love beyond sovereignty: a discussion

(the following dialogue is from a facebook conversation launched by jenny lee, in which micha cardenas and i participated deeply for a night. our friends emi, jon, invincible, morgan and leah were also participating with likes and bravos. i asked permission to repost the conversation here because it was a joyful noise! i only edited out the parts where we went on tangents focused on “you’re awesome and i love you OMG!!!”)

jenny lee posts:
“When we engage in love we abandon at least a certain type of sovereignty. In what ways would sovereignty not be adequate in explaining a social formation that was grounded in love? If we were to think of the sovereign as the one who decides, in the social relation of love there is no one who decides. Which does not mean that there are no decisions but, rather, that there would be a non-one who decides. That seems like a challenging and interesting question: what is a non-sovereign social formation? How is decision-making then arrived at? These are the kinds of things that require modes of organization; that require, if not institutions, customs, or habits, at least certain means of organizing the decision-making process. In a politics of love, one of the interests for me is a non-sovereign politics, or a non-sovereign social formation. By thinking love as political, as somehow centrally involved in a political project, it forces us to think through that non-sovereignty, both conceptually, but also practically, organizationally.” – Michael Hardt on love as a political concept

Micha: So do we not decide whether or not to love, or to “fall in love”? Is there a decision to love?

Jenny: i think so. especially a decision of *how* we love. we’re trained not to exercise our agency in determining whether or not and how to love. it seems important to make that distinction between agency and sovereignty.

Micha: oooh, good point! I think we have a choice to some degree. It makes me think of being polyamorous and the way that you can choose to give more attention to someone and know that will lead you to have more feelings for them, or you can choose to manage those feelings and try not to get swept up if you don’t want to. But I think there is often not a choice to fall in love with someone, but there can still be agency in how you react to your feelings, and that’s the hard part to learn.

Micha: reminds me of Adrienne’s blog post gifting my attention – ‘what we give our attention to grows’

adrienne maree: yes, it also really brings up the idea of impact. in the positive use of the concept of sovereignty I have always seen an assumption that the goal is decisions are made by those who are impacted by those decisions. a sovereign nation is led by the people of that nation, ie, we long for the sovereignty of Detroit. but in truth, interdependence means we are all to some degree impacted by each others’ ‘sovereign’ actions, whether or not we want to be. so in a love politic I think one piece of it is attending to impact, within ourselves, and the impact we have on others. this is not the absence of decisions, but the decentralization of decisions and of holding the impact of those decisions. so that when I say I am in love, I mean my community is holding love through me, with me, and at some point I will hold love for others, as we all grow and decide our futures together. utopia? or just the basis for a survival that feels both thrilling and possible and not boring 🙂

Jenny: yes! decentralization feels fundamental to non-sovereignty. if we understand sovereignty as the establishment of a center, around which identity forms and decision-making processes flow (like we are a ‘sovereign nation’ because we invest power in a certain leadership entity who we then expect to act in our best interest). a more participatory model of governance would require an investment in the power of our relationships. when those relationships are authentic and rooted in love, trust, etc. there’s less of a need to abdicate decision-making to a representative.

Micha: hmm, but Jenny, love can also mask when someone is making poor or unhealthy decisions on your behalf…i love what berlant says in this interview (and everywhere else) “I think sovereignty is a bad concept for almost anything. It’s an aspirational concept and, as often happens, aspirational concepts get treated as normative concepts, and then get traded and circulated as realism. And I think that’s what happened with sovereignty. So, in ‘Slow Death’ I say we should throw sovereignty out. But people are so invested in it [so] maybe we can’t because you can’t just decide ghosts don’t exist. You have to find a way to change something from within. There’s another way of going at this that also has to do with a different relation to incoherence. Part of the reason I think that queer theory and love theory are related to each other as political idioms, is that queer theory presumes the affective incoherence of the subject with respect to the objects that anchor it or to which they’re attached… Training in one’s own incoherence, training in the ways in which one’s complexity and contradiction can never be resolved by the political, is a really important part of a political theory of non-sovereignty.” but perhaps her disavowal of sovereignty is a very privileged statement, considering indigenous and latin american struggles for centuries over sovereignty…

Jenny: but in that case is it *real love* ? (in the mary j. blige conception of real love)

Micha: omfg i already heard the song in my head before i got to your parentheses – but it seems to me like part of the value of including love in one’s political organizing is to decenter love from a heteronormative one and only forever kind of love and expand it into a more collective affect. i’m afraid mary’s version is more about one person, “i thought you were the answer to the question in mind”, but maybe it’s radically utopian instead!

Jenny: about that contradiction between the ideal of non-sovereignty and the fact of centuries of violation of indigenous peoples’ sovereignty — Invincible Detroit and i were saying today, it’s nearly impossible to relinquish your need for sovereignty, in the face of someone constantly trying to take your shit. but i guess that’s the aspiration: towards a collective risk-taking that could result in either part’s demise, or the liberation of both.

adrienne maree: I think any time we are talking about love it is a privilege…to me this is because ‘real love’ is fundamentally abundant and abundance is the true privilege (striving for abundance of space and life and growth vs abundance of material decay of course) and also talking love and love politic is incredibly necessary work, one of the ways we are accountable to each other in the realm beyond shared victimhood…another piece to throw in here is related to that normative aspect, our socialization around what is normal…what is normal to dream of, strive for and build? once we see our socialization, can we assess ‘normal’ and embrace or reject it? and how do we practice intentional new form, such as a love politic, in an environment where we are socialized towards sovereignty, isolation and ownership as modes of everything from pets to children to lovers to land? especially without rejecting, patronizing or dismissing the very real emotional investment our loved ones have in the ‘norms’?

adrienne maree: also the real love is all good, but how much can we have? I’m aiming for a series of ‘the one’s. a wise friend recently told me she aims to feel that ‘in love’-ness once a year. really reframed my thinking. decentralizing oneness!

absentee blogger, casual poet

i know i haven’t written much of late. i go through periods where i am living too fast or too deeply for this space, no offense…lately it’s been a combination of both. traveling and healing and being sick and being around babies and looking my future in the face and wondering who i am anymore and remembering and rooting down deeper into my commitments to myself, to Detroit, to my life.

i have been thinking mostly in poems for a bit now, so i have been posting poems here. for those of you who want something else, come back another time, i’m sure i’ll be back to prose in no time.

here are some poems from my 10-poem day last week.



if i should be
so intoxicated with love
so flattened out
sunlit on your petal
if i should stumble with the headiness
of being in the path
of your smile

if i should fall silent
slurred by the dark musk of that grand intimacy
tilt forward with my
fill of magic
batted at you
lean too close
into the sub-terrain of your neck’s curve

forgive me my love

i have been out seeking home
and here you lay, hearth

i suck that sweet liqueur off your lip
losing the myth of difference
down through a million verdant layers
sap, drizzle
you are the scale of ocean and sun

nothing parchment can bind or separate
such a pure thing
i didn’t even know to long
for such a love

(inspired by an elder’s story)

i went to the grove again
the softest place
away from the lights
that illuminate my bones
for your clumsy artist’s touch

i go where the roots fall all over each other
no one seeking depth
just eternal company

when you have brought blades against me
smiling and pressing
through year after year,

when you couldn’t love the master in me
the goddess
the all powerful in me
the sweet warrior,

i would scrub your dishes
your floors
i would sweep away your messes
bathe your children
and your feet
take your words wrapped in cloth
to unravel over the small fire
the ritual i offered
to the trees
whom i held
and wept into
getting the love
i needed


i see another continent in you
i see the plains covered with a people’s prayer for grain
under a rug of synthetic lawns
a Sahara
with your own band of Bedouins

i see an old man atop a horse
at full gallop
after a terrified buffalo, so alive

i see deep breadths of space
great walls and ridges
i see abundance in you
in sunkissed roads
that all lead to moonrise
and harvest

i have blood in your soil now
i can’t ignore your total desire

i see rivers opening up and down your thighs
as you continue to never say no
at least
not to mean it

someone has you
under his calloused thumb
to think you are some foreign land
something different
from the world

but my love
i see in you that same dust
distracted by stars and myths of tomorrow
i see you clustered up
fenced up
hemmed up and penned up
longing for yourself
in another
faith held in the potential
of your eldest lover
his greed
bruised fingers and nightshade
all over your sumptuous flesh

you still believe it
someday he will love
without breaking

i see a whole woman in you
operatic landscapes conducted by god
fjord’d, tundra’d, scraped and blasted away
but unashamed
to let the sun fill your hunger

i see your dinosaur years
when the steps were heavy
but not so deep

i see your human years
such laughter and violation

i see your healing cycles
all alone,
and frigid

i see you always changing
dropping off into forever
rising up as if you mean to fight

my love
don’t you know yet
who you are?

i see you whole
no borders, no walls
the beauty under your armor
the abundance
that comes through your suffering

i see another continent in you
i see the taut skin that begs for drumbeats
held on every side
by her arms

i see you offering up your roots
opened up
the salt and dirt
the hatred of self
the vulnerable cities
huddled together
terrified you might survive
but be alone

end the tantrum now my love
you are vast
you are only
you are beloved
you are powerful enough
you have enough
a million times over

the desert is full of life
that is all that you are

and yes
even now
the devastating one
are loved
without condition

love is an emergent process

i stand before my love
and let the tendrils unfurl
in every direction
i am whole
and becoming

time is one instance
examining itself
seeing each other
and blushing
into eternity

i am the ant
who carries grandfather to the grave
in my palms
you lift the next day’s meal
enough for everyone we know
we in rhythm
leaving home
and returning
on the wind

love can’t look away from itself
vibrating in the cell
fluttering breathless
into sustained migration

i feel you
like dust feels water
and remembers
the home galaxy

it appears nothing is new
never was
and nothing is truly massive
when seen in its wholeness

until i took this breath
repeating the miracle
i didn’t know i would say it
could not have known…

i look to the sky
taste the wind on my tongue
and fling myself
into the pattern

when i forget –
when i think the end is near
i realize my insignificance
as important as yours
and begin
to love


i never sleep while i’m flying
it’s still such a new knowledge
i don’t yet trust myself to the sky
to the constant wind

i feel the rhythms of my comrades
that intimate biology
as we crest on a change
lean in
and drop

we’re going to that unknown place
and we all feel her calling

i never sleep while i’m flying
i’m still pressed up against the window
telling myself
it’s a breathless height

i feel the sweet
hush hush hush
let my fingers run that cloud length
then this one
an eternity of curvings

we defy the heart of the world
teasing back against her pull
held aloft
by imagining we can fly
when we are falling

egypt, love and liberation

my heart is bursting from my chest today, tears on my cheeks, my skin covered in waves and waves of goosebumps as my body integrates the beautiful revolution in egypt.

i am watching al jazeera, reading the voices of egyptians on twitter, watching and listening as the egyptian protestors dance and sing and scream and celebrate the success of their revolutionary effort.

in case you don’t know yet – hosni mubarak, after 30 years of holding the presidency in egypt, has been forced out of power by the egyptian people after 18 days of revolution. and it’s not just him, it’s his entire regime. and it’s not just egypt, it’s tunisia, it’s the entire region! and instead of handing power over to the unacceptable vice president he appointed 14 days ago, mubarak conceded power to the army, who have unequivocally stated that they will stand with the people and the democratic process in this effort.

there is so much work to come as the people continue to learn how to hold power together. there is so much grief to process for the lives lost in this struggle, the martyrs who sacrificed themselves for something they knew was greater – justice.

and right now, there is this moment of feeling absolutely alive, feeling the absolute best potential of humanity when it rises up against corruption, against oppression, against violence.

if i could do backflips, or be a firework, or transport myself to tahrir square – i would.

all i can think is – how beautiful is it when people love themselves so much that they cannot continue being compromised, when they must stand up for justice?

it is so beautiful – i can’t take my eyes off of it.

“i feel so proud to be egyptian”, “i love my people” – this is love, that inner transformation which allows you to be brave and persistent and nonviolent and put others before yourself. this is love, happening at a quantum scale.

and i feel so humbled. i live in the united states, where i constantly hear organizers talking about strategy, how can “we beat them?”…and i have felt, deeply, that it isn’t about the enemy, it’s about what is within you. are you willing to step up, to put your voice and body behind your beliefs, to live in a new way? are you willing to be fearless? are you willing to see everyone as a potential ally in the larger mission for justice?

but i haven’t had enough modern models of love and inner transformation creating tangible large-scale change to draw on. now, egypt has given us this gorgeous model. nonviolent, personal, loving, healing, taking care of each other and their country, and not giving up – cleaning the streets, inviting the army to stand with the people, setting up their recycling centers and medical stations and childcare and creating the society they longed for – that is what revolution can look like.

and it is so important to me that this model of love and nonviolence comes to us all from the arab world, from the very people who have been SO internationally maligned and targeted, by my country and others, as “dangerous”, “terrorists”. it is important for us all to grasp that in fact, egyptians, arabs, are the current face of people’s power, of a new democracy, of a love-based transformational movement.

i am in, i am celebrating, i am crying and laughing and overjoyed. i am so grateful.

thank you egypt. thank you so, so much.

your love has changed the world.

opening up about love

i just got the honor of road tripping with sterling toles, a detroit music and spiritual legend. sterling knows an immense amount about love, and we had 24 hours in a car together to explore the content. it was a beautiful reminder that love is not a secret, a point of shame, something done in isolation. love and intimacy are constant, all around us, deserve our attention and deconstruction.

in between the two 12-hour trips with sterling were 10 surprise days with my family. i worked every night on my ruckus and ussf stuff, and spent each day packing my baby sister’s life in ny up to ship to mn. my other task was holding my niece, and/or keeping my nephew completely engaged.

my niece is 1000 years old and her eyes already look right through you:

i brought nephew a book called Space with pictures of the planets, the Milky Way, galaxies, astronauts, rocketships. together we learned all about it, and my joy was listening to his two year old mouth wrap around these new words – galaxy? “galagy” astronaut? “uhnauto”

he learned the word adventure – “ad-Ben-ture”! and called it out every time we left the house. going to the store? “adbenture!” going to the park? “adbenture!!” going to eat? “adbenture!!!” what a fantastic way to experience life.

the best was that he learned to say i love you. his only was of saying it was to yell it at the top of his lungs: “I LUH DO!”

it’s great to scream it.

when in doubt, default to love

my love capacity is massive.

just finished two days of work with the most inspiring girls in the world over at the young women’s empowerment project. literally ended with the room shouting ‘I AM PRICELESS!’

the practice of being with women in a space that is action-oriented, non-judgmental, uplifting, grounding, centering and real is so healing, and it drives home to me how much we long to default to love with each other – instead of suspicion, jealousy, hatred…those are the systems we face, and to face them together means to hold each other, as we are, whole/broken/bent/bruised/scared/strong/hilarious/glamorous/whole.

here’s some of the art from the walls.


this first piece is a poem i couldn’t stop reading – “i want someone to call me beautiful, when they see my shame. i want them to place me on a wall, anyway.” the rawness of that need made me ache; how much of the essence of love is seeing and being seen for your darkest, most shameful, most imperfect self, and called beautiful? who do you love that way? who do you let love you that way? open up.

YWEP art 1

YWEP art 2

i am also in a swirl because my grandfather, who i love and who loves me – across generations, faiths, political differences and life – is in the hospital and i want to go sit by his side and listen more. the moment reminds me that only faith can stand up when grief and crisis enter the room, and i have to remember what my faith is. there’s something in defaulting to love, and something in Earthseed. god is change, change is god. i think now how my life has been touched and shaped by my grandfather, how i have touched and shaped his life, and what a blessing that is. and no matter what happens, no matter how long we have, we will continue to change each other. i have faith in that.

it’s been about 6 months since i moved for love [to detroit, same time zone as cuba, the greening city, the burst of future in a regressing economy, and home], and since then my capacity to default to love has been growing. what i have learned so far about defaulting to love:

– you have to be present and attend to what you are actually feeling/thinking/experiencing…that is the essence of self-love

– once you acknowledge the truth, you can let go of what is irrelevant.

– love lets you see what is distraction, what is ego, and what is learning.

– love lets you move past taking things personally, and begin to see and honor the pain and survival under the surface of your own and others’ behavior.

– love reminds us there is no right or wrong life, or choice.

– love sees the blessing and the lesson, laughs at regret, nods wisely at unintentional acts, and carries only the wisdom forward.

– love is physical, spiritual, social, political, solo, duet, chorus, universal, isolated, natural, technological, chemical…more states than water, all at once.

– we are always capable of love.

i will of course keep you posted as i learn more.

because…i love you.

i ain’t afraid a no ghosts

in fact, i see them everywhere.

not literal ghosts, but flashes of my life that come up and lay themselves out over a moment, reminding me of who i have been.

this weekend was the 6 year anniversary of a breakdown where i almost checked out for good. and i didn’t remember until it had passed. even as i was doing work this weekend around healing and history, i didn’t remember the date. which is a good sign in and of itself.

the thing is, the ghosts have been all over. ghosts of beliefs i held then – that life was a burden, that i could be bored, that i had to settle in some parts of my life, that happiness was an illusion, that i could never change.

“i am nothing. this life is nothing.”

i often say to people that perception is everything, but i know it is more than perception. life is not only how you see it, but what you create out of it, and within it. no matter what the story is, it is a tragic story, a romantic story, an emotional journey, a remarkable journey. realizing all we cannot know, and all that we as humans have done to throw the gift of life back at creation – this awareness can make it seem impossible to find peace, balance, justice, love and joy in the chaos.

i know the ghosts of that feeling, they shadow my heart when i see the news we choose to cover, the way we consume and sacrifice the needs of others to pursue our own desires. not black, because i love black – my ghosts are gray. sometimes they are like a fire curling up the edges of a moment.

and then i see the viciously alive fleshy world that i live in. it’s decadent, all the colors, all the experiences. i love it – i love the sky, the dirt, i love the way wind feels on me, i love to put my body into the water. i love my body, just being still enough to feel that in spite of my best intentions my heart is still beating. i am so much stronger now than i have ever been.

i love realizing that humanity has to redirect itself towards being in community again, that i have to practice being in community with my love, my family, my friends, my neighbors, my coworkers. i love realizing that humans have to take actions that show the world they want – they must practice the world they want until it becomes part of our evolutionary story.

sometimes i think part of me crossed a line that day, and carries the memories i can’t reach. maybe it wasn’t the first time – perhaps i have the kind of angels who take memories away, leaving only the emotional imprint. i can see them out of the corner of my eye, but they know better than to let me catch them.

i’m still here, with my ghosts, and with moments of joy. i am learning and creating every day. i am engaged in the kind of work that reaches beyond my small life. the way i live my life is closer every day to the way i believe a good life should be led.

love, love, love.

this quote came into my knowledge today, while watching twin peaks, which is part of my project to watch all these shows and movies i missed which are a part of my generation’s experience:

“i choose to live my life in the company of gandhi and king. my concerns are global. i reject absolutely revenge, aggression and retaliation. the foundation of such a method is love. i love you…”

through like an arrow

last night the matriarch of my father’s family had a double stroke. she is strong in a way that no one else i have ever met is strong. she has played a key role in raising just about everyone, her house has been the community, the safe space, the place to fall. she is ancient and mobile and tiny and her whole face is a huge grin.

in the middle of telling my staff about her at our lock-in today, we noticed that the ruckus mascot, otherwise known as megan’s dog spiff (who has had a broken leg in a purple cast for three months now), was trying to make love to a heart shaped pillow. further proof that any set of circumstances or feelings, from grief to the absurd, can exist in a single moment.

the department of home security listed ruckus as “extremist” and a “cyber attack” threat. responsive thoughts abound. mainly, when you point one finger at someone, the rest of your fingers are pointing back at yourself.

the first day of our lock-in was amazing, exciting…we’re brewing up some good trouble. sadly, i brought a soup that was completely too spicy, folks swallowed it all but we all knew i coulda done better.

i went and got my brows done and got a pedicure. every time i do anything like this, i hear nina simone singing “the other woman” in my head.

i went for a swim to work off some energy. on the way to the pool i heard that song again, “blame it on the alcohol”. this time it made me angry, as anyone who has ever been assaulted under the influence, or loved someone who experienced that, should be. especially this line:

Shawty got drunk, thought it all was a dream
So i made her say i, i i

What I hear the singer saying is, blame it on the alcohol if I turn that dream into a nightmare. Not sexy at all.

So I swam that off, and then sat around hearing some friends talk about the ways people can jerk each other around and hurt each other in the process of learning to love. Vulnerability can feel so many ways. It might be the heat, but I can’t build up a dramatic energy in my heart. Everyone deserves love, to be treated well. But love comes like oxygen, all around you if you give into it, and in an emergency, you have to give it to yourself first before you can really be of help to anyone else.

I can stay present and keep moving forward, some things are within my control and most aren’t. I feel I moved through this day so steadily, like I released myself through it, through it like an arrow. That’s the only way to hold loss and love and life in 24 hot hours.

what’s the new-old?

you know i often hear forrest gump in my head. “i may not be a smart man, but i know what love is.”

this economic moment has been crystallizing that phrase to me. i’ve been thinking a lot about what love is, and what it is not. in the face of the fall of wall street, the fall of our mega-corporate banking systems and the crumbling of the faith of american people in false wealth, it seems imperative to point towards the light, to remind ourselves how to love.

problem is, the actual situation we’re in is so murky to the masses that we feel collectively stupid and angry, and we have contracted our love muscles.

now i have always had a difficult time understanding the american economy, because it all seems made up. for a long time, money had to be associated with gold, a tangible resource that the paper money represented. i would argue that seeds or water should be seen as more valuable than gold (when stranded on a desert planet), but whatever, at least that made some sense. when you spent money to buy something you were literally giving them a certificate for some gold. that was already a delightful bit of imagination, since for most folks you were never gonna see your gold, just believe in it. but we’re a country of faith, aren’t we?

that said, the majority of resources that move now are too intangible to me – promises, ideas, stuff we print and trade and sell. there’s no real gold, seed, or land behind it. people live their lives dreaming of their perfect home – physical and spiritual – where they will have everything they need and be able to take care of their loved ones, where others will know them and think well of them. and it’s literally people’s dreams and perceptions that fund our economy. one peek behind the curtain shows us the fat wizards laughing at us, clicking away on our yellow brick roads. i’ve often felt like the kid on the side pointing out that the empire has no money.

the wizards succeeded in creating something real, and its called a recession. all the charts i have seen show that it could be the longest recession we’ve ever experienced. our dependence on credit and debt makes it hard to feel this yet. we keep stacking up that paper that’s tied to nothing, that debt that accumulates like body fat, easy to gain, hard to lose.

our response to the naughty wizards was a bailout. taxpayers didn’t decide to prioritize AIG bonuses over our retirement funds, our mortgages, our employment and health care, our kids schools; those who allowed the situation to come into being developed a solution that doesn’t actually change anything. but we did turn to corporate restorative solutions to stabilize an irrational system. and this is the question we should be asking ourselves…do we want to restore a system that does not love us? do we want to restore a system that does not value human life and the power of relationship and community? you know my answer is a big hell no. from an action perspective, i think its time for massive public spankings, and guerilla solutions.

there is another way already emerging, i’m thinking of it as the new-old, (a specific economic component of the Great Turning). tons of people my age are out of work, and are turning to each other, cooking with and for each other, turning their roofs into secret gardens. single income homes are becoming multi-generational homes. we have all done this before, every people on the planet have ancestral experience (and many have current experience) of getting by as a community.

this isn’t to say we shouldn’t fight for our monetary resources. wall street has stolen the shoes we saved up our whole lives to buy, they stole them before we got to wear them, and now they are dancing in them, scuffing the soles.

there is a day of action that has come to my attention (thanks Miguel) called Take Back The Economy. there are actions happening all over the country on March 19th – check it out and get involved! there’s another day of action April 11 (thanks Kat!) called a New Way Forward which i am learning more about and will keep you posted. i am looking for folks interested in engaging in this fight!

at the same time as we protest, we must remember there is another way to demonstrate our desire for an alternative. that is, we know a way to be barefoot and happy. and now we have technology to link us together in ever larger networks of skill and shared value, to supplement the knowledge we may not have, to show us what to grow, when, where, how; to teach us about jobs we could do that would feed our families and replenish our home planet. we’ve been right all along that vast inequality leads to no good end, so this is a time to rejoice in the better elements of our humanity, and to understand the thinking of wall street as something akin to gills…a survival mechanism for a world we’ve evolved past. let’s stop trying to run backwards through time – let’s walk on our two feet, with dignity, in community, towards the next phase of history.