SPECIAL EDITORIAL / AWESOME CREATORS EDITION:: "RENDERING THE OLD MODEL OBSOLETE" : 100,000 POETS FOR CHANGE
“history is a living weapon in yr hand
& you have imagined it, it is thus that you
“find out for yourself”
history is the dream of what can be, it is
the relation between things in a continuum
what you find out for yourself is what you select
out of an infinite sea of possibility
no one can inhabit yr world
yet it is not lonely,
the ground of imagination is fearlessness
discourse is video tape of a movie of a shadow play
but the puppets are in yr hand
your counters in a multidimensional chess
which is divination
the war that matters is the war against the imagination
all other wars are subsumed in it.”
– Diane DiPrima, RANT
“The Opportunity of Our Lifetime: To cultivate the emergence of a new economic system, gradually displacing failing structures and systems and redefining the purpose of finance and the economy — shifting from a mindset of ‘every-man-for-himself’ to the realization that real security comes from community: from sharing not greed, from partnership not domination.“
– Michelle Long, Executive Director of BALLE (Business Alliance for Local Living Economies), at SOCAP 2012
For this special
As creators we hold in our hearts, our hands, and our practice the key to unifying disparate cultures now perhaps more than at any previous point in our history.
Every day we choose to create we align with the human lineage, transcending difference and returning to the place of phenomenological-rational response that is unique to our species: that which has inspired us from our earliest days to make, so that we might know ourselves, our worlds, and each other.
An Austrailian Aboriginal nomadic tribe, self-defining as “The Real People” defines “express your own creativity” as the first in their list of responsibilities for all humans, explaining that “each individual sees things through his own set of circumstances, and so has a unique expression to offer the world.” In their view, “creativity includes the arts, but is not limited to that, nor is painting, composing, or writing in any way more significant than the creative measures taken to comfort someone in distress, to bring order to conflict or chaos, or to tell a child a story.” Creativity is a primary human instinct employed to express emotion, to heighten and challenge understanding, to communicate, and to heal.
Their other “thou shalts” include “realise that you are accountable,” “mature emotionally,” and “learn self-discipline,” as well as “entertain” and “indulge in music” — prescriptions that hold us responsible to ourselves, our “tribe,” and our planet, and which understand creative and social practice as not only natural but essential in the establishment and sustenance of our world.
Perhaps, as Frank Sabatte recently expressed [in an interview for a previous Awesome Creators profile, on OPENINGS collective], creative work is the most essential work we can do with our lives — and in that work we are able to access the highest possibilities in ourselves.
And perhaps, we’ve too easily taken on the social framework that suggests art making is secondary or “extracurricular,” without questioning how, why, and when it was defined as such — how it, and we, became “other” than the (prescribed) “norm.”
For, perhaps, it is precisely in the act of this making that we return to the place of alignment with a greater system of checks and balances than the institutional systems of power that be. And this is dangerous, the most threatening alignment in existence.
In the US — and in other countries where financial imperialism still reigns supreme – we’re watching the systematic dismantling of public funding to arts and education. This makes us angry, but it should not make us surprised: for it in in these practices that a the human populace comes to feel its power, rendering any other obsolete. It is in these practices that humans, stripped of labels, come to know we are the same, to love our selves and each other — and, by natural extension, the beautiful, ineffable, astounding environment in which we live.
In aligning, we wish to be good to each other, and to nature — a stance anathema to systems that operate along principles of difference and abuse, that rightly discern that we, creators, will wish for (and work towards) change, if encouraged. Not only are they not going to encourage us, they’re going to try to tear us out by the root by taking away systemic support of these practices. And this is frustrating, but it should also excite you.
Why? Because THEY ARE SCARED OF US. And for good reason.
Let their fear embolden you.
And let us take (while we still have such open access to the internet, ahem) this opportunity to align:
We ARE an “intentional community,” for we are a community of intention. We are makers; we share the intention to question, learn, create, translate, and re/present for greater understanding. We are all connected, and using the tools technology puts in our hands, we can share this making more than ever before in history.
If there is a creative movement today that exemplifies this vision in purpose and in deed, it is that of 100,000 Poets for Change – which is why we could not be more excited to announce our alignment with them, moving forward.
Beginning today with our introduction to this incredible organization — and its tireless founders, Michael Rothenberg and Terri Carrion — we will begin an ongoing weekly series in which you will be introduced to the awesome creators from every corner of the earth who are coming together to align through creative practice under this humble mantle.
If this series strives to profile individuals and organizations committed to modeling the use of creative agency — in particular integrating new media practices with traditional/local community building — then 100TPC should be our model. And yet, they cannot do it alone — none of us can. Which is why we built Exit Strata — so you can continue doing the work, and we can celebrate that work, and connect you all to each other, so we can share tools and stories (and grow STRONG!)
Talk about leveling up! In their first year, 100TPC boasted 700 Events in 550 Cities in 95 Countries, taking place simultaneously on September 24, 2011. Why don’t you read that sentence again. Ok, are you with me? Right.
100 Thousand Poets for Change was initially conceived by Michael Rothenberg and Terri Carrion in March, 2011. Literary event organizers volunteered to host associated events in their own cities or schools. On September 13, 2011 the city of Santa Rosa, California declared September 24, 2011 to be “100 Thousand Poets for Change Day, and Stanford University offered to archive all documentation and audiovisual records of the event posted on the 100TPC web site. The event was described as the largest poetry event in history. Considering the series of events to be a success, Rothenberg and co-founder Terri Carrion decided to pursue non-profit status for 100 Thousand Poets for Change and establish an annual event in September of each year.
In 2012, “100 Thousand Poets for Change Day” took place on September 29, and was scheduled in co-ordination with “100 Thousand Musicians for Change Day,” a new initiative from 100TPC. The precise number of events, cities, and countries for this year remains to be tallied, but suffice it to say it was a staggering, astounding success.
A little history
100 Thousand Poets for Change, aka 100TPC, is an international grassroots educational organization focusing on the arts, especially poetry, music, and the literary arts. But like so many such organizations, it began with one person “sitting at [his] computer up here in the woods of Northern California,” feeling like it was time for a change, and deciding to do something about it.
In an interview with local organizer Lisa Vihos, for Verse Wisconsin, Michael Rotherberg describes how in the midst of the international groundswell of populist organizing (though still before Occupy),
“it seemed the message was clear but still everyone went back to doing whatever they were doing. Business as usual. There was the Arab Spring; there was Madison. There were some good things happening, signs of hope, but I was really down. Did we need more major disasters to prove that things had to change? I mean, the Gulf oil disaster was the worst environmental disaster in the history of the United States, where was the outrage?”
Rothenberg remembers, around this time, saying to someone on Facebook, “‘there ought to be 100 thousand poets for change,’ and the person [saying] ‘that’s a good idea,'” which became “almost like a challenge.” Though “the chance of getting poets engaged really seemed hopeless,” he said to himself, “okay one more challenge. I’m gonna put down the gauntlet,” and set up an event page on Facebook which read, “Do you want to join other poets around the USA and across the planet in a demonstration/celebration of poetry to promote serious social, environmental, and political change?” to which he invited all his Facebook friends.
He also notes that he “honest to God didn’t think anybody was going to respond.” …but guess what?
The response was “almost immediate.”
Since his expectations had been low, Rothenberg went the extra mile, asking friends and colleagues, acquaintances to spread the word on and offline, a process that might appear “pretty random.” He explains, however, that “ff you’re an activist, you have to post your message every place you can get away with it. You can’t discriminate where you put things. You can’t be too polite.”
But it’s not about a lack of kindness — it’s more of a guerrilla tactic, as well as one wherein you are taking on the m.o. of those you’re up against. He makes a good point, explaining how “you know, the media, corporations, and advertisers aren’t very polite in getting our attention,” and that, furthermore, “in a protest, a lot of the normal rules don’t apply.”
By the very nature of the act of 100TPC as that of protest Rotherberg felt it was necessary to adopt these strategies, as in such work one is “not trying to use the normal information flow, the restricted and conventional flow. You are interrupting the normal flow.” Since “protest arises out of an emergency,” you are making a noticeable break with things-as-they-are. You are saying, “Have I got your attention yet?”
As a result, almost as soon as he posted the invitation online, Rothenberg had 10 offers from organizers worldwide. By the time it came to organize for the second annual event, the “reality of Occupy had helped change the paradigm of public protest and participation,” but in the first cycle, relying on largely word of mouth, within just a few months there were poets in 300 cities in 60 countries, more or less, signed on to participate in 100 Thousand Poets for Change… and it continued to grow from there.
What kind of CHANGE are we talking about?
Rothenberg answers this question in a feature for Pirene’s Fountain, which we gratefully reproduce with permission, below:
“The first order of change is for poets, writers, artists, anybody, to actually get together to create and perform, educate and demonstrate, simultaneously, with other communities around the world. This will change how we see our local community and the global community. We have all become incredibly alienated in recent years. We hardly know our neighbors down the street let alone our creative allies who live and share our concerns in other countries. We need to feel this kind of global solidarity. I think it will be empowering.”
“And of course there is the political/social change that many of us are talking about these days. There is trouble in the world. Wars, ecocide, the lack of affordable medical care, racism, the list goes on. We are only asking that local organize events about change within the guidelines of peace and sustainability.”
“It appears that transformation towards a more sustainable world is a major concern and could be a global guiding principle for this event. Peace also seems to be a common cause. War is not sustainable. There is an increasing sense that we need to move forward and stop moving backwards. But I am trying not to be dogmatic. I am hoping that together we can develop our ideas of the “change/transformation” we are looking for as a group, and that each community group will decide their own specific area of focus for change for their particular event.”
As you might have guessed, having read the above, from the first conversations between Michael and myself it was clear without a doubt that we, and our organizations, are simpatico.
In responding to my initial offer to create a bridge between our purposes, and not yet being familiar with Exit Strata, he described an experience that I’ve heard recounted many times by exhausted, overcommitted creatives — that he fields many offers for “help,” but that both non profits and publications offer a trojan horse of sorts: publicity in exchange for yet more labor, which for a struggling organization (or person) already stretched thin in time and resources can prove to be a self-defeating (or impossible) task.
What makes this relationship work — and why Exit Strata is different — is that our entire philosophy is grounded in making it easier for artists and creative organizations, nor harder. We are committed to creating a collective space and network for dialogue, process work, announcements, and collaborative endeavors, which supercedes an individual pressure to produce individual blogs or other ongoing online work, a growing pressure for creative people in this new digital landscape. By clarifying and streamlining our roles, by sharing resources, everyone benefits. There could not be a more deserving or appropriate organization to model how this ongoing partnership can work than 100TPC, and we are thrilled to do everything we can to support their work.
We share another, essential purpose — and intend, together, to work to dispel the common misperception: that somehow by going digital/global you are becoming not local/impersonal — as, in fact, it is quite the opposite. What 100TPC and Exit Strata seek to model is the use of digital tools to connect/establish a networked community of shared intention and purpose, in a way that eliminates geographic boundaries and divisory labels. In turn, this enables and empowers individuals and groups on the local/personal level to flourish and thrive, now relying on a scale of pooled resources, relationships, dialogue, and visibility that was heretofore impossible to acheive.
FUTURE SO BRIGHT YOU HAVE TO WEAR SHADES
Corny, but true. And we like sunglasses.
To begin with, we’ll be highlighting organizers and events, sharing footage, feedback, and future plans — any and all of which we invite you, the community, to comment on and get involved in. In the coming weeks we’ll be featuring Pilar Rodriguez Aranda (Mexico), Nana Nestoros (Greece), Menka Shivdasani (India), Pina Piccolo-Bologna (Italy), Edwin Eriata Oribhabor Oribhabor-Abuja (Nigeria), and a little closer to home, Larissa Shmailo (Feminists In Low Cut Blouses), co-organizer with Ron Kolm (Unbearables) in NYC, as well as Lee Ballinger, who is also a Musicians for Change organizer, in Los Angeles.
ARE YOU EXCITED YET?
100TPC exemplifies how a movement built around the non-competitive sharing of resources and open, collaborative tribal building helps us grow and create lasting change. Ultimately, reminds us that we have more power together than apart.
I’ll leave you with some words from Terri Carrion, in a recent interview with Kirpal Gordon, from the Giant Steps Press blog. She’s singing our CoCo song! We love Michael and Terri, and 100TPC, and we’re so happy to have them here. You should be, too.
“Making art or expressing your reality creatively, whether through writing poetry or taking photographs orsinging a song or doing a dance, was pretty much the same to me. I find it hard when artists separate themselves into these “disciplines” for the sake of specialization and career. I think it creates a stagnant and predictable arts culture if people aren’t mixing it up and learning from each other more often. I remember a fellow MFA student who was working on a novel saying to me that he didn’t like poetry at all. I couldn’t believe that as a writer, he felt this way. It was really disappointing to me. And I thought, Wow, he shouldn’t even be a writer if this is how he feels! As far as 100TPC, there is a lot more collaboration and interaction going
on between the artists involved. Overall, I think they get it a lot more in other countries that musicians and poets and painters, etc. are supposed to work together. They understand that it’s natural to do this. It definitely makes me feel better to see it happen. And hopefully, being able to interact with artists like this through 100TPC will help artists in this country want to expand their creative horizons. That is part of the idea, anyway, to create a more interconnected and diverse global arts community.”
Over the course of the series we hope you are inspired to get involved, and we at Exit Strata are committed to giving you a springboard to help enable you to use your creativity to change not only your life, and your world. Get in touch! We’re here for you… and so is 100TPC.
And just case you’re really in the spirit, here’s a song that was written in celebration of this year’s 100TPC by Canadian musician Robert Priest: (lyrics and chord progression available at the artist’s Soundcloud page)
Peace be upon you by Robert Priest
Check out the next installment of this inspiring series!
100,000 Poets for Change :: Greece :: with organizer Nana Nestoros
Editor’s Note: in a publication committed to process dialogue, I find that it is essential to keep the fourth wall down, because our work is your work, too — like 100TPC’s Michael Rothenberg and Terri Carrion, Exit Strata’s editorial team are creative people who decided, “enough already,” and took it into our own hands. And boy is it the time for it! Creative people are hungry for tools and support in using those tools to change their lives and their communities — locally AND globally.
Which means that people like Michael and I are on the phone on days like today nearly with tears in our eyes facing the best problems in the world: too many amazing people to support, poets from all over the world sending reports of these incredible, groundbreaking, heartfelt efforts… that neither of us can afford to dedicate all our time to, nor hire help in fielding and archiving these essential, potentially game-shifting correspondences.
Which is why now, more than ever, all of us need your help. 100TPC ran a successful kickstarter campaign in the support of events at their headquarters, but have long since depleted those resources, and Exit Strata is in a similar boat. We are also very much in need of volunteers both in person and virtual, so please contact me at email@example.com if you are able to help!
You can support 100TPC on their page via direct donation HERE
and you can support Exit Strata, and our efforts in support of organizations like 100TPC, and creators everywhere, via Fractured Atlas! every little bit means a great deal. THANK YOU!
THANK YOU, FAMILY. WE BELIEVE!