• WildSeed Society

A Reflection: WildSeed 2020 Part 2 - Movement Support

Updated: Apr 28

Dipping a Toe Back Into D.C.’s Organizing Spaces

**This post is the first of three updates about Aaron Goggans' WildSeed work. Be sure to check out part one here**


By September, what started as me getting my sister on the phone and having her list all of the things she had to accomplish, transformed into a full blown movement support program. That shift felt like it emerged over years, but in reality was only weeks. It began with a simple handwritten list of every task April felt she had to do. Just having someone to talk to about it made it easier to bear, and getting the tasks out of her head, lowered the stress. We then divided and prioritized the work into different groups.


I was able to step in and do a couple of things for her, such as writing up an itemized report on all money, goods and personal protective equipment (PPE) that passed through BLM DC on its way to Wards Seven and Eight’s mutual aid collectives. Another priority was getting sustained support for April. This presented a veritable plethora of security and financial issues, from filing taxes, to protection against doxing.


We worked tirelessly to find trusted experts who were willing and able to work with BLM DC. It also meant partnering with other members, especially Marybeth, to come up with a comprehensive list of things that BLM DC needed. Many of these things aren’t appropriate to discuss, especially in writing, for security and confidentiality reasons. However, in general, I helped with organizing needs, prioritizing them, as well as connecting BLM DC to consultants who could provide support. WildSeed also helped to raise $20K through a grant, to help pay for a lot of this work and wrote memos about possible new structures that could be put in place to support their work and keep them safe.


During the fall Chany stepped in to do even more, but we will get back to that in a minute.


Louisville, KY: Breonna Taylor, David “YaYa” McAtee et al.



Around the same time as this work was happening in D.C., Reece was in Louisville, KY working with the BLM chapter there. Reece and I had been going back and forth for months about the need to create new infrastructures that would allow Black movements to grow to scale without being encapsulated by the non-profit industrial complex. After the initial shock of the first 100 days of the uprising sparked by the police-state murder of Breonna Taylor were starting to wear off, Reece reached out and suggested that I come to Louisville to see what the movement was building there.


I was in for a life-changing surprise! Originally, Reece suggested that I just come to see what they were putting together. He thought I could offer suggestions, or do a write-up so folx from across the country could understand what was taking place. My amazing and stalwart partner, Sandra, helped me drive out to Kentucky (I really hate driving so Sandra does most of it.)


In our initial tour of the city, Reece said something I’ll never forget. He asserted, “Kentucky was known as the place where they bred slaves. They bred slaves just like they breed horses — Kentucky breeds winners.”


His point was that the logic of horse breeding — bartering, training, breaking, domesticating and finally, presenting a horse, was also used to control enslaved Africans in America. The lessons learned from those dual industries are etched in the political and social fabrics of the Commonwealth in weird ways (including the antiquated “commonwealth” framework).


I’m not going to pretend to be an expert on Kentucky or organizing in the South. I am able to attest to its uniqueness and the fact that it operates on a different logic than any of the places I’ve lived (D.C, Chicago, Colorado.)


Louisville itself is a blue dot of Democratic majority, in an otherwise red state. It's common for folx to say, “We are not like the rest of Kentucky.”


Louisville also hosts a large portion of the state’s Black population. According to Wikipedia, the city is around 25% Black while the state is overwhelmingly white (87%). Though Kentucky is very much culturally the South, it does have a relatively small Black population.


By the time I stepped foot in Louisville, it was three months into its uprising and had seen over 120 days of continuous protest. Let that sink in for a moment.


One hundred twenty days of continuous protest. This wasn’t a dozen people here and there, holding signs. It was dozens of people staging direct actions and marches every day, with hundreds, sometimes thousands, coming out every weekend. This was a true, sustained uprising. In many ways, it was more reminiscent of Ferguson than the two or three day events that too often get the honor of that comparison.


One hundred twenty days of continuous protest takes an insane amount of effort. That is to say: Going that hard, for that long will make you insane.


Reece and I, two neurodivergent Black men, often talk about the insanity needed for quality organizing. You can’t live in consensus reality and be a great organizer. You have to live in a world that is intentionally fabricated. You have to be highly aware of and intentional about the story you are telling regarding the events you experience.


Real revolutionary organizing is as much about subverting consensus reality with one in which you are more powerful and free, as it’s about striking at the material relationships that undergird your society. To hold a non-consensus reality in your mind (say that Black people are capable and deserving of freedom right now) for 120 days and work to make it real is insanity.


Sometimes it’s a beautiful and free insanity which MLK called “creatively maladapted.” Sometimes it’s a traumatized and slightly deranged reality of those fighting for their very survival. Most often it’s a mix of both, equal parts beautiful and volatile:


“I must confess that I believe firmly that our world is in dire need of a new organization – the International Association for the Advancement of Creative Maladjustment. Men and women as maladjusted as the prophet Amos, who in the midst of the injustices of his day, cried out in words that echo across the centuries—”Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.’” —MLK (A major speech in front of the Unitarian Universalist General Assembly on 18 May 1966.)


Creative Maladjustment in Louisville



My respect for BLM Louisville knows no bounds. I have respect for all of them. For Chanelle. For Monster. For EM. For Ferrari and Arii. For Phelix. For Q and Carrie. For Westerford, HB, Rebecca and Shauntrice. For Matrid. Kabira. For Shelton and the Boys. For Tala. Fig. They have organized in the future for 365 days and counting and secure real, tangible victories for Black people in the city. They have done it while maintaining a level of hospitality and generosity of spirit at their worst, that I have yet to see in the better resourced groups on the East Coast at our best.


In many ways, BLM Louisville could best be described as an association for those advanced in creative maladjustment. Their role in the city has been to assert a new consensus reality in which we keep each other safe, in which schools don’t resemble prisons and where everyone has access to housing and food. As if that’s not a heavy lift by itself, the Louisville chapter has also created a massive mutual aid network.


More than any group I have had the pleasure of working with, BLM Louisville is building a world that can hold multiple worlds. They are not content to protest changes that they deserve (though best believe they do that). Rather, they have started to build that world on their own terms.


Folx like Chanelle Helm have been doing Black Liberation work in Louisville for years. When the Black Lives Matter movement kicked off in earnest in 2015, Chanelle was already addressing similar issues through an initiative called Stand Up Sundays.


Louisville has experienced this new political moment — where the government has abandoned large swaths of the population and politicians are more likely to be vapid hacks with memes for politics, than competent administrators. This has been the reality of Louisvillians for decades now. What Louisville faces today, many of us will face tomorrow. Their politics are informed by the obvious need to fill in for a state in retreat and private sector in resurgence. To put it plainly: Louisville has been organizing in the future for years.


Eventually a BLM chapter in Louisville that was supported by the pre-existing infrastructure, was formed by a few veteran organizers. From the get-go, Louisville was an innovator in mutual aid. Chanelle and my sister, April, helped coordinate getting aid to Standing Rock from BLM chapters around the country, and used that as a template to help support Black communities in the wake of natural disasters that have ravaged the South in the past few years. Chanelle has been banging out that work ever since.


It can be hard to talk about BLM Louisville organizing without centering Chanelle. Chanelle is by no means the only dynamic, innovative Black organizer in the city. Additionally, any organizer worth their salt builds organization. Organizing, by its very nature, is a collective endeavor. It takes many hands and seeks to make light work of advancements that would be impossible if taken on by any one person. However, some organizers move like water rushing downhill. They bang out work consistently for so long, that they shape the wider terrain on which political work is done.


They, like the landscape they work in, are shaped by all the organizers that teach and train them — by all of the friends who have their backs (and the detractors that stab them there. Yet, on some level, even though they and everything they have accomplished was a group effort, they are a singular political force that warps the other social forces around them. This seems to be aided by southern Black culture’s comfort with clear leadership.


While I actually experience the South as more authentically Democratic than the East Coast, Southerners seem much more comfortable doing something because a leader said it should be done. Yet, the South is relational to its core. Black Southerners expect their leaders to care for them in ways their transactional and productive-centered East Coast siblings often do not.


In Louisville, meetings often had no agenda and no one took notes. People merely talked about what was happening, discussed what they wanted to happen and then looked to Chanelle to compress all that information into a clear path forward.


People tend to make Chanelle into some sort of leftist dictator because of this dynamic. This is a common misreading of a leader who understands themselves and their work within the context of history as self-centered, as if understanding yourself as a historical agent means you think you are better than others. Yet anyone who can get past their reservations about one Black woman having so much conscious and intentional power, can see that it's mostly exhausting for Chanelle and only begrudgingly accepted. While Chanelle is by no means perfect, she is making political moves on levels that few organizers even think on. I believe that should command our respect.


As an femme empath, being a leader in the South, Chanelle also carries the hopes, dreams, traumas and needs of her whole community on her shoulders. Holding that much of people’s emotions almost necessitates a weird distance from your own. It also cultivates a need for urgency in leaders because they can literally feel the deferred dreams of everyone counting on them. That urgency has gotten results but, after 120 days, there is no nervous system in the world that can handle that stress.


For the reasons above (and more), BLM Louisville was operating beyond burnout for several weeks by the time I got there. Chanelle and Reece were attempting to build collective leadership in the midst of a persistent mental and physical health crisis. Still, they collectively banged out more dynamic organizing on zero dollars and less sleep, than most organizers I know.


Over the course of the uprising, the two dozen or so organizers they rocked with had blossomed into a consistent mutual aid network. They helped support single mothers and young trans folx with housing, gave away hundreds of pounds of clothing to the community and supported the development of a local grocery store in a food apartheid.

There were weeks when they and their partners gave out over a thousand meals. Over a year after the savage murder of Breonna Taylor, BLM Louisville still supports with millions of dollars worth of food, clothing, housing and bail. As Reece often says, they have stepped into the pandemic crisis as almost a government in exile, running their own version of Works Progress Administration.


As you can imagine, this, particularly the Louisville Community Bail Fund aspect, has made them a lot of enemies. Their leadership is overtly radical and not the least bit interested in charity. This means their bail fund bails out EVERYONE, not just protestors.


They have bailed out so many people, that they are effectively challenging the carceral state in Kentucky and depriving it of parasitic financing that used to come from keeping people locked up (Every person in police custody or jail is worth thousands of dollars in food, medical and security contracts to the prison-industrial-complex. Money that is not paid out if they’re bailed out.). Yet, true to form, BLM Louisville and the Louisville Community Bail Fund doesn’t stop at bailing people out. They also coordinate wrap around services for each person whose release they fund.


Louisville Community Bail Fund organizers understand that most of the crimes people are accused of, are about survival. Some folx were falsely arrested because they had no choice but to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. More than a few were attempting to get access to health and dental benefits that the incarcerated are entitled to, by purposely being sent to jail or prison. Some had been incarcerated for so long that any semblance of stability had disappeared; they were fired from their jobs and evicted from their homes regardless of whether or not they’d done anything wrong. The Louisville Community Bail Fund works to help these folx get housing, clothes, mental and behavioral health supports and nutritionally-balanced meals.


There are many ways in which BLM Louisville is filling in the gaps of a failed democracy. Perhaps the most clear, and heart-breaking example is their work with families who have lost someone to state-sanctioned violence.

On my third day in Louisville, Reece and I went to visit the family of someone who had been killed by the police. It had been over a year since the police killed their son, and they were being fed lies and stalling tactics. They eventually had to sue the city just to get more information about what happened.


Over five months later and I can barely find the words to begin to describe how heartbreaking this was the witness. The police have been trying to vilify their son and vindicate their officers. They orchestrated rumors that got access to video that confirms the officers’ stories. However, they refused to release the footage for months. Eventually other video from the incident was leaked, much of it edited to fit the police narrative.


Once the official video was released, it was clear that some of the versions of Louisville Metro Police officers were dishonest. So much time had passed that the narratives they released shaped the way many people viewed the video.


It was heartbreaking to see this Black family analyzing footage of their child’s death, scene-by-scene, trying to figure out if their own government was lying to them or not. It is important to note that no one is suggesting that their family member was committing a crime. No one is asserting that he posed a threat to anyone. Rather, the state is arguing that the officers actions were reasonable, given what they knew at the time.


What gets left unsaid is the accepted fact that the state killed an innocent man. There were no victim’s services groups to help them process this. No community-trained therapist(s) in the room to help them manage their grief and related emotions. There were just two BLM Louisville organizers doing the right thing.


I can’t find the words to capture how wrong this is — how devastatingly derelict in its fundamental duties the state has been, to not only leave this family in the wind, while gaslighting them for the sake of PR. Regardless of what the officers thought at the time, they killed an innocent man. They are ethically and morally responsible for engaging with his family in ways that don’t further harm them. Instead, the state that this family pays taxes to, continues to lie, thus forcing them to spend money they barely have just to get basic answers about what happened to their loved one.


I remain disgusted, and witnessing this atrocity has forever colored my view on what the U.S. political system really is.


We can argue about whether or not white supremacy is a basis of U.S. society — if the system is so irreversibly corrupt that burning it down is the only option. We may engage in discourse about whether it is reformable. What I will no longer debate, no longer question, is if these institutions have a soul or a conscience, or this system of government actually cares about {Black} people. If Louisville reminded me of anything, it's that there is no justice for Black people in this system as it stands.


As Michael Jackson said, “All I really know is that they don’t really care about us.”


It also has to be said that Louisville is considered the South by many. Organizers often have deep (though not always positive) relationships with each other. When people call themselves “outsiders'' because they’re not from Louisville, they often mean they’re from the next town or county and have only been in Louisville a few years.


It's not like coastal cities where it can seem like everyone is from anywhere else. These folx all went to high school or college together and/or are connected in some way. Some have lived around one another for decades. When the police kill someone, the people protesting it are family, biological or otherwise.


Each death takes something from the community that they themselves probably couldn’t name. I can’t stress this enough. Death pervaded their organizing. Not just Breonna Taylor. There were other folx killed by the state. Young girls that organizers had tried to find a safe place to stay, were gunned-down by U.S. Marshals. A beloved activist was killed in an apparent car jacking; another was brutally murdered for seemingly no reason. A community leader, David “YaYa” McAtee, who fed the houseless and others who didn’t have the capacity to pay, was murdered by the National Guard and left on display in the hot sun, uncovered, for 24 fucking hours.


Dozens upon dozens of lives have been lost to a virus ravaging the Black community, that the government pretended didn’t exist. This was a slow moving genocide; the response was designed to rid a systemically underdeveloped region of the country of its supposedly excess and historically disposable workers in a period of sustained economic contraction that we were all too exhausted, burned out and gaslit to name directly at the time.


Still, all of this work gave the organization a level of community power and political clout that is unprecedented. This has come with an equally unprecedented level of antagonistic behavior. Members of BLM Louisville have been followed by the police, detained by the FBI, received death threats and even had false accusations about them re-tweeted by Trump’s family, resulting in their personal addresses being leaked and front doors kicked in. There are doctored videos, misleading pamphlets and false emails that circulate the city accusing them of every possible crime and ethical violation. Fortunately, the claims have been mostly so demonstrably false that they can be effectively argued against and disproven.


Nevertheless, these threats continue to take their toll. By the time I got to Louisville, people had experienced several rounds of burnout.


Big Shoes To Fill



Needless to say, I was initially a bit overwhelmed. It felt like a dream come true! It was the closest to revolutionary organizing I had even been. I felt honored to just be an observer. Unfortunately, that role didn’t last long. About four days into my trip to Louisville, Reece was rushed to the hospital. He’d had a blood infection a few weeks earlier, rested for a few days and jumped right back into organizing. He engaged in a direct action that led to him spending a night in jail — not the best place to recuperate from an infection. Upon his release, he continued banging out work.


Reece’s role was intense. He often called himself a ferryman. He takes people where they need to go. This is mostly literal. He is the person who organized my trip to Korea, Hong Kong and South Africa, with my sister, in 2019.


Reece embodies the idea of a faithful witness — of witnessing to someone against the grain of power arrayed around them. He puts little stock in niceties or being polite, but is perhaps one of the most deeply compassionate human beings I’ve ever met. He’s both the person you call in the middle of the night when in need of a {completely legal} favor, with no questions asked, and the person to call when someone you love dies.


As the individual dealing with a lot of the human side of the work, he helped Chanelle bang out a lot of the logistics for the organization. Doing the non-sexy parts of organizing. All of this was done in the midst of an uprising and global pandemic, so it was all held together with glue and mapped out in crayon. Don’t get me wrong, Reece is a genius at work. However, he’s a mad genius, building infrastructure like it was designed by Pickle Rick. Effective. Unconventional. Hard to explain and onboard people onto.


When I was asked to step-in for Reece, I first had to get my bearings. I worked with Chanelle to interview all the team leads of the various aspects of BLM Louisville’s work. This meant doing almost 20 interviews with different folx to assess what they did and how the pieces fit together. The interviews were a revelation.


Some spoke of the massive scale of their work in such unassuming terms. Others seemed unaware of the quiet dignity of their small, but consistent efforts that were mentioned by the other organizers. Some were acutely aware they were making history and spoke about the boldness and radical nature of their programs with pride.

As I mapped out the organization, it became clear it was sprawling and comprehensive. It also became clear that organizing human services, protests and healing spaces, political education and social spaces during COVID was a struggle.


Overall, though, they faced pretty standard issues of groups that had grown fast and groups operating in stressful situations. They needed to build relationships and create spaces to, as Ejeris Dixon once said, “collect what is collectively happening.” They also needed focused, trauma-informed healing spaces —that’s how I met Vahisha Hasan from Trauma Response & Crisis Care for Movements (TRACC). Vahisha had been called in by Reece to support folx through the trauma of the police brutality and responses to uprisings of the summer.


Vahisha is a movement chaplain who found her calling working with the likes of Rev. Sekou and other spiritual leaders who ministered to organizers in Ferguson. Vahisha was planning on bringing some healers to Louisville to be front-line support workers. She and her Co-founder, Teresa, had built a network of trauma-informed healers and clinicians, they trained to be able to support creatively maladapted movement folks.


It was obvious that her work was necessary, though it was less obvious to her that these folx needed to get paid. I had seen healers become burned out supporting movements without the capacity to support themselves, and seen the limits of short day trips to support movements. I suggested she pay the healers for their time and offered to help raise the money for it.


Our work with Vahisha has continued to grow. Through our conversations with her, Sandra started offering her services to BLM Louisville. It began with one-on-one support from members experiencing acute PTSD. Eventually, Sandra began doing a grounding practice during their morning call. At the time, the morning call was the only place where one could attempt to assess what was collectively happening. It was meant to be a space where updates were provided, but also for people to connect and ask for support in the trying times organizers were facing.


Unfortunately, the meeting itself was clearly caught in a trauma loop. It inadvertently became a place where people spread their trauma to folx who were too exhausted to help. It meant everyone started their day, overloaded with trauma. However, the love, desire for connection and willingness to support was real. People came to the call every day, but it ended up being where people were depleted, not poured into.


Sandra’s grounding practice often built a container where folx could find release. Other times, the extra energy people got (or in some cases merely stopped losing) allowed organizers to put their values of mutual aid into practice, internally, more often. Though Sandra often talks about it as a small gift, I think it might go down as one of the single most effective things WildSeed offered. This was in part because of its consistency.


We didn’t just parachute in during times of crisis. Sandra was on the call seven days a week for 12 weeks. She provided a space for people to be seen and held in the morning. She also created a sense of consistency in the holding that is really hard to find in movement spaces. So many activists want a space to heal, but it takes a lot to trust it, to be open to it.


As Toni Cade Bombara wrote, “It takes a lot of work to be well.” Consistency is key, because people trusting that you are going to be there tomorrow helps them trust that you are going to be truly here for them now if they choose to open up.


The morning meeting was one of those simple things that drained those who never got a break from them. Having an outsider be able to hold even just a part of it, freed the leadership to focus on other things. In fact, many of the leaders skipped the grounding activity all together, which might seem counterintuitive or counterproductive. In reality, it meant they were available to spend the mornings filling their own cups, so to speak. It allowed them to put some of their burdens down everyday, if only for 10 minutes.


It became clear that a wider reset was needed. This was something that Chanelle was well aware of, but needed some outside support to pull off. Thus, we started planning a retreat for the organization. When planning the retreat, it became clear that every moment you could get Chanelle’s full attention was precious and rare.


Rather than having several brainstorming sessions and long back and forths until we got to something we both liked, I would order food, ask Chanelle what she wanted and take notes. I would then pitch ideas to other leaders in the collective between meetings, before coming up with a comprehensive draft of what I thought we should do.


Chanelle usually agreed with my suggestions and only requested minor changes, in part because she knew no plan would survive the first 10 minutes of the meeting. This M.O. takes a lot of comfort with ambiguity and openness. You have to be willing to throw a plan away and facilitate on your feet. In short, it was kinda my favorite thing in the world. As anxious and over prepared as I usually am for these sorts of things, I love flying by the seat of my pants while facilitating, especially when I am not attached to the outcome. I would not have to implement the plans (or so I thought), merely offer my best advice and then follow their collaborative leadership.


Wrap Around Support and Movement Defense



I was fortunate that one of Chanelle’s great strengths is leveraging relationships within the larger Movement 4 Black Lives ecosystem. Sandra and I weren’t the only people from outside Louisville brought in to support during this period. TRACC sent a healer to be in residence for all of October and Vahisha drove down from Nashville almost every weekend.


For security reasons I won’t list out all the folks that came out. But it was a wide swath of highly talented Black people. Many of whom had experienced uprisings in their home cities and knew what not to do in such situations. They also understood the unique pressure and dangers that arise for Black movement leaders in such times. Without their hours and weeks of service and support none of the work that WildSeed did would have been possible. There were dozens of others, whom I never met, who played crucial support roles. I felt their impact, including the many who came to Louisville early on, months before I arrived.


This wide-spread movement support meant WildSeed could really focus on organizational development and back of the house support. It was exciting, but exhausting. I worked 50-80 hour weeks while preparing for their retreat. The pre-work was intense as it required trying to make their emergent anarchist structure semi-legible, so they could make joint financial, security and organizational development decisions. I made more spreadsheets and mind maps during my time there than most people do their whole lives.


I worked with Chany to help think through what long-term administrative support could look like. I also pulled together a support team of white allies and accomplices who could bring additional capacity.


We knew WildSeed needed to be a POC space in the beginning, but I also knew that with gaslighting from the Trump administration, the rise of alt-right antagonism and the racial inequities of COVID, most POC organizers were strapped and overworked. There weren’t a lot of POC with organizing experience, and free time to devote to new projects. Therefore, I pulled together a team of white comrades to be my remote back-up team.


We created a crisis response team (CRT) modeled after the teams used by NGOs that send staff into conflict zones around the world. I reached out to security professionals like Watani Tyembi to get best practices. We assembled a sub-team of lawyers to help think through all the potential legal threats that might occur. Perhaps the most useful thing we did was host calls with local movement leaders, where they shared their fears and stressors. They got to unburden themselves and we worked with them to prioritize their needs. We helped folx think through practical steps they could engage in to deal with everyday stressors, so they had more capacity to think about the political stressors only they could answer.


We knew the CRT were not security consultants, and it was dangerous to try to have them be. We also knew people were too overwhelmed to reach out to real security consultants, let alone implement their advice. So instead, we looked at crisis response as movement defense through a social reproductive lens. We realized that part of movement defense is resourcing, witnessing and supporting leaders in the day-to-day humaning that often falls by the wayside during a crisis. We helped folx make medical and other appointments, connected them with lawyers, gave emotional support as they went through the DACA process, made AirBnB reservations when people felt unsafe at home — whatever we could do to create psychological safety for the people responding to crisis on the ground, we did.


We often had to resort to bird-dogging some comrades and kicking them off work calls, so they could actually rest. By continuously supporting movement leaders, we increased their capacity to make sound decisions. We then put them in contact with security professionals who helped them make meaningful changes and, when necessary, helped find the funding to pay those consultants.


It was hard work that we stumbled through for weeks. It took a lot of relationship-building in order to have the trust necessary for people to accept wrap around services. Most of our folx were understandably leery of trusting new people, particularly folx they couldn’t meet in person. Obviously, race was a factor as well. Black people must always be aware of how white people will receive our vulnerability. That meant Vahisha and I had to carry a lot of work in-person. In some ways the CRT was there to support us so we didn’t get burned out supporting other people.


Apparently We Would Be Helping With Implementation



Facilitating the retreat itself was a monumental endeavor. In general, the retreat focused deep on relationships, surfacing tensions, taking lessons and offering some lessons from the work of BLM DC and the broader DC ecosystem. It was three days, 16-hour per day of planning, speaking, note-taking, listening, synthesizing, challenging, supporting and explaining.


Obviously, what came up in that retreat is confidential. What I can say, though, is that it made me fall in love with them as a group. There was an openness they developed that was remarkable, given how stressed and burned out people were. There was a deep willingness to learn. Even their hesitancy to directly name conflicts and disagreements was overcome in generally productive ways.


It became clear, though, that merely facilitating a retreat wouldn’t be enough. We came out of the retreat with a great deal of next steps and a pretty exciting vision of where they wanted to go. They agreed to a pretty prefigurative approach to their organizing, and combined commitment to the brass tacks of organization-building. All of these changes had to be implemented and, given that they weren’t going to stop running their government in exile during this period, Louisville needed implementation support.


I ended up extending my trip by another three weeks to help implement the immediate next steps from the retreat. This included (but wasn’t limited to) supporting the facilitation of the most difficult part of organizational development: Deciding how to decide.


We created a temporary implementation council that worked with me to cultivate a preliminary structure for creating a leadership team and developing a decision-making structure. Chanelle was intentionally left out of this group in order to help foster a culture of collective leadership (where she would not need to be consulted for every decision). This team was assembled from a wide variety of group members, folx who had been in it for a long time and those who were newer. They discussed the issues that came up in the retreat and prioritized them. We then loosely agreed to a two-tiered decision-making process — a consensus for big decisions that affected everyone and an advice process for the implementation team.


Next, we needed to foster a more permanent leadership team. It was clear from the retreat that the group wanted a hybrid system. They all valued clear, accountable leadership, yet they wanted to be as decentralized as they could, to ensure leadership was constantly developed. We created a process whereby we brought in the entire collective and nominated people we felt embodied the kind of leadership the group valued.


We had folx vote anonymously for each nominated person. Anyone who got unanimous consent would become part of leadership.


Five leaders were selected unanimously from the collective. I then worked with this team for two weeks, facilitating meetings and taking notes. My role was mainly to take on all the administrative tasks, so the leadership team could focus on the big picture ideas. I also helped come up with structures for some of the big ideas that the group raised, helping take it from an idea spoken aloud, to a series of next steps with benchmarks, measurables and timelines.


Even as my time supporting BLM Louisville in-person was drawing to a close, it was clear that more implementation support was necessary. I met with leadership to see what role WildSeed might be able to play from a distance, moving forward. We settled on having WildSeed support the operations and administrative teams, and having me help with finances and bookkeeping until Reece was fully back on his feet.


Support Takes Its Toll


Photo by Cassandra Hamer on Unsplash


By the end of this process, I was beyond exhausted. Physically, I was a wreck; I could tell the continued stress had done a number on my body. I had pain all over, including a constant pain in my chest. I woke up in the middle of the night worried that any slight noise was the FBI or right-wing raid.


By the time I returned home, the constant stress made it difficult for me to fully relax. As I was plugging back into WildSeed meetings it was hard to summon the grace we’d had normalized in our meeting culture. I felt short; everything felt urgent and nothing anyone did was enough. It really took a lot of focus and a tremendous amount of grace from the core team to help my nervous system relax back to anything close to normal.


It took almost two months for me to be able to sleep through the night again. Supporting Louisville from afar was helpful as I was less stressed and more able to assist my team as my capacity grew. I was eventually able to move from just managing tasks, to emotionally supporting my team through the ends and outs of stress on the job. Yet inevitably, we grew more and more out of sync as I was removed from what was happening on the ground.


The better organized BLM Louisville got, the less useful it was to have someone leading a team who couldn’t come to in-person meetings. After about two months, I transitioned out of my support role.


It was a bittersweet process. I liked having time back, but missed supporting people doing “the real work” on the ground, rooted in a community. The free time gave me space to process all that I had placed aside in the crisis.


I spent a couple of weeks just setting up medical care and taking care of my body. The long road to something close to “normal” instilled in me the need to have a second and third line of support for all the people supporting the front line.


One thing that became clear to all of us at WildSeed, was that we wanted to ensure that the whole organization could learn from and be transformed by my experience on the frontline. Chany came up with a “harvesting” process that allowed us to collectively make sense of all Sandra and I had seen in Louisville. In addition, we wanted to see how our core values held up in the midst of real social contestation. It's one thing to have a principle when things are easy and nothing is challenged. It's something else to maintain those principles in a crisis.


I added some of the lessons we harvested are in part three.





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