lesson from snow

sometimes contemplating the incomprehensible helps me continue. there is a foot of snow covering every surface outside and still dropping from the sky, not just here but all over the region. and each individual snowflake of the gazillions covering the city is unique. i can’t really, fully grasp this.

and yet this is us – millions asserting a future that doesn’t seem possible now. winter is a concept, manifested by multitudes. liberation is a concept. we can transform the landscape with our multitudes too. by being different, yes, and moving in the same direction.

trust your actions now, not to be right or wrong, but to be passionate and honest. be utterly unique. be exacting. be uncompromising about your right to exist, right here.

sign everything.
make the phone calls.
engage in harder conversations.
be ungovernable.
make action and safety plans.
secure your communications.

and.

cultivate joy and generosity.
resist oppression, but keep your attention on each other.
love abundantly.

as octavia taught us:

Respect God (amb note: God is Change)
Pray working.
Pray learning,
planning,
doing.
Pray creating,
teaching,
reaching.
Pray working.
Pray to focus your thoughts,
still your fears,
strengthen your purpose.
Respect God.
Shape God.
Pray working.

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.

black band

i am going to begin wearing a black armband on my left arm, closest to my heart, to indicate that i am a warrior in mourning.
that #blacklivesmatter to me.
that i recognize i am of a targeted nation inside a violence-addicted nation.

i am so moved by and so grateful for the work of #blacklivesmatter, the blackout collective, BYP100, black organizing for leadership and dignity (BOLD) and so many others working to generate actions for our liberation. (give money to each of those groups if you are at a loss of what to do. redistribute a portion of your salary to their work. for serious.)

and…we can’t hope that these currently under resourced formations will just do all the work for everyone. we all need to act. we need a tipping point of brave people willing to move out of complicit silence into action. (yes, i am saying that the resistance in your head or even in righteous conversation between you and a few friends is not enough – honey i wish it were. no one wants to feel all of this and do all of this. but we are in a moment of genocide and anthropocene and we must take ourselves seriously.)

we need all kinds of action – direct action, organizing, healing, strategizing, redistribution. grieving is an action. feeling is an action.

and solidarity. not “ally” solidarity, but solidarity and action by non-black people who recognize we are in one struggle for humanity.

one action is actually being public and open about our resistance, to say we see what is happening and we say no more, not today, never again, stop. we see beyond what is happening and we know love must win.

so. i want to wear what i need – a black circle, a wholeness.

as i cut up a pair of black leggings to make my armband i felt all the things i am longing for. this isn’t what everyone who wears the armband may mean, but i wanted to share.

mervyn marcano posted #blaxit the other night and i thought – ‘yes!!’ and then, ‘but seriously how do we divest from this system of genocide?’

i want to stop paying the percentage of taxes that goes to police, ICE and military forces – to defund this perversion of justice and invest in community models, mediation and healing spaces.
i want to pull all the babies out of schools that teach them they are more than or less than anyone else – either with sloppy histories or preferential treatment and funding of education.
i want a landless workers movement to secure farmland. i want my hands in some dirt – i want octavia butler’s acorn and earthseed.
i want all my money to go to people who love me, love us.
i want the precious earth to be a shared precedent that unifies our decision making.

i want all white people to catch up to the white people i hold close to me, who show me what is possible – those who never make me wonder about our equality, who never say all lives matter, who never ask me to carry the weight of their learning and unlearning.
i want to banish any white people who don’t get it, and who aren’t working on unlearning racism, from my life and the lives of everyone i love (you don’t have the range).

i want significant work stoppage across the country every time our lives are stolen because someone imagined we were dangerous to them. our money matters, our labor matters.

i want people to know when they see me that i am to be treated like a griever and like a warrior and like a healer and nothing less. i want us to come out in our grief and radical commitment to liberation.

this is bigger than police killing of black people – this band is my public declaration of war on white supremacy in all it’s manifestations, including racialized capitalism, colonialism, difference-phobia, gun fetishes, violence as a way of resolving conflict – all of it.

it is also my public vulnerability – i grieve every time i see humanity turned against itself, i feel it. and i believe it is part of my life’s work to feel it and turn others towards feeling it, to un-numb us so that we realize we are on fire. i am not going to keep adjusting and maintaining the social status quo. i am angry and numb and overwhelmed and terrified. i am mourning and trying to step into the shoes of all my newborn ancestors. i need it to be known. i need the world to interact with me with more awareness.

in studying public signs of mourning this one seems most appropriate and accessible. it has also been a sign of protest and political affiliation at times. i think we need it to be both for grief and for resistance. i also know i would feel safer in a world where those who stood against the genocide of my people were visible to me.

i recognize i may be wearing this armband for the rest of my life. i keep thinking of the length of slavery, how not being the property of a white person seemed equal parts necessary and impossible for generations and generations. not being the target of police, ending white supremacy and racialized capitalism feels impossible to me now…but it feels absolutely necessary.

all the love i walk with only lets me move in one direction, towards our liberation.

join me.

#blacklivesmatter #blackband #blaxit

blackband

(and yes, join in all my non-black and international beloveds, especially those being targeted too – this week i have cried for so many people and places all over and i feel our togetherness in our resistance even if we start from different locations. i wear this band with love for palestine, syria, bangladesh, turkey, brazil, iraq – and that’s just this week. together we are the future.)

the overwhelming world: snippets

returning from being out of country and mostly away from the news, i find there is too much to take in. and i am moved to:

– remind everyone that Octavia Butler‘s Parable of the Sower and Parable of the Talents are required reading for all humans right now, not as escapist fantasy, but as relevant instructional prophecy. it was her birthday on the 22nd and i think she is whispering to us through her pages across time.

– send love to those who know borders, walls and fences cannot hold us, cannot keep us from each other. ‘our destiny is to take root amongst the stars’ (we are made of stardust).

and since i last wrote here, jasmine abdullah was released on bail! i love the idea that when she was pulled through that wall we all extended through it with practice and attention and strategies and family, and we didn’t let go, and we pulled until the wall shivered. want to really uplift the practices of chelsea cleveland who pulled a tarot card for black liberation each day, che rene who sent us an original song and alexis pauline who wrote this poem and released it the morning of jasmine’s release.

how you are in relationship is how you are.

i saw beyoncé’s formation tour in detroit. i immediately bought tickets to see her again. that is my review.

the allied media conference was beautiful this year. i spent my time there in healing circles and rituals for orlando. i also got to cofacilitate the say her name gathering. there is a lot of tenderness in my work these days, a lot of opening and closing of circles, a lot of slowing down and trusting the strange processes of humans. we only move forward as we are able. it felt like as we stood face to face with each other we were clear that we have to rise above small differences – we are still more alike than most of the world, moving towards justice. family reunion feeling was in effect, and i met a lot of beautiful new loves over those days.

and i danced.

i want to tell you how i danced but you know it doesn’t fit into words. during and afterwards i felt free and i felt in communication with my body. i am healing and it is glorious, it is glorious to remember in my bones that i am meant to dance. it is healing to dance in queer space, always has been. i needed it, we needed it.

i spent the past week mostly away from the internet, working with first nations and environmental organizers building responses and strategies around the tar sands. the main thing i learned in holding that space is that everyone wants to be seen in their best intentions. then, maybe, there can be a real conversation around impact. people building movement over time will impact each other, but we still want to be seen for our good intentions, for our good hearts. often this is at the root of having disagreements with integrity – being able to see each other’s goodness in spite of the different perspectives that are just the nature of human existence. seeing where we can agree today in ways that increase the space for alignment in the future.

now i am deep in processing a pile of super exciting proposals from detroiters who are shifting the narratives of our city. my heart is swelling and i feel…hopeful.

when i look up it’s all overwhelming, tectonic shifts in global politics, and devastating national decisions. but if i keep my head down on the present moment, on the people i can touch, the places i love – there is a lot of good, a lot of pattern shifting, a lot of micro-liberations. we are learning to hold each other close as the bottom falls out.

it’s falling, it must fall.

in this way we will fly.

this will be america

my friend jodie reminded me of this piece i wrote a few years ago about being an american revolutionary, particularly section 6. she has reposted that section in the past, calling it ‘america, i must love her’:

you cannot shirk responsibility for this country
you cannot shake off these atrocities
its a bloody birthright
all children are born into blood
you have to grow up by growing down into the soil
past the burnt bodies and broken buildings
built on broken bodies and broken promises
built up, bloody borders
borders you live in whether you want to or not

you are the ones we’ve been waiting for

it was hard to revisit the poem in the shock and grief of orlando. and it feels important to remember my own responsibility in this place. i sit in the spirit of grace lee boggs and octavia butler, knowing i, a post-nationalist american-born revolutionary, need to do the hard work of taking on america, and shaping the future that can grow from this place. so.

    this will be america

we are strewn across the street
or the sticky sweet floor
where we called ourselves home
where we got ourselves free
now slick with our blood
this
is america

we are heads bent knees bruised
guilty in hushed prayer
god’s words telephoned across time
to tell us: everything you need
is made of fire
this
is america

we are children, somebody’s children
we are innocent children
we are wayward children
we are violent children
and we fight and we grieve like children
this
is america

we are warriors brought home in whale bellies
to fight, to die on this soil
in an unnamed civil war spilling all our borders
on one side is humanity
and we cannot see the other side
this
is america

we are bruised broke-open fruit
a piled mess under ancient trees
which will only grow with us
we permeate the roots, seething, seeding
we will never go anywhere else
this
is america

we are born with our dignity
we look beautiful weeping, waging love
when scared we sashay the tar streets
press together in the steaming darkness
sweating out freedom songs, love songs
this
is america

we are growing and falling apart
and we are absolutely terrifying
we are stunning funghi, transforming this toxic soil
we are swallowing our dead
becoming worthy of our miracles
this
is america

we cannot separate now
there is nowhere else, no escaping ourselves
millions whisper rituals into dirt and flesh
millions, millions hold each other, raging, changing
fecund with our sacrifices
and this
this will be america

and our future will inhale together
to sing out a bright axe ooh
and remember the names of our martyrs
as we offer each other abundance
as we finally, finally learn we are love
and this
this will be america

thank you to dani, jodie and autumn for holding this with me

national network of abortion funds 2016 keynote

tonight i had the honor of giving the keynote speech for the national network of abortion funds 2016 summit. i spoke after they gave each other awards and there were lots of tears and just so much recognition and celebration of their incredible and radical work. here are my notes from my talk, what i planned to say and what i think i added in. <3

I would like to open with centering words from octavia estelle butler, the black science fiction writer and, I would argue, prophet-philosopher.

first, let’s take a moment to center, come into this moment:
let yourself be heavy with gravity
and light with stardust
and look around your table, connect with the people around you
and connect to this moment

now, octavia says:
all that you touch you change
all that you change changes you
the only lasting truth is change
god is change

i always evoke her into these spaces because she taught me to be visionary.

wow. so here we are in texas, this massive great state that gave us beyoncé.

now, i was also born in texas, not to imply that all first-born singing virgos from texas are at the same level, or that you should expect a beyoncé level performance from my speech tonight. i only aim for perfection.

but seriously – i heard that there are only 6 abortion clinics left in this state. as we sit here knowing how hard we are working to make moves forward, as we make our Best effort to create changes within and beyond the system, as we raise the money to create our own systems of care, we are still only meeting about 1/3 of the need.

and we are traversing an election season that for some of us is ‘so historic’, for some of us is ‘so depressing and/or terrifying’, for some of us is ‘totally irrelevant in terms of tangible impacts in our communities’, and for some of us all of the above.

this fight of ours is both a local fight, and a supreme court fight. it is a fight that can sometimes feel rigid – as if all the territory has been mapped out already. as if every victory is fragile, and every position must be defensive.

and yet we must win, right? we must not only end hyde, but go beyond, beyond smashing our opponent (which can absolutely satisfying, i know). we need to evolve the conversation beyond the realm of opposition – we must create such a change around abortion that no one can deny it.

everyone in this room is part of an effort to create change. and yet sometimes we forget how change actually works. we think of change as an external impact – we will do something, and the other person will change. and we will stay the same, and we will be happy.

we do this at a personal level – how many of us have fallen in love with someone’s potential? with our story of how we were going to liberate another person’s best self?

or educate a family member?

we do this at a collective or organizational level. how many of us have gone to work at institutions that were deeply unsustainable, or patriarchal, or had severe conflict aversion or other really big clear red flags that we imagined we could transform on the strength of our own (naive) brilliance?

(i won’t ask if anyone here is still in that situation. we are all feeling the love – and i know it’s complicated.)

and of course we do this at a political level. we can see so clearly how the other, our opposition, needs to change. and we set forth to change them. we rage against them on facebook and twitter, go head to head in policy wars, or give them the evil eye at holidays. (cuz you know all this political opposition is in the family, right?)

and of course they are doing the same thing.

our lovers are imagining that we will begin to put the toilet paper roll on correctly, and stop interrupting them with important details when they tell a story to our mutual friends.

our organizations hope that with time we will get so passionate about the mission that we will overlook the regressive structural issues and work the extra unpaid hours to close the gap between the needs of our communities and never-quite-enough resources we can generate to meet those needs.

and politically, our opponents hope, and probably pray, that one day we will cave. that we will say fine. you all should make the decisions about what we can do with our bodies. you win – what were we thinking?

now, within this battle of wills, no one actually wins.

we all get amazing at fortifying our positions, at polarizing the entire world in a binary system that has no room for complexity, for changing positions, for life experience. we create hierarchies of ourselves and others.

octavia teaches us that we use our intelligence to construct hierarchy, over and over. and then we revel in it. i am guilty of this. i feel superior in every way to any man who seeks to legislate my body.

i can’t help it!

it is so easy to see the change that is needed in others, or needed in large scale systems. it is so much harder to create those changes within ourselves, to live up to our values, to live into the unknown, the theoretical – what we FEEL is right, even what we have proven is right at a small scale.

it is particularly frightening to see socialization rooted inside ourselves, and to pull it up. and yet that is what we have to keep doing, and what we need to inspire the rest of this country to do.

most of you are in this room because you have done this work to unlearn the shame and stigma so many of us still get taught to associate with abortion, and to step to the front line to make sure that anyone who needs an abortion can get one.

your work here, all of you, has been so crucial in this respect – you are putting your time, life and resources on the line to help us change how we access abortion care from the local to the national level. you are supporting low-income women, women of color, young women.

i commend you all. i am grateful beyond words. (part of why i wrote this down was because of how emotional i was just preparing for this)

i am grateful as a full spectrum doula.
i am grateful as a survivor of ectopic pregnancy.
i am grateful as an auntie to babies who will have more choices because of your work.
i am grateful as an ever evolving pan-queer-sexual human (who knows what the future holds?)

i thank you.

so now i want to explore what the next edge of growth is for us. what will be healing to everyone we touch?

all that you touch you change. but it also changes you. change is a multidirectional activity.

one of my biggest areas of question to offer tonight is – how do we expand our network of change? i mean, not just who we will change, but who we will let change us, in order to reach far enough to change everything.

to even consider letting others change us, we have to have a solid sense of self. a movement sense of self. we can create change around abortion, we are growing reproductive justice. we are creating a new world here. that you all have raised the money you have raised in spite of the cyber and ideological attacks, the vitriol and socialization of this country is a tangible measurement of that change.

but as we succeed, our opposition changes.
as we get bigger, they get frightened of losing power, and become more dangerous.
as they become more dangerous, their strategies and policies become more outrageous.
and then we become more fearful.
and we can get very narrow, trying to just protect ourselves, to hold the line for the tiny sliver of dignity and liberation and basic rights we cannot live without. our vision, tucked tightly in a safe place.

but often what we think we are protecting is already gone. vision is the collateral damage of a reactionary movement. the ‘vision’ begins sounding like “not this! repeal that! stop that! can we just get a little of this? a tiny bit of justice?” (i speak from experience)

remember the personal relationship scenario? you ever find yourself in a fight like – “wait how did we get here? i don’t even care about the toilet paper – i started this conversation because i want our home to feel like a retreat center of love and equity! you got stuck on bathroom habits, and what the heck? are we breaking up right now?”

it can be funny – even if its not funny at the moment we can usually laugh in retrospect, depending on how the breakup goes.

but this happens in our political work all the time. its less funny there.

this has absolutely happened with our work for reproductive justice, we keep finding ourselves in external and internal debates over differences that distract us from our vision – which is that every person has agency over her, his or their own body. it isn’t about one choice – its about a multitude of choices all rooted in love and equity.

humans tend to change in a cycle.

people say history repeats itself, and in some ways it does. but each time, the group of humans is different, the world is different, and even if it looks the same from the outside, within each cycle are evolutions, micro shifts that create different outcomes.

this slow but determined cycle of change is why so many of our movements are evolving beyond silo’d issue struggles and embracing intersectional identities.

it is how this movement is coming to understand that any discussion about abortion is a discussion about race, about poverty, about borders, about prisons, about control, about collective liberation.

that took so much work. your work and so many others. it is imperative to celebrate that work.

in order to realize our vision for a world in which we have safety and agency for all humans in all bodies, we have to understand this iterative cycle of change, and aim not just for surface shifts that advance or regress from administration to administration.

we have to get very intentional about how we “transform ourselves in order to transform the world”. those are the words of grace lee boggs, my late mentor. we have to create an ideological majority and stability around abortion access and reproductive justice, one that can normalize inside an ever changing world.

i know we can do this.

grace also said “we must assume our power, not our powerlessness”.

octavia called this shaping change. understanding that change is inevitable and constant, but if we are awake we are not simply victims of change, or reacting to change. we can be a force that shapes change.

we can shape change around abortions and reproductive justice.

it is time to get visionary about abortion.

(visionary. what do i mean? not idealistic. not never never land. (vision is kind of my fetish – one of my fetishes))

last year a book that i co-edited with walidah imarisha came out, it’s called Octavia’s Brood: Science Fiction from Social Justice Movements. we asked organizers to write science fiction, because we realized that our work as social justice visionaries and organizers is to bring about a world we have never seen. a world without poverty, without patriarchy. a world where every human has the right to make their own difficult choices for their health and lives, towards abundance, towards liberation.

we haven’t experienced this world yet – we are cocreating it. so organizing is reaching forward and pulling the future into our present. all organizing is science fiction. (we are all badass super heroes!)

and what we found in our organizers was that many went above and beyond our call. we don’t lack vision, we lack permission.

we called it sci fi to reach the place people are familiar with, but it is more precisely called visionary fiction. walidah created that term to speak of art we create with intention.

art is never neutral – it either upholds or upends the status quo. so Octavia’s Brood gathered stories of the future that show change as a process, as a bottom up, collective process, centering marginalized communities. neither utopian nor dystopian, because as we know those actually tend to go hand in hand. the 1% depends on the 99%. first class has to be in front of coach. even heaven requires hell.

we invited stories that took us beyond binaries, that took us to the edge of what these organizers could see.

because gloria anzaldua taught us: “nothing happens in the ‘real’ world unless it first happens in the images in our heads.”

this is our work. we must dream the impossible, dream it together, out loud, until it becomes practice and pathway. we must collaborate on our ideas, subverting the capitalist practice of competing like gladiators to have the best idea. we must build collective vision, deep intentions that allow radical adaptations in the unknown future.

(now, i say this next part as someone with deep southern evangelical anti-abortion family members)

a lot of the people who are counted in our opposition have been negatively impacted by the execution of their own espoused values – unable to get the abortions they needed; born to people who did not want to, or were not ready to, parent but felt they had no choice; people shamed for their pregnancies; then shamed for their abortions.

our imagination needs to include these women, our story needs to be big enough to invite them in.

i have been talking about imagination a lot lately. who gets the right to imagine? who gets to realize their imaginations in the real world? we are, in fact, in an imagination battle. i borrow this line of thinking from claudine rankine and terry marshall – right now we are living inside the imagination of other people. people who think women and black people and people from other countries and people with different abilities or desires are dangerous and inferior. can be shot down in the street. mike brown, renisha mcbride and so many others lost their lives to that imagination. we can be regulated around the choice to bring life into this world, we can be controlled through the violence people take based on their waking dreams.

those imaginings have created the conditions of oppression that bring us into this room. the results of this delirium are that women, especially women of color and poor women, are not to be trusted with our bodies. it’s not sane, but it has been institutionalized. and as we grow our resources and our ranks, it is imperative that we burst out of the box that the conservative imagination designates for us. this means moving out of a defensive stance.

i am creating work at a particular intersection. octavia is there, grace is there, and gloria. and a few other ancestors who bear naming.

toni cade bambara charged us with “making the revolution irresistible”. i think of this often when i find myself turning to fear or shame as a motivating force for my people (i never mean to do this but it comes out under pressure, fear and shame are contagious).

how do i make a future of justice an irresistible option? how do we paint in the loudest colors a picture of a world in which families are intentional, joyful, resourced with love and longing. that’s what’s on the other side of abortion access.

audre lorde is also at this intersection – she taught us of pleasure – that it is the experience of the erotic, of being fully sensationally alive in real time, that makes suffering unbearable. she said, when i am “in touch with the erotic, i become less willing to accept powerlessness, or those other supplied states of being which are not native to me, such as resignation, despair, self-effacement, depression, self-denial.”

so i have been reflecting on how the fear of an unwanted pregnancy seriously impacts pleasure and power. in part because of the process of abortion. but, i think, in much larger part because of the narratives around abortion, the trauma of stigmatization, and the lack of emotional support for those who make this choice.

in terms our opposition might understand, they “deny themselves heaven” in this regard, because i suspect a next level of sexual freedom and erotic evolution is also on the other side of abortion access and human-centered reproductive justice.

the final piece i want to add here brings us back to where i started. one of the ways we change ourselves is to change our stories, yes – and my invitation is to bring creativity, joy, love, longing and pleasure into the next stories told about abortion.

but the other way we change ourselves is to put down our armor, or at least move the shield to the side so we can see who we are fighting with. this is ESPECIALLY important for our internal differences. how much of our time and energy do we spend trying to change each other, instead of working to align with each other?

this is a lesson from nature, which i have been studying in a deep way for my next book, which is on emergent strategies, focusing on the way complex systems and patterns emerge out of relatively simple interactions.

in nature the big creatures, those who are the same species but battle each other for territory – the lions, tigers, bears (oh my) – they are on the extinction lists. the creatures which work together with clear distinctions and roles and a shared sense of survival, those are the ones that are proliferating. ants, birds, roaches. octopi and squid. slime mold. these organisms move at the speed of relationship.

the black lives matter movement has been articulating this practice as moving at the speed of trust – that’s as fast as we can go. and our impact can be as big and powerful as our trust is.

our internal movement armor comes in the form of political positions and think pieces and call-outs. we must practice putting down our armor with each other, spend more time getting into a room together and not just drinking (which i enjoy but am abstaining from sugar so…) but working on our alignment. if we are already clear on where the differences are, how do we turn our collective attention to those places where we align and grow that?

what we pay attention to grows. so let’s practice with an affirmation pledge. turn to the person next to you and really take in this divine specimen of warrior. now repeat after me:

i am not you
oh but I need you
thank you for your work
let’s get this. let’s get free
.

thank you so much for paying attention to me these last twenty minutes.

thank you so much for paying attention to our rights and our bodies as your life’s work.

thank you yamani, tiffany and everyone at the national network of abortion funds for having me.

(after this was an incredible karaoke night that was, as yamani sang in her first ever karaoke performance, ‘more than words’)

edges

image

this country pushes
my human heart
to its edges

earth’s ancient borders
let the land breath
humans mimic
making only ugly edges

the majority is dishonest
in this way justice is elusive
fighting in the street
we leave tumbleweed
we come apart and sacrifice
for those displaced from the core
to the edges

we whisper at the necks
of our lovers
black girl stories
the sharp edges of truth
leaving carved flesh
trust notes

the sun leaps down
the edges of the world
a mountain goat
a temporary life

all of this is so fleeting
it is a comfort to let it go
to dance breathless and awed
on time’s edges

(for walidah, rasheedah, krista and ola)

#shapingchange #becauseofoctavia

golden ages apocalyptic offer

The golden age of climate change is in effect. It’s sweater weather, at most, in the ice tundra states of North America. It’s mid December. It’s gray…and balmy.

In many states this unseasonable warmth overlaps with the golden age of gentrification – goat cheese omelettes, truffle fries, health food stores and street bikes for rent are some of the key indicators.

It appears that golden ages are a function of privilege. We are learning that when you have little to no proximity to displacement, and the water keeps coming out of the faucet, and you can afford to shop in the health food stores even as you rail against the high prices, you can experience ease, even a sense of ignorant distance, inside end times crisis.

This post is just a ‘don’t forget’ nudge. As far as we know (we being all living scientists, and me) things are falling apart, actually.

Some sci fi immersions for this time

Mad Max: Fury Road (place yourself in the story! This won some acknowledgment recently.)

Dune (read it all)

Interstellar (because I like it, and so does my science hubband. Except last ten minutes)

Parables of the Sower and Parable of the Talents (read a few times! Hard and exciting because POC survive.)

2312

Future States TV

Pumzi

The Road (read)

And if you think Donald Trump is cute/funny, revisit Schindler’s List. Or Roots. He makes conceptual appearances in both.

Other recommendations? Add in comments PLEASE.

Oh and the apocalypse palate cleanser? Magic Mike XXL. (possibly feministish)

Parable of the Sower Concert Review/Gush

Terry Marshall of Intelligent Mischief recently articulated this moment we’re in as a Black Renaissance. I concur – we are transforming pain into gold at an impossible speed. I keep turning around and finding something black, brilliant, fantastic, collective, wonderful – I feel in the midst of an artistic explosion, of a people cultivating creativity and joy in the face of genocide and mass produced misery. And Octavia Butler is one of the seed mothers of this moment.

There are some of us who read the Parable of the Sower (and it’s sequel the Parable of the Talents), as sacred text. Butler, the author of these two near-future novels, was a black sci fi writer hermit who died in 2006 after giving us 12 novels, a collection of short stories, and winning the Hugo, Nebula and MacArthur genius grant.

Everything she wrote is provocative and interesting, but in the Parables she cuts in right next to her own story, and many of ours, a black girl creator, surviving. Lauren Olamina is growing up in a gated community in dry, divided California as the government swerves violently to right.

I heard a few years ago that Bernice Johnson-Reagon and Toshi Reagon, mother daughter movement folk singers, were going to make an opera of the Parables. At that time, I fell out with possibility. Then I wished I had lived my life differently, seriously pursued my vocal practice, tightening up my pitch issues, because clearly this was the best thing that could ever happen in life.

As the Opera/concert piece has moved along its iterative process, I’ve been awestruck by the caliber of talent in and around it, while also landing in my own Octavia/sci fi work (I’m in NY because Octavia’s Brood is reading at the Schomberg open house on Wednesday!).

In January there was a first set of Parables concerts. I was out of the country and seriously priced out what it would cost to fly to NYC for one night. Out of my economic capacity.

Then it was in Abu Dhabi, because…of course. Octavia in Abu Dhabi. But again, tickets were researched and too expensive and I was left bereft, so distant from the experience of my dreams.

All of this context is just so you understand a little bit about how ecstatic I was when it was announced that the concert would be in at the Annenberg Center in Philly when I was scheduled to be in NYC, when I priced the trip, when I realized it was possible. I got tears in my eyes buying the tickets. That’s the level of anticipation I took with me on the bus, to Philly, and into the concert.

Because this was a predestined perfect night, I got to eat at White Dog Cafe, which I’ve been hearing about for years – I have tons of respect for its founder Judy Wicks, who is one of the sparks in local living economies work. I shared a meal with my dear friends Sofia Santana, who bussed down with me from NYC, Jennifer Kidwell, and Sham-e-ali. Jennifer, an incredible singer and performer now based in Philly, was part of one of the earlier iterations of the opera. Sham, a poet, had seen the concert the night before and said she’d wept the entire time.

Rasheedah Phillips of Afrofuturist Affair was in the lobby with her sweetheart, we’d all been together at Ferguson is the Future just a couple of weeks ago.

Sofia and I got to the theatre right as the show was starting – I dashed to the bathroom and switched from my bus outfit into something more appropriate for a historic event. It had a belt, pink lipstick, the basics.

The musicians were tuning up in the black box of the theatre. There were twelve chairs in a circle, microphones, a full house audience, and the singers were standing at the edges of the theatre. I recognized vocalists Tamar-Kali and Karma Mayet Johnson, Marcelle Davis Lashley, violinist Juliette Jones. Many of the others were new to me.

Then Toshi came out from the back with a gorgeous smile on her face. I love watching her perform – she sits down surrounded by instruments and immediately makes it feel like we’re just watching her jam out in private, extending ease and intimacy to everyone.

Then the music came. It came up through Toshi, and from the edges of the room. I had to take off my belt right away. The context was set in songs that walked the line between chant, lamentation and praise. We learned that the water was gone, that some were seeking solace in God, and the gifted and gorgeous singer Shayna Small, who sang Lauren Olamina, was feeling a change, feeling everything.

After the second song I turned to Sofia and said “this is a best-experience-of-my-life”. There was a fearlessness about the songs, they were precise and subtle and then deep and full, the pace was just right – the pace respected the way Octavia told this story.

Toshi gave us some context after a few songs. I’m not sure it was needed, it all felt so spiritually correct…but how could I know, I’ve read the text twenty something times.

Toshi spoke at various points throughout, her words always spare and heart opening. As the journey north began, she said, ‘if you don’t know where you are going, you can just make something up and walk on that.’

The main thing I will say about the songs is that as I was hearing them I was deeply satisfied, and when each song passed I wanted to rewind and stay in it, even the songs that covered the hardest moments. Hyper empathy in an apocalypse is painful, the terrifying world changing behind them as Lauren and her crew made their way north, the ideological battles between systems of belief that give and take away responsibility – the Reagons have written songs that allow us to feel all up in this text.

I didn’t know I needed these songs till I was flooded in them.

One of my favorite moments was Toshi inserting a folk singer into the story. She said it was Octavia’s mistake, that when things are going so badly, people need the singers to tell the story, to give them back to themselves. Yes, exactly.

Towards the end of the concert, the songs were straight up Earthseed verses. I kept catching tears all over my face and then getting caught up in wonder, needing to undulate and tap my foot and dance and sing along.

Helga Davis was a sitting closest to us, and her moves were so funky and distinct, Sofia and I couldn’t take our eyes off her.

I walked out after and ran into several magical people, including radical dance artist Althea Baird, both of us wide open and teary eyed. Annie Danger later posted that those of us who’d experienced the show might need a support group to live into the change. Sonia Sanchez was in the audience.

Now I’m glowing from the experience, wanting everything I suffer through, everything I learn, to be sung in chorus by the Reagons. And even as I wonder how I can hear the songs again, I recognize that in this time of instant gratification it is a gift to be given something so rare, so visceral, so about being bodies and hopes and grief in a room together.

Thank you Toshi and Bernice for the vision and the execution. Thank you Eric Ting for the direction – the presentation felt so organic, centering the songs and voices. Thank you Bertilla, Helga, Karma, Tamar-Kali, Morley, Marcelle, Josette, Shayna and Jason for the gift of your voices and the way you became conduits for this crucial story. Thank you Juliette, Robert, Fred and Adam for the music which swelled up the room.

Looking forward to the next iteration.