The Darwin Variant, and/or Love of the Fittest

The chaos grows and grows, everything around us faltering, falling. Who do we need to be and who are we becoming?

Once I was in a room with Margaret Wheatley, one of the people whose thinking on emergence and complexity helped me understand emergent strategy. I (or someone else) asked how we bring down massive systems through small, complex organizing. She said, essentially, that systems that are top heavy will inevitably collapse from their own imbalanced weight.

How do we survive these falling systems? Especially when many of them need to fall? How do we prepare for the opportunities in collapse?

I am thinking about that in this era of Covid, climate catastrophe, natural and unnatural disasters (this week there are wildfires, floods, droughts, earthquakes, and disaster capitalism feeding off of all of it), cultural shifts, and long-term war consequences from indigenous struggles locally in the U.S. to the Taliban in Afghanistan. It’s all connected – decisions made from a competitive, supremacist, dominant mindset lead to top heavy economies and infrastructures, which inevitably collapse, leaving the survivors to contend with the detritus of empire.

Much of the crisis now feels out of our hands – even to me as a fairly connected radical movement person, most days it feels like a series of unstoppable events, to which I can offer prayer and donations, witness and attention. There are so many frontlines, each equally important to the soldiers in that particular battle. Stepping back to see it whole, there’s definitely the sense that we are trying to hold back tsunamis by plugging a million holes in a dam.

I realize that this sense of total pending and unfolding disaster is all over my Covid responses, thoughts and interactions. I am writing to face this disastrous feeling within me, to see if I can center a different perspective down in myself.

As both an antiwar and climate activist, I remember the devastation I felt when I first realized we weren’t going to be able to stop the wars against Afghanistan and Iraq. People were not going to sustain direct action, they were still going to pay their taxes towards the war, and be satisfied with resistance in the form of liberal punditry that changed nothing. This week we leave behind another nation long violated, knowing it will be eaten alive. It has taken so long to say, with humility, we lost a war we should never have been fighting.

With the climate catastrophe, I realized in my gut that we weren’t going to pivot our nation, our states, our towns to be in a just transition, not in time. Organizers inch forward proposals of survival and boundary, documentation and data, the responses much smaller and slower than the pending crises demand. We are up against capitalism, which feels so big, has so many heads. It is all so daunting. It is still the right work. But how do we make it matter? How do we meet the moment?

It could feel reasonable to give up the fight, all the fights, in light of this overwhelming comprehension of our species in its limitations. But then we are also in a period of massive cultural shift around race, anti-Blackness, rape and patriarchy. Systems designed to allow the total violence and control of those given power through a mythical supremacy are suddenly exposed down to the blueprint. Again, that labor of exposure is largely done by organizers who cleared space for the truth to be told with calls of Black Lives Matter and Me Too. We are rejecting these systems of harm in policy, action, and interpersonal encounters.

It’s all crumbling, concurrently. We are living through both the devastating fall of systems that guarantee life, and the necessary fall of systems that uphold violence.

So then Covid enters, stage right. It’s fast moving, wreaking havoc along the fault lines of existing vulnerabilities – those struggling to piece together enough inside of these multiple intersecting crises are hustling, hungry, taking risks to go to work, trying to survive eviction and exposure. Nations who let collective thinking lead are responding intelligently, and then there’s us.

Since the beginning, Covid has asked one thing of us: act collectively. First, the collective actions were maintaining the social distance of breath, hand washing, wearing masks. Then it was staying home unless you were an essential worker. And quarantining if you were sick. Then quarantining even if you were not sick. Doing work and community through virtual connections. And then, most recently, it’s been getting a vaccine that reduces the hospitalizations and deaths of those exposed to the virus. I cannot truly comprehend how many people have died as we figured out the necessary actions to take together. And now people are dying because we struggle to take collective actions.

To be fair, we are also in a period of peak socialized distrust. The divisions between us are dangerous and near total – we look to divergent news sources, have different conversations, suspect different aspects of government (from police to politicians to scientists) of wanting us surveilled, tracked, controlled or dead. Four years of a destructive and immature president did result in a wall, but not the border wall he threatened. The wall that now feels so solid in the U.S. is a cultural one that has deep roots and an ancient design, 3D printed hateful troll bricks stacked on top of colonial ruins.

Trying to be curious, to ask a question, to express a fear, to make a request, to assume a commonality – all of it quickly gets interpreted as building the division. Inside of this, on whatever side is for life moving towards life, I have been asking myself about boundaries, expectations, solidarity, and collective action. And love.

I now live by these words from my friend Prentis Hemphill, “Boundaries are the distance at which I can love you and me simultaneously.” Love. Not tolerate or survive, but love. When I speak these words, as reminder, as mantra, they give me hope that no one has to be disposable, cut off from that vast connectivity of love. It’s just a matter of distance.

I learned some time ago that not everyone was going to survive and see liberation, or right relationship with the earth, in this lifetime. Not everyone was going to be in vibrant, accountable communities in this lifetime. Not everyone was going to choose love. Not everyone was going to even be aware that they could want or need such interdependence. For so many people, it feels impossible to experience love, to give and receive that sacred extension of adoration, devotion, care, growth, belonging, loyalty and shared experience.

But with distance, perhaps even as far away as the moon, I can always see the species as lovable. I can see that everyone deserves that deep belonging which displaces greed and grasping. I can see us, young, beautiful, powerful, clumsy, tender, selfish – and generally lovable, like a rambunctious and curious child. Or sometimes lovable like the traumatized, neglected bully child who needs so much more love and attention to soften and trust and connect again.

With enough distance, I can love even those who, up close, hate me, or hate the earth, or hate anything different from them. I know “only love can conquer hate.” From far away I can see the haters of the world – those who hate nature, difference, complexity, freedom in others – in the grip of their own spiritual work, which is daunting, which devours from within. Knowing almost nothing of the mysteries of the universe, having only our own planet’s wisdom to learn from, I deduce that even the haters are processing something for the whole, though it may be something toxic, or something heading towards extinction.

With that guidance, I have been earnestly asking myself: what is the distance at which I can love those who choose individual freedom over collective care in the short-term, at the cost of a future? Those who choose to go unmasked? Those who still don’t wash their hands? Those who breathe and cough too close to me? Those who have access to and capacity for the vaccine and choose not to take it?

This year has been a brutal and necessary reminder that control and manipulation don’t work, for anyone involved. I have had to practice self-awareness of my own controlling nature, I have had to soften my grip on a fearful future narrative and return to the humility of the present. I am not in control of any choices or boundaries but my own. I cannot manipulate others into collective action, into choosing life, not even with all my best words. I can only be vulnerable, I can only live into my own values, I can only invite others to join me, and to teach me.

Collective action is still made up of individual choices, which is the beauty and bane of our species. Especially in the colonized capitalist borders of the U.S. Even in the face of policy and punishment, the American way is to choose individual thinking and action under pressure, to fight for superiority on any hill. This focus on dominance over the living rather than partnership with life is how we have racism, rape culture, climate catastrophe, economic disparity, war and disease all in rampant disaster states at the same time.

It is perpetually disgusting to contend with the reality that these disasters benefit a bloated elite. And too many of us participate in our small scale versions of their individualistic and hoarding worldview, thinking we are better than each other and the earth, deserve unlimited resources and access, and should never have to adapt to protect others.

This is humanity at our worst. How will we change?

At a certain point, even if collective action feels far away, there has to be an awareness of the pattern. We have to develop the systemic intuition to sense that the same glitch is present throughout all the systems. Thinking that your choices only impact you or those you immediately know – that you needn’t be concerned with or accountable for the results – is supremacist thinking at the root. It gets packaged as freedom and independence, but we are not individual entities. Humans, like all of nature, live within systems of relationship and resource. Our freedom is relational. Individualist supremacy is a delusional concept, perhaps safely enjoyed as fantasy but not to be applied as common practice. One way to see all of the current crises is as a single delusional wildfire consuming time and space.

What do we do though? How do we practice another way inside so much crisis?

I have a very small circle of beloveds now. Covid required me to get clear about who I absolutely had to be in contact with, who I would invest my time in arguing boundaries with, who I would risk my life to go see. Relative to the number of people I’ve met, the number of people I’ve marched with and for, the number of people on the side of justice and liberation who populate this earth…it turns out there’s a tiny handful that I can actually hold onto. And I now believe my work is to be a good member of the human flock with that small number. Yes, I can still sing out my birdsong to the whole forest. But I move in community, in relationships that are visionary and loving at the root.

I light candles every day around my hope that the distance at which I can love most people in this era isn’t that mortal boundary between life and death.

Covid keeps adapting, like a shepherd herding us as a group through the one gate that leads forward. When we think we alone can run off and stop attending to the whole, a variant emerges to gather us back groupward. The idea of being herded generates such resistance in me, “WE ARE NOT SHEEP!”, “I AM NOT A COW!” (“imspecialimspecialimspecial”)…and yet, are these not also sacred and communal creatures from whom I can learn? In this moment, perhaps theirs is the wisdom we need. Can we adapt to be herd, to be meek, to belong, to move together, to be humble together? Or maybe it’s more simple, more literal: can we be satisfied in a smaller range of physical space? Can we be satisfied inside of necessary boundaries?

It’s quite clear that one activity that keeps the majority of people safe and, coincidentally?, has a positive impact on the planet, is to stay home, stay still, travel less, reduce each personal footprint towards a collective reduction of negative impact. Perhaps variants like Delta will come every time we attempt to return to a normal that the planet cannot sustain.

I heard someone call it the Darwin variant and I can’t stop thinking about that.

The first waves of Covid deaths were our loved ones and strangers who didn’t know what it was. Then those who knew the name and symptoms but didn’t stand a chance. Then those who didn’t realize or trust just how dangerous it was. Now we are seventeen months into the official global pandemic, playing chicken. Most of those who are getting sick and dying in the U.S. now are doing so as a result of choosing not to believe in Covid, in its viral nature, or in the benefits and safety of the vaccine; or those who think they are beyond the reach of guidelines; or those most susceptible to misinformation from unverified sources; or those unable to avoid interaction with others caught up in denial or misinformation, tragically including our precious babies.

They all still expect and need care.

I feel empathy for those who don’t trust the government, even as I feel my own righteous distrust. What’s been helping me in this moment is how much I love the divine work of science. I believe that the sacred force that designed hummingbirds and eagles and the symbiosis of bees and flowers and the desalination of the ocean through vapor and rain also moves through the minds of our scientists. I feel a primal longing for more people to trust in the curiosity-based practice of science. I feel a political need for science to be decoupled from big pharma, which feels so close to how I need movements to be decoupled from big philanthropy. But currently it’s all the same tangled rope of innovation and struggle and funding to which we cling over an apocalyptic abyss. I am not trying to be dramatic here, I’m just being with what is.

Charles Darwin was a scientist whose writing explored many concepts, including one from Herbert Spencer: ‘survival of the fittest.’ The concept reverberates into moments like this. The common misinterpretation is that it means survival of the most physically fit, an ableist view. I’m sure you, like me, have seen able-bodied people argue against Covid safety protocols by saying those with strong immune systems will survive. Many of those I’ve seen take this stance have gone on learn through sickness or loss that that’s not how Covid, or any of our other current apocalyptic conditions, actually work.

I was reminded recently (in public) that Darwin’s own writing points to ‘fittest’ meaning those most adaptive and collectively oriented, those most suited to the immediate conditions. Our immediate conditions are chaotic, frightening, fast-changing and inevitable. What is grossly imbalanced is teetering and falling. What is wildly anti-planet and inhumane is exposed and falling. What is cruel and violent and unfair and ridiculous, it’s all falling.

And the persisting question for me is, what is the work of love in all this falling? Can love help us be the fittest our species has been?

I have sought to offer and experience all kinds of love throughout my life. I have learned that I can love people who will still choose to leave me, to risk their lives, and I will feel grief. I have been learning that there is the big collective massive love I feel for all that lives, and then the tangible offer of love as an energy, resource and commitment which I can only give to those with whom I am in a mutual, consensual and aligned relationship.

I find it hard to love those who hate science, and hate me…not impossible, at least in the big picture setting. But working to actively love those who hate me is immense labor, and if I am honest with myself, it’s generally not something I’m even interested in cultivating in the irreplaceable hours of my remaining life.

Because my love feels rooted not just in myself, but in myself as a fragment of the miraculous natural world, I notice the patterns of hate at the interpersonal, interspecies and global level. There is an undeniable overlap between this resistance to science and the resistance to wear a mask, socially distance and/or vaccinate, in spite of data that affirms the life saving impacts of each choice. And all of that overlaps with the resistance to do right by the earth. The resistance to move beyond capitalism to economic models that allow shared abundance. And the resistance to give up patriarchy and white sociopathy. And national supremacy.

How do I love this vast diversity of human beings, beloved and stranger, who are currently toxic to our collective survival?

I only see one way. If I define love as the willful extension towards spiritual growth that bell hooks and M. Scott Peck told me about, then when I come across all this resistance to the miraculous and collective aspects of our species, I willfully extend my energy towards the necessary and inevitable growth evidenced by that resistance.

It liberates my love to see the resistance to science and nature and interdependence as a cry for help, a sign of how important it is that we grow our capacity to act as collective beings. And, as is my practice, when I can see where that edge of growth is, I seek it in myself. Where in my own life do I still persist in actions that presuppose my importance and supremacy, rather than accept my small role in our collective existence?

I have begun to feel gratitude inside my Covid grief. It’s the result of thinking collectively, even trying to think as a cell or atom of this planetary existence, awkward as that may sound. Even as I despair at the deaths of those who didn’t have a chance to choose, and those who did not survive their risks, I have to acknowledge what else I sense here…at a certain point we have to consider that Covid might be aligned with the earth, of the universe, designed to get us to fight for ourselves, love ourselves as collective beings, love ourselves enough to set and hold boundaries that serve more than our individual wants and needs.

Can I surrender the recent-normal for the present need? Can I commit to practicing a new and limited present-normal for the sake of a species-future? Can I listen more deeply to the earth, to the patterns? Can I keep finding the space to feel for direction within the chaos?

It’s so complicated.

It is much easier for me to love those who want collective human life to continue, in right relationship to the planet. But perhaps that’s evolution moving in me, perhaps this is a sacred attention, a ‘love of the fittest?’

Even now, as I write this, I still love people who choose themselves over the collective every time. And, I’m noticing, every day they feel further and further away. Or I do.

Seeing the pattern of life unfolding inside the destruction and chaos, I keep bringing my attention to it. I despair and then seek laughter, seek the community of others who feel afraid but keep working to connect. I relinquish being right for being present. I don’t deny reality as I find my place in the present moment and try to be of the fittest in constantly changing conditions.

I don’t wait for perfection or magic, I participate in the mundane work of staying alive. I keep my distance, wash my hands, wear my mask, carry my vaccine card. I get tested at every possibility of Covid. If something gets through my mask, if a variant finds me in spite of my best effort, it won’t be for lack of trying to live. If the vaccine works for most people who get it, but somehow not for me, I accept my role in the collective story.

And in my life I keep writing, keep working to shift myself out of the center of anything. I shift my practices one at a time away from capitalist socialization that says I need to be the best at something to deserve a quality life. I redistribute attention, time, donate money…and ask for help.

I am rooting myself amongst people who are learning to think and act together, as pairs, small groups, communities. We ask each other more questions, about what we are choosing to practice and why. We know so much more about each other’s lives and patterns than ever before. We process our inevitable risk-taking with each other because we are imperfect, and we long for each other. We are raising children inside these unclear, ever-shifting boundaries, and we are moving our resources around amongst us to get through. Sometimes we find that in the light of all this new transparency, we aren’t as compatible as we thought. It’s OK. We let each other go on different paths through the adventure, and root with the people on our path.

So are these answers, these small breaths in the maelstrom?

Small circles rooted in love.
Relinquishing control and offering love.
Mundane practices as acts of love.

Humility in the face of the unknown is self-love.
Seeing and shaping the whole, not as a million overwhelming waves, but as a sea – this is collective love.
Living in generosity and gratitude, every day, is living love.
Being nature, is being love.

It certainly feels like love is the way.

Perhaps. Perhaps.

And this may or may not fit in this piece of thinking and writing, but love is asking me to mention that I am centering pleasure even now, within the small circle. We are a pleasure flock, comforting each other, cheering each other on towards our best lives even today in these conditions. Pleasure connects us to ourselves and each other, to the aliveness at the funeral, to the blessing in the crisis, to the sweet new life pushing green up through the sludge.

We who are not yet dead are responsible for living fully, without regrets, with deep reverence for the wide range of emotion in the human experience. I look for the pleasure of home, of rooting and nesting, of growing things, of moving slowly, of being honest, of writing, of cooking, of dancing, of gratitude, of love. Every single day I dose myself with pleasures small and large, knowing that as it all falls apart, so much is growing; knowing that within myself and my circle I am seeding a path towards a future in which feeling and growing pleasure and aliveness and delight, in relationship to each other and our abundant and perfect planet, is our central focus.

There. It is long, but I have shifted myself from despairing overwhelm back to visionary center. It is a gift that I can only fulfill my own small destiny, follow the instructions that are clearest to me, move with my own consecrated choreography. When I feel completely lost, I can focus each day on being kind, being generous, and being honest. I light candles for all I cannot carry, and then move into the present moment with only my love. As everything crumbles above and around us, it is still true that the most strategic move is the ever changing dance of love.

St. Louis Racial Equity Summit 2021 Keynote

St Louis Racial Equity Summit Keynote (notes):

We are imagining a world we have never seen before. Writing it into existence with words and with actions.

We who live in this country on this earth today have barely experienced the wonder of our planet. We have not experienced a world without homelessness, poverty, inequality, white supremacy, patriarchy, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism, rape culture, slavery, environmental degradation, climate crisis or prisons. And that’s the short list of our ‘horrible, ordinary’ things, as Octavia E Butler called them. We haven’t seen a world free of these hellish beliefs and behaviors – many of us have never even experienced a pocket of community with the absence of some of these beliefs and behaviors – and yet we imagine.

We live in a world which others imagined. Most of the constructs that oppress us feel like fact, are taught to us as fact – but they are actually evidence of historical imagination. These ideas were imagined before being practiced into solidity, authority, tradition, assumption. The core patterns of U.S. historical imagination are supremacy, dominance, victory. These are not the most beautiful things imagined in human history, but the most violently upheld.

Someone imagined a racialized economic system built on a foundation of indentured labor and slavery – exploitative production of dehumanized people to benefit those who labor less or not at all. In capitalism the norm and assumption is that we must always be producing and growing in scale, so we either work ourselves to death, or if we are privileged we work others to death, or under risk of death, though these days we prefer that the exploitation stay out of sight, behind bars or across borders. In racialized capitalism, the exploited are primarily Black and Brown people. But it must be said that while Whiteness is presented as a racial distinction and a superiority, in fact when people speak of white supremacy and privilege, they are speaking of a very particular and limited racialized economic status – they mean wealthy able bodied white straight men. White privilege can trickle down to other white people, but the way whiteness really works is that anyone who has access to white skin privilege is competing for that elite economic status of White. This is why the wealthiest nation in the world couldn’t just pause and care for our citizens to stop the spread of Covid, even the white people. That elite body refused to take a loss, to let production stop. They could not imagine a scenario in which 570 thousand lives were more valuable than their own bottom lines. Can you imagine only being able to imagine what is good for you?

And yet, there are also, alive right now, those who remember how we are supposed to imagine in relationship to all that lives – indigenous beloveds have taught me we are meant to imagine seven generations ahead of ourselves, and make our choices accordingly. This long-view puts us in a time traveling familial relationship with all of existence.

So. We are in what teacher-friend Terry Marshall calls an imagination battle. The moment we begin to question oppressive historical imagination, supremacy imagination; the moment we begin to dream of justice, of liberation, of right relationship, we become imagination warriors. Organizers. Our mission is to co-dream visions more compelling than oppression, and more honest than supremacy. And then move from imagination all the way to new practice.

What happened in St. Louis, in Ferguson changed our imagination. Changed what we thought was possible inside the collective imagination. We have been fed up with living in a world in which a police officer can imagine himself in danger and kill our children, our spouses, our parents, our friends.

When I was in college, Amadou Diallo was killed in the Bronx, just north of my campus. As a young person, I was galvanized, politicized, shaped, scared, and I felt responsible for doing something urgently to stop this from being able to happen again. I cocreated a campus project called CPR – I can’t quite remember what it stood for, it was short-lived but it was a beginning of my path as an abolitionist. Now I see a generation awakened similarly by what happened here, and the way you all rose up to respond to it seven years ago this month.

We are most often moved onto the path of abolition, after being snatched into grief and uprising. Perhaps we watch the disparities, how our communities get locked up for things that white communities don’t. Perhaps we see how those who cause harm go into that system and come out with fewer options and more likelihood of needing to break a law to survive. When does it end? ‘When does it end?’ can be a question most clearly answered by the idea that it ends when we imagine what comes next. Abolition must absolutely be imagined as we begin to practice what comes next.

We imagine in part by remembering. Every single one of us, if we go back far enough, have ancestors indigenous to a place on this earth, or multiple places for those of us of multiple heritages. These ancestors predate colonization world-wide, and in a multitude of ways, they practiced being in relationship to every aspect of the earth and to each other, in responsible stewardship of land and life. For those of us who time and slavery and capitalism and the construct of whiteness have displaced from our original homes and peoples, we must reach to imagine how it might have felt to live this way. Most indigenous people alive today have to navigate and protect their long-held practices, and their literal land, against the pace and pressure of a modern world at odds with being in relationship. But we can all imagine some future-past which lives in our ancestral memory bag, which lives in our DNA. And when we struggle, we can actually find and follow indigenous leadership. A first step is to understand whose land you live on. I am in Detroit, on Anishnaabe territory. Anishnaabe organizers are active here, teaching me and others what they know and remember, and also sharing generously what they imagine through creative projects like the Adizookan.

We imagine in part by tasting our own aliveness. Audre Lorde wrote that once we experience our erotic aliveness, it becomes impossible to settle for less, for suffering and self-negation. For me, organizing to transform the conditions of injustice in the world was when I felt that aliveness, that tying in to something true, a connectedness that vibrates through my veins. We know this isn’t right. We know we aren’t meant to live in this perpetual state of war and stress and unmet needs and loneliness and lies. We can change this. Even before we have an intact political analysis we can feel that things must change, and we in small circles of humanity can change things.

Now, I sometimes imagine that each of us holds a distinct piece of our collective, liberated future within us, and it is only accessible as we liberate our own imaginations, and our truest selves, shaped by each of our particular ancestral and life experiences.

My work straddles the lines of science fiction, speculative fiction, and collaborative ideation.

Most science fiction answers three fundamental questions: What if, if only, and if this goes on. Social justice work answers the same questions as we dream together of a world in which we feel our miraculous lives matter, our freedom is non-negotiable, and we live lives that are satisfying and interdependent.

What if there were no prisons? What would you need to be able to do? Who would you need to be, to participate and be accountable and experience growth and consequences in that paradigm? I find it exciting to remember that there are places where there is no armed body making people obey – I got to travel to Costa Rica, a land with no ARMY, and I can attest that there is joy and there is community.

What if all children had access to the same resources of healthy meals, space to play and create, solid familial and community attachments, safety from physical emotional and sexual abuse, and quality education? What if they were not raised in an environment of emotionally or physically violent punishments, but tangible and nourishing consequences that grew their sense of responsibility for their behaviors and relationships?

What if we began life by getting to know ourselves outside of any preconceived identity-value construct (race, gender, class)? What would our Blackness feel like if it wasn’t primarily a site of shared trauma and forced resilience? What if the work we do in this generation makes it a smaller and smaller part of our history?

What if?

If only we learned democracy and consensus and collaboration as a practice from a young age, instead of just a theory we expect our government to practice with representatives in our place.
If only our police were not issued deadly weapons, but trained to mediate and intervene on harm.
If only we had a cooperative economy. If only we could liberate ourselves from scarcity thinking and practicing, had an abundance

If only.

If the movement for a just transition goes on, our species might be able to survive on earth and take root amongst the stars, a destiny Octavia gifted us with in her books the Parable of the Sower and the Parable of the Talents.
If this abolitionist movement goes on, we will transform how humans relate to each other.
If movements for queer and trans justice go on, we will successfully break the restrictive and damaging construct of gender and hetero normative supremacy and actually get to experience the wide variety of love, life and pleasure that is most natural to us.

If this goes on.

What if.
If only.
If this goes on.

Right now, we are in a phase of history in which we are awakening our imaginations, and these questions help. We are articulating dreams to each other in which we matter. We are dreaming to each other that Black Lives Matter – and not just black straight ablebodied male lives, but black queer trans women’s and non binary disabled lives matter. We will say the names of these lives and we will take direct action and change policy until these lives matter to everyone.

I want to share a poem I wrote about this political moment. It’s called “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

Respite is going to save our lives. Rest is going to save our lives. And rest allows us to come down from the nonstop stressful urgency of now, to remember that we are also responsible for dreaming. We are concurrently dreaming a world in which all Black lives matter, and rape culture ends, and we reclaim our place on this planet, and we can hold each other accountable through love, mediation, boundaries and consequences.

My mentor Grace Lee Boggs used to always ask us ‘What time is it on the Clock of the world?” and right now my answer would be, we are in a phase of imagination, co-dreaming a world where our ‘what if’s and ‘if only’s get realized, and the patterns of harm cannot go on.

Imagining these futures, writing these stories, does not mean we know yet how to live into these dreams.

I have worked as a facilitator and mediator for over two decades and a huge portion of the disputes I have been asked to hold are rooted in us being angry at our mistakes or someone else’s, while unable to be accountable for those mistakes. The crises are urgent, but the transformation that emerges from radical imagination is still slow, relational, imperfect work. We are learning.

Earlier this year, I noticed that we are in a pattern of disposing of Black women leaders, and I felt the heartbreak of that, and at first it hurt too much to write. But then I wrote, and so much came out of me that i ended up sharing a piece called Disrupting the Pattern, in which I offered some things for us to consider as we learn to practice solidarity with each other, whether it’s with and amongst Black people, or across racially constructed lines with 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 leader from white supremacist attack because you also have critiques of or questions about how that leader’s 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.

Love does not demand our perfection, because none of us have that – love sees the effort we have made on behalf of our people, our species. They are home.

A huge part of my racial justice work is being in solidarity and loving myself in my own Black story and Black offer, which I know takes nothing away from all the other Black brilliance in the world, but increases its abundance. 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.

If you feel moved to practice this solidarity of which I speak, repeat after me:

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.”

Thank you for that.

In closing I will offer that yes, I imagine a world in which we are liberated. And before that, I imagine a world in which we deeply honor the work that we all do towards that liberation, even if we don’t agree on the methods. But I see so much more than just the state of freedom – I know my dream is not a destination, but a practice that will be ongoing. Because after imagination comes ideation – how do we bring these dreams into ideas of structure and policy and agreement? How do we move from air to earth?

And then once we have these ideas in place, we move into iteration – what do we stop practicing and what do we start practicing?

I am aware of how so much of what I imagine – liberation from the cycles of harm and supremacy, being in relationships of sovereignty and safety in our bodies and on our planet, letting love being a guide to how we understand everything from identity to economy – these imaginings may still seem peculiar and strange…queer. So i want to share the first words of Emergent Strategy, a quote from Ella Baker. ““This may only be a dream of mine, but I think it can be made real.”