Reflections on the Wilds Beyond Climate Justice by the strange foursome that stewarded it
May the spirit of Henry Ford be thoroughly infused with our smelliest, most noxious flatulence so that all peoples who live with his legacy may only know him by his stink.
Global solidarity? Nah. Global SILLY-darity.
It’s time to fart this place up.
We’re tired of liberation becoming another form of work, another source of suffering, burn-out, and heartbreak. You with us?
Smells like shit nowadays, huh?
Global silly-darity is a storm of toddlers disrupting the serious conversations that the adults are having. It is a rare creature that manifests from spirits and forces coalescing in the right moment mixed with a teaspoon of good design and a pinch of technology. A form of organizing that makes no sense. It makes perfect sense. It is offensive, ridiculous, and it is magical.
Our small team got the chance to experience a high moment of global silly-darity two years ago when we organized the audacious online encounter The Wilds Beyond Climate Justice. WBCJ was a vision seeded by a question from Bayo Akomolafe: “What if climate collapse is not a problem to be solved, but a barely-heard invitation to die well and fail creatively?”. This seed was sown within a larger field of collective inquiry, asynchronistic ritual, and trans-local exchange that The Emergence Network had been tilling for a while with pop ups, communal exchanges and collective visioning practices.
It was watered by Karen’s excitement to do something creative with the ashes of her former life as a climate activist, by Owolabi’s excruciating tinkywinky, Aerin’s enthusiasm for online gatherings invoking participation of our bodies, hearts, hands and imaginations in unexpected ways, and Alex’s experiments with weird noises on the internet. “Part ceremony, part workshop, part arts project,” this worldwide gathering brought together artists, activists, grandmothers, Afrofuturists, healers, dreamers, and people in search of how to live well in these times. We cried, created, envisioned, raged, played, sang. We lit fires and breathed in our own stank.
Why silly-darity? Cuz being productive and perfect leads to nowhere interesting. Most solutions being marketed today are stale and crusty with the eye gunk of old and young white men who don’t dream at night. Silliness creates openings precisely because it’s ridiculous, demanding creativity and improvisation. As we question the solutions coming from today’s collective consciousness, we turn to the silly. Silliness says you can fuck it up from the get go. Assume you’ll fail and fail spectacularly so you can get over yourself enough to enjoy the journey.
Silliness is cool but silly-darity is cooler. Silly-darity happens between people. It evokes trust, safety, and vulnerability. These lead to more silliness. We brought our whole-ass hearts to the planning process and invited folks from around the world to do the same.
It was hard in the beginning and it stayed hard for months. Hard questions were asked. Emails from frustrated people were received. The impossibility of the task made us a bit more courageous– zero dollars in the budget and no cohesive team to speak of. On top of that flimsy cake, a layer of sweet terror reminded everyone that sometimes collaboration can taste like shit. And then the winds shifted, the dust settled, and there we were, four of us enmeshed in an incredible network of volunteers, donors, visionaries and supporters. Along the way, trust and wackiness grew in the spaces between.
In this process we discovered that we didn’t have to kowtow to hegemonic ideas around professionalism and appearances. On a team planning call, Alex shared his delight around being invited to express his whole self, inner weirdo included! ¡Viva your inner weirdos! ¡Viva tinkywinky! ¡Viva!
And if you are now convinced that silly-darity is cool… just imagine silly-darity on a planetary scale! What started as a modest goal to organize a four-day conference with a few sessions per day turned into a six-day convening with 1200 people from 54 countries, 55 live sessions, and a subterranean network of connections (amongst humans and more-than-human entities) over which we had no control.
The Wilds Beyond Climate Justice was a swirling platter of different responses to big problems. We told the session leaders not to offer lectures, because lectures are boring. Instead, we made friends with the plant world, connected with the light and dark of our ancestors, built altars, played Zoom Tag, wrote futuristic sci-fi, and explored our relationship with the world that exists outside of language. We encouraged our session leaders to feel free enough to try something they had never done before and some of them did so with beautiful results.
There’s something about playing together that just might cut across differing belief systems and worldviews. Like our clowning workshop where clowns from India, Vietnam, the UK, Argentina, Mexico, and Canada shared surprising shenanigans aboard the red-nosed Zoom train, laughing together ‘til we were rolling on the floor.
We didn’t escape the normal shit, of course. “Why are these white women taking up so much space?” “Should our terms of justice be defined by people of color from the USA?” What does silly-darity teach about designing an equitable conference? We have no friggin clue.
Against all odds, after six days of non-stop Zoom, we gathered around our virtual-yet-real fire for our closing ceremony, intoxicated by the week’s magic. Good vibes emanated from our experiences: we played, took risks, made mistakes, and inquired why these missteps happened; we created new pathways together. We sang the song we co-created in the song-writing workshop, accompanied by grief-and-rage-beings we sketched at the start of the week. The presenters were uplifted and witnessed by a global community of weirdos.
Silly-darity is a gesture towards decolonizing our activisms. Silly-darity is cultivating a freedom and clarity so that our inner experience is not defined by our identities as oppressors, rebels, colonized, or colonizers. The call to form relationships and acknowledge relationships with the other-than-human may appear silly or frivolous to those rooted in the dominant paradigms (both the ones in mainstream society and the ones that pervade lefty activism) but the need for new paradigms requires incomprehensibility and risk.
Unfortunately, too much of what passes for “justice work” is boringly serious or corrupted by fundraising demands of million-dollar not-for-profit organizations or the milquetoast ineffectuality of the Democratic Party. We can sit next to each other for years in meetings and never have an energetic exchange, feel vulnerable with each other, or let each other glimpse our needs and desires.
These creative conversations we call silly-darity were born out of a hunger that contemporary Westernized ways of gathering cannot fill. These aren’t attempts to escape reckoning with colonization, slavery, genocide, and the destruction of local and global ecosystems. Silly-darity takes problems seriously…and stands them on their head… to reach new vantage points. It’s an attempt to blow up the space and create cracks and confetti explosions for a vast range of responses related to living on this ailing earth.
This silly is not about “playing” merely to act like a fool, or even to just have fun with each other. We play with each other like improvisers at a jam session—responding not just to scripted melodies, but to the tensions and hungers arising from those assembled and what is needed in the moment. Our attitude of being attuned to each other and honoring the skills we each brought was infectious; participants from around the world riffed on the melodies we co-created.
Many of the people who met during the Wilds have stayed in touch, become great friends and have even their own weird experiments which continue to reverberate across and beyond borders. Silly-darity is an echo of collective energy. The word was called into being by this serious issue of Geez Magazine themed around “global solidarity.“ Silly-darity may or may not ever appear again. It may wind up being a bunch of bullshit, horse shit, fertilizer, compost.
Owolabi shitted out his portion of the text while a patient at Detroit’s Henry Ford Hospital. The struggle to find healing inside an institution dedicated to a global capitalist Nazi caused immense gaseous contradictions to escape his thin African frame.
May your farts be pure and deadly to your enemies. May laughter shake you in the midst of grim.