election exhale

i spent the past weekend at a gathering called with/out ¿borders? hosted by the arcus center for social justice at kalamazoo college.

it was a well structured gathering, four plenary conversations over two days, each one with a set of related breakout sessions afterwards. there was an ‘unconference’ as well, emergent sessions and film screenings that bubbled up from a brilliant participant body.

i got to speak on the first plenary and the election came up. as i was speaking i realized that i have been feeling unexpectedly calm about this election lately.

but how is this possible!

i was returning from a hot springs off-grid moment after a six day facilitation extravaganza, so i’m not sure how coherent i was.

but here is some exploration of the feeling, and the context.

to begin with, i feel like all the people i most respect and admire are playing their positions well – in movement, in life, and in relation to history.

the vision for black lives platform is brilliant, complex and clear. it really helps as a guideline to any and all who would hope to lead in or shape the future of this country.

in each place/movement i get to facilitate, i see people moving towards complexity and alignment with each other in ways that support being able to advance the leadership of grassroots and directly impacted communities.

these organizers i look up to are aware of the election, and doing work around it that makes sense. none of them are dropping everything and doing reactionary electoral organizing – their work is much longer term. most are not endorsing any candidate, because our standards are high.

and! we are not ignoring the election, primarily because many of the people we care about are looking through the election lens right now, and we dance between the attentions of the people and our visions for justice.

rosa clemente and others are reminding us that in spite of all the fear drums, there are other legitimate and politically aligned options, especially in blue states, and no individual has to bear the brunt of a broken system – everyone should have the right to vote their values.

the conversations i’ve been in are nuanced, and this, more than any particular individual or formation, gives me hope.

mostly we recognize that candidate pump as a hilarious and offensive attention-suck is not himself the problem, it is the ideologies he is playing with, the animus he is stoking to get attention – that’s the problem. still, he is doing us the favor of showing how vast and solid white supremacy and economic fear are in the u.s. right now. mapping the opposition. and white house or not, white supremacists are turnt way up right now.

and…that is what we expected, and should expect, in response to this moment of nonlinear black political, economic, athletic and entertainment flexing.

the death throes of white supremacy are vile to witness. it never stops shocking or hurting us to witness and be prey to white supremacist vitriol. but i am focusing on how many white people are standing up, stepping back from the table, and finding ways to learn self-love that don’t require dominance, looting, destroying.

i am also impressed with the radical compassion of leaders who can see through the fragile surface of white supremacy, see through to the pain, all the way to economic alignment, and are reaching through to speak about shared oppressions and shared possibilities.

regarding clinton, mostly we recognize that while having a woman president will be a move forward, we won’t be tricked into ecstacy over symbolic gains again. constructs such as race and gender expose themselves most when they are fully indulged. the mind and values of each woman are different, are not to be assumed. yes she is a woman, and familiar, and ridiculously competent, and a survivor, and a human being. and a hawk, and a zionist, and so on.

clinton is not the first woman to run for president, but she does seem to be the most experienced human to ever run for this office. still, she doesn’t align with or advance many of our values (“Who do you trust to be the president? The Republican, or Donald Trump?“), particularly in the ways she has used the tool of war.

we have under our belts two or three shared experiences (at minimum) of overattending to the office of the president. one is the panic of george w bush’s presidency, the terror that was drummed up, the heartache of watching critical funds move away from what we cared about and towards war and destruction. the stolen elections upheld by the supreme court, which shaped eight years of history, left us cynical, and in a mounting racial and climate catastrophe.

two is the thrill of obama’s election to the presidency, followed by years of seeing the limitations and compromises that defined his position, guaranteed his second term, constricted his legacy.

he is perhaps the best president we will experience, the most feminist and facilitative. but in a capitalist imperialist nation it’s hard to measure or celebrate such a thing.

an example of the contradictions needed to consider the obama presidency: i pray for him and michelle’s black love and safety daily, but i don’t trust him to free mumia and peltier.

i trust the savvy organizers who are using this election frenzy to move important stuff down ticket – sheriffs and school boards and policies matter so much more than presidents in our daily lives.

in detroit we are organizing people to vote on prop A, which will allow communities to hold corporations accountable for what they do in our city.

and during this time the exciting news is not happening in the media-election frenzy, but on the front lines of the Standing Rock struggle to stop pipelines that were prophecied to destroy the land and water from being built across North Dakota, as black people continue to live and die at state whim and to learn to love and protect each other in real time. and Flint and Detroit fight for basic water rights, and learn to love and protect each other in real time.

what i am saying is, our priorities are in order, we are aware of the paths of fear and limitation, and we are choosing to organize, collaborate and grow what we long for.

so no matter what happens? we gon be aight.

emergence (speech from opening for allied media conference 2013)

emergence is the way complex systems and patterns arise out of a multiplicity of relatively simple interactions. it emphasizes critical connections, authentic relationships, listening with the body and the mind.

in emergence, the whole is a mirror of the parts. fractal – the health of the cell is the health of the species and the planet.

there are examples of emergence everywhere.

birds don’t make a plan to migrate, raising resources to fund their way, packing for scarce times, mapping out their pit stops. they feel a call in their bodies and they must go, and they follow it, responding to each other, each bringing their adaptations.

clara reminded me today of the WAY of flocking: staying separate enough not to crowd each other, aligned enough to maintain a shared direction, and cohesive enough to always move towards each other. destiny is a calling that creates a beautiful journey.

emergence is beyond what the sum of it’s parts could even imagine.

a group of caterpillars and nymphs might not see flight in their future but it’s inevitable. it’s destiny.

oak trees don’t set an intention to listen to each other better, or agree to hold tight to each other when the next storm comes. under the earth always they reach for each other, they grow such that their roots are intertwined & create a system of strength which is as resilient on a sunny day as it is in a hurricane.

dandelions don’t know whether they are a weed or a brilliance. but each seed can create a field of dandelions. we are invited to be that prolific. and to return fertility to the soil around us.

cells may not know civilization is possible. they don’t amass as many units as they can sign up to be the same. no – they grow until they split, complexify. then they interact and intersect and discover their purpose – i am a lung cell! i am a tongue cell! – and they serve it. and they die. and what emerges from these cycles are complex organisms, systems, movements, societies.

detroit. the allied media conference.

nothing is wasted, or a failure. emergence is a system that makes use of everything in the iterative process. it’s all data.

octavia butler says “civilization is to groups what intelligence is to individuals. it is a means of combining the intelligence of many to achieve ongoing group adaptation.”

she also says “everything you touch you change, everything you change, changes you.” we are constantly impacting and changing our civilization – each other, ourselves, intimates, strangers. and in that reality, we are working to recreate a world that is by it’s very nature in a constant state of change.

but Janine Benyus the mother of biomimicry, says Nature would always create conditions conducive to life. She tells of a radical fringe of scientists who are realizing that natural selection isn’t individual but mutual, that species only survive if they learn to be in community.

how can we, future ancestors, align ourselves with the most resilient practices of emergence as a species?

many of us have been socialized that constant growth, and critical mass, are the ways to create change. but emergence shows us that adaptation and evolution depend more upon critical connections. dare i say love. the quality of connection between the nodes in the patterns.

and we know how to connect – and we long for it.

we are going to experiment with this in our bodies now. together we are going to make a wave. how many of you have observed the ocean? the waves are not the same over and over – each one is unique and responsive. the goal is not repeat each other’s motion, but to respond in whatever way feels right in your body. the wave we create here is a one time occurrence, show up. let’s begin.

notice what it takes to respond well. how it feels to be in a body, in a whole – separate, aligned, cohesive. critically connected.

now, let’s get more complex.

(dance, hustle, crowdsurfing explosion)

520 years, 391 years, right now

today i am grateful for the passage of time.

i have thought i understood things in my life, and almost everything i have thought has changed, and will change again. i am grateful for having a mind that is willing to change it’s understanding, that is as of today unsettled.

i am grateful for time because it allows me to see my mistakes, to atone, to change. it allows humans to do this – sometimes in one lifetime, sometimes after generations.

my life sometimes feels like an accumulation of mistakes. not regrets, just things that went awry, when i acted from misunderstanding or fear, tricks of timing and fate. those mistakes i am able to understand have become lessons, which i am learning not to repeat. the rest, so far, have become patterns.

i am part of a human arc towards justice, but a human condition, a tendency towards mistakes. i am of a species that has a hard time choosing the right thing, the thing that is selfless, community-oriented, and does not cause harm, the thing rooted in abundance.

and we have a hard time apologizing.

time is the gift that allows us enough space from our actions to truly contemplate them. to not just say the words of atonement, but to feel the pain of what happened and truly desire a different path.

520 years ago, europeans landed on the shore of the u.s. believing they had reached india. we laud the leader of that lost expedition to this day. i am grateful that in my lifetime i have learned the costs of this mistake, that i can be part of forgetting his name. i see the finding of this land as a collective mistake, i remember who was here when they came.

in this moment, i am part of seeing that history as a violent mistake, a pattern we don’t want to continue, something to apologize for and transform.

391 years ago, european settlers celebrated their first thanksgiving here. they were 129 years into the mistake. it was too late to turn back, and where could they go? – they were the unwanted, because of their religious practices and, for most of them, their poverty class status. they had been violently carving a home into this land. they were calling the people who had been here, who were defending their land and right to be here, savages.

i am grateful to have learned about genocide, displacement, colonization and imperialism, so i can look back over time and see that this country was founded with injustice. only by seeing that can we begin to see other ways forward, ways that generate healing, respect.

i am grateful to have learned about the people who were here, who still are, holding the wisdom of how to be in relationship to this land and still, after all this time, willing to share it, fighting to share it, to protect home.

i am grateful to learn that each human has a lineage, an indigenous story, and that we have the technology to learn it, to be in relationship with where we are from, what we did to get where we are now.

we are in this moment, as a nation, when we have not found a way to truly acknowledge the mistakes of our creation. we still teach the lies to schoolchildren – it’s too tender, yet. it throws our heroic greatest-nation-in-the-world mythology into question. it is one of the underlying reasons i think we stand with israel in their current occupying massacre. if they are wrong, then we were wrong. and we can’t see a way out.

when i think of this, i feel grateful that time moves in eras and epochs, mostly beyond our comprehension. this period that we are living in is not so long on that larger timeline. i am grateful that i can imagine a future where humans look upon this period of time as an age of ignorance. from colonization to capitalism to climate, we are racing so desperately into our own destruction as a species. i know, because time exists, that this period will pass.

and we will be there, or we won’t.

i am grateful to know that humans once believed the sun revolved around us, and now we don’t. i think the relatively recent belief that history revolves around white people is ending, slowly but surely, through science and love and education.

i am grateful for my multicultural, multi-class family, which provides me with ongoing opportunities to learn, to open my heart, to feel the whole story that led to my existence, the horror in it, and the beauty.

i am grateful for the ways i have seen, in my lifetime, love overcome imperialism, manifest destiny, racism, and borders.

i am starting to see that love is the only way to heal belief wounds (what i am currently calling the internal trauma that results from beliefs which are so egregious to humanity and our home planet that it actually damages us to believe – beliefs like ‘we must compete for resources to survive’, ‘white is more beautiful than any other race’, ‘there are only two genders’, ‘violence can result in peace.’)

i am grateful that in my life i have had enough time to change some of my fundamental beliefs, and begin to heal the belief wounds.

i am also grateful that i have begun to truly understand my mortality. while time keeps on moving, for myself, and those i love, there is no future that is guaranteed. i must be just now, i must do the best i can with my understanding now, i must embody love in all of my actions now.

as james baldwin said, ‘there is never a time in the future in which we will work out our salvation. the challenge is in the moment; the time is always now.’

so right now, i am radically grateful for this complex day, for the little i do know and the lot i don’t know, for my family, friends, comrades, lovers, healers, practice buddies, babies and the abundance of love in my life, which drops my jaw every day.


I believe in meditations & gratitudes. What we give our attention to grows. There were disappointments, imperfections & compromises yesterday, election day 2012, generating or continuing our next to-do lists for the coming years (or month depending on what happens 12/21/12).

But here are things I am grateful for:

Grateful that Detroit rejected the emergency manager proposal, reclaiming our humanity in decision making in the city. & that our local comic book villianaire Manny Maroun’s millions didn’t trick us into supporting his nefarious bridge plans.

Grateful that two of the rape-to-baby pipeline  enthusiasts, Akin & Mourdoch, were thoroughly shut down.

Grateful that we have a black president whose offspring are women, who chose last night to speak on climate change, native americans, gay marriage, complexity, cooperation, & ending war. Meditating on his possibilities for these next four years.

Particularly grateful for a president who speaks of ending wars while my sister serves. Relationships bring the larger world into proximity, reality.

Grateful that my own mind is more complex than it was 12 years ago, that I can see the range of victories & tasks yet to do in relationship to each other, that I can see what is possible in the present while still longing for & working on creating more revolutionary possibilities.

Grateful that the majority of people I am in community with are neither idealists nor purists, but visionary transformative emergent strategists, and lovers of life, people & planet.

Grateful to live in Detroit, MI, where the average person in voting lines has historical context & nuanced analyses. Where folks were primarily looking after each other, informing each other & thanking each other in yesterday’s long lines.

Grateful that today my work continues, that it inspires & nourishes me.