One I Watch: adrienne maree brown

emergent strategy

adrienne maree brown is a futurist and science-fiction scholar, a doula (for actual human babies, not books!) and a facilitator. She’s also a prolific writer, with regular appearances at the feminist playground that is Bitch magazine–here’s one of my favorite essays there–while her social media streams are a riot and a joy.

Once upon a time we overlapped in the San Francisco Bay Area, while she was fiercely leading the Ruckus Society and I was not yet what I am today. I remember us in a dear mutual friend’s living room with plates full of hippie food balanced on our knees.

The image above is the cover of her new book, Emergent Strategy. Not to should you, but you really should read it, because there’s such an abundance of beauty and wisdom I’m hard pressed to make selections, but here are a few:

‘Emergence is the way complex systems and patterns arise out of a multiplicity of relatively simple interactions.’ It is another way of speaking about the connective tissue of all that exists—the way, the Tao, the force, change, God/dess, life. Birds flocking, cells splitting, funghi whispering underground. Emergence emphasizes critical connections over critical mass, building authentic relationships, listening with all the senses of the body and the mind. With our gift of human reasoning, we have tried to control or overcome the emergent processes that are our own nature, the processes of the planet we live on, and the universe we call home. The result is crisis at each scale we are aware of, from our deepest inner moral sensibilities to the collective scale of climate and planetary health and beyond, to our species in relation to space and time.

The crisis is everywhere, massive massive massive. And we are small.

But emergence notices the way small actions and connections create complex systems, patterns that become ecosystems and societies. Emergence is our inheritance as a part of this universe; it is how we change. Emergent strategy is how we intentionally change in ways that grow our capacity to embody the just and liberated worlds we long for.


If love were the central practice of a new generation of organizers and spiritual leaders, it would have a massive impact on what was considered organizing. If the goal was to increase the love, rather than winning or dominating a constant opponent, I think we could actually imagine liberation from constant oppression. We would suddenly be seeing everything we do, everyone we meet, not through the tactical eyes of war, but through eyes of love. We would see that there’s no such thing as a blank canvas, an empty land, or a new idea—but everywhere there is complex, ancient, fertile ground full of potential.

We would organize with the perspective that there is wisdom and experience and amazing story in the communities we love, and instead of starting up new ideas/organizations all the time, we would want to listen, support, collaborate, merge, and grow through fusion, not competition.

We would understand that the strength of our movement is in the strength of our relationships, which could only be measured by their depth. Scaling up would mean going deeper, being more vulnerable and more empathetic.


My dream is a movement with such deep trust that we move as a murmuration, the way groups of starlings billow, dive, spin, dance collectively through the air—to avoid predators, and, it also seems, to pass time in the most beautiful way possible…Here’s how it works: each creature is tuned in to its neighbors, the creatures right around it in the formation. This might be the birds on either side, or the six fish in each direction. There is a right relationship, a right distance between them—too close and they crash, too far away and they can’t feel the micro-adaptations of the other bodies. Each creature is shifting direction, speed, and proximity based on the information of the other creatures’ bodies. There is a deep trust in this: to life because the birds around you are lifting, to live based on your collective real-time adaptations. In this way thousands of birds or fish or bees can move together, each empowered with basic rules and a vision to live. Imagine our movements cultivating this type of trust and depth with each other, having strategic flocking in our playbooks.









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