each other better, or agree to hold tight to each other when the next storm comes. under the earth always they reach for each other, they grow such that their roots are intertwined & create a system of strength which is as resilient on a sunny day as it is in a hurricane.
dandelions don’t know whether they are a weed or a brilliance. but each seed can create a field of dandelions. we are invited to be that prolific. and to return fertility to the soil around us.
cells may not know civilization is possible. they don’t amass as many units as they can sign up to be the same. no – they grow until they split, complexify. then they interact and intersect and discover their purpose – i am a lung cell! i am a tongue cell! – and they serve it. and they die. and what emerges from these cycles are complex organisms, systems, movements, societies.
detroit. the allied media conference.
nothing is wasted, or a failure. emergence is a system that makes use of everything in the iterative process. it’s all data.
octavia butler says “civilization is to groups what intelligence is to individuals. it is a means of combining the intelligence of many to achieve ongoing group adaptation.”
she also says “everything you touch you change, everything you change, changes you.” we are constantly impacting and changing our civilization – each other, ourselves, intimates, strangers. and in that reality, we are working to recreate a world that is by it’s very nature in a constant state of change.
but Janine Benyus the mother of biomimicry, says Nature would always create conditions conducive to life. She tells of a radical fringe of scientists who are realizing that natural selection isn’t individual but mutual, that species only survive if they learn to be in community.
how can we, future ancestors, align ourselves with the most resilient practices of emergence as a species?
many of us have been socialized that constant growth, and critical mass, are the ways to create change. but emergence shows us that adaptation and evolution depend more upon critical connections. dare i say love. the quality of connection between the nodes in the patterns.
and we know how to connect – and we long for it.
we are going to experiment with this in our bodies now. together we are going to make a wave. how many of you have observed the ocean? the waves are not the same over and over – each one is unique and responsive. the goal is not repeat each other’s motion, but to respond in whatever way feels right in your body. the wave we create here is a one time occurrence, show up. let’s begin.
notice what it takes to respond well. how it feels to be in a body, in a whole – separate, aligned, cohesive. critically connected.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what is my best.
When I was young it was clearly laid out for me what the best was, there were prizes and gold stars and north stars and ways to measure: grades, parental smiles, degrees, solos. I can count my not-best moments (when I saw the failure coming and did not change course) from birth through college on one hand. Generally, I was ambitious because I thought that was good.
Then began a dance, a crumbling of drive, a dusting off of something essential which appeared like an inner resistance. I would achieve some honor, title, position, or acknowledgement and feel erased by it, instead of seen. That I was conforming to other people’s idea of the best, in a society which measured things in ways that didn’t resonate with me.
This has been slow, and its ongoing. It has meant rejecting or sidestepping degrees, money, and certain spotlights. I am beginning to tease out what feels right after years of just being able to sense what didn’t resonate. There are two aspects which are emerging, which work in tandem as a compass towards doing my best: love and dignity.
These two aspects work in a couple of ways – as I follow them, when I feel them in myself or sense them in others, they are leading me to the best life I’ve known. And tasting these feelings, I want more of them – I want to let love grow through me, and guide me. I want to stand in my dignity against all the odds.
If I ask, ‘Is love here?’ and/or ‘Am I in my dignity here?’, I can feel answers that help me move towards my truth and back away from future regrets. I still do things that might be morally questionable, all the time. But with intention, with the consideration of love and dignity being present, I am learning to trust myself to do my best.
Last week my friend dream posted a mini rant about the ways people judge each other’s work and passions. She was responding to general local critiques of folks who aren’t in the streets over the emergency manager in Detroit, among other things.
I was really moved by her words, probably in part because I haven’t been in the streets. To a large extent I see the EM as a distraction, pulling people away from their work to create a future for this city rooted in abundance and community, to fight for a symbol of power instead of continuing to learn how we generate and hold power in community.
But I care about a lot of the people impacted by, displaced by, and focused on resistance to the EM. I’ve been reflecting and writing and meditating and praying on the well-being of all the people I love here who are internalizing this period of Detroit’s history, taking it into their breaking hearts.
I also care about gender justice, which dream named as one of her core passions. And Assata. And the men in Guantanamo Bay. And the sexual health of black women and girls. And people impacted by terrorism and violence the world over. And Palestine. And the tar sands pipeline, environment, trans liberation, combating obesity and fat phobia, education and so many more things.
I want to do my best by these things.
I actually think most people want to do their best, to be good people and create a good society. But there are so many paths to do that good. Is it by being a body in the streets, or infiltrating the school system with radical content, or making new media, or creating more art, or opening cooperative businesses, or raising awareness on social media, or disrupting every city council meeting, or writing science fiction about new worlds, or, or, or?
How to choose? What is the best way?
What I have been exploring over the past few years is that the work I do best is that which I am most passionate about, work which encourages my health and well-being, affirms my power and the power of everyone else, and keeps me in a space of creativity and solutions.
I don’t think this is unique to me. In my heart I feel there are a thousand paths towards justice and liberation. Yes to all of those things, all of that work, all of those strategies. All of these issues need to evolve – which means they each need people who are most passionate about them, people who feel powerful in moving the work forward, who are healthy enough to do the work well, who are creating solutions.
This happens, for me, at the smallest scale. It has felt hard to explain, unimportant after some of the national and/or urgent work I have done in my life – where I felt special and smart and strategic and at the table. But I am beginning to really understand how political it is to do personal emergency management.
Detroit is one epicenter amongst many – we are in the midst of systems which are imploding. Systems which we – well I, and I suspect/hope many of you dear readers – know better than to want to save, because these are systems which rely on our oppression and inequality, on seeing each other as competition rather than family.
So we are working to remember and create new ways to manage our shared home together. And yet many of us are still in the elementary stage of learning how to manage our personal homes – our bodies and health, our relationships, our movement work, our hearts. Not to mention our actual homes and our finances.
I might be in pre-K.
In this chaotic state we try to create change in the world and find ourselves stretched, tired, demoralized, and unable to create the transformations we yearn for, though we feel the possibility within ourselves. But in the lack of knowing how to do things differently, too many of us still do our work from places of fear, obligation or anger. From no, instead of from yes.
I am sitting now with the question of what it means to do my best, as an adult in a world full of crisis and tragedy. I’ve written about cultivating joy as a weapon, as a frontline. And here I don’t mean a general upbeatness. I mean joy powerful enough to generate authentic resistance in the face of hopelessness. Joy that makes people want to create new worlds and new life together.
I think a first step in cultivating that joy is measuring my best based on how well I can manage my personal state. I was in an emergency state for a decade – my mental, emotional and physical health were deteriorating and I wasn’t even really aware of it except occasionally as a badge of honor to mark how dedicated I was to the work. I was, like many activists I love and respect, doing my best impression of eeyore-on-speed.
I am on the journey now of getting my health, spirit, heart and finances together, with the belief that the more grounded, joyful and dignified I am, the better I can live and lead. The more clearly I can apply my gifts and energy towards work I am passionate about, making the most of my miraculous and limited human capacity. Then, the more inviting my futures become. And the stronger my emergent strategies can be.
Because when it is time for us to manage it all – whatever we call it, our neighborhoods, our cities, our sovereign collaborative tribes – I want to be capable of the task, I want to be experienced, I want to be trustworthy. I want it to feel like love and dignity are there.
I suspect we won’t even get a real chance to manage it all until we have generated so much love and dignity and joy that our future is the irresistible one.
I see everything I am doing now as learning, as preparation. Now, and then, I want to do my best.
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 🙂
over and over again
it becomes known
the peace we seek
is seeking us
the joy a full bud
awaiting our attention
justice in our hands
longing to be practiced
the whole world
this thrilling mote in the universe
you are the one
you are waiting for
bind together us into
a greater self
a complex movement
a generative abundance
an embodied evolution
learn to be here
critique is a seductress
her door is always open
so what if you get some
we are going further
past reform, to wonder
this requires comprehension
that cannot fit in words
out beyond our children
beyond the end of time
there is a ceaseless cycle
a fractal of sublime
and we come to create it
to soil our hands and faces
loving loving and loving
ourselves, and all our places
tonight i got the honor of working with margaret wheatley to open a detroit learning journey. folks have come from turkey, brazil, england, canada, and all across the u.s. for this journey.
wheatley is a deep thinker who has worked a lot with organizations and leaders on what is effective. 20 years ago she published a book called leadership and the new science. grace lee boggs read the book a few years ago and began to incorporate some of the ideas into speeches and her own writing, particularly the idea that critical connections are more important in a long-term transformation process than critical mass.
wheatley continued developing her thinking on how transformation happens, how communities learn and evolve. she has published a series of books where she is exploring and sharing her learning – dropping into how we listen to each other, and what communities around the world are doing to generate life, to generate cooperation and future together.
a year ago wheatley was speaking at kalamazoo, and a local activist let detroit organizers know. she came to visit, and since then wheatley has been intentionally building relationship with detroit. this weekend is the latest piece of that building.
folks were invited by wheatley to detroit – not to tour the city, but to engage, to understand what is unique about this place and begin to understand place-based education.
when DAWC purchased their building, the furious white neighbors around them secured legislation that black folks could not walk on the street the building was located on. they had to brick up the door and use the carriage entrance, but they used it, refusing to be blocked or deterred in having the space for social and political gathering.
in such a space we gathered.
we grounded and centered as folks on a journey, lighting candles together to land ourselves in the spirit of openness, learning, shedding light.
then everyone introduced themselves with a question they are holding. the questions were nuanced, thoughtful, and very powerful.
folks from detroit were asking things like how it can be beneficial to detroiters to have folks visit and learn about the amazing work here, how to deepen to commitment and accountability of those who come to see us, and amongst ourselves.
folks visiting were asking things like how to truly engage community, how to show up authentically, how to generate the energy to keep moving forward when it seems impossible.
a question that really stood out to me came from a woman who referenced wheatley’s latest book so far from home: “how can i be more of a warrior, and less of a savior?”
this to me is the crux of the authentic learning experience – which brings the critical connections piece into the present, and the future.
a critical connection is possible when neither person is trying to control or hustle the other. when folks come to detroit not to gawk at what is falling apart, or place organizers here up on a magic pedestal, then something real can transpire. when no one is trying to come save detroit, or save each other – but we see ourselves all as warriors for justice, for the places we love, for the people we are.
then the folks here can share their real human condition, and the struggles of doing work with integrity in a city rife with trauma and corruption. and how fear and hope are both false prophets in that work – that what we need is love and accountability.
in that spirit, everyone can open, open to learning something new, to remembering something deeper than our current analysis…and open to being a conduit of wisdom.
in that spirit of opening, it was such an honor to welcome these journeyers, as someone still landing in detroit a little more every day, and loving it all the time with more breadth and comprehension.
i know i haven’t written much of late. i go through periods where i am living too fast or too deeply for this space, no offense…lately it’s been a combination of both. traveling and healing and being sick and being around babies and looking my future in the face and wondering who i am anymore and remembering and rooting down deeper into my commitments to myself, to Detroit, to my life.
i have been thinking mostly in poems for a bit now, so i have been posting poems here. for those of you who want something else, come back another time, i’m sure i’ll be back to prose in no time.
here are some poems from my 10-poem day last week.
if i should be
so intoxicated with love
so flattened out
sunlit on your petal
if i should stumble with the headiness
of being in the path
of your smile
if i should fall silent
slurred by the dark musk of that grand intimacy
tilt forward with my
fill of magic
batted at you
lean too close
into the sub-terrain of your neck’s curve
forgive me my love
i have been out seeking home
and here you lay, hearth
i suck that sweet liqueur off your lip
losing the myth of difference
down through a million verdant layers
you are the scale of ocean and sun
nothing parchment can bind or separate
such a pure thing
i didn’t even know to long
for such a love
(inspired by an elder’s story)
i went to the grove again
the softest place
away from the lights
that illuminate my bones
for your clumsy artist’s touch
i go where the roots fall all over each other
no one seeking depth
just eternal company
when you have brought blades against me
smiling and pressing
through year after year,
when you couldn’t love the master in me
the all powerful in me
the sweet warrior,
i would scrub your dishes
i would sweep away your messes
bathe your children
and your feet
take your words wrapped in cloth
to unravel over the small fire
the ritual i offered
to the trees
whom i held
and wept into
getting the love
i see another continent in you
i see the plains covered with a people’s prayer for grain
under a rug of synthetic lawns
with your own band of Bedouins
i see an old man atop a horse
at full gallop
after a terrified buffalo, so alive
i see deep breadths of space
great walls and ridges
i see abundance in you
in sunkissed roads
that all lead to moonrise
i have blood in your soil now
i can’t ignore your total desire
i see rivers opening up and down your thighs
as you continue to never say no
not to mean it
someone has you
under his calloused thumb
to think you are some foreign land
from the world
but my love
i see in you that same dust
distracted by stars and myths of tomorrow
i see you clustered up
hemmed up and penned up
longing for yourself
faith held in the potential
of your eldest lover
bruised fingers and nightshade
all over your sumptuous flesh
you still believe it
someday he will love
i see a whole woman in you
operatic landscapes conducted by god
fjord’d, tundra’d, scraped and blasted away
to let the sun fill your hunger
i see your dinosaur years
when the steps were heavy
but not so deep
i see your human years
such laughter and violation
i see your healing cycles
i see you always changing
dropping off into forever
rising up as if you mean to fight
don’t you know yet
who you are?
i see you whole
no borders, no walls
the beauty under your armor
that comes through your suffering
i see another continent in you
i see the taut skin that begs for drumbeats
held on every side
by her arms
i see you offering up your roots
the salt and dirt
the hatred of self
the vulnerable cities
terrified you might survive
but be alone
end the tantrum now my love
you are vast
you are only
you are beloved
you are powerful enough
you have enough
a million times over
the desert is full of life
that is all that you are
the devastating one
love is an emergent process
i stand before my love
and let the tendrils unfurl
in every direction
i am whole
time is one instance
seeing each other
i am the ant
who carries grandfather to the grave
in my palms
you lift the next day’s meal
enough for everyone we know
we in rhythm
on the wind
love can’t look away from itself
vibrating in the cell
into sustained migration
i feel you
like dust feels water
the home galaxy
it appears nothing is new
and nothing is truly massive
when seen in its wholeness
until i took this breath
repeating the miracle
i didn’t know i would say it
could not have known…
i look to the sky
taste the wind on my tongue
and fling myself
into the pattern
when i forget –
when i think the end is near
i realize my insignificance
as important as yours
i never sleep while i’m flying
it’s still such a new knowledge
i don’t yet trust myself to the sky
to the constant wind
i feel the rhythms of my comrades
that intimate biology
as we crest on a change
we’re going to that unknown place
and we all feel her calling
i never sleep while i’m flying
i’m still pressed up against the window
it’s a breathless height
i feel the sweet
hush hush hush
let my fingers run that cloud length
then this one
an eternity of curvings
we defy the heart of the world
teasing back against her pull
by imagining we can fly
when we are falling
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:
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:
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
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!