My beloved friend Krishna–who first introduced me to Born in Flames, the 1983 feminist science fiction film by Lizzie Borden–asked me to be on a panel on the film in the Samen Tegen Racisme (Together Against Racism) series, Pakhuis de Zwijger, November 20, 2020. I appeared together with Gina Lafour, Shishani Vranckx, and moderator Manjit Krishna Kaur. Here’s the text of my talk, which was about the film, Adrienne Maree Brown’s thoughts on emergent strategy, and my reading of Ursula K. Le Guin’s Tao Te Ching. See the video here
I came here to talk about mice.
Krishna asked me to talk about where I see myself in this movie—which characters I identify with. And I thought of the part where Flo Kennedy—who was an impressive feminist lawyer in real life and here plays the mastermind behind the revolution—is talking about action and power. She says, “What would you rather see come through the door: One lion, unified? Or 500 mice? You know, 500 mice can do a lot of damage.”
At one time I would have tried to name one of the heroes. But the truth is, I’m a mouse.
I’m a mouse in a pattern of mice, a multitude of mice. Mice get things done. Patterns make things happen. In the terms of Emergent Strategy, by the Black feminist activist Adrienne Maree Brown, mice are emergent. Their actions are linked to the actions of other mice; they join together to make intersectional links of community and persistence. They adapt, they’re resilient, they’re resourceful. They chew on stuff.
They’re also hyper-intelligent, pan-dimensional beings who created the Earth in order to answer the ultimate question of life, the universe, and everything—because let’s not forget that we’re in the realm of science fiction. And that’s where we need to be. As Brown says, “Science fiction is a way to practice the future together.”
When I volunteer for the Women’s March, together with others, I’m a mouse. When I show up for Black lives, for Black queer and trans lives, standing on the Museumplein, holding up a sign, I’m a mouse. When I help an American register to vote, I’m a mouse. One such act is nothing. Many such acts—that’s everything.
If 500 mice can disrupt what’s there, they can also create what’s not there. Brown asks, “What are the ideas that liberate all of us? The more people that collaborate on that ideation, the more that people will be served by the resulting world(s).” I’m there for the collaboration of the mice.
Lately, the last couple of weeks, I’ve been checking the news. I get up every morning and I say, “Is he still there? Is that fog that settled over America ever going to lift?” And a couple of days ago I thought, No. This fog of untruth is the new climate. I have to learn to live with it, and I can probably learn a lot about that from other people, the ones who’ve always been lied to about their freedom.
How do you find your way in a fog? You focus on critical connections. You help each other survive and thrive. Intersectionality puts you at a crossroads: You can move toward each other, offer assistance where needed, check your privilege. Look for patterns for the many, for the mice, the ones who are, as Audre Lorde said, “seeking a now that can breed futures.”
Seeds are the future. You may not know where you’re heading, but when you get there, be ready to plant yourself and grow.
Roads are the future. Colson Whitehead writes that the Underground Railroad, the escape route from white supremacy, is built at the same time that it’s being used, by the people who travel through it and the allies who maintain the rails. “Who are you after you finish something this magnificent?” he asks. “In constructing it you have also journeyed through it, to the other side.”
Somebody once asked the science fiction writer Ursula K. Le Guin what she would do to save the world. She answered that since she didn’t actually have that kind of superpower, she would go on doing what she’d always done. She would write novels and worry.
I think that’s the mouse way. You do your work, and worry, and survive. Water wears down mountains. Mice waylay the plans of men. Le Guin preferred the way of water; she believed in patience and flowing around the obstacles.
Me, I’m here for chewing up important documents, nesting in the cabinets, doing my little bit to save the world.