St. Louis Racial Equity Summit 2021 Keynote

St Louis Racial Equity Summit Keynote (notes):

We are imagining a world we have never seen before. Writing it into existence with words and with actions.

We who live in this country on this earth today have barely experienced the wonder of our planet. We have not experienced a world without homelessness, poverty, inequality, white supremacy, patriarchy, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism, rape culture, slavery, environmental degradation, climate crisis or prisons. And that’s the short list of our ‘horrible, ordinary’ things, as Octavia E Butler called them. We haven’t seen a world free of these hellish beliefs and behaviors – many of us have never even experienced a pocket of community with the absence of some of these beliefs and behaviors – and yet we imagine.

We live in a world which others imagined. Most of the constructs that oppress us feel like fact, are taught to us as fact – but they are actually evidence of historical imagination. These ideas were imagined before being practiced into solidity, authority, tradition, assumption. The core patterns of U.S. historical imagination are supremacy, dominance, victory. These are not the most beautiful things imagined in human history, but the most violently upheld.

Someone imagined a racialized economic system built on a foundation of indentured labor and slavery – exploitative production of dehumanized people to benefit those who labor less or not at all. In capitalism the norm and assumption is that we must always be producing and growing in scale, so we either work ourselves to death, or if we are privileged we work others to death, or under risk of death, though these days we prefer that the exploitation stay out of sight, behind bars or across borders. In racialized capitalism, the exploited are primarily Black and Brown people. But it must be said that while Whiteness is presented as a racial distinction and a superiority, in fact when people speak of white supremacy and privilege, they are speaking of a very particular and limited racialized economic status – they mean wealthy able bodied white straight men. White privilege can trickle down to other white people, but the way whiteness really works is that anyone who has access to white skin privilege is competing for that elite economic status of White. This is why the wealthiest nation in the world couldn’t just pause and care for our citizens to stop the spread of Covid, even the white people. That elite body refused to take a loss, to let production stop. They could not imagine a scenario in which 570 thousand lives were more valuable than their own bottom lines. Can you imagine only being able to imagine what is good for you?

And yet, there are also, alive right now, those who remember how we are supposed to imagine in relationship to all that lives – indigenous beloveds have taught me we are meant to imagine seven generations ahead of ourselves, and make our choices accordingly. This long-view puts us in a time traveling familial relationship with all of existence.

So. We are in what teacher-friend Terry Marshall calls an imagination battle. The moment we begin to question oppressive historical imagination, supremacy imagination; the moment we begin to dream of justice, of liberation, of right relationship, we become imagination warriors. Organizers. Our mission is to co-dream visions more compelling than oppression, and more honest than supremacy. And then move from imagination all the way to new practice.

What happened in St. Louis, in Ferguson changed our imagination. Changed what we thought was possible inside the collective imagination. We have been fed up with living in a world in which a police officer can imagine himself in danger and kill our children, our spouses, our parents, our friends.

When I was in college, Amadou Diallo was killed in the Bronx, just north of my campus. As a young person, I was galvanized, politicized, shaped, scared, and I felt responsible for doing something urgently to stop this from being able to happen again. I cocreated a campus project called CPR – I can’t quite remember what it stood for, it was short-lived but it was a beginning of my path as an abolitionist. Now I see a generation awakened similarly by what happened here, and the way you all rose up to respond to it seven years ago this month.

We are most often moved onto the path of abolition, after being snatched into grief and uprising. Perhaps we watch the disparities, how our communities get locked up for things that white communities don’t. Perhaps we see how those who cause harm go into that system and come out with fewer options and more likelihood of needing to break a law to survive. When does it end? ‘When does it end?’ can be a question most clearly answered by the idea that it ends when we imagine what comes next. Abolition must absolutely be imagined as we begin to practice what comes next.

We imagine in part by remembering. Every single one of us, if we go back far enough, have ancestors indigenous to a place on this earth, or multiple places for those of us of multiple heritages. These ancestors predate colonization world-wide, and in a multitude of ways, they practiced being in relationship to every aspect of the earth and to each other, in responsible stewardship of land and life. For those of us who time and slavery and capitalism and the construct of whiteness have displaced from our original homes and peoples, we must reach to imagine how it might have felt to live this way. Most indigenous people alive today have to navigate and protect their long-held practices, and their literal land, against the pace and pressure of a modern world at odds with being in relationship. But we can all imagine some future-past which lives in our ancestral memory bag, which lives in our DNA. And when we struggle, we can actually find and follow indigenous leadership. A first step is to understand whose land you live on. I am in Detroit, on Anishnaabe territory. Anishnaabe organizers are active here, teaching me and others what they know and remember, and also sharing generously what they imagine through creative projects like the Adizookan.

We imagine in part by tasting our own aliveness. Audre Lorde wrote that once we experience our erotic aliveness, it becomes impossible to settle for less, for suffering and self-negation. For me, organizing to transform the conditions of injustice in the world was when I felt that aliveness, that tying in to something true, a connectedness that vibrates through my veins. We know this isn’t right. We know we aren’t meant to live in this perpetual state of war and stress and unmet needs and loneliness and lies. We can change this. Even before we have an intact political analysis we can feel that things must change, and we in small circles of humanity can change things.

Now, I sometimes imagine that each of us holds a distinct piece of our collective, liberated future within us, and it is only accessible as we liberate our own imaginations, and our truest selves, shaped by each of our particular ancestral and life experiences.

My work straddles the lines of science fiction, speculative fiction, and collaborative ideation.

Most science fiction answers three fundamental questions: What if, if only, and if this goes on. Social justice work answers the same questions as we dream together of a world in which we feel our miraculous lives matter, our freedom is non-negotiable, and we live lives that are satisfying and interdependent.

What if there were no prisons? What would you need to be able to do? Who would you need to be, to participate and be accountable and experience growth and consequences in that paradigm? I find it exciting to remember that there are places where there is no armed body making people obey – I got to travel to Costa Rica, a land with no ARMY, and I can attest that there is joy and there is community.

What if all children had access to the same resources of healthy meals, space to play and create, solid familial and community attachments, safety from physical emotional and sexual abuse, and quality education? What if they were not raised in an environment of emotionally or physically violent punishments, but tangible and nourishing consequences that grew their sense of responsibility for their behaviors and relationships?

What if we began life by getting to know ourselves outside of any preconceived identity-value construct (race, gender, class)? What would our Blackness feel like if it wasn’t primarily a site of shared trauma and forced resilience? What if the work we do in this generation makes it a smaller and smaller part of our history?

What if?

If only we learned democracy and consensus and collaboration as a practice from a young age, instead of just a theory we expect our government to practice with representatives in our place.
If only our police were not issued deadly weapons, but trained to mediate and intervene on harm.
If only we had a cooperative economy. If only we could liberate ourselves from scarcity thinking and practicing, had an abundance

If only.

If the movement for a just transition goes on, our species might be able to survive on earth and take root amongst the stars, a destiny Octavia gifted us with in her books the Parable of the Sower and the Parable of the Talents.
If this abolitionist movement goes on, we will transform how humans relate to each other.
If movements for queer and trans justice go on, we will successfully break the restrictive and damaging construct of gender and hetero normative supremacy and actually get to experience the wide variety of love, life and pleasure that is most natural to us.

If this goes on.

What if.
If only.
If this goes on.

Right now, we are in a phase of history in which we are awakening our imaginations, and these questions help. We are articulating dreams to each other in which we matter. We are dreaming to each other that Black Lives Matter – and not just black straight ablebodied male lives, but black queer trans women’s and non binary disabled lives matter. We will say the names of these lives and we will take direct action and change policy until these lives matter to everyone.

I want to share a poem I wrote about this political moment. It’s called “this is not justice, this is respite”:

the first thing we could do was breathe,
together
a practitioner of breathlessness is guilty
(hallelujah hallelu!)
like, they said what we knew
(he looked surprised too)
that small alignment is so rare
it lays our contradictions bare
some hushing shout does move through the body as if (remember) we are one body but
it’s really chorus, we of so many minds
we feel so hollow
we feel such joy
we feel such rage
we feel our grief
we feel relief
all at once, in undulation
we cry out in celebration
and then catch a dissatisfied breath
this moment makes the moment we need possible but…but…
in the next breath world
he would be fathering right now
or high like the rest of us
inhaling aliveness, exhaling freedom
on a day that blended into a life
blessed to be unknown
in the next breath world
they would all be alive today
and the presence of that absence
casts a blur across the headline
it took so much burning of precincts, chaos, rage
screaming and defending and
terrifying the children and
combating every mistruth and
nauseous vulnerability and regret and pressure from so many precious lives already at risk
to get this guilty, guilty, guilty
we will praise up the collective tonight
we will lay gratitude for our warriors tonight
we will claim the hard-won territory tonight
tomorrow, we return to the fight
for even in our gasp of yes
with our need to grieve so desperate
we know
this is not justice
this is respite

Respite is going to save our lives. Rest is going to save our lives. And rest allows us to come down from the nonstop stressful urgency of now, to remember that we are also responsible for dreaming. We are concurrently dreaming a world in which all Black lives matter, and rape culture ends, and we reclaim our place on this planet, and we can hold each other accountable through love, mediation, boundaries and consequences.

My mentor Grace Lee Boggs used to always ask us ‘What time is it on the Clock of the world?” and right now my answer would be, we are in a phase of imagination, co-dreaming a world where our ‘what if’s and ‘if only’s get realized, and the patterns of harm cannot go on.

Imagining these futures, writing these stories, does not mean we know yet how to live into these dreams.

I have worked as a facilitator and mediator for over two decades and a huge portion of the disputes I have been asked to hold are rooted in us being angry at our mistakes or someone else’s, while unable to be accountable for those mistakes. The crises are urgent, but the transformation that emerges from radical imagination is still slow, relational, imperfect work. We are learning.

Earlier this year, I noticed that we are in a pattern of disposing of Black women leaders, and I felt the heartbreak of that, and at first it hurt too much to write. But then I wrote, and so much came out of me that i ended up sharing a piece called Disrupting the Pattern, in which I offered some things for us to consider as we learn to practice solidarity with each other, whether it’s with and amongst Black people, or across racially constructed lines with any other people fighting for right relationship to the earth and each other:

“Consider that whenever dehumanization is taking place, someone is benefiting from devaluing another person. Ask yourself who benefits from attacks on effective Black radical women? Who benefits from spotlighting conflict within movements that are changing material conditions for Black people?

Consider who benefits from you thinking that Black success and freedom is dangerous, and particularly that the success and freedom of Black women is dangerous.

Consider that this isn’t a new pattern.

Consider that social justice work is a place where most of us work for years for less than a living wage, subject to the whims of trend and philanthropy.

Consider, when you see the news of some perceived betrayal, some corruption of power, that the least likely option is that a Black woman who has given decades of her life to social justice work, to her people’s liberation, has turned on her own legacy, on us.

Consider that the lie is scarcity. The lie is that there isn’t enough for us to have abundant resources for our liberation work. The lie is that we can’t have multiple leaders shining simultaneously, moving divergent strategies. It’s a lie – we generate what we need and we are always moving divergent strategies.

Consider that there are ways to access abundance that don’t rely on attacking each other.

Consider that it is not an accident that a massively impactful social movement for Black liberation is under this scale of attack – it only looks personal. This is an attack on all our emergent, imperfect efforts for Black liberation.

Consider that you don’t have all of the information. We live in a social media world that profits from tawdry, salacious, divisive misinformation, where power is wielded by those most comfortable with distortion and manipulation. Consider that we don’t have to feed the beast that comes to eat those who inspire and lead us. Consider that this may not be your business, especially if you don’t have time to ask questions, investigate for something true, especially if you are only being asked to leap into judgment.

Consider how you want to be held when you are attacked for things you didn’t do. Consider how you want to be held accountable for things you did do. Do you want death threats, doxxing and other privacy violations, organized harassment and disposal, when it’s your turn? Cause if you plan to lead anything, your turn will come. So consider – what is principled struggle, principled critique, not just when you have a concern, but when you are the concern?

Consider that movement is not just a place of faith in the futures we are creating, but a place where we need to practice faith in each other, in our effort and our learning.

Consider that how you act or don’t act in this moment is part of setting a precedent for how movement responds to attacks on those who love us. If you won’t protect a Black leader from white supremacist attack because you also have critiques of or questions about how that leader’s movement work is unfolding, examine that. How does that align with the world you dream of?

Most of the leaders I look up to were attacked in their time, and might have been attacked in ours. The common thread amongst them is that they were driven by love for their people, our people, us. The work of the revolutionary is to transform everything that does not align with love, from the personal to the systemic.

Consider what love does in the face of dishonesty, faithlessness, and repression: love tells the truth. Love believes in our best selves. Love liberates us.

Consider that you should not feel afraid to love Black women leaders out loud. In the long run, what Audre Lorde taught us is still true: your silence will not protect you or anyone else. Love Black women leaders out loud wherever you see us attacked and dehumanized.

Love invites us home, love says we belong, unconditionally.

Love does not demand our perfection, because none of us have that – love sees the effort we have made on behalf of our people, our species. They are home.

A huge part of my racial justice work is being in solidarity and loving myself in my own Black story and Black offer, which I know takes nothing away from all the other Black brilliance in the world, but increases its abundance. I love myself and claim my eternal place in movements for liberation. I have made and will make mistakes. I will still be liberation bound.

If you feel moved to practice this solidarity of which I speak, repeat after me:

I love you, Black woman.
I love you, organizer.
I will not engage in gossip about you.
I will not stand by quietly while you are attacked.
I will practice solidarity with you, for you, at your side and all around you.
I am committed to your freedom.”

Thank you for that.

In closing I will offer that yes, I imagine a world in which we are liberated. And before that, I imagine a world in which we deeply honor the work that we all do towards that liberation, even if we don’t agree on the methods. But I see so much more than just the state of freedom – I know my dream is not a destination, but a practice that will be ongoing. Because after imagination comes ideation – how do we bring these dreams into ideas of structure and policy and agreement? How do we move from air to earth?

And then once we have these ideas in place, we move into iteration – what do we stop practicing and what do we start practicing?

I am aware of how so much of what I imagine – liberation from the cycles of harm and supremacy, being in relationships of sovereignty and safety in our bodies and on our planet, letting love being a guide to how we understand everything from identity to economy – these imaginings may still seem peculiar and strange…queer. So i want to share the first words of Emergent Strategy, a quote from Ella Baker. ““This may only be a dream of mine, but I think it can be made real.”

Additional Resources for Facing Coronavirus/Covid19

ah loves, turns out it’s not easy to take a sabbatical during a global apocalyptic event. in my attempt to stay away from news, work, stress, and distraction, i found myself a little rural hideaway which, who could have guessed it, is now in a quarantine zone. i am fine, supported, connected, stocked, staying calm and solo and washing my hands in that near-obsessive way virgoes are prone to do naturally.

but there’s no escaping this, even with reduced contact – friends, family, media, strangers in the grocery store…we are interdependent and it shows so deeply in moments we are asked to stay apart for our own good.

i keep thinking – should i write about this? and, conversely, am i really writing about anything else? every bit of fiction and song emerging from me swerves into the territory of connection, safety across generations, virus, right relationship. i am writing about this, but there’s also so much that i and others have already written and spoken that might be helpful for the human, land, spiritual, community, movement, familial, network, and/or society side of this virus at this moment.

the science, the protocols, i leave that to science and government: wash your hands, stay home, think collectively.

and here are some resources that might help you think about where to be, how to be, and how to see the possibilities even in this moment, how to move towards life.

1. Octavia’s Brood.

over the past few days as i have had to consider where to be, i was comforted by Dani McClain’s excellent story Homing Instinct and then remembered how Mia Mingus pointed to society shaped by those with chronic illness and disability in Hollow and how Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha reminded us we can travel without traveling in Children Who Could Fly. these texts feel relevant now, as we would do so well to learn from those who survive toxic exposure daily and know about being safe and connected in vulnerable bodies.

i am challenged anew by the implications of my own story The River, in which earth moves to protect herself and those who love her. only time will tell how this moment will impact our relationship to earth, but early reports of reduced emissions appear to be a silver lining to this tragedy.

here is a real-time resource leah just passed on to me for mutual aid and survival!

2. Emergent Strategy.

change is constant, be like water. we are used to being a rushing river pounding through every obstacle. now we see there is danger in that endless rapid flow and we need to find a place to pool deeply and be still and let time cleanse us in its way. i have received messages from people who are finding a first or re-read of the book useful in this moment.

a few bits to highlight:

* “transform yourself to transform the world”, grace lee boggs’ wisdom is literal right now. this virus doesn’t stop because of blame, pointing at other people’s faults, or races/ethnicities. it only stops, or slows, because each individual increases their own accountability to the collective. people have suggested different songs for hand washing time, to help stay in the sink long enough to do an adequate job. i found this bit of magic with the ‘fear is the mind killer’ guidance from Dune that i love. i am also often just saying a little universe prayer – “with this handwashing i align with the universe, with this handwashing i wage love, with this handwashing i care for [here i insert the names of elders and compromised immune systems i cherish].” i am transforming my own behaviors through practice and repetition.

* there is a conversation in the room that only these people at this time can have…there are conversations that will only happen because you initiate them, lives that will be saved because you risked being the awkward one to ask ‘how are you adapting safety protocol in response to coronavirus?’ i have a text thread of dear ones who are sharing news with each other and one had to push thru the resistance of her elder family members (our elders have seen so much – how do we honor their experience and dignity and still acknowledge that this virus is hungry for them, specifically?). another just changed the safety trajectory of her pilates studio. and in another friend circle a european book tour was canceled. this is no time to politely drift along with the herd, this is the time to ask direct questions and generate unique community solutions in conversation.

* there’s always someone already working on the problem. i think of all of my patient friends who have navigated chemical sensitivity for years. or those with lyme, gluten intolerance, fibromyalgia, cancer, aids…who in our communities must we protect, yes, but who has been surviving collective cluelessness and obstinance, who must we now listen to?

* beware of haters (and infiltrators). here we are, figuring out massive issues of safety during a fraught election year in the u.s. under a government hungry for tighter borders. this virus may change how voting happens, and how communication around the election happens – if we are all dependent on the internet to contact each other, campaign, even vote, there’s a lot of uncharted and quicksandish territory. our electoral system is dysfunctional on a good day. and, this collective experience will impact what people seek from leadership. and, the outcomes of this election will effect the future of this virus and how other similar global threats are handled. it is not a time for petty, haterish, divisive behavior. it is a time to be in heightened awareness of infiltrators, instigators, agitators. beware the lone wolf, beware the critic who isn’t oriented on any solution, beware the social media poster who has few followers and fewer posts, beware time sucks, red herrings, and vapors posing as people. it’s easy to get sucked in. liberate your attention back to the much more important and difficult work of finding political alignment and righteous compromise amongst the people you know and live next door to, your relatives, people who care about you.

* pay attention to patterns. what is being detoxified from the soil? what is migrating? who is in drought, in flood, in peril, in privilege? i am definitely influenced by having just finished The Overstory by Richard Powers but…ask the trees what they think this virus is about. what to learn, now?

* localize your attention. what grows near you? who grows it? how can you secure resources together vs stockpiling individually and combatively?

* and, as aways, what’s in your go-bag?

3. Pleasure Activism

right now we are getting to experience the unexpected expected. we all knew contagion was coming and have made countless entertainments about it…but when, how, from where?

it may seem counterintuitive, but i am putting my attention on the pleasures of quarantine, aka ‘if introverts ran the world’. what to do when you can’t go somewhere else and be around mad people to do it?

obviously there is a way of working with less distraction when isolated, which those of us liberated from offices already know to be a pajama-infused delight.

i have made a list of additional recent pleasures i opted to fully experience instead of panicking – washing my hands in warm water, writing, reading, new kinds of orgasm, cooking, painting, slow yoga in the sun, going out in the yard to observe my local ecosystem during the day (which often involves attending to what is usually the periphery – the sound on the edge of hearing, motion on the edge of sight) (and which, during my writing of this post, included watching and hearing two bumblebees mating in the air!), and at night listening to owls, porcupine, wind, river, traffic, life. catching up on shows, extended and deeper video chatting with loved ones. inventory (this may just be me but i like assessing that i have enough), being topless outside, creating and executing rituals. getting high, or, lately, getting that other high that comes from not getting high, but getting present.

i encourage you, whether you’ve already been quarantined or it’s coming soon, to at least attempt the mental emotional embodied exercise of not fighting it, but finding the pleasure and connection potential in it. how can it increase your freedom to have your routine disrupted? how can it allow for more intentional and reverent interdependence? don’t just think about where you will get your food and water, also map out where you will get your togetherness, your touch, your laughter, your joy.

4. how to survive the end of the world

in the years of doing this podcast with my sister, we have had many conversations that feel relevant to this moment.

our conversation with Sister-Doctor Alexis Pauline Gumbs on breath, among other things – we need to practice breathing deeply thru a respiratory invasion. our conversations with Toshi Reagon on prophecy and responsibility. and with Angel Kyodo Williams and Lama Rod Owens on being still. with Mariame Kaba on justice – because this virus is largely spreading by human error, and how do you address the harm caused by someone not washing their hands, the sickness and death caused by humans who didn’t mean to hurt anyone? and the conversation with Siwatu Salama-Ra, how to generate freedom within when externally contained? and, of course, our talk with Michelle Mascarenas-Swan of Movement Generation, about the larger systems at play in this great turning. plus roughly every other conversation.

5. generative somatics.

this is a time to get more curious about your body, your health, your patterns. listen to your gut – the other day i was ten minutes out from home heading to the store when i realized i’d left my hand sanitizer on the table after checking if it has enough alcohol in it. with almost no thought, my body found the next spot to turn around (i am way down a single lane dirt road) and went back to get it. i used it four times while out and was so grateful my body knew i needed it. my body steers me away from people with sniffles and coughs, processing information faster than my brain can generate a logic for me. if it’s hard to hear and trust your body, get into this centering practice from generative somatics genius Sumitra Rajkumar, let repeated centering awaken you. there’s time.

so. visionary fiction, emergent strategy, pleasure activism, and surviving apocalypse. attention liberation, somatics, right relationship. listening, adapting, surrendering.

may this serve as it needs to. i am with you, of you, and you are of me. let’s do this transition well.

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:

IMG_8310

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.

lessons from a lunar eclipse

(i am a cheap expert on the stars – at some point i stopped buying gossip magazines and put my attention on stars that felt more authentic and reliable, more capable of holding the weight of my projections. i now say things about the stars and other celestial bodies with gravitas, but i am often corrected by my smarter friends. this caveat is to say that what follows is all feeling more than knowing.)

last night was a lunar eclipse and a super wolf blood full moon, aka a bloody howling supreme lunar happening. i learned (at the intersection of multiple websites and listening to what others learned on the internet) that it’s about truly letting go of patterns that don’t serve, about release at the level of system, about making room for something that cannot coexist with that shriveled up rotten moldy crusty whatever that i am dragging along behind me. time to kondo my soul.

so i looked up and i listened for what it is time to release. i learned some things in the watching that feel like clues, if not answers.


(howling bloody lunar wow, rural mn, 1/20/19 11:16pm)

– the moon eclipsed in shadow is gray, quiet, murky, briefly reddish. it looks like it is resting. i am reminded of its passive, orbital nature.

– the moon is not doing anything. not covering up, not unveiling, not demanding. unlike me, the moon’s life isn’t much changed by brief and total shadow.

– to us humans, the moon eclipsed in shadow is dramatic headline material with awesome names…even though it was more dazzling an hour before in super bright fullness. why are we so drawn to the drama of reduced light?

– the body that casts the shadow is not made of shadow. it’s just earth. i often think this is the case between humans…one complex system casts shadows or shines light on another, while being neither darkness nor light.

– but when you’re looking up at something that hurts, it can look like a shadow monster. back lit, broken, the illusion can be confusing. this makes me think that i don’t believe in monsters amongst humans. i believe in shattered spirits, and in souls that get stuck/lost in shadow, and then want to shadow everything.

– this is why, as a mediator, i choose space over punishment every time. space to stop harm, space to look at, release and claim our own shadows.

– and i choose love over pain when i can. pain doesn’t stop or resolve pain. love is what heals – love of self, love from others who see the shadows, love of how we survive. love invites us to occupy the universe, not just some cage of our worst moments.

– i can’t ignore that i am in the martin luther king jr holiday season, reflecting on love, at the edge of saying only light can drive out the darkness you can’t carry. but of course. he was a moon, he held brightness.

– i have been thinking a lot about how to make distinctions between beings and our behavior. in real time, how can i not get confused between the who and the how?

– and, if a being is committed to a certain behavior, and that behavior casts shadows, what are the options? we are not in orbit, we do not have to continue the dance. sometimes we must ask each other to move in massive ways, sometimes we must go around the sun to get to the light, sometimes we are unable.

– you may have noticed i identify with the moon, even though i’m part of the shadow on her face tonight. my work as a facilitator/mediator is often that deep reflection. what beauty is in this darkness? how much light can you handle being? look how bright you are. but always half dark, or more.

– i am generally comfortable holding the dark. i believe it is the balance of light and dark that makes our world miraculous and dynamic. and since light is the anomaly of this universe, perhaps we all need to be comfortable with/in the dark.

– i hold brightness, too. but i think it’s a reflective work, catching and sharing the light of sun creatures like octavia butler, grace lee boggs, audre lorde, ursula le guin, mlk, toni cade bambara and other bright beaming beings. as i write that, i can also see how they caught and shared the light of their teachers. some light is as old as the tao, some as old as a humanish god. and some light is much older than that.

– this moon is telling me to notice every shadow on my face, accept my own darkness, emerge from any shadow that isn’t mine, surrender to the cycle of light and dark, and, when my time comes, be unapologetically bright.


(superfull af moon through branches, 1/21/19, 6:48am)

choose your own adventure: an affirmation

i learn experientially.

i often feel slow, behind the clarity, behind the certainty that others have. my questions focus on things i feel, things happening under the surface. sometimes that’s all i can feel, and the more overt reality has to be pointed out to me.

i also often feel clear, out ahead in a mysterious fog or body of water, afloat, gently feeling my way forward and then calling back, ‘this way, this way is new’…not safe, but not what we’ve already done.

sometimes i feel immense belonging, an interconnectedness so profound that i know everything, i just know.

other times i feel overwhelmingly alone – lonely, or, more and more often, at peace in the solitude and mystery; a star that cannot feel the constellation i’ve been clustered into, just the darkness.

joy is possible in each place, and in the transitions.

i’m learning that because i learn experientially, i have to be so intentional. i have to move towards experiences that keep growing me up, that challenge me and demand my authentic self. and can meet my authentic self when i show up.

there’s so much of the storyline of my life and grief that i don’t get to choose. i do get to make decisions along the way. i get to think for myself…it’s important that i keep doing so, keep feeling for myself.

i get to determine how much i will let others see and feel me in real time. i know now that i see good in people, and in moments, brighter than anything else. i am learning to listen and feel beyond what i can see, to believe the shadows as much as the light. i am learning that i don’t get to determine what others think about themselves, or about me.

i take the actions, build the relationships, hold the boundaries and shape the life that keeps me in right relationship with myself.

lately things keep happening in my life that are so deep, so true and so good that i can’t believe it. not perfect. not tidy. but absolutely mine, my lessons, my good news, my adventure.

i am accepting responsibility for what i’ve been given. i am accepting the blessing of the time i have left. i know this life is precious.

missing grace: year 2

Thursday, October 5:

my friend Rye Young wrote a lovely, honest post this morning on working towards liberation, even if we won’t see it in our lifetimes. it sparked thoughts in me: lately, I don’t feel like liberation is a place, or some perfect state, some utopia. I feel it, it’s an interior knowing, supported by material conditions we cocreate. so…I see/feel liberation every day (eh most days) just at a small scale. personal. in a group, in a moment, in a movement. breakthroughs. liberation is everywhere, but it’s turned down by the hands of oppression. I’m trying to grow it, to turn it up, every day, inside my own life and others’ lives. we are the fire, we are the wave. ??

Friday, October 6:

yesterday marked two years since grace became ancestor.

i’ve been reflecting on how she redirected conversations when she wasn’t interested in the topic, how she demanded songs, and intellectual rigor.

i’ve considered many times that she wouldn’t have really read or liked the book…but who knows?

i miss how she remembered and asked about people’s lives, about my sisters and nibblings. how sweet and engaging she was with my parents. she was decades beyond us but never too good to hear our small trials and celebrations. i miss her smile when she liked what she could hear.

because of grace i value questions and iteration, and singular moments of transformation as the atomic space of collective transformation.

last night with the full moon i worked to shed any boundaries between myself and detroit, any lingering sense of not belonging. to let the place use my voice and my work to tell her story. detroit is the mecca of Emergent Strategy, among so many other incredible things. thank you grace for being one of the voices that called me home, showed me home.

Guest Blog: WHAT IS THE MOST IMPORTANT QUESTION OF OUR TIME? from Marcia Lee

Marcia Lee asked this question on Facebook and i really loved the questions that came out. i asked her if we could share the questions further, and she responded not only with the questions organized but this awesome framing:

“We are living in a time where it is essential that we strive to have our values and our actions match. However, fast action without sufficient analysis and reflection will lead to reactions to the immediate rather than long term transformation. We need to move fast slowly.

“One of the ways we move fast slowly is ask carefully crafted questions and allow the answers to be our actions. If we don’t ask the right questions, we will not have the right answers. In the last few years of Grace Lee Bogg’s life, she would often ask people who came to visit her, “What is the most important question of our time?” She would often pair this question with, “What time is it on the clock of the world?” The second question grounds us in our reality and then in discovering the important question for this time, we are able to move more effectively towards the answer.

“In order to help us to find the right question, I asked folks on facebook. 34 people responded and the questions basically came in a few categories. I am sharing a few questions that fit within each category, but if you want all of the questions, post a comment and we can share them with you. In sharing these questions with you, the hope is that you will either dive deeply into one of the questions or develop your own. If you would be willing to share your questions in the comments, I would be so grateful.

“Individual:

how do i keep moving forward when i am scared? ~adrienne

How do we heal ourselves? ~Parker

What healing do I need to commit to in myself so my being can impact the healing needed throughout my community? ~Shelly

What is required of me, in this moment? ~Mindy

How can we be kind to ourselves and others? ~Cristina

Why am I standing still? How can I move forward to be a catalyst of hope, love, and joy? ~Tania

What am I willing to do? ~Scherezade

What do you notice in your body? Where in you is calling to your attention? What does it need/asking for? ~Sarah

How can I support myself & others in letting love guide? ~Mahfam

“Organizing:

What are we willing to surrender for the sake of the future of living communities on the planet? ~Margaret

how does humanity reconnect to our shared fate? ~Leo

What are the differences between a riot, rebellion and revolution and how can we sharpen the analysis around resistance so that it speaks to the role of the visionary. ~Tawana

How are we equipping future generations to be fearless and free of the current structures of oppression? ~Ryan

How can we radicalize our relationships, narratives and actions to build stronger communities through tougher and more turbulent times? ~Michelle

Do you know how to organize and act while listening to those who are silenced? ~L’Heureux

Where do I/you still hold on to greed? ~Cynthia

how do we effectively organize to create a mass movement capable of turning the tide. ~Lou

“Environment:

How can we, as a global society, take the treat of climate change serious enough to have 1st world countries drastically change to renewable & to help developing countries to prosper without using polluting natural resources. ~Ant

How can we better manage land and other natural resources? ~Lawrence

How do we save our one and only planet as mining, logging, drilling, etc will now get a giant green light? ~Sura

“Diversity:

How are we valuing each person regardless of gender identity, race, ethnicity, religion, abilities? ~Rhonda

How do we inculcate a spirit of cooperation in people from differing value systems? ~Rain

Can/how do you convince someone to change their mind/act differently without threatening them or yourself? ~Joey

How do we prevent the conflict that arises when cultures meet and clash? ~John

“Politics:

How do we eradicate poverty? ~Desmond Tutu (I asked him this question a few years ago and this was his answer at the time)

How do we end these huge pendulum shifts from one set of values to the other, in terms of the belief systems that influence governance? are these pendulum swings to be understood nationally or globally? is there a way out? also: what motivates those who seem to care only of short-term profit? do they know a way off the planet that others don’t? what do they want for their grandchildren? When I taught US government to high school students I mapped this out and it went back to the early 19th century, maybe even 18th. There’s a way to read it as proof that the voting public will never let extremes get too extreme. That there’s a self-correcting instinct toward centrism. That read now feels dead wrong. The swings are exhausting, untenable and dangerous. And I wonder if it’s always felt that way to people who have lived through more of them. ~Dani

“Why?” is the most important question. The truth will be the most important answer. ~Frantz

“Community:

Why won’t every single body sit still some damn where and mind his/her own damn business? Stop trying to fix everything and fix his/her own self. Stop interfering with other people’s land, homes, and livelihood. ~Sun

We are all connected. How do we come to know this in our bones? ~Ian

At what point does the greed end? ~Daniel

How do we encourage actions showing love and acceptance that are rooted in equity and justice? How do we heal from shame? ~Esperanza

What are the young people saying to us that needs to be listened to and explored more deeply? ~Janice

What are the best things a man can do to support the rights and equality of women? ~Michael

How can we be love when we are surrounded by hate? ~Fred”

now we can

I remember one time I was talking about how capitalism was failing and classmate-friend-teacher-organizer Mia Herndon said “capitalism is working exactly as it is meant to. in competition and constant growth, those who don’t compete, or who compete less viciously, suffer, serve and struggle.”

now it feels to some people like America is failing, like the people who said “make America great again” are confused. but this is the trajectory of nation states, of borders and white supremacy. deepening our anti-capitalist and post-nationalist analyses will help make this moment an opportunity.

also, saying “I told you so” in any way is tacky and diminishes the speaker, because saying is not enough if we don’t effectively organize to make our visions palpable and our strategies collective. so we knew “make America great again”, when uttered by white supremacists, was not harkening the racism of the 1980s, or even 1950s, but the era of chattel slavery that preceded and seeded our current prison system. we may have done our very best, but we did not organize effectively enough to have the power to stop this moment.

but now we can. this moment is our ledge, or choice point. we are as free as we choose to be. (baldwin)

now we can put a moratorium on shading and attacking other factions of movement on the internet (or in meetings, or with funders) and either choose to collaborate or ignore other efforts while still counting them as part of our own resistance momentum.

now we can look at each person, regardless of background or experience, as a potential comrade (butler) and figure out how we must transform ourselves to transform the dynamic (boggs) in the name of liberation. i have been practicing this in cabs – i’ve had three transformative conversations with drivers in the last three days – people just need one suggestion, one encouragement to question everything.

now we must look within ourselves and ask what actions we are willing to take, what interventions we are capable of, if we can will ourselves into honest conversations, if we believe in our visions enough to step towards them, if we are brave enough to assert the future we require and to shape it.

the other option is to survive for a while, pointing at the very sharp thing aimed at our hearts and getting closer by the minute.

adapt! dodge, weave, learn from the L, slip out of your ego, hold each other, scream the truth and keep moving towards life. everything is going fine in this realization of someone else’s imagination. but we dream another world, and we make it come true.

a range of reflections on resilience

resilience: the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties

things i did today to recover

1. i reminded myself of something i’ve learned in life which helps me focus: things are not getting worse, they are getting uncovered. we must hold each other tight & continue to pull back the veil.

right.

2. i cried hard. woke up ugly-crying. at first i couldn’t even clearly say why i was crying, cause i knew/know all the analytical things. but i can’t deny that i feel the collective grief, the uptick of fear. the angle at which our uphill battle is being fought just got steeper.

i gave myself to the tears, and cried til i was spent. then got reiki and cried some more, letting the energy flow.

i realized that i had prepared my heart for the ache and compromise of a clinton win. but people who live all around me and all around everyone i love, and people who are related to me by blood, they came out of the woodwork in favor of someone who campaigned on violence and hatred towards everything about me and my loves.

perhaps it is in that shared blood that i feel the most pain in this moment. my ancestral line has slavery, genocide, rapists and scoundrels in it. yours too.

it also has all the people who survived and changed those stories. that means that while there is despair, i am not hopeless.

and my crying is not nostalgic, it isn’t denial – i don’t want to cling to the shore, emotionally flailing for a more comfortable, familiar narrative. right now there is justified grief and rage, my own and others, flowing through.

3. spent time with babies. in person and by video. babies who i love and feel responsible for, who reminded me to focus on learning, laughter and breasts.

4. i let myself go down a path of snarky, petty thoughts. such as:

– this election can best be summed up in the words of “Fake Love” by our neighbor Drake – “I got fake people showin’ fake love to me/Straight up to my face, straight up to my face/I can tell that love is fake/I don’t trust a word you say.”

– seriously 2/3 of voting white women – “who taught you to hate yourself?”

these thoughts did not really make me feel better, so i just let them slip by.

5. i found words that made me feel better.

“The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain.” – Kahlil Gibran

“Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” – MLK

“Transform yourself to transform the world.” – Grace Lee Boggs

“Wage Love” – Charity Mahouna Hicks

“The only lasting truth is change” and “There’s nothing new under the sun. But there are new suns.” – Octavia Butler

6. saw people calling this a dark time and i was like NOPE. remembered that Steven Barnes, in the alternate history classic Lion’s Blood, flipped the script of who had power. in a world where Africans held power, everything was “a pale, pale time”.

it occurs to me that this is not a dark time at all, not a dark age. it is a pale, pale time.

7. remembered that octavia told us all about this. one thing that stands out today as i view the world through swollen eyes is that i have a responsibility as an empath, to FEEL this, to let my feelings matter and guide me.

i have been reading the parables over and over in this lifetime for a reason, because there is wisdom in them, there are tangible tools for survival, for empaths and everyone else.

a few other people had the same thought at the same moment, and we are generating a discussion guide to support people reading and studying it together. join us.

8. i connected with others.

– reached out to loved ones and we texted and wrote pieces and called and facetimed and hugged our way through the day. sometime mid afternoon several of us noticed a feeling of focus, a sharpening of our work. we carry it on.

– got together with others in Detroit tonight and generated resilience. it was a simple evening – sharing our fears, reminding ourselves that fear is an intelligence, a sign to be more alert. then we shifted to remembering what helps us recover from pain and trauma. there was a lot of expanding, galaxies, oceans, trees, stillness, rocking, laughter, song. we, especially those of us who feel more overtly vulnerable today than yesterday, need each other.

9. i also did my usual resilience practices: a bath, centering, cooking (gave myself a day off of food tracking), singing really loudly, meditation, watching things (atlanta, black mirror).

and this. writing to you all. i love you. all.

<3

critical connections

last night i was hosted at Exit the Apple for a very sweet community potluck in Baltimore. the potluck brought together people who have been doing beautiful justice work around the city, but not necessarily together.

img_0507

i introduced myself by telling of my journey through organizing, electoral organizing in a panicky fear to stop george w bush, direct action and civil disobedience, and landing in visionary fiction, emergent strategy and pleasure activism.

we focused on the aspect of emergent strategy that is about critical connections, and i wanted to share the exercise we did. it took about 20 minutes total and people reported back surprisingly deep connections with each other (a lot of exchanging information and wanting to continue building at the end, signs of healthy community longing).

1. i had people raise their hands if they knew everyone in the room, 80% of the room, 50%, just one other person. often we assume everyone else is friends and we are the only stranger or outlier when it isn’t true. this scan exposes the patterns already in the room and the needed pattern making.

2. i asked folks to partner with someone they didn’t know and get lined up. this meant chairs were facing each other, hearts and eyes were facing each other. too often we work together and never actually consider the person in front of us, or we work off of assumptions and stolen glances. so the invitation is to actually see this person in their humanity, in their desire to transform the world. i invited people to reflect to each other first what they noticed in each other.

3. next people shared what they love about baltimore, and the work they do for/in this place. in an ideal place-based movement or life, those two things are connected. for instance – i love the radical blackness of detroit, so i center black liberation/freedom fighters in all my offerings of somatics, writing and healing space.

4. after pairs talked for about ten minutes, i asked people how they were doing at connecting. i noted that often we talk at each other, and we listen through our preconceptions. it is important to shift away from trying to fit people in our existing internal boxes, to shift towards curiosity in each other.

so the next step was a version of the question game. for a full minute, each pair had to go back and forth only asking each other questions. in this case, it was questions related to what they had heard in the other person’s baltimore love/movement story.

as a facilitator i noticed the shift in the room. there was laughter, people leaned into each other and became more collaborative, a team on a mission of curiosity.

5. as a final step, each person got to choose one of the questions asked and answer it as honestly as possible.

img_0508 photo credit Jason Harris

in reflections on the exercise, people said they were amazed at how deeply they could go in such a short period of time.

i referenced the incredible barbara holmes here, a black scientist who taught me years ago about the vibrational field of the heart, which extends about ten feet around us, strongest in front and back. when we sit face to face with someone, we are in each other’s vibrational field – it’s a practical way to connect.

so often when we speak of movement building, we look first at how to achieve critical mass. but margaret wheatley and grace lee boggs and octavia butler taught me that the quality of connection inside each pair, group, community or movement is what makes transformation possible.

facing each other and getting curious are two very simple tools for generating critical connections. focusing on place and what we long for really helps with alignment – there are a million places to diverge and we have been taught to focus on those, to deconstruct. but what we pay attention to grows, so the invitation for critical connections is to find the places of alignment and common interest and grow towards interdependence from there.

also, food helps. our community potluck was truly baltimore style with fresh oysters! and tons of other small, precious offers of sustenance.

also, children and babies help. there were teenagers in the group and 2 young children running circles around our pairs while a 3-month-old observed us and took naps in the back. watching the young children make connections by chasing, hugging each other, rolling around on the floor and shrieking with joy reminds us that it is in our nature to connect and play, that it brings delight when we give into the friendship available in the moment.

grateful to baltimore, exit the apple, lester spence and especially ailish hopper for pulling this together.