How about that USSF?

Yeah, I got back from Detroit over a week ago now.  I was there to attend a little bit of the 2010 U.S. Social Forum.  Of course I was travelling with folks from my group of co-researchers of the Midwest, Compass.  The basic agenda we had was to go there and talk about this idea we are so enamoured with  called The Midwest Radical Culture Corridor.    Over the next few months we will be unpacking the joyous experiences of that confluence.  Some folks from the group have already written lovely reports: Dan Wang’s report-back, and Brian Holmes. But that is not what this post is for.

Instead I am posting a quick text that I wrote for my friend and collaborator Natasha Wheat.  She is making a chap-book that will accompany her “Self Contained” project at the MCA here in Chicago.  Posting it here is an oblique way of reflecting on my time in Detroit.  It was written very much under the influence of the after-glow of that trip. It is a glow of  affection I felt among my collaborators, my temporary neighbors and housemates, my comrades at the forum, and the incredible hospitality of Detroit. Either we’ve been incredibly lucky or Detroit is just about the friendliest place I’ve ever been.  We were exposed to multiple vistas on our journeys to and from Detroit, that ranged from tragic to hopeful.  It was yet more strong experiential evidence that the more you look for people doing interesting work in the Great Lakes and Upper Mississippi Regions the more you find.

Anyhow the text I wrote for Natasha–I’ve been warned that I often come off as pedantic in my art and writing, I doubt this will be an exception to that tendency.   I’m grateful to Natasha for the chance to contribute.  I look forward to reading what  other folks have written for her, not to mention see her project.

Shed Your Ass and Celebrate

What Good is Ms. Pac-Man?

This guy Dave is very good at Ms. Pac-Man. From my observations it seems he can best the high-score on any machine. I watched him play a game that was moving so quickly that it exceeded my capacity to make decisions, as one sometimes does watching others play a game, asking oneself, “What would I do in this situation?” Watching him play I recalled a state of awe I experienced as a kid watching my older brother play these games. Dave explained to me that he actually prefers the machines that are set to run faster because it makes it easier to watch the whole board. In other words, to play Ms. Pac-Man at this level, you don’t watch Ms. Pac-Man, you watch everything else.

Life is simple (I’m still learning).

As a body’s life begins with it’s first breath of air, I wonder if an alliance begins with its first shared breath? It’s quite simple to observe, for example, a human baby as she takes her first breath when she enters into this world, separating from her mother’s body, becoming her own. But who has the capacity to observe the first breath of an alliance? Who has the nuanced, subtle sensibility to know when an alliance has begun? What is the long path to developing that capacity of wisdom? Who can teach us to walk this road? We also have a very clear understanding of how to nurture and nourish that child, but how do we deepen our understanding for nurturing and strengthening alliances?

At this historical moment, in this place, this might be the most urgent question. What is necessary to form and maintain alliances? Our culture and the dominant economic mode associated with it, namely capitalism, have thoroughly revealed themselves as foolish and short-sighted. Capitalism and it’s culture are much better at sewing the seeds of resentment, depression, and self-destruction than they are at forming alliances. It is a long journey of sinuous and snaking, intertwined paths from this way of making our homes to ways of making homes that recognize, honor and support the humanity and dignity of all people, of the land which is theirs, the power which belongs to them. Power must be returned to them to make their homes on their terms. The commitment to supporting this, and the pragmatic actions to make this transition are the substance of alliance.

The people to look to are the indigenous people of each and every place, of each and every land. Indigenous is a category which might seem inadequate from some vantage points. But it is best to understand that this is not about a so-called ‘native essentialism.’ The concept of native essentialism is a product of a legalistic logic, a set of presumptions that constitute an imaginary universe that is far too divorced from any real or pragmatic relationship with the earth we live on to keep us alive much longer. This universe will shrivel away, and be digested by the healing soil of the earth. We will begin to understand that power was never really the result of violent imposition and control but always a gift from the land which is inseparable from its people, the people who have the subtle abilities to listen to and understand that land, its skies, its waters, and its energy.

We need to listen, maybe we even need to learn to listen, to understand that we are at the beginning of a long road. And to know that because of where we come from, because of our teaching, it is even difficult for us to understand the obvious, plain truth in what we are hearing. We must be patient and develop our capacity for humility. We must have the will to be uncomfortable and learn to deal with inconveniences quietly, without complaint. We must work with each other and teach each other what we know about being allies. When we are sad and feel guilty we must not lash out with this energy, but make a caring place to deal with it.

Not in isolation, we don’t.

Recently I was fortunate enough to visit a place called Black Oaks Center for Sustainable Renewable Living. I went with a group of friends with whom I’ve been corresponding and collaborating for around three years now, conducting embodied, experiential research to learn about the economies and cultures of the Midwest. At Black Oaks we met a man named Fred Carter who shared a powerful idea with us: “a garden has no value if it’s not part of a system.” He’s right. Right now, he’s right. So go, find your garden and don’t just work on the garden but work on the system in which it is integral. A hint: That system involves celebration and celebration involves singing. One last hint: That system is how people are going to make it out alive.

Mike Wolf

Summer, 2010 — Year of the Metal Tiger


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