adrienne maree brown on What it Looks Like to Organize with Integrity
In Conversation with Jordan Kisner on Thresholds
This is Thresholds, a series of conversations with writers about experiences that completely turned them upside down, disoriented them in their lives, changed them, and changed how and why they wanted to write. Hosted by Jordan Kisner, author of the essay collectionThin Places, and brought to you by Lit Hub Radio.
In this episode, adrienne maree brown (Grievers) joins Jordan to talk about the moment she learned what her style of leadership looked like, about the power of saying things aloud, and about her love of Octavia Butler and finding her way to writing fiction.
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The League of Young Voters (or The League of Pissed-Off Voters) • AK Press • Left Turn Magazine’s 2010 issue “Other Worlds are Possible: Visionary Fiction, Culture, and Organizing” edited by Walidah Imarisha • Octavia E. Butler’s archive at the Huntington Library in Pasadena
From the episode:
adrienne maree brown: I was like, “I don’t want to stay here if the organization is like this.” And a lot of the women of color all left right at the same time, which is always something to look out for; that’s a good bellwether sign. If a lot of people of color or a lot of women or a lot of people who are working class are all leaving at the same time, there’s something structural happening in that space. I learned in that moment how privilege works. Because a lot of people are like, “We see you, we hear you, we believe you. But he’s the one who has access to the money. So, there’s nothing we can really do.”
It was really helpful for me to see that, to experience that, in what I did after that. I went on to do a lot of organizing and to run other organizations and to learn so much about what it meant to be someone who could generate resources. Because that was one of the first things that felt important to me. If you have to be the one who has the ability to generate resources, then I better figure out how to do that. And then, what does it take to actually generate authentic relationships around resources? What does it take to be a leader who’s trustworthy? A lot flowed from that experience.
Jordan Kisner: The next question that I have is how that experience has rippled outward. That was at the beginning—maybe not the very, very beginning, but it was early in your career, which has now grown so much bigger than just that one experience or that one kind of work. Where do you see its echoes?
adrienne maree brown: I think Emergent Strategy is, in a lot of ways, me articulating the lessons from that time, among other things. So much of Emergent Strategy is written from a broken heart. And I say that—it’s not just being like, “Ooh, dolphins.” There’s a real sense of the way humans have figured out doing society and doing community organizing, we’re so stuck in the thinking of colonialism, the thinking of capitalism, which says everything has a monetary value, which is its only value, and everything is urgent and everything can be pillaged.
Everything can be branded. It’s this way of being that, to me, goes so counter to what the natural world is actually telling us, or goes counter to the option we’re being given at all times to be otherwise. Emergent Strategy was me looking for, what does it look like to organize with integrity? What does it look like to come into communities with listening at the forefront? That threshold also showed me what my leadership looks like.
adrienne maree brown is the writer-in-residence at the Emergent Strategy Ideation Institute, and author of Grievers (the first novella in a trilogy on the Black Dawn imprint), Holding Change: The Way of Emergent Strategy Facilitation and Mediation, We Will Not Cancel Us and Other Dreams of Transformative Justice, Pleasure Activism: The Politics of Feeling Good, Emergent Strategy: Shaping Change, Changing Worlds and the co-editor of Octavia’s Brood: Science Fiction from Social Justice Movements and How to Get Stupid White Men Out of Office. She is the cohost of the How to Survive the End of the World, Octavia’s Parables and Emergent Strategy podcasts. adrienne is rooted in Detroit.