stories from omega

omega retreat center in ny’s hudson valley has been the location for some pivotal moments in my life. here are a few stories:

10 years ago: i’m here for early meetings of the league of young voters. we’re working on a book, hundreds of printed out pages in stacks around the room for editing. several of us are experiencing culture shock at the rural health culture of this place. two brave members of our group take a canoe out onto the lake and get stuck, while others map out where to smoke and get burgers in the onslaught of healthy air and vegetarian food. we all dash to the nearest bathroom often. there’s no where to dash away from the other aspects of culture shock – strangers smiling at me, being out in nature with no access to technology. we believe we have a sacred call to intervene against the bush administration on behalf of our communities.

9 years ago: after hours of nervousness, i give a speech on weaving together electoral, community organizing and business strategies at the social venture network gathering. it is a dynamic and breathless moment, even for me…a standing ovation moment. i surprise myself with the energy moving through me. i can’t focus on any face in the crowd but feel the energy as a whole swelling. is that hope? i don’t know it yet but several people in the audience that night are from my future.

the next day i sneak off with a new friend for a joint in the parking lot. he makes me laugh harder than anyone else i know, and he inspires me with his radical commitment to action. his name is john sellers. he doesn’t ask me to compromise my values, he makes demands. a year after this i join his board. within two years i am executive director of the organization he had held and shaped for a decade – the ruckus society. this will be the practice ground where i learn to walk my ideas of collaborative leadership and organizational development.

6 years ago: i join a circle of people who were discussing governance models for intentional communities. one of them was with me years before, in my nervousness, in my speech. i am skeptical because – what do i know about intentional community? and why are they all crying and opening up so much? within three days i will be in love with these people and call them family, the people of common fire. they carry the radical vision i associate with the zapatistas, with all who reject the mainstream society and choose to live their values in the current moment.

5 years ago: i’m returning as a board member of common fire, my fourth (or fifth) board commitment. knowing these two founders, kavitha rao and jeff golden, is changing my life, making me think about where and how i live, the resources i use, what i eat, my war tax resistance, and particularly the skill of how to be vulnerable with other people for the sake of sharing my life. this time they have a newborn baby, samiha, and she lives on the soft shelf of my breasts the whole meeting. my partner is recording drafts of their shapeshifters album in a studio magicked together with a lamp stand, microphone and some towels.

yesterday: i’m holding my blue eyed mixed race niece on my lap, talking with friends about the ‘luxury item timeshare system’ from the utopia in woman on the edge of time. a woman comes up too close to mairead’s face, saying how beautiful she is. she doesn’t speak to me but to her credit i am ignoring her, continuing my story. this trip i am more aware of the white-people-seeking-enlightenment pattern of this and other retreat centers, full of beautiful intention and sloppy mid-transformation interactions. she then asks my friend sean, a tall redhead, if he’s the father. she completely ignores my sister, sitting on the other side of sean, and explicitly doesn’t see the baby autumn is holding. that baby is our friends’ newborn, a gorgeous black baby girl. the woman moves past them as if they don’t exist. anger, hurt, exhaustion…i work through to generate compassion for that woman, who has not yet learned to see so much beauty. i wonder what i still don’t see.

today: i finished facilitating the common fire board through a beautiful transition retreat. i moved off the board two years ago, along with any of the other boards or national roles which so enticed me a decade ago. my sister autumn is now a part of the board, which means my niece mairead is the newborn baby on my shelf. babies are a major part of my spiritual and political work these days. common fire is thinking within and beyond non-profits as the form for transformative movement building. the integrity and self-awareness i experience with this circle is still refreshing, even when the lessons they have to share are learned in hard ways. its powerful to see a vision at four years old, six years old, a decade old…to watch children come into the world and grow up in the container of a shared vision.

i wonder about the spiritual paths that call to us, and why so many do their spiritual work outside of political commitment. i wonder how the workers here feel about their workloads, their power and access to the offerings here. i balk a bit at the cost of things sold here, from massages to yoga pants to workshops. i notice the small details of beauty everywhere. i finally find the laundromat.

i feel how much can shift in a decade, strategically, contextually, personally.

i’m sure i’ll be back again.

we will survive!

many of you may have caught on to this by now, but i am obsessed with survival skills. part of why i went to be a part of ruckus was because of the time we spend out camping.

it’s not easy for me to indulge this obsession – i came of age in nyc and developed a whole different set of survival instincts. also, i have bougie tendencies, i recognize it, and so does anyone who was with me on those ruckus camping experiences. but living off the land/going back to nature appeals to my post-apocalyptic revolutionary self, and i am slowly accumulating skills.


i read lots of science fiction, i live in detroit which feels as rural as it does urban most of the time, and i pay attention when i am around folks who could teach me something important, like how to start a fire, or how to compost in the city (even through the winter, which i just did), or how babies can be safely birthed without meds or hospitals, or how to dig a toilet.

so imagine my joy this past weekend when i went to spend a day with detroit summer at a cottage far off the beaten path outside the city, and there was no water! no toilet flushing water, no hand washing water, no dishwashing water. what to do? we had 10 youth in the cottage on the lake, which was totally frozen over (folks – not us – were driving on it later that night), we were surrounded by snow and the heat was working.

once we determined that we weren’t going to turn around and head home, we started thinking of creative solutions. within an hour we had come up with a system for managing the toilet – melting snow on the stove-top and using it to flush the toilet, not putting paper in the toilet unless it was a more significant contribution, and encouraging those who felt comfortable with it to actually go to the bathroom outside.

a neighbor, in the meantime, helped us to isolate the section of pipe that had frozen, and showed us how setting up a light bulb next to it would eventually resolve the issue. he also legitimized our strategy: “well, we got lots of snow – that’s how they used to do it!”

i was incredibly satisfied each time i flushed the toilet with melted snow water, and somewhat disappointed when the pipe was finally unfrozen and the water came back on. it wasn’t until later that i became aware of just how sparked i was by the challenge of applying survival skills in a way the youth could experience.

it also wasn’t until later that i realized how funny i must have looked, mixing my snow on the stove, self-assured that we would survive.

go ahead, laugh now.

american revolutionary

i assert my solutions as the living embodiment of my nationality…

i’m testing that statement out.

for a long time, most of my conscious political life, i have not thought of myself as an american (and not a nationalist at all, especially not of a colonial empire). i have been a world traveller. a future ex-pat. a staunch critic of the ways america is failing at everything from dreams to execution of values, from founding to present. and i hold these critiques to be self-evident – how can anyone with a mind and a heart not see the failure, the epic moral failure of the country i was born into?

recently, 3 things have made me reconsider my relationship to america.

one thing is sitting with the words of the late james boggs and being with grace lee boggs, and their clear belief that we have to understand the context of where we are, that there is a real place in which we have the right to be revolutionary. jimmy said, “i don’t believe no one can run this country better than me,” and he said that as a worker. now i feel challenged by grace’s latest thinking, that a new “more perfect union” is ours to envision and embody, and i think we have to believe that no one can run this country, community by community, better than those of us with clear visions and practices of justice and sustainability. if we believe that, then we must take on the responsibility of bringing our visions into existence – through our actions, not just our words.

the second thing that has made me reconsider this is a conversation that happened at web of change. it was hosted by anasa troutman and angel kyodo williams, and i wasn’t even there, just got to debrief how powerful it was with several participants afterwards. one of the key components was the idea of being able to say that those things that offend us at the deepest level, which seem inhumane, which give us feelings of shame by association – we have to step up to say “that is not our America.” leaving the space open for american identity to be defined only by those who are driven by fear leaves us with what we have now – policies of walls and borders instead of open arms and visions, prisons and penalties instead of communities that hold each other accountable and safe, poverty and joblessness instead of meaningful roles in communities where we each feel our worth and get honored for our contributions. america holds an international role which we who have citizenship here can’t shake off – unsolicited and violent judge, oppressor, manipulator of resources and relationships, bringer of trash/waste/dehumanizing work. what we are within our colonized borders is amplified in our external actions. and there are enough of us who know a better way that if we truly took on the responsibility, the practice of being american revolutionaries, it would have a worldwide impact. scaling up, yes, but only by going deep in accepting the privilege and responsibility of being american at this moment in time and taking up new practices wherever we are.

the third piece for me is looking at my family in light of recent stories i have heard from immigrant families living and dying to get a hold of a status i have taken for granted. my sisters and i were born in texas, in el paso. folks who are brown like me and whose ancestors’ blood still bakes in the earth of my birthplace, folks who were born 10 miles away from me, they have died because of long-term impacts of our foreign policy, trade policy, drug habits. on a fundamental level, being an american means being responsible for the human cost of our way of living, our mistakes, our policies. i may not agree with the policies, but that doesn’t much matter to the people impacted by them if i do nothing to change the ways of this country. my family has had a chance at happiness that was made possible because of american military endeavors and i have to attend to that reality. can i face it completely and instead of feeling shame, think of what can bring justice to my family, to my nephew and niece as they begin their young political journeys? this feels like huge work for me.

i see more and more that my path is not necessarily an organizing path, be it electoral or community. this is not simply because i am disappointed in our movements, though i feel, viscerally, that we/they are mostly practicing what i could call the old american ethic: spread, grow, mainstream yourself, prosper in competition, value new ideas over ancient wisdom, colonize by spreading as many chapters with cookie cutter action plans as far and wide as you can, don’t apologize, pitch first and listen later, etc.

all of that is there, but my calling is underneath that critique, and it feels like yearning, it feels like a budding set of solutions. i am interested in connecting with, building with, and supporting folks who are interested in the next american revolution – in holding space for a new american ethic that speaks to the experience of masses of people within these hyper-enforced borders: we start by seeking indigenous wisdom for how to be in this place and honor those who have been here the longest. we stand with the world in calling for america to evolve as we practice these new-old ways of being here. we build our economy of relationships, not dollars. we see ourselves as part of a global network of citizens of one shared planet who have a collective responsibility towards home. we respect each other and the land, we practice restorative justice, we begin by listening, we accept the responsibility of where we are. instead of being known for our critique, we embody the revolution wherever we are, in whatever work we are called to.

i know i can’t change the past, not even the very recent past, our actions of yesterday and even this morning. but i am also more and more aware that i can’t put off this being of a place for even one more day. i have lived in many places, and i have loved many places, but i have papers for one place, voting power for one place, family all rooted in one place. it is this place where i will make my stand.

in a way this is another coming out, full of terror and bravado…and pumping out of me like blood. i will test this out, here, as a truth and an invitation: i am an american revolutionary.

on the road again

i have been traveling a lot this past few weeks. the ruckus camp was incredible, and then i was at web of change up off the coast of british columbia, which was fascinating.

i sat on a panel at web of change which really challenged me – which is righteous i suppose because it was called Our Challenge, and the 3 of us were talking about what we see as the key challenges of this time. there ended up being a real sense of a dichotomy on the panel, which i didn’t expect. one panelist spoke of the importance of failing and being able to admit it and learn from it – michael silberman – i thought this was SO important. if we could see our failures as an equally important (or more important) part of our experiment at living/organizing than our wins, i think we could grow.

the other 2 of us…i think it felt like a reform vs revolution conversation (with me holding down the revolution part)…or maybe an electoral vs community organizing thing. but for me it was really a lesson in how to communicate what i am feeling and thinking about right now, which feels like it goes beyond those old dichotomies. i want us to think deeply about what we really mean by success, and no matter what type of work we are doing – electoral, community organizing, reform, revolution, or work that may not be called organizing – that we are embodying a new way of relating to each other, to the way we think of “success/winning”. i feel hopeless when i see how many of the oppressive practices we say we are trying to change/stop that we are actively engaging in within our organizations and campaigns. even if we are doing electoral/reform level work, are we challenging the models that we know are not working? or we doing work that is DEEP, or just trying to get as big as possible without knowing what we are leading folks towards?

i loved the level of conversation we got to have at web of change, but i am still really worried about our collective eagerness to scale everything up without actually practicing it at a small and deep level – like in our organizations. i see so many organizations where we don’t practice transparency around money or power, and yet we want to gain control over the money and power of our cities, states, country. i see so many of us resort to emotional manipulation and violence in order to move our ideas forward at an organizational level, and then we want to talk about nonviolence and cooperation between nations and in our domestic and foreign policies. its not that our desires are wrong, i just don’t think we can get there wishing/hoping/demanding it of others…i think we have to “transform ourselves to transform the world” as grace lee boggs says.

i will publish my notes from web of change before this week is out.

my trip to ny was wonderful because the whole time it was like – i am not an ED of anything, so i can just see my friends for once!! so that’s all i did, one deep conversation after another, which a few hours at the russian baths thrown in. totally indulgent and awesome and i spent a lot of time walking and feeling glam like i only do in ny, paris and tokyo.

now i am at the common fire board meeting, which is already a good and challenging space for me. we’re on a gorgeous farm in upstate ny where the leaves are all turning into gorgeous shades of sun and fire. rain and wind are my constant companions these days, and this place is no exception.

learning and thinking about what it means to form communities that are intentional about sharing resources, centering the wisdom and experience of impacted communities…this feels like my most octavia butler work. but its also hard, because i am wondering how those communities can serve folks like me who are more nomadic, naughty, occasionally glam, urban, folks who don’t want to have a bunch of house meetings as the main way of being in relationships, folks who do long to change. i’ll keep you posted on how it goes.

tonight one of our board members, esther, who is one of the most inspiring women i have ever met – she lives a zero waste life in a forest home with no electricity and at 57 is the healthiest person i know, all of which she learned from her life as a peasant, not from sustainability theory…she led our opening ceremony, and she said, “if you are moving with spirit, listening to spirit, then you are going in the right direction.” this was so perfect for me to hear because i don’t know how to describe the magnitude of what i am being called to do, but i do feel like its an operation of faith, of listening, of following feelings more than logic. it’s marvelous.

we went through the four agreements tonight, toltec wisdom brought to today’s masses by don miguel ruiz. the agreements are always liberating for me, bring such peace into my life when i actually bring them to mind:

– always do your best
– be impeccable with your word
– don’t make assumptions
– don’t take things personally

simple to say, harder to practice, liberating to embody.

How to Be an Executive Director

I wrote this up a few weeks ago as part of the Ruckus Society transition and thought it might be useful to publish it here. Enjoy:

How to Be an Executive Director (from someone who never wanted the job):

1. Get a coach and/or a learning environment where you will be able to vent about how impossible things are (either a leadership development program like Rockwood or Social Justice Leadership, or start/join a Women’s ED circle, or EDs of color, etc).

2. Be able to articulate what you are bringing to the table, and your limitations. Because it is an impossible job, there will be parts you don’t do well. The cost/benefit analysis is important – are you helping or a hindrance to the organization?

3. Join a board or two where you will be forced to have interactions with people of means and influence (be clear that your primary fundraising obligation is to your organization, so you will help in other ways).

4. Identify a few of your funders who you can/do have authentic relationship with and get them in your corner. They will keep you supported and sane through the lean times, and give you honest feedback on what is and isn’t working.

5. Cherish and stay in touch with your community outside of your work to keep you grounded politically and socially – this will help you stay in touch with the true impact of your work. I have a circle of friends to whom I explain things that Ruckus is doing. The reactions they have – laughing, confusion, or dropping their jaws in awe – that helps me gauge our impact in the civilian world.

6. Write every single day – force yourself to get comfortable being a public voice on your own terms, not just in other people’s interviews. I (obviously) recommend having a blog.

7. When doing media, know your do-or-die talking points (Ruckus is a network, directly impacted people are our priority, we cultivate leadership from communities, direct action is relevant when used strategically – these have been mine through the past 5 years). There’s nothing wrong with asking print media to email you questions, and writing your responses, to increase clarity.

8. Understand the strengths and weaknesses of your predecessor(s). Don’t try to fill their shoes, you are walking your own path. However, absolutely put them to work to earn any ongoing adulation folks have for them – instead of resenting them or putting them on a pedestal of awesome you can never attain, see that person’s humanity and make it work for the good of the organization.

9. Be compassionate with yourself – you are totally going to fuck up big things.

10. Be hardest on yourself – as long as you sit in that role, you are responsible for the survival and well being of the organization.

11. Automate organizational development. Build in set times throughout the week, month and year for accountability and awkward, in-depth conversation. Otherwise this slips to the wayside and resentment and/or unintentional practices become the norm.

12. Never do anything to indicate that your role is more important than anyone else’s in the organization – you have the responsibility to hire, fire and manage, someone else has the responsibility to make the program happen, someone else drafts budgets, etc. All that work is equally valuable and should take nearly equivalent time. Never have an assistant unless everyone else does. (This is aspirational but where else are we going to learn new ways of holding power?)

13. Actually do exercises with your team to practice media talking points, speeches, elevator pitches. Ask other organizations who do well to coach you. Never be above learning to do better for the sake of the communities you serve.

14. Don’t get too caught up in the games of people with more financial resources than you. Let them drink, let them smoke weed, let them get naked in the hot tub; do only what you feel comfortable doing (which may be all of those things, or none). Don’t lose your composure – as long as they give only a portion of their resources, you are not in authentic community with them, you are in a power dynamic and you need to be fully aware of your choices and their actions. (***Many of them are amazing, wonderful, compassionate people trying to do well…and some will take advantage of your need, especially of women, POC directors)

15. Don’t cultivate a spirit of gossip in your organization, about people or other organizations. It’s toxic, and translates into a long list of reasons to hate people, rather than growing solidarity and an evolving community and movement – which should be our constant goal.

16. I learned this by doing it the wrong way several times…if you think someone isn’t a fit for the organization, a) give them really clear feedback, b) give them a period to improve, (and if it isn’t working), c) let them go swiftly and with loving kindness so they can move on to a place where they fit and you can focus on meeting the needs of the organization.

17. Do excellent work. Have high standards around the integrity and impact of the actual work – spend more time doing great work than you do writing grant proposals and talking about the kind of great work you could do.

18. Hire people who you think are more brilliant and capable of you, and then actively develop them as leaders and give them opportunities to grow. You should have a few options of leaders who could move up internally into holding the Executive Director duties, and they should know you believe in them and be a part of shaping the way the organization acts and feels.

19. Make sure the other members of your team (note: seeing yourself as part of a team instead of the shepherd or bright shining hope will always help) get the attention and praise they deserve for the work they do, publicly and privately.

20. Have fun. You are still a miraculous being so every moment of the time should feel vibrant, educational, not like you are biding time or wasting your life force. You are so fortunate and radical to get paid to spend time bringing justice into the world. Enjoy it!

I’m sure there’s more, but those are the things that stand out at this moment.

It’s been a huge honor to learn all of this. Thank you Ruckus.

this madness, this moment

“There is a river flowing now very fast. It is so great and swift that there are those who will be afraid.” – Hopi 11th Hour Prophecy

what will the river look like?

will it look like israel launching a military attack on an unarmed humanitarian aid flotilla in international waters? that is what is happening as i write this.

will it look like BP pouring an immeasurable amount of oil directly into the ocean, destroying the Gulf of Mexico and impacting the coastline, the islands, the living breathing ocean? that has been the center of my heartbreak this may 2010.

will it look like volcanoes erupting, ash clouds filling the sky and grounding air travel?

will it look like gays being allowed to serve in a military, allowed to violently force ‘democracy’ on nations who have resources we want/need? we must be so careful with the victories we celebrate…

will it look like 75,000 marching in arizona against racist policies that dehumanize new immigrants based on the fear/hatred of descendants of older immigrants?

will it look like communities shooting each other over side eye looks, and police shooting children while reality tv films it all?

“They will try to hold on to the shore. They will feel they are being torn apart and will suffer greatly.” – Hopi 11th Hour Prophecy

even with my whole head, heart, body, fiber of being – everything i have – engaged in behaviors of solution, or a new world, or transformation…i cannot ignore the madness of this moment.

to me it feels that all sense of control, of the world being a logical and/or safe place for anyone, is shaking, cracking, crumbling, dissipating, disappearing. whether it’s man-made/natural disasters, or urban/international/domestic terrorism by authority figures, the mask is falling off of this world and you have to be preparing for a new way of living and being.

i feel the tension of those who are holding onto the shore – believing some authority figure will save us if we can just get a better policy (no incendiary devices, shoot in the arm or leg, only drill in this place and/or in this way, allow part of my humanity but not all of it) without shifting the deep, structural belief systems that uphold our destruction of the planet and the majority of the people on it.

i feel the liberation as more and more people become truth tellers and freedom fighters. we march to shut down gas stations, we march on arizona, we march on israeli consulates, we flotilla our supplies in as humanitarian aid, we write, we make music to tell the story to our people in more ways. we converge, in larger and larger bodies, to dream and fight a new world into existence.

“Know the river has its destination. The elders say we must let go of the shore, push off into the middle of the river, keep our eyes open, and our heads above the water.” Hopi 11th Hour Prophecy

i believe this, completely. i understand that letting go must come with grief, and so i have a feeling now of trying to swim and weep. but i dabble with a different sensation as well – perhaps the feeling at the heart of the biblical tale of lot’s wife, who was offered freedom and continuing life if she could just not look back as her world was destroyed – but she did look back, and she did turn into a pillar of salt. trying to look at this world and understand it emotionally does make me feel granular and easily blown away.

tonight my meditation is that pushing off the shore involves accepting and knowing the reality of what is happening, screaming that the truth cannot be covered up and cannot be survived. tonight is full of war on many fronts, moving in many directions. tonight, and this moment in history, is full of blood and pain and massive acts of self-hatred as a species/planet/people. tonight is full of movements, of acts of bravery, of sacrifice.

i am in the water, i am aware of the currents moving so fast – i feel all of that, every day, as i try to keep my head above water.

NY to Philly

My sister posted this to her listserve today, and it expresses our Thanksgiving experience better than I could:

“Hello Good People! and welcome back from thanksgiving. However you celebrate (or don’t) the holiday, I hope you were able to take time and reflect on gifts and giving – the natural gifts that we can easily identify (light, life, air to breathe, living in the world and the gift of knowing others), and the gifts we do not ask for but find their way into our lives. My small, growing family hosted my large, growing family for the thanksgiving meal, bridging traditions ranging from the deep south to the far midwest. We each reveled in each others company, in that fleeting understanding of what family can be, and what family always is.

I had the opportunity to hear music from Aaron Copland’s opera The Tender Land. Particularly a song called “The Promise of Living”, about thanksgiving, harvest, the sharing of work, and the dignity of labor, struck me with a simple hopefulness, of what is possible when humans can look at each other and understand that their living is only possible through each other, that our individual desires and dramas and dreams are only possible because we are in community with one another.

It is with these thoughts that I enter December, the welcome darkness of winter, reflection, and quiet cultivation of new life. ”


My time in NY was marvelous, connecting with blood family and ancient friends, culminating in a birthday celebration for one of the best people I have ever known last night. Love seeing people I love get the love they deserve…

Today we posted a new Ruckus video which features my talking face fairly prominently – this wasn’t easy to do, so I hope you appreciate it 🙂

Now I am in Philadelphia for a few days of work, including a facilitation this weekend of the Leeway Transformation Awards.

Ruckus is officially in Copenhagen, the US Social Forum has staff, the Allied Media Conference has track proposals, and things are afoot in every direction 🙂 Was this ever a vacation month?

Happy birthday to my dad, my sister Autumn, Sofia Santana! Angel Kyodo Williams! and Richard Pryor!!

memory lane

mmm just had dinner with a dear friend and we ran through memories – remember when what’s his name…and then we were…and that one party that was so sticky hot and everyone was…was someone shooting at us?…did you know i…yeah girl. the conclusion, thank god we were 19 once, and able to scream, sing, fall down, be in a city, be of a generation, hurl insults at the ruling class, believe everything was possible.

i’ve been of many minds of late. on one hand, i have given in to my deep urge to move to detroit, for love and mentors and to be immersed in a place that has largely moved beyond dependence on systems that rely on oppression. detroit is a violent place, a falling down falling apart place – and the most foward looking, viable solution place i have ever been.

on another hand, i just came out of an inspiring ruckus retreat where we basically decided to go harder than ever – or at least recently. our arc of success can’t simply be a good training, or a training that leads to a good action, or even a training that leads to an action that leads to good media. our arc has to be towards justice, towards tangible change in our communities. we have to put aside judgment, hurt, doubt and scarcity mindset and develop a body of fearless capable activists. i am excited to be ruckus at this time.

on yet another hand i watched the little short video, “if star wars were made by environmentalists”, a startling accurate critique of how many movements function now, measuring success based on process and media, rather than on actual change – changes we make and changes we demand for our survival. derrick jensen is the voice – and i went and watched other videos of his. he asks the question, do you believe that people will voluntarily make the changes needed in society for survival? and if you do not believe that – and based on all current evidence, it would be foolish to believe it – then what will you do? how far will you go? how will you resist? these are relevant questions, and this line of thinking is why i am so excited about urban agriculture, about a city like detroit which has depopulated to the degree that the city which was once home to over 2 million people now holds only 800,000. it’s why i am so excited about guerilla gardening, and reclaiming (or claiming for the first time) land for the purpose of community resilience. i am tired of complaint without action, and i am tired of action without change. i love the look of self-determination, particularly when it’s balanced by a sense of sustainability, a sense that there is a whole planet upon which we are all dependent, and with which we have to reformulate a physical and spiritual relationship if we hope to be here for any foreseeable future. he says that cities are not a sustainable model, because at the root a city is a mass of people that rely upon importation of goods, exhausting the local natural resources and having zero relationship with the people and places from which most of our food, clothing, fuel and materials come from. i am a city girl, but i know this is true – that i have lived at a point in humanity that is a golden age of urbanity, and that will likely pass into post-industrial agrarian modes, or implode. or both. jensen offers more questions than solutions, but they are relevant questions.

on another hand i am going to be an auntie, again. the miracle of my first nephew has changed my worldview. i am not merely interested in the world left for the next generation and those that follow – it is not a theoretical commitment anymore. my only purpose in life may be to carve out a world in which he can experience safety, acceptance, joy, sustenance, abundance. every day i want to learn something new that makes his world a better place. and now he will be a big brother, with a little sister or brother close enough in age to play with. and now both of them are my charge, my responsibility, the loves of my life. what a gift…

and there are more hands. there is a self that is only thinking about facilitation, truth and reconciliation, community processes and accountability. i have been thinking a lot lately about the ways in which people occupy their marginalization. every word from their mouths is critique or victimization. they want the freedom to act anonymously, in the ether, in the internet, behind closed doors, behind backs, calling personal attacks “not personal”, and trying to create divides and boundaries and borders that they believe will make them safe. i see it all over the “movement”, or the many movements for justice. i see a similar long-range hateration from the radical right…with no intention to change, only add to the negative and downward spiral of humanity. it is like a peak of powerlessness – so far from self-awareness and the ability to impact the world – that i feel overwhelmed with compassion, and grateful for the voice i have found to offer my thoughts and visions for the world. the reality is hard enough, the horrors we have exacted on each other and on the planet is enough. “everything we do now should be done in a sacred manner, and in celebration” – thus say the hopi elders. this makes sense to me. but the things we do in a sacred manner should be sacred things, as well – grieving, loving, creating, learning. why expend the precious gift of breath and blood pumping through our veins for anything less than amazing awareness and forward motion?

i don’t have most of what i have had recently – i have relinquished at least 2/3 of my belongings for this move i am making. the things i kept are things i love – memories, photos, music, books. the things i have given away had no memories in them, nothing essential. they were things i thought i needed but have realized i can live without. i feel lighter, like my touch on the earth has less damage in it, like i have distributed an old life, shed an old skin, in order to feel the shape and simplicity of the next iteration of my life.

i am a writer, and like many writers, i write worlds into existence. when i ask others to consider what they are being called to, i can hear the future opening up to me in my own life. writing to people about the love i feel for detroit made me realize i could no longer be a long-distance admirer of that city, i needed to know it more deeply.

it is becoming harder and harder for me to see the surface of things, the presentation, the false solutions we are told to galvanize around and advance as policy and politics. i want to live deeply, as if i were a genius, as if my life matters, as if the future depends on it. not on my particular contribution, but on the way i live – as honestly and freely as possible, feeling what is right and knowing it as the only possible strategy.

and the conversation i had tonight reminded me that i have always known this is the way i need to live, though it has looked differently in my life. so, again, i commit to integrity and wonder, and letting go of obeying, letting go of the labels and boxes and politeness and falseness that thwarts transformation.

it is good to remember – if i don’t want the bliss of ignorance then let me know only that which gives me power, and brings more justice to those i love.

we are the movement generation


as often happens, i am writing to you in a state of amazement. i just finished the first weekend of the movement generation summer strategic retreats – this weekend was laying out the entirety of our ecological crises, all the stuff i have suspected and felt but didn’t have all the information to back it up. it’s so much worse than i thought, but it really is a transformational and (dareisay) revolutionary comprehension that comes out of having this information, knowing what’s actually happening and knowing what the false solutions are, so that we can be on the right path. the next weekend (in october) will be more about the real solutions we need right now, and what’s already happening.

i took 31 pages of notes, so this is going to be a pretty long post, but i will make it as readable as possible and PLEASE take the time to learn this information and pass it on! i am going to try and capture the key things here – my notes are a jumble of readings, facts, sentiments, a-ha moments, to do lists. hopefully it informs your life and work in some way, though i know it’s hard to capture a live experience in a report back. i’ll do my best.

we were at the occidental arts and ecology center, a gorgeous intentional community which was actually the location of the ‘our power’ action camp that helped to birth the indigenous people’s power project at ruckus. magical, beautiful, education place.

the information was given to us in 5 categories: waste and toxins, water, food and agriculture, climate and energy, and biocultural diversity. we then touched on control mythologies and false solutions, which i will save for a follow-up blog.

readings/things to watch:
Original Instructions, Melissa Nelson
Parable of the Sower, Octavia Butler (and everything else she’s written)
– Battlestar Galactica
– watch Fresh (documentary on great food systems)
– read Funny Weather

    overview and key terms:

biocyde: death to biology (death to the natural biological growth in an area)
edge: transitions between rivers and land, or different ecosystems.
interior: deep within ecosystems, where an ecosystem is most fully realized (larger predators!)
ecosystem: an entire interdependent system (forest, ocean, HUMAN)

first of all, this age of cars, dvd players, tons of materials, flying all over the place is brief, and peaking. we have been thinking in terms of endless resources – we need to think in terms of being resilient.

fact: you can trace nutrient loss over the last 150 years in california as a result of salmon not making it all the way up to the sierras. their cycle is to go out into the ocean, eat up and get full of rich ocean nutrients, then swim up the rivers to the sierras where they reproduce and then die, leaving all those nutrients there. they used to fill the rivers to such a degree that folks would say you could walk across their backs. when they don’t make it, it depletes the nutrients in that whole region – they are like a 50 pound bag of marine nutrient fertilizer. they aren’t the victim of overfishing, they are the victim of shifting environments which add silt and toxins to the water and make it impossible for them to get up into the sierras.

an example of current non-resilience: the urban southwest. tuscon, phoenix, las vegas, los angeles – once oil can’t pump water to these cities, they will depopulate. what does this mean for organizers on the ground in those places, and the campaigns and victories we’ve been working towards?

fact: we are much more connected than we know – caribbean asthma rates are growing because the size of the sahara is larger and more dust is being picked up and carried by wind across the atlantic. once the glaciers of greenland melts, san francisco, oakland, berkeley and richmond will all be underwater.

fact: the earth has been through many cycles of destruction, and has the capacity to heal – the earth will heal. we are the ones in danger. we are in crisis because we have endangered the earth cycles we depend on.

it’s deeper than pure capitalism – it’s the entire primacy of constant growth. “if the world economy grows at a rate of 3-5% a year from now until 2050 {this is a conservative growth rate for us at this point}, we will have consumed the same amount of resources during that period as we’ve consumed since we started walking on two legs.” – george m…hmm – can’t read that note, i’ll find out and come back to fill it in.

indigenous traditional cultures worldwide have the knowledge of how to care for the places they are in. the thing to understand is that imperialism (constant growth of a nation beyond borders, dirty word folks don’t like to hear but NEED to understand) is based on control…the kind of control that requires erasing the people and traditions in a place in order to implement ownership and a belief system that is better for those in power than it is for people and/or land.

we need to learn to live within the earth’s capacity.

we have to transition to being post-carbon.

we have to begin to think in terms of prosperity, not growth.

it is time to practice cooperative lifestyles and values, collective well being. we’ll need facilitators, mediators, healers, folks who can repair things, folks who create strong systems, folks who are glue in a community.

“we need to grow from a me-centered society to a we-centered society.” – michelle, MG


gopal and carla (literally two of the wisest, most amazing people i have ever met, and mid-generation members of the ruckus network as well) from MG broke all this down for us:

first, some info on waste!

economy (think home economics) means the management of home and relationship to space/place.

the path of our economy moves from extraction –> production –> distribution –> consumption –> disposal.

we are taught to only see the distribution and consumption parts of it…buy it packaged at wal-mart, take it home and use it, toss in the garbage and it goes ‘away’. we need to be aware of the whole process and the impact it is having on our ecology.

definitions: a long chain exchange is when products come from far away, when we don’t see where the food comes from, who grew it, who packaged it, or where the waste goes when we’re done. a short chain exchange is when the product is local, and we have a direct relationship with the grower, and the waste stays as a part of our local system.

horribly embarrassing moment (not sure how to rank this with the burger king wrapper in my car on the ride home OR the ant infestation in my car on the way to this retreat {i didn’t even know ants COULD infest a car? don’t leave a granola snack in the middle console} OR the two tickets i got trying to get to the retreat on time): we had to own up to how many laptops we have had and i have had an embarrassing 5 laptops since my first job.

but it was designed that way! we learned about “Moore’s Law,” created by Gordon Moore (a father of modern computing), which says “every 18-20 months, computing capacity will either double in speed or drop in price. everything is thus planned ahead and rolled out in 2-3 year computer cycles, endlessly getting faster, smaller and cheaper.”

fact: coltan is a key material in small electronics, and 80% of it comes from the democratic republic of the congo. the current count is 5.4 million fatalities since 1998 by war that is funded and escalated by transnational corporations who benefit from instability in the region.

fact: copper is mined in 1 mile deep exposed tracks. when minerals at that depth are exposed to oxygen (which would never be exposed to oxygen without our interference), it changes them chemically into toxins which can drain into the water.

fact: most factories for electronic manufacturing are in the pearl river valley in china, where the impacts of the toxins are showing up in women’s reproductive systems. particularly dangerous are reproductive toxins, which effect the hormones, and can feminize a population {reducing the number of male births}, and increase miscarriages.

another impact is the use of water. intel is based in albuquerque, and uses 3-4 million gallons of water A DAY from the single fresh water source in the region.

fact: 10% minimum of all waste ends up in the ocean in huge swirling plastic floating garbage piles the size of texas. plastic takes like a billion (not really, just 100 THOUSAND) years to break down, and it doesn’t actually break down to organic materials, just smaller and smaller bits that eventually become part of the food source for ocean dwelling creatures, and those of us who eat them, or eat animals who eat them.

now, disposal paths for electronics lead to landfills or recycling centers (though it’s not unusual for folks to place monitors on the street and just hope someone picks it up. whistle casually if you’ve done this). at the recycling center it is shipped to china, nigeria, malaysia or a u.s. prison where the parts are dismantled for potential reuse. prisons are the number one place where recycled electronics are sent in the u.s. and dismantling is, you guessed it, toxifying for the people doing it.

speaking of toxins!

history lesson: a major increase/introduction of chemicals into our world occurred right after world war ii. about 100 thousand new chemical combinations were introduced to the world at that time – leftovers from war efforts, used for weapons (or gas chamber gases being turned into pesticides!) and now needing a way to be repackaged and used (and profitable) in peace time.

fact: only 10% of these chemicals have ever been tested for environmental impact…we are the guinea pigs.

some science type stuff: most chemicals have the potential to be toxic or non-toxic, depending on how they are bonded with other chemicals. there are relationships that exist in nature that are brilliant, where the chemicals can serve a positive function. however, when tampered with, combined in the wrong ways, or exposed to new elements, they can become toxic.


a. brominated flame retardants (found in blankets, clothing). this is a family of chemicals based in bromine which can interrupt or interfere with the endocrine (hormones) in our system {leading to feminization of an entire species, tracked by lowering testosterone levels}. think of endocrine disrupters as tiny estrogen pills. the number one place where this chemical family is found is in children’s freakin’ pajamas – that means directly on their skin!! this is what happens when we think of solutions without thinking of whole people on the receiving end. 🙁

b. thallates. thallic acid is a toxic chemical compound that is combined with plastics to make them softer, more flexible, more durable. these are found in the coatings of pharmaceutical pills (THAT YOU SWALLOW), glue, lubricants, and (super sad) sex toys! and food products!! thallates don’t make a true bond with the plastics, after a while they “off-gas” (literally transform into or release gas in the air – think of the smell in the $1 store and imagine that inside of you). luckily, these are being phased out.

this whole system of extracting materials from the ground in unsustainable ways, producing them with unjust practices that put out high levels of pollutants, distributing them thousands of miles away, selling to consumers in tons of packaging, and then being whisked away to be disposed of in horrific ways – this is called a resource intensive production system…aka – RIP!

we did an exercise where we had cut outs of people to represent the communities we work with, and we had to place them along the RIP path. it was deep to see who was impacted by extraction – indigenous communities who are displaced from their land. participants talked about how their folks work in production factories and are impacted by pollution near production sites (for instance, the chevron refinery in richmond which we are doing an action on August 15th!). we placed our communities as the employees of distribution sites such as wal-mart, and of course all of our communities are trained to be active consumers – we believe what we are sold! and when it’s all said and done, the waste is dumped into landfills in our communities.

after this first presentation we were all shaken and devastated. and we’d only just begun.


our presenter was a delightfully brilliant dude named brock. this presentation had a few more solutions in it, and overall reminded me of the beauty of water – water as us, water in us. here are some of the stand out parts of this presentation:

it would be more appropriate to call this planet water, as opposed to planet earth. water is the unique life force here. the water we have is all the water we ever have had or will have. we get an allowance. of all the water on the planet, only 1% of it is freshwater. of that, we have already polluted half. FAIL.

our water system is solar driven (yay sun!). the sun warms up the ocean, lifting water up as gas, which freezes into glaciers of ice and then melts down into rivers, streams, lakes, ponds…fresh water. its a totally natural, cyclical, desalination process.

science stuff: water is a polar molecule, featuring a positive in oxygen and a negative in hydrogen. it’s sticky – it can stick to other water molecules. it can be a solid, liquid or a gas. (AWESOME! nothing else does this!) water cools in its transition from solid to liquid, and liquid to gas.

brock showed us images of water patterns present in brains, capillaries, lungs, streams, clouds. water is an “elucidator of flow” wherein form follows function. the sun and the moon move water around the world, leading to high tides two times a day. water and earth are in a constant dialogue. humans are impacted by these waves too – isn’t that nice?

so…where do we fit into that larger dialogue? every living thing is mostly water. our existence is carbon/sun based, but water moves everything. for our lives – air security comes first, water security comes second, and food security comes third.

“we are bipedal sacks of saline solution.” – brock

“water is the primary measure of how we live on the land.” – luna leopold

loved this: evian = naive. hopefully you know this already, but bottled water is wholly unregulated, and is 2000-3000 times the cost of tap water, which IS regulated. what water companies understand is that whoever owns and sells water controls life.

so right now, the planet is trying to cool down from the CO2 (carbon) blanket we have been building around it, hence we see the changing of glacier ice to water and water to gas. because of these changes, within 75 years our california water source (mt. shasta) will be liquid…not regenerating and melting to give us fresh water in a natural cycle. thirsty = dead. 🙁

definition: we learned the term positive feedback loop – so basically a change that directly speeds up future changes. for instance, sun bounces off of white solid mass, but gets swallowed by dark liquid. the more the glaciers melt, the more dark water there is, the less cooling bouncing off of solids, the faster the glaciers melt.

boss move: china did a water grab when it got tibet and the himalayas – tons of fresh water.

one quote we were given is that “you can’t protect what you don’t understand.”

but now that we understood more, brock showed us some beautiful solutions!

the main solution is to live within your “watershed”. a watershed is basically the entire water system from glaciers atop mountains down to the deltas where the water reaches the ocean. so – how do we repattern life around a watershed?

we have to shift from a “drain age” to a “retain age”. right now good fresh water drains off our roofs into gutters into pipes into lakes or the ocean. (folks say they don’t want to interact with rain water cuz there’s so much pollution – brock said: “try breathing”) is we retained water from our roofs in catchment systems (like they do in bermuda, for instance) so each home/building was water sufficient, that would be a major shift. water would drain from our roofs into containers where it could be naturally filtered, and then we could use it to water gardens, do laundry, flush toilets, take showers. we could run the water through bio-filters – gardens with fungus in there that would snip the hydro carbon bond and clean the water right up.

parking lots could be redesigned so that water runs off into natural growth areas on the side as opposed to down a drain in the center. in seattle they are redesigning streets to redirect water in ways that greens the neighborhood, supports gardening, and slows down the run-off, saving more water. in LA, treepeople have created water catchment systems under lawns that can actually meet all the needs for a block of homes. in china there were examples of setting up gardened walkways down the center of toxic urban waterways, and the plant systems literally detoxifying the water! we could have fog catchers to catch and drain fresh water!!

in our homes, put a 5 gallon bucket in the shower while the water heats up, or in the sink while laundry water is draining, and use that to flush the toilet! another super easy move to make a toilet more efficient is to put a closed container of water into the toilet. then, you save 6 or 8 or 16 oz of water each time the toilet is flushed.

we used a composting toilet there, like we do at ruckus camps. these things are mindblowing when you start to realize that all the money spent on fertilizers is a total marketing of stuff we produce naturally. our poop – yes poop! – can become a wonderful rich fertilizer, improved by us eating healthy whole organic diets. again not something we should be shipping away to massive processing units.

he even showed these urinal composting things that were basically garbage bins with a urinal on the side. diluting the urine 10 to 1 creates a great fertilizer. i’m not there yet, lol, but EVERYthing has a purpose.

this session ended on a very inspiring, wholistic note.

    “the earth is a living thing – you have to give it love.” – the greening of cuba

that evening we watched ‘the greening of cuba’ (order a copy: 800 274 7826). amazing story of how when the world turned it’s back on cuba, cuba became a increasingly super innovative agrarian society extremely fast. i was deeply reminded of detroit, and wondered if we can ever hope to reach that level of change without total crisis.


michelle from movement generation led us on this journey, starting with what food is: land, community, culture, health, meaningful work, life

– less than 1% of the u.s. population are farmers…there are more prisoners than farmers. farmers were 1/3rd of our population in 1930.
– most of the world’s farmers are women!
– the world has 1 billion farmers to feed 6 billion people.
– people in the u.s. spend less of our total resources than anyone else in the world on food, about 12%. the cost for that cheap food is that our health problems are on the rise from over exposure to corn, soy, processed food and livestock grown in unhealthy conditions. cheap food leads to less bio-cultural diversity, less water, more climate change, and tons of waste and toxins (many from growing food where it’s not supposed to be).
– breast milk is the first place where most of us, and our children, interact with the primary toxins of our lives (that said, its still the healthier more natural option than formula, if it is an option for you).

here’s a devastating food system process that’s in place in the u.s. right now: imagine illinois, iowa…all that corn. 92% of the corn grown in this country is from genetically modified seed already!! these require tons of water and synthetic pesticides (only sold by the same folks who sell you the genetically modified seeds). toxins from this genetic corn production seep into the mouth of the mississippi. the majority of this corn (99%) is grown to feed all the livestock animals that are “grown” along the mississippi in little cages. these animals poop out the genetically modified, processed corn toxins which leach into soil and water and continue down into the gulf coast delta area. all of that has created a moving deadzone in the gulf where the chemical combination has killed every living thing; the bottom dwellers (shrimp, catfish) die from toxins, and then everything else that eats them either dies or has to go elsewhere to eat. everything IS connected.

(the reminder throughout all of this is that there are solutions, that the earth can revive from this, there are things we can do…)

more facts:
– only 0.1% of applied pesticides reach the desired pest. 99.9% are just out there hitting non-target creatures, such as bees (our pollinators, a creature fundamental to our survival) or frogs (disappearing, or being born with extra legs).
– 16-19K farmers in India have been committing suicide every year because their debts are so high after seeding and planting genetically modified monocrops* (like wheat in the punjab) which destroyed their land for other crops, and they have no option out of their contracts with the seed seller.

* (immediate footnote!) monocropping is a huge dangerous practice – growing one crop in land which ends up wiping out native species and displacing the people who know what to grow on the land (you learn by being on the land for generations – most of us in the room have been stolen from the land we knew, or that land has been stolen from us).

back to facts:
– average person in the u.s. uses 2000 liters of oil to supply their food. that’s a lot. (also learned that average u.s. citizen uses over 130 gallons of water a day, while there are folks in the world getting by on 2 gallons a day.)
– current agricultural practices contribute 20% of the total global climate change impacts.
– the crisis is not some time in the future, people are already dying because of climate changes impacting weather, pests, water. to survive, the planet needs diversity – rotating crops, protecting and nourishing the soil.
– 40-50% of the world’s land is used for agriculture, and 30% for livestock.
– we rely on 8 crops for 75% of the world’s food!
– the danger of monocropping can be seen in the irish potato famine. the irish were only growing 2 kinds of potatoes – when one was wiped out, there were no other options.
– genetically modified foods are also so cheap that they outsell local organic food in markets like oaxaca, where corn is originally from. sadly, once you sign a contract to buy genetically modified seed, you are locked into agreements such as not saving the seed, but buying it again the following year. the monocropping damages the soil and ecosystem such that it’s hard to switch off of the genetically modified crops. monsanto is the seed selling demon company – they have actually sued farmers on neighboring farms because genetically modified monsanto seed caught on the wind and mixed with the neighboring farm’s crop!

my thought at this point was: we want crops, not crap.

two particularly dangerous areas to watch are agri-fuels (also called biofuels) and the scramble to buy up land. redirecting land use from growing food for people to growing food for cars leads to situations where people are lined up for subsidized cooking oil while tons of resources from their area are shipped away for cars. in small local use, biofuels that are gathered from waste can be a good thing, but scale it up and it’s quickly anti-human.

the international scramble for land means that huge areas in africa, the middle east, south korea and elsewhere are being bought to grow genetically modified foods…it’s a new colonialism.

thinking comparatively: a single patty burger sold for a buck in the u.s. equals the entire grain and protein needs of three people in india.

it’s like this: we’re now in a situation where there are people working on two second timers on sandwich assembly lines to make sandwiches for starbucks. everyone is seeing one small part of a massive system that is not serving our health.

even how our health is assessed is not a complete picture – science can be flipped to mislead us. a whole health assessment that covers a much broader spectrum of nutrients than the FDA leads us to choices that are better for people and the planet.

so what needs to happen?

in a nutshell: we need to shift from being cogs in a wheel to feed others –> to being in communities where we feed ourselves. it’s not a situation of going back to old ways, but rather taking back practices and land that we are all from and having healing relationships with land. we need to make the social relationships of food transparent – who grows it, who harvests it, who packs it, who transports it, who cooks it. we are kept in the dark about the whole process of our food.

we need to blend rural understanding of food/economy/ecology into urban solutions (like Detroit has begun to do!).

this was the first part of the presentations where i started crying. the way all these systems have been developed without us and against us is so overwhelming.

i hope you’re still reading, i know this is long, but this is information we need in order to start making better choices in all aspects of our lives as individuals, organizations, communities, families.


jason and gopal hit us with this one-two punch.

first things first, global warming is the wrong term for this moment. climate change even suggests something more incremental than what we are facing. climate disruption or chaos is more accurate.

we’ll be talking about greenhouse gases – the gases that create the atmospheric blanket over our heads. carbon is 1st of these heat trapping gases. they showed us this effect with an aluminum style hat – once you put it on, the heat on your head has no where to go and your body starts to sweat to cool off. the planet is doing that.

important fact: there is a 40-70 year lag effect in the temperature increase of the planet. the skyrocketing impacts we’ve measured recently are the results of our lifestyle in the 1960s. compare the pollutants and energy use of the 60s to now to get a sense of the future we have set in motion.

feel this: consider that every 20 years (even with the kyoto protocol in place for the last 10 years) we have doubled the entire fossil fuel consumption of known history. like…all use from the ice age till the 1940s is one number. that total number doubled by 1960. that total number doubled by 1980. and so forth.

peak oil is often mentioned, but peak oil won’t stop our destruction of ourselves…its not the end of oil, just the peak, the moment when what we have to use starts to decrease.

we can see the atmospheric impact of our actions every single year.

just like us, climate science is nonlinear and unpredictable. there isn’t a clear 1-1 cause and effect, most of the effects are exponential.

earlier we talked about positive feedback loops. the melting was one example – the greenland glacier now dumps enough fresh water into the ocean each day to provide all the water needs of london or ny.

another piece to understand in this equation is tipping points. a tipping point is a point of runaway change. it’s the moment when you no longer have to push a ball up the hill cause it has tipped over the top and is racing downhill. it will eventually find a new stability, but the rush may not be survivable.

we appear to have reached a tipping point in glacier arctic ice – watching a quick slide show from 1979 to 2007 shows the rapid increase of melting and near disappearance of summer (permanent) ice. this disrupts migratory paths for land and sea animals, many of which are the primary food source for people.

another example is the permafrost – the frozen tundra of siberia is melting. under this is tons of methane gas, which, if released, would lead to a quick, abrupt impact. there would be no recovery from this sort of impact, only rebalance and new life. after the ice age, we were the new life form, for instance – it was catastrophic for the major species of that time. this would be a catastrophic tipping point for humanity.

another amazing thing about earth: earth is designed to store excess carbon, naturally (we call these spaces carbon sinks) – that’s what oil and coal are! we have decided to disrupt that storage process, which is supposed to keep the atmosphere in balance, and go get that exact carbon and release it into the atmosphere. THIS IS SO NOT A SMART MOVE. other carbon sinks are the ocean, forests – forests are like lungs for the planet. the loss of forests is another tipping point to watch.

we were reminded again here that life and the planet will survive. it is human survival that we are discussing. uplifting reminder?

we did an amazing exercise at this point, where we each chose a person, people, or animal to represent, and get into a circle. gopal read off a variety of climate impacts, and we had to step forward if our person/animal was impacted. i was a fox – foxes have showed up repeatedly in my life at key moments and i feel them. we all ended up squished in the center. this was so sad – everyone was so deeply impacted.

but then we had to reach across the circle and grab two different hands. this turned us into a giant knot. our task was then to – still holding on – unknot ourselves. we did so quickly.

knowledge is power. change is possible.

but enough of that hopeful stuff…ENERGY:

jason showed us all of the energy sources being developed in the world – crude oil, heavy oil (like the tar sands of canada), natural gas, coal, nuclear, solar, hydroelectric. currently, 12 countries own 90% of all the known oil in the world. the u.s. is either an ally, at war with, or in control of each of the other 11 nations.

the solutions at this point are to ramp down crude oil and coal fast – no new coal, oil or gas. stop extracting heavy oil, declare a moratorium on nuclear because the costs and potential weapon danger is so high, use some hydroelectric, and increase our end use efficiency (be smarter and more conservative with our energy use). we also need to explore the real possibilities of solar, wind, tidal, geothermal. additionally, we have to ramp down general consumption in the 1st world, think in terms of locally appropriate solutions, and demand that polluters pay the transition.

and we fundamentally recognize that these real solutions are not currently politically viable right now. that is our work.

the final piece of the puzzle was BIOCULTURAL DIVERSITY

my friend melissa nelson came to present this section. she is an amazing woman who is also developing a path around having a multi-racial background and a call towards reconciliation work. we met through the center for whole communities and i am always excited to see her.

she defined biocultural diversity as the diversity of life in all manifestations – biological, cultural, linguistic – within a complex socio-ecological adaptive system.

the key idea is that we are part of one living system. that system relies on diversity of indigenous knowledge systems and traditional ecological knowledge (TEK) as well as cultural productions such as food, art, medicine, clothes, homes, etc.

she reminded us that our oral traditions carry memories from before the ice age, and then shared with us a quote from wade davis, that the “ethnosphere is more important than the biosphere, because without the ethnosphere we won’t know how to CARE for the biosphere.”

we have to pay attention to emergent properties, symbiosis and synergy – think of ourselves as entwined, entangled, braided, inextricably linked. the “whole is greater that the sum of it’s parts.” think of biocultural diversity like having a whole alphabet to write with from all experiences of the world – our full wisdom.

“the beauty of things was born before eyes, an heartbreaking beauty will last after there are hearts to break.” – robinson jeffers, poet.

melissa mentioned the puget sound canoe gathering which ruckus heard about during the localize this action camp on vashon island. very exciting relearning and practicing of known ways.

a great danger to us is “monocultures of the mind,” as vandana shiva says.

note: folks used to be more multi-lingual – knowing only one language is isolating, but not having a common language can make it hard to organize regionally, beyond borders. this is complex – how many languages do i know? 1.

there are lots of stories in the land that we have forgotten how to read – animals, their scat (poop!), storms, ancient writing, soil, clouds, stars.

melissa reminded us that old sayings have deep meaning if we try to understand them:

“walking the shoreline,” an old ojibwe saying, encompasses walking the literal line between water and land, also between movement and stillness, conscious and unconscious.

another saying, “the moon is in the sky,” means she will always be there.

it is hard to have to use the language of our colonizers to express liberatory ideas and ancient wisdom. but we all have wisdom, we are all from some place, and together, all of us have to learn again, and practice what david brower called CPR for the planet: “Conservation, Protection, Restoration”.

we have to change from seeing “resources” to seeing “relatives”. all our relations – the entire world as we know it. we are not moving backwards, but we are re-indigenizing, moving forward to new-old traditions and knowledge of how to live.

at this point i asked a question which always comes up for me – what about those of us who have been so displaced from our original location that we literally don’t know where we are from, don’t know our songs, our histories, our traditions?

melissa said, “you are fully you, and you are re-indigenizing every day.”

carla broke it down on such a deep level, which i had heard before but never with such an open heart: “your displacement and all that was taken from you, the systemic breakdown of the connection between you and your homeland, that IS your heritage. your ancestors were punished, silenced, displaced, sold, lost – that IS your indigenous experience.”

this was another point of grief, and mourning. it also opened up deep conversations with the other african and african-american folks there…”we weren’t kings and queens…we were farmers! just like everyone else!!” this was exciting, this placed us in the story of our unknown but present ancestors.

there was time to go out in nature and reflect on what our relationships were to the planet. in spite of tons of changes i have made, i wrote up a pretty devastating self-assessment that included deep explorations of my fear, the damage i do, my yearning for a better relationship, my learned classism around who has relationships to the earth and who doesn’t.

i landed, as i always do, on love. my love for the planet has inspired so many changes already, and i know more changes are coming. i feel that i am stardust, earth, water. to reclaim terminology, i feel that the earth is a brilliant symbiotic and beautiful, organic and logical technology, as am i – balanced systems to process matter, data, energy, spirit.

computers are a technology to support humanity thus far…are humans a technology to support the planet and be supported?

we can be. clearly we are in super glitch mode, which might even lead to a total meltdown of the mother-machine that we don’t survive. but love can give us the capacity to see the error of our ways, and humble ourselves to a new reality in which we get to do liberatory work, have meaningful roles, prosperity, health…

in order to do this we must understand the underlying assumptions that have allowed us to get this far. i want to write a whole separate blog on control mythologies (assumptions/stories we are taught which make us easier to control, like: Lincoln freed the slaves {no social movement, just benevolent leadership}, Christopher Columbus discovered America {it was barely inhabited, by people who didn’t deserve to have it, it was for us}, or the American Dream {keep working hard as an individual and you will accumulate material wealth and that will make you happy}) because it is so deep to name these and begin to release them and develop/remember creative mythologies, sustaining mythologies.

although the information was so devastating that i found myself several times sitting with someone else with tears in our eyes wondering why we even thought our small work could matter, i left the weekend feeling like i’d just gotten a massive upgrade in my capacity to envision and execute real solutions. i feel more committed than ever to deep transformation of myself, my family, my organization, my communities. i feel more committed than ever to measuring scale in terms of DEPTH and quantum leaps towards sustainability, rather than broad shallow reforms that slightly delay catastrophe.

we are the ones we’ve been waiting for…we are the movement generation!

Notes from Kalamazoo

These are slightly edited notes from the day of conversation at Kalamazoo College, first with the Center for Social Justice Leadership Planning Committee, and then with select faculty and students on the topic of Leadership. The intention was to really bring nonviolent direct action into the definition of leadership skills, and to focus on the power of networks (and other collaborative, locally grounded formations) for organizing.

First, we had some Q+A with the planning committee, where they shared where they’re at in the process of the Center, and what their key questions are now.

1. How do we keep the funky side of organizing when a Center at a college is inherently an institution?
– Know the history of nonviolent direct action – it isn’t just the funky part of the work, every social justice movement in history has used NVDA to advance their negotiations. A lot of folks don’t know the role that NVDA plays in movement building and actual wins. And you don’t have to recreate it – we at Ruckus and many other groups teach the history and the theory (helping folks determine whether nonviolence is for them). Ruckus focuses on the best practices of actual action skills. Bring in folks to share these skills.
– Have folks read science fiction, watch documentaries, learn in ways other reflect what we can learn from what the culture is presenting back as key lessons from the margins.

2. How do we develop interesting, out of the box leadership?
– Outside the classroom – apprenticeship and experiential learning. We learn to walk by walking, not by someone giving us a class about it.
– Train folks to participate in collaborative efforts, networks, alliances more than institutions. The age of the institution might be passing at this point…the age of big large growth based thinking might be passed, so we don’t want to invest in things that have to grow exponentially to survive. Networks are organic bodies, each community doing its own work but then connecting to share practices and information.
– Creating a network of people with a shared experience to offer the world. The folks who come through the center shouldn’t see themselves as “leaders”, but as people who have developed the skills of “leadership” – that there are many ways to practice leadership and the skills can be modeled and passed on.
– For really out the box leaders – develop facilitators! Develop folks who practice facilitative leadership. Train folks to facilitate, to hold listening and truth and reconciliation practices…I think that’s more powerful than public speaking and other skills.

3. What are we looking for in a director for this program?
– Someone who defines radical as Visionary, rather than Angry.
– Someone committed to balancing theory and practice.

4. Is organizing something you should teach? How do you do that responsibly with students…and who do they organize?
– I deeply believe organizing is something people should learn by doing. In their community. So campus organizing is totally necessary and a great learning environment for students, and their home communities during the summer. THAT SAID, a social justice framework and a sensibility to fight for your human rights can be taught, and must be taught. You have to undo the training of most public/private early school years, which says to obey, work, obey, work, retire. All teachers can play a part in reframing the world as a place that requires and responds to your actions.

5. Please reiterate the harm reduction stuff you told the students!
I learned harm reduction philosophy so early in my career and I now apply it to EVERYTHING else I do. It’s all about the people setting their own goals, it’s about self-determination, it’s about having compassion for the choices and directions of your life, it’s about releasing judgment, but acknowledging the real world. check it out at – that to me is a fundamental justice analysis that i use throughout my life.

Then the conversation opened up.

Invincible (of Emergence and Detroit Summer) had traveled with Roxana and I to Kalamazoo, and we convinced her to come share about the remarkable work of Detroit Summer’s Live Arts Media Project. She shared their audio hip-hop documentary and the 12 Steps to Illumination comic that comes inside the CD case.

Roxana shared her experience of learning leadership as a young person in Detroit Summer: “The youth dialogues were powerful cause youth chose the topics, after 8 hours of working together, cooking, eating together, etc. And then we facilitated ourselves, and we really got into the topics. We learned to think and challenge and learn and reconcile – it was our space.”

Then they both shared some of the key ideas they have learned from Jimmy and Grace Lee Boggs: dialectical humanism (the spiral of learning, doing, reflecting, and living in cycle); that our role is to birth a movement that is already emerging (not create a movement from our minds).

I spoke about how leadership has a lot to do with having a strategic mind (rather than a strategic plan), because everything changes all the time. And I love that – I am influenced by Octavia Butler’s concept in the Parable of the Sower that “change is god” – and I believe learning that to navigate change with grace is the greatest skill.

The group physicist, Jan, pointed out to us that our leadership model is based on the idea that exponential growth is good. Now, it is becoming clearer that “exponential growth is unsustainable,” and that we need to develop models of leadership that focus on prosperity, abundance, equity, deeply local and small models.

I reiterated my thoughts that this is a time of birth – while folks are experiencing economic “crisis” as a dark moment, the great recession…we can experience this darkness like a womb that is birthing sustainable societies.

Then I got so into the conversation that I stopped taking notes – but here were some key points I jotted down:


READ borderlands

Angle Kyodo Williams says its overwhelming what’s happening in the world and we haven’t developed the soul capacity to handle it. Our communities need to “grow our souls” as Grace Lee Boggs says. I think it helps to localize it to your own community and move through that space.

The sweet spot for where to bring your leadership in your community is where your passion/interest meet you skill set and converge on the need. It’s a triangle.

READ Don Miguel Ruiz’s Four Agreements

Something we are experiencing right now with Ruckus is that the experience of the community (awareness, composting, shared chores, localized healthy food, etc) had just as much impact as the action training. That is to say, the skills are necessary, AND our leadership shows up in how we ARE with each other, as much as what we are teaching.

That’s all for now! Kalamazoo is lovely and we wish them luck and hope Ruckus trains a lot of folks there in nonviolent direct action!