build as we fight: remarks from the 2019 American Studies Association Annual Meeting

my friend and comrade Scott Kurashige is the president of the American Studies Association, and this year he very kindly invited me to be the artist-in-residence, which meant that I got to do lots of sessions and offers for folks who I am amazed might be interested in my work. my offers here have so far included an emergent strategy workshop, a pleasure activism workshop, singing the Black national anthem to open Scott’s presidential address, and a panel with three of my life teachers, Angela Davis, Robin Kelly and Shea Howell. today I get to do one more panel with some of my favorite speculative fiction thinkers and creators.

the workshops went well, I got to test out new forms for offering the content and got great feedback.

here is the song:

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and here are the notes for my remarks at the panel “build as we fight”, most of which I said roughly like this (I’ll italicize things I wrote but don’t think I spoke aloud):

hi. my name is adrienne maree brown and I’m nervous. it’s delightful to feel this nervous, this alive.

after two days of making academics get in small groups and feel feelings and cry and discuss nakedness, I caught on to the ASA way and I have written up some thoughts to read to you.

I want to tell you about a few ahas, ways I am moving towards the future, and about what building as we fight looks like in my life, thru my lens as a facilitator of Black liberation movements for justice.

my lens is shaped by the Anishanaabe land I fell in love with over a decade ago, also known as Detroit, the post motor city, where it feels like a modern Black Renaissance is unfolding as an artist-led insurgence against gentrification.

I’m shaped by Grace Lee Boggs, who I initially resisted, cause everyone loved and worshipped her, and I mostly recoil at heroes, celebrities and worship. But then we spoke, and I kept coming back. Grace taught me to ‘transform myself to transform the world’, and to keep working a question as long as it took, because some questions are longer than one lifetime.

I’m shaped by her beloved Jimmy, who was gone by the time I got to Detroit, but also present in everything, was everywhere. He reminds me often that I’m nothing outside of relationship, never to let the celebrity so available in capitalism keep me from being in authentic and accountable relationship to real people, to use any platform I have to advance ideas generated and tested by collective formations.

I’m shaped by Scott Kurashige and Emily Lawson, by Shea Howell – who taught me to foment revolution on the detroit river. And Malik Yakini and Feed’em Freedom Growers and the Peace Circles and Detroit Summer.

and by Octavia Butler, the no nonsense prophet who used science fiction to deliver her visions. And Toni Morrison, Samuel Delaney and Nalo Hopkinson, Walter Mosley, and Tananarive Due, all the black speculative fiction writers who bent and bend the world into fractals of truth and justice to help us see ourselves.

and by Margaret Wheatley and Janine Benyus, women studying complexity science. We are also complex science, we are also nature.

I’m shaped by Harriet Tubman, who was willing to go and make a space for those hungry for freedom, those not quite ready to make a run for it without invitation, leadership, path and proof.

I’m shaped by the Tao the ching, which says to let the mud settle into the way is clear. to trust the people. and that mastery is when the collective can feel it’s own power.

and by Audre Lorde, who validated my black queer poetic and erotic aliveness as a measure of political power. And bell hooks with love and rigor, and Toni Cade Bambara with irresistibility and Barbara Ransby showing me that facilitation was radical through Ella bakers legacy.

and of course, of course Angela Davis who has pushed me to understand freedom and justice beyond the carceral state, and Robin DG Kelly, who has widened the lens with which I understand our moment in black history.

and there are so many more. so if it sounds familiar, or like worship, it is.

my first big aha was visionary fiction, offered in a collection of science fiction from social justice movements coedited by myself and Walidah Imarisha called Octavia’s Brood. When I told Grace about this work, she casually dropped that she had tried visionary fiction in the 1970s, and pointed me to the shelf where I could find a copy of it. she thought ‘it could be interesting’.

we who believe in freedom must build our muscle of imagination. because we are living in, and only sometimes surviving, an imagination battle –

who imagined this world?
this absence of right relationship to earth?
this violent addiction to dominating each other?
these myths of superiority of those with pale skin or external sex organs or bodies without kinks in the bones, or born on this side of manmade, and cruelly held, borders?
who imagined that these prison bars on jails and schools would generate safety?
who imagined a generation or more would tolerate this black and brown hunger? and this allowance that some will hunger while others feast, not oblivious, but willfully, and structurally, ignorant?

in the face of this world, this moment, where self definition outside of oppression can feel impossible, we must strengthen our capacity to live and create and affirm and vision outside the white male straight able-bodied citizen gaze, to structure our visions beyond their limited, often self-worshipping imaginations.

or the educated imagination.

any emotion-less, arrogant, vengeful imagination.

we need our own oceanic visions.

socialization of the dominance of white imagination and fantasy creates what toni morrison called “interior pain”.

we must counteract by creating an abundance of interior freedom, and weaving collective freedom dreams, dreams that include all of us, dreams we can speak to each other plainly, or poetically (or as y’all speak to each other, which I’m trying to comprehend).

Dreams as complex as a black owned food cooperative in right relationship with indigenous land lineage, or the community land trust, two projects seeding in Detroit after twenty plus years of experimenting with solutions. We are living science fiction – all organizing is science fiction.

my next big aha was, is, emergent strategy.

emergence is the way complex systems and patterns arise out of relatively simple interactions. emergent strategies are informed by complexity, by learning from nature how to be in right relationship with each other and the earth.

Grace exposed me to Margaret Wheatley and complex science theory as a movement direction. I went fast into learning and I’m still going.

as we fight we must also harness each lesson to learn how to get in right relationship with change.

we must build dialectically, committed to learning with each other more than stagnating in a point of view.

as we fight we must build our fractal capacity, meaning solutions that we practice at a small scale, that will work at any scale (as opposed to solutions we demand at a large scale but no one, or very few people, practice, ever – democracy, abolition).

we need solutions that work for a small band of survivors in an apocalypse bunker if that’s what humanity will be up to for a while, a more and more likely scenario each day. we need to be raising up and becoming humans who have the communications skills, imagination muscle and loving care to make a life worth living at a small, hyper-local scale.

or the scale of municipality, if we can breathe above ground but we can’t fly or drive to each other every other day.

or the scale of instantaneous transporter travel and sky highways and alien technology if that happens first. or the octopuses start talking to us. it’s all equally possible.

one of these fractal skills is what cabral spoke of as revolutionary democracy – trusting the people to learn self governance. many of us are terrified to govern, much more comfortable with critiquing what is than with creating and practicing what will be.

start small. democratize your home, your relationship with your neighbor, with your lover, with your family. if we can’t budget together, we can’t be mad that our government struggles to.

movement generation, also a great teacher of mine, defines economy as the management of home. how do we manage collective home together? how do we contribute to a collective home that is resilient in constantly changing conditions?

at each level, our natural world teaches us that we build the resilience by building relationships, proliferating aligned differences. we need critical connections not just between those who think the same thing, but between different skill sets, worldviews, cultures and, yes, politics.

Loretta Ross teaches us that “a group of people thinking the same thing and moving in the same direction is a cult. a group of people thinking many different things and moving in the same direction is a movement.”

we need to harness the most successful strategies of the natural world – the symbiotic biodiversity, the interdependent fecundity, the abundance mindset of mushrooms and dandelions, the shapeshifting adaptation of multisexed frogs, the collaborative pheremonal effort of ants, the iterative beauty of ferns and deltas and galaxies.

if attended to, and learned from in an ongoing way, these critical connections to each other and to our nature are what make critical mass solid enough not just to demand change, but to become change.

we must go beyond calling for abolition, and build our tolerance for, and practice of, transformative justice.

at an intimate level, I do kitchen table mediation, bringing movement leaders going through a breakup or break down to sit together and remember what is larger than us.

at a collective level I facilitate principled struggle – a Marxist conflict framework by way of N’Tanya Lee at LeftRoots – helping people to have integrity to movement even in personal beef, to struggle for the sake of deeper understanding (not just to be right), to be responsible for our own feelings and actions, to find the right container for our gifts and longings and to release containers that cannot hold us, to seek deeper understanding before writing the critical commentary or instigating the debate or tweeting the complaint. to gossip and vent, yes, we are human – but keep returning with integrity to the work we can and must do together.

in this moment, we can spend a lot of time tracking every crack in the shell, or we can be the chaos that tremors those cracks open, or we can be the wild creature learning to breathe inside that shell, preparing to burst thru, expanding beyond the boundary of what most people think is reality. it’s all construct.

what we can be and do depends on the rigor of our collective attention. are we obsessing over what we cannot change, or nourishing what we can touch and grow – or as Octavia taught us, shape, partner with?

my final offer to build while we fight is pleasure activism.

we must build a felt sense in ourselves of authentic satisfaction. and remember that pleasure is not a frivolous spoil of luxury, but a measure of aliveness, the life force that has been whittled away, stolen away, by oppression and colonization and capitalism. we must break with the assumption of misery that does not serve us.

we are responsible for building movements that feel good to enter and good to stay in. in my work facilitating the movement for black lives, I have continuously asked these current and future shapers of history to turn towards each other (when it felt like there was no time for it), care about each other, sing 90s r&b together, and risk loving each other.

to organize this way means we must remember how to feel. we are not minds alone, strategies and speeches alone. we have multiple kinds of intelligence to draw on. we must learn to tolerate feeling both discomfort and delight, sadness and celebration, more than just fear and submission.

and to love. to be loyal to love, as grace was to jimmy for their life together and for the years after she left. to love the way she did, for us to look at each other the way grace looked at jimmy’s face on that little video of jimmy she played every day.

ultimately we need to feel and heal and grow and love ourselves into movements that birth not just rock stars or temporary victory based campaigns or cultural pendulum swings, but new worlds. movements that can see our future dissolution (rather than permanent institutionalization) not because we outsmarted each other, but because we forget how to lose. and we win by surrendering to our collective purpose, to being life moving towards life, surviving and thriving together. we win only by getting in right relationship, before we go extinct.

if you can’t see the small…

look here. here.

if you can’t see the small
you will keep leaping from built thing
to built thing
begging the sky to rain only on you
you’ll become a tyrant,
reaching, shuffling the cards until you see only your own vision
massive
but no one else can see it

if you can’t see the small
you miss the whole miracle
it is all moments nearly missed, private,
impossible to perform, or
perfectly acted, context and all
moments of faith hit the surface and change it
shivering us open
to love
to our ridiculous longings

if you can’t see the small
you may never feel true love
it comes with the slimmest shadow of warning
whisperclacking spider toes up your spine
to love is to truly lose
the only thing you can ever truly have
and never buy
for love, true, the whole surrender kind
starts with a gasp

if you can’t see the small
you may never know pleasure
which is not about the immersion into eternal bliss, no
it’s the printed pad of your finger
grazing along my shoulder
as you realize you need to feel me
it is inside, where the sun, wind, rain and earth
have never touched you
but i have

if you can’t see the small
you won’t know what the dirt is screaming
one grief at a time
that the whales are singing
warning songs
that there is a shudder in all of life now
a premonition:
change everything
for everything is changing

trust the people

lessons from the emergent strategy immersion new orleans:

trust the people who move towards you and already feel like home.

trust the people to let you rest.

trust the people to do everything better than you could have imagined.

trust the people and they become trustworthy.

trust that the people are doing their work to trust themselves.

trust that each breach of trust can deepen trust or clarify boundaries.

trust the people who revel in pleasure after hard work.

trust the people who let children teach/remind us how to emote, be still, and laugh.

trust the people who see and hold your heart.

trust the people who listen to the whales.

trust the people and you will become trustworthy.

trust the people and show them your love.

trust the people.

relinquishing the patriarchy

dear men.

this is mostly a note to straight, cis men; but also includes trans men, queer men, and all who participate in masculinity – if you see yourself in these words, this is a love note to you.

patriarchy (the system of society/government in which men hold the power and women are excluded from it) is collapsing, and it’s time for you, too, to give it up, to get yourself out.

it won’t be easy.

i don’t believe total revolution or liberation happens in one generation, but i know from my own life and many lives i have witnessed and accompanied, that it is absolutely possible in your lifetime, in a generation, to personally relinquish an unjust ideology, to begin to practice a more evolved way of being.

when enough of us relinquish injustices that only pretend to benefit us, we tip society towards justice.

in my life i have been homophobic, transphobic, classist, ableist and, yes, patriarchal. and i have been able to turn and face each of those parts of myself, to consider that what i know to be right might, in fact, be wrong. is wrong. i’m wrong.

but! right, or more precisely, right relationship, is available to me.

what i have learned is that:
– in the US, ‘normal’ is still understood as a white, us citizen, who has degrees, is (or is married to) a cis male, straight and able bodied.
– there are no people i should fear or disregard or think are lesser because they were born outside of some false concept of ‘normal’.
– the only people i’ve every truly needed to fear are those who believe they are superior to me/others. and the only part of me that is truly monstrous is the part that has been trained to convince me that i am superior to anyone else. superior because of proximity to that false norm – i am american born, light skinned, college educated, cis, briefly able-bodied, etc.
– the pain i have caused others in my life has been born of these false superiorities, which made me believe i deserved more of the goodness of existence for doing less physical, mental or emotional work.

now i am trying every day to do my share. to carry my portion of miracle and suffering, to labor fairly. to examine my privileges and to dismantle the largest unjust systems in this world with my choices and behaviors.

in order to do this work, i’ve had to learn to listen to things i didn’t want to hear, and couldn’t believe.

now i am listening to so many women in my life navigate the fall of patriarchy. they are exhausted, scared, lonely and rushed.

so many of these women have confided in me, ‘i wish sexuality was a choice! if i could choose to be with a woman i would in a heartbeat.’ i do not want to imply here that women are above patriarchy or other disease, or in any way minimize the complexities of queer love. but the frequency with which i have heard this from straight women speaks to a particular desperation, heartbreak, and confusion about how to be met in intimate relationship in this lifetime.*

there are women who are straight, or…mostly straight. and i am watching them battle their way out of patriarchy, only to resign themselves to either painful compromise or dignified solitude.

so i want to offer here a brief primer for men who want intimacy, informed by emergent strategy and pleasure activism, and by life. this is for men who don’t want to be alone. who want to be part of communities. who don’t want to be a burden to humanity. who want to be trustworthy! who don’t want to be assholes and fuckbois and distant dads, but can’t see how they are perpetuating patriarchy.

this is for men who want to know love in their lives.

if a woman tells you she is tired, that the dynamic of labor between you is imbalanced, it means you have been carried without realizing or honoring it. in naming this, she is reaching for interdependence with you.

we are in a set of transition generations, most of us with mothers who were taught to keep their labor out of sight. this means many men grew up in households where the full time work of managing home was intentionally invisible.

this is especially true if you had a father – you would come home from school, see your father come home from working out in the world, see your mother make a meal and serve it with a smile on. then she would clean dishes while your father watched TV and you did homework.

maybe you did one chore, like cleaning your own room, or taking out garbage you’d helped create. you may have learned to do these chores as if they were a rare favor to your mother, rather than a reasonable expectation for a human that makes messes and produces waste as a part of life.

if you grew up with a single mother, you may have been brought into more of this work, helping out your mom. but a good number of you got the benefit of a mother who was trying to cover the ground of both mother and father, guilty in some way for not being able to keep a family together. she may have coddled you even more to make up for what society was telling her was her failure.

what you most likely didn’t see, or saw but didn’t register as crucial labor, was how the laundry, cleaning, fixing, gardening, grocery and clothes and all other shopping, mailing, mending, financial management and planning took place. and how hard and necessary that work is.

i have seen a number of relationships where a man takes on one or two of these areas of crucial labor and thinks things are balanced.

i have seen a number of situations in which men think the work of caring for the children they cocreated is ‘babysitting’ or ‘providing childcare’, briefly inhabiting a role that primarily belongs to a woman coparent.

i’ve also seen how often, when men are left even briefly with labor that women regularly do, they are quickly overwhelmed. the results range from neglect (the home is dirty, the kid is sitting in a poopy diaper, the sick wife is hungry, etc) to full out adult male tantrums (to paraphrase: ‘you didn’t even thank me for doing the things you do every day!!’).

which brings me to my next point: if a woman tells you you are scaring her, you are. and you have been – it usually takes us a while to gather the words of our fear. she is saying this because something in your behavior has become physically or emotionally unsafe. domestic violence isn’t always a bruised eye – there are so many ways to terrorize an intimate. sometimes the fear is the only signal to a woman that she’s in a dangerous situation – there are some fears we can’t trick ourselves out of, even if we love y’all.

i have witnessed men (who i thought “knew better”) in states of road rage, alcohol-induced rage, property destruction, gaslighting/manipulation intended to make their female partners feel crazy, and physical intimidation. if this is what they do in front of a witness – i know it’s worse when they have no concern of being seen.

i have seen men endangering their children in these moments. i have heard stories of men grabbing, hitting, pushing against a wall, and giving silent treatment for days to their woman partners and their children.

men, you must learn to be responsible for your own feelings and actions. and it’s difficult for a number of reasons – most of which add up to codependence training. most men expect to be mothered by women they get involved with.

here are some of the reasons why men’s default relational approach is codependency:

– you aren’t encouraged to feel your feelings. in fact, the opposite is the case. you are told it isn’t manly to cry, to need comfort, to feel longing. you are ridiculed for emotions that aren’t weaponized, for gentleness, for what is categorized as feminine behavior.

– you aren’t encouraged to have friends. activity bros are different – you may have guys you go play ball with, or drink with. you may even have men you complain to, perhaps even clichéd complaints about the demands women are making of you to gr/show up. but at a certain age all humans need mirrors, witnesses, people they can trust to hear their lives, to cut through any victim narrative and help them pivot away from behaviors that harm themselves and others. that’s literally what friends are for. women are actively doing this for each other right now, witnessing each other, reaching for our own lives, holding each other’s hands as we walk towards our power. y’all need to get in right relationship!

– you aren’t encouraged to get professional help. again, many of you think it’s only “crazy” people or women who seek professional help, so you either refuse to see the therapists or healers who could support your growing up, or you wait until it’s so late that you’ve already built a mountain of harm on top of the person who has been carrying your emotional load in addition to her own. you end up unhinged, unstable, not rooted in reality – in many ways acting out the definition of what people call crazy. in my mediations, facilitation and friendships, i’ve learned that roughly everyone has the potential to be “crazy”. the difference in how much negative impact our crazy has on ourselves and others is directly related to who has adequate support structures and rigorous practices when the storms of adulthood come, and who doesn’t. therapy, friends, meditation, repeat.

– not enough of the people who offer professional help recognize patriarchy as a type of insanity. i will say it as clearly as i can – believing that masculinity is a factor of mental, physical, emotional, economic or other superiority that results in doing less labor and having more power is disease. therapists and healers can be of best service when they recognize this and stop normalizing patriarchal expectations. especially with men who carry other socially acceptable diseases, such as white supremacy, or extreme wealth.*

if a woman tells you she needs boundaries, step back immediately, and listen to her. respect the lines she draws between you. if she needs space from you, don’t antagonize her…consider offering her space. and silence.

this can be very hard for men, who are trained to pursue and capture women – seeing women as human, not prey, can be a lifelong journey for men unlearning patriarchy, unlearning woman-as-belonging or woman-as-prize.

it’s also hard for men whose default relationship position is, as mentioned, codependency. i have been shocked at the number of processes i have witnessed and/or supported where men, in absence of friends or professional support, expect the women they’ve worn down and disrespected and sometimes abused to also be their primary support through breakdowns, breakups, new adventures, and figuring out how to adult.

in a word, she can’t help you with that. she’s tired, she’s scared, and she needs her own space to heal.

it is time for fractal accountability – each unit of masculinity has to heal, to become part of a healed identity. you MUST:

– recognize that you are a part of a seductive and dying system of holding imbalanced privilege.

– opt out, even when everything in your system is screaming “double down!”, control her!

– be willing to understand that patriarchy is a million small choices everyday to shirk responsibility, to assume power you haven’t earned, to be mothered by your partners…you MUST learn to see those choices and add more options into your life.

the good news is, there are practices that work. here are steps i guarantee will help you to relinquish patriarchy.

1. recognize that as a man, you are a part of patriarchy. even if you have made some effort to break out of it, the system/insanity of patriarchy is still there for you to fall back into under pressure or duress.

2. be particularly vigilant about your masculinity growing toxic in your 30-50s age range. those are the years for many of us where the weight of adulting gets real and feels too heavy, and the dreams we had for our lives may not be coming true – hence the pattern of midlife crises. this is when men can become strangers to the women who trust them. yes, change is constant, and we all deserve space to change. none of us deserve a pass to change in ways that make us more harmful to those with less systemic power than we have, especially not those who have carried us.

3. don’t get into language supremacy, or read-the-most-feminists supremacy. don’t think that you are better than other men because you know the language of patriarchy, feminism and other isms. it’s the overcharged competitive nature, the desire to be better than, the inappropriate topping itself that is toxic.

4. in practice, release any belief that your mind will liberate you from patriarchy. the change required now is not something you can learn or do with your mind alone. it is something you must practice with your body, emotions, soul. only consistent practice will rewire your mind and liberate your life.

5. practice trusting the women in your life to see what you cannot see. seek, wrestle with, trust, and apply their feedback.

6. practice shared labor. ask to take on tasks and change the dynamic of labor because you want to and/or you should, not as if you are relieving her of a burden or helping her out. don’t ask her how to do these things. she doesn’t just magically know; she has long worked at learning/creating all of this.*

7. practice sitting in groups with other men (a group of two is a fine and valiant beginning) and speaking of feelings. do not offer solutions or try to cheer each other up. invite the feelings as they are – sadness, heartbreak, abandonment, fear, trauma from the process of masculinization. be there for each other. build friendships of radical honesty.

8. practice taking action together. go to marches to protect women’s rights, volunteer to hold the line at abortion clinics, intervene on observed acts of misogyny and patriarchy in private and public!*

9. practice finding something other than women to blame for your feelings. consider that your own behavior might be responsible for the hardships you are currently experiencing.

10. practice listening to the truth: ask the women in your life how they have survived you. this is not to say that all women are innocent, or never abusive/ controlling/ unfair/ harmful. it is to say that women have most often engaged in those strategies in order to navigate staying safe and sane inside of patriarchy. ask her how she carried that emotional, economic, child-rearing, home management, and/or fear burden.

11. practice equality in the workplace – if you are offered a raise, ask who else is getting one. share your salary information with women colleagues so they can know if they are underpaid. if you advocate for a raise, advocate for women’s raises too. if you’re in a position to make those decisions about hiring/pay, never ask how much someone was paid in their last job. pay them relative to those around them.*

12. make a list of things you believe you are owed by the world. if there’s anything you think you are owed that others are not, get curious about that. begin to release that way of thinking. you deserve dignity, belonging and safety. you also deserve love, community, respect. you deserve pleasure and joy. not at the expense of half the world, but alongside us.*

13. seek professional help. require that your therapists and/or healers identify as feminists. this doesn’t mean that they are women. this simply means that they believe in the equality of men and women. not the sameness, but the equality – no sex is superior or inferior.

14. read. i recommend:
– The Will to Change: Men, Masculinity, and Love. bell hooks.
– Feminism is for Everybody: Passionate Politics. bell hooks.
– The Combahee River Collective Statement
– Men Explain Things to Me. Rebecca Solnit.
– Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead. Brene Brown

men, do those things even if you think you’re already doing it and think you already know all this and think you are already all right. ALL of us have much to learn and to listen.*

the fall of patriarchy is inevitable. it is #metoo, it is #timesup. it is your turn, specifically, to lead by transforming yourself into the kind of man who always feels safe to women and children. those are the men who will be allowed into the future.

this is your invitation.

* shaped by goddesses/woes
image: Maceo Paisley

and here’s a link to more resources to help you in the work!

Building Accountable Communities (speech on strategies for ending and recovering from harm)

Harm is an external wound to your wholeness. More than a bump, an accident.

Harm is what convinces us that in this abundant world, we only deserve to survive. Convinces us that material and emotional scarcity is our lot.

My work is very much about returning people to the truth of miraculous abundance. I’m bleeding as I write this – a reminder that miracles are messy, that I am alive and not in charge. Life is a bloody, magical, messy, beautiful gift.

I play with scale – instead of impossibly wide, go satisfyingly deep. Instead of focusing on the whole, getting stagnant in your insignificance, get close in, get dirty. Operate at your OWN scale. and MAYBE grow. If everyone was practicing transformative justice in their own lives, we’d have enough.

The natural world gives us some clues: abundance is healthy. It’s normal to have plenty. But! And! Plenty is relative!

Each species is programmed for the precise amount of sunlight it needs, and how to swallow light. How do we balance between the rich fertility and terror of darkness, the abundant life and dangerous fire of light?

Balance.

Divergence and balance.

And emergence. The complex systems and patterns we long for – the justice and accountability that allows for our whole humanity – it all comes from, is built from, relatively simple interactions.

Calling Black liberation workers into support. Sitting at a kitchen table. Drinking tea. That’s where I invite people into accountability. Not to be friends, not to share joy, not even to be comrades necessarily – but accountable. Accountable to something larger than ourselves.

And nature says: enjoy this. We’ve been given bodies so brilliant that some of us have even reclaimed the pleasure of the whip! in just a few generations. We long to feel satisfied and content. Belonging and dignity.

We are born into another’s hands, we are a species meant to hold and be held. We live on an orgasmic planet, fecund and perfect.

But! can we see ourselves home again after all this harm?

My work is to remind us to imagine, to remind us that we are responsible for shaping the future. And to point us down and all around at our teacher-parent-planet. And to remind us not to sleep through the sensational experience of being alive, the heaven here on earth, the blessing of having a body – an individual and collective body – that can recover, can learn, can remember to love.

Visionary fiction.
Emergent strategy.
Pleasure activism.

Transformative breakups.
Kitchen table mediation.
Boundaries are better than disposal.

Abundant justice.
Liberation.

That is all the miracle I know.

birthday blessing

we have now entered the sacred window that only comes once a year, between Beyoncé’s birthday today and my own on the 6th.

a lot of people have asked how they can support me in my new IRS situation, which involves paying the govt more money than i have. every month. (i was a war tax resister, i reflected on my learnings on my blog)

any money given to me will just be more taxes to pay later. but what really matters to me is supporting and protecting the work of the Emergent Strategy Ideation Institute. i don’t want the work to drift because i’m being made to feel scarcity. i’m feeling clearer than ever that it’s time to offer emergent strategy facilitation training, i want to answer this call. monthly or one-time donations to make sure that this budding little institute can actually cover my salary, let me hire someone brilliant to grow the work, and let us focus on making the offer of facilitation training for 2019, this is the birthday gift i want.

if you have been moved by emergent strategy, by the thinking and writing and facilitation, if it can come from the heart, please give. in the memo put “ESII birthday donation” so i can thank you all for being my birthday blessing.

5E9BF723-A00F-4393-91BB-79B527969EA8

the pace of a lightning storm

I can’t rush
I can’t shrink
I am light but only of darkness
I am the sound of darkness
I am the thick and heavy crash
I look soft I look slow
I am tons I am bigger than ever
praise arcs the sky
gasp, gasp in wonder
you thought you were above.
surrender to going under:

there is a lightning storm out tonight, it is loud and massive and midwest and bright and spectacular. it’s been raining for days, the land is swollen, the river is fast. here is a lesson of lightning: you can’t rush or shrink who you truly are.
and if you have a brief life, let it be bright.
and let the sound be a sign of intimacy.
close enough to quake within, close can be so frightening. show all the way up.
I tried to capture the lightning but you could only see it by being present.

the blessings that come

my life is overflowing with blessings right now. i am learning that it takes work to prepare for blessings, and to put them to good use.

in the past month i finished two books, did two big journeys for emergent strategy (madison and nashville, very rare trips in this year of homing), and hosted the first emergent strategy immersion in detroit.

the books reshape everything, the characters and ideas show up in between my mind and the world as new lenses, combining grief and pleasure in each day, in each interaction. i am shocked by how often people are sharing secrets and love and longings with me these days. these are stories i am open to in new ways. do they know this is all i want to hear, the truth this raw?

and…i want to be home, quiet, hermiting. having to leave feels like tugging myself away from a comfortable womb. i am healing each day i am home, talking to my plants, sitting in my tub, swimming with all my elder homies, making small offers to my community, cooking.

and i want people to come here, gather here.

immersion is a way of being in water, completely. the event i hosted is the first of several experiments this year. i am seeking the best ways to invite emergent strategy to the front of peoples’ consciousness and practice, ways that don’t rely on me being the sole one to teach/spread it. this first one was thrilling for me, it was a group of people surrendering to the flow of being with each other, taking risks together, being whole together, steps and missteps that became a dance, learning with each other.

we were in detroit because it’s a teacher, a cauldron of transformation, and because i want the city to feel the abundance that comes from emergent strategy, the love that can open inside the theory.

eh, this all feels vague, and that is probably on purpose too, as i want to learn a lot more before i say more.

i was immediately able to test some small pieces out in nashville, and am in a large experiment with solidaire in may, as well as ongoing facilitation with Movement for Black Lives and BYP100. i am giving myself permission for this to be a learning year, i want to be generous with my student self in every space i get to be in or hold.

but conversations continue…some places to check me out:

Sex, Power and Leadership Conference

Longreads: a beautiful distillation of everything i care about in interview form.

Radically Selfish Podcast

and being very high for 4/20 special episode of How to Survive the End of the World podcast (we also dropped an episode on Reshaping Apocalypse that is fire).

blessings also come as needed lessons. saturn is retrograde from now until my birthday. this means caution with my words, discernment in what i listen to, and…karma is coming, learn from it. i want to learn, and to smile, to laugh in the lessons. everything is still hard, and we all die. i take that seriously. but until then, i am focused on the blessings.

Detroit is/as/beyond Wakanda(?/!)

the other day i got be part of a circle of Detroit thinkers, makers and artists considering the relationship between Detroit and Wakanda. in what ways is Detroit a Wakanda? in what ways might we go beyond our in a different direction than Wakanda?

we met at the FabLab, hosted by the brilliant Blair Evans, who gave us a tour of all the equipment that is changing the realm of production. the other invited speakers were myself, Ingrid Lafleur if Afrotopia, and black comic artist Arvell Malcom Jones. the other attendees were comic book creators, technologists, organizers, entrepreneurs, artists, parents, educators, children and more.

i took notes cause it was a great conversation across a lot of walks of life.

Blair shared the democratizing potential of spaces like the FabLab – what if anyone in any community can make whatever they need? how could that shift our economy? and since the technology is basically here, what human systems are needed to make the most of that potential?

i made some connections between Detroit and Wakanda – we are a city that people can’t truly see from outside, that people have written off. but so much innovation is galen here – it’s part of why i moved to Detroit on purpose. i spoke of our practice of small scale innovation and intentional experimentation in projects like the FabLab, Peace Zones for Life, Detroit Summer, and the very idea that we transform ourselves to transform the world. i also spoke of the resource richness of our location, with 25% of the world’s fresh water around us. i asked how we hold boundaries in a way that isn’t isolating.

Arvell spoke on the work of creating comics and stories of our own, and doing this in community. he asked, “if you are taking care of the people and they take care of you, what do you need?” he also noted that the role of monarchy in Wakanda is about managing needs and resources, versus just holding power over others.

Ingrid asked if Mayor Young could be read as a Killmonger – an anti hero working to create Detroit as a safe space for black bodies to prosper. she reminded us that Detroit is built on salt, a crystal city, on incredibly rich soil. she asked, “what kind of orientation do visitors to Detroit really need?”

here are some thoughts from the conversation – i tried to catch everyone’s names*. enjoy!

zoo, the barber, spoke about where conversations really happen – in the barbershop. he said the old, ancient ways were better.

we noted than one strength of Wakanda is that the ancient and future coexist and grow together.

Blair added that if we don’t have a framework, then we will use bigger, better tools to replicate pathological behavior.

Halima and Talon spoke about how WE are vibranium, and our hearts are the purple flower.

Numi, in full Wakanda regalia, shared the Afrofuturist Youth Project, which is teaching youth healing modalities, political education and arts.

Lou pointed out that scale made Wakanda successful – everyone had relationships with each other.

Elandria, visiting us on a tour to learn what different communities think about ‘the Commons’, shared that in her work it’s important to have things you don’t use machines for, so you don’t lose the person who knows that job or skill. and noted that great ideas don’t really matter to folks who can’t pay their bills. she asked how do we meld the
theoretical with the practical?

she also pointed out that the movie, and Wakanda, are still based on extraction. and that actually we need things that are within, that we can all access. she left is with the question, how do we show our shadow side for the sake of being whole in community?

coke spoke on how Wakandans did don’t want to share vibranium if it could be used for harm, and said this reminded him if cell phones in schools, which kids use to access porn, or text people to come fight. he asked how do we change how our children think and act? how do we use technology to do that? so they start creating futures? the children are our vibranium (this point was shared by so many in the room)!

mama lila spoke on how technology interferes with face to face connection. she thrilled us with the reminder that with children we’re building a pathway forward, vs adults, who are unlearning. she said we need to view lived experience as a gift, a source of political education. and reminded us about the importance of our water, that the whole emergency management move was about taking control of our water. wage love.

mohan told us technology is important to empower and augment, not replace. he says we have a tremendous cognitive surplus in this region – how do we bring the tools to ask the people here? he reminded us not to be afraid of failure – an idea isn’t important, but a series of ideas we learn from is very important. he said open source has made so much technology accessible, but we must learn through failing like in a video game. you get good through iteration. (!!)

lauren noted that one of the biggest blocks to actualizing Wakanda is how we think of ourselves. how do we activate that liberator mindset while still in a colonizer-adjacent space?

ingrid asserted that joy is a rebellion. she said “i am active in joy and pleasure to decolonize black bodies.”

upcoming ways to continue conversation:

check out an emergent strategy immersion or facilitation training – www.alliedmedia.org/esii

Ingrid is hosting a conversation on cryptocurrency/black chain on Mar 22 at Norwest Gallery.

Arvell offers ongoing comics classes.

Blair is generating FabLab cities with a vision of Detroit being independent by 2054. he reminded us to generate more than we use, to not be extractive but generate for future generations. to remember we are machines running on DNA coding (swoon). practice makes it real. also community hours at fablab 3-6 daily!

* if i missed yours let me know and i’ll update!

excerpt from Sublevel: Report

i was asked to write a piece for Sublevel magazine and it aligned with what felt like a transmission, possibly written in the pace of a Battlestar Galactica cylon hybrid. here’s an excerpt and a link to the full piece!

Task: We must become scholars of belonging.

Need: Separation weakens. It is the main way we are kept (and keep each other) in conditions of oppression.

Truth: Belonging doesn’t begin with other people accepting us. It begins with our acceptance of ourselves. Of the particular life and skin each of us was born into, and the work that that particular birth entails.

Mantra: Where we are born into privilege, we are charged with dismantling any myth of supremacy. Where we are born into struggle, we are charged with claiming our dignity, joy and liberation.

Possibility: From that deep place of belonging to ourselves, we can understand that we are inherently worthy of each other. Even when we make mistakes, harm each other, lose our way, we are worthy.

Practice: Learn to apologize. A proper apology is rooted in this worthiness – “I was at my worst. Even at my worst, I am worthy, so I will grow.”

Practice: Move towards spaces that value us, let ourselves belong to those communities that know they want us, know they need us, know we have worth, know we deserve more than transactional care.”

read more HERE!