Category Archives: Change
I’ve been meaning to write a post about this for a long time, and reading Afrofuturism: The World of Black Sci-Fi and Fantasy Culture by Ytasha L. Womack (2013) has gotten me to actually do it! Womack says that in 2011 she “attended the Think Galacticon conference. Unlike the typical science fiction conference, its creators hoped to use science fiction as a platform for broader changes in society. Held at Chicago’s Roosevelt University, the conference brought activists, science fiction writers, and fans together to share perspectives on social change and privilege. Panels included talks on classism in fantasy novels (why don’t the paupers ever challenge the prince for power?), the growing black independent comic book scene, and personal growth tools for revolution.
In her workshop, noted activist Adrienne Maree Brown said, ‘It’s amazing to change the world, but it’s heartbreaking, bone-cracking work, and you don’t often see the change in real time. For me as an organizer, what gets me through has been immersing myself in certain sci-fi worlds.’ She uses sci-fi to frame an inspirational perspective for youth that she works with too. ‘Your life is science fiction,’ she tells them. ‘You’re Luke Skywalker, but way cooler; you’re trans and black and you’re surviving the world of Detroit.’
Brown began her activism work in college. She’s a former executive director of the Ruckus Socity, a nonprofit that specializes in environmental activism and guerilla communication, and is heavily involved with the League of Pissed Off Voters. A Detroit resident, she describes herself as an organizational healer, pleasure activist, and artist, obsessed with developing models for action and community transformation.
She’s also a sci-fi fan. After discovering Octavia Butler’s work, she was inspired to develop new work of her own. Brown is using Butler’s pivotal Parables series and its post-apocalyptic tale as a template for change agency in desperate communities. Her workshop at Galacticon was titled ‘Octavia Butler and Emergent Strategies.’ The workshop description read as follows: ‘“All that you touch, you change. All that you change, changes you. The only lasting truth is change. God is change.” These words of Octavia Butler’s have impacted people seriously on a personal level, but how do we apply her wisdom on a political organizing level? How would accepting and coming to love the emergent power of changing conditions affect our strategic planning? This session will be half popular organizational development training and half inquiry into what the future of organizational development and strategic planning will look like.’
As far as Brown is concerned, many abandoned urban communities in New York City, New Orleans in the aftermath of Katrina, Cincinnati, and Detroit are post-apocalyptic and ripe for community-borne transformation. Seeing supports and humanity in Detroit, her new home town, made Brown look at other cities with blighted communities differently. ‘There are people living in places that we associate with the end of the world, but it’s not the end of the world – it’s the beginning of something else. An economy based on relationships and not the monetary value you can place on someone else.’
Brown now teaches activists how to use strategies from Butler’s books (like community farming, building relationships with neighbors, and essential survival skills) to build communities in areas where resources are scarce. She emphasizes that people in troubled areas need to have self-determination over their food supply, harking back to the Acorn communities in the Parables – intentional communities, ‘places where people come in an intentional way to build a life together. They’re farming with accountability to one another. They have a spiritual community. This is a strategy that could enable people to survive a future where our resources are unsure. Another is door-to-door relationship building that’s nonjudgmental. After the Acorn community is trashed, the main character goes door-to-door and starts to build a community of believers who aren’t rooted in one place, but in a shared ideology. It’s very similar to the Zapatista ideology. They went around for ten years building relationships one by one. Now a lot of organizing is done around the internet and tweeting each other. If we weren’t able to do that, what would we do? We would work with whoever is there with us.’
Brown is also a big advocate of teaching basic survival skills, including gardening, care for the sick and wounded, and midwifery. ‘I’m also looking at building homes and bathrooms. How do you make a bathroom where there is none?’ Her main point is to generate solutions. ‘We shouldn’t spend the majority of our time trying to get someone else to be accountable for what happens in our communities. Don’t wait for someone to do it for you; provide the solutions yourself…
What is the biggest story we can imagine telling ourselves about our future? It can be a utopia or a dystopia, but we want to get a perspective from people who are actually trying to change the world today. What do they think will happen? What’s the best-case scenario? How do we get people to think of themselves as the creators of tomorrow’s story?’”
I’ve been inspired by Butler’s Parable novels too, and many others, including Starhawk’s Fifth Sacred Thing trilogy. In the next few days, I’ll put notes on these books and a list of utopian/dystopian fiction in the Resources section (see top menu bar).
Let’s get inspired!
A confirmed bookaholic, I have stuffed bookshelves in every room of my house, except the kitchen and bathroom. I store books I’m not currently using but think I might want to refer to again in my basement, and yesterday, going through them, I discovered these spiritual gems from From Survival Into the 21st Century: Planetary Healers Manual by Viktoras Kulvinskas, 1975:
“God has a plan. There are no accidents. Don’t complain about seeming badness. Get into God’s trip. Listen in silence. God is calling all of us.
Everything is going according to his cosmic plan. In our present patriarchal world, the desire to control Nature has created poisonous chemicals, pollution, war, murder, famine, plague, and the rape and devaluation of women. Chemicalized and junk foods, liquor, and Madison Avenue conditioning have made us all sick, made us all pause to question our pop-a-pill-for-what-ails-you culture. These poisons are sacred. They have been our teachers. Bless them and thank them.
The coming deluge will herald a civilization based on the universal, timeless teachings of the ancient masters and the disinherited healers of history: women. Survivors will be few – no more than 10% of the world’s population. They will be conscious of natural laws and the corrective measures evoked by disobedience.
Serve your brothers and sisters. Ask nothing. Give everything. Lovingly accept what is offered. Love when nothing is offered. Sing in praise for a chance to serve, not because others need help, but because you may become one with them. In helping, you are being helped. All have something to teach.
In your desire to serve, don’t lay your trip on anybody. It’s all right [even great] for us to be different even though we are one.
Just give. The more you give, the more you have. Giving up material possessions uncovers spiritual richness and contentment with ‘nothing,’ which becomes everything when immersed in the radiance of loving and living in the moment.”
We knew in the ’60s and ’70s that our country and our culture were on the wrong path, that, as Kulvinskas says, we need to move from Piscean materialism to Aquarian spirituality. It didn’t happen then — these changes aren’t as easy as growing long hair, smoking dope, and moving to the country. They still need to happen though, more than ever.
I love Kulvinskas’s introductory words, which remind me of the famous Hopi prophecy on my bulletin board, but I’m discarding the book, most of which advocates a wheatgrass and sprouts diet with lots of fasting, and implies that someday we’ll be able to live on air.
Take what you like and leave the rest.
Something a friend just posted on Facebook got me wondering why we entrust so much of what’s inside our minds to this commercial, already proven untrustworthy social media platform. Perhaps most of its appeal is that so many people use it, so not only will most of your friends and family see your posts (and you theirs), but, potentially — at least, in your imagination — you could be communicating with any or all of FB’s over 4 trillion users. That’s powerful. But so is FB’s ability to control and use what’s happening on its site, probably not to your or the world’s benefit — just to its own bottom line. For example, my friend says FB’s now using a new algorithm limiting what you see from friends to just 25 of them.
It seems incredible to me that with all the intelligent minds out there and all the concern so many of us have about our society, country, and planet that nothing better has been devised. Wouldn’t this be a key tool for positive change agents? I’m talking about a free, open-source, social media platform with guaranteed privacy but global reach — a way for us to share our ideas and organizing worldwide without worrying about it not actually getting out there, it’s being used against us, etc. I did some internet searching this morning, and couldn’t find anything recent or widespread that would fit this bill. So, computer nerds, what do you say? Isn’t is past time to create a tool like this? Harness the internet for positive change/revolution?
Please give me feedback on this, especially if you think I’m missing something that’s already out there.
David Korten, author of books like “When Corporations Rule the World” and “The Great Turning: From Empire to Earth Community,” is one of our wise elders, if anyone is. He has an article in the current “Yes!” magazine that cuts through all the chatter and gets us back to what is perhaps the key question: Why are we knowingly heading toward the extinction of our (and many other) species? The answer is probably that one of the traits of our species is to focus on the short rather than the long term. But, like Korten, I believe we can, if we really want to, make some very important, much saner choices that will enable us to avoid falling off the cliff. As Korten says in his article, “Transformation begins with clarity on the nature of the choice that confronts our species.”
Korten believes we’ll survive only if we answer the following question: “Why does the current system deprive so many of opportunity for a fulfilling life [or life at all] that could and should be everyone’s birthright? Our prevailing cultural choices favor extreme individualistic competition for material goods. Our institutional choices reward the destruction of Earth’s capacity to support life and concentrate control by fewer and fewer people over what remains of that capacity. The many are thus pressed into lives of desperate servitude to the few. The obvious alternative begins with the recognition that individually and collectively, we survive and thrive only as interdependent, sharing, and mutually contributing members of Earth’s community of life. We’re better served by working together to create a world that works for all, than by competing for what remains of a shrinking pool of real [natural] wealth. Our defining cultural value must become cooperation. And we must transfer power from institutions that reward predatory competition to ones that facilitate and reward cooperation in service to the common good.”
Of course, the big question is how to make these changes? I think it’s pretty obvious that we earthlings can only do it by creating grassroots, bottom-up democracies all over the world like the kind the United States has always crushed at home and abroad. Of course, other regimes have and are crushing democracy, too, but I focus on our country because that’s where I live and because the US is so powerful. (Check out other articles on this site for examples of its democracy-crushing — US policy in Nicaragua and the rest of Central America comes to mind — as well as ideas about creating real democracy. One definition of the latter would be a system in which if a decision affects you or your community, you have real input in making it.
These are changes that can only take place in the long term. So take your eyes off most of the short term — like the daily “news” stream — and focus on what makes it all happen: what really matters.