“Humans? Some of us are surviving, following, flocking — but some of us are trying to imagine where we are going as we fly. That is radical imagination.”
One of the lessons of 2017 was making space for spontaneity, which looked like leaving portions of my planner blank. It felt counter-intuitive at first, but like all things that feel natural, it grew on me. Suddenly I was more conscious of what I said yes and no to, paying close attention to how these answers felt in my body. It was Trump’s first year in office after all and instead of feeling fired up, I felt disjointed. My work in the local and diasporic Filipino communities felt insincere, and I tried different approaches to no avail. I knew I had to disengage for my own sanity.
I made space. I slowed down. So when I finally got around to reading adrienne maree brown’s Emergent Strategy: Shaping Change, Changing Worlds (Amazon | Indiebound), it felt like a homecoming. I’ve been reading speculative + science women-centered fiction and brown’s work seemed to encompass all these stories into tangible practices for one’s self and our respective communities. brown’s work as a social justice facilitator, healer and doula resonated with me throughout the book, and I’m looking forward to reading more of their work in an anthology they co-edited called Octavia’s Brood: Science Fiction Stories from Social Justice Movements.
I love how Emergent Strategy is a “radical self-help, society-help, and planet-help designed to shape the futures we want to live,” how it weaves how we take care of ourselves with taking care of our communities and the place/s we live in. That how we approach practices towards preserving ourselves are directly linked to our survival as a species, and also with the way we move about in this planet.
These links are glimpses of emergence, the core of emergent strategy.
I’ve never thought about political movements this way, and reading about emergent strategy opened up a different realm of living, organizing and surviving. That my doubts and moments of hesitation when it came to how I operate in the past actually had merit, because they were my being’s way of telling me to stop and be more deliberate in my choices and my actions.
What brown shared in Emergent Strategy were critical pieces of information I’ve often overlooked for the sake of productivity, for the sake of shipping. One of the things that really resonated me was a shift from critical mass to critical relationships. Numbers don’t mean anything if the relationships being built aren’t nurtured, and I’ve been a witness to this reality in many spaces.
Another thing that I appreciate about the book is how brown recognizes something I’ve seen replicated in my own life and in many spaces: how we’ve learned how to internalize the same systems oppressing us. Internalized racism and sexism are especially prevalent in Filipino communities, the very same ones I’ve been trying to organize for a long time. It is challenging, close to impossible, to work towards a vision of justice with these in the mix. And in these moments, it is even more necessary to acknowledge their existence in order to move forward. It is easier to say these things in theory, of course, but brown’s faith in the process is reassuring.
I nearly bookmarked every single page in the book, because each page is brimming with the kind of wisdom needed to live the kind of just lives we all envision. But more than providing answers, what brown nudges each reader is a thorough assessment of what we believe, how we’ve been functioning, and how we would like to work with each other. In a culture obsessed with getting things done right away, I am a champion of the kind of introspection in Emergent Strategy, the kind that looks to the natural world for guidance. The kind that asks the right questions, the ones we need to really be asking.
This book is the best way to kick off another year of living intentionally, of braving everything gracefully. I feel so much more grounded because of its gifts, and I have brown and this body of work (and its contributors) to be grateful for.
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Pia Cortez is a writer based in the San Francisco Bay Area. She runs a book blog called Libromance where she reviews books and publishes literary features with a queer Filipino immigrant lens. She is a contributor at Hella Pinay, an online magazine for Filipino-American women and at New Life Quarterly, a literary magazine based in Oakland, California. She is currently working on her first novel.