M.C. Escher “Reptiles”

“Reality is for people that lack imagination” Hayao Miyazaki

 I often say the world has an imagination problem. A problem dreaming of the possibilities life has to offer us and the world in which we live. If our livelihood is currently built on the oppression or misfortune of others and we cannot imagine an alternative way of living that affords every member of society the opportunity to thrive, we are losing.

Recently, in response to a dehumanizing experience, a colleague encouraged me to be realistic and strategic with my demands for the dehumanization to end. Bewildered at this apathetic response, I knew my colleague’s imagination had died. My immediate response was to question my colleague’s acceptance of such a pitiful and dismal reality. One that accepts without question human beings having to strategize their humanity in order to have their lives deemed valid.

When we don’t allow ourselves to imagine we much more easily accept oppressive structures. As a society we now accept the presence of police in schools, we accept products and services from businesses that exploit their workers and we even accept that justice looks like locking humans up in cages.

Many Americans are completely unable to imagine a justice system that does not rely on prisons to confine and isolate those whom we deem criminal, despite the fact that correctional institutions have not always been in existence. Research also consistently indicates that human beings need the exact opposite of what prisons provide in order to live rehabilitated lives, yet locking people up is our go-to.

A hearty imagination can actually change the world for good. In fact, imaginative play is central to the cognitive and social development and studies show that children who engage in make-believe play show greater empathy, increased problem-solving and superior communication skills.

Even, Movement Net Lab’s interpretation of the decentralized network structure is the result of a grand imagination. As explained in a previous blog, MNL co-founders felt decentralized movement structure lacked the clear, comprehensive language that explained how we organized, either to ourselves – in order to do it better – or to our allies, who often just sat on the sidelines unable to comprehend what they were seeing.

Recognizing this was problematic for everyone from funders to community-based organizations, the co-founders gathered together to hash out a “new theory of network organizing for practitioners, and by practitioners.” After lots of debating, research, outlining initial theories and of course instinct, MNL and its unique interpretation of the decentralized network structure was born. All of this was sparked by imagination…an ability to visualize something that does not yet exist.

The Black Lives Matter NYC Chapter has also spent a significant amount of time exercising our imaginations. Through this process, we’ve discovered that we are primarily abolitionists envisioning liberation from unjust systems rather than pursuers of reformation of these systems.

But what does it mean to live out our imaginations before full liberation is realized and actualized? For me, it has meant making decisions as if the world I desire already exists. For example, in response to my displeasure with the way black folks are covered in media, I declared that I wanted black people to have opportunities to tell their own stories under our own terms and on our own platforms. Immediately after making this declaration it was tested. A media outlet reached out in hopes of doing a story on the structure of the Black Lives Matter network. Initially, I had forgotten about the declaration and thought it would be a great opportunity to introduce the decentralized network model but it suddenly struck me that the reporter’s framing was inclined towards crafting a story in response to a candidate disruption in another part of the country and did not fit the story we wanted to tell. For many, turning down any media opportunity is automatically viewed as unwise, but making the decision to hearken back to my initial declaration meant saying no to this particular media outlet and saying yes to my own instinct and desires.

In an interview from her prison cell, political revolutionary and political prisoner AS, said:

Freedom! You asking me about freedom? Asking me about freedom? I’ll be honest with you. I know a whole lot more about what freedom isn’t than about what it is, cause I’ve never been free.  I can only share my vision with you of the future, about what freedom is.  The way I see it, freedom is…is the right to grow, is the right to blossom.  Freedom is the right to be yourself, to be who you are. To be who you want to be, to do what you want to do.

I’m clear that the exercising of one’s imagination and the putting of that imagination into practice is a liberating act.