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Murmurations: Wisdom From Women Changemakers

A note from adrienne maree brown: Shawna Wakefield is passionate about collaborative work and collective thinking, as well as a member of the Fire Ensemble, which was the first choir to perform my debut public musical ritual, To Feel a Thing: A Ritual of Emergence. Shawna and the co-authors of this piece, Kristen Zimmerman and Rufaro Gwarada, are the core team of Root. Rise. Pollinate!

In the summer of 2023, we at Root. Rise. Pollinate! began to gather feminist changemakers from across the globe into an embodied storytelling project to tell the story of the future. We invited them to play with us and bring their hopes, love, and visions into our virtual circle in multiple sessions. Together, during one of the sessions, we wove a particular story, a fable—excerpted below—across time zones, cultures and generations: 

And so the other children asked, “Well, could we be visitors? Is there a way to share this place that wouldn’t intrude?” Ursula thought about it, and she looked to the trees and the path, and she asked Water. And Water said, “Yes, please bring the visitors. Remind them to bring their heart, make their offerings, and connect in their own ways. Yes, bring them.” So the children went to this place and they saw the beautiful little stream. As they sat, everybody was very quiet, until Ursula turned and asked, “Is everybody OK?” And Sister said, “Yes, but somehow it’s like we didn’t know Water before, and now we see her in a different way. We see more than we ever could.” And they thanked her for bringing them to this special place.

The deliciously nonlinear process of weaving this story together allowed us to feel, see, taste, and touch the world we long for—for our descendants, ancestors, and, yes, ourselves. 

Speculative, embodied storytelling is especially important now, given the level of uncertainty, conflict, and collective grief many of us are experiencing. Climate disruption has us literally navigating uncharted waters and unprecedented weather. Powerful new technologies, for healing and war, are evolving faster than we can grasp or govern them. Conflict is pervasive and escalating. Various anxieties haunt us and are amplified: disconnection, isolation, and loneliness; the specter of new deadly diseases; eco-anxiety; economic uncertainty; disregard for the life and well-being of the perceived “other”; displacement and lack of safe, consistent housing; concerns for our families’ and communities’ futures. 

Yet all is not lost. We need not brace ourselves and hold our collective breath. Instead, we can take low and slow breaths into our bellies, knowing that more people are remembering our right relationship to each other, to Water, Earth, Fire, and Air—sensing this is a crucial moment to leap into ways of being that foster repair, interconnection, and mutual thriving.  

The paradox of this time feels both new and ancient. What might it look like to belong—to ourselves, each other, and Earth—unconditionally? How might we remember what we’ve forgotten? How do we sit in paradox and use it to evolve together? 

Women leaders, organizers, and healers have helped their communities contend with these questions for generations. Root. Rise. Pollinate! started gathering such feminist changemakers—whom we call “pollinators”—early in the COVID-19 pandemic because we knew they could support mutual thriving in the middle of collapse. 

Now, years later, we find it even more important to commit to collective practices that generate hope, love, care, and community. Our current work in progress, Reports From a Revolution of Being, uses embodied storytelling to help pollinators be present in paradox, dream together, and apply those dreams daily in service of our collective evolution. Three core practices are emerging as essential to this evolution: Courageous Presence, Radical Imagination, and Embodied Adaptation. 

Illustration by Michael Luong/YES! Media

Practice 1: Courageous Presence

I dont like the word “resistance.” I like the word “courageous presence.” What is courageous presence? It means you’ve really accepted the challenge given to you and you have developed through it … surrounded by people that understand the different parts that feed the whole soul and strengthen the body and mind for that challenge. —Elder Kathy Sanchez (Tewa Women United) 

The practice of speculative, embodied storytelling calls us to be present with the world as it is right now. This isn’t easy, but it’s powerful. As human beings, and activists, various habits protect us from seeing and experiencing the “muchness” of the world—repetitive unconscious behaviors like (but not limited to) retreating into or entrenching in that which is most familiar or (over)indulgence in any number of things. The unconsciousness with which we engage in these habits also separates us from our core power. We lose our ability to recognize and exercise our agency to face what is difficult and make choices to move away from the status quo toward something more hopeful, joyful, and rooted in love with courage.

In embodied storytelling we begin and end story circles with breath, body-based movement, and questions such as “How is your heart today?” By doing so, we bring our whole selves—heart, mind, body, spirit—forward in preparation for the stories we might weave. We practice courageous presence, rooted in love of ourselves, our people, and places, while opening to the complexity of our present conditions and the possibility to transform them. 

Practice 2: Visioning the Arc  

Our work as a movement is to create the conditions in which governance is loving. We don’t just want loving organizations, we want loving communities. We want the bloody state of the world to be loving … which is ultimately where we are trying to go with power. —Jessica Horn

Storytelling is the foundation of transformative strategy. It enables us to envision new, unexpected possibilities rooted in powerful, ancient truths. Pollinators weave a story together, generating ideas and energies that are hard to access when we are in more linear planning or evaluation modes. Through this playful practice we often surface key elements of vision, purpose, and strategies faster than when in those more linear modes. We connect the many layers of ourselves and our worlds with more ease. Some of the most powerful stories we created brought in the complexities of life, rather than a sanitized utopia. Through this practice we are seeding and growing power that is rooted in our imaginations, our interconnectedness, and the things we love.

Practice 3: Embodied Adaptation

The power of this work is as a driver of movement building … [so that] we do it in a way that fuels and strengthens the collective. —Shereen Essof

A revolution of being is about embodying the change we want to see in the world—without compartmentalizing the change. A revolution of being enables us to live wholeheartedly, with purpose as our imperfect selves in our imperfect world. Practice is the path.

As we engage in a revolution of being, we develop our capacity to keep our visions alive, to establish courageous presence, and to make choices and adjustments in response to inevitable change based on what is really important. We expect to learn and practice as we go. 

Stewards of the Future 

Each of us is trying to build a better future through collective learning. Each of us is both a learner and a teacher. —Pam Ki Mela

As stewards of the future, we are part of a longer arc, connected to our ancestors and descendants. A revolution of being will look different in each place and with each group of people, but it will share some similarities: the deep love for home, an unshakable sense of belonging, and an awareness of our interconnectedness with all living things. 

Join us in discovering a revolution of being!

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Kristen Zimmerman is a writer, artist and world-builder based in Oakland, California. They are currently an Adjunct Professor at California State University East Bay, teaching narrative illustration and comics. They hold an MFA in comics from California College of Arts, and a B.A. from Brown University. Kristen co-founded and directed numerous projects that apply world-building practices to real-world transformation, including: Root. Rise. Pollinate!, The Transitions Network, Decolonize Race, Movement Strategy Center, Youth In Focus, and Community LORE. Their writing and comics have been published by Autostraddle, The Reverb, Movement Strategy Center, Electric Squeak, the Gender and Development Journal, and other outlets. Before children, they worked as a producer for Pacifica Radio (KPFA), covering cultural affairs. Their debut graphic novel, Ten Thousand Beloved Communities, was published in 2023 by Beloved Communities Press. Some of their happy places are hanging out with their modern queer family, training in zen, spending time in nature and making really good food with friends.
Rufaro Gwarada is committed to a world animated by unhu (ubuntu)—the understanding that collective and individual wellbeing are one and the same. She is a mama, writer, International Coaching Federation certified coach, facilitator, and organizer, with more than 15 years working for gender justice, migrant rights, African-led solutions for Africans, and utilizing art and cultural expression as conduits for healing, liberation, and joy. Rufaro is co-director for Root. Rise. Pollinate!, founder and principal of Pamuuyu, a coaching and consulting practice, and cofounded culture-shift initiatives Wakanda Dream Lab and reSet. Rufaro is home in Zimbabwe, Oakland, and Sacramento, California, with Sangha, on the dance floor, and among creatives and those who strive for liberation of all peoples.
Connect: LinkedIn
Shawna Wakefield is committed to cultivating joyful, trusting relationships for loving power. She is a facilitator, teacher, and strategist who helps social justice leaders and their groups infuse complex work and lives with care, compassion, and ease. She is a mama, embodiment practitioner, and adjunct professor on gender, race, power and international development. She has a master’s degree in public Administration from Columbia University, School of International and Public Affairs. She worked for Oxfam for a decade, the United Nations, and for smaller, grassroots organizations working for immigrant rights, gender, racial and economic justice. She speaks English.
Connect: LinkedIn

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