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.

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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.

pretty wings

my friend lester wrote a recommendation of me, in some twitter format which i don’t understand, but what i did like was that he talked about merging pop culture and political analysis…that truly is an intersection i love exploring.

if you watch the tone and energy of reactions and responses, the line between political and pop realms becomes so blurred. the passion with which people speak of lou dobbs, rush limbaugh, rachel maddow, obama…line that up with the energy of folks talking about beyonce and britney and brangelina…line that up with folks talking about basketball, football, golf, any sport. it’s all entertainment, content, emotional cues to direct our lives from one reaction to the next. there’s talent of course, brilliance sometimes, natural ability. but a lot of it is cycles. even as we feel a call towards creating the world we want, not railing against these repetitive cycles, its hard to resist the meta-systems…the metaphors cross over so well.

i just listened to this song (maxwell’s “pretty wings”) as a message from impacted communities to the global economy, and it totally works. here are lyrics…

Time will bring the real end of our trial
One day they’ll be no remnants
No trace, no residual feelings within ya
One day you won’t remember me
Your face will be the reason I smile
But I will not see what I cannot have forever
I’ll always love ya, I hope you feel the same
Oh you played me dirty, your game was so bad
You toyed with my affliction
Had to fill out my prescription
Found the remedy, I had to set you free
Away from me
To see clearly the way that love can be
When you are not with me
I had to leave, I have to live
I had to lead, I had to live

Chorus
If I can’t have you, let love set you free
To fly your pretty wings around
Pretty wings, your pretty wings
Your pretty wings around

I came wrong, you were right
Transformed your love in to a lie
(and so on)

try it.

its totally liberating 🙂