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.
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.
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.