Are you tired of hearing about “good allies” yet? Me too.
When we are in sacred relation we don’t doubt that we are infinitely connected to one another, and we shouldn’t doubt the safety of being our full selves. The term allies has migrated from political spaces and into herbal descriptions of plants. I don’t knock this trend, but I do think there’s an opening here to consider the positionality of our plant kin within a human centered society if we’re going to use organizing language that’s also being co-opted by the same people who uphold the status quo.
Plants aren’t just our allies -- they are comrades, co-conspirators, and accomplices. They’re up against the same colonial ideologies and extractive industries of cis-white-hetero-patriarchal-capitalist domination that we seek freedom from. They’re on the battlefields with us. Plants have always been at the front lines of change and they’re waiting for all of us to re-learn their language so that we can listen to their visionary insights.
I’ve been thinking about this for many years now and I finally said this out loud in class while teaching Revolutionary Plant Power two winters ago in collaboration with Murmurs Permaculture Initiative. It was a wondrous space and we moved through imagination, grief, and collective power all in the spirit of care throughout the great changes we’re all experiencing. Grief came up as our main teacher so together we made an elixir of hawthorn rose and motherwort to nourish our heart space. Connection is our best medicine.
Love truly expands our imagination of what's possible. It’s the heart space that bravely moves us into inspired action. And it’s also only through the portal of our heart space that we can listen to and communicate with the spirit of plants.
If you’ve forgotten how to do this, you can reach back in your lineage and I promise you there were ancestors who knew how to listen.
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I grew up drinking tazas of cafecito with my abuelita Gloria from a super young age that probably most Americans would frown upon. But till this day I have a strong affinity with coffee. It warms my heart and soul. My body memory associates it with late morning chats with my abuelita as we lounge near the kitchen window in an aging tenement. She’s gone from this earth plane now but coffee time was one sweet memory I kept going.
It didn’t take long for my love of coffee and its association to be transformed from joyous connection into an addiction that then became characterized by pushing my body to perform under academic stress for ambition that served mostly individual gain under false paradigms. I don’t say this to be hard on myself but actually to point to a common relationship between coffee and humans in the modern world — “I drink you unconsciously so I can work hard and unconsciously push past my own limitations… and for what? Actually I don’t even know what. Is this truly worth it?”. Damn.
One night I had a vivid dream that pushed me further into rebuilding an intentional relationship with coffee. My family has roots in the Barahona province of Dominican Republic whose mountainous agricultural estates produce large amounts of coffee. In the dream the sky was the shade of black before it starts to break into dawn. I was in a hut with my family who were all awake and preparing for a day’s work. We were sitting together drinking strong black coffee with lots of sugar. It was all we had. No breakfast, no meal, just coffee and sugar. As it was happening I knew that we lived and worked on the land of a coffee plantation that underpaid us for our back breaking labor. I knew that it was that time in the season where our food crops weren’t ready for harvest, our meager wage for farming hadn’t come through, and there was nothing to eat but still we had to go out and work. I also sensed that we knew the plant so intimately but it was impossible to be in good relationship with coffee due to the harsh conditions we lived under.
Since that dream, it’s been a very slow process of healing our relationship by honoring my rhythms and paying attention to the thoughts and impulses that are driving me to push and push. And shit, there’s still been times that I’ve gone for multiple cups of coffee thinking there’s no other way I can make it through the day. But it’s a journey that’s been ever shifting and balancing out. And I want the best for coffea arabica too, and I’m still listening to her guiding calls teaching me about regenerating soil, and leading me further into our collective freedom.
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I believe that there is a way for all of us to be free and shine without exerting power over another. And creating the blueprint for an alternative future isn’t a burden that humans feel like we have to carry all alone. If we trust that we live in a web of life that’s interconnected we have to learn to remember how to see ourselves reflected in the more than human world. And anyways, doing it alone is boring. Aren’t we over the lone savior tales? Aren’t we tired of trying to have all the answers? Our radical kinship makes sovereignty possible. Sovereignty over our bodies, energy, and lands.
Co-conspiring with plants can look like land stewardship, healing rituals, and channeled creative expression. Throughout social revolutions, I sense plants tripping people at their feet and whispering “take me! let’s poison your master”. From the peacock flower to the castor plant and more, plants have always been integral as kin on the freedom path to black and indigenous people in the Caribbean. Our stories are inseparable (cues in a nod to Afro-Botany).
Are you also willing to go beyond allyship in your relationship to plant life? What would it look like to feel uncomfortable, take an honest look within, and take necessary action to defend and protect your plant kin?
Let’s give it another try.