Reflections on The Wilds Beyond Climate Justice from the Organizers

From May 31st to June 4th, The Emergence Network convened a worldwide gathering to explore other ways of meeting climate change that evade Western logic, The Wilds Beyond Climate Justice: A gathering at the end of hope. Together with over 1,100 people from 54 countries, we prayed, cried, laughed, danced, connected with our ancestors, made friends with plants, called out our need for help, touched into our cosmic existence, generated stories of other possible futures, participated in collective prophecy, and built altars to the sacred that is everywhere.

To do such things was risky, especially as the virus continued its months-long torrential trek around the world and rage over the murder of George Floyd and the violence inflicted upon oppressed peoples erupted. We know the waters were not always calm and that some people inhaled water in the process. 

Even with the troubles that met us over the course of five days, the Organizing Team remains deeply grateful for all the beings, spirits, and forces that birthed this experience and gave it life. For the four of us and many others we’ve heard from, this gathering at the end of hope ironically brought forth a sense of possibility and yes, of hope. Hope that is not tethered to the reduction of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, nor the actions of our nation-states, nor the good intentions of humans and the good political analyses and strategies of their social movements. But a hope that is connected, perhaps, to the remembering that something else is always possible.


From Aerin Dunford:

One week ago right now I was lying down for my first post-Wilds-Beyond-Climate-Justice nap. Just before, we had an Organizing Team debrief call and just hours before that, we closed the gathering around a sacred fire. I remember that when it was my turn to speak during the debrief I felt a very clear knowing that I/we/I had “been through” something. I felt this gathering at the end of hope changed something profoundly in me (it may also have had something to do with the several shots of rum-straight-from-the-bottle during the Closing Ceremony). Ironically, it felt almost like hope… but it wasn’t. The word that bubbled up to the surface was “possibility.” I do feel like together, we created cracks in the hard, rigid, quarantined, police-state-infested, brittle and performative world. I experienced us tapping into other places of power.

AND I don’t want to get to high on the smell of my own farts either. I’m not claiming, necessarily, that the WBCJ was something exceptional. I think we can tap into these cracks and compost heaps whenever we feel the urge. Those other worlds are right there for us, all of us: human, non-human, more-than-human, ancestors. 

Finally, I want to say something about failure and my own personal experience. When I wrote about spectacular failure two weeks ago before the beginning of the summit, I think I was coming from a place of really feeling like a failure. Not a failure in my work or in my relationships. In fact I was totally unconscious then about my feeling a failure. I began to see it this week as I  rested, spaced out and lounged around. I realize that after two miscarriages and a stillbirth at full-term in less than two years, I had begun to believe (somewhere deep, deep inside) that I was incapable of generating life. That the only thing that could come through me and out of me was death, something difficult and ugly. I think that the experience of co-creating this gathering (along with the rest of the team, the volunteers and all of you) made me see that I am, in fact, capable of gestating and birthing something beautiful. Thank you for being part of this reckoning. Love you guys.


From Owolabi William Copeland:

Greetings and salutations from from Detroit, our Global Black Metropolis.

I welcome you:

I’m honored and somewhat speechless to convey what this experience has meant to me.  Much of these things I am still holding close to my bruised and bleeding heart.

Some questions that I brought with me to the Wilds:
– How to de-center so-called experts and teachers with platitudes and followings
– How to build community in a time when thousands of people are socially isolated and participating from behind individualized screens
– How to provoke the power of the participants
– Who is the audience for this gathering and why do these things attract so many Europeans and white North Americans

The opening ceremony with Ruth Langford cracked me open and showed me myself in such a way that I will never be the same. I left her space with tears drying on my face wondering what I am to do next.

The Tarot session with GeminEye (Zoe and Alejandra) offered me jewels of wisdom that I continue to share with others and some that I hold closely within.

I will always remember Emani Love’s joy at being connected with her workshop audience.  Not taking for granted for a second any of the dozens of people who chose to visit and learn. The Radical Welcome gives me something to aspire towards.

What did i get from this WBCJ journey:
– Love-work relations with Karen, Aerin, and Alex
– 2 new houseplants
– Deeper understanding and passion for what Detroit can/is contribute to the world
– Deeper identity as “spiritual warrior” regardless of people’s fear or revulsion at the term
– Deeper yearning to connect with the natural world, deeper yearning to understand myself as a natural being
– Exposure to worldwide “wisdom celebrities” and the ability to laugh at people who capitalize and brand themselves and their teachings and the system they are entrenched in
– Deeper appreciation for my history of cultural and community organizing much of which has been rooted in Detroit and the gifts these experiences have offered
– Meeting Bayo Akomolafe and having our first “joust”/ “conversation”/ “collaboration”
– Probably other things that will unfold over time.


From Alex Rodriguez:

The Wilds Beyond Climate Justice event was a beautiful improvisation. I came to it during the early months of 2020, before the COVID-19 pandemic fundamentally altered our human geography. I was familiar with TEN’s work through Bayo Akomolafe’s writing, and saw in the aspiration behind the event something that resonated with my work as an organizer and experimental improvising musician. I was organizing another international conference event with the International Society for Improvised Music (ISIM) in Melbourne, Australia that would have overlapped with WBCJ for a couple of days; I proposed working with Karen to livestream some of the conference happenings into the WBCJ digital space.

The ISIM conference never happened. The impact of the novel coronavirus on international travel made it impossible. But I am so grateful that the WBCJ design team (Karen, Aerin, and Owolabi) welcomed me into that gap. The strange and beautiful gathering that unfolded was, for me, an affirmation of the sense of possibility that had initially magnetized me to TEN’s work—an earnest, experimental, heartfelt, and surreal sense of intimacy across vast geographical expanses. I even ended up connecting with some folks in Melbourne after all—and learned a few things about brumbies, the feral horses that offer a powerful metaphor for the wild and rough qualities of our fumbling through all kinds of difference.

I also felt how much work we have to do to create sustainable pathways in those new directions—the challenges of incorporating internationalism into liberatory organizing, the pervasiveness of anti-blackness and other colonial logics, and the difficulty of developing deeply embodied relationships across distance can divide and distract us from aligning with those momentary glimpses of deep, true alternatives.

I leave the event deeply moved, grateful for the space to offer a premiere of a weird piece of “music” (or, if you prefer, “robot meditation”), and deeply nourished by the conversations that have continued since the closing ceremony. One thing seems clear to me: we have more work to do together in this world that is emerging before us.

Below, the Telematic Cyborg Colocation Protocol. A text script performed during The Wilds Beyond Climate Justice.


From Karen Leu:

I don’t know how to reflect on my experience with The Wilds Beyond Climate Justice in a way that produces a single, coherent narrative. All I have are bits. 

___

Gestures. This word has been impressed upon me over the past many months in the process of organizing The Wilds Beyond Climate Justice. I’m not sure that I ever would have used this word a year ago and now it seems to capture the only possible actions that are available to us at this time. In a world that is alive, constantly evolving, and thoroughly beyond our full knowing, there can only be gestures, never a final, decisive movement. To whatever degree the world is not whole, it would be a foolish thing to think the modern, colonized human can make it so. 

___

December was the first time having to do with this conference that I woke up in the middle of the night in a fit of anxiety over what I had agreed to take on. While very familiar with event planning, I had never organized an online conference before and had no idea what it would take. Bayo had such ambitious dreams — he talked about 1,000-2,000 attendees as a conservative estimate and he hoped for big-name speakers like Naomi Klein, Cornel West, Greta Thunberg, and Joanna Macy. Meanwhile we had negative dollars in the budget (I was charging things to my personal credit card), there was barely a team of people to help me, Bayo’s bottomless trust in a world of abundance clashed with my pragmatism and pessimism, and time was ticking. On top of that, the mere fact of my taking on the role of project lead was bringing up sheer terror, after having intentionally stepped back from any kind of leadership role for three years after an experience getting battered with criticism. That was just the beginning.

I could not have imagined then that 90% of the conference planning would take place just in the last three months and those three months could not have gone more smoothly. It was like walking around on shallow, rocky waters, trying to balance on wet stones, moving slowly, slipping often, and wondering if the whole path was going to feel this way, wondering if I’d ever make it anywhere. And then reaching the point where the water is deep enough and all one needs to do is jump in order to enter the flow. 

___

I’m confused about what to do about white people and race. When I put together all the experiences I had with this conference, all the stories I heard, I struggle to put together my final answer. At one point in time or another, I could have written the following articles and they would each express some part of my reactions:

“3 things white people need to stop doing at online conferences”
“ A case for spiritual reparations: why we need to address the spiritual impoverishment of white people before they kill the planet”
“Is it them or is it me? An exploration of how my stories, judgments, and neuroses color my experience of white people”
“How people of color give up their power in order to keep their judgments”
“A dance or a duel? The Trickster’s and Healer’s approaches to race and liberation”
“When we keep fighting, Bezos keeps smiling”

A question I’ve been wondering for some time: Is it possible, is it permissible, for us as a collective to, even for a moment, entertain beginner’s mind around race? 

___

This article, ‘Multi-Layered Selves,’ from the Gesturing Towards Decolonial Futures Collective, talks about decolonization as a lifelong process. 

“Colonialism is a systemic force inseparable from our modern desires for property, security, control, choice, comfort, affluence, autonomy, and/or progress. It furtively manifests itself even when we are critical of it and when we say we are working against it. Colonization is a theft of layers, an impairment of being where entanglement cannot be sensed or recognized.” (emphasis mine)

It goes on to describe what is needed to change our frames and to imagine our way out of the “existential fences of colonialism”: “being present (to the collective pain), remaining in resonance (with the call for responsibility), practicing release (of attachments to boxes, false promises and perceived entitlements), and keeping ourselves in balance (with truck loads of patience, humility, compassion, generosity and radical tenderness).”

“Learning spaces that can support this process [of decolonization] are counter-intuitive within the grid, as they emphasize the importance of complex existential questions instead of the search for (often simplistic) self-affirming solutions. These spaces prioritize de-centering over leadership; disarmament over empowerment; discernment over conviction; consent over consensus; pluriversality over univocality; and disinvestment over revolution.”

And while the author reminds us to be aware of the tendency to affirm ourselves for what we’ve done, I can at least say that our intentions for this wild gathering matches what the author is calling for. 

___

If there is a way, if there is ever to be a way, it must be carved with humility and traveled with some good friends. 

___

Everything was a gift. All of it. I’ve never experienced something quite like this before. And it’s still unfolding.

The fire during our closing ceremony


Aerin Dunford
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