We Are In The Future – Keynote for NASCO 2011

here are my written notes for the keynote i gave this past weekend to the North American Students of Cooperation Institute. it was an amazing group to speak with, think with, and be in community with at this moment in history!


I am so honored to be here with all of you.

I want to start off by thanking you for the work you do to grow the practice of cooperation in the world. I am SO inspired by what you are already awakened to in terms of how the world works and how you choose to show up. 

I started writing this speech a few months ago, and so much has changed since then that I thought it might be out of date. but upon revisiting my early drafts, I was excited to see that the fundamental concept is still right on time. 

that is that WE – you and I, and all who are thinking about how we grow a new society in the shell of our capitalist global economy – we are living in the future. 

perhaps we always have been, but as a young activist I have definitely experienced this radical yearning for 1968 and the ways people were engaged in changing the world at that time. I wondered:

is my generation asleep?
are we historically boring?
what is OUR role, in the largest story?

I didn’t want to settle, as a person, as a generation. so i have thrown myself into changing the world since I was a student…

and now I look around me and it seems we are in a moment, awakening. 

in fact, it seems we are in the future.

I started to be aware that I had stepped out of my normal life and into the opening pages of an Octavia Butler science fiction novel when I first visited detroit a few years ago.

I had long been obsessed with apocalypse and trying to practice new ways of being human…suddenly I was in a city where everything was falling apart and bursting out of the ground and growing anew all at once.

the life cycle of society was uncovered, this composting city that capitalism threw away was bearing new fruit unlike any I’d ever tasted.

I don’t want to pretend like detroit is a utopia. i absolutely feel that way, but I think utopia is how you see the world, how you hold community… and it can be wherever you are. (people always come up to me after i speak about detroit and say – should i move there? the answer is no! do this work where you are!)

with detroit it’s more like, it’s the best of times its the worst of times, sci-fi style. 

I do think we are living in a post apocalyptic reality, a post industrial apocalypse.

and we in detroit, and in the us, and around the globe are both in and co-creating a budding post capitalist moment. we can already see that the age of unchecked capitalism was a dark age, and we can already feel light being shed on us from within…an enlightenment is opening up within us.

do you feel it? the quickness of communication, the breadth of alignment, the uprising of a new way?

–> turn to each other and share…how do u feel that new way showing up in your life? <-- now I have a term for this particular kind of thing, I call it the new-old. because though it feels new to us, its actually the most ancient way of being in community. cooperation. beloved community. communities of care, sharing the resources of the commons such that there is abundance. 

we have gone astray, been socialized astray, but we are remembering.

we are remembering cooperation on a global scale, in part because we are in a structure of competition that is falling apart, and we can just begin to remember that the world is our commons. 

Margaret Wheatley, who writes about complex science and social movements, has said that we are in the midst of systems collapsing under their own weight and viciousness.

i believe that our role in that collapse is two-fold. 

one is to protest and demonstrate and educate, so that people realize they are not at fault for failing in a system that survives based on failure. 

that is happening now, with the 99% movement. and I am consciously calling it the 99% movement, because we can do that, we must use the language that is most liberating for us. carlo albano says, ‘occupy is a tactic, 99% is a movement’, and I think we have to think about movement right now. that is one part of our work. 

the other part is actually turning away from competition in how we hold and grow and heal our communities.  in how we communicate with each other about our work. in how we educate our children and our parents and grandparents around our life choices. in how we resource our work.

we have all the tools and knowledge within us for how to dismantle competition as a way of interacting with each other. we have been cultivating these tools, sharing this knowledge with each other in millions of small efforts.

what is exciting about this moment is that our tools and knowledge are being called forth into the great living lab of transformation we call revolution. and in this moment, our two paths of revolution have come together, where our demonstrations are rooted in a public experience of cooperative community. 

things could look a lot of ways right now: chaos in the street, blowing up big banks, armed struggle against the 1%…we would be justified in all of it, given the disparities and injustices that are happening every second in this society.

but instead what we are lifting up – in tahrir square, and at occupy wall street in ny and oakland and detroit and ann arbor – we are lifting up….consensus! 

non-violent collective decision making and claiming space to – to BE with each other. 

as a facilitation evangelist i have been waiting for this moment for as long as i can remember – the whole world is talking about intentional decision making processes! which WE all know are crucial for shifting how we function in community.

we are also talking about: 
radical community sanitation!
how to respectfully interact and take leadership from the homeless and jobless!
how does existing movement interact with an influx of new interested people? 

berkana institute has a slogan – “whatever the problem, community is the answer”.

we are realizing that, collectively.

for experienced organizers and experienced cooperative thinkers, its a deep time…can we be humble enough to acknowledge both what we did to yield this movement, and what we didn’t do? 

can we teach AND learn in this moment? 

can we hold on tight to our principles of cooperation, and let go of any work that requires us to compete…not competing against each other for resources, but forming meaningful collaborations to spread our values and work?

can we let go of competition, even if it is competing between cooperative ways of living and competitive ways of living?

can we release judgment for those in our community still trying to get a job in this broken economy, needing to feed themselves – as we grow our own work?

can we stop arguing over tactics, and see that there are as many entry points to this movement as there are people?

can we evolve how we think of organizing?

because now is the time for humility.

these systems are so incredibly large because they are within us, too. competition, capitalism, is embedded so deeply in us, in our communities. we are not above it. we have to be humble, start small, stay connected, understand our decentralized power. 

in my mentor grace lee bogg‘s house, there is a quote on the wall: “organizing is to the community what spiritual practice is to the individual”.

I see what we are doing as the deep practice that can transform our society from competitive to cooperative. 

at the national level, i am part of a group called common fire. have you heard of us? our founders heard the statistic from diana leaf christianson that at least 90% of intentional communities fail. so they set out around the world to study the practices of the 10% that make it. 

from that research and their own lived experience, as well as being in touch with radical cultural transformation work, justice work, we have crystallized 4 essential characteristics for the communities we are building:

1. Ongoing Personal Growth and Dialogue – because the effectiveness of our collective movement is only as effective as the individuals themselves. For change to occur on a larger scale, each person must continually uncover their true self by understanding their past experiences and personal barriers.

2. Engagement of a Diversity of People — so our communities and work reflect the needs of all of us, and better reflect our collective wisdom for how to address our needs. We are creating communities that are accessible and meaningful to a broad range of people.

3. Aligning Our Lives with Our Beliefs — Much of the violence and destruction in the world today arises not from malice, but from people being invested in the current systems and contributing to them in small ways that add up and give those systems power. We’re committed to helping people within these communities weave integrity into the many facets of everyday life.

4. Bridging Transformation in the Community to Transformation in the World – These communities will not be places where people retreat from the world, but ones that allow them to more powerfully step into the world. this is not about othering ourselves, or division. it’s about, as grace Boggs says, growing our souls. so that when we are engaged in transformation in the world it is rooted in loving practice, muscle memory. 

so now we are applying these concepts, building and living  intentional and cooperative community examples in a u.s. context.

as a lover of detroit, i think it’s also important to uplift practices of intentional cooperative work happening at the organizational and network level.

work is the space where most people spend most of their waking hours. if you are cooperative at home and not in your life’s work, then you need to go harder…and in that respect detroit is hard as hell.

detroit is ripe for cooperation because capitalism has been overtly failing the city for about 35 years now. it is not uncommon to meet someone who is thinking beyond, or post, capitalism there…whether that person is driving your cab, homeless in the park, working with labor unions, or building peace zones to replace policing with mediation.

one quote that the late jimmy boggs said of detroit years ago – “we don’t have a lot of jobs, but we got a lot of work to do”. 

after being a ‘world citizen’ for over 30 years, I have lived in detroit for just two years, and am more deeply inspired by that work than anything else I have experienced. 

the first thing is the proliferation of networks – translocal bodies that are organized around shared principles. 

– I get to work with the detroit food justice task force, which is 10 organizations with a simple goal: just feed detroit. we are rooting the food systems of detroit into a justice analysis…

we have a lot of land in detroit, and a lot of hungry people. and the urban agricultural movement is huge, but the number of people needing food – cheap food, healthy food, local nutritious food – that number is massive.

we are going to achieve food self-determination in detroit, local food for our people, with our dollars flowing to local growers instead of out of state to kroger’s and safeway.

but our principles have had us focus on going slow, entering community with respect and uplifting community leadership, and being with each other in community as we have lost loved ones, faced financial challenges, gotten sick – and still done beautiful grounded and accountable work together. 

allied media projects, which hosts the incredible allied media conference every summer, was in community for years before articulating the principles and practices that make us unique.

I live by those principles, such as –
we begin by listening, and,
we assume our power, not our powerlessness, and,
the greatest solutions come from the most vulnerable communities because they have had to be the most creative to survive.

– the digital justice coalition sparked out of allied media’s work, and took the environmental justice principles, and the allied media principles, and mashed them up to create a set of principles around how what we believe is the fundamental human right to communicate was only possible if we uplifted access, participation, common ownership and healthy communities in our work.

detroit future youth network is spending 18 months to bring together 12 youth media organizations with the belief that as a larger body in alignment, they can catalyze a youth movement in detroit, sharing resources and skills to maximize the strength of the whole. 

– and we even have a space now, the cass corridor commons. this space grew out of a dream most recently articulated during the 2010 us social forum to continue collaborative work in detroit. 

we are slowly building up our core principles now, in a space which has long belonged to the unitarian universalists, who still hold services there. it is in the heart of a community that is being gentrified very quickly, but which also has a movement history, and a huge foreclosed on homeless population.

we reclaim the history of the neighborhood by calling it cass corridor, while the gentrifiers are trying to rename it. and our being there is a major expression of how important place is to movement. 

we have a healing space, a theater space, sacred space, a people’s kitchen, a gender fabulous bike shop, and a cutting edge environmental justice organization there so far, building vision together.

I could go on for 18 hours probably about how cooperation is growing in detroit.

the themes are that we are sharing leadership, sharing decision making, sharing resource generation and resource use, and that we work from principles.

the tide is visibly turning, after we have all been working for so long, across generations, on the shoulders of those who came before. after knowing in our hearts that capitalism is a dysfunctional system we have to build on top of, because we understand that nothing disappears, it just transforms.

the shift is happening, within us, and all around. 

and it’s turning because we are finding the principles that matter to us, principles that allow us to live and grow cooperatively.

we are lifting THOSE PRINCIPLES up as our call to action, instead of continuing to demand a change from those who most benefit from the status quo. 

last story – our work in detroit is intergenerational, and recently an organizer just a little older than me called me after sitting in a session with a black labor movement elder named general baker, who is a wonderful teacher on movement in detroit. she was deeply moved by what he’d said.

he said, ‘we have been asking where are all the people? why aren’t the people out here in this movement?’

he said ‘that is the wrong question – we need to be asking ourselves, will we be ready when they show up? because it is inevitable that they will show up.’

are we ready for that? 

close your eyes…I want to read you my favorite thing, a piece of prophecy from a Hopi elder:

“You have been telling the people that this is the Eleventh Hour, now you must go back and tell the people that this is THE HOUR.

And there are things to be considered…

Where are you living?

What are you doing?

What are your relationships?

Are you in right relation?

Where is your water?

Know your garden.

It is time to speak your Truth.

Create your community.

Be good to each other.

And do not look outside yourself for the leader.

Then he clasped his hands together, smiled, and said, “This could be a good time! There is a river flowing now very fast. It is so great and swift that there are those who will be afraid. They will try to hold on to the shore. They will feel they are being torn apart and will suffer greatly. Know the river has its destination. The elders say we must let go of the shore, push off into the middle of the river, keep our eyes open, and our heads above the water. And I say, see who is in there with you and celebrate.

At this time in history, we are to take nothing personally. Least of all, ourselves. For the moment that we do, our spiritual growth and journey comes to a halt.

The time of the lone wolf is over. Gather yourselves! Banish the word struggle from your attitude and your vocabulary. All that we do now must be done in a sacred manner and in celebration.

We are the ones we’ve been waiting for.”

Oraibi, Arizona Hopi Nation

…thank you.

— nov 5, 2011, ann arbor mi