a perfect action

it’s a beautiful day to be black.

woke up this morning to a brilliant new d’angelo album dedicated to ferguson and occupy, resistance. it’s full of love songs and funky grimy sexy beautiful man sounds over guitar and…so prince, so shuggie otis, so marvin, so bilal, so brilliant, so worth the long wait.

and then ava duvernay became the first black woman nominated for a golden globe (oscar coming soon i’m sure) for best director for selma.

and between those two things, i got to attend an action called by the blackout collective in oakland, flowing together efforts for #blacklivesmatter, #blackbrunch, #asians4blacklives and others.

i wasn’t planning to attend, i was heading to the airport after a tight trip to california mostly spent in petaluma at the strozzi dojo as part of my first generative somatics teaching team. i’ve been in training building to this for two years and think the work we do is mindblowing. and it’s massive, i usually can’t do social or event time around it.

but my ride to the airport was one of my loves, alicia garza, one of the three women who dreamt up #blacklivesmatter and spoke our longing into movement. we were heading to breakfast when the news broke, oakland police department shut down. so of course we had to go skip breakfast and see what was happening because social media had us both texting in exclamations.

(from the blackout collective)

if you don’t know me, a while ago i was part of the ruckus society staff. going to an action in oakland is family reunion time. today’s action was beautifully familiar, and also different in ways that deserve noticing.

on the action front, oh god it was so good, i was taking in as much as i could as my tears of joy and gratitude blended with the soft cold rain. i couldn’t stop hugging people, people who were white, asian, black, latino, taking actions to assert that black lives matter. i wanted to be close to these massive hearts.

the action, from what i observed, was perfection. every entrance into the oakland police department was blockaded. the street in front of the entrance was blockaded on both ends, abundantly. the banners were stunning and clear – ‘black and breathing’, ‘complacency is consent’, and a flag flying from the OPD flagpole, held in place by a brave human who scaled it with muscle and rope, with the faces of our recent martyrs, stating once again that ‘black lives matter’.


the action was so incredibly powerful because it clearly centered around the messaging, leadership and visibility of young black leaders, stepping and chanting and singing and marching and fists in the air claiming historical space. the blackout collective. you know that scene in malcolm x where they march to the hospital? it was like that but with no one appearing to call out the directions, with women and queer folks and locs and fros. they seemed to move as a body, dignity head to toe.

just as clearly, allies were providing cover, taking risks, embodying solidarity. such a necessary resource when done right!

the main OPD door was held by loved ones, asian comrades, with the banner #asians4blacklives. another door was held by white allies with a banner reading ‘every 28 hours a black person is killed by a cop or vigilante’. these door blockers were locked down, a good and organized mix of risk. the streets were blocked by what appeared to be white allies, and i saw latino and indigenous leadership as well.


i cannot overstate how powerful the container felt, with the blackout collective and other blacks yelling ‘show me what solidarity looks like!’ and the allies on the streets and locked to the doors and guarding the base of the flagpole all yelling back ‘this is what solidarity looks like!’

i am getting chills remembering it to share with you.

here are the protocols being practiced in this ally work:


every time the cops moved in for arrest, a hundred devices popped up, those documenting also chanting, to be clear that there is nothing, not anything, that will go unnoticed or unseen. vigilance. a plethora of roles. an abundance of ways to be OF the moment.

i was so moved, trying to smile and say hello to old friends with so many tears in my throat. the personal difference for me was getting to attend as a black person, not in the action, not in the know. i was dressed for femme bonding breakfast and then the plane, ruby woo on my lips, trench coat, boots, suitcase.

i’ll admit here that the whole time i was at ruckus i felt out of my league, the badassery around me so thorough, and me so library-nook-nerd trying to understand how groups and people change. but i felt so good this morning, like all the right people were in all the right places. i felt beloved and held. i am a facilitator and singer and writer and healer in a movement that evolves from and advances many movements. again, not a beginning or end, but not a phase either. a move forward. it isn’t confusing. i wrote afterwards to one of my friends in the action that i felt beloved. i feel it now, that my life is precious, that my life matters. it surprises me to say this, but…it feels new.

it’s such a tender green shoot of a thing, because i am not saying this about america, where i know it will be a long long time before i feel a real mattering, a legislated, cultural mattering. i don’t expect it in this nation state structure.

no what i mean is in the smaller space of movement, where i believe we have to embody the world we long for, where so many of us have been hurt and broken hearted and ignored and disrespected and kept coming back, where so many of us have been stepped on and over and still stood up and kept finding new ways, kept offering our love to this effort to transform it all, seeing the conditioning, working not to take it personally, finding an open artery to send our love into the blood cells of revolutionary work…i mean in that place? to feel that my black queer woman facilitator thinker writer artist healer lover life matters?

yeah i need to go listen to this d’angelo and feel all my feelings. thank you oakland.

i’m lucky

i just came out three non-stop days of meetings. and it was the smoothest meeting so far in the us social forum process. we’re over some hump and snowballing into summer success. i think. and we will make some major mistakes – absolutely for sure. but we will make them with style and grace and growth.

i’ve been swimming daily.

i’m in love. and it’s work, and it’s getting better all the time.

ruckus is the shit. in a very humbling way, i just have to feel significantly better when ruckus is in the room because our network is just skilled in very tangible things. sharon, my coworker and a future co-director of ruckus, showed up in detroit and jumped into actions and she is so fresh y’all. it’s a blessing to feel this good about my work.

the city i live in has hard, heartbreaking work to pour myself into. and i don’t know how to walk around with my heart broken…i only know how to love at this point. i’ll give that love to the D – and i hope to be well-used.

“The pitcher yearns for water to carry/The person for work that is real.” Marge Piercy , “To Be of Use.”

and – there’s a show on hulu called Glee. i put it on when i am taking things too seriously and it reminds me i am just a show choir nerd dressed up like a revolutionary.

love you ALL and hope you do something bold and then let it go this week.

the ocean is coming

{i woke up this morning thinking i want to get the hopi 11th hour prophecy tattooed on me. its long but it feels truer than anything else i have read. well – maybe an earthseed poem too…}

i am going through a phase of researching yemaya non-stop. i think this is because i have picked up a swimming practice, which has reminded me that i am part mermaid. when i was a scuba diver in the south pacific i knew this, but then i got landlocked for a while. whenever i am near the ocean i can go out in it and not be afraid, even though it has many of the things that scare me – darkness, heights, undertow. someone called me yemaya in passing recently, after a swim where i was flipping around in the water and hanging upside down…and it started me down this path – yemaya’s characteristics are lover/producer/creator of life; adorer of children, provider of comfort…these are aspirations i can live with.

this is also relevant because there are other yemaya-women in my life. recently my girl shira, and dream hampton have both brought to my attention that they are mermaids. what i see in other mermaid-women is a spaciousness for many convergent lives and understandings, an ocean of space for the world as it is.

perhaps women like us are just the most recent water doulas/midwives of the True World emerging from the current one…

it’s possible i am moved to say this after spending a few days in DC, which seems the epicenter of a world without flow, the ground zero of joyless bureaucracy, circular disconnected debate, crucial compromise and masking. i know very good people IN dc, even a few real radicals – bless them for holding that line, and even loving that place. i spent the days dashing from one of them to the next and trying to maintain and slip my true self through the walls of business-casual coffee carriers. maybe there’s no residue, or maybe that’s what made me wake up this morning thinking of the words: “there will be a river flowing very fast, and people will be afraid and try to cling to the shore…”

the ideas of a liberated life, of a system aligned with the needs of the planet, of economy based on relationships and people rather than profit and greed, of meaningful survival…these ideas excite me, they are swelling all around me. i think all political work should be tugging us away from the shore of current corporate systems, and towards a post-profit existence.

even, perhaps, a post movement existence. movements entail…containment. two sides, inside and out…that there is content, ideas, people within and then content, ideas, and people without – or opposed to. but the existence i am thinking of – it’s an all-encompassing thing. no person, nothing alive would be outside of it. its LIVING, being fully present to your life and communities, and learning, knowing, how to live the right way.

we have been thinking like lakes and ponds, but now we need to think like oceans – how would yielding to our natural and inevitable interconnectedness help liberate us from current oppressive patterns? and who would be outside of that connection? how much compassion would it take? for yourself, for your family, for every one you meet?

my friend ilyse and i got to catch up yesterday. she says since i moved to detroit i have been going all yoda. but i think i have been going all yemaya – in the small i see the whole.

and i am reflecting on ruckus, and on the us social forum process as well. in the small work, the daily tasks of supporting people desperate for change, i see the whole of humanity – potential and realized, miraculous and mundane. it is only in the attempt to do things really big that i see the fragmentation, as we try to build ideas without building up the community support to hold and implement and grow those ideas together. but in the small puddles and pools across this country, we feel pulled to the ocean too.

the full thought is: the need to be big, fast, is the reason we don’t have movements in the u.s., though there is a lot of movement. and maybe that’s fine. maybe right now we need to be lakes, ponds, tributaries…just flow to each other and sense the ocean is coming.

justice at the council on foundations

wow…i love good surprises!

i just left the council on foundations annual conference in denver, co, where i got to speak about movement building as part of the social justice track.

the fact that such a track exists in that space is apparently a victorious thing in and of itself…to have several sessions focused on a nuanced exploration of improving the impact of philanthropy on large scale justice-oriented goals is not to be taken for granted in this historically conservative space. i was allowed to go for a day, and met several participants and speakers who do really noteworthy investments in deep movement building.

i was there because i got invited to participate in a fishbowl conversation moderated by tim sweeney of the gill foundation, who was just delightful. a few weeks ago we had a conversation to prepare for this one, and i already had a clear sense that there was openness to truly new thinking on what the relationship between philanthropy and social justice movement building could look like. the track organzers, suzanne siskel, anna pond and jessica bearman, were really thoughtful in pulling us together, and deeply curious about the new ideas we were bringing…even down to little things. i suggested they use wordle to quickly show what our panel worked on, and they ended up creating wordle spreads for all the sessions.

the other panelists [whose full names and bios are below] were carlos, ryan, katherine, chet and erica. i think i managed to grab noteworthy quotes from all of them, and the conversation was pretty juicy for a panel at a philanthropy conference. from the audience, stephen bradbury, kavitha ramdas and akwasi aidoo — were also key to shaping the lessons we were sharing.

one particularly thrilling unexpected piece was on the power of nonviolent direct action as a strategy. kavitha asked how we realistically build movements when the communities we are supporting are in deeply violent circumstances where their actions, particularly in self-defense, gets highlighted while the circumstances surrounding their actions aren’t mentioned. this led to a deep conversation on how important it is to have groups like ruckus which focus on strategic and creative nonviolent direct action tactics. its not fair to tell a community which is being erased off the planet to choose nonviolence if its not working – and yet we have more and more cases that show that nonviolent direct action and civil disobedience is a crucial component of successful movement building, and usually much more strategic for an oppressed community than violence. the strategic argument carries much more weight than the morality of it – i cannot speak to morality in war torn zones, when my whole family has been killed or separated from me…and i mean zones from detroit to dakar. so we went there, and i was really impressed with the depth and complexity of people’s responses.

i hope this leads to some solid resources – not just for ruckus, but for groups who engage in action!

now i wanted to just offer some of the quotes from the session which i think speak for themselves:

How much pressure does it take to transform you? — slam nuba, the opening performer [the metaphor was diamonds]

One element of social movements is a common narrative – a new story. — Ryan Friedrichs

To me a social movement feels local no matter how big it gets. A social movement is visionary, but also creates tangible changes in people’s lives. A strong social movement is adaptive and decentralized, growing in many directions from a point of shared vision. — Me

I don’t know if we have movements in the U.S. – issues yes, networks yes, but can we stop Arizona’s racist policy? Will we really boycott Arizona in a meaningful way? — Me

I think a major question we are asking here is: Are we in it to win it? Social movements are messy. One thing is for sure – when you write out the most impacted communities, we all lose. – Katherine Acey, Astrea Foundation

If we don’t work together at a large scale, globalise our movement work, then we just migrate problems from one region to another. — Chet, Global Greengrants

Social movements are self-organized, complex, adaptive systems – and must be resilient. — Chet, Global Greengrants [this quote THRILLED me!!]

You have to have the long view, which is not something philanthropy has done much of yet. Civil rights was a long arc, starting with slaves trying to break free, not just with the bus boycott. — Erica Hunt, 21st Century Foundation

I look at the Zapatistas, who built movement by building relationships, slowly, in people’s living rooms, building a shared dream and a longing for community. I also think of sustainability – investing in embedded leadership so that communities don’t depend on organizations or funders, but on themselves. — Me

Culture and arts are not a side piece, but a critical piece of our movements. It tells the story. – Katherine Acey, Astrea

Fund movements such that they can fund themselves..have a strategy to move small dollars, be cooperative. – Ryan Friedrichs

As a funder how do you buy space for groups to make mistakes, do long arc work and eventually connect to policy change? – Erica Hunt, 21st Century

We have to make sure folks understand and are invested in reforms so that our policies aren’t empty. — Stephen Bradberry, Gulf Coast Fund

Strong national work is only possible when built upon strong local work – whether its policies or practices. — Me

We have to keep our eyes on the prize: we seek collective behavior change, not policy change. — Chet T, Global Greengrants

Philanthropy needs to think like communities, which are not sectioned off into issues, and are not short-term. Intersectionality, long-term thinking…whole communities are like whole people. — Me

Don’t restrict funds. Do return phone calls. Don’t increase tension among allies by asking us for dirt on each other. Do fund people to do their work in the field, not something you decide outside of their experience is right for them. Do invest in growing organizers’ capacity to evaluate their work and adapt. Do practice w/us, don’t just visit – do some work and get to know the people. — Me, on tangible things philanthropists can do as movement builders

Roots don’t do very well when they are unearthed…how do we make sure we don’t do more harm than good {when we bring community leaders our of their community to work with philanthropy, when we try to dig to the root of a problem}? — Akwasi, Trust Fund Africa

I want to talk about violence. Chet said movements are nonviolent – but what about places where violence is the setting? Palestinians are supposed to be like Gandhi no matter what circumstances they are up against. I want to ask how far we will go in supporting social movements, and how we honestly address the violence. — Kavitha Ramdas, Global Fund for Women

I look to groups like The Ruckus Society for creative ways to be nonviolent, because violence will never work, strategically. – Erica Hunt, 21st Century

We really work hard not to make a moral judgment call on nonviolence when we are not in those situations of having our families killed, having no options. We make it a strategic call, a tactic that works when up against overwhelming odds – to commit to nonviolence and be disciplined, and be creative. — Me

We act like nonviolence is easy. We have to teach what it means and doesn’t mean! – Carlos Saavedra

From my own experience I must say, violence will never work – it simply puts more barriers between people But we need the courage to fund creative tactics, including nonviolent direct action. – Avila, Community Foundation of Northern Ireland

One point to emphasize – strategic plans are vulnerable to changing landscapes. Strategic minds are fed by changing landscapes. We need to fund in ways that grow the strategic capacity of communities in ways that are not stopped cold by economic crisis or new policy, but can adapt and use change as a strength. — Me

Groups we sited as doing good work: Resource Generation (developing new donors with a justice analysis), Smartmeme (changing the foundational stories upon which we build our movement strategies), Movement Generation (reorienting communities from an oppositional/victim frame to a resistance/resilience eco-justice frame) and GIFT (training communities in grassroots fundraising tactics).

Here’s the full description of our session:

Movement Building for Social Justice

How can philanthropy best contribute toward the core social justice strategy of movement building? This session will explore ways foundations support movement building in a variety of social justice issue areas —from same-sex marriage, to immigrant rights, human rights, and campaign finance reform. Presenters will discuss strategies that have and have not worked—from attempts to connect the dots between policy and organizing, to incorporating technology to support activism or using the arts to challenge perceptions. Workshop participants will distill these into lessons for foundations working in and around social justice.

Moderator: Tim Sweeney, president and CEO, Gill Foundation
Presenters: Ryan Friedrichs, executive director, State Voices; Carlos Saavedra, executive director, United We Dream; Adrienne Maree Brown, executive director, the Ruckus Society; Katherine Acey, executive director, Astraea Lesbian Foundation for Justice; Chet Tchozewski, president, Global Greengrants Fund; Erica Hunt, president, Twenty-First Century Foundation
Session Designers: Suzanne Siskel, director, Social Justice Philanthropy, Ford Foundation; Henry Izumizaki, CEO, One Nation, Learning Director, The Russell Family Foundation; Karen Zelermyer, executive director, Funders for Lesbian and Gay Issues

Big Changes at Ruckus!

Blog family – I want to share with you the exciting news about my transition out of the executive director position at The Ruckus Society. My co-workers of the past year – Megan Swoboda and Sharon Lungo, are stepping up as co-directors…which anyone who has ever been through an organizational transition knows is a dream come true.

Here is the letter that I sent out to all of our members and I just wanted to share it with you. I am beyond thrilled about reaching this point – it was a lot of work and I have learned so much. My next steps are finding facilitation and organizational development that excites me – I’m sure there’s plenty to do.

Wish me luck 🙂

detroit bodhisattva

an interview just got posted which i did last night with mark rudd, who now lives in albuquerque and supports organizers. he says when he visited detroit, he met all these enlightened beings – bodhisattvas like tyree guyton and grace lee boggs. it was so exciting to talk about how i feel about detroit, and invite people to come through in the summer to the social forum.

check out the show here!

making money make change keynote

here are the notes of the keynote i gave at the 12th annual making money make change gathering. these are notes, which i referred to and riffed off of, so it may not have come out exactly like this :), but still wanted to document it all.

(before i spoke, disability justice organizer mia mingus got up and gave us a short awareness practice around able-ist language – noticing when we say crazy, lame, crippled, blind, deaf, cut off at the knees, insane…this was a powerful learning, not only to notice when we say it, but also learning to say what we actually mean, instead of reducing ourselves in ways that dishonor the experiences of others.)

good evening. i’m adrienne maree brown – i work with the ruckus society, and am now a national coordinator with the us social forum.

first of all, everyone please get up. i am placing this (balloon) down here in the center, and let’s say this represents the center of impact – economic and environmental impact. this can be nuanced – being hungry for food, or hungry for the attention and love of parents obsessed with accumulating money. furthest from the center are those with the most privilege – meaning love, safety, access to nature. ok. now look at each other – this is reality – our lives and experiences are more complex than we give ourselves credit for – what looks like privilege can be loneliness, what looks like suffering can be happiness. who is missing from the conversation and the leadership? those MOST impacted. that’s who we have to learn to listen to. but look at us – we are all in this together, interrelated, on this earth island hurtling through space.

now sit down.

i want to start by saying that i feel this space, and this undertaking, are incredible. i have never had a lot of money, but the exposure i have had to luxury and comfort have taught me that it is addictive. hot tubs? travel? having anything you want? it’s nice – it’s amazing to me that y’all were born into that and opt to be in a space like this, thinking about redistribution. and it’s an approved addiction – if a baby is born addicted to crack because of the practices of its mother, it is pushed through an abstinence program immediately. if you are born to a family addicted to luxury and comfort, you are considered lucky. but here y’all are, in this money-addiction harm reduction program…you’re even telling your stories like a 12-step program! so, i honor you and this work.

i also want to say that in the effort to combat celebrity organizing culture, i didn’t create or come up with any of the stuff i will share with you tonight. i hope i am a conduit of ancient ideas trying to find their way home. i honor my ancestors, those who have thought and realized and remembered and dreamed before me.

first, i want to share some of my own story. i’m bi-everything…biracial, bisexual, cross-cultural, grew up half in the u.s. and half in germany. i grew up loved grew up a military brat, and i think my experience of learning what the military really did is the closest thing i have to what you all are going through as you learn how your family accumulated it’s wealth. when i learned the history of the military, i felt betrayed and hopeless. responsibility for the suffering of others is unbearable. i think this is why we try to numb it, ignore it, not teach our children…but that allows the suffering to continue. waking up, we can acknowledge and eliminate our capacity to create suffering.

i learned about the military in college – i was able to get into columbia university. i was a gifted child because i was told i could do anything i set my mind to. that encouragement was my greatest privilege. i organized on every kind of issue in college, always drawn to to the point of greatest impact. my experience with sexual assault shaped who i wanted to organize with, guiliani’s mayoral reign of terror shaped the issues i organized around – hiv/aids, police brutality, women’s sexual health and education. as a military brat, i was drawn towards organizing for peace. in the years i have organized, i worked in the fields of harm reduction, electoral organizing, and direct action. i was doing harm reduction work just fine till bush cut that budget to send the money into the wars in afghanistan, then i was marching in the streets and doing electoral organizing – trying to see if it was possible to do that kind of cyclical, reactionary work with integrity. the jury is still out for me. someone approached me as i did that work and said i was too radical for electoral work, and that’s how i ended up at the ruckus society. all of my work has been national and cross-cultural. the values that i have accumulated:

– decentralization! of power and resources. at ruckus we are finally a flat pay scale organization, and are practicing real decentralization of decision making, including our network.
– actions speak louder than words. it is wonderful to articulate a commitment, a vision. it is powerful to act on it, change your behavior as a person, as a worker, as a donor, as a family-member.
– our survival requires prioritizing self-determination and sustainability. this is the vision of ruckus, that all communities have both. they have to go hand in hand…one community cannot sustain itself at the expense of another, one community cannot practice self-determination that harms another, this has to work locally, globally. this necessarily includes restorative practices that sustain each person.
– we must move from a dependency model of raising funds to a grassroots fundraising model. this means that those who need an organization should contribute to it, and those who are major donors and foundations should support in a consistent and ongoing way based on the real work and expertise, not on theories and strategies. the work of creating a new and equitable world cannot depend upon the gifts of those most benefitting from the current world.

so those are some values i hold. based on that, i was asked to think about things to share with you all as young donors. here is what i have to offer, as lessons from being human and organizing:

– there is no end to this work. my mentor grace lee boggs speaks of the process by which human beings cycle through the sam contradictions throughout life, growing and comprehending more each time, but still engaged in the process. dialectical humanism. if we only think of hard outcomes, we miss the growth of the process – the process is where we must embody the practices of the future. let our visions show up in our every action and every step.

– we can’t see the future…actually – who here can? ok. other than you, the rest of us can only predict. we are all doing our best. for this reason, i wish we would stop engaging in the debate of reform vs revolution, inside strategy vs outside strategy. we don’t know. we aren’t going to convince everyone to do it one way. that said – choice is a privilege, and in our work we should constantly strive to increase the choices and freedoms of others, because hopefully part of our long-term vision is self-determination.

– truth should be a goal of story-telling. today i witnessed as you each shared the stories of your wealth. i am glad you called them stories, because they are only part of the truth – i hope someday we can engage in developing shared histories, where you can see how your history impacts mine, how mine impacts yours…we are bound to repeat what we cannot say and face. it is time to humble ourselves to the histories of the majority of the world.

– a key element of that truth is that money isn’t magic. a participant said it well earlier today – money doesn’t come from investments. money doesn’t come from money. all money comes from work, or natural resources. most comes from the combination of work to extract and apply natural resources to the needs of human beings. we are ALL brainstormed to have faith in money, and in materialism. we share the same illusions, whether we have money or don’t. we even believe that the problems of capitalism and materialism can be resolved by capitalism and materialism…this shows up as micro-loans and micro-enterprises where the source of funds is outside the community. my new friend paul haible (of the peace development fund) recently said “to end poverty we must end greed,” and i add, accumulation and ownership.

– to that end we must be aware of the values we are spreading. most of philanthropy is moving money that was earned on the value that “competition is good.” and yet, philanthropy aims to offset the hardships of communities who have long held the value that “cooperation is good”. the value that is embedded in our philanthropy can actually shift the foundational values of communities we want to support…modern philanthropy might (unintentionally) actually kill the value of cooperation, which many of us are realizing is the essential value of ALL of our long-term survival.

– in terms of our survival – we have been thinking of this as a dark economic moment, a dark time, possibly a recession, possibly the moment before a great depression. but perhaps this a darkness more like the womb. we have been contained and dependent, and now we have outgrown that world, and are being pushed out into a new one…we have to be interdependent and learn to walk and breathe. it is real. can we value that new world, if it is closer to our visions?

– we must be conscious of the values we spread. we must also be conscious of the work we create for those communities we calim to support. get to know local organizations and leaders and communities. and if you truly believe in their work, become a regular monthly donor so they know they can depend on your support instead of spending a large part of each year asking and asking and asking.

– support work because you believe it contributes to all of our survival, not because you want a big thank you, because you need to assuage something, or create further dependence of communities on your money. dependence is deadly, independence is a myth, interdependence is life.

– interdependence is possible when you approach everyone as a teacher. then you are placing yourself in the space of student – acknowledging our helplessness and inability to do things gives us space to learn.

– experience yields strategic minds. ooh – this is big: i don’t believe in strategic plans! please let’s stop making them. in the long run, strategic minds are so much more effective. strategic structures, processes, practices. but plans are inflexible, the terrain is always changing.

– look for organic formations, rather than (starting new organizations based on) your theoretical formations…it is not your right to experiment with people, and given the state of the world, none of us are experts at ending poverty, at peace, and ending inequality…

– what we are doing is what we are supposed to do. none of us are without history, without relationship to somewhere…we have to remember who we are, and how we are supposed to steward this place. this is our practice: (boggs center quote) community building is to the collective what spiritual practice is to the individual. what are you practicing?

I, Radical.

The role of the ‘radical’ is no longer to be angry – it’s to be visionary, loving and solution oriented.

Can I say this?

I have heard others voice this redefinition, and when I hear it I feel a big amen inside me.

And then I start thinking of solution-oriented direct actions, since that’s my field. Liberating heat and water to communities when the government shuts them off. Guerilla gardens on rooftops and in abandoned lots. Reclaiming space to serve communities. Not thinking of front lines as spaces for aid and help, but as the actual front line in a battle for How we will be as humans, a line which we advance with our actions.


This is on my mind because today I joined my friend Roxana Zuniga, a PhD candidate at Wayne State, to speak with a group of students at Kalamazoo College, where a Center for Social Justice Leadership is being launched. Tomorrow we will speak with teachers and administrators at the college, but today was for the students.

Their questions had a lot to do with how to organize, how to go in and work with “marginalized” and “disenfranchised” communities, and how to make the impact long-lasting.

I realized listening to their questions, and their perspectives on their lives, how radical my perspective has always been, but how my definition of radical has shifted. I have felt and been fueled by righteous anger, but it wasn’t until I started honing my skill in developing vision and solutions that I truly became effective.

I also realized, as I always do with students, that there are key things I wish I had been told when I was a student, full of energy and wanting to change the world.

Here are some key points that emerged from our conversation as essential for a young college radical today:

1. Don’t come to help! Come to work and transform. Absolutely let yourself be moved into action by injustice, but start the transformation by looking around you. Look at your own practices – where you spend money, your taxes, how you treat people. Look at your family, your community…what could you change in your home or community that would have an impact regionally, nationally, or globally? Work to transform yourself and your community before you hop on a plane, train or bus to go “help” others.

2. Always learn (and teach) people to fish. Your impact will multiply if you think of every interaction as a potential exchange of ideas and skills that will continue to serve you and the community long after you leave. Don’t make folks dependent on you, especially if you’re out at the end of the semester or study abroad or summer.

3. Be clear about whether you are making a short-term or long-term commitment. If you’re in a space for a few hours, days, weeks, or even months, don’t pretend you are impacted in the same way that those who live there are, or that you know more than they do about what’s needed. If you chose to be there, and you can leave whenever you want, recognize that privilege.

An additional practice: learn to be in temporary community. Ruckus sets up action camps where folks can practice being in a community of action, equality, awareness, composting, outhouses, camping, and shared chores. We aren’t making a life-long commitment to hold these participants – we’re making a week-long commitment. The clearer we are about our commitment, the more present we can be.

4. The world is yours to experience, not experiment with. Keep a beginner’s mind, a learning mind, and look for the wisdom in everything, but honor and respect all the ways people are surviving in this world. Other humans are not yours to try things out on.

Other thoughts that occurred to me today:

Stop observing! Release the false notion that you can be objective, and recognize that you invest in a path for all of humanity with how you live, breath, think, and spend. Get off the wall and dance.

Read more science fiction! (Octavia Butler, William Gibson, Philip K Dick, Samuel R. Delaney and Ursula K. LeGuin to start with.) (Specifically, Parable of the Sower, Neuromancer, A Scanner Darkly, Dhalgren and The Left Hand of Darkness.)

Also, read The Autobiography of Malcolm X. All the way through. At least three times before you’re 25.

More tomorrow!

through like an arrow

last night the matriarch of my father’s family had a double stroke. she is strong in a way that no one else i have ever met is strong. she has played a key role in raising just about everyone, her house has been the community, the safe space, the place to fall. she is ancient and mobile and tiny and her whole face is a huge grin.

in the middle of telling my staff about her at our lock-in today, we noticed that the ruckus mascot, otherwise known as megan’s dog spiff (who has had a broken leg in a purple cast for three months now), was trying to make love to a heart shaped pillow. further proof that any set of circumstances or feelings, from grief to the absurd, can exist in a single moment.

the department of home security listed ruckus as “extremist” and a “cyber attack” threat. responsive thoughts abound. mainly, when you point one finger at someone, the rest of your fingers are pointing back at yourself.

the first day of our lock-in was amazing, exciting…we’re brewing up some good trouble. sadly, i brought a soup that was completely too spicy, folks swallowed it all but we all knew i coulda done better.

i went and got my brows done and got a pedicure. every time i do anything like this, i hear nina simone singing “the other woman” in my head.

i went for a swim to work off some energy. on the way to the pool i heard that song again, “blame it on the alcohol”. this time it made me angry, as anyone who has ever been assaulted under the influence, or loved someone who experienced that, should be. especially this line:

Shawty got drunk, thought it all was a dream
So i made her say i, i i

What I hear the singer saying is, blame it on the alcohol if I turn that dream into a nightmare. Not sexy at all.

So I swam that off, and then sat around hearing some friends talk about the ways people can jerk each other around and hurt each other in the process of learning to love. Vulnerability can feel so many ways. It might be the heat, but I can’t build up a dramatic energy in my heart. Everyone deserves love, to be treated well. But love comes like oxygen, all around you if you give into it, and in an emergency, you have to give it to yourself first before you can really be of help to anyone else.

I can stay present and keep moving forward, some things are within my control and most aren’t. I feel I moved through this day so steadily, like I released myself through it, through it like an arrow. That’s the only way to hold loss and love and life in 24 hot hours.