At the heart of Livable Futures is our conviction that artists and the creative, emergent processes they practice are powerful sources for resistance and resilience in times of uncertainty. To explore these possibilities, we are supporting a range of new projects and hosting regular public dialogs on important artworks and texts by contemporary voices that foster new visions.
Recently we came together to discuss Emergent Strategy: Shaping Change, Changing Worlds, a nourishing and galvanizing text by Adrienne Maree Brown (AMB) that has been circulating widely since it was published in 2017. Using her expansive background as a social justice organizer, science fiction author, doula, and more, Brown suggests, “if the goal was to increase the love, rather than winning or dominating a constant opponent, I think we could actually imagine liberation from constant oppression. We would suddenly be seeing everything we do, everyone we meet, not through the tactical eyes of war, but through eyes of love. We would see that there's no such thing as a blank canvas, an empty land or a new idea–but everywhere there is complex, ancient, fertile ground full of potential.”
AMB is affiliated with the incredible artist and activist collective Allied Media in Detroit, MI. Livable Futures will be sending groups to the next Allied Media Conference and we will continue emergent strategy work here on campus, in the Columbus community, and wherever we land.
Facilitated by Norah Zuniga Shaw, a group of 20 students, faculty, and interested parties met to talk about the book and about facilitating emergent strategies for change in our communities. The impressions were varied and insightful. The group took the text into the world. These are samplings from their insights, their own emergent quotes, as discovered by the group:
“The book helps define a framework that we can use for sustainable growth in our communities. Her metaphor of fractals and the concept of “an inch wide, mile deep” resonates with this experience with this text.”
“Ms. Brown gets us to think: I am what is emergent. She is so many things but they all combine, not singular identities. As an artist, Black woman, veteran, dancer, activist, this is liberating to me. I am all these things and I am emerging.”
“There is a predictive logic to change. AMB uses the example of dandelions, how interconnected they are, how easily they spread. There is no exact knowledge where the seeds will land, but there is a predictive logic that they will indeed land and then grow. That is part of change. Change outlives us. We may not see it, but our efforts begin this process. The seeds of our efforts will land and grow somewhere.”
“The strength of our movements is only defined by the strength of our relationships. Vulnerability and empathy are important in building strength within a community.”
“When we are thinking of scaling something up we usually think about hierarchy. Brown makes it horizontal.”
“AMB talks about the tyranny of scale. Our US-Mexico border is like that. There really isn’t a border, it is a fiction created by politics. So much of inequality is built upon this tyranny of scale.”
“Social gatherings are the prelude to talking about where we are at, what we are doing. Showing up in my neighborhood on a weekly basis means something...you must care, you are not an outsider. Showing up and being present is powerful. Letting in and listening to the neighborhood, from its inside to your inside”
“We all need relationships, not just to organize, but to be in the world in a daily basis.”
“I love how AMB grounds her work in Octavia Butler’s science fiction. Octavia Butler's work seems to be more grounded in the natural world–the Earth, unlike many male science fiction writers. Since reading this text I have also begun reading all the sci-fi I can find by women of color, Octavia Butler, N.K. Jamison, Nnedi Okorafor…and it is acting as a kind of antidote to the public vitriol.”
“The human instinct seems to be destructive. We do not acknowledge our interdependencies. Since we are unable to admit our vulnerability, we then ignore examples from nature. AMB writes that oak trees interconnect at their roots to make them stronger. We are vulnerable without each other. Nature has figured out this interconnected vulnerability as a valuable way to survive. How might we interconnect at our roots?”
“Though we are taught about the survival of the fittest, it is, in fact, the survival of the most interdependent.”
“I love the way AMB introduces ideas of how we can rehearse new relationships–with our bodies, with nature, and between ourselves.”
“Dance is a way we practice this interdependency in art. AMB centers this book in the body. The body is so important and she doesn’t shy away from that, it’s not an afterthought. It is a recognition of this interdependence.”
“AMB’s use of the fractal comparison brings to mind how we tend to think of change as big revolutions instead of smaller happenings that lead to greater changes. These small things can have bigger effects than we can ever know.”
Brown’s idea of emergence is about potential. It is also about the abilities deep within us and between us. Through her work and the work proposed in Emergent Strategy, we can begin to articulate a process of solutions. Brown draws the connections out of us, she recognizes the many problems but is not weighted by this. Solutions are in our connections. And, our connections are always emerging.