Building Accountable Communities (speech on strategies for ending and recovering from harm)

Harm is an external wound to your wholeness. More than a bump, an accident.

Harm is what convinces us that in this abundant world, we only deserve to survive. Convinces us that material and emotional scarcity is our lot.

My work is very much about returning people to the truth of miraculous abundance. I’m bleeding as I write this – a reminder that miracles are messy, that I am alive and not in charge. Life is a bloody, magical, messy, beautiful gift.

I play with scale – instead of impossibly wide, go satisfyingly deep. Instead of focusing on the whole, getting stagnant in your insignificance, get close in, get dirty. Operate at your OWN scale. and MAYBE grow. If everyone was practicing transformative justice in their own lives, we’d have enough.

The natural world gives us some clues: abundance is healthy. It’s normal to have plenty. But! And! Plenty is relative!

Each species is programmed for the precise amount of sunlight it needs, and how to swallow light. How do we balance between the rich fertility and terror of darkness, the abundant life and dangerous fire of light?

Balance.

Divergence and balance.

And emergence. The complex systems and patterns we long for – the justice and accountability that allows for our whole humanity – it all comes from, is built from, relatively simple interactions.

Calling Black liberation workers into support. Sitting at a kitchen table. Drinking tea. That’s where I invite people into accountability. Not to be friends, not to share joy, not even to be comrades necessarily – but accountable. Accountable to something larger than ourselves.

And nature says: enjoy this. We’ve been given bodies so brilliant that some of us have even reclaimed the pleasure of the whip! in just a few generations. We long to feel satisfied and content. Belonging and dignity.

We are born into another’s hands, we are a species meant to hold and be held. We live on an orgasmic planet, fecund and perfect.

But! can we see ourselves home again after all this harm?

My work is to remind us to imagine, to remind us that we are responsible for shaping the future. And to point us down and all around at our teacher-parent-planet. And to remind us not to sleep through the sensational experience of being alive, the heaven here on earth, the blessing of having a body – an individual and collective body – that can recover, can learn, can remember to love.

Visionary fiction.
Emergent strategy.
Pleasure activism.

Transformative breakups.
Kitchen table mediation.
Boundaries are better than disposal.

Abundant justice.
Liberation.

That is all the miracle I know.

birthday blessing

we have now entered the sacred window that only comes once a year, between Beyoncé’s birthday today and my own on the 6th.

a lot of people have asked how they can support me in my new IRS situation, which involves paying the govt more money than i have. every month. (i was a war tax resister, i reflected on my learnings on my blog)

any money given to me will just be more taxes to pay later. but what really matters to me is supporting and protecting the work of the Emergent Strategy Ideation Institute. i don’t want the work to drift because i’m being made to feel scarcity. i’m feeling clearer than ever that it’s time to offer emergent strategy facilitation training, i want to answer this call. monthly or one-time donations to make sure that this budding little institute can actually cover my salary, let me hire someone brilliant to grow the work, and let us focus on making the offer of facilitation training for 2019, this is the birthday gift i want.

if you have been moved by emergent strategy, by the thinking and writing and facilitation, if it can come from the heart, please give. in the memo put “ESII birthday donation” so i can thank you all for being my birthday blessing.

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the pace of a lightning storm

I can’t rush
I can’t shrink
I am light but only of darkness
I am the sound of darkness
I am the thick and heavy crash
I look soft I look slow
I am tons I am bigger than ever
praise arcs the sky
gasp, gasp in wonder
you thought you were above.
surrender to going under:

there is a lightning storm out tonight, it is loud and massive and midwest and bright and spectacular. it’s been raining for days, the land is swollen, the river is fast. here is a lesson of lightning: you can’t rush or shrink who you truly are.
and if you have a brief life, let it be bright.
and let the sound be a sign of intimacy.
close enough to quake within, close can be so frightening. show all the way up.
I tried to capture the lightning but you could only see it by being present.

the blessings that come

my life is overflowing with blessings right now. i am learning that it takes work to prepare for blessings, and to put them to good use.

in the past month i finished two books, did two big journeys for emergent strategy (madison and nashville, very rare trips in this year of homing), and hosted the first emergent strategy immersion in detroit.

the books reshape everything, the characters and ideas show up in between my mind and the world as new lenses, combining grief and pleasure in each day, in each interaction. i am shocked by how often people are sharing secrets and love and longings with me these days. these are stories i am open to in new ways. do they know this is all i want to hear, the truth this raw?

and…i want to be home, quiet, hermiting. having to leave feels like tugging myself away from a comfortable womb. i am healing each day i am home, talking to my plants, sitting in my tub, swimming with all my elder homies, making small offers to my community, cooking.

and i want people to come here, gather here.

immersion is a way of being in water, completely. the event i hosted is the first of several experiments this year. i am seeking the best ways to invite emergent strategy to the front of peoples’ consciousness and practice, ways that don’t rely on me being the sole one to teach/spread it. this first one was thrilling for me, it was a group of people surrendering to the flow of being with each other, taking risks together, being whole together, steps and missteps that became a dance, learning with each other.

we were in detroit because it’s a teacher, a cauldron of transformation, and because i want the city to feel the abundance that comes from emergent strategy, the love that can open inside the theory.

eh, this all feels vague, and that is probably on purpose too, as i want to learn a lot more before i say more.

i was immediately able to test some small pieces out in nashville, and am in a large experiment with solidaire in may, as well as ongoing facilitation with Movement for Black Lives and BYP100. i am giving myself permission for this to be a learning year, i want to be generous with my student self in every space i get to be in or hold.

but conversations continue…some places to check me out:

Sex, Power and Leadership Conference

Longreads: a beautiful distillation of everything i care about in interview form.

Radically Selfish Podcast

and being very high for 4/20 special episode of How to Survive the End of the World podcast (we also dropped an episode on Reshaping Apocalypse that is fire).

blessings also come as needed lessons. saturn is retrograde from now until my birthday. this means caution with my words, discernment in what i listen to, and…karma is coming, learn from it. i want to learn, and to smile, to laugh in the lessons. everything is still hard, and we all die. i take that seriously. but until then, i am focused on the blessings.

Detroit is/as/beyond Wakanda(?/!)

the other day i got be part of a circle of Detroit thinkers, makers and artists considering the relationship between Detroit and Wakanda. in what ways is Detroit a Wakanda? in what ways might we go beyond our in a different direction than Wakanda?

we met at the FabLab, hosted by the brilliant Blair Evans, who gave us a tour of all the equipment that is changing the realm of production. the other invited speakers were myself, Ingrid Lafleur if Afrotopia, and black comic artist Arvell Malcom Jones. the other attendees were comic book creators, technologists, organizers, entrepreneurs, artists, parents, educators, children and more.

i took notes cause it was a great conversation across a lot of walks of life.

Blair shared the democratizing potential of spaces like the FabLab – what if anyone in any community can make whatever they need? how could that shift our economy? and since the technology is basically here, what human systems are needed to make the most of that potential?

i made some connections between Detroit and Wakanda – we are a city that people can’t truly see from outside, that people have written off. but so much innovation is galen here – it’s part of why i moved to Detroit on purpose. i spoke of our practice of small scale innovation and intentional experimentation in projects like the FabLab, Peace Zones for Life, Detroit Summer, and the very idea that we transform ourselves to transform the world. i also spoke of the resource richness of our location, with 25% of the world’s fresh water around us. i asked how we hold boundaries in a way that isn’t isolating.

Arvell spoke on the work of creating comics and stories of our own, and doing this in community. he asked, “if you are taking care of the people and they take care of you, what do you need?” he also noted that the role of monarchy in Wakanda is about managing needs and resources, versus just holding power over others.

Ingrid asked if Mayor Young could be read as a Killmonger – an anti hero working to create Detroit as a safe space for black bodies to prosper. she reminded us that Detroit is built on salt, a crystal city, on incredibly rich soil. she asked, “what kind of orientation do visitors to Detroit really need?”

here are some thoughts from the conversation – i tried to catch everyone’s names*. enjoy!

zoo, the barber, spoke about where conversations really happen – in the barbershop. he said the old, ancient ways were better.

we noted than one strength of Wakanda is that the ancient and future coexist and grow together.

Blair added that if we don’t have a framework, then we will use bigger, better tools to replicate pathological behavior.

Halima and Talon spoke about how WE are vibranium, and our hearts are the purple flower.

Numi, in full Wakanda regalia, shared the Afrofuturist Youth Project, which is teaching youth healing modalities, political education and arts.

Lou pointed out that scale made Wakanda successful – everyone had relationships with each other.

Elandria, visiting us on a tour to learn what different communities think about ‘the Commons’, shared that in her work it’s important to have things you don’t use machines for, so you don’t lose the person who knows that job or skill. and noted that great ideas don’t really matter to folks who can’t pay their bills. she asked how do we meld the
theoretical with the practical?

she also pointed out that the movie, and Wakanda, are still based on extraction. and that actually we need things that are within, that we can all access. she left is with the question, how do we show our shadow side for the sake of being whole in community?

coke spoke on how Wakandans did don’t want to share vibranium if it could be used for harm, and said this reminded him if cell phones in schools, which kids use to access porn, or text people to come fight. he asked how do we change how our children think and act? how do we use technology to do that? so they start creating futures? the children are our vibranium (this point was shared by so many in the room)!

mama lila spoke on how technology interferes with face to face connection. she thrilled us with the reminder that with children we’re building a pathway forward, vs adults, who are unlearning. she said we need to view lived experience as a gift, a source of political education. and reminded us about the importance of our water, that the whole emergency management move was about taking control of our water. wage love.

mohan told us technology is important to empower and augment, not replace. he says we have a tremendous cognitive surplus in this region – how do we bring the tools to ask the people here? he reminded us not to be afraid of failure – an idea isn’t important, but a series of ideas we learn from is very important. he said open source has made so much technology accessible, but we must learn through failing like in a video game. you get good through iteration. (!!)

lauren noted that one of the biggest blocks to actualizing Wakanda is how we think of ourselves. how do we activate that liberator mindset while still in a colonizer-adjacent space?

ingrid asserted that joy is a rebellion. she said “i am active in joy and pleasure to decolonize black bodies.”

upcoming ways to continue conversation:

check out an emergent strategy immersion or facilitation training – www.alliedmedia.org/esii

Ingrid is hosting a conversation on cryptocurrency/black chain on Mar 22 at Norwest Gallery.

Arvell offers ongoing comics classes.

Blair is generating FabLab cities with a vision of Detroit being independent by 2054. he reminded us to generate more than we use, to not be extractive but generate for future generations. to remember we are machines running on DNA coding (swoon). practice makes it real. also community hours at fablab 3-6 daily!

* if i missed yours let me know and i’ll update!

excerpt from Sublevel: Report

i was asked to write a piece for Sublevel magazine and it aligned with what felt like a transmission, possibly written in the pace of a Battlestar Galactica cylon hybrid. here’s an excerpt and a link to the full piece!

Task: We must become scholars of belonging.

Need: Separation weakens. It is the main way we are kept (and keep each other) in conditions of oppression.

Truth: Belonging doesn’t begin with other people accepting us. It begins with our acceptance of ourselves. Of the particular life and skin each of us was born into, and the work that that particular birth entails.

Mantra: Where we are born into privilege, we are charged with dismantling any myth of supremacy. Where we are born into struggle, we are charged with claiming our dignity, joy and liberation.

Possibility: From that deep place of belonging to ourselves, we can understand that we are inherently worthy of each other. Even when we make mistakes, harm each other, lose our way, we are worthy.

Practice: Learn to apologize. A proper apology is rooted in this worthiness – “I was at my worst. Even at my worst, I am worthy, so I will grow.”

Practice: Move towards spaces that value us, let ourselves belong to those communities that know they want us, know they need us, know we have worth, know we deserve more than transactional care.”

read more HERE!

attention liberation: a commitment, a year of practice

what we give attention to grows. what we pay attention to grows.

i am a commitment to attention liberation and reparations.

i am a commitment to being/shining sunlight on everything i want to see grow.

i am a commitment to divesting from anything that isn’t rooted in love.

*

today i am entering a year-long commitment of putting my attention on what i love and want to grow.

i have been heading this way, but still giving too much of my attention to that which i cannot shape, that which i cannot reach. i want to hold my attention as precious sunlight that i bestow on every practice or person or concept that advances the way i believe things should be. i want to affirm that which is done well, and/or is done bravely.

to have enough attention for this focus, i am intentionally removing my attention from those who hurt humanity or the planet, or hurt movements learning and working to protect either of these.

i will practice:

1. meditation.

each day i will practice focusing my attention on my breath through silent meditation and black feminist chanting.

“i am who i am doing what i came to do.”
“the world needs to hear her voice.”
“my people are free.”
“god is change.”

2. centering daily in the commitment of attention liberation. i am a commitment to being/shining sunlight on what i want to grow.

3. redirecting what isn’t mine. i will direct people to a resource page (link coming soon) for folks learning things that are no longer the best focus for my attention.

i will also disengage from gossip at the interpersonal or ‘media’ level. “Be the boss of your business or be bossed by those that can’t mind their own.” – Chani Nicholas

4. find the people already working on the solution.

Wherever there is a problem, there are already people acting on the problem in some fashion. Understanding those actions is the starting point for developing effective strategies to resolve the problem, so we focus on the solutions, not the problems.allied media network principles

i don’t read the news simply to be appalled and then rant about how appalled i am. i stay informed about the world with my attention on (and material support flowing towards) movements and people i believe in. we are the solution.

5. put my attention on growing transformative justice in conflict and grievance. this one is big. and this level of work doesn’t happen on social media.

while purely punitive measures can feel briefly sayisfying, i know they do not work outside of a transformative justice process, at worst recreating/proliferating harm, shame, repression, and isolation; at best making people act right without healing whatever is broken at the root.

once light is shed on a harm, i will participate in tj processes where appropriate, or support by mediating or connecting those involved to someone who can help get them to and through a process of resolution.

if that isn’t possible (for instance, if both/all parties are not willing to participate in a process in good faith) i will hold and support strong boundaries, wish all parties the sacred work of transformation, and keep it moving.

i will not give attention to continuous case building against people or institutions where i do not see a commitment to resolution and transformation.

6. i will report back on new year’s eve of 2018, on what i learned through this practice.

wish me luck, and/or join me.

bonus: emergent strategy mantras

i am no victim of life; i shape change.
we are not victims of circumstance; we shape change.

i practice what i want to become.
we practice what we want to create.

i am a microcosm of all the possible justice, liberation, pleasure and honesty in the universe, and i act accordingly.

i remember that i exist only in relationship to other people and systems.

i accept that i cannot change others, but i can hold standards for my own life.

i willingly engage in and support transformative justice processes for accountability and getting in right relationship.

i create more possibilities in the face of scarcity thinking.

i act from and towards love.

earthseed poem

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the compass spins around
north becomes south,
becomes simply the horizon
the direction that matters is forward
we conjure from the darkness
a future orientation of the people
moving like firstlight, touching everyone
moving like water
weeping and crashing through mountains
nothing is permanent
“to shape god
shape self”
our destiny is to “take root amongst the stars”.
where do you think earth is?
root.

#earthseed #octaviabutler

missing grace: year 2

Thursday, October 5:

my friend Rye Young wrote a lovely, honest post this morning on working towards liberation, even if we won’t see it in our lifetimes. it sparked thoughts in me: lately, I don’t feel like liberation is a place, or some perfect state, some utopia. I feel it, it’s an interior knowing, supported by material conditions we cocreate. so…I see/feel liberation every day (eh most days) just at a small scale. personal. in a group, in a moment, in a movement. breakthroughs. liberation is everywhere, but it’s turned down by the hands of oppression. I’m trying to grow it, to turn it up, every day, inside my own life and others’ lives. we are the fire, we are the wave. ??

Friday, October 6:

yesterday marked two years since grace became ancestor.

i’ve been reflecting on how she redirected conversations when she wasn’t interested in the topic, how she demanded songs, and intellectual rigor.

i’ve considered many times that she wouldn’t have really read or liked the book…but who knows?

i miss how she remembered and asked about people’s lives, about my sisters and nibblings. how sweet and engaging she was with my parents. she was decades beyond us but never too good to hear our small trials and celebrations. i miss her smile when she liked what she could hear.

because of grace i value questions and iteration, and singular moments of transformation as the atomic space of collective transformation.

last night with the full moon i worked to shed any boundaries between myself and detroit, any lingering sense of not belonging. to let the place use my voice and my work to tell her story. detroit is the mecca of Emergent Strategy, among so many other incredible things. thank you grace for being one of the voices that called me home, showed me home.

harriet is a north star

13 trips
70 people
no lost passengers
my people are free

19 trips
300 people
no lost passengers
my people are free

i can’t stop thinking about Harriet Tubman!

i think about all the resources she did not have at her disposal – grants, organizations, markers and post-its, masses, privilege, a copy machine, social media, social norms, a job that could be done with recognition and safety.

she did not have a perfect language with which to critique her oppressors, a quick way to travel, time to suffer fools.

she had a vision (my people are free), a theory of change (i will physically lead to freedom those who know they are slaves), a gift for adaptation (the underground railroad was about finding the next open space in a series of precarious moves across a deadly chess board) and her body.

1 raid
700 people
no lost passengers
my people are free

i have so many questions!

i wonder if she dealt with people who were made so heavy by their own sense of being victim that they could not take the first steps north.

i wonder what happened when she faced dissent, someone who questioned her leadership. if there were people who would follow her for a week and then say they’d found a better route, a better map in the sky.

when did she tell people about her episodes, her disability?

how did she trust each group of frightened strangers with her vulnerability and freedom?

did she ever feel imposter syndrome – ‘oh what do i know about the way to freedom, i’ve only been that way twice?’ if she ever wanted the recognition of the name Moses, if she just longed to do her work unseen.

how did she survive the heart betrayal of her husband, who found another wife while she was working on his freedom, who rejected her when she returned for him? who else did she love, who tasted her pleasure, who saw her private tears?

how did she know to sing as a strategy? how did she choose the song, the pace? how did she sound?

when the Civil War started, how did she decide to align her skills with spy work? and had she built relationships beyond her family and those she had freed, the relationships with armed white soldiers who said they were on her side? did she trust them?

13 trips
70 people
no lost passengers
my people are free

or 19 trips
300 people
no lost passengers
my people are free

freedom is the scale.

getting yourself to freedom, experiencing personal liberation, these are crucial acts, but not enough. we have to continue the risk, find the many ways to get each other free.

even when there is a price tag on our heads.

and it is not enough to know, in detail, how things are unfair. we have to know we are slaves, to see the evolving mechanisms of entrapment, to always keep one eye on the cage and one eye beyond it. we have to be able to show other people when the systems that fill the hours of their lives are stripping them of dignity and agency. we have to be impolite and disruptive. we have to move in the dark, quietly, listening for each other’s heartbeats, learning as we go.

we have to be willing to pull a revolver on those who, in their fear, would risk the lives and well being of everyone else. we have to be willing to say we will complete this journey to freedom, one way or another.

we have to give our lives to the future that comes through in our dreams. to talk directly to god, to listen directly. to be so much more than we’re told we should be, to be shocking, to be myth, leaving legacy.

8 years
so many trips, in the long winter nights
so many people, directly and indirectly
train ever on the tracks
no lost passengers
my people are free

Harriet guide me today
teach me generosity
adaptation and bravery
teach me the beauty of each small cluster
moving north, moving together,
moving towards liberation
teach me rigor
teach me humility
teach me to listen to the divine
directly, to let myself be well used
remind me that you did the work in hiding, in danger, hoping no one would know your name
teach me to sing when the way is clear
teach me to make freedom more compelling than the slow death of slavery
teach me to work alone and in interdependence that requires astonishing trust
break my heart in order to keep me moving
keep my mind set on freedom
remind me that all the time
and even now
my people are free

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