it only needs a million hands

the task before us is impossible
the scale of the many tasks before us is incomprehensible
we cannot agree on the tasks before us into the abyss
there is no way enough of us will change in time
some things may never change
we cannot keep up with the data
and we cannot keep up with the grief
and no one is trustworthy
not all the time
we cannot be trusted with this gorgeous place
with this gorgeous miraculous life

it would take so much direct and real talk
but no one learns that language at birth
it is easier to lie to each other’s faces, to keep quiet
or to rant about nameless villians
and by the time you unlearn lying
and realize the person was never reading your beautifully constructed critique
there is so little time left

and the people in power want a world of walls
and the taste of power, its rotten and sweet-tho
as we argue about how much shit to throw in the sky
and how fast to use up all the earth
and if this miracle is more worthy than the other
some babies grow up to be monsters
we argue about the words someone else used to speak about everything
and we create defiant new languages that we all learn to say
but there are no definitions, and there is no way to hear each other
the surface of the world is shifting, turning to catch the change in a mirror
did we look righteous enough, do we sound radical enough
flitting from flower to philosophical flower, or meme, or crisis
hurting ourselves, as if we are unworthy of this beautiful home

but we are of this place, it is us and home always
and even though we are overstimulated and tired
and there is no way to do what needs to be done
we have done it, and taken deep breaths, and done it again
and so we will do it, by which i mean
give ourselves to it, fully, and faltering, and then a bit more
only ever able to carry our part
learning slowly it is enough, just enough
it only seems impossible
it only needs a million hands

Closing Remarks to Environmental Grantmakers Association

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.

Who do you know how to listen to?

Relinquish the safe territory of us and them

So much happens in this world because we can shirk responsibility – ‘them’ as a concept is such a relief, such a gift. ‘They’ are destroying the world, hoarding resources, dominating space, etc.

In that scenario ‘we’ are generally the righteous force, advancing deeply accountable visions, constantly. If we weren’t thwarted by ‘them’ there would be liberation and a perfection of balanced power.

It is so easy to go on in this way, holding the lines we inherited of mainstream and margin, powerful and powerless, bad and good, friend and enemy, divided, divided.

I just finished facilitating the Building Equity and Alignment Initiative. Environmental justice groups, national environmental organizations and environmental funders came together for an historic set of conversations for Mother Earth. Once again, I have glimpsed another way, a way that gives me hope we can actually reach a next phase of humanity that is worthy of both earth and the miracle of our brief lives.

I used to think transformation was mostly about people stepping into our own power, and I still believe that is a major foundational part of it: ‘presuming our power, not our powerlessness.’

But I am understanding more and more that it also has to do with how much we can see ourselves as one organism at the species level. That we as a species are learning how to bring justice, love and future generations into the center of our existence.

Some parts of the organism already remember this, never forgot it. Other parts are awakening to it, other parts sleep yet. If we are able to see it is all of us, an experience of being whole is within reach. The heart does not rail against the fingers, she feeds them. Amongst humans I see that sustenance come when we see each other’s humanity and possibility instead of focusing on each other’s mistakes and limitations, when we move to stand with each other, instead of holding the space between us as more sacred than our shared work.

People who appreciate the miraculous create futures full of miracles, generating more possibility – not in spite of other people, but because of connection.

It means we relinquish the safe territory of us and them, and walk onto the dynamic creation ground together. We endure the imperfections of each other until we reach understanding, shared vision and laughter. We pick up the work of future building, no less complex because we all carry it, but lighter, easier to sustain.

What we withhold of ourselves becomes our prison…that includes what we withhold of our need to connect, of our need to see our interdependence on this home planet. But when we see each other and are seen, hear each other and are heard, move each other and are moved, there is a chance for love, and for liberation.

We long for this, as a survival wisdom. We are learning to be of each other.