birth and revolution

when asked who is the leader, people in tahrir sqaure say, ‘we are’. we need a new concept of revolution to understand #egypt. it’s emerging from the people. leaders could only be midwives.
— grace lee boggs


Meet Asmaa Mahfouz and the vlog that Helped Spark the Revolution

i have been watching internet videos and sharif kouddous on democracy now, and al-jazeera non-stop for days, watching revolution catch and grow like a fire in the middle east. it’s beautiful, and i have been trying to think of ways to write about it without romanticizing what i see. i know that there are beautiful parts and mostly there are very very hard conditions that people there are in, and have been in, and will be in.

to me the beauty is in the self-organization, decentralization, and simultaneous strategic use of and independence from technology. its in the voices and leadership of women and young people who are all incredibly on message and uncompromising on their demands.

watching the people demand and create change in egypt and throughout the middle east is giving me that thing i have been longing for which is greater than hope – belief that change is possible in our lifetimes, in the present.

i had been feeling sort of hopeless not about the work of u.s. movements, but the internal dysfunctions and how that lays a shoddy foundation for any revolutionary work. i have felt myself wanting to shake loose of movements where i can’t feel the commitment to transformation, only feeling the loyalty to anger, critique and competition.

i have felt myself pulled towards healing and food and babies, cooking all the time, focusing on being a great auntie, and beginning to learn the path of the doula.

now its clear to see there is something universal in this longing, that it is not a moving away from movement that makes me want to attend to the health and the birth and body of people. it is another path to liberation.

we need to see, and feel, that there is a resilience which comes from saying no to traditional top-down leadership, from stepping up to take care of our own communities (whether that’s as security or picking up litter or marching), from saying yes to women’s voices and actions, from holding out for the true demand of participatory democracy (not “capitulating as Mubarak has done,” — Noha Radwan).

i see that one role of midwives and doulas at this moment is to present a new way to think of generating great transformation. you support the mother, you nourish her, you believe in the innate capacity of the child and the mother to negotiate that fine line of life and death, you give everything you can, you do your best, you stay with it no matter what, you don’t take the mother’s process personally, you know there is no single right path except the one taken, and no matter what, you believe with your whole heart that the change WILL happen.

this happens all the time. 30 years ago such a miracle happened and the love of my life was born. what she has taught me about love could fill many books, but the most important lesson is the simplest: love is expansive.

and love – of people, of family, of the right to participate and to live – is what is driving the rage and uprising and change in Tunisia, in Egypt, in Yemen, in Jordan.

it is possible. it will happen. it is, now.

good resources in addition to al jazeera:

http://twitter.com/sharifkouddous
http://twitter.com/monaeltahawy
http://twitter.com/atefsaid

american revolutionary

i assert my solutions as the living embodiment of my nationality…

i’m testing that statement out.

for a long time, most of my conscious political life, i have not thought of myself as an american (and not a nationalist at all, especially not of a colonial empire). i have been a world traveller. a future ex-pat. a staunch critic of the ways america is failing at everything from dreams to execution of values, from founding to present. and i hold these critiques to be self-evident – how can anyone with a mind and a heart not see the failure, the epic moral failure of the country i was born into?

recently, 3 things have made me reconsider my relationship to america.

one thing is sitting with the words of the late james boggs and being with grace lee boggs, and their clear belief that we have to understand the context of where we are, that there is a real place in which we have the right to be revolutionary. jimmy said, “i don’t believe no one can run this country better than me,” and he said that as a worker. now i feel challenged by grace’s latest thinking, that a new “more perfect union” is ours to envision and embody, and i think we have to believe that no one can run this country, community by community, better than those of us with clear visions and practices of justice and sustainability. if we believe that, then we must take on the responsibility of bringing our visions into existence – through our actions, not just our words.

the second thing that has made me reconsider this is a conversation that happened at web of change. it was hosted by anasa troutman and angel kyodo williams, and i wasn’t even there, just got to debrief how powerful it was with several participants afterwards. one of the key components was the idea of being able to say that those things that offend us at the deepest level, which seem inhumane, which give us feelings of shame by association – we have to step up to say “that is not our America.” leaving the space open for american identity to be defined only by those who are driven by fear leaves us with what we have now – policies of walls and borders instead of open arms and visions, prisons and penalties instead of communities that hold each other accountable and safe, poverty and joblessness instead of meaningful roles in communities where we each feel our worth and get honored for our contributions. america holds an international role which we who have citizenship here can’t shake off – unsolicited and violent judge, oppressor, manipulator of resources and relationships, bringer of trash/waste/dehumanizing work. what we are within our colonized borders is amplified in our external actions. and there are enough of us who know a better way that if we truly took on the responsibility, the practice of being american revolutionaries, it would have a worldwide impact. scaling up, yes, but only by going deep in accepting the privilege and responsibility of being american at this moment in time and taking up new practices wherever we are.

the third piece for me is looking at my family in light of recent stories i have heard from immigrant families living and dying to get a hold of a status i have taken for granted. my sisters and i were born in texas, in el paso. folks who are brown like me and whose ancestors’ blood still bakes in the earth of my birthplace, folks who were born 10 miles away from me, they have died because of long-term impacts of our foreign policy, trade policy, drug habits. on a fundamental level, being an american means being responsible for the human cost of our way of living, our mistakes, our policies. i may not agree with the policies, but that doesn’t much matter to the people impacted by them if i do nothing to change the ways of this country. my family has had a chance at happiness that was made possible because of american military endeavors and i have to attend to that reality. can i face it completely and instead of feeling shame, think of what can bring justice to my family, to my nephew and niece as they begin their young political journeys? this feels like huge work for me.

i see more and more that my path is not necessarily an organizing path, be it electoral or community. this is not simply because i am disappointed in our movements, though i feel, viscerally, that we/they are mostly practicing what i could call the old american ethic: spread, grow, mainstream yourself, prosper in competition, value new ideas over ancient wisdom, colonize by spreading as many chapters with cookie cutter action plans as far and wide as you can, don’t apologize, pitch first and listen later, etc.

all of that is there, but my calling is underneath that critique, and it feels like yearning, it feels like a budding set of solutions. i am interested in connecting with, building with, and supporting folks who are interested in the next american revolution – in holding space for a new american ethic that speaks to the experience of masses of people within these hyper-enforced borders: we start by seeking indigenous wisdom for how to be in this place and honor those who have been here the longest. we stand with the world in calling for america to evolve as we practice these new-old ways of being here. we build our economy of relationships, not dollars. we see ourselves as part of a global network of citizens of one shared planet who have a collective responsibility towards home. we respect each other and the land, we practice restorative justice, we begin by listening, we accept the responsibility of where we are. instead of being known for our critique, we embody the revolution wherever we are, in whatever work we are called to.

i know i can’t change the past, not even the very recent past, our actions of yesterday and even this morning. but i am also more and more aware that i can’t put off this being of a place for even one more day. i have lived in many places, and i have loved many places, but i have papers for one place, voting power for one place, family all rooted in one place. it is this place where i will make my stand.

in a way this is another coming out, full of terror and bravado…and pumping out of me like blood. i will test this out, here, as a truth and an invitation: i am an american revolutionary.

detroit bodhisattva

an interview just got posted which i did last night with mark rudd, who now lives in albuquerque and supports organizers. he says when he visited detroit, he met all these enlightened beings – bodhisattvas like tyree guyton and grace lee boggs. it was so exciting to talk about how i feel about detroit, and invite people to come through in the summer to the social forum.

check out the show here!

making money make change keynote

here are the notes of the keynote i gave at the 12th annual making money make change gathering. these are notes, which i referred to and riffed off of, so it may not have come out exactly like this :), but still wanted to document it all.

(before i spoke, disability justice organizer mia mingus got up and gave us a short awareness practice around able-ist language – noticing when we say crazy, lame, crippled, blind, deaf, cut off at the knees, insane…this was a powerful learning, not only to notice when we say it, but also learning to say what we actually mean, instead of reducing ourselves in ways that dishonor the experiences of others.)

good evening. i’m adrienne maree brown – i work with the ruckus society, and am now a national coordinator with the us social forum.

first of all, everyone please get up. i am placing this (balloon) down here in the center, and let’s say this represents the center of impact – economic and environmental impact. this can be nuanced – being hungry for food, or hungry for the attention and love of parents obsessed with accumulating money. furthest from the center are those with the most privilege – meaning love, safety, access to nature. ok. now look at each other – this is reality – our lives and experiences are more complex than we give ourselves credit for – what looks like privilege can be loneliness, what looks like suffering can be happiness. who is missing from the conversation and the leadership? those MOST impacted. that’s who we have to learn to listen to. but look at us – we are all in this together, interrelated, on this earth island hurtling through space.

now sit down.

i want to start by saying that i feel this space, and this undertaking, are incredible. i have never had a lot of money, but the exposure i have had to luxury and comfort have taught me that it is addictive. hot tubs? travel? having anything you want? it’s nice – it’s amazing to me that y’all were born into that and opt to be in a space like this, thinking about redistribution. and it’s an approved addiction – if a baby is born addicted to crack because of the practices of its mother, it is pushed through an abstinence program immediately. if you are born to a family addicted to luxury and comfort, you are considered lucky. but here y’all are, in this money-addiction harm reduction program…you’re even telling your stories like a 12-step program! so, i honor you and this work.

i also want to say that in the effort to combat celebrity organizing culture, i didn’t create or come up with any of the stuff i will share with you tonight. i hope i am a conduit of ancient ideas trying to find their way home. i honor my ancestors, those who have thought and realized and remembered and dreamed before me.

first, i want to share some of my own story. i’m bi-everything…biracial, bisexual, cross-cultural, grew up half in the u.s. and half in germany. i grew up loved grew up a military brat, and i think my experience of learning what the military really did is the closest thing i have to what you all are going through as you learn how your family accumulated it’s wealth. when i learned the history of the military, i felt betrayed and hopeless. responsibility for the suffering of others is unbearable. i think this is why we try to numb it, ignore it, not teach our children…but that allows the suffering to continue. waking up, we can acknowledge and eliminate our capacity to create suffering.

i learned about the military in college – i was able to get into columbia university. i was a gifted child because i was told i could do anything i set my mind to. that encouragement was my greatest privilege. i organized on every kind of issue in college, always drawn to to the point of greatest impact. my experience with sexual assault shaped who i wanted to organize with, guiliani’s mayoral reign of terror shaped the issues i organized around – hiv/aids, police brutality, women’s sexual health and education. as a military brat, i was drawn towards organizing for peace. in the years i have organized, i worked in the fields of harm reduction, electoral organizing, and direct action. i was doing harm reduction work just fine till bush cut that budget to send the money into the wars in afghanistan, then i was marching in the streets and doing electoral organizing – trying to see if it was possible to do that kind of cyclical, reactionary work with integrity. the jury is still out for me. someone approached me as i did that work and said i was too radical for electoral work, and that’s how i ended up at the ruckus society. all of my work has been national and cross-cultural. the values that i have accumulated:

– decentralization! of power and resources. at ruckus we are finally a flat pay scale organization, and are practicing real decentralization of decision making, including our network.
– actions speak louder than words. it is wonderful to articulate a commitment, a vision. it is powerful to act on it, change your behavior as a person, as a worker, as a donor, as a family-member.
– our survival requires prioritizing self-determination and sustainability. this is the vision of ruckus, that all communities have both. they have to go hand in hand…one community cannot sustain itself at the expense of another, one community cannot practice self-determination that harms another, this has to work locally, globally. this necessarily includes restorative practices that sustain each person.
– we must move from a dependency model of raising funds to a grassroots fundraising model. this means that those who need an organization should contribute to it, and those who are major donors and foundations should support in a consistent and ongoing way based on the real work and expertise, not on theories and strategies. the work of creating a new and equitable world cannot depend upon the gifts of those most benefitting from the current world.

so those are some values i hold. based on that, i was asked to think about things to share with you all as young donors. here is what i have to offer, as lessons from being human and organizing:

– there is no end to this work. my mentor grace lee boggs speaks of the process by which human beings cycle through the sam contradictions throughout life, growing and comprehending more each time, but still engaged in the process. dialectical humanism. if we only think of hard outcomes, we miss the growth of the process – the process is where we must embody the practices of the future. let our visions show up in our every action and every step.

– we can’t see the future…actually – who here can? ok. other than you, the rest of us can only predict. we are all doing our best. for this reason, i wish we would stop engaging in the debate of reform vs revolution, inside strategy vs outside strategy. we don’t know. we aren’t going to convince everyone to do it one way. that said – choice is a privilege, and in our work we should constantly strive to increase the choices and freedoms of others, because hopefully part of our long-term vision is self-determination.

– truth should be a goal of story-telling. today i witnessed as you each shared the stories of your wealth. i am glad you called them stories, because they are only part of the truth – i hope someday we can engage in developing shared histories, where you can see how your history impacts mine, how mine impacts yours…we are bound to repeat what we cannot say and face. it is time to humble ourselves to the histories of the majority of the world.

– a key element of that truth is that money isn’t magic. a participant said it well earlier today – money doesn’t come from investments. money doesn’t come from money. all money comes from work, or natural resources. most comes from the combination of work to extract and apply natural resources to the needs of human beings. we are ALL brainstormed to have faith in money, and in materialism. we share the same illusions, whether we have money or don’t. we even believe that the problems of capitalism and materialism can be resolved by capitalism and materialism…this shows up as micro-loans and micro-enterprises where the source of funds is outside the community. my new friend paul haible (of the peace development fund) recently said “to end poverty we must end greed,” and i add, accumulation and ownership.

– to that end we must be aware of the values we are spreading. most of philanthropy is moving money that was earned on the value that “competition is good.” and yet, philanthropy aims to offset the hardships of communities who have long held the value that “cooperation is good”. the value that is embedded in our philanthropy can actually shift the foundational values of communities we want to support…modern philanthropy might (unintentionally) actually kill the value of cooperation, which many of us are realizing is the essential value of ALL of our long-term survival.

– in terms of our survival – we have been thinking of this as a dark economic moment, a dark time, possibly a recession, possibly the moment before a great depression. but perhaps this a darkness more like the womb. we have been contained and dependent, and now we have outgrown that world, and are being pushed out into a new one…we have to be interdependent and learn to walk and breathe. it is real. can we value that new world, if it is closer to our visions?

– we must be conscious of the values we spread. we must also be conscious of the work we create for those communities we calim to support. get to know local organizations and leaders and communities. and if you truly believe in their work, become a regular monthly donor so they know they can depend on your support instead of spending a large part of each year asking and asking and asking.

– support work because you believe it contributes to all of our survival, not because you want a big thank you, because you need to assuage something, or create further dependence of communities on your money. dependence is deadly, independence is a myth, interdependence is life.

– interdependence is possible when you approach everyone as a teacher. then you are placing yourself in the space of student – acknowledging our helplessness and inability to do things gives us space to learn.

– experience yields strategic minds. ooh – this is big: i don’t believe in strategic plans! please let’s stop making them. in the long run, strategic minds are so much more effective. strategic structures, processes, practices. but plans are inflexible, the terrain is always changing.

– look for organic formations, rather than (starting new organizations based on) your theoretical formations…it is not your right to experiment with people, and given the state of the world, none of us are experts at ending poverty, at peace, and ending inequality…

– what we are doing is what we are supposed to do. none of us are without history, without relationship to somewhere…we have to remember who we are, and how we are supposed to steward this place. this is our practice: (boggs center quote) community building is to the collective what spiritual practice is to the individual. what are you practicing?

time capsule: may 26, 2009

a lot of things happened in the world today.

the california supreme court upheld prop 8, meaning gay marriage is still banned in california. the 18,000 marriages that happened in the window of enlightened thinking when gay marriage was legal will be upheld. as i’ve said before, i believe in civil unions for all, and marriage – gay or straight – as something that should be decided, however slowly, by churches. but this isn’t about that finer point, and we all know it. it’s about how much folks hate/fear what they don’t understand.

the supreme court overturned a ruling that stops police from questioning a defendant without a lawyer present.

tensions are spiking between north and south korea.

there were swine flu deaths in new york and a massive cyclone hit india and bangladesh.

a couple of weeks ago i got to sit with grace lee boggs again, which is always elucidating. sitting with anyone who is 94 is humbling. everything that feels so pressing and urgent and important at this moment gets shifted into a meta-perspective. more than any other 90+ year old i have ever met, grace pushes my mind, and after i have left her presence, questions that she voiced return. this last time she asked a question that she and her late husband/philosophical-partner Jimmy have been asking for years: what time is it on the clock of the universe?

on a day like today, when the bulk of major decisions and conversations seem so regressive, our species seems so infantile – do we fight or exclude? is there a way to make our failing justice system more unfair for those without resources?

the hope for our species is not at the statewide or federal levels of decision making, though we must keep strategically advancing our causes in those spaces. its at the local level, its in small victories.

a week ago yesterday a woman was attacked in the driveway behind my house, and my neighbors and i responded. yesterday, the woman who was attacked stopped by the bbq happening on our patio. i missed her, i was up this mountain i go to when i want to get away from technology. but she came, and she’s healing. as much as my neighbors and i have loved each other, this event brought us closer, and opened up more relationships between us and the larger community. on a small scale we participated in humanity stepping up to the gift of reason. reason can be used to resolve conflict, to help others, to strengthen community. this is happening in organized and unorganized ways all over the world – people are crafting the world they want instead of waiting for failed systems to miraculously work.

at this moment people are writing and living the solutions. here’s what i’m reading today, and what i recommend everyone else read:

Margaret Wheatley’s Leadership in the New Sciences and Turning to One Another

William Gibson‘s All Tomorrow’s Parties. Start with Neuromancer, then Idoru, Burning Chrome, Pattern Recognition. He writes about the future in ways that make you want to go there, in ways that expose cultural shifts and why they happen.

and, Anita Diamant’s The Red Tent. Honestly, I just finished this book, and it made me excited about the ways of women. How we heal, care, birth, hold the space for miracles. While reading this I crystallized some thinking about processes for change: if the greatest miracle we know of – making life – can happen as a complete process in roughly 9 months, then why are we so slow at everything else? And in this world of today, where I can hardly find a space for a non-reactionary conversation because there is so much crap to react to, that knowledge of time gives me hope.

Because, to respond a little to grace’s question, the moment in the universe is one in which we (possibly the only sentient beings like ourselves, hopefully not) are becoming aware, through the sciences or through our own experiences of the changes in our environment, that our time here as a species is not infinite. And so we are turning away from the irresponsible and childish behaviors that we have called our nature, and our curiosity for how to live and be with each other is bursting up through the seams of old society.

It won’t be long before the idea of banning gay marriage will be seen as shameful and ignorant by the mainstream. Shortly after that it will be taken for granted, and who knows how it will show up in the history books.

We will learn from our collective experience, though those lessons may not show up in the mainstream of our culture in ways that we feel represent us. But here in the margins – margins of identity, of class, of philosophical leanings, of futurists – there’s clarity, there’s pride, there’s indignation, and there’s experiential learning of how to be with each other, how to make decisions for the collective good.

Knee Jerk Review: Notorious

from my phone:

– Life, the meaningful parts of life, are corny, no matter how hard you are.

– There is no way to separate the American dream from hip-hop. When Biggie and Puff talk about making it, they mean in the most material way. It’s music or the streets, and they have to attain militaristic might and blast through the ceilings of structural racism to make it, in an equation where “it” = money, which = success.

– According to this movie, and many on fame, the height of success is empty sex, numbing drugs and getting surrounded by people with no critique, vs. remaining one of the many who are broke and trying to get to that vapid success.

– You have to throw your whole heart and all your dreams on the board if you want to make a real play for success.

– Best line, when one brother is coming our of prison: “Everyone in the pen is a philosopher.”

– The music itself is better than anything else in the film, in a porn-like way. I was waiting for each song to hit the place in my mind that knows it by heart, at which point the whole theater would smile and start boppin’ heads, givin’ into the music.

– Angela Bassett = quintessential black woman. As soon as she arrives in the movie there’s a Malcolm
X quality, an increase in slow motion, and there she is giving an Oscar-winning performance in a Source-Movie-of-the-Year film.

– Sean Combs executive produced the movie, and in the film he is like a lightning rod of good instinct. He pokes fun at his tendency to dance through everything, and the actor smiles much more than the Puff we all see on reality shows. Dude is clearly a genius. At least, he thinks so. I have always had a lot of respect for P-Diddy as a businessman/producer, through every nickname, even when I met him and he was a complete asshole. But I wonder, what’s the long-term result of all that hustle – how is the world changed other than some folks having more money and other folks dead? This movie, where Puffy is paraphrasing Gandhi and Grace Lee Boggs – to change the world we must change ourselves – made me long for a vision, rather than a personality and a soundtrack. Would more time have given us that?

– Memories burst up, watching this. Tupac was shot and died my first week in college, in NY. The night he died was the first time I was truly drunk. There was a fire that night, at the end of a hallway in my dorm and I was the first to see it, yelled out to folks to get out. The night I remember was people being sick all around me, crying, confused, outside in the chill, traumatic. Then a half year later, Biggie died on my sister’s birthday. I’d been in Germany just before college, years behind on hip-hop, I didn’t know that much about Biggie and Tupac, east coast and west coast. I was learning, falling in love with hip-hop, and thought they were both amazing, and telling stories of my family that had never been appealing. Time would teach me: Biggie was Brooklyn. My first time in Brooklyn was the parade of his funeral procession, we’d missed the actual cars, were just caught up in the wave of grieving fans, clueless and lost and seeing an impact I couldn’t understand.

It’s hard to knee jerk this one, because the movie is neither great nor horrible. It’s informative, chronological, one view of the events, clearly blessed by many close to him, with an amazing soundtrack; it’s a sympathetic portrayal of Biggie’s life. But it’s just not great. Still, the story floats all around the movie, and that story is massive, and personal. I am reminded of interviewing Afeni Shakur when Resurrection came out, and that same sense of potential and promise of more to come…but then they were gone.

Overall the movie leaves me sad; sad about how young Big was, sad about the way the media escalated a trivial rift into a death match, sad that every time someone starts to tell the truth in this country – either the truth about justice, or the truth about injustice (which is the setting for most of the brilliant hip-hop in the world), they are taken out.

Based on where Biggie started, and what was possible for him, he came so far. He punched through the expectations in a way that left a wall for others. Rapping about sex and money and life, produced by someone with a finger on the pulse of where hip-hop was headed, he had just made it through a first cycle on the life path, 24 years old. The entire path is the human story – from rags to riches to spiritual rags to spiritual riches.

I have often grimaced when folks compare the deaths of Tupac and Biggie to those of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr. The individualist paths of artists in this country, the capitalist cannonball success stories of brothers who want to get away from the hardship and buy they mama a house…these are folks within the containers Malcolm and Martin and others of their era were trying to hold. It seems an unfair comparison – folks trying to make it out of their communities, vs. folks working to uplift and transform the entire community, including the women and children therein. But watching Notorious on MLK day, one can’t help but see the threads between them, massive black men, moving folks to see themselves differently, driven by the force of personality from a stage/pulpit.

Who knows where Biggie and Tupac would have ended up, given the opportunity to both thrill us lyrically, and then uplift us as grown men. The movie’s drama and mystery lacks that component. We’re left to ponder it ourselves, in the fully realized age of hip-pop.


P.S. Seth im’d me a nice reminder on how Gandhi clarified the difference between pacifism and nonviolence – how he saw pacifist as a weak stance by folks who would actually engage in violence if they had the tools or the will, where as folks practicing nonviolence sit in a space of proactive strength. When I say I don’t identify as a pacifist, it is because I feel the kind of nonviolence work I do is an aggressive work, advancing the front line kind of work. Thanks Seth!
P.P.S. Thanks to the blog followers who gave me love at Butta last night, I often forget others read this.
P.P.P.S. On the health tip, I went for a walk today and don’t feel broken!