the transformative justice strategic science fiction reader

farctatemountainousUrban and Civil

Nov 29, 2013 (4 years and 6 months ago)









& prepar
ed for
onference | 2012 |

adrienne maree brown

alexis pauline gumbs

leah lakshmi piepzna



opyleft |


table of contents

Santa Olivia
: Tricksters, Triumphs and Fighting Back
” by
Jenna Peters

. . . . . 2

Who Fears Death

by Nnedi Okorafor
” by
Alexis Pauline Gumbs

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Woman on the Edge of Time

The Fifth Sacred Thing
: Two White,
Transformative Justice Utopias with Interesting Ideas and Also Problems

Leah Lakshmi Piepzna

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

the dispossessed

is required reading
” by

maree brown

. . . . . . . . . . . . . .



Santa Olivia
: Tricksters, Triumphs and Fighting B

Jenna Peters

In my work doing transformative justice organizing and movement building

I am
regularly trying to answer

what feel like big questions: A
re there distinctions between
vengeful retaliation to violence and fighting back? What are they? How can we
distinguish between the two? Is there room for humor, tricks

and play in movements

deal with themes as serious

as violence, sexual assault

and prison abolition? What
extraordinary tactics and perspectives can youth offer us in our collective work towards
liberation? How can we conceive of unique and radical identificati
ons of spirituality and
The pages of
Jacqueline Carey’s
Santa Olivia

are saturated with these

and a whole lot more.

Young Adult (YA) literature is a special

of fiction.

I don’t call it a genre because I
think YA fiction is too gigantic to be contained in such a categ
ory. It’s a sort of boring

ageist assumption that youth and teenagers don’t crave or don’t deserve complicated,

and diverse books to read. Because

as most fiction lovers know, books can
change us, offer a space for our voice
, hurt us, save us,
help us understand ourselves and
our world with more scope and im
agination, whatever age we are.

And YA l
it is no
longer the dusty paper
backs of the
Hardy Boys

or any shit like

for decades

as youth
have been fighting for power, autonomy, leadership a
nd voice

in their lives and in their
communities, YA lit has become more real and reflective of actual young people

s lives.
Santa Olivia

is a shining example of this (
it has smoking hot

ish queer sex in
it. Did I mention that?)


stands apart from many other dystopian sci
i novels. For one, it’s a young
adult book, which

I think, is a significant aspect

this book and

both genres.
Secondly, it is a
book of change, triumph and non
traditional resistance. It is not a st


in its own misery, obscurity

or desolation (although the potential is strong).

In the world Ja
queline Carey creates there is sickness, death


war. The

of land sandwiched between the border of Mexico and South Texas, alr
dy full of poor
people, Spanish
speaking people, Mexican Americans,
Native people, was getting in
the way. A predic
table thorn in the side of the m
ilitary, as people got poorer and sicker,
General Argyle showed up to make a definitive statement:

We are at war!

This is no longer a part of Texas, no longer a part of the United States of
America! You are in the buffer zone! You are no longer American Citizens! By
consenting to remain, you have agreed to this! The town of town of Santa Olivia no
nger exists! You are denizens of Outpost No. 12!


No one knew what it meant, not exactly. There was something about sickness and
something about the scourge to the south on the far side of the old wall. But ther
e was
too much dying to be bothe

. . .

Santa Olivia; Santa Olvidada, soon to be

forgotten by most of the world”


Like so many sci
i novels, there are a lot of details that make this world specific and
come alive. And in

the tradition of dystopian

novels, the reader has a strong and loomin
sense of “
this doesn’t seem so fictitious.
” It’s this cl
oseness to reality that makes
dystopian sci
i so powerful and incendiary. And indeed, as we see Santa Olivia become a
completely militarized town, as lack of citizenship becomes a perfectly sensibl
e reason for
rights to be revoked, and as a community of poor and mostly brown people see

slim resources shrink even further, you have to focus on the other details of this story to
make it clear that you aren’t looking out your window or reading
the newspaper from
Right Now.

Our lead character, Loup (pronounced Lou)

, is a teenage girl who is queer, of
mixed race and also mixed genetic make up. Her father was an escapee G
MO experiment
sold to the U.S. m
ilitary whose breeding made him
inhumanly strong, fast, hungry and
unable to experience fear. His da
ughter inherited those traits.
This is a unique lead
character for any book, especially a young adult novel and the character of Loup alone
makes this book fantastic.

In Santa Olivia, thi
ngs are slanted and skewed and a prime example of this is the Church

whose courtyard is where the sacred little girl statue of Santa Olivia resides. The Church
is run by kind Father Ramon, pragmatic Sister Martha

and gentle Sister Anna. At first
glance i
t appears to be a normal do
gooder church. However Father Ramon, Sister

and Sister Anna don’t believe in God,
swear like sailors

and all three of
them are in a highly functioning polyamorous relationship

When Lou
p is left parentless
after he
r m
other dies, she finds herself as one of

or so orphans all living at the
Church. A beautiful family forms

with the kids, or the Santitos (t
he little Saints) playing
ball, learning to fix things together, helping to run the makeshift hospital an
d soup

and interpreting the world in which they live so they can fight back.

In Outpost, the U.S. m
ilitary runs the town, patrols the streets and has all access to
people, booze, goods, and space. So

midway through the book when 15 year old Katj
of the Santitos, is raped by a s

it’s no shock to the kids or to Father Ramon
and the Sisters when nothing is done, except
a declaration

that no one can prove there
was a rape and a suggestion by the Colonel that Katja “think twice before put
ting herself

in compromising positions” (109).
Frustrated, exhausted

and hurt, the Santitos
determined to take action.


Their independent action in the face of systemic
is extremely familiar to the world
we all know and
live in, where victim


devaluing of teenagers (girls especially,
and girls of color extra especially),
institutions of violence and patriarchy protecting
and colluding with the perpetration of violence
are normal and nearly expected.


want to note that it

is incredibly unique to find a young adult novel that not only
a teenager surviving sexual assault, but does so in a
way that isn’t shaming, silencing,

or the
main plot point

of the book.
I can’t imagine how healing and important it might be
or a teenager who has survived sexual assault to pick up this book and read about this
rape in a story where people talk about

, believe the survivor

and where there is still sex

This (lack of) response by the m
ilitary kicks off the rest of

the story
, the plot of which

plot is driven by the Santitos responding

many acts of violenc
e perpetrated by the
While many of the Santitos

actions may fe
el impossible or unrealistic,



some of it falls into a category of retaliation
that I don’t hold with in the real work, I
think we have a lot to learn from the Santitos. Their tactic is to “bring
to life” the town’s
young girl patron s
aint, Santa Olivia, who (

by the extra fast and strong Loup
Garron) plays meaningful prank
s on

the perpetrators of harm. They


the soldier who
raped Katja out o
f a bar and then truss him up and leave

clever note pinned to his
chest; they dump

snakes on the sol
dier’s friends who lied for him;

they stage a
dramatic “faith based vision,”

ch includes d
estroying the windshield of an A
rmy jeep
whose driver inte
ntionally killed an

old man’s dog.

For the purposes of this story and

world, I think that Carey has these violent soldiers

act as stand
ins for the U.S. m
ilitary and other less
specific institutions of systemic
violence. For these characters that perpetrate harm are all white men (I’m pretty sure)
and have the least amount of character development or description. And once we can all
get on board with that

that these are violent a
cts perpetrated by the institution that is
the Army

it changes
what we are talking about.


physical resistance against
a m
ilitary force is, I believe, a starkly different practice than enacting violence towards a


yes, tying someo
ne up, pouring snakes on them

and throwing a boulder through a
car window are acts of violence
. But, some would argue
, these behaviors are not
retaliation and merely vengeful,

but are magica
l acts cleverly crafted by O

energetic tricksters.

Trickster, as an archetype, shows up in many cultures, from Wesake
chak in Cree
traditions and

Anansi in West African and


Hershele Os
in Jewish traditions.
So much a
mazing work and thinking about t
ricksters has been done,
a l
ot of which is

done by first nations people:
check out
: Native American Tales: A
Graphic Collection
, edited by Matt Dembicki. At it
s root

the trickster archetype is deft at


challenging power, offering experiences and narratives for ethical reflection, and inciting
community awareness and resistance. The trickster exists in margins, cracks and liminal
spaces to shift power, generate mirrors

and open people and communities up to the
possibility of change with humor, play



The Santitos are a beautiful band of tricksters in Santa Olivia who challenge the violence
perpetrated by the U.S. military by seizing the A
rmy’s unrelenting power and instead of
using mirrored types of aggression and violence (even though they could with Loup’s
super human strength and speed on their side)


the idea and faith that
the O
utposters have in Santa Olivia into a my
sterious stand
in for the community

always surviving violence i
ndirectly or directly from the military.
These tricks are magic
and smart because they take an already existing character

is made of plaster, paint

and rust, and breathe life in

her. These tricks are clever

because they have accessible wit
and focused humor. These tricks are principled because they do the least amount of harm
with the strongest and most clear messages

no one is un
sure why a trick is being

and because they
are immediately made public to all of Santa Olivia.

Throughout the book,


Santitos who know about Loup’s GMO secret poke fun at her
for being a hero and wanting to save people and
utpost all the time. One of the
strongest elements of this book (for me) is the unrelenting way

Loup and her friends
use their tricks and ethics to demonstrate that

should be a hero

to liberate the
entire Outpost. Loup is more than jus
t humbl

in a sense

she deflects the “hero
complex” with such principled strength that it li
quefies and splashes everywhere,

everyone who stands close enough to Loup and the Santitos.

We have a lot to learn in our movements and communities as we strug
gle to fight ego,
challenge the Radical Rockstar Syndrome

and destabilize the belief that we must rely on
a supremely strong and capable individual (or small body of individuals) to save us.

I’m less interested in squashing or eliminating that dr
ive for he
ism and more
interested in harnessing that high level of energy and desire within

many people in our
communities, and

generating something like a redistribution of heroism. The Santitos

way of
collectivizing heroism

is, I think, inspiring.

d just to be
crystal clear

while I am absolutely not suggesting that folks form crews and
slash bike tires or leave hate messages for people who caused harm

as a way of
confronting sexual assault

(really, I’m not), I believe
we can handle the nuances

that the
Santitos offer us by returning to
the questions that I began with, and asking ourselves
and our communities/
to consider them

Santa Olivia


For much

much mo
re on this, check out the blog Crunchings and Munchings


Rebecca Peters
Golden and Tessa Barber do an inspiring and thorough job of defining
and lifting up the nuances of YA fiction in many forms.


Who Fears Death

by Nnedi Okorafor

Alexis Pauline Gumbs

This is post
apocalyptic Africa. A cosmic afro
where the people have the
technological capac
ity to remember their rituals. There is a white
skinned tribe
dominating, enslaving

nd enacting genocide on a brown
ned tribe. Is this future

Rape is still an everyday tactic of war and an exper
ience of violence that haunts
every day for survivors and co

Onyesonwu, the title character, carries the name “Who Fears Death?” and
supernatural abilities as a shapeshifter and sorceress.

She also carries t
he weight of rape
in her body.
he is a child of rape, destined to bring an end to a genocidal conflict
between her father’s tribe

the Nuru, the white

tribe of the rapist, on behalf of
her mother’s tribe, the Okeke, the brown
ed tribe under brutal attack.
We hear the
of her life, her history

and her journey while she is locked in a prison cell for her
e in resisting this genocide.
One way to understand the question in her name and in
the title of the book is that the fear of death becomes specific and limited in a
context of
group death (genocide)
, while

e experience of sexual violence

is described in the book
as an

experience worse than death.
One fuller articulation of the question (of many)
could be, having survived rape, how can we fear death? Or anything at a

Sexual Assault:

The Origin Story

The central struggle of the book

is a struggle between Onyesonwu

and her father, the
man who raped her mother, who is also a sorcerer at the center of a genocidal plan to
destroy Onyesonwu’s mother’s race forever. Onyesonwu is a sorcerer and a warrior and a
teenage girl at the height of the

action in the book.

She is
daughter, stepdaughter,
lover, friend and may become a mother herself.

The original violence that frames the book is a brutal attack by the Nuru on a group of
Okeke women when they have retreated to the deser
t to pray to the goddess Ani.
group of 40 N
uru people arrive on scooters to attack the women when they are
physically weak from fast
ing and praying in the desert.
The rapists, men physically raping
and women pointing laughing

and participating, sing a song

in which they call the Okeke
gly filt

slaves,” and celebrate “slay[ing them] to dust
” (19)
The strategy of rape is a
key strategy in this war because it is known


the Okeke women will not have
abortions even in the case of rape and will therefore be bound to the Nuru as
through th
eir children.

It is understood as a strategy to destroy Okeke families as part of

a wider program of genocide.
Onye’s mother, Najeeba

is singled out and a Nuru sorcerer
who is a leader of the genocide takes her away and rapes her repeatedly while singing
casting a spell/curse.


After resisting, Najeeba (Onye’s mother) spiritually leaves her body to survive the

feels “her voice leaving her foreve
” (18)

decides to die, but she lives.
She returns to her village

which has been massac

but her husband has survived.
rejects her because she has been raped, so she le
aves to wander in the desert.
She decides
to survive when she realizes t
hat she is pregnant.
She gives birth and

in the act of birth

suffers throug
h memories of her br
utal rape.
She names her daughter “Who fears

Her voice remains a whisper for the rest of the book.

The evil eye of the rapist father haunts Onye in nightmares that are not just nightmares
but acts of psychic violence that the rapist father en
acts on the daughter t
hrough his
powers of sorcery.
His messages are very similar to the internalized social messages that
are often a result of trauma and a
He puts mantras like “I am awful. I am evil. I am
filth. I shou
ld not be!” in her mind (55).
When she uses her own powers to move
through time and space to confront him, his will

towards her is “STOP BREATHING


The negative messages that her father assaults her with resonate with the normative
behavior of the Oke
ke tribe, her mother’s people
The lightened color of Onye’s skin
makes her an outcast, a reminder for the whole community of the reality of rape, of the
depth of their oppression
In this future, like our present, rape silences us, it haunts us
day and night, it urge
s the collective to look away.
In this future, like our present,

rape is
personal and political;

it is a tool of war and an interpersonal violence in the same

Who Fears Death

is a story about a secondary survivor, or intergenerational survival. T
mother who survives, quiet and transformed, weaves magic into the body and spirit of
her daughter
, hoping for justice, casting

the daughter as a w
arrior who has the power

whether she wants it or not

to substantively change the world in which rape and
nocide are a dominant form of relation.

How does she do it?

What can we learn about survivor skills and survivor support here?

Najeeba: t
he Mother

What can the resources and strategies that Najeeba, the mother and survivor

uses to
create sp
ace for herself and her daughter
, teach us?
What does her story ask us to
consider in terms of survivor support and intergenerational relationships impacted by

Uses Her Quieted V


During the attack

Najeeba feels her voice lite
rally leave her chest forever.

screamed so loudly that all the air left her lungs and she felt something

give from deep in
her throat.
She’d later realize that this wa
s her voice leaving her forever
” (18)

Because of this loss she can

only whisper

to her daughter.
When she names her
, she
whispers “w
ho fears death?” and acknowledges that her daughter will be the first person
to say her name in full voice.

The loss of her voice is a major problem

as people
make assumptions about her and ignore
or don’t listen closely enough to hear her
declarations, protests

and explanat
ions about her own experience.
“These people didn’t
want to know the truth,” she observes (28). Throughout the novel

the quieted voice of
the mother, which remains a whisper ev
en in moments of chastisement and anger,
highlights the impact of the daughter’s voice

which is always louder.


daughter until the age of six

in the desert alone, she hugs and kisses her daughter to
affirm her when she shouts. “This was how On
yesonwu learned to use her voic
e without
having ever heard one
” (29)

However, Najeeba’s voice also becomes more portable and
present, like an internal whisper or a truth on the wind

during Onye’s journey
across the desert.

The quieting of Najeeba
’s voice reminds us of ways that the voices of survivors often get
subsumed under the louder sounds of the fears of others, the knee
jerk denial of the
prevalence of sexual violence.

Does the quieting of Najeeba’s voice represent the forced silencing of

survivors in the mass media

use of the passive voice to describe rape?

If we take it as a reality that the voices of even the most outspoken survivors are

undervalued and drowned out in our society

how do we account for that
in our

processes as community?
What amplification needs
to happen?
What other noises

need to be quieted down?

How should co
survivors, family members of survivors

and allies to

survivors be mindful of the relative loudness of their own voices?

t is the power of a quiet voice, of the necessity of looking and listening? What

is the value of leaning in?

Another way that Najeeba uses her voice is by sharing the story of the rape with her
daughter when Onye is eleven years old.

She struggles aroun
d sharing something so
violent with someone so young, but she promised herself that she would share the
information with her daughter
as soon as it became relevant.
At eleven years of age it
becomes relevant because Onye begins to experience her supernatur
al powers and
Najeeba believes that information about her own experience of violence will be h


to Onye on her journey.
Najeeba also takes care to clarify the fact that even though in
their society children born from rape are doomed to be violent or t
hat “violence can only
beget more violence
” she knows the truth, that Onye’s dest
iny can be healing and


How can survivors face the difficult task of sharing their experience of

surviving sexual violence with those who they love, especial
ly children?

Does violence beget more violence? Can survivors of violence catalyze

violence into healing, love, transformation, vision, purpose, positive energy

or something else?

What does information about experiences of sexual violence offer to c

survivors who may not be conscious of the event?

What does it mean that Najeeba waits until Onye shows her superpowers
to share

the story? (A
nd even then Onye doesn’t feel ready to hear it

How do we know

when someone is ready to know about an expe
rience of violence or trauma in

their family or community?

What is the power of intergenerational sharing of traumatic, difficult

and violent


as well as resilience and survival stories?

raws On the Refuge of the D

After she is
rejected by her husband and has witnessed the destruction of her village,
ba takes refuge in the desert.
The desert is understood to be the ultimate wilderness

“because she was already dead
, she was not afraid.” F
rom her earlier journeys and
eats to pray with the other women
, s
he has learned

how to survive in the desert and
how to relate to the non
sticated animals in the desert.

She identifies with the Alusi,
desert wind spirits that travel through the desert and comprise an important leg
end in her

What does the desert represent for survivors?

Are there spaces, understood to be worthless by others, that serve as places

of strength for survivors?

If this journey and identification with the desert represent
the ways the

experiences of survivors are pushed to the margins, what is the magic of the

margins and how could it/should it influence those discourses, issues,

experience that have traditionally dominated the center?



and Onye’s ski
ll at navigating the desert suggests that survivors and co

survivors may develop skills that are crucial for survival more

How can

we value, affirm

and support the wisdom that survivors in our comm

especially at the edges of our



Her Creation of a Loving Chosen F

Najeeba moves to the village Jwahrir when Onye is six because she knows that her

daughter will need community.

The norms of the village are violent and oppressive in
many ways, but Najeeba choo
ses to m
ake them part of the community anyway.

chooses to partner with someone who

has been one of the few people to honor her
daughter for her brilliance as a person and not to judge her because of her “Ewu” status
(known status as a child of rap
; and


subverts the norms of patriarchy by
ng their home wearing all white. H
e is a respected man in the village but he
chooses to wear all white

which is a gesture of humil
ty usually only done by women in
their community.

What does
it mean to create family after sexual violence?

Are there particular practices in chosen family that can be healing for

survivors and their children?

Does a vision for a world healed from sexual violence require non

tionships to family?

How do we know when partnerships and family are sought for protection

patriarchal terms) and when they

are sought for empowerment and
healing? Can it

be both?

Her Support of Her Child’s D
fferences and A

When Onye first shares with her mother that she is going to engage in the dangerous
process of sorcerer init
ation after the death of her chosen father

Najeeba supports her
daughter’s decision by preparing her foods and teas that will sustain her and by
that her father would have approved of her decision to tap int
o her own magic
The only time that Onye hears her mother’s voice above a whisper is the
day that she comes home from her first and most strenuous training r
itual with he
mentor sorcerer.

When Onye makes the decision to cross the desert to confront her
biological father/the rapist
, Najeeba supports her decision

even though she knows she
may never see her again.


What does it mean to parent as
a survivor?
How ca
n we support our

children to grow and move in their power even though our trauma and fear

makes us want to protect them and keep them close?

How can we manage the different impact of the same violence on our

children? How can we support their

different processes for healing when they

look different from our own or too much

our own?

Her Own Super P

Later in the novel

we find out that Najeeba has
her own supernatural powers.
addition to b
eing a human woman,

she is a Kponyungo

or “firespitter
” a creature that
embodies heat

“it was the brilliant color of every shade of fire.” Often demonized as
like monsters, these creatures are part of the mytho
logy that Onye grows up with.
Najeeba is one of the onl
y people who speaks to Onye of these cre
atures as “kind
majestic beings
” (283)

Though Najeeba does not
directly share her firespitter

with Onye, at an important moment in the journey she appears to Onye as a Kponyungo
and Onye

as a shapeshifter

is able to
become a firespitter as well.
Onye and her mother
also have the power to “alu
” or fly high above the earth and across great expanses of
space in very short amounts of time. They fly to a land beyond the desert where there are
forests, a level
of green life that Onye

thought humans had destroyed.
This vision of a
place on earth with diverse plant life is crucial to Onye’s faith that her life and their
society can be different then they are now. Onye learns that it was her mother’s will that

her a girl and not a boy.
Her biological father tried to use sorcery during this rape
to create a son that w
ould help him destroy the Okeke
s, but the mother used her own
power to shape her daughter int
o a different type of warrior.

Onye later learns that
mother is planning to enter training in order to grow and develop her own powers.

How is it that the journeys and achievements of the children of survivors can

invite the superpowers of survivors to grow, to show up and to transform?

How does g
ender impact our relationships to power, healing

and the

legacies of violence in our families and communities?

Sometimes the power, brilliance

and insight of survivors

demonized as


hreat to the existing society.
How can we tangibly offer, bel
ieve in

and act based

on an alternate reality in order to help the fearful let go of the violent status quo?

What is our “fire”

ur i
nternal and external fierceness

and how can we share it

across generations?


Onye: t
he Daughter Co

What can

the resources and strategies that Onye turns to as the daughter of a rape
survivor, an oppressed person

and a target of a spectrum of sexually violent acts teach us
about survival, intergenerational accountability

and the future we deserve?

Trying to

Onye’s first survival attempt after she learns of her status as child of rap
e is an attempt at
conformity. Without her parent

permission and against their desire she participates in a
voluntary female circumcision rit
ual for

The ritual can only be
performed with the consent of the girls, and it is performed by

the elders of the
community (more on the ritual below
Onye participates in the ritual in an effort to
become recognized as

a normal girl in the community:

“I b
elieved that I could be

” (33)
While her experience of the ritual does give her a relationship with the
three other girls her age who participated

it also scars her body (her clitoris is removed
before she knows what it is) and leaves her and
the other girls cursed to suffer brutal pain
if they engage in se
xual activity before marriage.
She believe

that she needs to go
through this ritual to not be seen as dirty and to try to relieve some of the shame her
r experiences in the community.

rom Onye’s perspective

“I brought di
shonor to
my mother by existing
” (33)

Onye’s participation in the eleventh year rite is what allows
her biological father to find and torture her psycholo
gically across space.
Her m
other is
angry that she does it;

in t
he village where she is f
rom it is considered barbaric.
chosen father/stepfather is disappointed that she has tried

to conform out of insecurity.
For Onye

the acceptance of her parents
is not enough;

she craves respect and
acceptance from the larger c
ommunity and believes that she can only get it by sacrificing
her difference.

What rituals do we engage in
our society (supposedly of our own volition) as

desperate attempts to get the respect, rights

or recognition that we believe come

with normalcy? What specific impact does this have on those of us who are queer

and who may feel pressure to unqueer ourselves in order to gain community


When we harm ourselves, or allow others to harm us

in order to conform to

gender no
rms and other norms

how can we still affirm our healing?

What do we make of the

parallel between the danger that

Onye experiences

as a result of participating in the ritual and the tendency to criminalize

survivors for the survival actions they take,
or the mistakes or weighted

decisions we make out of trauma?


What do we make of the actions we subject ourselves to in order to try to

correct violence that someone else has enacted on us or on our loved ones?

What rituals of healing can we create f
or people who are seeking a connection to

community in the face of violence that do not cause more violence or punish


Builds C

The one positive outcome of the female circumcision ritual is that Onye

gains the


and friendship of the other
three girls in her age group.
They keep each other’s secrets
confidential and support
each other in difficult times.
These are the people that Onye’s
mother calls on to support her when she is not well.

These are the three you
ng women
that ultimately risk everything to journey with Onye to confront her father and to help
her achieve her purpose of intervening in the genocide.

How can we honor community even when we gain relationships in dubious


How do we buil
d com
munity across oppressions?

Onye’s friends share her

experience of gender oppression, but they oft
en say things that reveal their

and belief in stereotyp
es about her as an Ewu person.
Can we build community

with people who have internalized oppressi
ve beliefs and
practices that harm



Who are our fellow travellers?

Are they travelling with us because of a shared

n or because of circumstances?
Why are we travelling with them?

Connection to Animals, N
, and V

Early on

Onye shares that she has learned how to move quickly and to scratch at the
men who target her for sexual violence
because of her outcast status.

As early as age six
she describes needing to use the skills she learned from the desert cats to fend off older

men when she and her
mother relocate to the village.


after her training as a

she uses the wind in order to defend herself from a group of men attempting to
rape her.

What is there in the natural world that provide
s us lessons for our s


tools against an imposed norm of sexual violence?

What are ways we can learn to physically defend ourselves from violence?


Onye expresses her relationship with the desert
and with animals through song.
she is self
conscious of her

voice because she feels that she inherited it from her
biological father, her
mother encourages her to sing.
When she sings
, she attracts birds
from all over

the desert

come from near

and far to listen to her.

Her songs are how
she keeps the memories

that she has of her time in the desert before entering th
oppressive norms of society.
Throughout the text
, in order to build community and

create safe space for loved ones

she sings “a song I’d made up when I was happy and
free an
d five years old
” (53)

How can we use creativity, arts, music

and dance for healing and community


How can art, creativity, music, dance


provide us access to joy within

ourselves and remembered and envisioned freedoms? What songs, dances, art

would do that for you?

Does our creative work have a spiritual function beyond our own healing?

How can our access to our own creativity draw

the resources, relationships


possibilities that we need for our healing closer to us?

Onye also builds

community beyond her own species through song a
nd communication
with animals.
In the midst of her journey through the desert she and her frie
nds befriend
a group of camels.

Onye insists that the human travellers introduce themselves to the
s with res
She continues to communicate with the group of camels and they
provide companionship for the human travelers during the journey, but they also have
their autonomy and leave wh
en it suits their own journey.
Onye refuses to use the camels
as transporta
tion even though it would make the journey faster.

What is the role of animals in community practices of healing?

Do we need to reach beyond our own species for healing?

How do we respect the autonomy of animals beyond our own desires for them?

Leaves Her Body/Transforms Her B

Onye’s superpower makes her an “Eshu.”

Drawn from a god in the Yoruba cosmology


who is the messenger, the protector of travelers, a trickster and
shapeshifter, being an “Eshu” means that she can leave her bod
y and take on different
She can transform into the different animals and other creatures with

which she


comes into conta
Onye describes the experience thusly
: “I could escape.

When things
felt too tight, too close, I could r
etreat to the sky
” (58)

Many survivors and co
survivors respond to trauma by leaving their bodies

or not being

their bodies i
n particul
ar or multiple ways.

Is leaving the body more than a coping mechanism?

Could it be understood as a transfor
mative power?

Could it be recontextualized and practiced as a strategy for intentionally facing

difficult situations?

These experiences
give her contrast in relationship to her human form, and may have the
result of making her more present to her humanity when she is in human form. Onye
transforms into a vulture most often in the beginning, but as she develops her power she
also tries on t
he different experience of size, power

and time of a mouse, a lizard, a fly.

Could the experience of leaving our bo
dies be related to empathy?
Might we

intentionally use the mechanism of leaving ourselves as a practice of

clarifying our


and connecting to the experiences of others?

Onye sometimes meditates during difficult times.

She cries every time she m
experiences so much stress and holds so much tension on a daily basis that “when I let it
all g
o I literally cried with

” (69)

Can you relate to that?

As a survivor I intentionally practice becoming present to my own embodiment (through
dance and other superpowers) as

a daily practice.

How do you relate to your own body? Does the relationship change throughout

the day or based on different practices?

How can we empathize with each other across experience using our


Later in the novel Onye discovers a way to heal her clitoris and to reverse the effect the
initiation had of sexually disempowerin
g the
girls in her age group.
A lot of sexual drama
ensues in the teenage group after the healing and sometimes Onye feels responsible for
the sexual decisions of her peers when she disagrees with their practices.

How do we make our healing tangible?


are the connections between our emotional and psychic healing and


our physical bodies?

How can we support each other in reclaiming our bodies?

How can we honor each other’s embodied autonomy without causing harm

to our communities or individuals
in our communities?

How can we resist the internalized criminalization of each other’s bodies and

sexual practices?

*Builds Her S

Onye struggles against a gendered bias that says that girls cannot be trained in sorcery in
order to finally convinc
e a sexist sorcerer to train

her in the five mystic points.

teaches her the

term “bricoleur” which means “
one who uses all that he
has to do what
he has to do”


Onye builds her skills and learns to be in
relationship with nature,
the spirit

and spirits and creation, accompanied by her own specific gifts of
shapeshifting and singing

in order to be able to achieve her purpose.

What skills have you built? What is a time when you used what you do

something you needed to do?

What are

the particular gifts you bring to your community?

How can you

nurture those gifts
? How can we nurture each other’s

gifts and talents while

sharing skills in a non
ableist way?

How can building our talents and skills in collaboration with our communit

offer affirmation and healing?

What can give us the space to recognize and work on our own passions and


One of Onye’s skills is the ability to move between the worl
ds of the living and the dead.
She can perceive ancestors in her own ch
osen family and their spiritual presence in her

and she can also go into the “wilderness
” aka the place where the dead and magical
creatures live, to bring back knowledge or even to bring people or animals back to life.

What can we learn from Ony
e’s ability to move between the world of the living

and the world of the dead?

What is the relationship between death and other consequences of violence?


How can we intentionally draw on our ancestors for healing in our families and


How can we create practices in our families and communities that provide

healing for the suffering of our ancestors?

Another one of Onye’s powers is her ability to cause other people to see visions of things

that they have not witnessed.
In a moment of a

she causes the people gathered in
the market in her village to see the murder and rape that people in other villages are
experiencing because she is so frustrated about
their denial of the situation.

At another

she shows her age
mate friends th
e experience of her mother being assaulted in
order to invoke their empathy with their permission.

How can we bring understanding to people with different experiences when they

are in denial about violence within our communities?

How can we be witnes
ses for each other even when we did not physically

witness violence?

What are creative, healing

and transformative ways for us to share stories of

violence, resistance, resilience

and community responses that will move other

folks to action?

Onye s
s the legends in a text called The Great Book,

which is a standard socializing
text and a mythology drawn on by both the
Okeke and the Nuru.

Onye herself does not
believe in the book and remembers that it was created by people with their own
ns for telling hi
story/myth in particular ways.

she still reads the book
over and over again and develops her own critique of the way that the book normalizes
destructive norms about gender, race
, and sexuality.
She also believe
s that her actions
rewrite T
he Great Book, remove its curse

and provide liberation.

What are the standardizing texts that create norms in
our society?
How do those

overriding texts influence our movement communities?

Are there other so
called alternative texts in our communities that also have

a destructive normalizing impact?

Are there texts and bodies of work that create healing and bring us back to

presence in our movements?

How can we use text and critiques

of texts to build strategies for responding to


violence and


a shared world free from gendered and sexual violence?

Builds Trust and Love On Her Own T

A major resource for Onye is her relationship with her partner
, Mwita.
does not conform to patriarchal marriage and it is a source of mutual learning, support,
, and companionship.
The complicated thing is that the sorcerer who first
trained Mwita and then killed Mwita’s biological family is Onye’s biol
ogical father.

How do the connections we make in our communities weave and interweave?

What does it mean when those who have done us harm are intimately

involved in many ways with other p
eople close to us in community?

Does this

make healing justice

more or less likely? When and why?

How can people who have been harmed by the same conditions or the same

person ally

with each other as survivors?
What happens when different survivors

have different needs in terms of accountability or forgiveness?

*Confronts Her Own D

During Onye’s first and most strenuous training as a sorcerer
, she sees her own

The act of confronting her own death is designed to make her fearless, but it also
projects a sense of doom on her life and causes her pain

anticipation of her death.
may or may not be able to rewrite the conditions of her life and death.

What does our relationship to our own mortality offer us for healing and for


What does knowing that we are perishable and can be harmed off
er us in our

community processes?

What does the knowledge that
we will not physically live for
ever provide us in our

community processes?

Seeks Confrontation With the Rapist/F

Justice? Vengeance?

Ultimately Onye seeks a battle to death with
her father

who is the rapist of her mother
and also a genocidal leader.
What does this direct and psychic battle with the rapist, by
the daughter, mean?


s it for future generations to confront the violence of elders?

Are the co
survivors and

nerational survivors the ones with the skills

to transform and
end the violent behavior of elders?

ho could possibly hold this person, with what looks like supreme power,


iven the two endings of the stories

is there death and sacrifice for

fighting this

, a fragmented, dualized self? A

narrative break due to trauma?

Responding to C
hild Sexual Abuse and Incest: t
he Secondary Story?

Onye participates in the

female circumcision initiation r
ite for

girls entering
e meets a friend named Binta.
In the circle of the wom
en elders and her
fellow eleven
old initiates dedicated to the female god Ani, the girl confesses that

father repeatedly rapes her.
nd that she wants to kill him.
ile the girls are
surprised, the elders do not seem surprised. It turns out that the elder women have
known this all along and have waited for this ritual as
an opportunity to take action.
According to the tradition, after her initiation rite

Binta, the s
urvivor, is both a child and
an adult and her “words will finally m
atter” according to one elder.

their role
as young women in the community is complicated. The elder leading the ritual explains

You’ll become child and adult.
You w
ill be
powerless and powerful. You will be ignored
and heard” (37

The day after the ritual

the father is required to meet wi
th the elders of the

Binta does not know what happened in that session but she says
“afterwards he looked . . . brok

I think they whipped him
” (47)

Binta’s mother also
had to meet with the elders, and the parents and the children in the family were required
to have counseling for three years with “the Ada

the elder woman who also conducted

ion rite.

we learn that the Ada has als
o experienced sexual
As a young woman she was socially coerced to have sex with

a partner who
threatened her.

She ultimately became pregnant as a result and was forc
ed to give up her
twin babies.
response to the violence against her is to consent to the process of
female circumcision with a special added component that makes it painful for girls to
engage in sex before marriage
nsibly to try and protect their virginity.


in fact

this com
munity response, comprehensive, though belated, is not effective in
ending the violence. The father continues to rape the daughter, which becomes even
more painful because of the ritual

So, ultimately the community process imposes more
pain on the daughte
r and does not stop the
violent actions of the father.
In addition



community, now aware of the

violence, blames the victim.
Binta becomes known as “the
girl so beautiful her own father cannot resist her
” an act of discursive violence that

the violence she

is experiencing as if it is in
evitable and blames her for her
father’s actions.


Binta decides to leave the community, joining the journey of Onye across the
desert, but not
before she poisons her father.
She puts poison in h
is tea and watches him
drink it all on the da
y that she leaves the village.

She grins when she confides what she
has done to Onye. “He
had it coming," she says (167).

Binta is also the first person
to be
killed on their journey.
She dies while standing up
for Onye and demanding respect in a
crowd of Okeke people that has gathered to stone Onye and her partner bec
ause of their
mixed heritage.
Someone throws a brick at her head and kills her and for the rest of the
journey her adolescent fellow travellers see
k to honor her memory.

Why would elders who know that sexual abuse is happening within a family in

their community wait to confront the perpetrator?

The Ada responsible for th
is ritual is also a survivor.
What is the power of

led processes for communities?
What healing might elders need to

engage in, in order to be resources for community healing?

What happens when elders impose violence or force in order to try to stop the

traumas they experienced fr
om happening to other p
What do we do when

elders project their trauma onto their community work?

What rituals and forms of sup
port are necessary for change?
What rituals prioritize

the status quo over safety, healing

and transformation for survivors and


Does leaving a perpetrator “broken” help them to transform or not?

What dangers do survivors face when they are forced to leave their communities,

or even when they see it as the best choice to end the violence?

What does violence by a survivor m
ean when a community process has failed?

How do we create a space for survivors of child sexual abuse and incest beyond



Woman o
n the Edge of Time

The Fifth Sacred Thing
: Two White, Feminist


ias with
Interesting Ideas and A
lso Problems

Leah Lakshmi Piepzna

When I was a kid, I got into feminist utopic science fiction because I wanted to run the
fuck away from a violent, unsafe house. And I did. I would go dreamily into books that
depicted l
oving, safe, multiracial futures where rape and family violence were unknown.
As an adult, twenty years later, I return to those texts that have shaped my searching for
alternate forms of justice with an appreciative eye and critical eye.

Woman on the
Edge of Time

by Marge Piercy,
The Fifth Sacred Thing

by Starhawk,
two anarchist feminist utopic/dystopic novels written by white, Jewish, anarchist feminist
writers, almost twenty years apart, that I read obsessively from my teens on. I like thes
books because they're realistic and imperfect models of dealing with sexual abuse and
intimate violence

without cops that are also hella concrete. They are also

filtered through the white racial lenses of their authors. Both Piercy and Starha
wk are
e, Jewish ciswomen, one working
class, one middle
class, who write multi
futures through the lens

of their white feminism. This lens, and the ways they do and do
t advance anti
racism, undoubted
ly affect

how they can imagine justice in
the dream
world to come.

Here’s my examination of how both of them grapple with how to create systems of
justice and
safety without cops or prisons

what’s amazing and what I have questions

Woman on the Edge of Time
’s P
tical, Queer, A
ist V

White, Jewish working
class anarchist feminist writer Marge Piercy wrote
Woman on the
Edge of Time
in 1976.

We enter the future through

Consuelo, the main character,
Chicana living in poverty in 1970s New York who has been criminalized by the
interlocking forces of
prison industrial complex, welfare

and the mental health
system. Her daughter has been seized by the foster care system and her parental rights
ed, she’s done time in prison for shoplifting to get above the poverty line, and she
has struggled with sexual violence and the violence of the welfare system and the State.
Imprisoned in a state mental hospital for much of the boo
k, she is not, however

she doesn't see alternate visions of reality or identify as cognitively different.

in general,
Woman on the Edge of Time

depicts most folks who are in the psych ward
as not crazy, but oppressed, in keeping with a wave of psych survivor/mental p
liberation movement organizing of the late 70s
which was awesome in being clear about
how many people were locked up due to being oppressed trauma survivors, but left out
the reality that some of our brains an
d spirits really are different

es painfully



Before and after her latest psychiatric incarceration, Conseulo begins to be able to make
contact with Luciente, a person (female assigned, Latina/Native appearing

and arguably
genderqueer) who lives in the year 2137

in a socially jus
t future brought about by a
protracted, armed, global revolutionary struggle. Connie begins to visit this future, and
we learn about it through her eyes. As the doctors in the psych ward enlist Connie in an
experimental psychosurge
ry program funded by the
state Department of H
ealth and the
Department of Corrections to control the brains of the broke, mostly of color, queer
patients of the hospital, she begins to also be able to travel

to a dystopic possible future,
introducing the idea of time

as a continuu
m of possibility

that what we do today affects
the possibilities of the future.

Some Things About the Potential Future Piercy Imagines (Because It’ll Help Us
Have Context for the Justice System She I

In 1976, movements for mass liberation
turning to armed struggle

ente accepts. The war goes on

and it's armed. The vision is of a global,
armed struggle against the enemy, y
et nonviolent with each other

struggle is in
the flesh, in practice.

Piercy brings her current rea
lity of armed movements for national liberation in

Vietnam, Latin America, Africa,

and North America together with a quee
polyamorous vision of family
making (she has written about her own
nonmonagamous bisexuality), her move to live rurally (Mattapoiset
t is based on
the Cape, where she moved and started intensively gardening and working the
land in the 70s with her chosen family of lovers)

and her non
liberal femini
and history of work in both b
lack civil rights and attempting to be a part of

movements that were multiracial and working

y's working
class feminism always brings a pragmatic realism to all of her
writing. "There was a thirty
year war that culminated in a revolution that set up
what we had. Or else there wasn't, a

we don't exist," says Luciente, while also
saying, "[Revolution] . . .

is everyone who changed the way people bought food,
raised children, went to school



. who made new unions, withheld rent, refused
to go to wars, wrote

and educated and made speec
" (198)

In Luciente's positive future, people live in small communities, not cities, th
strive to be "ownfed"

able to feed themselves. Everyone has their own personal
space, but shares common space for eating, cooking, work, and celebration.

People are super queer, gender
queer and poly. There is no legal marriage.


Race and culture have been split. And no one gives birth.

me explain: t
he people have created a humani
stic technology where no female
assigned people give birth

babies gestate i
n a "brooder" and are delivered to
three co
mothers (who may be of any gende

And the link between race and
culture has been severed. Each village has a different assigned culture (we hear
that the village Cranberry is a "Harlem/Black flavor village”; Lu
's village

Mattapoisett are "Wamapnoag

Bee, one of Luciente's lovers, explains, "A grandcil

grand council

decision was
made 40 years before to breed a high proportion of dark
skinned people, and to
mix the genes well through the population

the same time, we decided to hold
onto separate gender identities. But we broke the connection between genes and
culture, broke it forever. We want there to be no chance of racism ever again. But
we don't want the melting pot where everyone ends up with t
hin gruel. We want
diversity, beca
use strangeness breeds richness
" (104

So, Piercy is arguing that cultural difference and people's belief that
differences are
genetic is the birthplace

, the
eason why racism exists

not capitalism, colonialism, Christian supremacy, etc.

This is a h
mmmmmn moment for me. One that
I just thought of as “interesting”
when I was 12 and first read about it. Currently, I don’t think that racism began
because of people freaking out over

but over people creating
mythologies around difference to justify them grabbing wealth and resources and
power. Is this a place where Piercy’s feminism is a white one? The concept of
“breeding more dark skinned people” in some ways reminds me
of forced
reproduction during slavery, even though the context is different.

About the choice to split childbearing from female
assigned biology, Luciente
explains, "It was part of women's long revolution



. Finally there was one thing
we had to give up

too, the only power we ever had, in exchange for no more
power for anyone. The original production: the power to give birth. Cause as long
as we were biologically enchained, we'd never be equal. And males would never be
be loving and tender.
That's why we all have three mother
s. To
break the nuclear bonding
" (105)

(It's unclear how birth control between people
with ovaries

and people with sperm happens.

Genderwise, there's a diversity of genders

one male
assigned character wears a
there's a mixture of forms of beauty, but less hard cissexist gendered
differences. People use "per/person" as a

pronoun. (And it's
amazing to think of the struggle to argue for gender neutral

pronouns in


feminist/lesbian science fiction in
the 70s
early 90s, where in contemporary North
American queer and trans populations the pronouns they, ze, or asking someone
which pronoun they use has caught on.)

Piercy's vision is arguable an anarchist one. Power is shared. People

ake decisions
h a spokescouncil/
nsensus decision
making process. Government officials are
very regional, and aren't elected but chosen by lot

except for the Earth Advocate or
Animal Advocate, who are chosen by dream. The chosen
lot regional council meets
for a year
, then leaves, so power does not concentrate. There is overarching coordination
but no centralized control. People chan
ge their names as they want to.

There is no
central computer, FBI or government ap
aratus tracking everyone.

OK, Now That You Have Some
Background, Here’s the Transformative Justice

The judicial system is similarly decentralized? decolonized? anarchist? feminist? Piercy
Woman on the Edge of Time

in 1976, but the justice system she imagined pre
much experimenting and thinking into restorative or transformative justice today, almost
40 years later. We first glimpse it during a "worming"

less a trial than a community
mediation, called by Lucie
nte and Bolivar

(Luciente's lover

Jackrabbit's other

because of the

jealousy between them that's creating tension and drama within the
community. How I wish we had a structure like that to deal with some of the polyamory
stress in my and other's

Parra, the “referee” for this worming, explains the structure:


I'm people's judge for Mouth of Mattapoisett this yea
r, and tonight I'm
.’ [Ed:
Note that Parra says they are the judge "that


power is passed on so it

y and stagnate.]

Luciente and Bolivar have not been communing. Meshing badly. Sparks and bumps.
Tonight we try to comprehend that hostility and see if we can diffuse it.

Aren't people

allowed to dislike each other?’

Not good when they're in the same

core. Jackrabbit is close to both. Such bumping
strains per. They compete for Jackrabbit's attent. They are picky towards each other's
ways. We have critted them for it before, but matters lift only briefly.
hen they crit each

it does not hold up under scrutiny as honest

but self serving,’

Parra smiled


This system hangs on the idea t
hat the community is precious.

It also feels like Piercy is
saying that many "crimes" might be prevented by having a working system to dea
l with
intercommunity tensions.

Parra is not a judge but

refers to themself as a "refer
ee": "Here to make sure the group
crits each justly.
I can point ou

injustice. Watch for other tensions that may surface,
clouding the issues, weighting the reaction.
Someone not fr
om this village must play

e "frowns at this short, plump [Ed note: and Chicana]

woman who

herself a



. younger than her and no more im
posing, surely
" (208)

Parra, however, is also more: they "act in case of injury." She explains to Connie that if
Connie stole
, that most people don't have much private property

"Likely, I'd
give you what you asked. But if you did take something, everyone would give yo
presents. We'd think you were speaking to us

feelings of neglect and feelings of
poverty. We'd try and make you feel good


If Connie hurt someone, "like rape and murder and beating
someone up

Parra explains
that everyone is trained in

and to respect each other

. She has never
heard of a case of rape. She compares it to cannibalism in how it seems extremely
horrifying to her.

Connie is disbelieving, "Nobody ever takes a knife to anybody? No lover's quarrels? No
Don't hand me that." Her voice is "brassy with skepticism


coming from a slightly earlier passage where she tries to imagine what it's like to live in a
culture where sexual violence and gender violence simply d

not exist, and has
a very
difficult time doing so

one that is full of grief for the sexual assaults she has survived.

Parra explains, "Assault, murder, we still have. Not as common as they say it was in your
time. But it happens.

People get angry and strike out."

The process when

that happens? First, "we ask if person acted intentionally or not


person wants to take responsibility for the act." If they say they didn't know what they
were doing, "We work on healing. We try to help so that never again will person do a
thing person doesn't mean to do." Again, violence is seen as a mental/spiritual

When Connie asks, "Suppose I say I'm not sick. I punched him in
he face because he
had it coming, and I'm glad." Parra replies, "Then you work out a sentence. Maybe exile,
remote labor. Sheepherding. Life on shipboard. Spac
e service. Sometimes
people who have crossed the l
ine of mutual respect into harm],

cook good ideas about


how to atone. You could put in for an exp
eriment or something dangerous
" (209)

rra continues to explain, "The crosser, their victim and the judge work
out. If the
crosser has killed,

a "mem" [
part of the person who w
as killed's close chosen family]

negotiates. If the person says they didn't do it, by lot, someone is picked to investigate.
When the inves
igator t
nks the crosser has been found, we hav
e a trial. Our laws are
simple [Ed: what are they? how created?]

and w
e don't need lawyers. The jury [Ed: how
picked? by lot?]

decides. A sentence is negotiated by all parties.”

Parra explains, however, "The second time someone uses violence, we give up.
We don't
want to watch each other or to imprison each other. We aren't willing to live with people
who choose to use violence. We execute them."

This has always fascinated me. It is s

real and prag
matic. It does not pretend that with a
just society where

everyone has enough, where Black, Brown and Indigenous people are
not locked up in prisons to make money, where there is no gender injustice, where
queerness is completely accepted, that no violence will occur. It also holds an
understanding of a society'
s limited capacity, while also committing to values that no one
will be police; there will be no prisons.

urrently in transformative justice

work, one of the most common places we struggle is
over capacity. We struggle with working with people who have
perpetrated violence or
harm in transforming because it can be fucking hard, exhausting work. We all hav
e jobs
and kids and illnesses.
We believe in transformation, but we also know that the road is
not straight. Shit happens. People get tired.

This choi
ce also leads the mind to think, is this “two strikes
ou’re out” death
penalty a deterre
nt to violence and harm? Knowing that if one kills twice, one will die
This is something that propone
nts of the death penalty have argued for a while. How is it
ifferent in a small, radically democratic society with no frozen systems of power in

There are also many questions I am fascinated by
, but

which Pierc
y doesn’t talk about.
Who kills that two
time murderer? How are they killed? Where are they buried
? How are
they collectively remembered? What happens to the people who were close to and loved

I can believe that rape and child sexu
al abuse are almost gone in the almost five

generations that
Woman on the Edge of Time

Mattapoisett exists in, but

I want to know
more about how they got there, and I want to know more about what concretely
happens. I have a hard time believing that sexual assault and intimate violence are so rare
that Parra has almost never heard of them

and I want to know what she w
ould do to


judge a case where they had. However, in lookin
g at the worming, even if Pierc
y didn't


mean it as such, I wonder

could this prevent intimate violence from
ing, this working out of the poly jealousy between Luciente and
Bolivar? How does
st knowing there is a community
based structure in place to work out said tensions
help prevent them from building to a fever pitch in the first place?

Finally, later on in the book, we see and interact with someone who has committed a

crime of violence

Waclaw, a visitor with a small tattoo on his palm, which marks those
who have created a crime of violence. Connie asks Luciente, "He's a criminal, isn't he. I
saw a

tattoo," and Luciente responds instantly, "Not anymore. He atoned." When

presses her for more information, Luciente says, "Don't know what person did to atone.
Ask, if you must, but we usual
ly don't. We feel it's closed

healed. Forget!" (273)

There is a mark, but they consider it closed. Memory, and yet not. What woul
d the
knowledge created and held by that healed person who perpetrated violence add to the
collective knowledge of a people?

The Fifth Sacred Thing:
Berkeley, With N
o Fossil Fuels, But A Lot of
Nonviolence, and Some Exile

The Fifth Sacred Thing
imagined future inhabits a time and place much closer in time and
space to our pr
esent one. It’s the year 2050

two generations ahead, not five. It also
depends much more o
n chaos.
Published in 1993, the mass global movements for armed
national liberation o
f Piercy's 1970s are in transition, have been defeated or do not exist
in the same way. However, anarchist

feminist, radical environmentalism, radical queers
and the "multicultural heaven" of

the San Francisco Bay Area do,
as well as new
movements like th
e Zapatistas (who aren't

anywhere in the goddamn book . . .
but maybe
it was 1994 when they declared war against Mexico and I stormed into a bank
somewhere near Bryant Park and stuffed the ATMs with stock market sheets smeared
with red paint to look like b
lood to protest Wells Fargo’s support of

the Mexican
government. Oh, 19
old me

It's also a future shaped by Starhawk's identification
and strong involvement with nonviolence as a political orientation. There is little armed
resistance by the forces
of social justice in this book; what there is is frowned upon.

There is much more pre
millennial tension in her book. Much more of a se
nse that the
earth is fucked up;

fundamentalist Christianity has risen and, combined with globalized
multinational corpo

a huge threat. AIDS has made the threat of superplagues
real. The revolution that gives birth to the liberated Bay Area of
The Fifth Sacred Thing

does not come fro
m a unified global armed resista
nce of Global South and First World
nations; in f
act, it's nonviolent, and believes that the enemy can be transformed from
within, should they choose it. This is one vi
sion of transformative justice

that people
make choices, and those who choose to be violent can choose to transform if they are



in this believe.

Instead, when the shit goes down

when drought, plagues

and a giant earthquake
devastate California in 2028 and The Stewards, a far right wing political/fundamentalist
Christian force, cancel the elections and decla
re martial law, back
ed up by mi
litary force
and attempts

to commandeer food stockpiles

"Las Cuatro Viejas

four old women
who live in Bernal Heights (and who seem to be white, Latina, Chinese and Black) march
out into the middle of Cesar Chavez Avenue in the Mission and star
t smashing up the
pavement, planting seeds. The people unite around them, barricade the highways, and
live through a hard winter. The Stewards choose not to attack, but try to starve them out.
And then, for whatever reason, the Stewards leave these nice Ba
y Area people, in their
isolated liberated zone, alone for twenty years (except for the occasional human
plague) and they have a cha
nce to build a liberated zone.
Fossil fuel is almost gone, it's
hard to grow enough food, water has become an incred
ibly precious resource that many
do not have, and things like f
lying airplanes have vanished

so the Stewards concentrate
their efforts on LA and the South. It's unknown in the book what the hell is happening
in the rest of Nort
h America, as all communicati
on has

been jammed by the Stewards.

We learn about the North's systems for dealing with rape, incest, violence and harm
when Madrone, one of the main characters, a younger queer Black, Latina and
Indigenous ciswoman healer born and raised in the City (the

Bay Area) of the liberated
North, goes to the South on a mission to support the resistance there and meets up with
(and i
s sheltered by) a crew of upper
class white wome
n who have a sort of upper
class whitelady fe
minist lunch resistance club (sarc
asm intended
. Like many
white, class

liberal feminists, they're trying, they hate the system, and their
racism and classism really hold

them back from making alliances.

When they ask her how the North deals with rape and child molestation

(in contrast to
Woman on the Edge of Time
, murder and stealing aren’t mentioned at all), Madron
e has a
clear/much more fleshed
out answer (one that, unlike in Mattapoisett, does not begin
with the assumption that such things simply don't exist anymore):

"We don't have th
e kind of social isolation that breeds [childhood sexual abuse].

We have
a lot of different kinds of families. Some of us grow up in big collectives, like I did. Some
are in extended families, with aunts and uncles and cousins and grandpar
ents; some in
small nuclear families. But we make sure


no family is isolated. The Neighborhood
Councils form support groups of people from different kinds
of households and

to give different p
erspectives. So every kid has
dozen aunt
ies and
uncles from the time they're tiny. They're encouraged to talk about things, to ask for
help, to protect themselves. And we train all our children, early on, in
, both
boys and girls. Oh, I've read a lot about incest and child abuse, but

we don't have the
climate of secrecy and shame that lets it go on for any length of time. I'm not saying it


never happens, but

nothing supports it

[emphasis mine].

The same with rape. Our men
aren't raised to believe they have the right to rape. In fact,
we consider it the most
shameful, d
egraded thing a man could do"

. [Ed n
ote: men are seen as the only
people who are rapists, it
's not a multigendered universe

When a woman asks what happens if rape does happen, Madrone replies that “Everyone
in his family would talk to the person who raped and tell them how s
hocked and horrible
they feel

along with


friends and lovers,

work guild,

rhood Council

maybe even the whole City Council.” There is an

social conse
people openly and clearly lose respect for the rapist. "He wouldn't be
welcome in anybody's house, or work group, or to eat with anybody."

There is a lot that is and has been immediately appealing to me and many other survivors
of rape in this set

up. Ins
tead of the current status quo

where no one talks about rape
openly, no one confronts the rapist, and there are no
immediate social consequences

something happens, al

Rape is not punished by an organized judiciary system

per se, and is seen as a mental
health/spiritual health issue: "The mind healers might take him in if he wanted to get
better, but it would take him

years to regain people's trust
" (277)

Again, there is a sense
that choosing to rape has broken people's t
rust, and that this is a consequence. In a
community where the community is sacred and interdependent and where everyone
knows your business, this is a big deal. Madrone continues, "Maybe he'd have to go off
to live with the Wild Boar People, the ones who
can't fit into society."

The Wild Boar People are interesting. Referred to in passing, they rarely speak for
themselves, but seem to be a last bastion of those who, as Madrone says, can't fit into the
liberated society’s rules. This seems to include folks

who have been violent. They are

Madrone also explains that they have no police: "We find it's better not to assign that role
to any one group of people. For one thing, they generally aren't around when you need
them, and for another, they tend to

abuse their power." Instead, everyone gets advanc

and conflict de
escalation training. Madrone describes an incident where
someone was being "banished to go live with the Wild Boar People
" where ten people
managed to restrain a man who was

fighting and yelling, put him on a fire truck, where,
she guesses, someone takes him to the Sonoma Hills, where the Wild Boar Peo
ple live by
hunting feral pigs.

So we have several values and systems operating here:


revention through the conscious creat
ion of a social structure that actively
teaches pleasure and consent

and where rape is not part

of the social package of

a cisgendered male.


social structure where people are not socially isolated, where a social value is
encouraging everyone to talk about things that often would be consid
ered secret
(i.e., rape and abuse

A society that values autonomous response, where people are raised to
empowered to respond right away to violence or harm, and have both self defense
and de
scalation strategies to do it.
Madrone says, without hesitation, when a
woman asks her, since the City is nonviolent, if one maniac with a laser rifle could
take o
ver the city, "No. Somebody would stop them. People would stop them
together, even if some

of them got killed doing it."

A culture where there is an organized, if not legisla
ted, response when rape
happens; it is

of immediate social consequence.

And, fin
ally: exile. For

either a rapist is social
ly exiled

no one from their work
guild or

household with sit with them

or isolated in a more extreme fashion, by
being sent to live with the Wild Boar People.

And one wonders:
how do those exiled people make a li
ving, eat, vote

or take
place in the social organization of the City while these things happen? At what
point does the perpetrator of harm earn the trust back? What do they have to do
to earn that trust? Does the news go out on the Net then,

that they have earned it

How do the Wild Boar People govern themselves? What are their
communities like? Nowhere do we get to hear them speak for themselves.

All of these elements raise questions:

What happens when someone

as surely someone would

ontests that what
they did isn't really rape or abuse? That they have been falsely accused?

What do race, class, ability and gender have to do with crime and
harm in the
City? Are there for real no factors affecting

who is believed, who is criminalized?
There’s this reference to “a dreadlocked fi
gure in the Wild Boar People”
’s corner
of the city Council. Could be a white dread, could be a Black person. The fact that
this isn’t broken down feels suspect to me.

The Fifth Sacred Thing

offers a multiracial, P
OC majority future where everyone
eaks English, Spanish, and Sign

but wh
ere the main characters' people


color elders have all died, and where the multiracial grandchildren refer to race as
an "outdated concept
" but where Starhawk presents fairly ster
eotypical points of
view o
f POC cultures.
An early scene depicting
Council meeting is particularly
worthy, as she depicts Native communities wearing basketry hats and
undifferentiated Asian communities wearing silks or Mao style jacke
ts. I mean, thi
might happen

some POC might choose these styles post a decolonial
revolutionary process, but what about blue jeans or fitteds? What about hip
culture (it's 1993, three years before Tupac is murdered)

or any other
kind of
youth of color culture?

ough the clarity of Madro
ne's response

that there are direct and immediate

social consequences for rape

was very comforting to me as a 19 year old whose
sexual assaults had not had any social consequences for the people w
ho had
perpetrated harm to me,
as a

37 year old who has witnessed many incidences of
sexual assault, unconsensual sex and intimate violence/shitty relationships within
my com
munities, I have big questions.

Such as:
yes, there should be consequences for someone who rapes. But

if they
are to transform, and their community has completely written them off, where is
the firm support that will support them t
o transform? (See Hollow Water’s
Community Holistic Circle Healers model.)

Do the Wild Boar People just sit in the hills rais
ing pigs and being stinky

they’re dead?



the d

is r

adrienne maree b

ursula le guin is a s
ubtle and gifted

so far i have read nearly

of her
books and stories, and i

would recommend every single one of them, for different
the dispossessed
, her 1974 novel about utopia, is required reading. le guin explores
freedom, humanity, justice and imagination through the lens of a brilliant scientist named
shevek living
on an anarchist moon.

when i

first read the dispossessed, it felt like a 341
page first kiss from a new beloved. le
guin uses imaginati
on to take us into a
fully functional

anarchist society, letting u
s see it
from multiple angles:
education, justice,
housing, food, relationships, work, health,
government, individual creativity

and discovery. it
’s visionary;

it assumes that some
group of humans succeeds in manifesting our visions

shared power, peace, and
equality. in this novel

we can understand wh
at works, where the challenges are, and how
it compares to a capitalist utopia.

it's a huge education on wh
at anarchism actually means

world without
the s
without hierarchy, without the centering of the self, without the capitalist practice of self
promotion and human competition. it doesn't feel like the education it is, until you finish
it and realize you have been deeply challenged to rethink how you are living.


even as le guin shows us a capitalist utopia (the planet around which the an
moon orbits)

it is from the perspective of an anarchist society, and i
t is done with a
gentle touch

of course luxury and personal

accolades feel good;

this doesn't mean it's
the healthiest way for humans to be. we need to imagine viable alternativ
es to capitalism,
to luxury.

part of the reason i

read science fiction passionately, geekily
, and studiously

is because I
want to learn how humans generate imagination and vision. i have been part of
movements trying to improve the world my entire conscio
us life, and i have noticed that
we have a massive deficit of imagination in that work.

we are skilled at critiquing, analyzing, deconstructing, memorizing, reiterating,
omplaining about and hating on
the system

(capitalism), the people who hold power in

system, those complicit in it, and

of course

ourselves. and these are imp
ortant skills, in
their place:
they help us to share a whole complex picture, lay the
foundation for strategy,
vent . . .
sometimes articulating the problems helps us to su
e to work another day.
but i

have this longing for audacious visions and dreams that move us forward, that
titillate and incite and guide us through and around and above the current systems.


particularly when it comes to the aspects of our
life that

can challenge us on a personal
level, such as interpersonal justice. le guin gives us a powerful reimagining of justice
through a simple tale of sh
evek being pulled into a fight

a petty thing. the fight goes on
until it's done, and no one intervenes. the
relationship to violence in this
imagined future
is neither fear

nor obsession, so no one stops to watch,
and no one


the fight. the
assumption is that people are powerful, not victims, and only need help if they ask for it.
since shevek doesn't call
out for help, the conflict is left to be completed by the two

this feels somewhat more realistic to me than a vision of total peace, or at least a step
along the journey towards peace. humans get frustrated and angry with each other. this

of a society in which violence is not interesting is fascinating. a vision of a world
where everyone is seen in their power and full emotional breadth c
reates a yearning in

want that world to be true.

i find i

am not inspired by reformist visions of

how we can make capitalism a little nice
or less lethal, or greener. i

want revolutionary visions about how we are going to realize
the promise of our miraculous reasoning evolving existence.


want you to read this book with your whol
e heart and your
curiosity, so i

won't reveal
more than this now. but read the novel as a love note, as an inspiration, as a specifi
c set
of guidelines for how to


the only way to deal with an unfree existence is to become so absolutely free that your

xistence is an act of rebellion”

albert camus
this book is an
exploration of that
deeper self
liberation. don't wait to unlock the gates, cages, doors

and windows and
experience the uniquely human freedom that we each have the potential to practice an

ok? read it!

butler and emergent strategy

“all that you touch, you change. all that you change, changes you. the only lasting truth is
change. god is change.”

octavia b
utler was a black science fiction writer, a hermit recluse, a tall
woman with a voice like a ceremonial drum poured through scotch, and a genius.

for the past couple of years the allied media community has been

building a shared
analysis of b
utler's science fiction writing. we knew

through casual
, late


, that her work was impacting

us very
seriously on a personal level

but we
wanted to explore ho
w we could apply her wisdom on the level of

al organizing

at the same time, some of us were geeking out learning about emergence and
science theories that seemed to really capture the approaches we were using in our
political work.

emergence is the way complex systems and patterns arise out of a multiplicity of
relatively simple interactions. rather than laying out big strategic
plans for our work,
many of us have been coming together in community, in authentic relationships, and
seeing what emerges from our conversations, visions

and needs.

we knew that we were seeing deeper commitment and radical transformation in this
ty work, but how could we articulate it as being strategic?

we were reminded that


is a word of military origin, and refers to a plan of
action designed to achieve a particular goal. the fact that many of us were using a military
definition in o
rder to achieve an evolution in humanity was both ridiculous and
illuminating. that alone
was a driver for some redefinition
. it was also a little funny that
we have been saying strategic like it

s a subjective thing, a sign of good. it simply means
ing that is
planned towards a goal. it can be an inflexible






haphazard plan towards a goal and still be strategic, technically




we needed to be able to get more specific in what we meant, what we
wanted, and how
we could measure our progress.

we also had experiential reasons for

thinking a change was needed

many of us had been
in meetings where we developed goals and laid out a plan of action, only to find

by the
next meeting

that the conditions

had changed and


what we thought was strategic
wasn't going to work anymore. sometimes we d
idn't realize we weren't being strategic

until after we'd invested tons of precious human and material resources.

could we redefine strategy, or claim it as
something deep
er than a plan of action toward a

something that acknowledged the constantly changing conditions of our complex


with new definitions and shared understandings, could we begin to develop strategic
minds, rather than strateg
ic plans?

as we w
ere learning together, and

to bridge towards those folks still doing
strategic planning and campaign
based organizing, we saw that we needed a


language and a process to speak about doing work that is strategic because i
t accepts the
emergent power of changing conditions.

fortunately, butler's work is basically one case study after another about leaders who are
using emergent strategy in post
apocalyptic conditions that are completely relevant to our
work right now. the
most successful strategies in her books are those where the
themselves shift conditions (
are caught in shifting conditions)

that allow
new possibilities for saving and growing healthy

liberated communities.

instead of
being stuck in outdate
d plans, b
utler's characters are constantly emerging new

are only possible because of relationship, being present, being able to
communicate about what is happening and changing, being able to acknowledge when
things aren't working.

here a
re some ex
amples of emergent strategy in b
utler's work. her writing is hard to spoil,
but if you haven't read any of it, the

may be some spoilers in these next few paragraphs.

in the

parable of the sower

parable of the talents

we follow a young

black woman,
lauren, who creates a new survival and spiritual path for humanity
in the midst of a
radical right
wing apocalypse. lauren forms an intentional community

embodies her
philosophies around embracing change and redefining

the purpose of humanity. when it
s attacked by the radical right
wing, lauren has to devise a new strategy. she is holding a
spiritual and philosophical vision, not just a political one, and ends up going door
door to share her philosophies


one p
erson at a time. this story is particularly
relevant to consider in a movement culture that is often engaged in institution building.
do we understand the philosophy we are trying to advance, and are we flexible enough to
embody and prioritize that philoso

regardless of structure? in these books, emergent
strategies include relationship
building, seeing each and every person as a potential
revolutionary or ally, and focusing on spreading ideas and redefining human purpose, as
to institution


(published collectively

lilith's brood

is the ultimate emergence
collection, including three novels. the lead character, lilith, wakes up all alone in an alien
world, and becomes a leader in the process of evolving h
umanity by integrating with
another species. as she goes through the process of figuring out her survival, it becomes
more and more clear that the alien oankali have power and they are the ones integrating
her, and other humans, into their existence. lilit
h has an immense capacity for grief, loss
and being alone, having lost her family on earth before the apocalypse happened. the
emergent strategies in this collection are lilith's learning and adaptation based o
n what
she's already survived

having survived
makes her the strongest possible next leader.

this echoes one of the principles of the allied media community: “the most effective


strategies for us are the ones that work in situations of scarce resources and intersecting
systems of oppression because th
ose solutions tend to be the most holistic and

perhaps most relevant to us in movements to transcend capitalism is the strategy that
brings the downfall of the evil
, seemingly
immortal body snatcher

, in the four

series. doro's daughter


is able to conquer him by working with a full
interconnected network of his children, telepaths who have developed the capacity to
flow all of their smaller

energies together to bring down one massive


and de
adly opponent.
doro underestimates them because he cannot even
understand what they are doing. the emergent strategy here is col
lective organizing with

doro lost because he couldn’t be a part of the collective or the whole. the other

was clear underst
anding of the necessary roles

understanding the nodes

could connect the network, and those who had enough energy to be drawn upon.

in the next two books of the series, this liberated network of telepaths evolves into

oppressing non
lepathic humans, whom they call “mutes,”
and battling a new human
hybrid species created by an alien disease. the new species
becomes a revolutionary force in the wild, an organic force that primarily exists in their

not their minds. as the conditions change,

what is most radical changes

we have
to be vigilant not to ignore how fear, dominance

and superiority
even our best
work and intentions



thinking th
ough these examples

and many others from butl
er's work, we can define
emergent strategy as intentional, strong

because it is decentralized, adaptive,
interdependent, and creating more possibilities. bringing emergent strategy to our
organizing means we become creators of our future together.

are not limited to how things have been done in the past

in terms of how we share
leadership, how we manage interpersonal justice, how we make decisions, how we grow
our work. even our smallest acts of integrity grow our collective capacity to live our
sions into reality.

the juxtaposition of b
utler's work and this learning has created an exciting space in which
we can reimagine organizational development, strategic planning

and movement