Emergence #2: grief, love, and the possibilities of belonging

On August 28th, we host our second conversation on how to adapt Adrienne Maree Brown’s book “Emergent Strategy” to building a Great Lakes Commons. A handful of us meet from different edges of the basin to share our thoughts. Over the next few months we’ll continue holding space for these ‘emergence’ conversations, since GLC is currently reviewing its role and focus in Great Lakes protection –- two related blog posts are the ones on mapping our movement and unsettling the commons.

Read about our first meeting here. Learn more about the Emergent Strategy book here and here.

Gus and Lindsay joined the call to talk about their in-progress documentary called "BLK WTR: future history of the Great Lakes". The fundraising page states:

BLK WTR seeks to understand the death of the Great Lakes through the legacy of the auto industry and its subsequent promise of American prosperity. BLK WTR also seeks to understand the resurrection of the Great Lakes through what we believe to be the emergence of a commons: a way of life transcending the market-state paradigm that centers our collective responsibility to protect everything we share. We believe the resurrection can only come about through a collective acknowledgment of the deaths occurring. BLK WTR therefore needs your help in becoming a belfry.

  Image from BLK WTR page. 

Image from BLK WTR page. 

Lindsay and Gus ask us “what does freedom look like?” as we seek to build upon past social justice movements and now turn our attention to the collective waters within and around us. As artists, they want to spur our radical imagination for what the future of water governance looks like. A crisis of imagination plaques mainstream environmental work, often because it fails to honor the realities of grief and loss.

This reminded Ben about the documentary, Albatross:

…on our first trip to Midway Island in September of 2009, we and our team photographed and filmed thousands of young albatrosses that lay dead on the ground, their stomachs filled with plastic. The experience was devastating, not only for what it meant for the suffering of the birds, but also for what it reflected back to us about the destructive power of our culture of mass consumption, and humanity's damaged relationship with the living world.

Through this journey, I held to a principle of emergence that served as the creative foundation for the project. I wanted to experience the birds on their terms, imposing as few human judgments or preconceptions on them as possible. With this intention, I avoided scripting any aspect of the film in advance. The trips were approached as open-ended creative explorations, with no story or agenda in mind.

Trailer for ALBATROSS by Chris Jordan.

Barbara thought her permaculture project work helped cultivate visions for the world we want. Food-forest projects create possibilities on how we ‘stay human’ because they meet our social, economic, and environmental needs. We kept coming back to the pattern of ‘deeper relationships’.

Coincidently, Barbara and Ben has already collaborated on different project and had no idea the other was interested in seeding a Great Lakes Commons. Living hundreds of miles away from each other, they were part of a Sociocracy (dynamic governance) project. Since most water advocacy is dominated by those who are passionate about understanding and solving the problems, it’s refreshing to talk to those who prioritize the ‘process’ of network and organizational design and effectiveness. Sociocracy is network decision-making process that lets all voices to be heard, is based in consent, and creates a positive feedback loop between leading, acting, and measuring effectiveness. Ben and Barbara made this video to show how we can activate our networks better. Do you think it could applications for Great Lakes Commons?

Developed by Ben Roberts and Barbara Richards as part of the Sociocracy Leadership Training program.

We all had our sources of inspiration. Ben mentioned Peter Block a few times and once to remind us that “perhaps the purpose of problems is to give us an excuse to come together.” We talked about challenging the ‘solutions’ mindset as an addiction for answers over understanding and a ‘fix’ in a dynamic world. This fits with our ‘emergence’ theme, since we want to look at creating more possibilities for water leadership, water relationship, and better Great Lakes governance. We don’t know what the solution is and rather than seeking a solution, we are being honest about our lack of connectedness, our ecological grief, and our common desires. Our goal with these Emergent Strategy conversations is to generate more possibilities for transformative change.

At one point in the call, Lindsay referred to GLC as her ‘home’ for the past few years while touring the Great Lakes creating a documentary and touring folk opera performance. A popular mnemonic device for remembering the names of the 5 Great Lakes is H.O.M.E.S.. So it was a fitting sentiment and strategic possibility for GLC to focus on being a home for future water protectors. Having trouble remembering the names of the Lakes? Scroll to the bottom for answers. 

We talked about needs. We need better support for developing our leadership and organizational capacity. We are looking into the services of the People’s Hub and learning more about the Building Movement Project. We want to connect better not only face to face (get in touch re. helping plan a GLC gathering) but online. Because of the scale of the Great Lakes, we must get better at working across distances. Wary of how social media becomes just more self-promotion, we need to build more connections and continue to move at the speed at trust.

Lastly, on the importance of ‘on the land’ gatherings, we talked about the power of the sacred water walks, the Line 5 camp, and Standing Rock in particular as examples of where people’s lives can change. Shared experiences on the land and waters with purpose and prayer were seen as the best technology for creating the most desirable possibilities.

What do you think are the best strategies? Leave a comment or get in touch if you want to join the next Emergence conversation.