operating instructions

ok so success is this big and small thing.

i just had success with lighting the pilot light on the heater in the house i am staying in in detroit. it was stumping me completely – i was here, with the flame, the long matches, the right button, the right knobs, the right idea, the right pipes, the right intention, but the damn thing was making the sound of gas and i was leaving burn marks everywhere without actually lighting a damn thing.

i asked everyone who i thought might know but they couldn’t quite remember. i called experts but they didn’t pick up. just as i’d resolved myself to a cold night – a second cold night, in detroit, alone, in a big ass house (as a life-long studio type), i noticed a folded leaf of papers tucked between two bits of the massive heater.

operating instructions!!

most of it i couldn’t even pretend to understand, but there on page 9, clear as day, was a diagram. pilot knob, pilot button, pilot flame!! and when i looked back at the mysterious heater, it was clear as day, the pilot flame.

i am in the midst of the us social forum process. some people don’t know the forum exists; for others, it is possibly the most important movement building process in the works in the u.s. right now – full of fragmented, 501c3 organizations trying to be movements.

we’re in detroit, the host city for the 2010 us social forum. we are in the olympic athlete organizing process now, and this pilot light metaphor, the flame, the operating instructions – its key to what we’re doing.

trying to pull together a body which can represent the impacted communities of the nation, the leadership of people of color, of poor folks; trying to make a real space for relationships and transparency between local and national efforts and people; all of it is like sitting before the heater with all the parts. and no one left operating instructions for movement building. there’s not one pilot flame, there’s a million. we’re trying to light as many as possible with this process, to create a warm and healing fire which lots of people, organizations, issues and alliances will want to gather around. we want a space where folks can share their individual stories, and build the story of the future we want. we want a space where folks can learn what detroit has learned.

ruckus was a part of the 2007 effort, at the last minute, and i remember all the mystery and questions at the time. i also remember that as i met folks, i was really impressed with the vision for leadership from impacted communities, from base-building groups, from popular education groups, from grassroots, justice based groups. this is a hard line to draw, in a country where the majority of executive directors and funders are not impacted people. and yet it yields a result that puts us in alignment with the rest of the world, creates a model the rest of the world can embrace and try on. if we are not insisting on strategy and leadership and processes from the most directly impacted people, then our work is theoretical, never alive and active on the front lines, always an observance and suggestion rather than a true and viable plan of action.

like…i believe in fire. but i had to get my hands real dirty, get down on my knees, do my reading and thinking and asking for help and all of that before i could know the answer. and now i have learned it – not in a way where someone did it for me and i have a vague idea that fire can be created in a detroit basement. no – i know the exact way to do it – i did it myself.

and here in detroit, in fits and starts, with the experience of the US Social Forum in Atlanta under some folk’s belts, and the organizing and political history of Detroit, and the interpersonal and interorganizational and interissue and internal dialogues happening, and with the excitement of many people and groups wanting to get involved, we are making the road by walking. we are DOING it. and as the process gets grounded in detroit, its going to call on people from all walks of life to jump in. the theme is Another World is Possible, and we have to DO it, have to BE that other world in our actions and words and commitments and responses.

so its very exciting to know that i will be warm tonight because i tried everything i could until i was able to see the answer before me. and it is exciting to know that tomorrow i wake up to engage in a process that mirrors that on a movement scale.

and in other news, homeless folks are taking over buildings in ny, and the rockefeller drug laws (which were once a main target of my activism work) are about to really be repealed! success and victory are all around us, which means power is within our grasp.

its a good day.