learning to respond to the world as a non-organizer

as usual, so much is happening.

in the past couple of weeks the voting rights act was overturned, trayvon martin’s known murderer was released, detroit declared bankruptcy…these are three of roughly a billion things to respond to.

my response is rarely surprise. it is often: right, that is what happens next in this scenario, in this system. and the need for self and collective love and liberation persists.

the other day the news of detroit declaring bankruptcy came down and i went through a series of responses.

so what?
surviving is detroit’s default.
we make it look fresh.
i love detroit.

how did this happen?
can people actually survive on any less here?
i don’t want to even try and become an instant expert on city bankruptcy. just like i didn’t want to become an instant expert on emergency financial management.

but then how can i imagine a viable solution?
…i look at the cultural wealth of this city, don’t they see it?
…i reflect on what capitalism allows in terms of stratification – how many people are succeeding in this city, off the development of this city? don’t they see?

and how do i respond as myself, as a person?
i love detroit. as she is, has been, and will be.

(hands over ears)

the facts are on our side right now. but the facts alone don’t seem to line up with when and how communities rage and riot, resist, or renew.
…i don’t want to give the actions of people who don’t care about detroit so much of my attention.

i love detroit.

the other night, sitting with some of my favorite detroit minds reflecting on this moment, i realized part of my resistance to emotions around the emergency manager and the bankruptcy is rooted in residual guilt about knowing i am not an organizer, and my growing/ongoing questions about other ways to show up.

recently someone from outside detroit questioned me on why i wasn’t organizing responses and direct actions here, with all that’s going on. i struggled to respond without feeling defensive, dropping into what i know to be true for myself and for the city.

first, detroiters are responding. hearing of some of the efforts, i am reminded of the AMP principle: “Wherever there is a problem, there are already people acting on the problem in some fashion. Understanding those actions is the starting point for developing effective strategies to resolve the problem.”

amplify the efforts happening, yes. maybe more support is needed. but trust that there are passionate and strategic responses afoot.

but second, i am not an organizer.

i have tried various approaches to organizing. the way i was developed as an organizer was to learn tons of information, tactics and theory, and based on that data to form an opinion, a strategy, and wage critique through my words and actions. whether that waging was effective or not (and i can humbly say it often wasn’t) it was righteous, backed up by fact.

i have seen this approach work gloriously for folks who had a nature of warrior, or researcher. i literally don’t have the natural skill set of an organizer (my extroversion comes in spurts; my memory is inconsistent, numbers free and creative; my vulnerability thrives in written form; i really prefer to be alone more of the time than most people know; approaching strangers gives me anxiety).

also, my theory of change (we must transform ourselves to transform the world) has me focused on internalizing the site of transformation. i am working to evolve beyond the capitalism, competition and individualism within myself, my family, my relationships, my writing, my reach.

and as y’all know, i have not thrived in the burn-out culture of organizing, which i acknowledge is the state of most of the movement now.

i have been building a life of things i am called to do, and love. i am a facilitator and a writer, a creative practitioner. a doula. a coach. i am a lover, a budding philosopher. a hybrid. i excel in the inter-nodal work, the intermediary work.

if there is anyone i place on a pedestal it is organic organizers, the kind of people i regularly support through facilitation and coaching, who are out in the world knocking on doors, approaching strangers, spending the majority of their waking hours in group processes to strengthen community. i respect and admire them, i need them to succeed.

i know i am not them.
they are better people than me in many ways that matter to me.

but i also love me.

my curiosity is peaked by conversations more than news, by emotions more than policies, by relationship and healing more than long-term strategies. and i don’t think this makes me less serious, less strategic, or anti-intellectual – i think am just oriented towards other types of intelligence.

i deeply believe in collective action. i don’t believe everyone in that collective has to be an organizer. i think the more clearly everyone seeks the roles in society/family/community that give them pleasure and fulfillment, the more effective and creative any collective action, resistance and living will be.

so i am learning, honing my ways of responding as an artist. as an emergent strategy facilitator, i am focusing on healing strategies, relationship depth and emotional growth at the collective level.

this means when injustice happens in a major ways, it brings me to questions about the emotional realities of communities i live in, love and support.

these are the kinds of questions i sit with:

what can i create, write, build, birth, hold, make easy?

what is in our hearts that makes us internalize oppression, resist, or create alternatives?

how much heartache can a people take before we walk away from participating in oppressive systems?

how many dreams must be deferred before a community withers – and what is it that breathes new life in…anger? love? some perfect juxtaposition of the two?

how do we give our all to the creation and practice of ancient, alternative and new systems within the shell of the current…knowing they could be smashed like the acorn community in parable of the talents?

or is that the inevitable point, that we must build new systems without attachment, growing philosophies and practicing belief systems grander than our current endeavors, discovering new ideas about ourselves, literally new futures, from within?

rather than fighting for the political/physical place we are, how do feel/find the place that can hold and love us?

it’s speculative fiction but i suspect that what we long for might occupy the same physical space we are in, but is a parallel emotional world determined by how we show up.

what it is…

I’ve been thinking a lot lately, learning a lot, and feeling very humbled. It’s occurred to me that if i want to be a better human being, then i have to be less selfish, more selfless. Movement building, in fact, is shifting the inner dialogue of self or community from “I want to..” to “What’s needed?” And from that place of what’s needed, its easy to see that the self has something to contribute – that every single self has something to contribute. Only from the perspective of personal ambition, of wanting to advance or gain something purely for the self, it is easy to feel defeated, unworthy…

The number of organizers I come across who are driven by ambition and don’t see why they aren’t succeeding is too many to count….many are brilliant people, with the capacity to truly move others. But those that truly inspire me rarely have a big following – rather, they are part of something inspiring, they participate in mechanisms that are miraculous because they combine work and joy.

This can happen in any community, in any network or alliance, any place of work, any place where the tasks of being alive occur. The tiny functions of the body might seem mundane when they are happening, food moving through the body, blood pumping. But altogether it’s so miraculous – a contained sun-processor, oxygen transformer, lined with pleasure receptors and holding emotions in flesh…it’s so something-out-of-nothing. In the community there are a million small functions like that, that can become a miracle, an interdependence, a movement – if we remove the barriers.

I am not convinced everyone has to be in some radical organizing job, not at all. I am absolutely convinced that the world would function with more humanity and equality and joie de vivre if it was understood that hard right work and joy bubbled up from the same fountain. (r)evolution is an internal process that can happen in anyone, and it takes work, rigor, discipline to reach that joyful place.

Maybe this is just my Virgo sun talking, but I have seen it over and over again, the look of elation when someone is placed on a task that suits them perfectly, and they complete it. All of our genetic, astrological, circumstantial and soulful tendencies turn us in a certain direction, and there is nothing like the feeling we get when we are able to run that way, full speed.

The world needs all of the skills that are out there – the creative skills, destructive skills, the maintenance skills. As organizers we must be asking ourselves how we can liberate all of the work and skills people have to towards our communities, towards what is needed.

For me this means releasing the elitism that can come with an organizer mind or an organizer job. I am so impressed with nurses, mechanics, carpenters, farmers…I am most impressed with people who do wonderful things with and for their community. I want to learn how to apply my creativity and visions to the needs of my community, rather than just some fabulous glamorous rock star dream life [which is always in the shadow of my thoughts – that’s normal right?].

This has made me think – how am I holding back from giving what’s needed to my community? What more can I give?

In the spirit of miracles and resilience and movement building – here’s a blog of the living!