american revolutionary

i assert my solutions as the living embodiment of my nationality…

i’m testing that statement out.

for a long time, most of my conscious political life, i have not thought of myself as an american (and not a nationalist at all, especially not of a colonial empire). i have been a world traveller. a future ex-pat. a staunch critic of the ways america is failing at everything from dreams to execution of values, from founding to present. and i hold these critiques to be self-evident – how can anyone with a mind and a heart not see the failure, the epic moral failure of the country i was born into?

recently, 3 things have made me reconsider my relationship to america.

one thing is sitting with the words of the late james boggs and being with grace lee boggs, and their clear belief that we have to understand the context of where we are, that there is a real place in which we have the right to be revolutionary. jimmy said, “i don’t believe no one can run this country better than me,” and he said that as a worker. now i feel challenged by grace’s latest thinking, that a new “more perfect union” is ours to envision and embody, and i think we have to believe that no one can run this country, community by community, better than those of us with clear visions and practices of justice and sustainability. if we believe that, then we must take on the responsibility of bringing our visions into existence – through our actions, not just our words.

the second thing that has made me reconsider this is a conversation that happened at web of change. it was hosted by anasa troutman and angel kyodo williams, and i wasn’t even there, just got to debrief how powerful it was with several participants afterwards. one of the key components was the idea of being able to say that those things that offend us at the deepest level, which seem inhumane, which give us feelings of shame by association – we have to step up to say “that is not our America.” leaving the space open for american identity to be defined only by those who are driven by fear leaves us with what we have now – policies of walls and borders instead of open arms and visions, prisons and penalties instead of communities that hold each other accountable and safe, poverty and joblessness instead of meaningful roles in communities where we each feel our worth and get honored for our contributions. america holds an international role which we who have citizenship here can’t shake off – unsolicited and violent judge, oppressor, manipulator of resources and relationships, bringer of trash/waste/dehumanizing work. what we are within our colonized borders is amplified in our external actions. and there are enough of us who know a better way that if we truly took on the responsibility, the practice of being american revolutionaries, it would have a worldwide impact. scaling up, yes, but only by going deep in accepting the privilege and responsibility of being american at this moment in time and taking up new practices wherever we are.

the third piece for me is looking at my family in light of recent stories i have heard from immigrant families living and dying to get a hold of a status i have taken for granted. my sisters and i were born in texas, in el paso. folks who are brown like me and whose ancestors’ blood still bakes in the earth of my birthplace, folks who were born 10 miles away from me, they have died because of long-term impacts of our foreign policy, trade policy, drug habits. on a fundamental level, being an american means being responsible for the human cost of our way of living, our mistakes, our policies. i may not agree with the policies, but that doesn’t much matter to the people impacted by them if i do nothing to change the ways of this country. my family has had a chance at happiness that was made possible because of american military endeavors and i have to attend to that reality. can i face it completely and instead of feeling shame, think of what can bring justice to my family, to my nephew and niece as they begin their young political journeys? this feels like huge work for me.

i see more and more that my path is not necessarily an organizing path, be it electoral or community. this is not simply because i am disappointed in our movements, though i feel, viscerally, that we/they are mostly practicing what i could call the old american ethic: spread, grow, mainstream yourself, prosper in competition, value new ideas over ancient wisdom, colonize by spreading as many chapters with cookie cutter action plans as far and wide as you can, don’t apologize, pitch first and listen later, etc.

all of that is there, but my calling is underneath that critique, and it feels like yearning, it feels like a budding set of solutions. i am interested in connecting with, building with, and supporting folks who are interested in the next american revolution – in holding space for a new american ethic that speaks to the experience of masses of people within these hyper-enforced borders: we start by seeking indigenous wisdom for how to be in this place and honor those who have been here the longest. we stand with the world in calling for america to evolve as we practice these new-old ways of being here. we build our economy of relationships, not dollars. we see ourselves as part of a global network of citizens of one shared planet who have a collective responsibility towards home. we respect each other and the land, we practice restorative justice, we begin by listening, we accept the responsibility of where we are. instead of being known for our critique, we embody the revolution wherever we are, in whatever work we are called to.

i know i can’t change the past, not even the very recent past, our actions of yesterday and even this morning. but i am also more and more aware that i can’t put off this being of a place for even one more day. i have lived in many places, and i have loved many places, but i have papers for one place, voting power for one place, family all rooted in one place. it is this place where i will make my stand.

in a way this is another coming out, full of terror and bravado…and pumping out of me like blood. i will test this out, here, as a truth and an invitation: i am an american revolutionary.

on the road again

i have been traveling a lot this past few weeks. the ruckus camp was incredible, and then i was at web of change up off the coast of british columbia, which was fascinating.

i sat on a panel at web of change which really challenged me – which is righteous i suppose because it was called Our Challenge, and the 3 of us were talking about what we see as the key challenges of this time. there ended up being a real sense of a dichotomy on the panel, which i didn’t expect. one panelist spoke of the importance of failing and being able to admit it and learn from it – michael silberman – i thought this was SO important. if we could see our failures as an equally important (or more important) part of our experiment at living/organizing than our wins, i think we could grow.

the other 2 of us…i think it felt like a reform vs revolution conversation (with me holding down the revolution part)…or maybe an electoral vs community organizing thing. but for me it was really a lesson in how to communicate what i am feeling and thinking about right now, which feels like it goes beyond those old dichotomies. i want us to think deeply about what we really mean by success, and no matter what type of work we are doing – electoral, community organizing, reform, revolution, or work that may not be called organizing – that we are embodying a new way of relating to each other, to the way we think of “success/winning”. i feel hopeless when i see how many of the oppressive practices we say we are trying to change/stop that we are actively engaging in within our organizations and campaigns. even if we are doing electoral/reform level work, are we challenging the models that we know are not working? or we doing work that is DEEP, or just trying to get as big as possible without knowing what we are leading folks towards?

i loved the level of conversation we got to have at web of change, but i am still really worried about our collective eagerness to scale everything up without actually practicing it at a small and deep level – like in our organizations. i see so many organizations where we don’t practice transparency around money or power, and yet we want to gain control over the money and power of our cities, states, country. i see so many of us resort to emotional manipulation and violence in order to move our ideas forward at an organizational level, and then we want to talk about nonviolence and cooperation between nations and in our domestic and foreign policies. its not that our desires are wrong, i just don’t think we can get there wishing/hoping/demanding it of others…i think we have to “transform ourselves to transform the world” as grace lee boggs says.

i will publish my notes from web of change before this week is out.

my trip to ny was wonderful because the whole time it was like – i am not an ED of anything, so i can just see my friends for once!! so that’s all i did, one deep conversation after another, which a few hours at the russian baths thrown in. totally indulgent and awesome and i spent a lot of time walking and feeling glam like i only do in ny, paris and tokyo.

now i am at the common fire board meeting, which is already a good and challenging space for me. we’re on a gorgeous farm in upstate ny where the leaves are all turning into gorgeous shades of sun and fire. rain and wind are my constant companions these days, and this place is no exception.

learning and thinking about what it means to form communities that are intentional about sharing resources, centering the wisdom and experience of impacted communities…this feels like my most octavia butler work. but its also hard, because i am wondering how those communities can serve folks like me who are more nomadic, naughty, occasionally glam, urban, folks who don’t want to have a bunch of house meetings as the main way of being in relationships, folks who do long to change. i’ll keep you posted on how it goes.

tonight one of our board members, esther, who is one of the most inspiring women i have ever met – she lives a zero waste life in a forest home with no electricity and at 57 is the healthiest person i know, all of which she learned from her life as a peasant, not from sustainability theory…she led our opening ceremony, and she said, “if you are moving with spirit, listening to spirit, then you are going in the right direction.” this was so perfect for me to hear because i don’t know how to describe the magnitude of what i am being called to do, but i do feel like its an operation of faith, of listening, of following feelings more than logic. it’s marvelous.

we went through the four agreements tonight, toltec wisdom brought to today’s masses by don miguel ruiz. the agreements are always liberating for me, bring such peace into my life when i actually bring them to mind:

– always do your best
– be impeccable with your word
– don’t make assumptions
– don’t take things personally

simple to say, harder to practice, liberating to embody.