boundary moments

this is a boundary moment, and i want to make a brief offer into it.

a few weeks ago my partner and i got our first vaccine shots. immediately we felt different, and began renegotiating our own individual covid-19 boundaries in new ways. after over a year of Everything Is Dangerous And We Must Be Inside These Walls, we had/have no measure for what is normal, what is safe, or if safe is even possible.

i felt safe-ish taking risks to be with family. my love felt safe-ish taking risks to be with friends. neither of us was necessarily right or wrong, but we both felt the other was risking too much, and those feelings grew into a sticky situation.

i am sharing this because since this pandemic started, i keep noticing that we are all trying to navigate collective boundaries as individuals or pairs, because we live in an economy of hyper-individualization. but it’s so hard to navigate this way because as Sistah-Dr Alexis Pauline Gumbs teaches: we aren’t individuals. we are cells in an interdependent highly connected species.

it would be so amazing if the information was clear, and safety was guaranteed, and we could just live inside the boundaries as a species, rather than as a million different risks. but we are here, and now. what i want to offer is what my love and i eventually landed, which is helping. (this is u.s.-centered because that is the context in which i am navigating covid-19 boundaries, with the availability of vaccines now fairly high in most places, but without a majority of people accessing the vaccine yet.)

suggestions:

one, review the CDC guidelines on vaccinated behavior. it really helps to not have to debate over things that are known, like ‘don’t change your boundaries until you are fully vaccinated two weeks after the second shot,’ or ‘where and when you can be unmasked with other vaccinated people,’ etc.

*Update: i am a bit at a loss with the latest guidelines from the CDC (for those fully vaccinated to stop wearing masks). i don’t grasp the logic and collective responsibility of it.

two, agree on boundaries for this next period. prentis hemphill told us, ‘boundaries are the distance at which i can love me and you simultaneously.’ you can just accept the cdc guidelines, or you can do cdc guidelines with some flourishes that are particular to your health vulnerabilities and needs.

remember, boundaries are more meaningful when you discuss the consequences of what happens if a boundary gets broken, so get that clarity too – apologies? rapid testing? another brief quarantine? rolling back to earlier boundaries?

spend some particular time on any particular adaptations you may need based on your personalities. this ‘personalities’ part is really important – we have forgotten a lot about how to be social animals. being quarantined together means that many of us have been in a house with our person or family, operating as one creature. with this shift of increasing vaccination, our biodiversity will start showing again: for some of us, there is comfort in the highest boundaries; people beyond our pair or pod seem like a terrifying untrustworthy danger. for others, the need to be free and out and normal is a pounding drum within. many of us feel both things…and there’s everything in between. don’t underestimate the social impact of this boundaries moment. don’t assume you need the same things, and don’t pathologize the divergent responses you are each having to impossible pressures.

discuss what you personally need in this transition into the next phase of the u.s. pandemic. do you need to see everyone you love, immediately? do you need to go really slowly? do you need to keep wearing masks until there is more data? do you need to see vaccination cards for anyone you’re gathering with? do you need to understand better how the vaccine actually works? both/all people reflect on and share your needs, and then find the path that is most nourishing to both/all needs.

three, organize, advocate and donate to ensure that more people worldwide have access to the vaccine. what is unfolding in india is devastating, and we in the u.s. are benefitting from their labor, which produced vaccines that they haven’t been able to access. you can support mutual aid efforts there right now. and they aren’t the only place struggling to survive covid with little to no vaccine access – areas already struggling in conflict, occupation, war and economic collapse all need our collective attention. we are not individuals. we have to make sure that everyone who wants this protection can access it.

finally, four, love and protect each other every day. i saw a meme on the internet posted by @hillarydixler that said, “everybody needs more than anyone can give right now.” we are burnt out and overextended at the level of species, and we do not know all that people are holding. channel octavia e. butler’s earthseed wisdom: “kindness eases change.”

this is not justice, this is respite

the first thing we could do was breathe,
together

a practitioner of breathlessness is guilty
(hallelujah hallelu!)
like, they said what we knew
(he looked surprised too)
that small alignment is so rare
it lays our contradictions bare

some hushing shout does move through the body as if (remember) we are one body but
it’s really chorus, we of so many minds
we feel so hollow
we feel such joy
we feel such rage
we feel our grief
we feel relief

all at once, in undulation
we cry out in celebration
and then catch a dissatisfied breath
this moment makes the moment we need possible but…but…

in the next breath world
he would be fathering right now
or high like the rest of us
inhaling aliveness, exhaling freedom
on a day that blended into a life
blessed to be unknown

in the next breath world
they would all be alive today
and the presence of that absence
casts a blur across the headline

it took so much burning of precincts, chaos, rage
screaming and defending and
terrifying the children and
combating every mistruth and
nauseous vulnerability and regret and pressure from so many precious lives already at risk
to get this guilty, guilty, guilty
we will praise up the collective tonight
we will lay gratitude for our warriors tonight
we will claim the hard-won territory tonight
tomorrow, we return to the fight

for even in our gasp of yes
with our need to grieve so desperate
we know
this is not justice

this is respite

Disrupting the Pattern: A Call for Love and Solidarity

shared with Tulane University for their Leadership Speaker Series

Tonight I want to share a piece of writing with you I have been working on called:

Disrupting the Pattern: A Call for Love and Solidarity

This is my emergent strategy thinking on the conflict and attacks happening on and in Black movement right now. I hope it serves us all.

I love you, Black woman.

I have been doing the work of holding movements for radical social and environmental change for over two decades, and I realized this morning that I cannot think of one Black woman leader who I haven’t seen gossiped on, mistreated, disrespected, lied on, and violated at the level of reputation or privacy – all while being overworked and underpaid, or unpaid.

Observing the pattern of Black women under attack is not new, so what’s been unfolding with Black Lives Matter co-founder Patrisse Cullors feels devastating in a familiar way. You have probably seen it – white supremacists doxxed her, meaning they shared her address and images of her home, putting her and her family in grave danger. And they spread misinformation that makes it appear she is financially untrustworthy. They were able to do this, in part, because of conflict within Black movement, including disagreements about structure and money and political orientation.

Right now it’s Patrisse. But I’ve observed disinformation campaigns on so many Black women, especially those in executive director roles or positions of visible movement leadership, that if I began to name them we would be here all night. I include myself in this observation.

My general approach has been: find whatever lesson is here, but don’t feed these untruthful narratives with public attention. Because what we pay attention to grows.

But I am learning that what we ignore can also grow, like a cancer or any other quiet, internal dis-ease. This disease of suspicion directed towards Black women leaders has spread and created such a toxic space in movements that it is sometimes hard to remember we are here for liberation, for solidarity against common ideological enemies, for love, for life. I want to bring my, and our, attention to where we need to grow and heal, to where we need to use a shift in our attention to disrupt this pattern of pain.

I, a writer who can express almost anything I think, cannot find words for how painful this pattern is.

I love you, organizer.

Movement can be a balm to systemic wounds, but it doesn’t make those of us in movement immune to the patterns of pain and harm with which those systems function. In fact, all of us move through the world perpetuating these systems in a variety of ways, and if we forget this we can lose touch with a crucial aspect of the work – our self-transformation, and our responsibility not just for what we say, but for how we are. This is why Grace Lee Boggs said we must “transform ourselves to transform the world” – we are in and of these systems.

There are several systems operating within this current complex and painful pattern.

There is the swift and brutal suspicion of Black women, cis and trans, taught to us through the toxic combination of racism and patriarchy that Moya Bailey named misogynoir.

We have centuries at our back of being taught that Black people are not trustworthy. This narrative is so persistent that even today, in every crisis where White people gather supplies, we (doing the exact same thing) are called looters. When the police shoot us, we are the ones put on trial.

We have centuries at our backs of being trained that Black people are naturally inferior, less than human.

We have centuries at our back of being socialized that women lie, manipulate, gold dig, are bitchy and evil when we hold power, and are too emotional, hysterical and inferior to lead.

We have centuries at our back of expecting Black women to mammy and martyr ourselves for the benefit of others. Many Black women leaders ended up in our roles because we continually picked up the work no one else would do – not that we necessarily knew how to do it, but we were willing to hold it and to learn; we said yes when a task needed to be done.

We have centuries at our back of violently punishing Black women who assume we deserve to receive even a portion of what we give, for finding ourselves on pedestals, for being willing to contend for tangible power. Black women leaders get isolated and attacked and pushed out of movement leadership, generation after generation.

These systems of dehumanization weave together and bind us all in the grip of harmful assumptions against each other.

I will not engage in gossip about you.

There is also the violent and envious competition around success taught to us within capitalism. As our impact grows, the pattern of gossip and then attacks grows; where we think we are leading towards solidarity, we find ourselves instead fighting for limited territory. This competition is rooted in a produced sense of scarcity – that there is not enough money or attention or time to go around, so we must fight for everything.

That sense of scarcity has been honed by philanthropy within capitalism – the wealthiest people and institutions pit us against each other for their funds until the majority of nonprofit work can be caught up in generating and sustaining income, rather than doing the organizing and political work we know is necessary.

From a hungry, mission-drifted, competitive space, we envy each other’s success and abundance, rather than celebrating it with pure hearts, because we get bought into the narrative that we are all fighting for the same scraps. I say scraps because the amounts of money for which we turn on each other are chump change to those with real wealth; charitable detritus. Some people in philanthropy are working to change these dynamics, to truly redistribute power around wealth, to think in terms of reparations – but in the meantime we must examine the economic models of movement and find a cooperative path to abundance.

Right now, these systemic patterns of racism, sexism and capitalism are lethal for movement leadership.

We are up against massive systems, massive opposition – we can be so overwhelmed and fearful about the scale of what we are up against that it feels easier to point out the way these systems are functioning amongst us than to go for the source. The work of building something powerful and massive begins small, begins in relationships where we can be ourselves, be accountable for our mistakes, be called into loving changes, be in mutual power. We relinquish relationship for both urgent massive work, and a false sense of individual safety.

Sometimes we are warned about these patterns of pain early in our movement work. We are still surprised when they turn on us. Sometimes we receive quiet, private words of comfort from comrades as we are being attacked, sometimes it is acknowledged that what’s happening to us is wrong. Rarely are we protected, defended, held out loud. Rarely do we experience the solidarity we offer.

I understand. It’s dangerous to protect each other, because it means we are climbing onto the target with our attacked comrades. But I believe it is more dangerous, at a collective level, not to protect each other. When we do not protect each other, we end up leaving our most valuable resources on the battlefield. Brilliant, hardworking organizers and creators and strategists pour the best of themselves, ourselves, into something collective, and are then left alone when they, when we, most need to be flanked.

I will not stand by quietly while you are attacked.

We must strengthen and broaden our practice of solidarity until no single organizer or community member can be plucked off and dehumanized, disposed of, made an easy target for those who want to see us fail, destroyed.

Emergent strategy asks us to practice decentralized movement work, where no one ends up on a pedestal in the first place, especially not alone. But because we live inside a capitalist framework that is constantly looking for singular hero narratives and rock stars, some of our most effective organizers do end up on these disorienting, distant and undesired pedestals, and we cannot abandon those leaders. Many of our leaders and strategists, having recognized the inevitability of these platforms when the work they are doing has impact, are trying to figure out how to harness them for the sake of collective liberation. (I know there are some people who show up after the work has been done, wanting just the attention, the pedestal experience – that’s a whole other piece of writing and thinking, I’m not speaking of that here. I am speaking of leaders whose platform emerged because the work they were doing touched so many people, changed so many lives.) We must have a movement solidarity strong enough to protect our leaders and comrades whether we agree with their strategies and methodologies or not.

In nature, we see so clearly how the healthiest ecosystems thrive in biodiversity. There are as many ways of being, growing, processing sunlight and rain into life as there are species. When something threatens the trees, the mushrooms spread the warning and the forest adapts to protect the tree, knowing that each tree is part of the health of the whole – mushrooms flower on the tree’s trunk, sparrows nest in the tree’s branches, fecundity bursts forth in the tree’s shade. No creature or plant in that healthy ecosystem functions as a monopoly, or as an individual. They make it as long and as far as they can grow together.

So far, we in movements for justice only make it collectively as far as our individual leaders can survive the onslaught. We mistakenly operate as individuals when we are already ecosystem – this is keeping us from the growth we and our communities desperately need.

One side effect of this hyper individualization of movement leaders is that the many small parts of our movement – our local organizers and chapters, our youth leaders, our community groups, our collectives – struggle to sustain themselves within our collaborative mass efforts.

We won’t get free if we can’t learn to operate at the scale of collaboration across differences, across platforms and exposure, in spite of efforts to sow dissent amongst us, to develop leaders who know how to disagree and still work together.

Because how can the leaders we need grow in our current conditions? How do we invite the next generation to step into collaborative leadership when it means becoming a future target for takedown from those to whom you give your life’s work?

It definitely takes a peculiar kind of faith to persist in the thankless work that organizing can be (we are trying to counter that by cultivating celebration and gratitude as practices in movement), but even that faith can be tested when the work becomes a perpetual system of gauntlets, where it begins to feel like every forward move is a potential challenge for some unasked-for combat.

We can absolutely critique each other. We must. Principled critical engagement, principled struggle, happens within relationship, within and across formations where we have some shared values and shared vision towards which we are advancing. Principled critique is informed, impervious to click bait tabloid accusations. Principled critique believes that we critique to build each other up, help each other grow, not eviscerate each other, or delight in each other’s downfall.

Some people’s entire life mission, central organizational activity, or primary collective effort is the destruction of other movement workers under the guise of critique. Some people are movement workers who have lost their way and think destruction of their own structures will somehow set them free. Some people are motivated by pain, by a longing to belong, by a need for attention, by a fear of being forgotten or unseen. Some are people who have spoken their critiques and are angry that they don’t see the results, the justice, that they want. Some people are reacting to the ways capitalism is harming us, turning us against each other instead of against capitalism itself. Some people don’t want to commit to organizational spaces where accountability can happen, but don’t know how to leave with grace. Some of us just get pulled into the drama of that destructive tendency because we have not learned how to fight well, fight fair and directly, leave room for difference.

We have to learn to hold serious political differences around how we do our work. To debate, and acknowledge which idea actually moves the majority of the room. To find the places of alignment and move together, even if it is a temporary alliance. We often have to do this within the same formations, in broad coalition and united front efforts. We find the places of common struggle, common need, and organize for success there. We always have to work beyond our singular perspective, and we always will.

Part of what’s happening right now is that, too often, we don’t know how to hold differences well within our formations, when to clarify vision, when to debate, when to go separate ways fueled by divergent visions, how to respectfully disagree, how to understand that each container in movement can only hold so much. We also don’t always know when to sunset a project, and allow other efforts to seed from the resources we’ve generated.

We especially need to attend to how our political differences are experienced and perceived when money is in the picture. When money is in the picture, it becomes much easier to demand transparency from others that we do not practice ourselves. And when money is in the picture, we are often on new ground, because we are trying to lead with an amount of resources we have never actually learned how to manage, grow, invest, cooperate around.

We know we deserve the resources, because our people have given an immeasurable amount of unpaid labor and blood to this country, and because we are trying to do the massive work of liberation. But we are not necessarily given clear, values-aligned guidance on how to handle the resources – they are sometimes dropped on us like a monsoon, flooding all our existing infrastructure and then gone before we realized what the economic equivalent of a water catchment system could look like.

And we are definitely not given space to learn, which includes making mistakes, not when money is in the picture. So the money ends up flowing back into the control of those more experienced with money, which often overlaps with those who hold a less radical position on the work needed to dismantle capitalism, white supremacy and racism, patriarchy and sexism and other systems of oppression.

I will practice solidarity with you, for you, at your side and all around you.

We – Black women who lead – are not saints, we are not claiming perfection – we are trying to work. To learn. To lead valiantly on unfamiliar terrain.

We are expected to do so, tirelessly and under-resourced, indefinitely. If we decide to set a boundary, to protect ourselves, to take risks, to ask for compensation for our time, to step back from holding everything, we are eviscerated swiftly, privately and/or publicly.

I say if because so many of us don’t: we fear to do so, would rather work ourselves to death than face the pain of disposal, the moment when those for whom we have generated belonging decide to push us out of the spotlight, or perceived positional power, or political home space.

I see so many wounded leaders, trying to hold our dignity intact under the onslaught, wondering how to give our lives to liberation in these conditions.

I ask you, if you are Black in movement, or a non Black ally, to really think thrice before joining in attacks on Black women leaders; to explore what it would look like to practice solidarity towards Black liberation, rather than against it.

Understand that it is a move against Black liberation and all liberation to engage in this pattern of attempting to destroy Black women leaders.

I am committed to your freedom.

Here are some things for us to consider as we learn to practice solidarity, whether it’s with and amongst Black people, or any other people fighting for right relationship to the earth and each other:

Consider that whenever dehumanization is taking place, someone is benefiting from devaluing another person. Ask yourself who benefits from attacks on effective Black radical women? Who benefits from spotlighting conflict within movements that are changing material conditions for Black people?

Consider who benefits from you thinking that Black success and freedom is dangerous, and particularly that the success and freedom of Black women is dangerous.

Consider that this isn’t a new pattern.

Consider that social justice work is a place where most of us work for years for less than a living wage, subject to the whims of trend and philanthropy.

Consider, when you see the news of some perceived betrayal, some corruption of power, that the least likely option is that a Black woman who has given decades of her life to social justice work, to her people’s liberation, has turned on her own legacy, on us.

Consider that the lie is scarcity. The lie is that there isn’t enough for us to have abundant resources for our liberation work. The lie is that we can’t have multiple leaders shining simultaneously, moving divergent strategies. It’s a lie – we generate what we need and we are always moving divergent strategies.

Consider that there are ways to access abundance that don’t rely on attacking each other.

Consider that it is not an accident that a massively impactful social movement for Black liberation is under this scale of attack – it only looks personal. This is an attack on all our emergent, imperfect efforts for Black liberation.

Consider that you don’t have all of the information. We live in a social media world that profits from tawdry, salacious, divisive misinformation, where power is wielded by those most comfortable with distortion and manipulation. Consider that we don’t have to feed the beast that comes to eat those who inspire and lead us. Consider that this may not be your business, especially if you don’t have time to ask questions, investigate for something true, especially if you are only being asked to leap into judgment.

Consider how you want to be held when you are attacked for things you didn’t do. Consider how you want to be held accountable for things you did do. Do you want death threats, doxxing and other privacy violations, organized harassment and disposal, when it’s your turn? Cause if you plan to lead anything, your turn will come. So consider – what is principled struggle, principled critique, not just when you have a concern, but when you are the concern?

Consider that movement is not just a place of faith in the futures we are creating, but a place where we need to practice faith in each other, in our effort and our learning.

Consider that how you act or don’t act in this moment is part of setting a precedent for how movement responds to attacks on those who love us. If you won’t protect a Black woman leader from white supremacist attack because you also have critiques of or questions about how her movement work is unfolding, examine that. How does that align with the world you dream of?

Most of the leaders I look up to were attacked in their time, and might have been attacked in ours. The common thread amongst them is that they were driven by love for their people, our people, us. The work of the revolutionary is to transform everything that does not align with love, from the personal to the systemic.

Consider what love does in the face of dishonesty, faithlessness, and repression: love tells the truth. Love believes in our best selves. Love liberates us.

Consider that you should not feel afraid to love Black women leaders out loud. In the long run, what Audre Lorde taught us is still true: your silence will not protect you or anyone else. Love Black women leaders out loud wherever you see us attacked and dehumanized.

Love invites us home, love says we belong, unconditionally.

I love Patrisse Cullors, and she is forever home in any movement I am a part of. I trust her. I trust her to lead and learn and make mistakes and find accountability and transform the world with her brilliance.

I also love Alicia Garza, Opal Tometi, Tarana Burke, Brittney Cooper, Angela Davis, Assata Shakur, Loretta Ross, Ash-Lee Henderson, bell hooks, dream hampton, Yaba Blay, Sonya Renee Taylor, and so so so so many other Black women who I have seen people attempt to silence, discredit, dox, harass, disrespect, attack, or threaten with death. I love you, and I am sorry for any instance in which I have stayed silent when you needed me to speak up.

Some of these women I know and love personally, and some of them I just love because they are Black women who stepped into this impossible work and stayed. I love them not for their perfection, because none of them have that – I love them because of the effort they have made on behalf of all of us. They are home.

And I love myself and claim my eternal place in movements for liberation. I have made and will make mistakes. I will still be liberation bound.

I love all these Black women and so many more, and claim that all of us deserve to be loved and protected for all we do. I tell them so privately and I declare it here publicly:


I love you, Black woman.
I love you, organizer.
I will not engage in gossip about you.
I will not stand by quietly while you are attacked.
I will practice solidarity with you, for you, at your side and all around you.
I am committed to your freedom.

And for those Black people so willing to attack us? I love you, too. I won’t stop fighting for you.

Commit to my freedom, my protection, my legacy. Love me.

Commit to Patrisse’s freedom, her protection, her legacy. Love her.

Commit to Black women leaders’ freedom, our protection, our legacy. Love us.

Thank you to the two dozen Black organizers who laid editorial hands and eyes on this writing. I love you.

Distinguished and Singing

yesterday was a big day for me!

i released an EP, a small odd intimate music project of songs and a story written during my sabbatical over beats my friend J-Mythos created. it’s called The Sabbatical Suite and it’s on streaming services. my general approach to my music has been that i write and sing it every day, occasionally share snippets, and dream of making a massive musical project where i get to build the soundscape from the ground up. this is my small step in the direction of learning my singer self in public.

i was also honored to be the IHR Distinguished Lecturer at Arizona State University yesterday, and i wanted to share an excerpt from my talk notes here because i am interested in these questions on identity, community and belonging. the full speech is available here.

more and more i think of myself as a ‘scholar of belonging’, which is an idea that emerged in conversation with my friend and teacher Prentis Hemphill.

how do we belong to this place, this planet, this species, this family, this love, this friendship, this body, this community?

i think, especially for those of us with a lineage of displacement, forced displacement, economic displacement, from the lands that we were indigenous to – we need to rediscover belonging.

in somatics and embodiment work we learn that the most basic humans needs are safety, dignity and belonging. we try belonging in so many ways – in family, religious spaces, hobbies or shared fandom, and definitely we show up in movement expecting belonging. movements need to be spaces that get good at belonging, cultivating belonging, because we want to be an invitation, and we want to be a sanctuary, and we want to be a space that can hold and grow the future.

this thought occurred to me last night while rereading all about love by bell hooks. i’m reading it aloud with my fiancé (yes to cocreating liberated relationship!) and we’re in chapter 8, on community. as we read hooks’ exploration of why we don’t know how to really do community, i had two ahas.

one: we need to give bell hooks so many more flowers and awards and donations.

two:

right now, people are confusing identity with community, and finding no satisfaction in either place.

identity (racial, class, sexual, etc) is often, initially, externally defined, a label for distinction, a construct developed for supremacy and oppression, a practice of compartmentalizing a whole complex miraculous person into one aspect of themselves which can be marked off with a check box.

identity is often quite binary, asking us to answer yes or no about aspects of ourselves that are much more complex, dynamic and spectrum-oriented than that.

lately i have been thinking that every binary i can think of, applied to humans, is conservative – good/bad, right/wrong, boy/girl. conservative meaning, trying to control and constrict nature, deny complexity, make rigid what is fluid. we have to survive and reclaim ourselves from most identities.

now – we are a resilient species on a resilient earth, and earth species are all programmed to adapt, so many of us have ended up finding ways to experience joy and power within these identities, claiming them as suits of armor within which we fight for our freedom.

some of us feel, deeply or briefly, a sense of belonging within specific identities.

being Black, for many of us, means having unspeakable trauma at our backs, having been wrenched from our ancestral and tribal homelands, languages, songs, the earth we knew, and surviving ten, twelve generations of torture, misery, violence, rape, child loss, and dehumanization. somewhere inside of that we claimed each other across history and language and cultural distinctions. (and being honest, its still never been an unconditional love situation).

we aren’t the only peoples who were collapsed into an identity by shared experiences of trauma and external reduction.

at minimum, identity can be a crucial space from which to organize across shared experience.

but identity doesn’t equal, or promise, community.

community is a place to practice and participate in care, attention, knowing and being known, being protected, having room to make mistakes and still belong…not just allowed to be there, but be valuable…to heal. to recover. community feels responsible for each other.

community is a choice. more precisely, community is an accumulation of choices made every day, a set of growing practices.

we can have community that is drawn together based on shared identity – BOLD (Black Organizing for Leadership and Dignity) is that for me. but it only works because it allows a wide ranging space for us to be in our own Black experiences without negating each other. and because it centers around naming and healing trauma together, while actively changing material conditions, learning together through political education, and delighting in the pleasure of being together.

most of us long for community. we expect and sometimes demand it from those with whom we share identity.

but who teaches us how to…community?

bell hooks examines this at the realm of family, where there are so many assumptions and so few skills.

in school we might get lucky enough to have teachers who can help us learn community skills, but they’re being paid to teach us to score well on tests. and to compete with each other. we are being trained to be capitalists – to compete, in a system of scarcity, to be better than each other to access resources to meet our basic human needs. octavia speaks of this in lilith’s brood as our fatal human flaw, our combination of intelligence and hierarchy. so we aren’t guaranteed to learn how to be in community in schools.

the internet is confusing cause we can feel like we are generating belonging there…and we can practice community there, but it’s also a space where we can get super mixed up about what we mean by community, how we understand and navigate identity, and how we answer the need for belonging amongst strangers – even if we are somewhat intimate strangers.

then there’s our organizations…some of us call them family hoping for belonging, but, just like in family spaces, we don’t necessarily learn to navigate the things that will shake our foundations and split us apart. we break each other’s hearts trying to practice community there, and in our larger movement formations.

in our formations we are ostensibly trying to generate belonging and community through shared analysis and practice, but we often end up trying to one up each other for unnamed social power, policing each other, pointing at each other’s imperfections, shortcomings, misalignments. simultaneous to these internal struggles, we are also struggling for survival because we are pitched against each other for what we’re told are limited resources. for the most part, the philanthropy that funds movement work has not supported belonging…

when i look at movements, and at humans in general, i see how deeply we want belonging, but how we are trained to use every breath to not belong to each other.

then we land in spaces of identity, which are massive – Black, immigrant, tran, queer, disabled, woman, southern – spaces which are too broad and divergent to actually offer and sustain belonging for the individuals within.

that longing for belonging can then grow toxic: ‘i don’t feel heard, or seen. someone is going to see me, even if i have to throw a tantrum or cause harm to get attention.’

we get in a loop – ‘my identity is under attack’, or being ignored! or being coopted! or just…has it the worst!

then everyone shows up in vague but righteous solidarity, maybe we change how we speak of that identity…but do we see a change of any behaviors?

the rash of crimes and hateful acts against people who share the identity of Asian, and trans, and Black, and immigrant, and sex worker, and and and…it’s spreading. its ubiquitous now to hear about identity-based harm.

and when we most need each other, even within ‘movement’ spaces, our internal attacks on each other, our intolerance with each other’s failures, is also on the rise. our fragility in the realm of connection is the highest i’ve seen, right when our need for interdependence and being aligned with something larger than ourselves is…desperate.

deep breath, this is the water we’re swimming in.

on every level, the answer is community.

both community for those identities under attack – we have to get in or deepen how we are in community with each other. we combat regressive, conservative, narrow thinking, the racism and white supremacy and stereotypes, at the level of community – that’s where we can be accountable to each other, intervene on harmful thinking and action.

we also have to know that community is the answer for traumatized and lost people causing harm. and it’s easier to say: no – those flawed disruptive, damaged people? they don’t belong to me. to us. but this is how we end up complicit in a prison system. someone, someone has to be willing to be in community, accountability, responsibility with those who fall out of alignment with their own spiritual growth, and with the collective. someone has to stay curious about the roots of harm, and what dissatisfaction, what longing, what trauma, is at the root of the harm?

these are different communities, or different components within a community. every identity or multi-identitied grouping needs to cultivate actual community.

as we heal, as we regain our humanity, what we all need is community. with these things which currently have us split from each other, we need to remove what is toxic at the level of belief and behavior, not at the level of the individual.

we have to imagine these open, festering wounds as clean scars, markings of something we learned from, and outgrew. let capitalism, and patriarchy, and supremacy, let it all become scars on our healing, collective body.

fortunately there are communities developing resources around these things. (donate, buy their resources, reference and cite them!)

the embodiment institute

just practice

BOLD

bay area transformative justice center: pods!

M4BL

the body is not an apology

esii mediation resource

Freedom Stories, by Siwatu Salama-Ra

Four years ago this month, my friend Siwatu Salama-Ra was incarcerated for defending her mother, her daughter and herself. The community was galvanized and everyone played some part in loving her and her family. Miraculously, her conviction was overturned, but not until she had had to give birth in prison, and had a chance to organize with other mothers there. These two short pieces are about what emerged during her time there.

Secret Unit Baby Shower

Inside my cell, I tore a simple piece of lined paper and wrote “mama’s wish list” at the top and passed it cell to cell.

It was against the rules to pass one thing to another so you had better not gotten caught.

The paper made it around the whole unit without notice from the prison cops.

Never able to have a baby shower with family and friends, or the freedom to pick out cute clothes, each mama wrote with tears in her eyes `Onesies, stroller, play pin, clothes, pacifier, toys, car seat.’

This special piece of paper made its way back to my cell.

I mailed it out to the Freedom Team. They put out the memo.

Over 500 people donated, making sure every item on the list made it to the families who would be the new caretakers of babies birthed under carceral control.
I’ll never forget the smiles on these mamas’ faces when they called home to hear indeed a package had arrived.

I call it, organizing love in hell.

Poetry On The Yard

Time moves slowly in prison, every minute has to be accounted for.

We mamas and pregnant folk sat at the picnic table in a fenced bobwired yard.

Jessica had a notebook, I sliced a sheet from it and passed a piece of paper to each one of us.

I asked if we could spend the next while writing a poem.

Silence stood.

Soon with pens in our hands we started to write.

More silence.

One by one we read our poetry out loud. I could remember the Ooooooo’ s and Ahhhhhh’s, loud laughter and moments of praise after each poem like we sat in a open mic event.

It was some of the best poetry I had ever heard.

After all, some of the best poets are sitting in a prison cell.

Later on, with the permission of my comrades, these poems would be published in a local philly Magazine.

if you’re good, say you’re good

i keep having this odd little experience where i ask people how they are and they tell me how bad the world is and then kind of whisper at the end ‘but i am actually loving being home’ or ‘i am actually doing good in spite of thewholeworldbeingincrisis thing’ or ‘i am actually thriving in these conditions.’

i want to explore for a moment how important it feels to claim what is good in this time.

first of all, BRAVO. whatever you have done to get to a good place right now took labor – spiritual, mental, emotional…and probably physical. i know that i am doing good right now because i go spelunking through the not-good with my therapist each week, and i cry a lot, and i have rearranged my living space so many times that my furniture has attachment issues.

when i ask my secretly good friends what they’re doing to create the good, it is some of the hardest work of their lives, setting new boundaries and patterns and permissions on their time and attention. it’s not easy to be good right now – don’t add the additional work of containing it.

second, it makes more support and mutual emotional aid possible. if we think everyone is just out here overextended and suffering, it becomes harder to risk asking for what we need. i am thriving in large part because i am in relationships where we stagger support, giving freely when we are the ones who have energy/love/money/time, and asking freely (or reluctantly, depending on our shapes around interdependence) when we are the ones struggling/lonely/broke/maxed out.

when i think back nine months, i was really caught in a rough mental space and all by myself far from home, and it helped so much to feel the loving presence of my friends who were more grounded and with their loved ones. they couldn’t fix my problems, but they had capacity to be with me as i faced my shadows and reintegrated into this moment of life, so wildly different from what i’d dreamed. now that my roots are back in home soil and i can notice each time the sun shines, i have more capacity to be with those in their shadows.

third, deep connections thrive on authenticity. a hidden light still shines, still shows, still emits warmth. in the same way it sows distrust to sense unnamed trouble in each other, dissonance can arrive with unnamed happiness, and especially intentionally denied joy.

there are times when we are truly all in the trenches of shadow times, dragging each other through salt and mud and just barely making our way through it. we can feel and name those times, and survive in the honesty that we don’t have much to offer each other except our own survival.

but honesty is just as important in our happiness, in our contentment. knowing that i can trust the words my friends speak to be a real reflection of how they are, and of what my intuition is sensing, allows me to relax and show up fully, knowing that they will let me hold them when they need holding, and let me know if they can hold me when i need holding, and let us just hold each other tight in the muck when it comes to that.

fourth, we learn good from each other. most of the ways i am practicing my contentment in this moment come from studying people who lived/live fully into their lives, in whatever time. black feminists past and present, close friends who point out the mind, body, spirit, boundary, listening and therapeutic balance of a good life. i am a practice adopter! if i hear something is working i try it:

life hacks for making more space in small space,
body practices for staying flexible and mobile indoors,
apps for meditation,
playlists,
therapists,
having more plants,
getting in water daily be it bath or shower,
drinking more water,
a desk that can transition to standing,
lavender mist near my bed,
more time with my ancestor altar,
having a clear end to work time and not expecting anything like my old full-time self to be possible right now,
intentional check-ins with loved ones,
watching movies at a distance – especially with kids,
doing what i love as my job,
surrounding my life with art,
being more fair in arguments,
reducing my belongings,
redistributing time from social media to reading,
having boundaries out loud in real time

…these are all learned behaviors.

a lot of the possible good in this time is circumstantial – the physical space you’re in and how many people are there with you, the guidelines and practices of covid-19 safety in your town and community, economic status, how many people you’ve lost and how close they are to your heart, how many crises you’re holding, your own health.

and inside all of the circumstances, there’s the possibility of this being one of the most beautiful, connected, grounded, liberating, fertile, creative, abundant times of your life.

there’s also, and this feels very related to abundance, the possibility that these are your last days. how do you treat precious time?

there’s a possibility that these are the first days of a great era in your life, or the days when you will have the most impact, the days of the hardest work, the biggest release, the most important memories you’ll carry forward.

you don’t have to shout it out everywhere. i think often of my teacher spenta kandawalla asking what it would take to be able to answer the question ‘how are you?’ with ‘i’m good,’ and to mean it.

so, if you’re good, say you’re good. it doesn’t negate reality, it weaves your reality into the fabric of this complex time.

you can also keep your complex answers, of course – i for one am grieving and good. stretched and good. want to go to a beach, and also good. but the main news, the thing i have worked hard enough to claim, the way i can be of use to my beloved community, is to be honest that right now, today, i’m good.

live footage from 2021 inauguration

live footage from the 2021 inauguration!

jk, this is future footage.

jk, the wicked witch is still alive…but this flooded my senses when I woke up today, and when I found and watched it, it felt emotionally accurate.

to all the dorothys out there, keep throwing houses. to all the glindas, keep casting spells. to all the cowards, scarecrows and tin men, keep searching for your hearts, courage and brains. to the people, it’s OK to celebrate, to let relief move through you. today deserves internal ceremony as bombastic as anything on TV.

we not home yet, but we have everything we need to get there.

post nationalism in the age of cooptation and other dumpster fires

during election seasons, it can get a bit murky trying to navigate other people’s political identities. i have recently been called someone who believes in the electoral process a few times, and i initially laughed, but then i thought it could be a great moment of clarification.

the first thing i ever wrote that was published in a book was “i hate politics.” that was in 2003, for an out-of-print book i coedited called How to Get Stupid White Men Out of Office. i wrote about the compromise it was, to have radical politics but feel the need to navigate survival in the current political landscape. the book gathered examples of people who held their noses and harnessed election work as a tactic in larger fights.

my politics have changed a lot as new data and context has entered, but that fundamental piece has not really shifted that much – i don’t think nation is the way, particularly this one: a political system designed for exclusion while using the language of ‘the people’.

complexity guides my organizing priorities, still. i don’t believe our electoral system works, and i don’t believe we can completely abandon it while we practice governance elsewhere – i believe we need to move in ways that protect and center the most vulnerable as we reach for a dream of cooperative governance.

i find most of the work of u.s. politics to be cyclical in the worst ways, illogical, presumptive, illusory, performative and not actually useful in the work of improving lives. i left electoral politics for direct action, and then emergent strategy. but i continue to engage a multitude of tactics simultaneously, which i see many in our movements able to do well.

i just want to speak for a moment on the peace it gives me to be a post nationalist.

because most modern nation-states form within the context of the age of supremacy, nationalism often requires it’s practitioners to claim some supremacy. especially the younger and more immature said nation is. that’s how a warmongering, politically divided, arms bearing, death penalty practicing, pandemic petri dish of a nation, which has never fully (economically) accounted for its genocidal, enslaving foundation, can claim it is the best at anything.

is there magic here? of course. but traveling far and wide will show you that there is the potential for magic any time humans come together. across celebrated differences, yes, and in deeply monocultural spaces where we get to celebrate something widely shared. the magic comes not from an unfulfilled dream, or string-swelling theme song of a narrative, but from the miracle of life in proximity to itself.

i think the best thing that could happen to the u.s. is what has happened to other blustering empires – rome is delightful as a place of history, relic, food, art, commerce…it’s not the center of anything except perhaps a certain romantic narrative, and that’s fine. england is rainy, quirky, has lovely gardens, fantastic museums, and an excellent selection of mushrooms in camden yards. the sun sets on whatever is still british, and then it rises through a fog and life goes on. nation as superpower is definitely over.

but this nation, the u.s., can’t imagine the end of its empire phase and doesn’t currently have a coherent national identity. unless it’s rash compulsive rebellion and trolling? or ostrich tactics in the face of our impacts?

post nationalism gives me room to see the u.s. through a lens of compassion…it’s doing the best it can as a flawed structure. it’s a sum of disparate parts that actually don’t have an organic cohesion, and never did.

post nationalism helps me remember that i was never a part of the dream of this place, and that those i have dreamt alongside of have mostly been killed here.

i write this on the birthday of martin luther king, jr, who dreamed of something profoundly simple – a land where humans could be human together. for this he was killed, and then rebranded as a hero of and for this place, as if the dream slipped out on his last breath into the soil. i still share his dream, the seeds he cast took root in me. i water them with my work, which is not for this nation which has still not reckoned with its racism, materialism or militarism. i don’t expect humane and planetary dreams to manifest in spaces where they are continuously shortchanged, fed words without acts. i dream for the species, i dream for Black people.

post nationalism gives me room to focus on conditions. what are the conditions in which we learn to make our dreams politically possible? what conditions allow us to catch our breath and move beyond the desperate acts of survival? what are the conditions in which we create muscle memory around our humanity, around our relationship to the planet, around justice that transforms harm, around cooperation and collectivism, around liberation?

to create those conditions i use every tool in the box – the sharp clean tools of revolution and the rusted tools, like elections with a busted electoral college mess, which are still most accessible to the masses. i know that the hardest step is not getting people to choose the best tools, but inspiring people to want to build something at all. and then, growing the belief that there is a structure they could cocreate in which they could belong without battle. i believe people can and will demand better tools as they fall in love with their own possible futures.

being a post nationalist is feeling constantly aware that our species precedes our nation, and if our nation is not worthy of the miraculous, then it will be succeeded by those of us who choose to align with life oriented structures instead of institutions stagnant in their power struggles.

so, do i celebrate when the conditions allow us more breath, more room to practice; when the conditions allow more of the most vulnerable amongst us a chance to be a part of something beyond this? yes i do.

do i believe that this electoral system is a path to liberation? no i don’t.

do i judge you justice fighters for your patriotism or your anarchy? only if it is purely theoretical. if you are trying, truly trying to figure out ways this species of ours, and particularly my people, Black and Brown and queer and trans and weird and visionary and disabled people, get to perpetuate in ever improving and liberating conditions, then i can respect our differences. i promise not to flatten you if you are practicing a vision of the future that you truly and deeply believe in. and i promise to stay three dimensional at minimum in my own complex beliefs and practices.

dreamer, out.

what is unveiled? the founding wound. (poem/directive)

a body is always a body
individual or collective
(whole or in many pieces)
alive or, later, dead
a body is aways vulnerable

a wound is always a wound
singular and deep
or many cuts, slowly, blood everywhere
left untreated, unstaunched, denied
a wound will always fester

the first wound happens within
the violence of birth
the expulsion from the illusion of safety
from the idea that someone (else)
will do all the labor

and some of us keep looking everywhere
for placenta, for mothering
for acceptance of our worst choices
to be told we are so special
to be named a favorite child

some of us learn to work
we are given tools, lectures, practices
we are given the blessing of knowing
that work to nourish the collective
is a sacred path for our lives

some are only taught to eat
given the title to land that isn’t ours
judged for the speck of dirt under our nails
set to race against even our own kin
for the neverending victory of more

some of us are black
still nauseous from the boat’s hold
still catching our breath from snapped ropes
still oiling our calloused field hands
and still wounded

some of us are white
still synonymous with impossible purity
still given no songs from the earth
still taught to master nothing but superiority
and still, wounded

some of us are red, yellow, brown
still made to feel tertiary to the plot
still dismissed for all we remember
still claiming we are human, not terrorist
and, still wounded

some of us are never surprised
never apoplectic when the stench hits us
what rots at the core is known, documented
it is tangible, moral, American, spiritual
it is the founding wound

gray only at the surface
brittle black where the injury began
a rainbow of bruising everywhere
green mold making life in dying flesh
but the pus, the pus bursts white

we are well past the age of turning inwards
of seeing the open wounds on our souls
of stepping into our shadows with truth light
of seeing we were shaped, and can change
of believing the wound is who we are

we know the smell of decay on breath
we see the swollen cracking flesh of infection
it is not rude to acknowledge the stink
to wonder if it is viral, venom, survivable
to look for the laceration(s)

things are not getting worse
they are getting uncovered
we must hold each other tight
and continue to pull back the veil
see: we, the body, we are the wounded place

we live on a resilient earth
where change is the only constant
in bodies whose only true whiteness
is the blood cell that fights infection
and the bone that holds the marrow

remove the shrapnel, clean the wound
relinquish inflammation, let the chaos calm
the body knows how to scab like lava stone
eventually leaving the smooth marring scars
of lessons learned:

denial will not disappear a wound

the wound is not the body

a body cannot be divided into multiple living entities (what us will go on breathing?)

the founder’s wound is the myth of supremacy

this is not the first wound, or the last

we are a species before we are a nation, and after

warriors, organizers, storytellers, dreamers – all of us are healers

the healing path is humility, laughter, truth, awareness and choice

a scab is a boundary on territory, between what is within and what is without, when the line has been breached

stop picking at the scab, it slows the healing

until we are dead, and even when we are exhausted and faithless, we fight for life

we are our only relevant hope
we are our only possible medicine

a body is always a body
wounded, festering, healing, healed
we choose each day what body we will shape
with the miraculous material we’re gifted
let us, finally, attend to the wound
let us, finally, name the violence
let us, finally, break the cycle of supremacy
let us, finally, choose ourselves whole
let us, finally, love ourselves
whole.

New Year’s Day 2021 Tarot Spread

Past/Present/Future Spread

Past Question: What can we learn and carry forward from 2020? Page of Swords

“The young crow uses his strength and stamina to carry the sword through an intense energy storm. Along the way, he may have lost a few feathers, but it was a small price to pay for a chance at something more significant. The Page has found his stride and approaches the goal with a steady and relentless determination. The time is now to take action.”

Present question: How do we ground in the present moment? Page of Pentacles

“Your situation will benefit from a realistic approach, one that places a heavier emphasis on doing rather than dreaming. Your efforts will be rewarded. Manifesting a goal can take time, and you may encounter challenges. Use any obstacles or setbacks as a way to prove yourself dependable and dedicated to fully realizing your dream. When you need to be flexible and adapt to a changing environment quickly, use the octopus’ energy to smooth out the transition. This dynamic and intelligent animal creates a healing space after suffering a loss, and encourages new growth to emerge as a new strength is formed.”

Future question: How should we enter 2021?
Mama Staff

“Mama Staff is the energy of fire and water. She represents adaptability, generosity, and graceful power. When fire and water come together, they create the energy and power that fuels Mama Staff. This steamy nature can reveal itself through her feminine sensuality and eroticism, where emotional depth and passion meet. She is a brilliant and creative force who brings life, light, and new vigor to any situation. She will assist those who are vulnerable and without protection unceasingly. Mama Staff is the pressure under which diamonds are created. She teaches us to play on our own terms while also understanding the complex needs of the emotional realm. You may feel a calm sense of authority and persistence, or awaken to your true self. Mama Staff also reminds us to work on our sacral energies, cultivating healthy sexual expression. Creativity, sex, and drive reside in the sacral chakra, so our sensuality or eroticism can be indicators of how or what we manifest into our lives.”

Today’s tarot cards and quotes are from:

Past, the Crow Tarot deck, which lives on my ancestor altar.

Present, the Guardian of the Night deck, which lives on my plant altar.

Future, the Dust 2 Onyx Tarot Deck, which lives on my tarot altar.

(feel free to do this spread for yourself, your pod, or your group)