Reflections on My 2017 Sabbatical

I can’t believe its been a year since I published on this website! So much has happened. I have actually been writing pretty steadily but its been creating guides and handbook’s for organizing [much of which I will be releasing soon!] I feel the urge to pick this up again. So I thought I’d update something I wrote for BLM in February that I always meant to publish but never did. It a reflection on my Sabbitical that I took in December of 2017. These questions were developed by Erika Totten and I for when folks take sabbaticals so they can process their growth and communicate it to the tribe. As most of you know I have since left BLM DC but as I’m still committed to movement work, I thought some of you might be interested in some of what I’ve been struggling with. Most of this was written 6 months ago with a few more recent updates. More to follow soon!

  • What prompted your spiritual sabbatical? What feedback were you receiving that let you know you needed a sabbatical?  From what, where or who were you receiving that feedback?

 

 

My sabbatical was prompted by many things. I made a commitment to myself, in 2016, that I would take the month of December off as a sabbatical every year. In addition, I was feeling burnt out in May of 2017 and had resolved to leave BLM by September 2017. It has been coming increasingly clear to me that activism is not the work that I am on earth to do. After reflection, it seemed that organizing might not be it either. I needed to take time to figure out what it might be.

 

I sent around a survey to get feedback on how I had been showing up over the years. It has really informative if hard to hear some of the feedback. I spent a long time [a few weeks] really sitting with it. In leaving BLM a few months ago I was able to gain some perspective and then starting getting some feedback from spirit and needing to sit with that.

 

 

  • What have you learned about how you were showing up?

 

 

I was increasingly becoming aware that the person I am at our events, grouchy, short tempered and neuoritcaly focused on perceived failure is not who I really am. Through my previous movement work, I spent entirely too much time as that person. Thus, a sabbatical was needed. In addition, a growing number of women activist had been commenting, both directly and indirectly, about toxic masculinity in my actions in movement spaces. I sat with these comments for a long time and had a lot of useful accountability session with organizers I was close with.

 

I realized that there were multiple things happening. One, my anxiety about activism often feds a domineering habit I have learned from this society to limit options to control outcomes. This domineering is felt as toxic masculinity by many women I work with who then feel shut down. I say felt as, not because I don’t believe it is toxic masculinity but becomes I’ve come to see that is is more useful, to me, to talk about domination as a universal logic. My anxiety about the event going well makes me feel like I’m in conflict which triggers a scarcity response which leads me to try and control outcomes. This attempt at controlling of outcomes is domination that is read as patriarchy by some, middle class tendencies by others and still by others as an internalization of white supremacist urgency.

 

Everyone I work with, has both a personal and communal [identity-based] relationship to Black men showing up in that way. The type of women I am generally close too–strong willed, charismatic Black women, used to standing in their power, who have a personal experience with anxiety–react very differently than women I know less well. While some of the women were no doubt projecting their trauma onto me, as leader who wields power in my community I believe I am responsible for taking that trauma into account for how I move through spaces. I am reminded of one of my greatest recent lessons learned, you don’t have to be wrong in order to change. I essence, I don’t have to accept that I am doing something inherently wrong to understand that is a better, more feminist, more trauma informed way for showing up that I can practice. That being said, it is important to me to recognize that there were ways I was show up that were wrong, and not in alignment with the values I profess and believe.

 

In addition, thanks to Autumn and addrienne brown’s podcast on the intricacies of the latest star wars movie, I also realized that I have some more growing to do in unlearning patriarchy habits. addrienne talks about Poe Dameron and his relationship to admirals of the resistance [Organa and Holdo]. Poe’s masculine hubris is not like the self-serving egotistical Han Solo. Poe is not interested in his own life or even his reputation. While he is clear that he is the best pilot in the galaxy, he in generally concerned with fighting the empire. His issue is that he can only imagine opposing Empire through heroism. Though ego driven exultations to others the sacrifice themselves for the cause.

 

This, to me, represents what Horace Campbell calls “the patrichical model for liberation.” It is when militarism masquerades as revolutionary thought. Poe is unconsciously more interested in heroics than the true cause of revolution, which Rose puts well, which is to save what we love and not fight what we hate. His masculine bravado is not the problem, though I’m sure it is irritating. It’s his masculine sacrifice for sake of beating the enemy rather than getting and living free. This is my growing edge around unlearning patriarchy. I have a tendency to focus on a goal that I alone have decided is important and leading people to sacrifice themselves to attain it. I then fall into the trap of criticizing those who don’t want to sacrifice for my goal as not being fully committed to the revolution. Yet as Poe demonstrates, the patrichical model of liberation tends to get folks killed.

 

  • What lies were you telling yourself?

 

I think I was allowing my frustration, stress and some negative tendencies in the movement draw me into victim consciousness. I began to blame what I saw as a lack of progress to people’s unwillingness to commit themselves to healing. I told myself lies about the people I organize with that caused me to overlook their growth. I told lies about the slow, painful and resource intensive nature of my own growth as if I just decided to transform instantaneously to person I am now or that I am now fully formed.

 

I also told lies that I needed to prove that the principles of transformation I operate from are right and useful. I told lies about the proof of my value being in the explicit external recognition of my value or in the “flash-points” and concrete moments of transformation that I could isolate and point to as “mine.” Yet ultimately, no change occurs because of one person’s initiation. Our worth cannot be proven, only known. You cannot own transformation and you are not what you accomplish.

 

Ultimately these lies caused me to live a life of a lie. Activism and campaign organizing is not the work that makes my spirit sing. It is not the only way I can contribute to Black Liberation. If I’m honest, my commitment to Black Liberation is not about winning or toppling the systems oppression we face. I am, at my core, interesting in what we can achieve collectively through self-actualization. I believe that Black people are in a unique position to lead the world to self-actualization. I also just enjoy working with Black people. That is the real reason I do this work. I work to dismantle white supremacy because it stands in the way of the self-actualization of the human species.

 

I understand that to get free we will have to do some work that doesn’t make our spirit sing but I am convinced that it shouldn’t be more than 25% doing work you hate. Honestly. It’s too draining otherwise. I hate doing logistics for events.  I hate reminding people of things we agreed to do. I hate constantly having to convince people to do things that I see as important.

 

What I love to do, what makes my spirit sing, is to help people figure out how to get what they want. Once someone knows what they truly, deeply want [not just what they think they can ask for] I love strategizing about how to get there. I love helping facilitating learning in others and giving people frameworks to better navigate the world. I love organizing coalitions of organizations with a clear sense of direction and commitment.

 

Community organizing, in this moment, is more about building relationships, helping people identify the real problems, convincing them that it worth trying to solve them and bringing them into a formation with others to wield collective power. I’ve done that before. I’m not bad at it, but not great and it doesn’t make my spirit sing. Its crucial though. Without it, we can’t get free. But there are other people doing that who love it whom I can support.

 

  • Describe the process of shedding. What part of you had to die to give birth to your new self?

 

More of my beliefs centered around an illusion I have that I can control outcomes had to die. More of my investment in the illusion of certainty had to die. More of my investment in the protection my ego provides had to die. Perhaps most importantly, my binary thinking around right and wrong had to die. As my new revelations about how I had been showing up came to me and as I gained wisdom I began to see more and more flaws in my previous way of thinking. I was hesitant to accept these newer, more useful truths because it meant, at the time, saying that I had been wrong. My friend Erika helped me realize that thinking of it as wrong is a function of my ego. A more useful story is to say that I had been transformed and know had a more complex and complicated understand of the truth.

 

The process of these deaths was deep internal reflection done in absolute solitude. I was alone and disconnected for much of my sabbatical which was a gift and a curse. Being alone and secluded in my room was not actually physically healthy for me even if it was spiritually useful to an extent. My body started hurting from hours of sitting down and reading with no movement or fresh air. I also became drained without social contact. I was reminded that I need to resist going to extremes whether it working 16 hour days or retreating into a hermit’s life. I have to find a way to consistently engaged in the world while being grounded and spacious with it.

 

  • What have you been reflecting on?

 

I have been reflecting on the person that activism brings out in me. I have been thinking about my tendency to shift into deconstruction and critique and immediately see all the flaws in plans and people when I put on my activist hat. I have also been thinking about my tendency to throw myself into the work and shut of parts of myself when I go into movement work.

 

A few months back from my sabbatical and I’m sitting with what it takes to bring your whole self into this work. How much energy it takes to process each emotion and feel it all the way through. How much time it takes to not let your home life suffer for the sake of the moment. How many more skills you have to develop when you don’t have time to spend hours disconnecting into to slowly process just enough of the emotion to bottle it all back up again.

 

I’ve been reflecting on the role identity can and should play in movement for liberation?  What is the nature of the state and how could you coordinate human activity at the scale we need to in order to address climate change without it. While those questions seem abstract and theoretical I experience them as visceral. The might determine whether I should continue building all Black space or build Black spaces only for Black nationhood. What could a Black nation look like without a state? Should I be organizing to transform America or leave it?

 

I have also been reflecting on what this moment in history is, what is needed and what role can, should and do I want to play?

 

  • What new commitments are you going to make moving forward?

 

I committed to centering practices that give the spaciousness I need to show up in ways I want to. This means developing spiritual practice that allows me to move from center at the start and end of everyday. It means prioritizing work and only taking work that aligned with my values, commitments and vision.

 

I have committed to allowing myself and others to be human. To realize that we are not always skillful, rational, connected or grounded. We make mistakes and stumble and get confused. The more I allow myself some compassion and grace the easier it will be for me to have patience with others.

 

  • What new sources of joy, sustenance and resilience have you found to support you moving forward.

 

I’m still struggling with this, even six months after the sabbatical.  I still have so much anxiety and stress. I think I’m still working on leaving commitments that don’t serve me. I’m still trying to figure out want balance looks and feels like. I think one thing I have learned [from some reading on Taoism] is the importance of holding without grasping. Of noticing unmet needs without increasing desires unnecessarily by pinning for them or thinking of them constantly. Eat when you are hungry rather than keep working but fantasizing about eating. When you finally eat you will overindulge because wants can never be satisfied only needs.

 

This has been a big lesson for me. I’m a dreamer. Any my ability to dream is so important for the creative visioning I do. I didn’t realize that vision and fantasy are very different. My fantasies cultivate a desire for revolution tomorrow, for fame, for acceptance, for recognition. They aren’t just ideas, or neutral fantasy. As the Buddhist say, you are always practicing something. I’m learning to hold unto my vision for my life without grasping for tomorrow. I think that is becoming a major source of resilience for me. Just to be here, in this moment, accepting this as what is without accepting it as what has to be.

 

  • What ongoing support are you going to need going forward and from whom?

 

I’m going to mostly need support from myself, to let the things die that need to die. To stick with this path of unraveling, to see it to the end. I’m going to the support of loved ones and friends in ways that I will communicate to them privately. Mostly I need support in asking for support lol.

 

  • What kind of accountability do you need to show up differently?

 

I want people to tell me about myself. The feedback I receive is helpful. I also want people to make explicit asks of me. I think I spent so long doing where I thought I was needed that I forget the necessity of being invited to support. I think people I know are so used to me just doing what I’ve always done that they don’t ask, it’s assumed. When I do things that people don’t like, often there is silence and I won’t hear about it for weeks at a time. I think the more feedback I can get and more direct asking I receive the more spaciousness I can carve out for myself.

 

The Unending March [An Alternative History of Trumpism]

*this is a piece of speculation political fiction with just a hint of satire written in the form of a Wikipedia article form the future. The purpose is imagine what all this craziness from the white house might be building to while envision how peace might come out of chaos and tragedy. We should not take Trump’s idiocy or bluster lightly. When the autocrat says he is coming for you believe him! I believe we can prevent violence in the long run if we build for transformation and autonomy now*

Overview:

 

The Unending March.

The Unending March, also called the Bloody March or the March of Blood, is a series of mass arrests and political purges carried out by the Federal Order of Police and the Proud Boy Brigades in January of 2019. It was part of Donald Trump’s attempt to consolidate power ahead of the Calexit, as the California Succession movement was then known. Despite its legacy as the beginning of political purge of the American left, most of the causalities were actually political moderates and rival members of the Republican Party and the armed forces. The most famous killing was the public execution of the 26th Secretary of the Department of Defense James Norman “Jim” Mattis by John Carver Johnson on January 30th during a press conference.

The Term “Unending March” comes from a speech by then Vice President Mike Pence who, at the March for American Patriots on January 20, 2019 said that “believers in America liberty most [sic] not allow social degenerates to rule our streets. In response to marches of feminist and queers we need an unending march of American patriots in every city of this great country.” After the bombings of the New York and Chicago subway systems later that afternoon were blamed on queer anarchist supposedly funded by ISIS, the coalition of white nationalist and anti-immigrant groups called the American People’s Army began making internet memes calling for mass violence against LGBTQ people, Arabs, Muslims and Black Lives Matter activists using the phrase “Unending March.”

The morning after the bombings President Donald Trump attempted to institute a nationwide martial law despite there being fewer than 10 casualties and the suspects being quickly identified and apprehended by local police departments. On January 22nd, Secretary Mattis said that he felt a nationwide martial law was completely uncalled for given the circumstances and recommended that the America people try to heal the divides that had been growing under the Trump administration through “understanding and respectful dialogue.” This in turn caused Donald Trump to publically call for Mattis’ resignation, though he later backtracked on that call after the Joint Chiefs of Staff issued a statement against marshal law.

The newly appointed head of the Federal Order of Police, Edwardo Pena, was tasked by Attorney General Jeff Sessions to “root out the enemy where ever he may be.” Edwardo Pena began working through his newly created office to coordinate the national police response through the Fraternal Orders of Police. Though this coordination would be later ruled unconstitutional, Edwardo was able to coordinate the arrest and detention of over 10,200 activist, organizers and journalist who had been flagged under the now infamous “Law and Order” program which monitored protestors. These mass arrests triggered wide spread protests which eventually became uprisings in 13 cities.

Memo’s leaked by Wiki Leaks in 2020 later revealed that the Uprisings had been planned by the Trump Administration who increased militarized policing through the so called “War on Drugs” while eliminating human services spending hoping that the increase in crime would justify even more authoritarian actions by the administration. Despite the chaos, many Democratic and moderate republican governors and mayors refused to call in the National Guard to stop the uprisings. This led to the American People’s Army to call for a mass mobilization across the country which eventually led to the paramilitary group attacking politicians and military leaders who were openly critical of the Trump regime.

Over 300 hundred movement leaders, politicians and military leader were killed in the ensuing chaos. Though it has never be substantiated, it is widely believed that members of Donald Trump’s administration provided the paramilitary forces with names and locations of individuals to target. A series of memos leaked to the British magazine The Guardian, later known as the Trump papers or red papers, did confirm that Donald Trump personally ordered Edwardo Pena to target activists with whom he had personal enmity towards including members of the group Black Lives Matter. These memos would later led to Donald Trump’s impeachment, the resignation of Mike Pence and the criminal trials of Jeff Sessions and Edwardo Pena.

Many scholars believe that the Unending March would have sparked a Second American Civil War had the World War 3 not started with the Invasion of Qatar 6 months later and following UN Syrian Resolution Crisis in the winter. The uprisings in American cities continued for many months including the D.C uprising in May of 2019 which forced the inauguration of President Paul Ryan to retreat to Camp David and resulted in the burning of the capital building by the newly established Maroon Society.

 

Calexit and Anti-Trumpism

 

Donald Trump was elected in the “Stolen Election of 2016” in which a confluence of the archaic Electoral College system, massive voter repression by the Republican Party, Russian political influence, an apathetic electorate and the first use of psychometrics in an American election. He lost the popular vote by nearly 3 million votes and was inaugurated under mass protests as the least popular America president in history. Though modern scholars generally classify the Donald Trump administration as a plutocratic kleptocracy it was widely seen as proto-fascist by its contemporaries. The rise of “Trumpism” as it was called, coincided with a rise in the American left, particularly in the anti-authoritarian and anti-racist tendencies as many Americans began to view liberalism and conservatism as two parts of the same problem that caused the years of political dysfunction that had preceded Trump.

The left leaning and most populous American state of California, now part of the Western American Maroon Society, voted in 2018 to have a special election on California succession. This vote came after a heated legal battle over California’s right to stop payments to the federal government which had threatened to bankrupt the country just a few months before. In addition, the two years of Trump’s administration saw months of mass mobilizations against his agenda. This period of America history would later be dubbed the “Era of Marches”, due to the 26 marches on Washington with over 6,000,000 people that the period saw.

Trump’s attacks on women, people of color, LGBTQ communities and immigrants also lead to an historical level of cross community political activity that was rare for America at the time. After the federal government shut down of 2018 over the debt ceiling and subsequent human service crisis, this period also saw the beginning of the autonomous community organizing that would later form the basis of the War World III era Maroon Societies. The growing strength of all of these movements had led to growing bi-partisan establishment call for Trump’s impeachment.

 

Military Opposition to Trumpism

 

Despite his nationalist rhetoric, Trump was unable to coalesce military support around his presidency. While sentient beings today can’t imagine a “just military,” at the time, the U.S. military had seen itself a force for peace and stability in the world in which America led alliance kept threats at bay. Therefore Donald Trump’s short-sighted isolationism and chaotic behavior did not endear him to the military. In addition, Trump was loathe to actually listen to current military leadership and tended to rely on retired and often disgraced military leaders for consul. Therefore, those in the military who might have otherwise been emendable to his “America first” isolationism were often at odds with him for more personal reasons. Even Marine Corps, which had supported Trump’s ill planned invasion of the Philippines in March of 2018 had lost faith in him by the beginning of his third year in office.

Rank and file soldiers however were consistently opposed to the Trump administration. Even before the heavily causalities of the invasion of Manila, the rank a file U.S military had protested the White House’s defunding of veteran services. With much of the logistical support roles in the military being privatized and the controversial and short lived 12-20 program that allowed mercenary soldiers to command U.S. troops, the rank and file soldier was often of low rank and lower pay. Without the typical veteran and active duty support programs and the skyrocketing price of food do the trade wars with Mexico and China, many scholars believe that the U.S. military was nearly mutinous by the end of his term. Fragging of mercenary officers’ quarters was wide spread during Operation Island Thunder and only increased after the Bay of Manila disaster.

 

Aftermath

 

The majority of Americans were unsure of which news sources and leaders to trust after the initial terrorist attacks in New York and Chicago. As the crisis deepened, most Americans lost trust in mainstream media completely and started to see the dangers of the continual war on terror. However, rather than spurring a movement against the surveillance state, the lack of trust actually allowed the Ryan administration to launch an attack against progressives and radicals that far eclipsed the McCarthy years. When the rumors of night raids and detention centers were first confirmed by the NYT and even fox news, most Americans were no longer heeding news organizations.

It wasn’t until the Teen Vogue’s coverage of the treason trials of the leadership of Black Lives Matter after they organized a symbolically successful strike of the defense industry in May of 2021 that most Americans began tuning back into national media sources. Before the Trump administration, Teen Vogue was not seen as a news agency but by the end of WW3 it was the most respected source of investigative journalism in the world.

Overall, shock of the unending march and resulting political turmoil was devastating to the American psyche. Many leftist organizers went underground and began organizing small affinity groups of mutual aid. Alexis Pauline Gumbs, in her 2025 book “The time of great unlearning” called this period the “enlightened retreat” after an anonymous memo written at the time called “the way out is in, together.” The shift from disruptive politics to mutual aid politics ended in the general strikes of 2022 and 2023 with the rise of Differential Autonomous Transformative [DAT] ecosystem organizing. By the time of the 2024 general strike, the American left [through decentralized and relatively young] was the largest political block in America. They successful ended WW3 with a general strike reminiscent of the communist in WW1.

Despite the shock and trauma of the nearly 10 year period, DAT ecosystems focus of healing and transformation lead to a marked increase in international cooperation and what would later be called “progressive globalization.” The Party of Revolution and Evolution [the PRE] would come to power in the U.S. in 2024 and stay in power until the dissolution of the United States, and all other nation-states, through “World without Border” U.R. resolution in 2044.

The World Without Border’s [WWB] resolution is considered by most to be the greatest achievement of the leaders of the enlightened retreat as it effectively ended wars between humans and ushered in the greatest era of peace time prosperity and cooperative and ecologically conscious economic development between the last war [the battle of Jerusalem] and Alpha Centari Liberation War.

 

In popular culture

 

The WWB was a result of decades of global activism lead by members of the North American resistance movement founded just after the Unending March. A monument to these heroes was constructed in 2050 in Maroon Society of Anacostia [formerly Washington D.C.].

The human species folk anthem, “Below and to the Left” is based on this period of Earth human history.

The 2100 Kwame Jones historical drama “Unapologetically Black,” chronicles the leaders of M4BL who were instrumental who came to leadership in response to the devastation of the Unending March.

The short lived T.V series “Queer as Fuck” follows several U.S, Mexican and Canadian teens throughout these tumultuous years.

In his trilogy “Race Traitors: The Death of Whiteness,” Mark Peace argues that the virulent racism of the Unending March was the catalyst for the “Race Traitor” movement of European ethnic groups re-creating their identities through the lens of progressive globalism.

Building Transformative Engines For Revolution : Differential Autonomous Transformation

“I think that DAT is how left organizers, activists and leaders are re-inventing human possibility in real time and creating different ways to navigate terrains of power in order to end human suffering.”

This essay is the first in a series of essays I have been working on over the past year. I hope to finally be releasing them over the next month! Please let me know what you think!

Sparks vs. Combustion

An old SNCC organizer once asked me if I knew the difference between spark and combustion. He said the Movement for Black Lives [M4BL] has learned how to create big sparks, starts fires and get attention through direct action and protest. Yet, in order to get free, you need combustion. Combustion is what happens when a spark is tied to an engine. Engines allow you move things and consciously shape change rather than just demand it. Our protest and shut downs were creating fires all over the world, but where was the engine?

It’s engines that drive [r]evolutions.

This essay is my attempt to outline how communities facing domination by outside forces are creating their own engines of revolution. It is not an assertion of how to overcome oppression or the best way to fight it. Rather it hopes to present a generative framework to better understand how we are effectively resisting oppression right now. My hope is that it can be critiqued, rephrased and collectively turned into a platform from which stronger movements can articulate more powerful, liberated and sustainable ways to be fully human.

It is my belief that a revolution is simply a change in who has power over aspects of a given system.  With the advent of global warming, the increasing complexity of society and simplicity of our public discourse, the crises of capitalism and global unease with our way of life; a revolution in our lifetime seems inevitable. The world is in constant motion and there are several engines of change from political machines to industrial supply lines that are changing the face of our planet. Yet when workers, community leaders and organizers talk about the revolution we generally mean a struggle to end domination of one group over others. In order to ensure the coming revolution is our revolution we need our own engines of change. We need a new political analysis and strategic outlook for building movements.

The old way simply isn’t working. Our beat-up unions, civic associations and nonprofits can’t travel the roads that haven’t been repaired since the last infrastructure bill or have been washed out by the latest “storm of the century.” They can barely even ensure that all of us, Black, Latinx, Queer, Trans*, poor, differently abled, femme, youth, etc. are in the same car. Likewise, identity politics without an engine for power building and social transformation has a tendency to lead towards reinforcing a self-limiting victim narrative and framework. We can’t afford to lose sight of the fact that victims do not shape change, rather they are shaped by it.

We need a politics that allows us to recognize each new ploy by corporations to make money off our backs, each time the state overreaches and each time we reproduce the same forms of patriarchal dominance and pyramids of power that we are trying to escape. At the same time, our politics must be able to develop a posture and strategy of opposition tailored to repeal them. We need a politics that realizes that regardless of how we might feel about the state in the abstract or our personal experience of America society, the history of gender, class and racial oppression in this state shows that it cannot be reformed to justice, nor the basis of its society intentionally changed by protests alone.

The politics we need is one that is able to stretch and bend itself to fight in different terrains. From the workplace, to media and cultural commodification, to the psychological and pharmaceutical invasions of the market to the bedroom and the politics of sex. Such guerrilla opposition to capitalism, white supremacy, patriarchy and state domination seems the only way to defeat the array of forces lined up against us. This is especially true given that the arrangements of corporate and elite interests [post-modern capitalistic hegemony] have moved from pushing their agenda in state capitals and big cities or bodies like the World Trade Organization (WTO), in favor of a decentralized global totality and near omnipresence.

In this opposition it is my belief that we will destroy the normative, ableist and limited view of humanity that these ideologies and systems of oppression foster and thrive on. In so doing, we will create multiple new ways of being which can not only reduce human suffering but actually bring safety, stability, a sense of deep belonging and joy, love and happiness into all of humanity’s everyday lives.

The Engines of Oppression

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This framework starts with a basic premise: there are a lot of things in life that are shitty but they don’t have to be.

Our stress levels, the violence we face from each other and the police, our struggle to pay the rent, our difficulty in finding, sustaining and expressing love, and degradation of our environment are not normal or inevitable parts of how humans act and live. These problems and many others are results of engines designed by other people to structure our lives. They are the result of choices we make and choices people with more power, influence and resources make for us. These engines of oppression have divided and conquered and spiritually starved us into this current world.

First, our communities were divided and conquered by explorers, conquistadors, slave traders, and inquisitions. Indigenous spiritual practices, social and human technologies that allows us to make sense of the world and each other, have been ripped apart. Then, years of state and capitalistic domination by “enlightened” imperialist missionaries and “visionaries” have divided our inner life and forced us to deny the existence of much of our pain to cope with the human tragedy of the world they have created.

We retreat into our minds, ivory tower universities or digital landscapes in order to ignore our emotional, physical and deeply spiritual pain. By spirituality I simply mean that sense of being connected to something bigger than ourselves that gives a sense of deep meaning, perspective and wholeness [God, the Universe, the Planet, the Movement, Ancestors, Each Other etc.]. With the perception that the mind and body can be disconnected, we retreat into our bodies [or from our bodies], and dive deep into the escape of drugs, instant surface level gratification of pornography or the numbness of emotional eating; all to escape the deep emotional pain and the gnawing intuition that there must be a better way to live. We have been conditioned to accept and seek out sensation and basic stimulation, without the vulnerability and discernment of actually feeling things deeply in our mind AND body.

At the same time that we have been separated by the unity of mind and body, our bodies are being destroyed by exploitation and expropriation. The material costs of capitalist and state domination whether through brutal labor conditions, the deprivations of both absolute poverty and relative inequality through underdevelopment and sheer ecological destruction are almost impossible to quantify. The pain of this current system is simultaneously material and psycho-spiritual. Its attacks on one realm of human existence reinforces its invasion into another.

Now that we all feel that this way of life is untenable, that we have made our world unlivable, the same indigenous practices that were ripped apart have been pieced back together, devoid of any kernel of resistance, and sold back to us. Yoga and meditation is now a tool to sustain us as good employees, mild mannered subjects of capitalism. This is much the same way that Christianity, a religion that was formulated in large part by Africans, was later repackaged to enslaved Africans to keep them subservient. Likewise, in the realm of science and medicine, the same doulas and midwives that western science scoffed at as “unscientific” are now sometimes only available to wealthy white families.

The very communities that had medicine women and midwives now face a whole host of systemic health problems including high rates of infant mortality. Family farms stretching back generations are sold to agro-businesses whose industrial mono-cropping now threaten our food supply. Now NGO’s try to teach third world farmers the same poly-cropping, nomadic and other ancient agricultural practices that their ancestors were forced to abandon by colonial governments.

Thanks to centuries of colonialism, divide and conquer strategies and spiritual and economic disinvestment, we now have few communities whole enough to organize the type and magnitude of the movements we need to get free.

Civil society has broken down across America. The natural meeting places, outside of state surveillance or market forces, where we could get needs met have either been destroyed, outlawed or co-opted. Even our religious life has moved from patriarchal, but local and attentive to community needs, to mega churches which preach a self-serving prosperity gospel. Block associations,  while often being insular and problematic but at least provided a space for the neighborhood to discuss issues of importance, are now few and far between. There are few places in which whole lives [familial, political, economic, spiritual] can be lived and there is a shared sense of being in “it” together. Now our lives are fragmented into several spheres where we choose different communities from a market of options. Community organizers now have to rise to the challenge of building the communities they seek to organize in the first place. Without strong empowered communities with a shared sense of togetherness we cannot resist the schemes of those with plans for our lives.

Our current daily struggles are in large part due to the fact that power, influence and resources are not equally distributed amongst everyone. They are hoarded by the wealthy and powerful who create or invest in stories like “America being a meritocracy” together with systems of values and worth to make it seem like the wealthy deserve to have what they have hoarded. Systems of belief like racism, sexism, elitism and anti-rural sentiments were old prejudices that those in power developed when they needed to make it seem normal, right and just that the ruling class has more than those “less deserving” others.

Race, class and gender constructions are often tied to stereotypes and social value judgments that seek to divide those of us at the margins against each other rather than against those with wealth and power, and make it seem like we deserve the stress, violence and insecurity we face. The belief that we deserve these things, and so do other people, then goes on to influence the choices that we make. The stress of all of this forces us to lose the unity of mind, body and spirit and individual and communal experiences of life. We have normalized our own self-destructive coping mechanism and accept their isolating, ahistorical, decontextualized profit driven solutions and value systems.

We have to realize that the cures and solutions that the wealthy and powerful give us to solve the problem we face is the same disease they caused and profit from.

The latest, and perhaps most nefarious, disease packaged as a solution we are being sold is called neo-liberalism, the belief that the market can solve all problems. Neo-liberalism, the latest form of capitalism, is not only changing how our governments function but changing the very notions of what everyday people think government is for. Neo-liberalism is by no means the major engine of human suffering operating today but it does bring the interconnectedness of those engines into sharp relief.

Gone are the days where the common citizens believed the lie that our government is for the people and geared towards the pursuit of happiness. Now the common person seems to see the government’s job is to protect business. Now the undefined but all important “market” is seen as a natural social phenomenon that the government must respect and tend to rather than seen as something the government creates by deciding what is and isn’t legal.

People start to become bits of human capital to be invested in or bundled and traded as toxic assets for profit rather than interconnected autonomous beings to support and let thrive in communities. The purpose of life implicitly argued for in our founding documents, that one should pursue happiness and liberty, while often times overlooked or perversely inverted in the history of slavery and genocide, are in danger of being permanently replaced by the imperative to generate economic value in the minds of ordinary citizens. In this whitewashing we even forget that being free to pursue happiness is something we should fight for. Everyday people cede love, belonging and the ability to build communities that meet their needs as a terrain of struggle. Us radicals are often not far behind.

Our liberal democracy, with its focus on individual rights and disregard for power structures and history, was never going to bring liberation to people who were oppressed on the basis of a specifically constructed group identity [race, class, gender etc]. However, liberal democracy does provide a potential platform from which more liberating radically democratic projects could be launched. As Barbara Ransby once cautioned me, “it can always get worse.” Those of us who have for a long time known that the United States was an empire and the largest purveyor of violence in the world should not take solace in Marcus Garvey’s words “when all else fails to organize people, conditions will.”

While this is undoubtedly true, there is ample evidence to suggest the current engines of change are bringing about conditions that will not organize people to greater freedom and liberation. Far from it. Neo-liberal Global Capitalism— a form of imperialism fueled as it is by white supremacy and patriarchy—threatens to bring the spiritual, emotional and psychological alienation, and culture of lovelessness inherent to modern life to unimaginable depths.

It is not enough to take over the skeletal remains of the engines of our supposed democracy. We need an engine that can drive us away from this mad house to a place where we can breathe freely, see clearly and love deeply. From there we can decide what to do with the state as terrain of struggle; as an actively contested subject.

In addition, we have to be real about how much we as social change agents have to change. Anyone who has been involved in movement work for more than a few months knows how toxic, draining and harmful it can be. Anyone who has been in movement spaces for years can see how much de-colonizing work organizers and activists have to do in order to not reproduce the same or similar hierarchies and aspects of domination we are organizing against. The lovelessness, alienation and competition of the outside word is thoroughly embedded into most movement spaces. At times, we even begin to think of our movements only as brands to be invested in and leveraged.  Similarly, many in the divested communities we organize in think of organizing as a service, like dry cleaning, and expect leaders to be miracle workers for their individual problems.

If a revolution is a people taking power over their own lives, then we have to be honest about the need for our personal and communal transformation to keep pace with our revolution. Once we have power, we need the skills, restraint, balance and communal accountability to wield it differently, as well as the skills, practice and knowledge to wield it effectively. These tools must be put into the hands of many and not reserved for an enlightened vanguard.

We need new, energy efficient and sustainable engines that can be mass produced with drivers who know how to navigate through rough terrain.

[R] Evolution

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Here we run into the chicken or the egg problem of the so called transformative [r]evolution. We cannot have a successful revolution unless we have liberated, healed people to manifest it. We can’t be fully liberated if we are just focusing on surviving an oppressive system. Thus you can’t have the revolution until you have a revolution. Yet, we can’t wait for the perfect leaders to come and guide us. We are the ones we have been waiting for and we will never be perfect so our politics shouldn’t expect us to be. This is why autonomous spaces outside the constraints and expectation of mainstream society are so crucial. In autonomous spaces we have the opportunity to be our full, liberated selves and organize without much [though never all] of the self-limiting beliefs and habits that make organizing so difficult. From these autonomous spaces we can launch campaigns that build personal and communal power and that dismantle oppressive systems. Autonomous, liberated spaces where people can be free from the trauma of modern like, make it easier for us to think and act from a healed and empowered place.

Instead of thinking of a revolution as a series of events that build momentum, we can think of revolution as a cyclical process of carving out autonomous space where we are freer and can look beyond the ideologies of oppression to devise transformative campaigns. These transformative campaigns carve out even more space, while teaching us the necessary skills of resilience, self-governance, and mutual aid.

In these autonomous spaces we can achieve what Elle Hearns calls collaborative solidarity. Collaborative solidarity is where campaigns invest in the leadership capability of the most marginalized so that they can be leaders in their own frontline struggles while in common cause with multi-front campaigns for collective liberation. Then, as stronger movements, we can launch more broad based multi-front attacks on oppressive structures and better protect our communities from repression. Thus, we can see that Revolution is the cars we build around our engines [social movements and autonomous projects] to carry us on our multi-generational journey to liberation. Through all of this work, we can be collectively and individually transformed into the people capable of manifesting a more just world.

The basis of this belief lies in my lived experience organizing for my own freedom and in my observation of other frontline community struggles. It lies in the way I’ve seen Black people reclaim spaces in gentrifying communities, use unapologetic Blackness to expand that space and build community and then launch campaigns to further their material interests, and from that liberated space build political and personal power while psychologically and spiritually transforming themselves. It comes from me seeing flawed Black people find as much healing in shutting down a highway as in a healing circle. It is also based on seeing so many campaigns win symbolic victories that have little effect on people’s lives and instilling no desire to take on the next fight.

This analysis is heavily based off the transformative organizing model, Third World Feminist Analysis of writers like Chela Sandoval, emergent strategies as articulated by the brilliant adrienne maree brown, the visionary work of Black Queer Feminists like Audre Lorde and June Jordan, and the vision of Octavia Butler who understood that change is a primary force in the universe. Also, issues of reclaiming the commons and building autonomy as articulated by Silvia Federici and the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement Kali Akuno were essential to my thinking.

I also have to give thanks to my various DC activist and organizing communities whose thoughts and perspectives show up in all my work. I appreciate Benjamin Woods, Eugene Puryear and Netfa Freeman for encouraging me to read more about Black freedom movements around the world. Thanks to Marybeth Onyeukwu whose fiery anti-carceral feminism and focus on Black immigrants always encourages me to make critical connections. Thank you to amazing Reece Chenault for reading a draft of this and for our incredibly generative conversations on the practical side of organizing and the politics of love. Special thanks to Rob Wohl and Bjorn Westergard whose late night debates on western Marxism have clarified a lot of my thinking.

Most importantly, much of the transformative nature of this analysis is a direct result of Black Women organizing for liberation in our lifetime. I owe a major spiritual and intellectual debt to Dr. Alexis Pauline Gumbs, Erika Totten, Adaku Utah, Omolara Williams McCallister, Katie Lonke and Elle Hearns for their strategic brilliance and cutting edge analysis, their embodied examples of a more livable Black Future and their organizing/healing work which were the initial impetus for this idea. Also my big sister and my immediate family’s first organizer April Goggans who is the reason I started organizing. I also owe an intellectual debt to Buddhist Peace Fellowship whose members brought the intersection of social justice and spirituality and the formation of Build/Block/Be into my life at just the right time to crystalize all of my thoughts into something useful.

Naming this history is important to me because I am interested in highlighting the current existence of and need for more organic intellectuals.

“Traditional intellectuals can distinguish themselves purely through the originality of their ideas or the eloquence of their expression, but organic intellectuals must initiate a process that involves people in social contestation…Organic intellectuals try to understand and change society at the same time…Organic intellectuals generate and circulate oppositional ideas through social action. They create symbols and slogans that expose the commonalities among seemingly atomized experiences, and they establish principles that unite disparate groups into effective coalitions. Most significantly, they challenge dominant interests through education and agitation that expose the gap between the surface harmonies that seem to unite society and the real conflicts and antagonisms that divide it.” George Lipsitz

In my mind, Differential Autonomous Transformation is not something new, nor is it something I created or discovered. Rather, DAT is a description and an analysis of resistance in action. It is an attempt, incomplete but hopefully useful, to synthesis the praxis of many different contemporary organic intellectuals. DAT is an attempt to illustrate the tactical genius of directly affected resistance so that front line communities can learn from each other. DAT is part of the long legacy of the many headed hydra. DAT provides a glimpse of what Susan Buck-Moss calls “universalism from below,” a global revolution for communal autonomy. It allows for the utilization of a specific form of collective subjectivity in which our narrative, political and spiritual terrains become polycentric palimpsests which can be the basis for mass based resistance and collective liberation.

Polycentrism:

  • This means having many centers instead of one
  • Polycentrism is unity in diversity or the ability to incorporate multiple experiences, both subjective and objective, into our understandings of the whole.
  • It means having multi-focal spaces that value a diversity of experiences within the space, allowing for folks to contribute different things to shared projects and receive different benefits from them
  • It means holding pluralistic views without being tolerant of intolerance
  • It means centering the experience and leadership of the most marginalized without reproducing hierarchies.

Palimpsests: is technically a manuscript page, either from a scroll or a book, from which the text has been scraped or washed off so that the page can be reused for another document. Often the word is used to describe an object made or worked upon for one purpose and later reused for another in which the earlier work can still be seen. Here is a crucial metaphor for understanding the history that is still visible and important in creating our new one.

So What Is Differential Autonomous Transformation?

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Differential Autonomous Transformation [DAT] is a synthesis of emergent strategies of resistance to domination in which oppressed people build engines, guided by a revolutionary love burning in their chests, that manifest the world they want by launching decentralized, targeted swarm attacks on structures of domination to carve out and expand autonomous spaces from which to launch transformative campaigns that build a new world in the shell of the world. DAT is what revolutionary love looks when it is employed by autonomous, healthy, healing communities of resistance simultaneously as tool, weapon, and sustenance.

From my view, DAT is how new social movements in America are trying to build engines of change. DAT is a style of organizing where communities use a praxis composed of several human technologies. A praxis is a cycle of acting, reflecting on the results of that action, reading accounts of other similar actions and then putting all that knowledge to use by acting again. A human technology is a social skill set, ritual or cultural practice that allows people to navigate aspects of the social, political, emotional and spiritual world we create. They are means of social reproduction geared to vision how one can and should move through the world. DAT human technologies allow people to navigate power with increasing agency, autonomy and self-determination.

Most human technologies are passed down to us over generations and re-fined each time an elder teaches it to a youth. Some emerge out of crises to be refined over-time or abandoned once the crisis is averted. Some human technology, especially those we create to deal with trauma are kept long after their usefulness. Human technologies include everything from family structures, to religion, rites of passage, musical genres like the blues or Hip Hop, and hospitality culture to Black folk religion [not to be confused with the hierarchical and colonial Black church] and the hymns and theology that it developed to allow enslaved Africans to recognize and celebrate their humanity under the brutality of slavery.

I believe that over time different conceptions of humanity, human life, human nature or human possibility arise and create a logic to organize our human technologies towards that end. The enlightenment re-organized the human technologies in the image of the rational man in much the same way that neo-liberalism re-organizes society for the economic man.  I believe that the left needs to assert a new vision of humanity, not of human nature but of human possibility, that enables us to ask each other [including ourselves and our enemies] where it hurts and have the skills to move to soothe that pain and dissolve the systems that perpetuate that hurt en masse.

I think that DAT is how left organizers, activists and leaders are re-inventing human possibility in real time and creating different ways to navigate terrains of power in order to end human suffering.

The core human technologies that I see comprise DAT are deeply intertwined and often times inseparable. Like DAT itself, they seek to build a comprehensive whole and compliment each other. They are separated out into three sections for ease of understanding. This is by no means comprehensive. Like everything about this framework, this is just the start of conversation. I hope this essay series leads to people adding on to and challenging this list:

Differential: To be Differential is to utilize political, emotional and spiritual discernment for revolution.

  • Critical engagement
    • The ability to read power in real time and devise a series of tactics suited to your conditions that align with an adaptive and emergent strategy for shifting power.
  • Intersectional power mapping
    • The ability to see how multiple systems of oppression influence and work together to create the power dynamics that underlay a given situation while understanding yourself, your communities and their opponents in relation to these system of oppression, resources and power.
  • Strategic collective action
    • People working together to build power-with (not power over) in ways that further goals of liberation, freedom or ending suffering.

Autonomous: To be autonomous is to be healed and whole outside the structures of oppression and away from state supervision.

  • Oppositional Consciousness
    • The realization of how what you want for yourself and your community is fundamentally at odds with what is expected of you from the society.
  • Radical consent as active co-creation in creating systems of mutual aid
    • Rather than merely helping people make informed decisions, it is working together to transform the options available to us so that there are multiple ways for individuals to get their needs met together with an understanding that we cannot separate our individual and communal experiences/contexts.
  • Holistic healing and well-being practices
    • Ways to disrupt cycles of violence and stop communities from passing trauma between each other
  • Decentralized ecosystems [networks] of intentional spiritual, social, political and economic communities
    • Every thing from co-operatives, intentional communities, new monasticism, anarchist collectives, sou-sous, settlement houses, catholic workers, to the elderly couple that opens their homes to the kids in destabilized conditions up the street.
  • Liberated culture
    • having culture based on non-hierarchical, anti-racist, feminist, anti-capitalist values that affirm the inherent value of all people and all bodies. It is a pluralistic culture that is not tolerant of oppression and domination and puts life over profit.

Transformation: To be transformative is to move through the world in way that forces ourselves to grow and that changes the world around us to better reflect the world we want.

  • Transformative Love
    • A commitment to building relationships based on an ethic of ending human suffering by coming together to meet the needs and desires of all parties simultaneously, by transforming the context within which those relationships exist.
  • Faithful Witnessing
    • Witnessing against the grain of oppression.
    • A commitment to deep empathy where we recognize people’s [including our own] actions, thoughts and desires as a result of their social location within systems of oppression and affirm acts of resistance to that oppression even when it is uncomfortable or seen as impolite, “unstrategic” or not sanctioned by mainstream society.
  • Letting the erotic guide
    • Using the viscerally felt joy we experience in life, what Audre Lorde called the erotic, as a guide towards liberation
    • remembering that the point of ending human suffering is to feel joy, wholeness and deep satisfaction.
  • Revolutionary visionary experimentation
    • Praxis of testing our beliefs of what it possible by living them out in the present with a commitment to rigorous critique and self reflection that allow us to sharpen our analysis.

Accountability is a Gift

Accountability is a gift. Even, perhaps especially, when it comes in a form that it is difficult to handle. When I was kicked out of BLM:DC last year, Khadijah approached me and gave me the best advice about accountability I had ever gotten. She said that it’s possible to rebuild from this kind of damage but only if you apologize and only if you apologize what’s actually yours and not more than that. Good advice, but hard to follow.Coming back into this collective was tough and it took the whole group a lot of effort to heal.  I think that most criticism has a kernel of truth to it and it is hard to decide how big or important that kernel is.

The truth is my actions and inactions hurt people I care about. I’m sorry that I have disappointed Schyla, an organizer who I respect, who has defended me and who I have defended to others. I’m sorry that I did not reach out to Melanin Uprising earlier. I’m sorry that I let some of you down and that you feel that my actions did not live up to my rhetoric. This is objectively true. I talk about learning to hold each other, to care for each other, being vulnerable and loving each other in order to get free. I talk about supporting Black women. A lot. Like all the time. I’m never able to live to my own standard. I don’t believe that I say that I do, I think that I try to be clear about my faults and complicity but clearly not enough. Learning to love people in a world that only teaches you how to hate is difficult. Learning to express and receive that love is even more difficult.

I love Chichi. I loved her when we argued over process and I loved her when she walked away from me in Virginia. I wish that she could have heard me in those moments when I told her I love her. I did tell her though. And I did try and show that to her by trying to come up with a process to resolve our conflict in the park that day. That was not how Chichi wanted me to show my love and that’s real.

I do need to say though, that I also love my self and the other members of the collective. When people who love each other disagree and are hurt and angry with each showing love for each other in ways that each other can receive gets real complicated. As I said on Tuesday, Chichi is a phenomenal human being who hurt me and who I hurt. I do feel however that we do all of us, including Chichi, a disservice by making this about an argument in a car in Virginia. This is about hurt people hurting people while trying to get free and the Beautiful Shit show that has been and will always be Black Lives Matter: DC. The was a lot that came before and after that car ride that led us here.

Most of the people who talked only to Chichi before the event assumed she was the victim and came away feeling like we attacked her. I understand that but I do not believe it is true. Most of the people who talked us before the meeting [the handful that asked us questions] saw that there was no victim just hurt people hurting people. For the record, all sides had the opportunity to change the format and invite who they wished. I choose to invite people who I organize with, including non-Black people. I advocated for people with whom I have personal beef with and do not organize with not to be there and I’ll own that, even when they came anyway. I did not want them to use my vulnerability against me. Perhaps that was small of me.

I wish there had been time for community input but we started late. I do realize and own that I did not really look into how to make the process be or appear fair. I did not have the emotional energy after the back and forth of getting it scheduled. I wanted a chance to tell my side of the story because I knew that there was a narrative that, according to some, made me look “foul” that was already out there. At the same time I did not think of my self as the offender.

It was, and is to me, a she said/ he said situation where I decided to wait to say anything until the circle. I waited until the circle to speak out because it seemed like the most constructive thing to do. It still seems that way to me. I’m not sure given how we all felt how this could have better. I was surprised at how gut wrenching it was. I did not expect that to be the case. I now also realize that my silence hurt people in ways I still do not understand. I am sorry if my not reaching out harmed you. I was a lot and I did not know, still do not know, what to do.

Those who are criticizing us now are doing it for all sorts of reasons, most of them seem very valid. We should be real though and acknowledge that most of these criticism existed about BLM:DC before there was any public circle.

BLM:DC is shit show. It always has been. We never quite get all of our ducks in a row. There is always something missing. Something we didn’t know we misunderstood. There is always a better time for us to act; a better way for us to build, share and grow power. We have done some stupid shit. We have not always held people accountable in the most strategic or constructive way [thought there is never a perfect time for critique]. We are not the organizing collective that city deserves [which is why we are not the only one!]. At times I’ve been extremely naïve and sometimes even a bit arrogant. At times I’ve organized from a place of feeling like a victim and feeling disempowered and it was not healthy. I own that. I’m sorry for the hurt that caused.

But it has also been beautiful. We have built something incredible. I feel with have done some things that have never been done. Not alone. Not without the help of the community, this moment, the uprisings in Ferguson and Baltimore and with the people who are now holding us accountable. But what WE have built is beautiful. I believe that at our best we have done this city that I love proud. We have leveraged this moment to bring changes to DC. I believe that Erika, Omolara and April and I have helped shift power to Black people in many spaces throughout this city. I think that Chichi was a crucial part of that work and will continue to build power for Black people in DC. Because of that work and because of the work of other chapters and the movement which bears a similar name, BLM:DC is really visible and we have clout. With that clout and visibility comes responsibility. It is a responsibility that I was not, am not, prepared for.

I believe, and I can only speak for myself, that this visibility and the mantle that we have been given was not the kind we asked for. I believe we have never claimed to be the only or most important M4BL group in DC. I think most people who look critically at the work being done would laugh at that suggestion.  Nor have we claimed that our movement, the Movement for Black Lives, is the only thing that matters. I think we used visibility as a tool and resource to try and build Black power. I think we tried to gain visibility for the cause and were not always prepared to handle the type of visibility we got.

I also know that I personally am not ego-less. Getting credit for my work matters to me. I think that the work I do is important and sometimes pretty dope. I believe that it is undoubtable that my ego, and my desire to get credit which stems from so often having people steal my ideas and take credit for them, has made me show up in some ain’t shit nigga ways at meetings. I did not show up to this movement fully formed. I am not a self-less saint. I am still not fully formed. I hope my growth never ends. I’m just an organizer trying to get free and learning on the [unpaid] job.

Yet there is still is these other expectations. I was naïve to not foresee some of them and others still surprise me. And, I still believe that every time we have been given credit for something that we did not deserve we have named that. I also believe that we have tried to use visibility and clout, including that which came from the name and not directly from our actions. I believe we did this to try and get our community free. I believe that the clout of the movement is a common good and we should all have personal use of it. I do not believe that we tried to own it or claim it for our private use. Some of these criticism seem to assume that power or clout or visibility are scarce resources and that if BLM has them no one can get them. I believe community power exists in abundance.

I do know that I tried to use the movement for personal gain, mostly to shut down white people who wouldn’t take me seriously without naming who I organize with. I think that displaying and leveraging personal power is an important tool for this work. I used my visibility, my writing and my organizing to get speaking gigs of $150-$300 to pay my rent [I do not have a 9-5]. I think my speaking engagements are work that furthers the movement and allows me to continue doing all the unpaid work I do. If you disagree or feel I do this in a harmful, disingenuous way, then let’s talk about it.

Also, BLM:DC is often called elitist. Personally, having grown up in this society I am constantly realizing the ideologies of capitalism, white supremacy and patriarchy that I have internalized. I have internalized a lot of anti-Blackness so its impossible that elitism does not show up in my work. I’m sorry if it showing up in my work has hurt people. It’s not me but it is mine.  That said, some of what folks are calling elitism seems off the mark.

People assume things about me that are not true about how I was raised, how much money I grew up with and have access to now or what I think about people based on their perception of me. That hurts because so much of their perception and valuation is wrong. But it will continue because I will not perform my trauma for people just because they called me out. I will not list the ways that I’ve been oppressed, apologize for not liking to process in public, how I speak or how you perceive me in social situations. I speak a good game because it has always given me power. My ability to write and articulate my thoughts has saved my life. I will not apologize for it or accept your narrative about it means about me. I write a lot, use big words and connect lot of shit to theory because that’s how I think. Just like there are always typos in the shit that I write, because that’s how I am.

I am beautifully flawed human being. I do dope shit. I do dumb shit. I make phenomenal things manifest. I open minds and change hearts. I also hurt people. I let people down. I do strategic things. I have a lot of privilege which I need to be held accountable for. I do amazing things that most people can’t while somethings everyone else does are a real honest to god struggle for me. I put in work. My work, our work, is flawed. If you can do it better then do it better. I’ve always believed my work was necessary but not sufficient. If you think I should stop trying to organize for liberation and you are putting in work [seen or unseen, organizing, art, child care etc] then please reach out to me.

The last thing that I want to say is, I joined BLM DC because I didn’t see anyone doing the kind of organizing I wanted. I hope that this criticism removes whatever pedestal folks have placed us on and cause more people to join the movement to organize how they think it should be done. Transformative accountable community power exist in abundance, it is all of our birthrights.

Going forward I will try to hear the criticism that folks are making about me and my work and about the collective I love. I will reach out to people to hear your thoughts. Please remember that communication works both ways. I won’t have the time or energy to reach out to everyone. I don’t know who all feels some kind of way. I want to do better. I will do better. But I will always falter. That’s what community is for.

Thanks for bearing with this long post.

In love and solidarity,

Aaron

 

Eulogy for the parts of us that died with #AltonSterling

 

When we return in the whirlwind we will burn everything.

Burn the police stations where they strap their guns on

Burn the corner store where they get their coffee

Burn the laundry mat where they wash our blood off their uniforms

Burn the bank that foreclosed on our mother’s house and where they cash their paycheck

Burn the schools where they teach us to hate ourselves then arrest us for not attending

Burn the American flags they will wrap their bodies in when they die in their beds 30 years after they put six shots into ours backs

Burn the courthouses where they will not be indicted

Burn the doors to the prisons they will not pass through

 

We will burn down the system we were not meant to survive

And rub the ash on our skin and let it make us darker

Rub it in until we are as Black as the truth they are not yet ready for

Rub it in until we are so Black that all the enemies of negro liberty will tremble in terror

 

When we return in the whirlwind we will burn this mother fucker to the ground

This nation will be torn asunder

Its sins finally exposed to the purifying evening air

And then we will go boldly into that good night

Finally Free. Unapologetic. Self-aware.

Armed with the swagger of a nation whose time has come.

Meditation for Queer Bodies

Please closes your eyes, make yourself comfortable and reflect on these words.
Forget any misgivings or preconceptions you may have about meditation. This is intended to help folks trying to process today’s violence.

As my friend Marybeth says, it’s not that serious.
Just make yourself comfortable.
Relax and reflect upon my words:

 

 

Honor all of your emotions in this space.

Do not repress your fear, anger or hate.

All of your emotions are valid.

Everything about you is valid and deserves affirmation.

But let your thoughts flow to warmer, more supportive waters.

Search for your connection to our gorgeous queered future.

As you breathe deeply,

Taking in all of the love and joy of the universe with each intake,

Releasing a little bit of the stress and pain with each exhale,

Imagine your soul as an endless stream.

Imagine the flow of your soul is a powerful torrent of emotion and knowledge.

 It is flexible, malleable but head strong,

cruising ever southward, home.

As you meditate, ride this well of feelings and information towards your greater, more authentic self.

Know that your emotions are not a distraction.

Your emotions are inherently valid.

Your emotions are data points.

Sorrow is a natural response to a world full of pain.

Anger is a natural response to world full of injustice.

Your joy is necessary and life-giving even in the face of oppression.

Take a deep, loving breath in, letting the air fill your stomach.

Let the air rise and fill your chest.

Exhale slowly into the room.

As you breathe in, let a feeling of love fill your belly.

Marvel at its ability to hold what you need it to hold.

As you let the air rise into your chest, feel the power and beauty of your lungs.

As you exhale out, allow yourself to relax into your beautiful body.

Know that you have a beautiful body.

Know that your body is loved because it is worthy of love.

As you love your body, know that you are so much more than your beautiful body.

Breathe in all of the love of the universe with each breath in.

Let this emotional stream that is your soul wash over you.

Let its brilliance seep into and mix with your brilliance.

Let its genius flow into yours.

Let it carry away your hesitance and your fear.

Let the power of this energy give you permission to be your fullest, most gorgeous self

Let your shoulders relax.

Let your chair or ground or bed support you.

Enjoying the feeling of your body being supported.

Know that you are supported.

As you breathe in all the wisdom and joy the world has to offer,

As you imagine your soul as an endless stream,

Breathe in deeply, exhale slowly and reflect on these words:

You are exactly who you need to be.

You emit a queer energy that will transform this world.

When you love yourself you stand in opposition to hate.

When you love others you are committing an act of resistance.

When you are your most authentic self you are standing in your power.

You are transformative. You are powerful. You are Love.

As you breathe, let a sense of hope fill your stomach.

Let it rise as joy into your chest.

Imagine steams of joy flowing into your beautiful body with each breathe out.

As you breathe love deeply through your nostrils,

Let hope fill your belly,

Let joy rise into your chest,

As you exhale, let the love and joy circulate through your body.

As the energy flows through your body feel the power of that love.

Feel the power of creation within your liberated self.

Know that this power and joy is yours.

Breathe in more of the power of this space,

Know that you should never apologize for your existence.

You are exactly who you need to be.

You are connected to a glorious queer future.

Allow the river of power that is your soul to pull you closer to that future.

Feel yourself float in your own power towards your most authentic self.

As you breathe in all the joy of the universe, imagine yourself liberated.

As you breathe out a little bit of the stress and pain, feel yourself getting lighter.

As you breathe in all the power of the universe, feel that power circulate through your body.

As you breathe out a little bit of the trauma and the hesitancy, feel yourself getting stronger.

Repeat the phrases: I am a beautiful and I am loved because I deserve to be loved –until you are centered.

Now allow yourself to come back into your body gently. Reflect on any and all feelings of joy that you experienced. All those feelings of joy to be your north star as continue your journey to Liberation.

Emerging Analysis, Relationshit and Transformative Love

Two weeks ago Omolara Williams McCallister and I spoke at a regional UU conference at All Soul’s that was centered around Black Lives Mater and racial justice. Also speaking that day was Alonzo Smith who is a professor of Black history. I decided to turn our talks into a podcast but unfortunately have been super busy. So here is the raw audio from that talk and Q&A.

The first 20 minutes is me talking about the emerging analysis of BLM: on White Supremacy, Capitalism, Patriarchy and lovelessness and alienation. The next 20 minutes is Omolara talking about “the Wheel of Relationshit” [not a typo], a TED talk worthy presentation on organizational accountability with the movement. The last 40 minutes are Omo, Alonzo and I answering questions from the audience. Hopefully I will have time to mix and render this into several shorter, smoother podcasts but that might be a while.

 

Enjoy!

What Black Queer Feminism Has Taught Me: Intersectionality, Nurturance Culture and Transformative Relationships

Last week I had the honor of speaking on a panel at American University put on by a coalition of POC student groups. My fellow panelist Zoe Samudzi, a dope Black Queer Womanist based in San Francisco, gave one of the most useful definitions of intersectionality that I have ever heard. While I can’t give her articulation of it justice, the basic idea is that, contrary to mainstream white feminism’s use of the term, intersectionality isn’t just about multiple layers of oppression. It is not a simple listing of privileges and oppressions. Intersectionality means that Black women face a kind of oppression that is a result of capitalist, white supremacist, cis-hetero-patriarchal re-imaginings of Black Womanhood. To put it another way, one cannot understand the mechanism of misogynoir [the oppression of Black women] by listing the oppression of Black people and the oppression of women and merging the list.

For instance, misogynoir often hyper-masculinizes Black women, robbing them of the protection afforded to the inherently domestic and nationally protected white womanhood but their femme identity robs them of the fear and mythologies of strength that offer Black men some measure of social protection. In essence, this means misogynoir has its own twisted logic that is more than just a mix of patriarchy and white supremacy.

Her brilliance has greatly informed my growing understanding of the term. The most profound moment on the panel for me however, was when Venus Selenite talked about how the idea of intersectionality is often misused to further tokenize multiply-marginalized people. Venus is Black Trans activist and public intellectual who spoke at an event on the murder of Black Trans Women that I helped organize. She stated that she regretted speaking at the rally because it was merely the performance of solidarity. She never even heard of the campaign again after that. All of the promises of follow through never really materialized.

As a main organizer of that event I would have to agree, at least for my involvement in it. It was the performance of solidarity with a lack of follow through that betrayed a lack of actual solidarity with Black Transwomen.

These two opening comments hit me very profoundly. Suddenly, something clicked intellectually that I had been working out in my mind for months. While Venus’ critique did make me uncomfortable, months of internal emotional work as allowed me to understand this discomfort for what it is: a gift. It was a reminder that not only must I do better but that I am capable of better, of more. Rather than “getting all up in my feelings” I took responsibility for my inaction not only publically but internally. I tried, as best as I could, to channel the wisdom of my friend and teacher Elle Hearns, in regards to teachable moments and collaborative solidarity. I explained the reason for my failure, not only to attempt to practice restorative justice and accountability but to illustrate a larger point: making mistakes does not make us mistakes and our failures can be powerful lessons when we hold each in love.

I explained to Venus and the audience how the event, while problematic, helped me recognize that I have a lot of issues with internalized transphobia, especially transmisogynoir [the hatred and oppression of Black Trans Women]. Like any leftist, I felt the political pressure of the moment to be intersectional in my organizing. Yet, because I rarely practice collaborative solidarity with my Black trans siblings, my organizing around trans issues tends to be transactional.

Often times we pretend that our relationships are not transactional when we don’t explicitly ask for anything in return. Under this logic, it is not transactional to provide a “safe space” for Venus to speak her truth. Let’s push aside the false notion that I, as an organizer, actually did the work to make sure the sure the space was safe for Venus. There are many ways in which I used Venus’ story to perform solidarity and prove that I am “down.”

This is not to say that I consciously used Venus to show how intersectional I was. Yet, as I often write about, intent matters much less than we usually say it does. When my friend Elle put out the call for cis Black men to organize an event I jumped at the chance. I wanted to “give back” to all the Black transwomen who had helped me [directly and indirectly] and address this nagging feeling that I had not done enough to help Black transwomen in my organizing. Aside from the paternalism inherent in how I conceived of “giving back,” I don’t think that my desire to answer this call was in itself problematic.

What was problematic was the fact that I conceived of my relationship with Elle and Black Trans people more broadly, in transactional terms i.e. you did something for me so I will do something for you. That is not solidarity. Equally problematic was the tokenism involved in using Elle as a stand in for the broader Trans community which I did not fully realize at the time.
We often think of transactional relationships as entering relationships with a sense of “what do I get out of this?” While this is true, I would argue that a relationship is no less transactional because your “price” is an unnamed favor in the future. I would argue in fact, that a transaction that assumes someone or a community will always fight for you and will continue fighting for you regardless of what happens, is not only transactional but abusive.

As a cis Black male, I can bank on Black Trans women fighting for me, regardless of whether I fight for them. It has never crossed my mind that Elle or Venus would not be on the streets fighting for me. For me to bank of this one sided solidarity and then use it to solidify how “down” and intersectional I am is not only abusive but oppressive in the specific patterns of oppressions that typify transmisogynoir.

Instead of being transactional within my own family, I should have had reciprocal relationships with them. Reciprocal relationships are the only way to have true solidarity. A reciprocal relationships is one based on honest interactions, equitable negations of terms and long term vision. If I had been reciprocal with my relationship with Elle I would have had honest conversations about my capacity and level of understanding and would have had mature, direct loving communications about how involved she wanted to be in the planning. I would have been honest about what I would have gotten out of this campaign and what Elle wanted from the organizers not only for the week but also in our ongoing, evolving relationship.

Instead, due to my insecurity with own organizing ability and trans familiarity and in a rush to perform solidarity instead of embodying it, I ended up stumbling along in the dark. It also meant that I had to rely heavily on the support of Black women like Erika Totten, defeating the intention of call for cis Black men leading the charge. If I had had a long term view of my relationship with my Black trans siblings, I would have thought about how to use the action to create multiple relations with other Black trans people. I would not have simply run into Venus by chance months later.

The Importance of Love in Organizing

This is not to say that my relationship with Elle or my other trans siblings is or was completely abusive and oppressive. However, it is an honest recognition of the fact that capitalism, patriarchy and white supremacy has breed a culture of lovelessness into ALL of my relationships. It has limited my human ability to feel, practice and reciprocate love. This is a recognition that transactional relationships are not loving relationships.

As Darnell L. Moore’s essay beautiful illustrates: “When we know another loves us, right critique is not treated as wrong and uplift is understood as a collective and not individual endeavor. Love is not violence. And freedom is not lovelessness. And we don’t have the time to not love each other in our present. And if even if we did, time is too expensive to deny another black person the very force that might catalyze their survival.”

This brings me to heart of this essay: what Black Queer Feminism has given to me.

It has given me to the ability to truly love. To love my self. To love my blackness. To love my body. To love my people and show that love in healthy, sustainable ways. It has given me the intellectual tools to understand how I have internalized capitalist, white supremacist, cis-hetero patriarchal imaginings of my Black maleness.

As my sister Erika Totten would say, I have internalized the “fight or fuck response” of cis-hetero patriarchy. This fight or fuck response removes much of the nuisance and depth from my relationships. It means that my relationships with men are highly competitive and even joy is expressed through violence whether it is the violence of playing football, or brotherly punches in the arm or in the violence of my language when I am in all male spaces.

With women, the fight or fuck response becomes even more problematic. It has often led me to overly sexualize positive feelings of affinity with women. This has always been in conflict with my rather sex-negative but pro-gender equality upbringing. A conflict that often resulted in discomfort with non-sexual physical touch and sexual repression writ large. There is also something inherently effeminate and sexually suspicious in our society about a man who is constantly surrounded by women he has no intention of fucking. I have dealt with the pressure of this societal suspicion, and the internally questioning of my sexuality that it instilled in me, all my life.

It has only through a 10 year journey of my deepening engagement with sex positive, body positive feminism that I am able to untangle and start to grow past these conflicts. It is only through the intersectionality I was exposed to in the Black Queer Feminism in the Movement for Black Lives [M4BL] that I was able to actually begin to resolve these conflicts.

On Trans Brilliance and Transformative Relationships

This leads me to the second thing that clicked for me in what Venus said on the panel: what I have gained through my on-going journey of identifying, naming and processing my internalized transmisgoynoir.

I realized that the root of my transmigoynoir is my sexual attraction to Black transwomen. Our collective imagining of Black masculinity does not allow for one to be a “real man” while also being attracted to trans women. This is similar, but distinct, from Black male homophobia.

While it is equally true that our collective imagining have little room for Black men loving other Black men, Black transwomen present a unique challenge to narrowly drawn and fragile Black men. It is their inherent femininity that is attractive to me, to us. Yet, in a binary masculinity, attraction to Black trans women either makes a Black man gay or a man unfairly “tricked” by a Black man dressed as a woman. For binary men, this triggers our fight or fuck response which, in a society infected with pervasive rape culture, often leads to violence and murder. This is the reason that so many Black Transwomen died last year.

This attraction, and the cognitive dissonance it created, caused a prolonged sense of discomfort in me. It was only through Elle Hearns and other trans activists’ articulation of #transbrilliance that I was able to resolve it in a healthy, sex and body positive, trans-inclusive way. Again, trans brilliance is an idea that I am not able to give justice. Yet my understanding is that trans brilliance, like the term Black girl magic, refers to the lessons of resilience that communities learn in their resistance to their specific location on the matrix of oppression.

Trans brilliance is the kind of radical solidarity that Sylvia Rivera practiced with STAR [Street Transgender {originally Transvestite} Action Revolutionaries] where she provided housing and economic support to gender non-conforming and gay youth in 60’s San Francisco [among other amazing things]. Trans brilliance is the vibrancy of self-expression and radical, communally based, self confidence that many of our trans sibling exemplify. Trans brilliance is the direct, loving communication that our trans siblings displayed in their demands at the M4BL Convening where they neither demonized the Black community for its transphobia nor allowed oppression to be comfortable around them.

This lesson of Trans brilliance, along with the emotional emancipation work of Erika Totten’s EEC’s, the lessons of Black Queer Feminist dreaming I learned from the work Alexis Pauline Gumbs and the example of my unapologetically Black Queer friends in BYP 100 DC and the Movement for Black Live at large has allowed me to re-envision a non-binary Black maleness for myself. I can dream and embody a Black maleness that is not based on an exclusionary and binary understanding of gender. I can dream and embody a nurturing masculinity that better reflects how I want to interact with the world and how I want to contribute to the movement for my own liberation.

This understanding of the intersectional power and value of trans brilliance and Black girl magic, along with a non-binary understanding of masculinity that grants me access to gender-fluid and masculine nurturing allows me to create and sustain transformative relationships.

The Power of Transformative Relationships in Decentralized Network Based Organizing

 

If transactional relationships are typified by a “what can I get out of this” mentality and reciprocal relationships are typified by a collaborative solidarity informed by honesty, equity and long term vision then transformative relationships are ones that leverage the power of reciprocal relationships to transform spaces and endeavors in ways that improve the freedom, joy, power and self-determination of all parties.

In many ways, the trauma and emergent strategies informed praxis that the M4BL uses is an attempt to operationalize the power of transformative relationships in decentralized networks for broad based social change. We recognize, intuitively, that transformative relationships are revolutionary. They are relationships that allow us to tap into a collective erotic power that allows us to begin to share our need for individual and communal excellence.

Transformative relationships in social movements allow for hundreds of new activist to learn a lifetime worth of political analysis in months by submerging them in constant political analysis and giving them ample opportunity to practice and embody new lessons. Transformative relationship operate from a paradigm of abundance, accountability and love; changing the way we view the world and each other. Transformative relationships allow us to access all of the knowledge we have gleaned from different but interlaced histories of resistance for collaborative power with [as opposed to dominating power over.]

Transformative relationships in organizing encourage us to be fractal or to embody our politics on personal, interpersonal and communal levels. Like all dynamic relationships, transformative relationships foster iterative processes that change as new data or history is added. Transformative relationships are rare and take a great deal of trust and internal work to create and sustain but are immeasurably powerful. This trust and accountability allows for increased flexibility and rapid adaptation around shared values.

As we think about using transformative relationships in the context of social change, it is also crucial to note that power is an inherent aspect of transformative relationships. Our trans siblings, in all their grace and love, did not ask politely for the broader Black community to accept them. Trans organizers and activist have been doing exactly what their titles imply [organizing and acting] to demand cultural change within our community. Elle Hearns and Venus Selenite’s ability to stand in their personal power [both political, intellectual, and spiritual] is a large part of how I learned from them. The narrative and cultural power of Black Queer Feminist like Audre Lorde also added to the power behind their lessons. As did a culture of centering the narratives of the most marginalized community members that infuses the M4BL network.

All of these types of power mixed with the love, support and compassion of how this power [trans brilliance and black girl magic] was used and embodied continuously by those around me to aid me in my personal transformation. As Silvia Federici articulated, power educates. To paraphrase a line from her amazing book “Revolution at Point Zero” first men will fear this power, then they learn from it once capitalism [or patriarchy or white supremacy] learns to fear this power.

As I stated before, it has taken a lot of internal work to see this power as a gift and not a threat. It has taken even more internal work and practice experimenting with and standing in my own power, to learn from this power and attempt to stand with my Trans siblings in it in transformative, accountable and collaborative solidarity. It has also taken a history of organizing through what Amiri Baraka might call “revolutionary theater” to create a counter or queer script for gender that empowers women and non-binary folks.

The intersectional power of transformative relationships are not limited to issues of gender, sex and sexual orientation. In many ways, unapologetic Blackness as a political theme and ratched politics in general are lessons learned by Black upwardly mobile millennials from our working class and poor siblings. I firmly believe that we should expand this thinking to include burgeoning coalitions between POC communities and in our collaborations with white allies.

Transformative Relationships Within the Anti-Racism Movement

Too often, the model of solidarity we use in anti-racism work is based on abusive transactional relationships. Anti-racist solidarity is distinct from other forms of transactional relationships between different communities like services presented as charity or tokenism rampant in the performance of white and POC ally ship. This is both a particularly dehumanizing and ineffective model of solidarity in which the transactional nature of the relationship is obfuscated as a repayment of a historic debt. While White people and other communities that benefit from anti-Black White Supremacy do have a debt that they must pay, that debt is fundamentally not payable by disempowering themselves through some guilt ridden attempt to shift their power over to Black people.

To get free we need more power, not less. We need more leaders not enfeebled followers.

This idea that white people must give up their power is based on a white middle class and masculine limiting belief in scarcity. It presumes that either power is inherently bad [or at least bad in white people’s hands] or that it is a zero sum game. Intersectional transformative relationships teach us that power works in abundance. Just as standing in solidarity with my Black Trans siblings requires me to stand in my own transformative non-binary masculine power, not abdicate it, so too must non-Black people stand in their own transformative power. Yet in order for them to do it, they must first discover it and re-imagine their identities is a way that accepts my existence and my inherent humanity.

If you are afraid of your power or unable to separate your use of it and your identification with it from the dominance of my Black maleness, then you cannot stand in solidarity with me.

Re-framing the Ally Journey

I often talk about how my tendency to gravitate towards femme spaces and people [or perhaps more accurately my aversion to masculine spaces and traumatic history with other men] forced me to learn how to make women comfortable as way to ensure that I could stay in those spaces.

Yet, am I learning that a more accurate way to understand my relationships with women is to say that I have been transformed by my relationships with women. My progressive transformation has allowed me to unlearn the fight or fuck responses that grant me access to my nurturing skills which in turn allow me to build more authentic [and eventually transformative] learning relationships with more and more women.

As I began to learn from and depend on more and more women, I began to change the way I saw myself. This allowed me to respond to the feminine power that drives the M4BL and the history of Black femme resistance that guide it from a place of curiosity and gratitude. This disposition allowed me to learn from the power of women like Omolara Williams McCallister who once gave me one of my favorite compliments when she said “you are very teachable.”

I firmly believe that everyone must go through their own journey to this transformative power and re-imagining of their identities. I believe that Black Queer Feminism provides a poetic road map to complicate and guide this journey. My relationships with powerful women of color like Darakshan Raja, the indomitable co-founder of the Muslim Women’s Policy Forum, as also taught me that each of our identities and communities have powerful lessons to the teach the world that can be accessed through transformative relationships. Our relationship has also taught me that such cross-cultural/class/racial/gender transformative relationships take a great deal of evolving internal emotional work and on-going political analysis building in order to useful for movement building.

This is why I am going to redouble my efforts to explore and embrace my nurturing side; to invest in my personal transformative relationships and guide and nurture other people in doing the same. I what to identify what other self-limiting beliefs that capitalism, patriarchy and white supremacy have instilled in me. I want to identify the systems and institutions that teach and re-enforce those lies. I want to stand with everyone willing in collective transformative power to dismantle these systems within ourselves, or communities and society as a whole.

I hope this articulation of my learning journey was as illuminating in your reading as it has been healing in my writing of it. I hope that my friends will continue to hold me in love as I stumble along this path of processing my internalized misogyny and transphobia. I hope that we will all make it to our beloved community, to that land filled with love and abundance before we are through. I hope all of you who know me will allow me to continue loving you and practice my nurturing by nurturing you. I hope you all continue to allow to thank you for all you have given me. I hope all of you in relationship with me continue to teach me how to better to stand in my transformative power. I hope to continue to hold you all accountable to your greatest, most gorgeous, most powerful selves.

 

If this essay sparked some interest in you, read pieces that inspired this essay below:

On the culture of Lovelessness:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/darnell-l-moore/you-arent-leader-if-you-dont-love_b_9229394.html

On nurturance culture and building relationships as a male feminist:

The Opposite of Rape Culture is Nurturance Culture
http://www.mediacoop.ca/blog/norasamaran/19018

On the Erotic:
http://uk.sagepub.com/sites/default/files/upm-binaries/11881_Chapter_5.pdf

Silvia Federici:

http://www.churchland.org.za/wp-content/uploads/2013/08/Federici-Silvia-Revolution-Point-Zero-Housework-Reproduction-and-Feminist-Struggle.pdf

On dreams and re-imaginings:

http://alexispauline.com/

On ally performance:

How to Tell the Difference Between Real Solidarity and ‘Ally Theater’

On Misogynoir and Transmisogynoir:

On the different types of power:

http://leadershiplearning.org/system/files/Power%20Analysis%20Types%20and%20Sources%20of%20Power.pdf

On White Middle Class Dominant Culture:

http://www.stevebozzone.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/11/Elements-of-White-Middle-Class-Dominant-Culture.pdf

On Emergent Strategies and Decentralized Movement Organizing:

https://www.alliedmedia.org/esii/resources
http://movementnetlab.org/

Dream Fragments: Open Letter to Alexis Pauline Gumbs

My uncle was a master at speaking to one person as a way to speak to the whole room. It makes the room feel like they overheard something secret, something special, something profound or [as was often the case with Buddy Boy] deeply profane. I think it is an ability branch that Black folx unlock in old age, after you’ve beaten life and god gives you a few more years to play around with. New game+

Will you close your eyes and dream with me?

1.

Take a container
Fill it with joy
Love
Warmth
And the all erotic energies of excellence

Watch as the dark energies
Gather and coalesce
And disperse
Like bits of precious Black oil,
Black because it has survived,
In purest water of this world.
Always slightly separate and unstable.

2.

Like your brother I found god in stones
I could feel him and her and they
In the granite mountains that blocked out the sun 30 minutes before sundown
I could feel its dark energies in the crystals of my collection
Geodes reflected its tripartite soul
My original trinity that died on Sunday when I learned about idol worship

3.

How do you midwife the birth of a collective story capable of being embodied en mass from the dream fragments of organizers, activist and witches? How do you lead the people through the journey of embodying the lesson of our Black foremothers? How can we lead by fathering ourselves? How can I forgive my father for how we fathered me? How can I praise him for how he raised me? How can I forgive my grandmother for how she fathered him, alone in the burnt down New York apartment after running from the strange fruit of her mothers and fathers in the dreary south? How can I thank them for changing, for learning to love me and teaching me that it is never too late to change?

4.

I don’t want to be an organizer. It’s tiring. Emotionally draining. Thankless.

But I’m good at it and my heroes are organizers.

My friends are organizers. My family are organizers. So I became an organizer.

I realized in talking with you that they don’t tell stories about the kind of person I want to be. We don’t tell stories of the dream weavers, analytical cartographers and love evangelist. You are the first love evangelist I’ve meet [we’ve never met] and I’ve only recently heard any of your stories. I had decided that I’m not the type of person who evangelizes love or who weaves dreams but I was grateful that they, that you, exist.

You unlearned me of that notion. You reminded me of the power of my dreams, the deft way my fingers stroke the keys of my computer and weave analysis with longing with desire with love with memories…with dreams. You reminded me, as Erika and April and my sister named Alexis too had reminded me, of the dopeness I try to hide. Of the genius that emerges when I wander. Of the joy I love to bring into the world. Of the dreams I am capable of birthing. Of the dreams I am entitled to wish upon the universe.

5.

I lied before when I said I don’t want to be an organizer.

I do.

I want to organize dreams.

I want to build co-ops of the dream worlds we enter at night.
I want to reclaim the land that is stolen from us every sunrise.
I want to organize freedom schools that teach this land as our collective birthright.
I want to organize pilgrimages to our collective dreamscapes a mile over yonder,

In the land of our overgrown spiritual offerings,
Over yonder,
Over there,
Over reaching
Our
We
Of
Of
Of
Us
Ours
Ownership
No hesitation required
Our offerings to each other
Our “intuitive technology”
Our oracles of ontology
Giving birth to the beautifully mundane

Giving birth to us.

Will you help organize this midwife academy with me?
Will you lead-follow-lead me on this journey?
Can we invite the reader to this somatic tale?

6.

Open the container of dark energy.

Do you see how the fire erupts when it touches the air?
Can you see our community dancing in the flames?
Can you feel the heat of our liberation in its intensity?
Can you smell our chains burning in its ardor?
Do you see how the pure water holds bits of it and keeps it from exploding?

Can we teach each other to do that?

7.

My uncle would say that this is God’s favorite number.
I think she and my great grandmother put it all 7 in the casino in heaven
but that’s another story.

Will you all open your eyes and dream with us now?

Preliminary Materials on Collective Liberation and the New Material Reality

In moments such as these, when I find myself overwhelmed by the news, I often find myself seeking emotional and intellectual solace in an endless news feed hoping to make some sense out of my world. It is always in vain. I inevitably become inundated with all the half-digested thoughts and emotions of my social circle. My habitual anecdote is more of the same spiritual poison.

Some nights, after I force myself disconnect and I try to sleep, I am struck with the after images of all the disparate thoughts and emotions and data points of the day. Images of Black Lives Matter protestors, refugees from Syria, bombs in Beirut, body bags in Paris and the occasional loving messages and words of support. As a Black Lives matter organizer and artist, I am constantly concerned with state of “the movement.” At the same time, I see and empathize with my Muslim comrades who feel a similar, but perhaps even more omnipresent and ill defined, uneasiness. Flashes of protests, mass arrests, unlawful detainments and police states constantly mix with shared stories, laughter and organizing pot luck’s in my mind’s eye.

They come to me in such a flurry that it makes it hard to sleep. I see every issue in an intricate web of causations and connections; spiraling matrixes of micro and macro problems and solutions. Some connections are strong but weakening, others are newer and just gaining steam. What follows is an attempt to pull together all those disparate thoughts of the past week into something useful or at least something out of my own skull and into the wide world where perhaps it will be easier to manage.

What follows are preliminary materials. An intellectual appetizer for a longer conversation on how all these disparate things are connected…

 

Black Lives Matter

 

We live in remarkable times. The current moment is one of both supreme horror and hope. We live in an era of social media informed landscapes and digital paradigmatic terrains where images of inhuman brutality and human kindness are constantly blasted at us from various screens which are worlds unto themselves. Our lives are lived in and between these worlds.

Our hours are spent breezing from laughter in Kenya, to death in Ferguson, to the bitter-sweet changes of our own cities and college campuses. We are flooded with a barrage of cat pictures, body bags leaving Paris concert halls and meme’s of Syrian babies floating in the Mediterranean. From this reality rises a constant tension between the internet as a liberatory tool for harnessing the power of information and as the locus of psychological warfare.

Every image of Black bodies brutalized is simultaneously a call to action and a reminder our place in this oppressive illiberal democracy. Each video set to auto play on your Facebook wall is both the strange fruit left hanging from the poplar trees and the image of Emmett Till’s bloated and beaten body on the front page cover of Jet Magazine that galvanized northern Blacks in the beginning of the civil rights movement.

Every photo of the Obama family posing in front of a camera is both an inspiring reminder of how far we have come as nation and a dangerous distraction from the plight of most American Blacks too broke, too queer, too marginalized, too undocumented, or too prosecuted to enjoy the privileges that the first family is accustomed to. Every mean of Obama “being the Blackest thing this week” is a distraction from the fact that Obama orders the deaths of Black and Brown people with near daily drone strikes.

This technological context also gives birth to a new kind of lived experience. This digital landscape creates a vicarious experience of shared trauma and triumph that is rendered no less real through social media. Our capacity for empathy is increased as we see lives like ours lived in different contexts. So too is our capacity for indignation and rage. With all this comes a paradoxical emotional burnout that can lead to desensitizing ourselves to our own pain and joy.

We feel the agony of communities across the world rocked by violence. We celebrate the joy of small measures of justice. Our blood boils with everybody left to lay in the sun for 4.5 hours on little known street in a city where we have never been. And sometimes, we can no longer react as the world seems too much. We seek solace on our social media feeds, looking to be spiritually fed, only to lose more of our selves in the onslaught.

As is too often the case, the technology that changes the private lives of Americans is mirrored [or fueled] by a change in modern warfare. The same technological advances that allow for cell phone cameras with the same resolutions as digital cameras allow for drone warfare. The automations of war exists in same disgusting dualities of our digital lives.

The tantalizing idea that “boots on the ground” are no longer necessary is marred by the reality that each drone takes out dozens of civilians for each “target.” Attempts to kill a few dozen men have killed over a thousand civilians in war torn countries. Each American solider saved [themselves often young poor people of color] comes at the devastating cost of dozens of innocent lives. Warfare then becomes both infinitely more destructive and simultaneously easier to justify. All the human misery becomes unsorted data points in the age of unparalleled information for folks back home.

These drones strikes in countries many of us have never been and can’t pronounce fuel the stories of terrorism that fill up our feeds. The militarized policing that we react to in this country are similarly the surplus gear and ideology from the same war and same neo-colonial ideologies of collective punishment. Like all of us who seek solace from this moment in our social media feeds only to get more overloaded, our leaders respond to acts of terror and community uprisings with more drone strikes, surveillance and urban warfare.

Our anecdotes are always more of the same poison.

This moment is also huge. We live in times larger than we can hold in our thoughts. Our collective yearning for liberation is too large to be contained in one movement or one series of campaigns. As is always the case, Black America does not fight for freedom in a vacuum. The #BlackLivesMatter Movement and the Black Liberation Movement it is trying to breathe life into, are not the only movements for liberation present in the world, America or even here in the District of Columbia.

Because Black people sit at the bottom of every hierarchy, when Black people move, the whole nation moves with them. This is even more evident in a movement for Black lives which whose catalyst was low-income youth in Ferguson, Missouri and whose first leaders were queer Black women. Black liberation is influenced by the all the preceding and concurring movements and continues to inspire more.

The ongoing movement for gender equality from #Wematter to radical feminist college groups organizing against sexual assault have been building alongside struggles for radical redefinitions of citizenship and immigration reform. The environmental movement in America is being transformed, slowly but surely, from upper-middle class white escapism to a struggle for survival and the ability to thrive in front-line communities exemplified in anti-coal mining struggles in West Virginia, Anti-Fracking movements in California, and the re-envisioning of urban life by the predominantly Black residents of Inner-City Detroit.

Small triumphs build on each other and new culture of resistance is growing. A shared movement culture of intersectionality and radical self-care is taken fledgling steps at establishing a small and fragile but invaluable counter hegemony. Women of color, especially Black women, are finally starting to be given their recognition as the engines of history. Queer liberation and Trans* liberation are challenging long held norms and opening up the possibilities for radically different ideas about leadership, collaborative solidarity and the very goals of liberation.

With the reigniting of a movement for Black Liberation we are also seeing a renewed interest in collective liberation. For organizers and activist just coming to their own, the idea that none of us are free until all of us are free is almost a given.

It is now standard to say that we are all intertwined in these interlocking systems of privileges and oppressions. It is becoming as meaningless to talk of one’s own liberation in terms of a single identity as it is to talk about your people’s liberation without talking about your neighbor’s.

Though parts of the old guard might be struggling to comes to terms with it, Black liberation cannot go an inch further than Black men are willing to destroy patriarchy. For how can Black people be free if 51% of us are in bondage to our husbands, brothers and fathers? Likewise, Black people cannot be free if trans* people are not free. For how can we say we have ended state sanctioned violence against Black people if being trans* while Black means an early death for so many of our people?

Yet these movements exist in the context of their opposition as well. There is a Black Lives Matter movement because there has been a massive, constant and fluid re-organization of the hegemonic powers of capitalism, hetero-patriarchy and white supremacy to infuse a neo-liberal commodification and alienation into every aspect of life. This marginalization necessitates the constant re-enslavement and faux emancipation of Black people. Each cycle brings emancipation from a myriad collection of systems of brutalization and into more systematic disempowerment. The solutions society gives to our problems only seek to re-invest ourselves in newer systems of oppression.

The solution to bad schools is breaking the teacher’s union [i.e. destroying Black worker power], zero tolerance policies [creating the school to prison pipeline] and creation of charter schools [creates influx of exploitable white non-union workers]. All of this ends in a massive interlocked system of prisons, military and police recruitment.

The beach heads of this system are often authoritarian schools now nearly synonymous with charter schools that condition the Black consciousness to respond “respectively and professionally” to hierarchical violence. Demerit systems and behavioral report cards teach Black students to respect autocratic though inconsistent white leadership and culture and to constantly police themselves.

Never in this endless barrage of testing and job training to do we wonder if we are making our children less human when we treat them like machines. Passive receivers of knowledge will create no symphonies and will run no participatory democracies. And yet we still decry to fate of our public discourse.

Donald Trump spews hatred on national television. Complex problems are reduced to simple stories of American masculine power and the barbaric other. We watch, laughing at the joke until it is no longer funny.

Always the specter of totalitarianism strains it’s ugly head to see if it’s time to strike.

These solutions are of course also profitable to those with power. Private funding for charter school buildings often means that they are harbingers of displacement [often erroneously labeled gentrification.] Nicer schools signal the possibility of better schools which brings in young white professionals looking to settle down. Destroying public sector unions, which are the building blocks of the Black middle class, is happening at the same time as the privatization of government services. This ensures that the government leadership [mostly white men] can save money by contracting out essential public services to other white men whose services are cheaper in part because their workers are not unionized and can be paid less.

These savings are then passed on to upper incomes through regressive tax breaks. Any disruption in quality of services provided by the government [failing education, disintegrating public housing, closing of mental health facilities] is then funneled into the private prison system by the criminalization of Blackness, Trans* identity, and poverty. This criminalization is facilitated through drag net applications of anti-loitering laws, debtor’s prisons, the drug war, vice squads, broken windows policing and the like. Capitalists end up making money on both ends, the promise of reform and the cost of the failure of that reform, thus besieging Black communities on all sides.

All of these systems contribute to the problematizing of Blackness in the now nearly illiterate public discourse. Black communities are constantly seen as in crisis. These crises are driven to the center of public discourse by both well-meaning white liberals who neglect to listen to solutions put forth by Black communities and bigoted Democrats and Republicans.

These crises are then turned into to opportunities by the same mercenary capitalist that helped create them. Banks peddle government backed capital loans for aforementioned authoritarian charter schools. These schools set white savior complexes couched in the realities of intergenerational poverty and the misinterpretation of the flawed Moynihan report as the basis of their pedagogy.

White, upper-middle class, college educated women are then “needed” to “save” constantly in crisis Black communities by emulating the stern strictness of the mythic and now incarcerated Black father. They are hired and trained to instill the values the parents are deemed too poor, too high, or too miseducated to do themselves. Unfortunately, they are not trained to actually develop or teach children, only manage them with same relational managements systems they are subject to at work.

Likewise, the tripartite commodification of women as sexual objects, consummate consumers, and marginalized workers has increased in this new era of neo-liberalism. These same young teachers are supposed to lean into their new found positions as teacher, role-model, social worker and nurse with neither adequate training nor the protections or salary of a union.

White female teachers in urban areas are meticulously marketed to– just as their under-funded [or simply poorly funded] schools and unscrupulous charter school CEO’s require them to spend more and more of their own money on school supplies. This forces women to simultaneously be marginalized workers and consummate consumers. This is all on top of the trend pieces chastising women for dressing too promiscuously at work while simultaneously telling women that in the new era of sexual liberation if they are single, it’s because they are not putting themselves out there.

These interlocking systems continue on. Older Black women are fired or forced to take pay cuts to make way for these younger, whiter, non-unionized workers to teach their children. Black women who are able to hold onto the jobs face incredible low glass ceilings for promotions and leadership opportunities. Undocumented Latino workers are forced to work below the minimum wage building these new schools in gentrifying neighborhoods or converting old schools to start-ups in neighboring Black neighborhoods. They work long hours and experience billions of dollars in wage theft yet are called lazy welfare leeches who should just go home to countries ruined by NAFTA, the Monroe Doctrine, Chicago Boys and the School of the Americas.

Asian, Pacific Islanders and Middle-Eastern Americans are generally left out of the narratives of oppression but not immune to the systems themselves. As wages decrease the market for cheap goods, services and food increases and recent immigrants find themselves working in terrifying conditions, for too many hours and not enough pay. Second and third generation immigrants often find themselves not much better off though their narratives are overshadowed by their much wealthier counterparts who are the exception and not the rule. This robs them of their own means of resistance even as their position at the intersection of so many forms of oppression makes their leadership and organization invaluable.

Muslims Americans find themselves being racialized as Counter Violent Extremism [CVE] programs justify their constant state of surveillance and place as the new fundamentally unassimilable aliens. News stories of terrorist attacks abroad that immediately blame undistinguished masses of immigrants only further this narrative of hate. A population educated to receive inputs from white authorities uncritically and fill in bubbles then blames darker skinned refugees for the problems they were fleeing in the first place.

All of this justifies and fuels the extreme rendition and entrapment used during the drug war that is now being perfected on the victims of America’s Petro-empire ambitions and islamophobic projections. Subtle moves to expand the dehumanization of a religion turned ethnic group become overt just the backlash against Black liberation movements connect with an ever present anti-immigrant sentiment that never completely forgets that a plurality of Muslims are Black.

This volatile mix of anti-Blackness and islamophobia is the perfect cocktail for America’s ruling military industrial deep state to justify imperialism to a war weary pseudo democracy. The ever present hooded and hijabed threats are the Kool-Aid that allows for troops to remain in Iraq and Afghanistan as unremarked as tanks riding down main streets in mid-western cities.

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Again, it is the same small party of banks, investors and industrialists who profit from interlocking these systems.

Yet and still, these populations find moments of liberation in their resistance. Charm City erupts in cries of “Unity Baltimore” after indictments [stop gap measures to a city in flames] roll down like tainted water, quenching some of the fires lit by the brutalization of Freddie Gray. From the economic deprivation and social isolation that is the kindling to these fires comes the art, Hip Hop, poems, street theatre and Black feminist freedom songs of a new generation of intersectional maroon societies.

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Celebration in Penn-North in West Baltimore after Freddie Gray indictments

There is bitter-sweet release in saying her name and remembering her life. There is a confidence, a distinctly Black swagger of upliftment, in believing that we gon be alright. There is an inexplicable joy in shouting to the universe that “we ready, we coming.” All the cross the country #BlackJoy and #Blackgirlmagic are becoming as powerful rallying cries as #Blackrestance. These new movements understand what Audre Lourde meant when she said “self-care is a revolutionary act.”

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Yet these celebrations are not the “respectable and professional” displays we were taught to show in schools. The dominant cultural lens through which we tend to hear about such demonstrations is mostly white, nebulously middle class and male.

This same overwhelmingly white but dwindling and darkening middle class that politicians love to champion during debates was created off the backs of immigrants, forced migrants and their children. Happy white families and stable white communities are the benefactors of these systems of oppression. They benefit even as the cost of assimilating to whiteness forces their children flee the sterile suburbs for the grit, reality vibrancy of urban life. Yet even these communities find themselves threatened as housing crises, spree killings, the marginalizations of workers and the degradation of the environment now threaten their fragile way of life.

These systems and spiraling matrixes continue on, zooming in and out and around, until the whole of human interaction is seen in this tension between marginalization and liberation; prosperity and poverty. Lives spent caught in systems of pain and enthralled in networks of joy. We find small but meaningful moments of liberation in our own spaces, marches and festivals but find our ownership of cultural space threatened at every turn by a desire to be post-identity as if that would make us post-difference.

Conclusion

This new material context, this vicarious lived experience that makes us Trayvon White and Eric Garner and Michael Brown also makes us Rekia Boyd, Relisha Rudd and Islan Nettles. Yet we must not stop there, we must also be the living Black children, we must also be Malala Yousafzai, we must be Epifanio Alvarez, we must be families in Detroit whose water is cut off and families in West Virginia whose water is undrinkable. If All Black people are to truly be free than we must destroy all the hierarchies of power, wealth and privilege not merely change our place within it.

With global capital undermining national democracies [TTP] and climate change entering worse case scenarios the need for internationalism is no longer up for debate. Black people are coming to terms with our privilege as Americans coexisting with our place within its mechanisms of marginalization.

A Pan-Africanism born out not out of our shared oppression but rather out of our shared history of resistance is bourgeoning as the era of Black-White dichotomies and clear lines is over. We recognize that massive progress has brought little change. Global capital and climate change still disparately impact darker skinned people and women. We also are beginning to recognize an expanded global Blackness of subaltern populations. From Dalit Panthers in India, to “Black” Aborigines in Australia a new new Negro is rising from the fertile social of post-colonial liberatory resistance.

On and on this new materialism weaves into our ideals and lived experiences pushing us towards a fork in the road. Totalitarianism on a global scale or the struggle for collective liberation. Our collective heads hurt and spin in this complexity and nuance. We must remember to breathe, to sit with our thoughts and remember that they world is spinning because those held it up for so long are starting to move. Our internal queasiness is the aftershocks of hierarchies of oppression being shaken from the bottom up.

All over the world artists and story tellers are creating new markers for a better horizon. Eventually, as we remember to not let this deluge of data dehumanize and destabilize us, we will all march to this forming horizon of global emancipation. We will all get free.