By Adrienne Maree Brown
Over the December 9-10 weekend we hosted ReImagining Organizing, Movements, and Leadership gatherings in Detroit.
We had been planning the weekend ever once we heard that Margaret Wheatley author and organizational development consultant, was going to be in Kalamazoo, Michigan, and wanted to come to Detroit.
Wheatley’s best-selling book Leadership in the New Science:: Discovering Order in a Chaotiic World was written 20 years ago, the same year Detroit Summer was founded.
When Wheatley came down with pneumonia, we were disappointed, but we adapted.
On Friday evening, we had an intimate dinner with leaders from various networks across Detroit. Saturday afternoon we held a large public event at the Cass Corridor Commons, followed by a youth-focused evening at the Furniture Factory.
Some of the key ideas uplifted throughout the series of events were:
- How do we transition beyond a “Newtonian” way of understanding the world, which suggests that things happen in a linear way and that organizing is all about getting masses, or as many people as possible , to do one thing? How do we transition to a quantum, or a more complex, way of understanding things? A complex way of viewing things shows that lots of small, seemingly disconnected actions can spark, or emerge, a transformation.
- Critical connections, deep, trusting connections between points in a system, might be more crucial to social change than critical mass. Mass can grow and disperse quickly if the relationships within that large body are not deep, accountable and trusting.
- Thinking of change in the sense of fractals. Fractals show us that the same patterns existing on the smallest scale exist on the largest scale. In terms of the social changes we are working for, how can we even try to create massive systems which we do not have an experience at a small scale? Patterns at the largest level can only be what exist at the smallest level. If we are chaotic within ourselves, our society will be chaotic. If we are fearful, gossiping, punitive, angry, dysfunctional, and wounded at the small scale, then that is the society we will inhabit. This is a scientific impetus to transform ourselves in order to transform the world.
- Emergence and feedback loops. For years, I have raged against plans, because it feels like we spend a lot of time making plans that don’t adapt for, or account for, the constantly changing landscape. Emergence is the process in nature that explains the beautiful movements of flocks of birds and schools of fish – it’s an adaptive process by which order emerges in apparent chaos. Feedback loops are the small ways in which new information informs the adaptations.
Adaptation is Life. Life is Adaptation
When we got the news that Wheatley wasn’t going to make it, we had to take a moment to reflect. Just a month ago, the Boggs Center had organized another event where a special guest, Vandana Shiva,, had also gotten ill just before the gathering, and was unable to come. In both instances we had to look inward to our community and realize we have all we need to hold these conversations in Detroit already.
The planning team, which included Invincible, Jenny Lee, Richard Feldman, Grace Lee Boggs and myself, was inspired by the insights that emerged from all the weekend’s participants. Reimagining Organizing, Movements, and Leadership uplifted the life wisdom of experience that Detroiters, of all ages, races, genders and backgrounds, and proved that if you open up the space, everyone can be a teacher, and everyone can transform.
to be continued….
ReImagining Organizing, Movements, and Leadership – 2
We started on Friday night with an initial intimate dinner, cooked by People’s Kitchen, for members of various networks in Detroit to come into contact with each other and see what questions they share. The questions that emerged from the group focused on: transitions of leadership; how to face urgency with integrity; how we heal (moving from fragmentation to wholeness) in the process of doing the work; bridging the gaps (real or perceived) between new and old paradigms. How do we make grassroots movements a “path of least resistance” exciting ecosystem, literally the most natural thing a community can do?
Saturday afternoon we hosted a large public event at the Cass Corridor Commons. It opened with Beth James , an indigenous and African-American professor and healer from Detroit., blessing the space. She shared with participants the information that she recently received a kidney transplant and was excited to be alive and in our presence.
Grace Lee Boggs and Invincible then grounded us in ideas inspired by Margaret Wheatley’s book “Leadership and The New Science”, of emergence, fractals, shifting from Newtonian to Quantum and complex thinking (see part 1),. We showed an excerpt from Margaret Wheatley’s video “Perseverance”. Then we hosted intergenerational fishbowl conversations with Detroit-based organizers discussing the relevance of these ideas for our work here.
Organizer Michelle Martinez shared the experience of having a really hard organizing day, and coming home to see flocks of birds in the trees calling to each other to migrate. Being able to reflect on a process of self-organization in nature helped remind her of the kind of movement she wants to build.
After these conversations we jumped into an assessment process where folks looked at the organizations and networks they are part of, and then at their own personal lives, to see how visionary they are now, and what the next step in transformation might be. We asked people to look at how much they share leadership, how they handle conflict, how much they are driven by crisis and urgency, how financial decisions are made, and so forth.
The assessment process yielded powerful conversations in small groups and pairs. It is always beautiful to watch folks open up, listen deeply, come into self-awareness and see the possibility of their lives and their work.
Next, at the youth gathering, hosted by Detroit Future Youth, we started with an exercise where the youth got to feel what it was like to be in a flock of starlings, also known as a murmuration. Then, young people working in networks across Detroit, spoke to their visions for leadership, communication, and accountability, discussing how their work in movement could be focused on building each other up, rather than tearing each other down.
Then there was a series of performances. Invincible shared work from her multi-media album project Complex Movements, which included Diana Nucera on cello, DJ Sicari on the turntables, Wesley Taylor and Juan Martinez on set and stage, Tunde Olaniran as performance advisor, and myself as back-up singer and a live projection screen thanks to the costuming skills of Christine Thomlinson.
Finally, there was a closed mic featuring youth from Detroit Future Youth partner organizations, with a lighthearted competition between the youth and adult allies. Watching young people in Detroit burst with love and excitement about the community they are in, watching them build confidence on the stage, seeing the incredible life in them – it is restorative in and of itself.
With all of the adaptation and emergence in creating a wholeness out of Wheatley’s absence, there were definitely moments where we had to release expectations and be present to a new situation. The beauty was in how open people were about the fact that we all have limitations, as well as infinite potential.
We kept coming back to a quote from the late Jimmy Boggs – “You’re nobody unless you are in relationship with a bunch of somebodies.”
Ultimately, that’s what we were doing – modeling critical connections, relational intelligence, creating safe space, and all doing our best.
It was leaderful, and it was beautiful.