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July 15, 2021

6 Lessons We’ve Learned from Emergent Strategy that Have Shifted Our Final Cohort

The cornerstone of MEV’s cohort program has always been our convenings: our weeklong in-person retreats to build, learn, practice, and share together. Along with everyone else, we had to pivot to virtual convenings for our fifth and final cohort. We knew it would not be possible to create the same type of space online and that we would have to adapt to stay true to our purpose and to honor the time and energy of the amazing leaders we have the privilege of working with.

We shared some of our learnings around nurturing spaciousness and wholeness in our report back from our first convening. These include providing resources to create retreat spaces in our own locations, offering virtual healing justice practices, providing reimbursements for meals and stipends for dependent care costs, and allowing participants to choose meaningful locations to join from. We completed our second virtual convening back in March and are preparing for Convening 3 this fall, which will also be virtual but with some in-person options.

We are also learning from a long legacy of leaders who hold intersectional care and logistics as a liberatory practice, including LGBTQIA+ activists like Bayard Rustin fighting the AIDS crisis, young leaders like Diane Nash coordinating the safety of Freedom Riders, disability justice activists like Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha, and civil rights heroes like Ella Baker who taught us the power of listening to people and meeting them where they are. We are deeply grateful to transformative consultant Patricia Torres for integrating this practice into MEV.  

Using adrienne maree brown’s Emergent Strategy as our inspiration and guide, here is some of what we are learning. All quotes below are hers.

  1. “How we are at the small scale is how we are at the large scale.” We needed to approach the shift to virtual community building not as a pared-down version of our programming, but as crucial and impactful in and of itself. We held our purpose and values with intention in designing the structure and platform, releasing what was no longer applicable, and leveraging new things that were suddenly possible. Shorter days to allow for time zone differences led to more rest and clearer goals. Guests who would normally not be able to come because of travel joined us. Children who were in school during the day came on camera in the evenings for music and poetry.
  2. “How we live and grow and stay purposeful in the face of constant change actually does determine both the quality of our lives, and the impact that we can have when we move into action together.” Things are constantly changing. It was hubris to think we could hold the last cycle of MEV as a slightly improved iteration of our previous cycles. Amidst the changes, we have been challenged to practice staying purposeful with ease, and to not give in to fear, stress, and overwork. We love our in-person convenings  – and they are marked by round-the-clock labor, last-minute requests and decisions, and heavily leaning into relationship to resolve tensions. Shifting to virtual has allowed us to apply a new level of rigor around goals, roles, and processes to provide us with the spaciousness and ease required in the face of change.
  3. “The idea of interdependence is that we can meet each other’s needs in a variety of ways, that we can truly lean on others and they can lean on us.” As women and non-binary leaders of color, we are familiar with grief and loss. The murders of Black and Brown people by police coupled with the failure of our institutions to protect those vulnerable to the pandemic, on top of ongoing injustice, have created an unbearable 18 months. The way we survive is by depending on one another. By seeing each other and allowing ourselves to be seen. By extending support and asking for help. We asked people what they needed. We shortened the convening. We sent care packages. We extended deadlines. We leaned into joy.
  4. “Transformation doesn’t happen in a linear way…It happens in cycles, convergences, and explosions.” Even though we have at times been guilty of talking about it this way in MEV, transformation isn’t something that all of a sudden happens at the end of a fellowship. It’s in every step of the process, every learning gleaned. When someone offers a song they’ve never sung in front of people before. When someone says they are skipping a session because they need a nap. When someone says, “Blackify everything!” and it applies to everything from language justice to announcements. When someone volunteers to lead tai ji. And we can still do all of this online.
  5. “Nothing in nature is disposable. Part of the resilience of nature is that nothing in nature is wasted.” MEV is a microcosm of larger anti-violence movements and addressing harm and ruptures in our convening spaces has always been part of the work. COVID-19 has opened another level of discussion and agreements as we navigate complex questions related to health, safety, and wellness, especially as we move toward offering optional in-person activities. Families have been ruptured due to vaccination status. People have been shamed over contracting COVID and judged for whether they were “safe.” The pandemic provides new opportunities for us to practice being in community together and accountable to each other under difficult conditions.
  6. “Creating more possibilities is…where we shape tomorrow towards abundance.” While in-person, much of our time is focused on learning to move together as a group. In virtual space, that isn’t possible. What it allows for is pods of people to come together and come apart, then slightly different pods to come together and then come apart. Given the multiplicity of anti-violence movements, communities, strategies, and needs, this opportunity to collaborate without having to compromise allows for many more possibilities.

Things continue to change. We feel like we have a solid rhythm for virtual convenings – and now more things are opening up and more people are traveling. The lessons from adrienne maree brown and other movement leaders keep us grounded as we continue to navigate the road ahead, out of this portal and into a new one.

Art by lizar_tistry