angel Kyodo williams

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when the people rise

In culture, identity, politics, relationship on March 3, 2011 at 2:34 pm

why self-determination will always overcome fear
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Tunisia. Egypt. Yemen. Bahrain. Libya.

The last few months have borne witness to a powder keg of successive uprisings by Arab Peoples throughout the Middle East and North Africa. The desperate act of a Tunisian vendor—setting himself on fire in protest of his cart—and means of livelihood—being taken away—was a stand for self-determination that has been amplified by Arab People reclaiming their dignity one county at a time.

If nature abhors a vacuum, then indeed, it resists none more persistently than a vacuum of natural selfhood. When the breaking point of lack of fulfillment meets with the illuminating function of self-awareness, human beings, like nature, seek to restore balance.

When this happens collectively, We Are All Khaled Said…

…and the People rise.

This (r)evolutionary imperative to see manifest condition in which one can thrive is more ancient, more deeply rooted, and thus more powerful, than the inclination to oppress others for one’s own warped sense of self-gain.

In a global, media-drenched world, awareness of self is expedited by the sheer number of other self-expressions to compare one’s own expression (or lack thereof) to. Thus the cycle of being lulled to sleep by paternalistic promises–only to be rudely awakened by a nightmarish loss of freedom–is quickened. We come to terms more rapidly with the reality that as soothing as it may first appear when we are young and naive, we do not want to have everything taken care of by the Great Hero Father. Hence our empires rise and fall more swiftly than ever. Dictators, monarchs, aristocracies and elite parties beware: you are remnants of the past even before you take your corrupted seats these days. When your fabricated means of distraction falls away, the People will rise.

Beyond survival and security, self-determination is the underpinning of justice. When corrupt leaders falter on the first two, the last is the restorative penance that must be paid. Beyond simple survival, being able to determine our own path is the hallmark of self-expression, self-fulfillment, and most importantly, self-love.

In insisting upon the removal of decades-long dictators, the People reclaim their fundamental, inalienable right and responsibility to determine their own path. A right they have come to recognize has been obscured and hampered by individual men projecting an image of themselves as the sole reflection of an entire People:

  • what they will and will not have access to
  • how they are to be governed
  • what they can and cannot become

It would appear to the untrained eye that these Arab Peoples were ruled by different men, but to the eye of the astute, each dictator was a differently dated carbon copy of the other, and all of them mere proxies for fear.

But the People eventually stay the Iron Fist, lift the veil and see the cowering figure clinging to power is neither God nor Hero, just a small, desperate man. Emboldened by their commitment, empowered by their collectivity, liberated from the shackles of fear, the People rise to find liberation from the shackles of oppression.

Questions abound as to how the all-knowing US didn’t see such a wave of revolutions forthcoming: America’s deep-seated racism and perceived religious-cultural superiority conspire to make the quiet swelling of a sea of brown and black People calling for their freedom with fearlessness, grace and unwavering determination a political improbability. To see them do it in succession, leaving the realm of mere anomaly? Impossible.

Having paid so much to keep them divided, we simply lack the imagination to conceive of Arab Peoples bonding together in solidarity to restore the dignity and rightful place of their own. How else could we justify funding the suppression of their beautiful brown selves for so long? How else could we be so confused as to whether we should continue to underwrite Mass Muslim Control rather than proclaim the side of the People the only righteous side to be on?

Even as we witnessed it with our own eyes, we clung to our reductionist, divisive values: it was the youth, it was the educated, it was the middle class, it was the non-religious. No matter that many of the largest protests formed after Friday prayers. Even more un-humanizing, it was Facebook or Twitter. Make no mistake: no matter the vehicle or tool, it was the People.

The brown, red, black and yellow People of this country can learn volumes from the hopefulness and vision expressed by our Arab brothers and sisters. If invested in transformation of society beyond the policy win, past the campaign, despite the funders, our own organizers can benefit from the study of revolutionary change—rooted in the mass power of collective love for the People that unifies, coupled with the individual compulsion for self-determination—that will always eventually transcend fear.

When that happens, we the People, too, shall finally rise.

—yours in truth, aKw

dedicated to the power of the People. may they rise again and again.

angel Kyodo williams is a maverick teacher,
author, social visionary and Founder Emeritus of
Center for Transformative Change.
she posts, tweets & blogs on all things change.
permission granted to retweet, repost,
repaste & repeat with copyright and contact
information intact.

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red, white and black

In culture, politics, relationship on February 3, 2011 at 1:45 pm
red white black

Hail from Above. Nile River, Luxor, Eqypt.

standing with the people

As the world watches—despite the Egyptian government’s best efforts to darken the light of revolution—the People of Egypt increasingly come forward to express their will for change and they will not be deterred. Just over a year ago, I had the great fortune to be in Egypt. Making my way through Cairo, up the Sinai and deep into Luxor, I left holding vivid impressions of who these crowds are made up of, who they gather for and who they risk on behalf of: the People. As movements of people calling forth transformative social change, we are further empowered when we recognize our relationship, deep connection and interdependence with the movements towards justice in the world. I hope these snapshots of with whom it is we stand in solidarity empowers each of you:

I stand with Egypt.
I too, stood in defiance of President Hosni Mubarak’s police in downtown Cairo’s Midan Tahrir, or Liberation Square. Coming from all over the world, we gathered there to link Freedom for the people of Gaza with the Liberation of the people of Egypt. Even then, Mubarak sought to keep the attention we were bringing to the plight of the People from coming to light. We were just a few hundred, but it was clear he knew even then that if the People saw us, they would stir. Now, a million—and counting—stand too.

I stand with the low-ranking and even lower-paid soldiers that are shuffled around and posted as human barricades to contain the peoples’ movements but can’t contain their support for the hopeful defiance of ordinary men and women, young and old, that may finally usher in real change.

As long as Egypt is willing to be home of the well-behaved Arabs, America has been willing to deeply fund a dictator to keep up a pretense of peace while Egyptians paid the price of their dignity. Like the Red people of America, their self-determination is systematically denied while US-made and paid for weapons are used to dissuade them from their conviction.

I stand with the other Hosny, the travel guide who rents horses and poses us in pictures with camels while solving the mystery of the Great Pyramids of Giza with an easy plausibility that confirms westerners are the only ones still questioning what the people have always known.

While we watch the legions pouring into the streets from the comfort of our living rooms or the palms of our hands, the People risk the stability that was for three decades secured at the cost of liberty. They trade complacency and comfort for an unknown future, but are determined to define that path on their own terms.

I stand with the soft-eyed captain of the Jolie, the fifth generation of his family to guide feluccas up and down the lush banks of Luxor’s Nile. He has the help of a young boy that has lost his father but would receive neither service nor support in an Egypt that leaves the poorest to fend for themselves.

Egypt’s revolution is of and by not just some of the people, but the many. There is no fringe to dismiss. Lines of class have blurred into oblivion. The haves are coming forward for the have-nots. Like the White people of our own nation that have stood in solidarity with folks red, black, brown and yellow, refusing to be divided from their values to protect their places, this revolution sees the interdependence of all. They stand in protection of their collective heritage, denying would-be thieves the opportunity to steal their treasures and steal their triumph.

I stand with the head of security at the mighty Valley of Kings. Charged to protect the final resting place of dynasties that rose and fell for thousands of years before an America was considered, he cannot comfortably care for his family. His harmless scams occasionally lighten the pockets of gullible tourists, but when it becomes clear that we are neither easy prey nor think ourselves better than he, his feigned sternness gives way to easy laughter and easier talk of his love for his land, history and people. He insists on treating us to a tour of the grandest tomb of all.

For far too long, the rest of the world has passively looked aside while the People have lived with their requests unanswered, their demands ignored and their dreams deferred, as a leader that promised democracy delivers corruption and stomps out dissent instead.

I stand with Mohammed, the Bedouin with the striking resemblance to the boy-King Tut, now selling papyrus in Talaat Harb Square. His beautiful heavy eyes a window to his heavy heart because his place in society is limited by his birth. Like our Black people, Bedouins are economically deprived and their government metes out uneven punishment against them, institutionalizing a caste system rooted in prejudice. With good luck and by good hearts, this practice will not survive.

Waving their flags of red, white and black with defiance and dignity, destiny is on the side of revolution and the government must finally yield to the eternal law of change. What I see in Egypt is all the people of the world that seek out justice when it is too long denied, insist upon equality when it too long unbalanced, and take back freedom when it is too long withheld. It is time to take our place on the right side of Egypt: the side of the people.

I stand with Egypt because Egypt is me.

your in truth,aKw

dedicated to Ahl Masr, the people of Egypt, home of the soul of Ptah. May your freedom come swiftly that we might learn, insh’allah, that your freedom is our very own. ‐aKw

copyright MMXI. angel Kyodo williams

angel Kyodo williams is a maverick teacher,
author, social visionary and Founder Emeritus of
Center for Transformative Change.
she posts, tweets & blogs on all things change.
permission granted to retweet, repost,
repaste & repeat with copyright and contact
information intact.

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living on the right

In culture, politics, spirit on August 20, 2010 at 3:50 pm
"Allah, the personal name of God."

"Allah, the personal name of God." Inscribed in Islamic calligraphy on one of eight medallions. Hagia Sophia, Istanbul, Turkey.

bearing witness to the bend towards justice

Istanbul, Turkey.

Five times per day, throughout this enigmatic city, the calls to prayer, or Ezan, ring out, initiating an exodus from homes, offices and even busy tourists shops and restaurants.

“Allahu Akbar” – God is most great.

It is Ramadan, the month of fasting and the mood alternates between the quiet introspection compelled by taking neither food nor water from sun-up to sun-down during some of the longest days of the year, and the burst of celebration (and relief) of breaking bread for iftar, the breaking of the fast . When the muezzin calls, Istanbullus answer by making their way to any one of nearly 3000 active mosques. Even with its secular government, established in 1923 by the real Young Turks, the Republic of Turkey boasts a 98% muslim population and more mosques per capita than anyplace in the world: 85,000 or 1 for every 350 citizens.

“Ash-hadu an la ilaha illa llah” I bear witness that there is but one God.
“Ash-hadu anna Muhammadan Rasulullah”
– I bear witness Mohammed is a messenger of God.
“Hayya ‘ala-salat”
– Make haste towards prayer.

From this vantage point, it is hard to comprehend the furor generated around the placement of just one mosque, that of the proposed Cordoba Mosque and Community Center in New York City’s lower Manhattan.

For the record, it is not on the World Trade Center site, it is near. Two blocks away. And for those of us that didn’t know, the fact of long-standing mosques, 4 and 12 blocks away, was illumined by the New York Times. Each stood peacefully in the shadow of the Twin Towers for decades. Both mosques overflow with ever-increasing numbers of believers during this holiest of months. One is conservative by Islamic standards, maintaining separate prayers spaces for men and women, the other, considered to be the most progressive in the nation, is led by a woman. It is the prayer leader of the latter, most progressive of mosques that was inspired to build the community center as a symbolic bridge of healing through mutual exchange. A better candidate couldn’t be found even abiding by our quasi-racist criteria.

Notwithstanding its overwhelming predominance of Muslims, Turkey lays claim to a history of religious tolerance that cannot be ignored. In 1492, as Columbus delivered claim over native lands to Spain, 200,000 Sephardic Jews were delivered into freedom from the Inquisition by Ottoman’s Sultan. Some 15,000 French Jews were saved during the Holocaust. Turkey still seats the Christian Orthodox Patriarch and on September 12, a referendum for a new constitution seeks to extend human rights and religious freedom while limiting the historically long arm of law in exchange for transparency and balance.

As the capital of empires for 8000 years, this city has much to teach the economic capital of America’s Empire. The main point being this: all empires fall. In their wake, what they leave behind is a legacy. It can be a legacy that glorifies the past to be regaled in rubble and ruins, or it can be a legacy that sets the course for the future. An admirable post-empiric future is one that learns from the mistakes of arrogance past and matures into a principled elder state exhibiting universally moral characters of equanimity, restraint, temperance and unequivocally just.

“Hayya ‘alal-Falah – Make haste towards success.

Critics argue that the name Cordoba represents the triumph of Islam over Christianity as that of the grand mosque of the same name built in Spain on the site of a former Christian Church. What they fail to mention is the church site was purchased, not seized, and that it was Christians who turned the 500-year old mosque into a cathedral. It is more likely the beauty the “defied any description” that inspired the name.

Perhaps they should have chosen a different name. Perhaps they should have chosen a different location. Perhaps they should have cowered into a corner waiting for elections and the ensuing political straw-grabbing to pass. Maybe then they could have quietly found themselves a place in the pitiful America expounded by the Tea Party. Or perhaps they should just join Barack Obama in that small corner of Islamophobia that has been painted–and that he ran full speed into–and retract the mosque altogether.

But that would be a shame.

A shame upon them, the politicians that would trounce on the moral foundation America seeks to claim as its underpinning, not only for political gain, but to fuel their unyielding rage that a black man with a muslim name presides in their White House.

A shame upon every single one of the 68% of Americans purported to be against the mosque who love their own freedom but would withhold it from others under the guise of everything from security to sensitivity. Sensitivity to social, racial, cultural and religious minorities has never been our strong suit. As a nation built on stolen lands by people stolen from their lands, developing true moral character is our only hope for redemption.

But most of all it is a shame on us, the rest of the Americans who have not yet stood alongside New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg in his eloquent–and unshakable–defense of the right of the mosque to be built. Shame on all us for not responding with the vitriol reserved for when one’s very life and liberty depends upon it, because it does. Shame on any one of us that allows themselves to believe this is not their issue, that there are more important things, or worse, that have chosen to ignore the matter altogether.

If you take the time to divine the conscience of the moral universe, as Unitarian Theodore Parker did 160 years ago, you can bear witness to its trajectory. Time has proven there is right and wrong side of history. On wrong side were Axis and Central powers, the Nazis, the Confederates, the slaveholders, Jim Crow. Always on the wrong side are fascists, oppressionists, segregationists, fundamentalists, persecutionists, misogynists, racists and intolerants of every stripe. Time and time again, that moral arc named by Parker and memorialized by Dr. King, course corrects the petty side excursions we are witnessing today and bends, ever so powerfully, towards justice.

“Al-salatu khayru min an-nawm” – Prayer is better than sleep.

It is time for the left to learn to live firmly on the right.

How long will that take?

As King often reminded us, “Not long, because the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

Let us bear witness to that.

As salaam alaikum. Ramadan Kareem.

your in truth,aKw

copyright MMX. angel Kyodo williams

angel Kyodo williams is a maverick teacher,
author, social visionary and founder of
Center for Transformative Change.
she posts, tweets & blogs on all things change.
permission granted to retweet, repost,
repaste & repeat with copyright and contact
information intact.

Fan angel on Facebook
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and justice for all

In culture, politics, spirit on July 20, 2010 at 6:00 pm

[Adapted from a Public Talk recorded July 8, 2010 @ CXC.]

Today the verdict for Oscar Grant came down. It was involuntary manslaughter. It was the first time I’d come across information that Johannes Mehserle (the former BART police officer who shot Grant) sobbed when he testified about realizing that he had his gun in his hand. Right away an image came to mind of how many people would think, “Oh, he just made that up.” Or, “He put on a good act so he could get acquitted.”

A lot of people are, justifiably, very angry. It’s the first time a police officer has been tried in over 30 years; there’s a lot of frustration. And I’m sure there are a lot of people outside, and in this room, who think that involuntary manslaughter is not enough. And I’m sure there are people who believe he should be acquitted. We get very fixed ideas about how things ought to be and its really, really difficult for us to let things be as it is. I wonder if just for a moment, wherever you sit, you might just be with what it is.

That it’s not just “involuntary manslaughter,” but the loss of life. The loss of life and the pain, that even if it was Mehserle’s intention, it must be his to bear. It’s the pain that any of us must bear when we harm another. And then, the compounded pain of having to cover that up and get tight, to make ourselves believe it was justified. And then, carrying the pain and frustration of people—and peoples—burdened by a system that doesn’t see them.

Is it just for this one person to carry the burden of those thousands upon thousands of people, with their justifiable anger and resentment? Is it just to rest it on the shoulders of one man? A man who had the wherewithal to sob?

Maybe it’s an act. But whether the sobs are real or not, you can’t deny the suffering. In every direction, you can’t deny the suffering. Because if we deny the suffering of others, we deny the suffering of our own hearts. And if we deny the suffering in our own hearts, we make believe that somehow there will be justice if one person bears the burden of a system that has been flawed for hundreds of years—hundreds. Since the birth of this country, it’s been a flawed system.

It’s in the denial of our own suffering that we keep seeking
these petty expressions of justice that don’t speak to the root. That don’t get at what’s really

  • What is it that we’re cutting off in our own lives?
  • What is it that we’re refusing to see?
  • Who is it that we’re refusing to see, to acknowledge the
    pain and the suffering of?
  • What is it that gives rise to an entire society that can have this kind of act occur and split us into pieces? Not over how do we fix this system…but over, “Is this guy going to get sent away to prison for life, or is he going to get acquitted?”

He’ll never go free; I should say that. No matter what, he’ll never go free. Even if he walks out of the court with no time served, he’ll never really go free.

What is it that we have to see? What do we have to deconstruct? What are we holding onto that it’s time to dismantle in our own hearts so that we can create more space for real justice? This is justice that arises, not out of a sense of punishment, but out of a sense of love, justice that serves and embodies love. Not justice that is confused and mistaken for punishment.

Responsibility and Accountability
And that’s not to say that people shouldn’t be held accountable, because absolutely people should be held accountable. We have social and legal agreements that say folks under 18 can’t be held accountable until we classify them as adults. Why is that? How do we make this distinction that if you’re under
18 you can’t be held accountable for your actions? Because they don’t know enough yet.

They’re not equipped to make decisions in such a way that they’re able to be responsible, therefore they can’t be held accountable.

We have a society that doesn’t let people grow up in a way that lets them be responsible. We haven’t taught people to be responsible. So we can’t really hold people accountable until we take the responsibility as a society to teach people how to be responsible. And no one can be responsible, if they can’t love. And they can’t be responsible for loving others if they can’t be responsible for loving themselves. If you can’t love yourself, you cannot know how to love others. And if you don’t know how to love others—I’m not talking about romantic love, but agape love…Universal Love.

I’m not even talking about filial love, but the love that arises out of compassion. Compassion precedes that love. The love that arises out compassion arises out of recognition.

If you cannot recognize—if you cannot see—you cannot love. If you can’t see people, you cannot love them. If you can’t see them for who they are and what they are and where they are in all their differences, not their sameness…in all their differences. That’s where it gets ugly: when people are different and you can’t make sense of them easily. If you can’t see people for their differences, and appreciate their differences—not like them…I’m not talking about like them—who cares about that? I’m talking about love, the magnetic energy that is a vibration of your cells in relationship to other living cells. If you can’t see people’s differences, if you can’t see people for who they are, you cannot love them. And the main reason most of us cannot see others is because we can’t see ourselves…we won’t see ourselves.

It’s hard to hold the whole truth of who we are. It’s hard. But if you don’t want to hold the truth of who you for yourself, do it for us. Do it for us, because we need every single one of you. I need you to see me for who I am, and I know you can’t do that if you cannot see yourself. I need to be able to hold you accountable for how you show up. But I can’t do that if you’re not responsible for yourself, because you don’t even know who you are.

When we don’t reconcile the challenge of meeting ourselves, we look for false justice. We punish rather than hold accountable. We seek retribution rather than resolution. We try to get our broken hearts met by breaking everything around us in equal measure.

And when we find that our hearts are not met, we try to break more. It’s an unstoppable cycle of violence and trauma and pain and suffering, and it all begins with our refusal to see ourselves.

There are a lot of dark and unexamined places that our culture teaches us we can buy our way away from, that we can consume our way to the land of bliss and happiness never to meet the “me” again. If you just consume enough, you’ll eat the pain away. How’s that working for you?

The thing about our pain and our suffering is this: until it is met and seen for what it is, it doesn’t go anywhere. It’s like the dark places in your refrigerator, things hidden in little containers that you refuse to open, because you don’t quite remember when it got there. So instead of facing the smelly tempeh that might be in there, you eventually run into an infestation of things that can kill you, because you didn’t want to deal with it when it was just plain stinky. That’s really how it is. In fact, in my experience, things are never as bad as the idea you create of them.

Somehow, when we get caught in our stuck ideas about ourselves, we create better images of who we are, and we believe worse images of who we actually are. So we create fantasies and we believe fiction. Neither of these things abide in truth.

So that you don’t leave thinking that I’m all doom and gloom, I’ll give you some homework. Take it home with you, but start it right now:

Think about one person or situation that you’re not allowing yourself to see because to see that will mean that you have to see yourself. And take the first step to opening your eyes. Just one little step. Don’t try to fix it all at once, but take the first step to truly seeing.

Start the movement toward dismantling punitive justice and discovering the justice that comes from love.

—yours in truth, aKw

dedicated to everyone that loves and would have loved Oscar Grant. and to Johannes Mesherle, in the name of justice, in the name of love.

angel Kyodo williams, is founder of urbanPEACE and it’s Center for Transformative Change. Happily, she is no longer its director, but the official Intellectual Guru Emeritus. A social visionary and leading voice for transformative social change, she is the author of Being Black: Zen and the Art of Living With Fearlessness and Grace.

Blog: new Dharma: live, love & lead from the heart
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real and not real: on border and divisions

In culture, politics, relationship on May 15, 2010 at 7:37 pm

i have to make a confession…

i’ve been holding up the publication of this month’s journal version of transform. for almost two weeks now. and it’s because i’ve had a block.

not an ordinary writers’ block—which, while annoying, unproductive and sometimes even painful, is generally unwanted—as that would be preferable to the block i’ve been having.

i’ve been having a heart-mind block.

i have found the thinking, choices, behavior and resulting consequences of our people so incomprehensible at a heart level, that my mind has refused to put words to a phenomena that seems beyond them.

when i say our people, i mean OUR people. all of them. the ones that every single human that ever lays eyes on this—from now until the end of time—have a relationship to:

– the people in the Tea Party
– the people never invited to the Party
– the people in Arizona (made up of lines)
– the people of Arizona (made up of lineage)
– the people (and wildlife) within the Gulf Coast
– the people (and profiteers) far away from the Gulf Coast
– the people in the White House
– the people thrown out of their house
– the people of God
– the people that own God
– the people in Israel (that won’t let up)
– the people in Gaza (that can’t get out)

with each upside-down turn of events, my heart has broken further and has threatened to take my mind with it because my mind wants to make sense of something that my heart knows full well it cannot.

and should not.

what i can do instead is try to sort out what is real and what is not. that’s an illusion of sorts too, i know, but this is what i came up with:

Nine Things Real and Not Real

  1. we, the People, are divided by fear, lack of vision and imagination is real.
  2. the so-called border that divides this land from the people we took it from by force is not real
  3. the horrific show of how deep this country’s racism runs, masking itself as it’s very own Party of hatred, is real.
  4. the idea that a President of any race, color, gender or creed can rise above and act beyond a corrupted system that put them there to begin with is not real.
  5. the toxic waste hemorrhaging onto the land from 5000 feel under the sea—laying waste to the life in its path—is real.
  6. the will to stop feeding off of “ancient hours of sunlight” and converting fossils into a fuel that drives death and destruction worldwide is not real.
  7. the cordoning off of nearly 1.5 million people like so much cattle that amounts to a New Millenium Apartheid is real.
  8. the resolve of America and the world to stop financing state-sanctioned war crimes and now international law breaches is not real.
  9. the deep divisions of our society, people and planet, based on the peculiar illusory constructs of race, class, privilege, supremacy and superiority is real. and for this, we will all pay.

genocide is real.
greed is real.
destruction is real.

“illegals” aren’t real.
Mexicans aren’t real.
Americans aren’t real.
Muslims aren’t real.
Jews aren’t real.
fairness is real.
justice is real.
love is real.

People are real.
—yours in truth, aKw

dedicated to all the people that show up for real.

© MMX. angel Kyodo williams
changeangel: all things change.(sm)

angel Kyodo williams is a maverick teacher,
author, social visionary and founder of
Center for Transformative Change.
she posts, tweets & blogs on “all things change.”
permission granted to retweet, repost, repaste &
repeat with copyright and contact info intact.

Fan angel on Facebook
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radical relationship

In culture, relationship, spirit on February 17, 2010 at 6:15 pm


three pillars for transforming together

Whether you consider it a commercial fabrication designed to use our tender hearts to draw money from our tender wallets or a genuine 1500-year old tradition of expressing courtly love, Valentine’s Day gets us to thinking about Relationship.

Its no wonder we have an increasingly commitment-phobic culture given that relationship has been associated with martyrdom for millennia. But once we move past the anxiety of proving our love by way of flowers, greeting cards or a trip to the local Zales (Tiffany’s if you’ve got it like that) we can actually make use of this time to hone in on how we’re showing up in relationship to our selves, the people in our lives and the planet.

One of the more edgy aspects of the Center for Transformative Change’s history is its underlying structure. It has been a residentially-based community of people that live, work and practice together for nearly three years.

This experiment in relationship was designed to force us to bring all of the main aspects of life into one place. Each of us would be witness to each other. Each of us would be witness to each other. We could no longer show up as heroes at work while neglecting our personal business without being seen. We had to stop hiding behind being “perfect” practitioners that had all the answers while being unreliable colleagues that couldn’t be counted on to complete projects. In the course of this experiment, we discovered that integrity and embodiment had to become the hallmarks (pun intended) of our commitment to justice and sustainability. If we can’t achieve balance in our own lives and organizations, how can we expect to bring it social, national and planetary scale?

It’s given us great insight as an organization into what being in relationship really calls for day in and day out. Recently, changes in our community challenged us even further to become explicit about the what, how and why of being good relationship. All good relationships are based in mutually-empowered, mutually-respected and mutually-held agreements. What we didn’t recognize was that in a culture that has over-privileged and over-valued individuality above all else, we needed to establish such shared agreements as the foundation for being in community in the first place.

Rather than a long tome dictating the rules of engagement for every possible interaction, we needed a set of principles that could be held within the palms of our hands (brief) and carried in the depths of our hearts (memorable). While we don’t expect everyone will start living in practice-based, eco-friendly, soon-to-be-solar-powered social justice communes tomorrow, it has been a monumental learning, the principles of which can become the foundation for living models of personal transformation within community everywhere.

3 Pillars of Radical Relationship

  1. Radical Responsibility – Cultivate appreciation and come to terms with the reality that your life is yours and yours alone. Each of your choices, actions, consequences, outcomes, experiences and feedback are yours to deal with, be in relationship with and take responsibility for. There’s no more time for the blame game and we all need to to get off the pity line. In community and organizations, this means both responsibility for one self and to others. This doesn’t mean you won’t acknowledge and address very real impacts of people, events and conditions on your life, it simply means that you meet those impacts as WHAT IS. This is Radical Responsibility.
  2. “It’s not my fault, but it is my responsibility. Whatever comes, I will meet it as it is, then either initiate a plan to change it…or shut up about it until I’m willing to do so.”

  3. Radical Accountability – Cultivate fierce determination to shift from allowing habit-patterns to drive your basic experience. Key to transforming your life is taking up the full space created by embracing Choice as a lifestyle. Gone are the days of “it just happened,” “i’m just that way,” “I didn’t have a choice.” There is always choice. And yes, there are consequences, too. We can decide, validly and reasonably, that we do not wish to bear the consequences of a particular choice, but we must recognize, and be accountable, for the choices we make. All of them. Every single one without fail. In groups, community and organizations, this means both being accountable and expecting to be held accountable. When we feel stuck, we often cannot see the choices available to us. If you commit to a practice, greater and greater choice becomes apparent. In the meantime, you can choose Radical Accountability.
  4. “May I exercise the precious gift of choice and the power to change that makes me uniquely human.” Whether conscious or unconscious, the impacts of my choices are mine to see through to resolution. —quote from Warrior-Spirit Prayer of New Dharma Community (full version below)<

  5. Radical Purpose – Cultivate an unwavering commitment to help others transform their lives, too. Whatever intention we have for transforming our lives—all actions really—if not ultimately rooted in a genuine desire to see the live of others positively transformed, will be self-serving and have as its result a building up of the kind of ego-centric worldview that is not only false, it is clearly unsustainable for our communities, countries and planet. The goal for our personal transformation—the end game of “towards what end”—must be in service of our interconnectedness, our collective wholeness, and an integrity of the structures that hold it all together. Our pursuit of justice, if truly transformative, must affirm life and insist of security, sustainability and self-determination for all. Both the how and the why, being in Radical Relationship means your liberation is bound up in mine and there is no justice without justice for all. Red, Blue, Black, White, North, South, Left, Right, our movements for deep change, for justice will best serve us aligned in Radical Purpose.
  6. “Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. This is the interrelated structure of reality.” —Martin Luther King, Jr.

    “…your liberation is bound up with mine…” —Lila Watson

    “Until we are all free, we are none of us free.” —Emma Lazarus

For justice to be embodied rather than contrived, we have to walk our talk, so I like to think of these principles as the Radical RAP. While we seem to mistakenly assign “radical” to anything that is off the charts or “way out there” as an idea, radical refers to the root. In choosing Radical Relationship as the perspective that leads every action we take internal and external, real change arises from, gets at and returns us to ours roots: the fundamental Truth of our interconnectedness and unassailable Love that sources us all.

“…without collective freedom, none of it matters.” —yours truly, aKw

with inspirational gratitude to Kimberly, Simha & Lorna, and deep, abiding praise for El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz. may his radical journey to love beyond limitation continue to inspire and permeate my every action.”
This essay riffs and expands on MTX1 part b of the Mind Training & Xformation series, a yearlong training delivering pith instructions for transformation each week.
Find it here: “First, do the Groundwork”

copyright MMX. angel Kyodo williams
changeangel: all things change.(sm)

angel Kyodo williams is a maverick teacher,
author, social visionary and founder of
Center for Transformative Change.
she posts, tweets & blogs on all things change.
permission granted to retweet, repost, repaste &
repeat with copyright and contact info intact.

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the year of X

In culture, identity, leadership, spirit on January 12, 2010 at 2:37 pm


horoscope for america’s movement for justice

In the East Asian calendar, commonly called Chinese Astrology, 2010 is the Year of the Tiger. The Tiger symbolizes strength and protection, a courageous and fiery fighter that keeps away “fires, thieves and ghosts.”

The underlying principle of all systems that seek to reflect character traits to us based on the year, month, day or hour of our birth is to give us a window into our basic orientation–our internal operating systems, if you will–so that rather than being limited or boxed in by definitions, we have the opportunity to become our full selves because we’re equipped with an insightful compass that signifies where we are. We, in turn, exercise “the precious gift of choice” that is the birthright of human beings, to determine where, exactly, we will go.

At their best, astrologers are astute scientists, read into the deeper meaning and drawing hypotheses about how the energy of stars and space influence our paths…not so much fortune-telling, but more a Life weather forecasting.

Horoscope for Justice
In 2010, a confluence of circumstances and stars align so that we are now kicking off what I’d call The Year of X. Here’s my “hour watching”–or “horoscope” for America’s movement for justice:

It seems pretty obvious that the Tiger/ess is collectively emblematic of all the activists that seek positive change in the world. No matter what sign we’re born under indvidually, we change agents exhibit the qualities of being ferocious and domineering on the outside, but noble and distinguished on the inside. But we tireless seekers of justice are forged of additional qualities that make us a special breed that show up only once in a lifetime cycle.

The usual suspects that we get to point to: King, Gandhi, Suu Kyi, Ella Baker, Black Elk, Mandela, Guevara, Ambedkar…are auspicious figures that seem to appear too far and few between. They are bound together in their diverse struggles to overcome the oppression of their time and space by a less tangible but unequivocally more powerful “X” factor that exponentially multiplied their effectiveness beyond mere tactic, tool or technique.

Their engagement of a unique arsenal of internal “weapons” or skills developed as a result of deep and abiding personal practice, expressed and applied in systematic and organizational contexts, catapulted them beyond the ordinary to the Xtraordinary. Beyond the individual to collective. Beyond personal OR political to the profound. Beyond change to trans–“X”formation.

Beyond. Transcendent. near-Shamanic. Talismanic. X.

Where we find ourselves now is a unique moment in time in which the ability to dig deep into this internal arsenal to express our full collective selves as the mighty and powerful agents of justice, freedom and love that we are is available to us en masse. We don’t have to wait for the random revolutionary savior, but can activate this X-factor ourselves. We can either accept limited concepts about who we are as movement(s) and what we can and cannot do or we can exercise our will, our choice by dropping in beneath the infighting, rhetoric and soundbites to find a truer expression of our noble spirits’ search for freedom through our own liberation. We can wait for a messiah, preacher, guru or President to part the raging sea of conservatism or we can disarm the resistance with our capacity for charismatic conversion. Who needs to win when you can win over?

Colors and Directions
The colors that symbolize this Year of X are:

red, for the fierce passion of our convictions

white, for the purity of our hearts

yellow, for our vast vision, expansive and encompassing as the golden sun, and

black, for the great depth and mystery that is the doorway to that Great Beyond, our collective transformation.

The four colors that represent all people on the planet are held in our hearts because any real fight for justice is not against but for. For the planet, for the people, for life and for love. For all.

The directions? All of the cardinal four, naturally, looking East towards the future with the wind and work of our Ancestors of past coming from the West. The South situates us in this very moment of now, while the North holds the infinite possibility of no-time. With those, we also look to the Heavens above for guidance from Spirit, Earth below for grounding and deep into the Cosmic Center the very core from which we organize.

X Qualities
Most important are the qualities this Year of X asks us to lean into, cultivate and operationalize. Here are the big ten:

First, the ABCs. The “what.” Basics we should all live by whether seeking justice in the world or just within ourselves:

  1. authentic: be who and what you are. no more, no less.
  2. balanced: left, right. work, play. give, receive.
  3. centered: organized & on purpose from the deep core of your very being.

Next, the “how” of our actions. Showing up in a good way as individuals, organizations and communities means being:

  1. aligned: thought, word and action. all one.
  2. integral: complete, whole and radically inclusive.
  3. transparent: out loud and proud, come what may.

For every purpose, a reason. The “why” or toward what end are the three Ss of Social Justice that must be sought after, procured, cultivated and protected for all:

  1. safety: food, shelter, clothing, dancing & moving freely.
  2. self-determination: our way is the way, mistakes, foibles and all.
  3. sustainability: we’ve all got to be here. for a long time. act like it.

and finally, without putting these concepts into rigorous, ongoing practice (beheld with joy, appreciation and lots of dancing) we would only have ideas. We need more than dreams and theory, we need praxis, making each quality actionable in our moment-to-moment-to-movement lives, as:

  1. Presence: be here. now.

As always, both symbolically and in reality, it must be remembered that X is also associated with the unknown…that which unfolds before us beyond even our will and choice. It is how we respond to that unfolding–especially and most poignantly when it is not according to our plan–that is the true reflection of our character and our mastery of those X qualities. It’s when the shit hits the fan that we need to stand firm in the stink with Fearlessness, Grace and Presence.

May you live this Year of X as if your life depends on it. I know mine does.

copyright MMX. angel Kyodo williams

angel Kyodo williams is a maverick teacher,
author, social visionary and founder of
Center for Transformative Change.
she posts, tweets & blogs on all things change.
permission granted to retweet, repost, repaste &
repeat with copyright info intact.

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being your best

In culture, identity, leadership, money, politics, relationship, spirit on December 8, 2009 at 11:28 am

Enthroned Virgin and Child. Haghia Sophia, Istanbul, Turkey. photo © 2009 angel Kyodo williams

child of hope

the theory, art and practice of change

Every one of us holds some hope for a future America, indeed a future world, that is changed. Changed to what is not always as tangible as our minds would like it to be. Perhaps that’s why Martin said “I have a dream…” In the best of expressions, Jesus Christ, depicted above with the Virgin Mary as a tiled mosiac in the Haghia Sophia, represents Hope. His birth brought Hope to a world that had gone awry, thus the title of the image “Child of Hope.” As agents & allies of social change, we, too, represent Hope for a world that has gone a little astray from the path of expressing the best humanity has to offer: love, compassion, fairness, security, sustainability and self-determination for all living things. We have our work cut out for us. But with a grounded theory, a willingness to learn the art and a committment to practice, practice, practice, we can and we will be our best and through our example, through our leadership, we’ll inspire the best in everyone.

In keeping with a year-end “Best of…” theme, (while doing as little as possible as I head out in the world on the first leg of my sabbatical) I offer these snippets from not one, but all of the past year’s INcite essays. Take them individually or as one big riff on this profound movement towards Transformative Social Change. May any one of these ideas, instructions or inquiries inspire you towards being your best, today and in the year to come.

January | finally American
On the one hand, 2009 brings with it the incredible challenges of the freefall of an economic house of cards built with smoke, mirrors and lots of dishonest spit, an unjust war built on outright lies, and a devastating attack on a people that the world can no longer deny is on the short end of a harsh stick, built on a 60 year theft. On the other hand, we are embarking upon a new year, a new era, and a strange, new hopefulness that real people, tired of being polarized by fear, hate and separation can organize for hope, progress and change. And together, our collective will can make a difference.

February | being all we can be
President Obama has gone on record saying that he opposes gay marriage, but admits this may be a wrong-headed view drawn from his own religious beliefs. I’m suspicious of the idea that God whispers in anyone’s ear and says “you are chosen to have something that other’s aren’t entitled to:” be that right to love or right to land. But since I’ve only been trying to listen to God rather than talk, maybe She doesn’t whisper back to me. So, I’m not one to question Obama’s or anyone else’s personal relationship with God…why don’t we stop questioning anyone’s personal, mutually respectful, consenting relationship with anyone else?

March | can you see me now?
Being in real relationship with “the other” closes the bias gap…But to even get there, we have to look at ourselves first. We have to stop letting ourselves off the race hook and commit to actively resisting the biased waters we swim in by raising our unconscious, implicit fears to the level of conscious, explicitly articulated ones. That’s painful, exhausting, heart-breaking work, but it’s the real work that needs to be done. No less important than your next action, petition, campaign or board meeting. (Those explicit biases could use a good eyeballing here, too.) Plainly speaking, if you’re doing work for change in what’s “affectionately” referred to as AmeriKKKa without a practice of examining race, you’re pretty much adding to the problem.

April | seven deadly sins of change
The Watchmen for Change are made up of Freedom Fighters, Organizers, Agitators and Activists paired with the folks that, like it or not, foot the bills. In a perfected partnership, they are our Supporters, Advocates, Advisors and Allies. Some of us pay with the currency of creativity, vitality, energy and soulforce. Others pay with hopefulness, steadfastness, wild cheering and dollar bills, y’all…Together we are the Jedis of Justice. We are The Ones that We have Been Waiting for to illuminate the Matrix and reveal the passage out of Babylon. We are the Agents of Transformative Social Change.

May | this is our time
A Black Organizer is in the White House. (Wise Latina) Justice is getting off the bench and in the Game. It’s our time. The era of the lowly grunt that toils for justice being the under-appreciated, underpaid underdog is officially overrated. We are now the wunderkinds that can capture the imagination of our nation with our unwavering commitment to Hope, resounding call for Freedom and heart-stopping effort to reveal Truth, Justice and a truly New American Way.

June | a more perfect union
But as powerful as symbols, phrases and slogans are, they only derive their energy from the wellspring of the people they represent. People that don’t just stand in the truth, but express it through the way they live. And just as “words on a parchment would not be enough to deliver slaves from bondage, or provide men and women of every color and creed their full rights” the more perfect union we seek for this country will not arise from a speech, a bailout, or even a healthcare plan…What it will arise from is the embodiment of that more perfect union by folks that know and act on what’s right…

July | the greatest transformation
(And) when Death comes to Friend you, as it will, you can’t ignore it. Where will your vast but virtual network be then? Will they be there to sing songs, share stories and send your ashes back to ashes, and dust back to dust? Will they memorialize you? Yes, connections can be made quick, Friends, Followers and Fans, but relationships are still slow…and the best ones are grown over time.

August | the practice of inconvenience
This is, more often than not, the nature of deep practice: It isn’t convenient. It doesn’t fit your schedule. It doesn’t conform to your whim. It isn’t selectable for good days instead of bad. In short, it isn’t a hobby…it’s a practice. If not as dramatic, remaining committed to established personal and organizational practice–especially in the face of challenge–is a stance no less determined than that of Gandhi’s Salt Marchers, or those folks that continued to cross the bridge in Selma. We put our butts on the line and on the cushion to usher forth a new way of Being Change.

September | beyond the boycott
(It’s) a time for action: sometimes, no matter how many ways you try to describe a thing, you have to experience it to know what it really is. i’ve been talking about transformative change: what it is and isn’t. what it could look like and what it can make possible in the world…But it’s also time for those of us pushing for change to do so in a way that actually seeks resolution, transforming the issue into an opportunity for real change: change that matters. Thus, any action taken should be thoughtful, respectful, measured and leveraged only if it is needed…

October | doing darkness
Unlike change, which can be undone with a shift in context or the swipe of a presidential pen, there’s no going back on transformation. The depth of change that takes place is so deep, rooted and resounding, that the former way of being is no longer possible. While transformation can’t be undone…the decisive question we must ask is “Transformation towards what?” If we want positive transformative outcomes, we must intentionalize and work toward them. Deep change requires deep practice. Simply put, we have to stay with it in order to see transformation through. Through and through, we must weave the fabric of our movement culture with ways of being, knowing and doing that embody precisely how we want to see society transformed: into an equitable, sustainable and just place for all. How we are showing up right now is the state of our transformation. However, if you can imagine the exact outcome, it’s more likely to be change than transformation because our vision is necessarily limited by our current perspective and conditions.

November | meeting change
Transitions are the doorways to change. Choosing to engage transition and enter each doorway as consciously as possible, but with a willingness to not know what’s on the other end, is what makes that change intentional. Life IS change. And if you’ve been around for five good minutes, you know that Change Happens. So your only real choice is to either let life happen to you or for you to choose to live it. One way to do that is to become practiced at happily, humbly and heartily Meeting Change.

Happy holidays. Free Palestine. Love, peace and blessings to and for all.

copyright MMIX. angel Kyodo williams

angel Kyodo williams is a maverick teacher,
author, social visionary and founder of
Center for Transformative Change.
she posts, tweets & blogs on all things change.
permission granted to retweet, repost,
repaste & repeat with copyright and contact
information intact.

Fan angel on Facebook
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doing darkness

In culture, politics, relationship on October 15, 2009 at 9:10 am


change vs. transformation

These days, people are tossing the word transformation around and pasting it on everything from baby diapers to “How to Write a Budget” workshops as the latest hypnotic marketing voodoo. The same tired products and ineffectual programs are becoming “transformative” this and “transformational” that, hoping to gain the allure of freshly brushed pearly whites just by adding that oh-so-enticing gleaming star of transformation. The result is that in most cases in which we talk about transformation, we’re actually opting for a hyped-up variation on change, or worse yet, a dull and impotent rendition of it. This wouldn’t matter so much except for the fact that actual transformation–otherwise known as “deep change”–happens to be what we really need.

Owing to my own transitions and subsequent learning in the past year, I’ve been carrying two recurring themes everywhere I go. (1) The need for a clear articulation of the difference between “change” and “transformation” and, (2) distinguishing what is required to have the latter. I point to the metamorphoses of caterpillar-to-butterfly and nymph-to-dragonfly to illuminate both the path of transformation and some of the lessons we can take from their journeys to light our own Way.

As one of the oldest insects existing, the near-mystical dragonfly once darted where dinosaurs roamed at ten times it’s current size. But that was when trees were towering and provided more nutrients, cover and oxygen. Since then, dragonflies have downsized from wingspans as great as 20-30 inches to the more nimble 2-3 inches of today. Though dragonflies almost never walk, they’ve reduced their symbolic and consumptive footprint to a tenth of what it once was in response to the decrease in resources. We have much to learn.

Just as unique as their ancient friends, butterflies capture our imagination as embodiments of beauty and freedom. Their youth as caterpillars are spent doing nothing but consuming everything they can. Their voracious appetites cause them to shed their skin repeatedly, but they just end up bigger, stronger, faster caterpillars. That’s change. In order to complete the metamorphosis into butterflies, caterpillars must create and enter the darkness of the chrysalis where they break down into a kind of genetic goop. Special cells, unsurprisingly called “formative,” direct the actual process of becoming a butterfly. Both the seed and evolutionary inclination to transform exists within. Before that happens though, caterpillars must literally experience partial death and a destruction of their current form as they know it. That’s transformation.

Like majestic Monarchs, if we really intend to achieve the beauty, power and freedom that is our birthright as a movement of people that seek justice for all, we need to go beyond ,or TRANScend, our current FORM as we know it.

Six Ways to Know Transformation

Here are six key points to help you recognize (and influence) when change becomes deep change…when it is transformation:

1. it can’t be undone: it can’t be undone: Unlike change, which can be undone with a shift in context or the swipe of a presidential pen, there’s no going back on transformation. The depth of change that takes place is so deep, rooted and resounding, that the former way of being is no longer possible. Though our prison system may suggest otherwise, the truth is that our current society can no longer bear slavery as we know it. Likewise, while institutional racism abounds, pre-Civil Rights segregation is essentially socially unacceptable. Our society has moved beyond these once common fundamental injustices.

2. it is neutral: As much as we’d like to believe otherwise, the reality is that we can have transformations, social and otherwise, that are neither life-affirming nor progressive. Think war-crime worthy Nazi Germany or occupation & bombing of Palestine. the transformation of those societies to allow heinous injustice to other human beings to be widely and popularly acceptable exemplifies transformation’s inherent neutrality. While transformation can’t be undone, a dangerous new can take the place of what came before without clear intention. The decisive question we must ask is “Transformation towards what?” If we want positive transformative outcomes, we must intentionalize and work toward them.

3. it is rigorous: To the naked eye, transformation often takes place at such a slow rate and on such a subterranean level, it is nearly imperceptible until you’re on the other side of it. But further investigation reveals a consistency and rigor to the process that is undeniable. Deep change requires deep practice. Simply put, we have to stay with it in order to see transformation through.

4. it is whole: Transformation must take place at all levels in order to be achieved. It isn’t enough to transform only ourselves as a slew of self-help and navel-gazing spiritual teachings may profess. People form organizations, organizations become institutions, institutions inform cultures, cultures give rise to whole societies. Through and through, we must weave the fabric of our movement culture with ways of being, knowing and doing that embody precisely how we want to see society transformed: into an equitable, sustainable and just place for all.

5. it always unfolds in the present: Transformation is both path and goal. While it appears that transformation has a beginning and end, we are always somewhere in the process of one cycle of transformation or another. But our current shape, where we are along the way, shows up in the NOW.Not in the past, not in the future: How we are showing up right now is the state of our transformation.

6. we don’t know what it looks like: This does not mean without intention. As affirmed earlier, a strong, aligned intention is not only desired but critical to affecting the overall direction of the process. However, if you can imagine the exact outcome, it’s more likely to be change than transformation because our vision is necessarily limited by our current perspective and conditions. At the point at which we surrender to the process of transforming, even our vision for desired outcomes dissolves into the “goop” which makes room for those formative aspects to direct our emergence into what we will become. So you want transformation, but are hell-bent on control? Um, not so much.

What’s In A Name? Ideally Everything

Finally, I submit that in naming and framing the new social movement that burgeons just beneath the surface of our everyday work for justice from Ithaca to Istanbul, we need a descriptor that embodies the principles of such a movement into the very name itself. More than any other movement that has come before, this one must embody it’s principles at all levels…including in it’s name. Thus we need an expression that is as much the path as it is the goal. A name that is now, not later. One that calls for us to be active, rather than passive; generative rather than prescriptive; a verb (action from inside) rather than adverb (qualified from the outside). The theory and ideas might be transformatIONAL, but the movement and its practice must be transformatIVE.

And more than political, it must be social. Yes, our politics (ways of governance of people,) systems, structures must undergo change–they must be brought into alignment with the values of our heart’s yearning, not our fear’s recoiling. Indeed, our government must be aligned with our deep need for connection rather than our contempt for difference.

But the reason for shifting the political landscape must be in service to the greater goal of shifting our social landscape (ways of being with people,) so that we can change the fundamental nature of our relationship to one another, to the planet, to the world and to life itself through the vehicle of a deep change in relationship to ourselves. In our society and in our hearts, we are still willing to use force–to bomb people into peace–thus empowering our government to do so. This, we must transform ourselves to no longer be able to bear.

I often muse that if the aquatic larva knew that it would one day leave its known realm to take to the sky, it would never, ever go, and transformation would be averted. But it is birthright that calls. In this Way, we have to allow ourselves to hear and respond to the evolutionary and revolutionary call that pulls us inexorably forward into becoming our newly formed selves–personally, politically, organizationally, institutionally, across all society–making room for a vision yet to be seen.

Right now, we must actively, generatively, take rigorous, intentional action towards wholly being that which we envision, and surrender to what we cannot. We must be so that we can become.

In it’s new form, the dragonfly can dive breathtakingly into a precipitous vertical drop, become a mere blur as it darts about at breakneck speeds, only to come to an apparent dead stop, hovering magically in mid-air. For the most part, it’s the sun that dragon and butterflies need to fly…but they need the dark to grow their magic wings. So do we. It is only once we emerge from the darkness that we will dare cast off our hardened shells to truly take flight.

Let’s do the darkness so that we can all fly together.

With gratitude to Robert, Staci, Steven, Adrienne, Zulayka, Claudia, Marie, the New Dharma Community and all my transformative teachers, mentors, students and friends–aKw

copyright MMIX. angel Kyodo williams

angel Kyodo williams is a maverick teacher, author, social visionary
and founder of Center for Transformative Change. she posts, tweets &
blogs on all things change. permission granted to retweet, repost,
repaste & repeat with copyright and contact information intact.

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beyond the boycott

In culture, money, politics on September 1, 2009 at 4:47 pm


telling whole foods you don’t buy it

a time for action: sometimes, no matter how many ways you try to describe a thing, you have to experience it to know what it really is. i’ve been talking about transformative change: what it is and isn’t. what it could look like and what it can make possible in the world. “beyond the boycott” is the birthplace of an experience of transformative change rooted in nonviolent action. rather than a campaign against Whole Foods, it’s a committment to real healthcare & wellness for all. it’s a campaign for a more “whole truth.” if you’re interested, join in the experience, and together, we’ll transform the world. -aKw

Two weeks ago, like now tens of thousands of others on Facebook, I ran across a post on Why You Should Boycott Whole Foods. If you’re like me, you may have experienced a deeply conflicted moment of some combination of shock, disgust, rage and, um…fear. Fear that you will now have to figure out where to get those admittedly pricey but picturesquely beautiful organic foods you’ve come to know and love and, for some of us, give your whole paycheck for.

I’m a stalwart soldier that can take a strong stand for what I believe in. The truth is though, I live in Berkeley, CA, the uber-progressive Republic rivaled only by my hometown of New York City for access to “whole foods” from places other than Whole Foods. As annoying as it might be, it won’t exactly be a hardship for me to go spend my dollars at Berkeley Bowl, Trader Joe’s and the stunning array of year-round weekly farmer’s markets.

But how true is that for thousands of us? Especially when Whole Foods is the only game in town—exactly what has made it such a national success—and exactly what I believe John Mackey was counting on when he wrote his now-infamous op-ed The Whole Foods Alternative to ObamaCare.

Here’s another truth, sheepish as it may be: I Like Whole Foods. After kavetching like many about the high pricetag on everything from Abalone to Zinneas, and derisively calling it by its’ Whole Paycheck moniker every chance I could get, I surrendered to its wide open aisles, carefully stacked vine-ripened tomatoes and apparently happy-to-be-working-there-employees’ smiles. I do spend my whole paycheck, though not being able to afford health insurance frees up a little cash.

And since we’re on a truth roll: I like most of the eight points Mackey made in his piece. I certainly think they’re worth looking into. So I don’t think he’s evil and I definitely don’t think he’s stupid. In fact, I think he smartly calculated the risk of framing his plan as he did. I think John Mackey, like any businessman capable of building a $8B business did some accounting. He accounted for the risk of pissing off a central base. He accounted for sparking a firestorm at a critical point in the healthcare discourse, and I even think he accounted for some boycotts here and there. But he calculated that he would win. Why? Because:

  • Most Americans (myself included) have dwindled down to the attention span of a 140-character tweet.
  • Boycotts take time, patience and commitment to work. Understandably, we’re sorely lacking on most of that these days, and most impactfully:
  • Whole Foods IS the only game in town in too many places for a sustained boycott over an indefinite period of time.

So what to do? Something John Mackey hasn’t accounted for—take the Whole Foods Boycott to another level—tell Whole Foods “I Don’t Buy It.”

If given an invitation, they don’t respond meaningfully to the concerns of their offended core base and those impacted by his statements, we should all get together and go beyond the boycott. Sending peopleTO Whole Foods to SHOP, but DON’T BUY is an action that will get their attention. It’s time to increase the pressure and urgency on Whole Foods, leaving no doubt that we will not only withhold our dollars from them, but will take positive action to drain them of resources. But it’s also time for those of us pushing for change to do so in a way that actually seeks resolution, transforming the issue into an opportunity for real change: change that matters. Thus, any action taken should be thoughtful, respectful, measured and leveraged only if it is needed: if understanding where this is headed, Whole Foods won’t come to the table. Ignoring it away is not an option.

Just like it sounds, in a SHOP. DON’T BUY action, people would:

SHOP for groceries, then “pay” with a symbolic 60-Person bill and tell the cashier that their CEO, in effect, said this is acceptable:

  • that it’s OK that 60 people die every day without access to healthcare
  • that it’s OK that uninsured adults are 25% more likely to die prematurely
  • that it’s OK the lack of health insurance is the third leading cause of death for the near-elderly

Naturally they won’t accept the 60P so shoppers get to tell Whole Foods “I DON’T BUY It.”

  • DON’T BUY their food.
  • DON’T BUY their excuse for John Mackey’s irresponsible statements.
  • DON’T BUY any position that allows corporations to avoids responsibility for their leadership when offering a personal view under the banner of their brand.

Leave the store without the groceries.

This simple but powerful action can give us voice to acknowledge that, contrary to what Mackey suggests, healthcare IS a right. It is buying from Whole Foods that is a privilege.

Going beyond the boycott—which is hard to measure the impact of, potentially loses steam and often devolves into angry protest because people want to DO something—each of us can say “Whole Foods, I’m commited to take action because…

I don’t buy it that Mackey benignly used scare tactic phrases “socialism” and “government takeover.”

I don’t buy it that healthcare is something that every American shouldn’t have access to because “a careful reading of both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution will not reveal any intrinsic right…”

I don’t buy it “that every American adult is responsible for his or her own health” even though a flawed system has sold access to healthcare from under the feet of 47 million people.

I don’t buy it “voluntary, tax-deductible donation” is sufficient to address that lack of access, and

I don’t buy it that even if “many of our health-care problems are self-inflicted” for the many reasons–systemic, market-driven, lack of information–that may be true, 60 people should die everyday.

And I don’t buy it for Whole Foods to explain this away as “personal opinions” because Mackey used his access and status as CEO to make his surprisingly irresponsible and self-serving statements, branding it “The Whole Foods Alternative…”

We can leverage our commitment to action for a more satisfying resolution to the betrayal of our trust in shared values. Now that their CEO has publicly stood against so many, what will Whole Foods stand for? In the absence of a meaningful response to their leader’s maybe personal, likely uninformed, but still irresponsible statements, love Whole Foods as we may—-in fact because we love them—-we need to hold them accountable. An organized, nonviolent Shop, Don’t Buy action can do that.

Finally, Mr. Mackey, I acknowledge that your “eight reforms” might work. But this is no longer only about lowering costs, it’s about life and our inalienable Rights—as a careful reading of the Declaration of Independence does reveal—to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. None of those are possible without our health. You’ve got good ideas but you didn’t have to slap us with them. Relationship repair starts with conversations. Can we talk?

Some powers that be, naysayers, talking heads and even John Mackey may believe Whole Foods can just wait out a boycott and continue business as usual without significant impact on their bottom line.

I don’t buy it. And you shouldn’t either.

Get details on Shop. Don’t Buy:

copyright MMIX. angel Kyodo williams

angel Kyodo williams is a maverick teacher, author, social visionary
and founder of Center for Transformative Change. she posts, tweets &
blogs on all things change. permission granted to retweet, repost,
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Note: The above essay was modified from the original written 8/25/09 —aKw