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By Alexis Pauline Gumbs
Not many people are turning to black feminist texts from the 1970s as their major strategy for addressing the current climate crisis we are facing, but why not? During the 1970s the OPEC embargo caused an oil shortage in the US, and now we are in the midst of a temporary “oil glut,” after peak oil, but both periods in recent history cause us to ask the question: how do we create sustainable energy that doesn’t destroy our environment? I believe that black women know something about energy. About how to keep energy circulating where everything tries to shut it down. About the energy that makes all life possible whether it is recognized or (usually) not.
There is work by Audre Lorde, the members of the Combahee River Collective and the Salsa Soul Sisters, the Sisterhood of Black Single Mothers, the Third World Women’s Alliance, and many others that could offer us a 1970s black feminist understanding of what matters and what energizes, all of which would be relevant to the social and economic energy crisis we are facing today. But June Jordan addressed it very specifically in a never-before published talk she gave at UC Berkeley in 1977 at a conference about children’s literature. (June Jordan’s first publication was in the field of children’s literature and she continued to be an important voice in children’s literature and young adult literature throughout her career. She was also a frequent reviewer of children’s literature for the New York Times.)
June Jordan’s solution to whatever energy crisis you are facing, whether it is the impact of fracking, the unfair division of labor in our homes and on our campuses, or the overwhelming amount of energy that it takes to process the highly visible violence against black bodies at this time, is only three words. “Love is lifeforce.”
In her essay “The Creative Spirit and Children’s Literature,” which is now in print for the first time ever in the anthology Revolutionary Mothering: Love on the Front Lines, June Jordan explains what she understands as the responsibility of adults to the children of the planet, the barriers to honest intergenerational relationships, and the sacred work of nurturing children with food, safety, and space to be the sincere creative beings that they are. But before that, in order to do all of that, she lays out her theory of life, and love and energy. I’ll say it again because I say it every day: “Love is lifeforce.”
Is it the science fiction we need? Is it theology? Is thermodynamics? I think it may be all of these things. And I find this concept so useful and necessary at this time that, in addition to working to have it in print and accessible this year (and hopefully for many years to come), I have also distilled the way that June Jordan articulates this simple and revolutionary theory into a manifesta, a declaration. Say it out loud, if not every day, at least today. If not in a group of people, at least with your mirror, and recalibrate your energy today! As we travel on the Revolutionary Mothering Book Tour, we are offering intergenerational “Love is Lifeforce Workshops” where we apply this aspects of June Jordan’s wisdom to our everyday lives and our relationships with each other. I hope to see you at a workshop sometime soon. Since after she lays out her theory of love as lifeforce, June Jordan simply says, “That is what I believe,” this manifesta distillation (below) of her powerful theory is called (in poetic collaboration with the Black Panther Party 10 Point Platform) What We Believe: Love Made Manifest.
What We Believe:
Love Made Manifest
Distilled from June Jordan’s “The Creative Spirit and Children’s Literature”
Love is lifeforce.
Love is all that supports life.
We run on love.
The creative spirit of the universe exists in each of us and is infinitely greater than any one of us.
The creative spirit is as much as process depending on our receptivity as it is a process depending on our willful conjuring up.
Other lives look to us for usable clues to the positive excitement of just being alive.
Within us there is an orderliness, a perpetual inclination to grow, to become manifest from an invisible beginning.
We are about the task of survival for ourselves and for those who may carry what we offer to them into their own lives.
Love is a serious and tender concern to respect the nature and the spontaneous purpose of other things and people.
Love will manifest a peaceable order among us such that fear, conflict, competition, waste and environmental sacrifice will have no place.
We have to make love powerful.
Love is lifeforce.
We run on love.
Alexis Pauline Gumbs is a queer black troublemaker, a black feminist love evangelist, a prayer poet priestess and has a PhD in English, African and African-American Studies, and Women and Gender Studies from Duke University. Alexis was the first scholar to research the Audre Lorde Papers at Spelman College, the June Jordan Papers at Harvard University, and the Lucille Clifton Papers at Emory University, and she is currently on tour with her interactive oracle project “The Lorde Concordance,” a series of ritual mobilizing the life and work of Audre Lorde as a dynamic sacred text. Alexis has also published widely on Caribbean Women’s Literature with a special interest in Dionne Brand. Her scholarly work is published in Obsidian, Symbiosis, Macomere, The Routledge Companion to Anglophone Literature, SIGNS, Feminist Collections, The Black Imagination, Mothering and Hip Hop Culture, The Business of Black Power and more. Alexis is the author of an acclaimed collection of poems 101 Things That Are Not True About the Most Famous Black Women Alive and poetic work published in Kweli, Vinyl, Backbone, Everyday Genius, Turning Wheel, UNFold, Makeshift and more. She has several books in progress including a book of poems, Good Hair Gone Forever, a scholarly monograph on diaspora and the maternal, and an educational resource called the School of Our Lorde. She is also the co-editor of a forthcoming edited collection on legacies of radical mothering called This Bridge Called My Baby. Alexis is the founder of Brilliance Remastered, a service to help visionary underrepresented graduate students stay connected to purpose, passion, and community, co-founder of the Mobile Homecoming Project, a national experiential archive amplifying generations of Black LGBTQ Brilliance, and the community school Eternal Summer of the Black Feminist Mind. Alexis was named one of UTNE Reader’s 50 Visionaries Transforming the World in 2009, was awarded a Too Sexy for 501-C3 trophy in 2011, and is one of the Advocate’s top 40 under 40 features in 2012.