A Reflection: WildSeed 2020 Part 2 - Movement Support
Updated: 5 days ago
Dipping a Toe Back Into D.C.’s Organizing Spaces
**This post is the second 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