#blacklivesmatter freedom song

a couple of months ago i was on a piece of special and haunted land in north carolina with BOLD. i was facilitating our national gathering, where we had a lot to look back on and look forward to – #blacklivesmatter was born of three BOLD participants and as we vision the future there is not only the terror of the ongoing and escalating violence against black and brown communities, but in this moment the joy of movement, of having thousands in the streets together, of feeling like justice is possible.

that saturday morning i woke up from a dream in which i was in a massive crowd marching, dancing, singing and blowing brass band horns to a song i had never heard before. i sang it into my phone, and then i couldn’t stop singing and humming it as i got ready. freedom song, freedom song, i got to sing my freedom song – i love my people oh i love us so. i got my freedom and i won’t let go.

then i went into the morning session where sister-doctor alexis pauline gumbs led us in a practice of chanting in small groups using the words of brilliant black feminist ancestors. my group worked with the words of harriet tubman, ‘my people are free’. as with many of the words passed down from tubman, this declaration is futuristic, complex. but as we chanted it, it became – oh – so tender, so simple, so clear that that was the truth that everything tries to make us forget. we wept and rocked and laughed together, and i can still the way each of the women in my circle co-created the opening we felt.

that evening the rest of the song came – black lives matter. black lives matter. black lives matter to me. your life matters, my life matters, black lives matter to me!

i recorded the whole thing wearing my #blacklivesmatter hoodie, my uniform for the latter half of 2014. i sent it to the BLM team for feedback and they posted it. one of the people who saw it, another brilliant black woman in the lineage of harriet tubman, is phaedra ellis-lamkins. because of her, with the help of the black lives matter team (patrisse, alicia, opal and damon), and the recording support of invincible – the song now has an incredible video full of the moments that inspired this song.

here is the video.

my next dream to sing it at a march with a brass band, dancing.

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

from a renaissance

coming to you live from the heart of a renaissance, renaissance meaning a rebirth, detroit being a city that has been born again over and over. when i first started coming around the D, i knew that a movement was afoot in hip-hop. i saw invincible, finale, guilty, black milk, buff 1, miz korona, mz jonz, slum village, and so many others coming together in a way that was unprecedented and unapologetic. what i heard over and over was: this is the home of j dilla and big proof and we won’t deny anymore the unique and raw creations that come out of this place.

i first heard monica blaire on a cd, which blew me away AND didn’t even come close to the joie de vivre she injects in an audience in a live performance. she is the best live performer of her generation anywhere in the world based on my experiences, and she is right here, close enough to touch, humble enough to hug and big up all those around her. [here’s a trio of short videos from my phone shot last night when she jammed impromptu with the marvelous and adorable and allaroundgreat chilean hip-hop star anita tijoux: one, two, three.]

so for a while i know it has been happening, absolutely, but then i moved here, and my immersion in what is happening every night and day all around this city…it is so exciting to be here at this moment in detroit, where the energy of new things emerging out of an old soul city is present and palpable.

just four days ago detroit brought us jessica care moore‘s black women rock, a concert in tribute of the delicious and edge-slicing betty davis, brief wife of miles davis, sex-flinging artiste who still elicits a frenzy today when her words and images and fashions reach us.

the artists who slipped through, including brooklyn rock divas imani uzuri and tamar-kali and internationally renowned artist marcia jones, were thrilled to be in motor city, and kept talking about the creative energy alive here. steffanie christian was my discovery of the weekend…she got up and rocked 5 songs that moved me outside myself in 5 different ways.

the next day jessica hosted a brunch for the women who performed, and there was an impromptu song session where folks shared what they had to offer, what was in their souls at that moment. what i felt in that room was the miracle-worthy experience that can happen when creative people realizing their potential share space. it was historic, and healing, and so easy to take in.

attendees included the incomparable piper carter, who has envisioned and uplifted The Foundation as a weekly Tuesday night fertile space for the growth of women artists in the D, featuring DJ’s Mel Wonder, Sticky Niki, & La Jedi with B-Girls Mama (Hardcore Detroit), Ri$ Money, & Teena Marie & Graffiti Artist Riku. the night often lends itself to the kind of inspired spontaneous moments only possible when great talent smashes into a liberated open welcoming zone and can expand to its full size. miz korona and mz jonz, who i call comedianne-rappers, regularly play here.

and of course i have to say that my partner invincible is a key player in every aspect of this moment, and in my own life. only a few weeks ago, invincible took two showcases to SXSW – a Detroit showcase, and a Women in Hip Hop showcase. she has seen the groundbreaking transformative potential of this city for as long as i have known her.

there is a hip-hop renaissance here, but there is simultaneously and intersectionally a thrilling movement of female artistry and creativity happening in Detroit which aligns with the shift to the feminine that is happening in every arena, internationally, philosophically, politically, in families, in structures. everyone is welcome to visit, and co-create, and bring it all to visit, and showcase it, and let it seed and scatter and grow within you.

it’s a daily choice

there has been so much growth, life, death, loss, excitement, change, and work in my life lately. at the same time i have been working to establish a practice, or set of daily practices, to ground and center me, focus me on my best offerings to the world, let me clear and clarify. i have wrestled with practice, as i have wrestled with all disciplines in my life. give me space, creation space, rules to break, lines to cross, newness and naughtiness and truth – i’m yours. but practice? something every day? the same thing every day? yawn…life is long!

and yet…when i practice the difference is palpable. on a day where i meditate, do 10 reps of jo kata, center myself, think about what i love and want to manifest: MY LIFE IS AMAZING. literally i eat well, cook skillfully, listen deeply, am full of action and accomplishment, am humble and loved and open.

and on days where i don’t have time – don’t make/take time – for myself? i trip, i stumble, i fall, i eat fast foods, i sneak bad things like ice cream and cigarettes, the pool is suddenly closed, i get tickets from the city of oakland, i become a vexed person, cynical, venting, a hater…i forget important things, my to-do list seems unbearable, other people are mean and potentially in a conspiracy of stupid behavior designed to stump my instincts for good…swirling down a drain of ick.

what i am realizing is that it is not WHAT i practice, but THAT i practice. it’s the daily choice…actually millions of small daily choices, that make the life i want to lead. even if i consider practicing, and choose not to, aware of the implications – it is better than making no choice, being asleep in boredom or misery.

and when i make a good choice – to make space for the stillness, to move towards my intentions, to center myself all the way down to the earth before responding to anything – it’s power. i have nothing but love and redemption in me, i’m human in the most miraculous way.

it’s transformational.

Notes from Kalamazoo

These are slightly edited notes from the day of conversation at Kalamazoo College, first with the Center for Social Justice Leadership Planning Committee, and then with select faculty and students on the topic of Leadership. The intention was to really bring nonviolent direct action into the definition of leadership skills, and to focus on the power of networks (and other collaborative, locally grounded formations) for organizing.

First, we had some Q+A with the planning committee, where they shared where they’re at in the process of the Center, and what their key questions are now.

1. How do we keep the funky side of organizing when a Center at a college is inherently an institution?
– Know the history of nonviolent direct action – it isn’t just the funky part of the work, every social justice movement in history has used NVDA to advance their negotiations. A lot of folks don’t know the role that NVDA plays in movement building and actual wins. And you don’t have to recreate it – we at Ruckus and many other groups teach the history and the theory (helping folks determine whether nonviolence is for them). Ruckus focuses on the best practices of actual action skills. Bring in folks to share these skills.
– Have folks read science fiction, watch documentaries, learn in ways other reflect what we can learn from what the culture is presenting back as key lessons from the margins.

2. How do we develop interesting, out of the box leadership?
– Outside the classroom – apprenticeship and experiential learning. We learn to walk by walking, not by someone giving us a class about it.
– Train folks to participate in collaborative efforts, networks, alliances more than institutions. The age of the institution might be passing at this point…the age of big large growth based thinking might be passed, so we don’t want to invest in things that have to grow exponentially to survive. Networks are organic bodies, each community doing its own work but then connecting to share practices and information.
– Creating a network of people with a shared experience to offer the world. The folks who come through the center shouldn’t see themselves as “leaders”, but as people who have developed the skills of “leadership” – that there are many ways to practice leadership and the skills can be modeled and passed on.
– For really out the box leaders – develop facilitators! Develop folks who practice facilitative leadership. Train folks to facilitate, to hold listening and truth and reconciliation practices…I think that’s more powerful than public speaking and other skills.

3. What are we looking for in a director for this program?
– Someone who defines radical as Visionary, rather than Angry.
– Someone committed to balancing theory and practice.

4. Is organizing something you should teach? How do you do that responsibly with students…and who do they organize?
– I deeply believe organizing is something people should learn by doing. In their community. So campus organizing is totally necessary and a great learning environment for students, and their home communities during the summer. THAT SAID, a social justice framework and a sensibility to fight for your human rights can be taught, and must be taught. You have to undo the training of most public/private early school years, which says to obey, work, obey, work, retire. All teachers can play a part in reframing the world as a place that requires and responds to your actions.

5. Please reiterate the harm reduction stuff you told the students!
I learned harm reduction philosophy so early in my career and I now apply it to EVERYTHING else I do. It’s all about the people setting their own goals, it’s about self-determination, it’s about having compassion for the choices and directions of your life, it’s about releasing judgment, but acknowledging the real world. check it out at www.harmreduction.org – that to me is a fundamental justice analysis that i use throughout my life.

Then the conversation opened up.

Invincible (of Emergence and Detroit Summer) had traveled with Roxana and I to Kalamazoo, and we convinced her to come share about the remarkable work of Detroit Summer’s Live Arts Media Project. She shared their audio hip-hop documentary and the 12 Steps to Illumination comic that comes inside the CD case.

Roxana shared her experience of learning leadership as a young person in Detroit Summer: “The youth dialogues were powerful cause youth chose the topics, after 8 hours of working together, cooking, eating together, etc. And then we facilitated ourselves, and we really got into the topics. We learned to think and challenge and learn and reconcile – it was our space.”

Then they both shared some of the key ideas they have learned from Jimmy and Grace Lee Boggs: dialectical humanism (the spiral of learning, doing, reflecting, and living in cycle); that our role is to birth a movement that is already emerging (not create a movement from our minds).

I spoke about how leadership has a lot to do with having a strategic mind (rather than a strategic plan), because everything changes all the time. And I love that – I am influenced by Octavia Butler’s concept in the Parable of the Sower that “change is god” – and I believe learning that to navigate change with grace is the greatest skill.

The group physicist, Jan, pointed out to us that our leadership model is based on the idea that exponential growth is good. Now, it is becoming clearer that “exponential growth is unsustainable,” and that we need to develop models of leadership that focus on prosperity, abundance, equity, deeply local and small models.

I reiterated my thoughts that this is a time of birth – while folks are experiencing economic “crisis” as a dark moment, the great recession…we can experience this darkness like a womb that is birthing sustainable societies.

Then I got so into the conversation that I stopped taking notes – but here were some key points I jotted down:

BAN PASSIVE AGGRESSIVENESS

READ borderlands

Angle Kyodo Williams says its overwhelming what’s happening in the world and we haven’t developed the soul capacity to handle it. Our communities need to “grow our souls” as Grace Lee Boggs says. I think it helps to localize it to your own community and move through that space.

The sweet spot for where to bring your leadership in your community is where your passion/interest meet you skill set and converge on the need. It’s a triangle.

READ Don Miguel Ruiz’s Four Agreements

Something we are experiencing right now with Ruckus is that the experience of the community (awareness, composting, shared chores, localized healthy food, etc) had just as much impact as the action training. That is to say, the skills are necessary, AND our leadership shows up in how we ARE with each other, as much as what we are teaching.

That’s all for now! Kalamazoo is lovely and we wish them luck and hope Ruckus trains a lot of folks there in nonviolent direct action!