Emergence: giving attention and intention to transformative change

This post is the 1st in a series about emergent strategy. See and share the second, third, and fourth in this conversation

This Great Lakes Commons initiative emerged from a confluence of political, emotional, social, and ethical forces that are constantly changing. But how is GLC changing?

  • 6 years ago, there wasn't a vision of how the Great Lakes could be protected as more than a resource from both privatization and pollution.

  • Coalitions of NGOs use up their energy on fighting water issues one at a time. Invasive species, water levels, clean beaches, water commodification, nutrient overload, nuclear waste -- the list of water issues in the Great Lakes is long, exhausting, and part of a deeper pattern.

  • Indigenous water authority is largely ignored by regulators, even though political treaties were signed all across the Great Lakes recognizing native sovereignty over lands and waters. 

  • Learning about water has given us better data, but not learning from water has degraded our ability to balance risk, plan long-term, and understand that the water cycle and life cycle are united. 

At the end of July, we invited some of our longest and more curious supporters to talk about what 'emergence' means to them and how GLC can change. The event was inspired by the book Emergent Strategy: shaping change, changing worlds, since Adrienne Maree Brown has laid out many key principles and practices for looking at social movements through the lens of 'emergence'. 

Strategies based on theories and tools for emergence ask us:

  • what is the most elegant next step?

  • how do we transform the conditions of injustice?

  • how do we find the lessons in success and failure?

  • How do we create more options and a plurality of transformative visions?

What follows are some elegant observations by our invited community: Ricardo, Lindsay, Gus, Todd, Laura G. Laura H. Moheb, Elle, and Lucy.

GLC emerged from self and community awareness. Through the acts of 'truth-telling' and 'hope-based organizing' we are building up the generative soil from which a new/recovered paradigm of water governance can be realized. (Ricardo)

Traditional institutions (including non-governmental organizations) are in a crisis of legitimacy. GLC should offer less on tactics and more on community. From this community comes renewal and capacity. (Todd)

Our relationship with the lakes is what matters most. Honoring this connection will help us build deep and lasting relationships between people. Tapping into people's imagination is key for creating more engagement and more possibilities. GLC also does a great job of bridging diverse communities together, Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples. We are still figuring out what kinds of leadership work best for supporting non-hierarchical movements. There needs to be better ways to connect people (ie, artists) to GLC's mission that balances unity and autonomy. (Laura H, Laura G., Lucy, Moheb, and Elle)

When thinking about participation in this work, how can we use technology as a supplement rather than a default? Virtual communication limits true connection. But how do we balance the urgency and the patience needed to nourish this movement? Perhaps the Commons Charter hasn't entered the culture's bloodstream as fast as we had hoped when it was created 4 years ago, but the conditions are getting better as traditional campaign/NGO organizing are open to question when it comes to their effectiveness in complex system change. (Elle and Ricardo)

What are some of the ways we can intervene in people's existing relationship with water? Summer is filled with festivals by the water, but are not about the water. These festivals offer potential for re-positioning our connection to water. Another intervention is possible with white-settlers who call the Great Lakes home. What could 're-culturalizing' projects looks like that connected settlers back to their Indigenous ancestry and to these waters on Turtle Island? (Todd and Lindsay)

Gathering on the lands and waters is key for this work. Here we can deepen our truest relationships and collectively find our emergent strategies for transformative change. 

Image from  For the Wild  website

Image from For the Wild website

Questions we want to ask you about this emergent process:

  • How do we build more critical connections between our existing supporters and define our movement by the relationships that power our work?

  • How do we work at smallest level of organizing that trigger wider systemic and irresistable transformation?

  • How do we build a greater sense of unity that creates an expanding range of liberatory possibilities?

  • How do we become in right relationship with all the inevitable changes to our work and from our work?

  • How do we listen and learn from our mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual experiences?

  • How do we build intention and reflection into all our processes?