As part of our Visionary Fictions 2018 Programme ONCA hosted a Collaborative Future Fictions symposium where Walidah Imarisha did a presentation (via Skype) entitled: ‘Octavia’s Brood in the context of the history of sci-fi and social change; sci-fi as a practice ground for social justice vision and strategy’.
Host: Persephone Pearl, ONCA Director
Guest: Walidah Imarisha
Persephone: Ok, great! SO…I’m very happy to welcome Walidah Imarisha to ONCA via Zoom Conferencing.
Elona who’s sitting behind you and I attended your workshop at the other futures conference in Amsterdam, which we attended because Joan Harran advised us to go along so It’s great to have you here and Joan’s here sitting next to Elona as well. So I’ll just give you a little Bio and then we’ll love to hear from you about Octavia’s Brood.
So Walidah Imarisha is an educator, writer, historian, a public scholar and spoken word artist. Walidah has edited two anthologies: ‘Another World is Possible’ and most recently ‘Octavia’s Brood’ which she will be talking about today. Walidah has authored a poetry collection and recently ‘Angels with Dirty Faces’ which is a book that explores the prison system in the U.S. and she’s presented across the U.S. and internationally on topics such as Black history, alternatives to incarceration and the history of hip hop. I’m just going to read a little bit from your introduction to Octavia’s Brood unless you were going to read that?
Walidah: No I wasn’t
Persephone: Okay, so in the introduction to Octavia’s Brood, and the subtitle of that is: science fiction stories from social justice movements, Walidah says: “Whenever we try to envision a world without war, without violence, without prisons, without capitalism, we are engaging in speculative fiction. All organising is science fiction. Organisers and activists dedicate their lives to creating and envisioning another world or many other worlds so what better way for organisers to explore their work than Sci-Fi stories. Visionary fiction is a term we developed to distinguish Science fiction that has relevance towards building new, freer worlds from the mainstream strain of sci fi which most often reinforces dominant narratives of power. Visionary fiction encompasses all of the fantastic with the arc always bending towards justice.
So, thanks for being here. Over to you Walidah!
Walidah: Ah, thank you for having me. I’m excited to be here. Can everyone here he alright?
Walidah: Haha. This is so exciting, It’s very Star Trek view screen, I’m so excited. Haha. So… I’m excited to share about Octavia’s Brood and our process. Some of the work we’re doing on it I definitely wanna have space for conversation with y’all so I’ll just start by sharing a little bit. I have a power point. I’ve never used Zoom before so I was going to try and share some of that- Do y’all want me to do that? It might go horribly wrong.
Walidah: Hahaha, Alright. We’ll be in it together then.
Ok, so Octavia’s Brood: Science fiction stories from social justice movements- I’ll try and share it right now so you can see the umm…Ahh there we go! So this is the cover (nope that’s not the cover…that’s something else, what’s happening) There we are! There’s the cover! So it was an anthology edited by Adrienne Murray Brown and myself. It is 20 short stories and 2 essays and the short stories are fantastical stories that help us envision new ideas, new ways of building just futures so- visionary fiction (we’ll talk a little bit more about).
The cover was designed by John Jennings who is an amazing Black Science Fiction comic book artist. He did the kindred version/the comic version of Octavia Butler’s Kindred, which if you haven’t read please do, it’s incredible. I’m gunna come back, am I back? Ok! Very easy. We can do this! Great- So, the writers in Octavia’s Brood: Some are well known science fiction writers like Terry Bisson, Tananarive Due, LeVar Burton from Star Trek the next generation. But the majority of writers had never written fiction let alone science fiction. We reached out to folks who we felt were visionary organisers, activists and change makers in the community. But our premise for Octavia’s Brood: my premise of visionary fiction, which you heard a little bit about, is that all organising is science fiction and so we felt that all science fiction, all organisers are science fiction creators. So we felt that given just the tiniest bit of permission we knew that these visionary organisers would be able to create incredible stories that would help us to explore justice and what justice could look like as we build it into reality and that’s exactly what happened. So um, I’m not going to play that but, as I said, all organising is science fiction- wait, are you guys seeing this or are you seeing me?
Walidah: Ah, alright. I thought I had it, maybe I don’t have it….I’ll let it go. It’s fine. So we felt that, not only is all organising science fiction but organisers absolutely need visionary, fantastical imaginative spaces like science fiction that allow us to throw out everything we’re told is realistic and start with the question: “What is the world we want?” Rather than “What is realistic when.” Because it’s very important for everyone to recognise that all real substantive social change was considered to be science fiction before people changed the world and made it our lived reality. And so everyone who is looking to create real change was told at the time “it’s an impossibility. The most you can hope for is slight reform, right? there’s not going to be real transformation. We can give you a little bit of reform. We can give you kinder, gentler oppression but we’re not going to change the fundamentals of this system.”
And it was people completely rejecting that and saying that we will dream impossible dreams and change the entire world to make them our lived reality that gave us the movement forward. And so we absolutely need spaces where we can be utterly unrealistic in our dreams for the future because that is the only way that we’re going to create the kind of future that we want. And, you know, the need for those imaginative spaces I think was said really well by Ursula Kaleb Gwen who is an amazing science fiction fantasy writer who unfortunately passed away recently. We just had a tribute for her here in portland because she lived in portland for a vast majority of her career and she had a quote where she said: “We live in capitalism, it’s power seems inescapable. So did the divine right of kings. Any human power can be adapted and changed by human beings.” So I think that idea of, um, you know we’re told that certain things cannot change, right? The idea that capitalism is like gravity. It’s a force of nature. But the reality is capitalism has not always existed but we can’t begin to build something different until we can imagine something beyond capitalism. And so the premise of Octavia’s Brood is that once our imagination is unshackled, liberation is truly limitless. So that’s the framework for Octavia’s Brood. And um, we, you know, Adrienne was working on Octavia Butler emergent strategy sessions separately and she actually has an amazing book called ‘Emergent Strategy’ I encourage everyone to read it. That’s really saying: How can we take this sort of visionary dreaming and concretely apply it to our organising work- so how do we actually manifest this in the work that we’re doing.
So she was doing that work and I was doing work on visionary fiction, and so visionary fiction is a term I started using to talk about this kind of, um, imaginative radical science fiction because I wanted to kind of use a different term for two reasons. The first was: that if you have hung out with hardcore nerds, who I love so much, you have probably heard conversations that go on for an hour that sound like: “Well is it technically science fiction, because there doesn’t seem to be enough scientific basis for that to be considered science fiction. It actually seems more like magical realism or maybe speculative fiction but, no no, I can’t have you talk and until we figure this out. And you’re like like: “shhhhh that’s not important now, be quiet. Love you, be quiet.”
So Visionary Fiction is a bucket term. It includes science fiction, speculative fiction, magical realism, horror, alternative time lines, fantasy…if it’s weird and it helps us build better worlds, it’s probably visionary fiction. So that’s one reason for that term. The other is that so much of mainstream movies and books are science fiction- but they’re not liberatory. They don’t help us to build new, just worlds except as cautionary tales. Like: “dear God don’t do this” Right? Um, and that’s because science fiction, specifically as a genre, is not in and of itself liberatory or oppressive, um, any genre is basically a tool that can be used. And so, um, you know, there’s a lot of connections between Science Fiction and Westerns. You know, the genre of Westerns in the United States. There’s a reason that the original Star Trek was sold as a ‘wagon train to the stars’ because this concept of white men going out and exploring the unknown, the wild, the savage, encountering the primitive other and civilising and colonising, right? That is a continual motif whether in the old west or in outer space.
And so I wanted something that differentiated from that kind of science fiction that is used as a tool to reinforce the status quo. So I started using the term visionary fiction which is, you know, it is encapsulated it is fantastical writing that helps us to understand current power dynamics and helps us to envision new ways of building new just worlds. And so I’m happy to talk more about Visionary Fiction but myself, Adrienne, a lot of people but especially myself, Adrienne and Morgan Phillips (who’s one of our contributors to Octavia’s Brood), she’s an amazing trainer and organiser- we developed principles of Visionary Fiction to be clear about what makes this something that is helpful for us to use in organising and to use in building these new just worlds. Um, so that’s kind of the framework.
So obviously, coming out of that, we created Octavia’s Brood. But, for us, Octavia’s Brood – we hope – is a starting place. It’s not an ending place. So we hope to present these 20 fantastical stories and have them not be like: “alright, that’s the extent of visionary fiction.” But to realise that they can contribute their own stories to this, this kind of, um, framework of visionary fiction. And so, as part of that, myself, Adrienne and Morgan have developed a number of workshops that we do in different communities. So we’ll, you know, go out and we do them in a variety of settings. So, you know, to just share a few, we have a collective science fiction writing workshop that Morgan and I created and that is, folks can enter small groups and create worlds based on specific issues. And so, then they use that, that world to explore those issues. So one example I always like to share is during the Insight conference which is women and trans folks of colour against violence. It was focussed on transformative justice. Around how do we create justice and wholeness in our communities outside of prisons and outside the police.
And so one of the groups created a world where there was a super super maximum security prison that was built into the core of the earth. So the only folks down there were supposedly the worst of the worst in terms of prisoners but really we know who goes to those prisons are folks who are politically active, who are incarcerated. Jail house lawyers, political prisoners and guards. So those were the only folks that were down there. Then there was economic devastation on the surface of the earth so all of humanity is wiped out. And the surface of the earth was unliveable. So the only people left are the people who are in this super super maximum prison. And they set their story generations into the future and the idea was really: How do you create justice in a society that is built on such horrific power inequalities and is literally built into a prison. How can you create any sort of justice or freedom in that location. And I just, it was an amazing- I was like “Oh my god y’all write that trilogy, I can’t wait to read it.” So that’s one of the workshops we do.
Another workshop we do that Morgan actually originally created and she and I have adapted is science fiction and direct-action organising workshops. Which is pretty much the nerdiest thing ever. So folks get into small groups based on fantastical franchises so Harry Potter, Star wars, Alice in Wonderland and they embody the most oppressed people within that story. They create an organising goal and then they develop direct action tactics to achieve that goal. So you get, you know, Storm Troopers waging general strikes in support of the rebellion and you get Uruk-hai in Lord of the Rings using Capoeira style fighting techniques to support the peoples of Middle Earth. My absolute favourite is Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. So of course there were Umpa Lumpas, obviously. People get so into it too y’all. Like when we present back They’re not like: “So the Umpa Lumpas….” They’re are like: “WE UMPA LUMPAS DEMAND THE RIGHT TO UNIONISE, OUR LABOUR HAS BEEN STOLEN FROM US! WE’VE BEEN PAID IN CHOCOLATE- IN CHOCOLATE WILLY WONKA?” People get so into it it’s amazing. So there have been a number of different Umpa Lumpa groups but this one strikes be because I went over and they were like (when they were working in small groups) and they were like, you know: “So we’ve decided we’re gunna lock down the chocolate factory until Willy Wonka meets our demands for the right to unionise like no one goes in. No skavs, right like nobody is going to make chocolate until we get our demands back. And I’m like that’s great! In organising you actually have to think about what is the perception of this. So how are you going to communicate with the people in the town why you’re doing this cuz you’re now just deprived them of chocolate. Clearly those kids love them some chocolate- So how are you going to make sure Willy Wonka doesn’t use this against you? Like how are you going to go to the towns people and be like: “This is why we’re doing this. Support us. We’ll get you your chocolate faster.” and they were like: “No no that’s good, that’s good.” So I walk away to the next group and I hear someone yell: “FLASH MOBS! UMPA LUMPAS ARE PERFECTLY BUILT FOR FLASH MOBS.” I was like y’all I can kind of die happy now. Like I feel like my work here on Earth has been fulfilled.
Anyway, that was a tangent but so that is another one of the workshops. And, you know, I think especially that workshop is really powerful because basically Morgan is a trainer. I’ve also done a lot of training with organisations. It’s kind of an organising 101 training. But those trainings can be so boring if anyone’s ever been. God bless. They’re like “what is the tactic?” “What is the strategy…Lalaala.” Like “we’ve created this fake village called ‘Friendville’.” Like what is happening right now? So this is a way people get so excited and engaged and has such a space to think about who are our allies, who would help us? How do we frame this? What are tactics that will actually get us to where we want to go? How do we make a goal first and then develop tactics? How do we think of new tactics versus just the same thing, you know, that we think of again and again? How do we think of tactics that actually fit that situation? And so putting it in these fantastical worlds that people have invested a lot of time in, right? Like a lot of time. WE, you know. I’m assuming we’re all nerds here, we have invested a lot of time in these imaginary worlds, right? I mean I learned Clingonese so you know, like we’re in it. We’re in it y’all. But, you know how do we take that investment and use it to re imagine this world and also in some ways subvert and reclaim those worlds. Like these are worlds that we clearly love but also worlds that are flawed and sometimes replicate the same oppressive systems we have here. So how do we re-imagine that. So that’s a workshop that helps us to do that.
So another workshop that specifically Adrienne created and she worked with other folks: Alexis Pauline Gumbs (who’s also a writer in Octavia’s Brood). She started out doing Octavia Butler emergent strategy sessions, as I said, where folks got together and read Octavia Butler’s work. And then said how can this help us in our organising work? They created the ‘Octavia Butler Strategic Reader’ which is just a short list of questions for Octava Butler’s work in general as well as specific questions for specific stories. It’s available just as a little PDF if folks are interested online: The Octavia Butler Strategic Reader. And, to me, I think that it’s so powerful because it moves science fiction from just the realm of entertainment or escapism into the realm of critical analysis. Which I think is really important. I think it’s actually been a strategic, you know, meaningful thing to marginalise science fiction as escapism, right. To completely separate it from this world, to frame it as thrivelous and unimportant. It’s somewhere you go to escape from this world. Because if it wasn’t framed that way, then we would bring these lessons from science fiction back to this world. Right? If there was not that clear divide that says: That’s over there and this is here. Then we could be, we could start questioning everything here. You know, if Catnis can stage a rebellion in Hunger Games, why can’t we do that here? Y’all, right? And if it didn’t go so poorly in Hunger games… But, you know so, I think is actually a conscious method of social control to frame science fiction as something that is marginalised and thrivelous and unrelated to our world. And so I think it’s really powerful this work around taking science fiction and viewing is as: What lessons can we learn from this? What are the analysis that we can pull from this and apply to our world to change it. And I think especially choosing Octavia Butler is incredible because her- I always make sure to call her both a science fiction writer and a public intellectual. Because I think that often times, marginalised folks, folks of colour, women, queer and trans folks, especially the folks who live as the intersections of those identities have been locked out of scholarly pursuits. Right? I teach in colleges, in universities and, you know, it is a hostile environment for folks with marginalised identities. And folks are often just completely shut out form that space. And so I think it’s important to view things like, um you know, folks’ poetry, folks’ fiction folks’ science fiction as, not just entertainment but as ways of knowing. As ways of learning. As pedagogical spaces. And so, um, I think it’s really important and powerful work that folks are doing with Octavia Butler. And obviously, well not obviously, let me just be clear. Octavia’s Brood is named for Octavia Butler in honour of her. Directly Octavia Butler and then her trilogy, Lilith’s Brood. And when thinking about the principles of visionary fiction, we really realise that most of us saw those in practice for the first time in science fiction, either in Octavia Buler’s work or Ursula LeJeune’s work. So we, you know, we really wanted to honour that lineage from Octavia, and to show our work in- we hope in conversation with hers. Obviously it’s not, you know, not written directly in response to her but it is- our work is very much inspired by her. I don’t think there’s not a single person in the anthology who does not draw inspiration from Octavia.
So that’s a little bit about how that work has moved in community, how we’ve been trying to, kind of, move that work just off the page, into life. And we, you know, the principles that we do around these workshops are really about how do we dream these worlds up using the principles that we, that we believe and we want in these new worlds. So, you know, the practice of ‘Yes, and,” which is a big part of Visionary Fiction and definitely emergent strategy which Adrienne talks more about in her book ‘Emergent Strategy.’ How do we say “yes, and” rather than “no, but,” right? So when folks are collectively creating these stories, creating these worlds, they have to do this together because that’s how change happens. And so, when we’re in those groups we challenge folks- do not say no, ever. Unless you’re saying: “no to imperialism!”- That’s the only time. But other than that, how do we say: “Yes, and.” “Yes, that’s a great Idea, AND here’s something else I’m bringing. How do we recognise that collectively we are so much more ingenious than individually and how do we create many inroads and spaces for that brilliance together. So I wanna just stop there and open it up for questions or comments. I wanna make sure I’m discussing things that are important and interesting to y’all about this work. Cuz I could also just nerd out all day so.
Walidah: Is someone talking, I couldn’t hear that?
Persephone: I was just wondering if you could potentially go through the ground rules of, you know, the ingredients of visionary fiction.
Persephone: I remember you gave a great example of the Blade Runner as a way to exemplify it.
Walidah: Yeah! Let me see if I can, if I can make this screen share thing work again.
Walidah: Great. Y’all can see that?
Walidah: Yaaaay! Alright. Great so I’ll just go through the principles fairly quickly, as I said, you know, it explores current social issues through the lens of basically all fantastical writing. It’s conscious of identity and intersecting identities. It very much focuses on centring the leadership of the marginalised and the most effected. So I often use the example of Blade Runner when talking about that: Who’s eyes we’re seeing through completely changes our entire understanding of the story. And so, you know, I saw Blade Runner when I was a kid. I didn’t actually like it. And I’ve seen it since then. So as a kid, you know, it was slow. I was like it’s slooooowww, so slow. Like that’s, no. Now I’m a grown up, haha, I have a more nuanced critique. So I think that one of the things that always bothered me as a child and I began to be able to articulate as I got older is Blade Runner is the story of a slave catcher chasing down escaped, enslaved people- to kill them. Right? In the story of Blade Runner, there are replicants who are androids who are created to serve humans. They’re sentient beings, they have emotions, they have desires, they have wants, they are created to be enslaved. They’re programmed with a built in kill date where they die at a certain time, you know, because they don’t want them becoming too smart or too powerful. So, you know, the replicants are worked and exploited and just, you know, horrifically until they just die. And the ones who are brave enough to run away and to escape they’re tracked down by bade runners, by slave catchers who are not there to even return them to this life of brutal slavery but are coming to kill them for the crime of wanting freedom. And so, you know, to me I was like: “I don’t care about a blade runners emotional crisis about being a slave catcher. I don’t care. I don’t wanna see through your eyes. I don’t care about your feelings and emotions. You have chosen the wrong side of the issue.” What I was interested in was, I wanna see the story- what would the story look through the eyes of a replicant. Especially, you know, there’s one replicant, Chris, who is a pleasure bot, right? So you can only imagine the horrific gender brutality she has suffered. Like what would the story look like through Chris’ eyes and what would. What kind of monster would Richard Deckard, the blade runner, look like through her eyes. And so I think it’s important that it’s not just about adding in other voices, it’s about when we see through the eyes of the oppressed it actually completely changes our, the entire narrative and the entire story.
So visionary fiction is non-linear. In that context of centring folks who are marginalised and oppressed, it also recognises that the notion that we have of the future is often a colonial notion. It’s a notion based on justification of colonisation, right. That the future it’s a linear progression towards greatness. Moving from savagery, to this, you know, beautiful chrome future where we’ll eventually reach singularity and, you know, humans and machines become one and I don’t know. And then everything dies forever. But, you know, that’s a colonial justification of saying, we’re moving from savagery, from communities of colour, from cultures of colour towards greatness, right? Through whiteness. Whereas visionary fiction is routed in cultures of colour. Is routed in understanding that we can’t build the future without the past. that the past is not just something for us to learn from in, sort of, cautionary tales. That, you know, one of the principles of Black Futurism or Afro futurism is the concept of the ancient future. That these folks were dreaming incredibly complex, visionary ideas of the future that we need to be able to get where we want to go. So we are dreaming in connection with the past. We are not pushing against the past, we are dreaming in community with the past. So, in that way, time is not linear. The past is not something that is lost to us. The future is not something that’s unknowable. We’re actually living the past, the present and the future at every single moment. That is the conception that many cultures of colour have of time. That’s what quantum physics now tells us is time and, you know, so really challenging the concept of linear time itself as the mechanism of colonialism. So there’s the piece around identity and then there’s the piece around power, and recognising that to centre oppressed peoples is actually to re-imagine how power happens. It’s not just to put people of colour into the same story lines. That’s what happens in Hollywood. There’ll be stories that were originally written for white characters, they just cast a Black character or a character of colour- usually Will Smith. I don’t know. They’re like: “Just get Will Smith. It’s fine just pull Will Smith in.” And then they’re like, and then that’s fine. It’s brown now, it’s multicultural.
The reality is, if we centre it, as in the Blade Runner experience, if we centre the oppressed people, our understanding of power actually completely changes. And our understanding of what freedom, what justice, what liberation looks like also changes. So Visionary Fiction is conscious of power inequalities, it’s conscious of systemic power and it’s conscious of saying: we actually have to develop new relationships to power to build different futures. It’s not just about having the one brown person save us versus the one white man save us. It’s about saying: Actually, power shared collectively, if we actually want true justice. So Visionary Fiction is not utopian, it’s not dystopian. It’s realistic and hard. You definitely learn this from Octavia Butlers work. Anyone who has read Octavia- it’s rough! Right? Like you’re like “pfhwoo Octavia, this is rough!”
So it’s realistic and hard but it’s hopeful that change is possible as long as we really re-evaluate power and re imagine how we are collectively sharing power to create that change. So it generates as many possibilities as it can. And as I said before, it’s the ‘yes, and’ not the ‘no, but.’ And Adrienne talks about this a lot with emergent strategy. Saying if we’re not creating more and more entry points for folks to enter this movement, for folks to envision new futures. If we are instead arguing about the one right path forward, the only way forward, then we are moving away from freedom. Our movement towards the future we want should generate infinite possibilities. It should grow more and more options for folks. And if it doesn’t then we’re going in the wrong direction. The principle that change, that re imagined power or that change is grass roots or even deeper it’s ‘dirt roots,’ it is collective, it’s us coming together. It’s decentralised and non-hierarchical. There’s not someone at the top who’s deciding it. There’s not a central committee that’s deciding it. It’s accountable. So if there are folks who are in this community that have problems with this, we are accountable to them. Hear them and we have to acknowledge that. It’s not just like democracy is 51%- Oh well! You got to vote, we’re moving on. It’s non-transactional which is really saying that change and relationships are not rooted in this notion of capitalist exchange which often happens, right? And I use the example, most often, if you go out to dinner with a friend, and they pay for it, most people’s immediate- Well not everyone’s! You know, some people’s response is like: “I forgot my wallet at home, again” and you’re like hmmMmm. But most people’s response if your friend pays for dinner is like: “Oh I’ll get next time. This idea that it has to be transactional, it has to be 1 for 1, right? You gave me something, I’m worried about making sure that I give you something in exchange of equal value, right? Rather than just saying: “thank you so much for dinner!” You know, like I trust that our relationship will allow me opportunities to show me how important you are to me as you have just done. Recognising that not everyone can pay for dinner. So maybe I do something different for you. But recognising that relationships and change are not a 1 for 1, it’s not an exchange. It’s about building together and trusting what you’ve built.
The last piece is it’s relational. That it recognises the relationship between two people is not only as important as the larger society we’re building, it is the larger society we’re building. And Adrienne talks a lot about the concept of being fractal in emergent strategies. The idea that you can look at the smallest piece of something and it reflects everything else around it. Right? It is an exact reflection of the larger thing that it’s part of. So if the relationships between two people are weak or exploitative, are unhealthy, then what we build will replicate those same, those same principles and will most likely be a mirror of what we’ve been fighting to destroy in the first place.
The last principle of visionary fiction is: visionary fiction is not neutral, we don’t report to be neutral, Adrienne always says that art always either advances or regresses justice so we’re very proud that our goal is to advance justice. Our goal is to create social change and we wear that very proudly. And I think a lot of time in art, the idea is that you have to, you know, be neutral and recognising that there is no neutrality. Objectivity is a fallacy, everyone is replicating politics and if you’re not aware of he politics that you’re replicating in your art then you’re probably replicating the same status quo mainstream politics. So we’re actually very conscious of the politics that we replicate and we work very hard to replicate principles that are rooted in justice. So that is, those are the principles of visionary fiction.
Walidah: I’m back, right?
Audience: There’s a question!
Audience member: Hi, so I was just wondering cause I was looking at that list of principles and, um, it’s great but it feels like a lot to write a story. And so I was wondering, you talked about reaching out to activists who maybe hadn’t written before, so I was wondering what kind of tools you use to kick-start their stories and just maybe make it more manageable and something that we can actually, yeah that we can more easily approach doing.
Walidah: Yeah. Um, thank you. So I think one thing is that a lot of those principles, the folks we reached out to just did naturally. Honestly. The majority of, I mean I would- all of the main characters are oppressed and marginalised folks in those stories. We didn’t tell people to do that from the beginning, that’s just the stories that people gravitated to because of the work that they do. So again, I think it’s about who is writing these stories whether these things seem like they’re external or not. That being said, I think the piece around power is very difficult and is something I struggle with in my own writing as well because we’ve all been told the same kinds of stories again and again, right? I mean, Disney is the number 1 global storyteller in the world. Right? They’ve got all of our beloved things now. All of our beloved things. You know, it’s telling the same kinds of stories and we’re all learning those stories as well, right? And obviously Disney didn’t create those but I think it is a- there was a survey that showed that 95% of global respondents had seen at least 1 Disney movie. 95% of people across the globe. So those kind of stories are the stories that are pervasive. And so the stories that challenge those notions of the one hero and the notions that change comes from the top down, you know, whether or not it’s a king deciding something or whatever. Those stories are really difficult to get away from and, you know, I find in my own writing I start to veer towards that sometimes and I’ve had to throw out, you know, delete. I’ve had to delete pages and pages and pages where I was like- Oh my god! This story is starting going in a direction that is not the story I want to be telling, right? I do just wanna say that in terms of editing with the writers, um, so, in the spirit of ‘yes, and’ I wanna be clear that Visionary Fiction is not the only kind of fiction that will take us to the futures we want, right? We need all kinds of writing, all kinds of art. So dystopias, I’m down for that. Right? Utopias, I’m there for that. Cautionary tales: tell me! Tell me what not to do. Stories about, you know, people with power realising that there’s oppression happening and figuring out how they can be allies, yes!
These stories are needed.
But for me, what we are lacking are stories that are centred and routed in oppressed peoples that re imagine how power works in movements for change and in larger societies. And so that’s why I push and focus on Visionary Fictions. So I wanna be clear, we need all of it and Visionary Fiction is not above it. So for this collection we were editing and working with writers specifically to create visionary fiction stories and we told them at every step when there were concerns or things where we’re like: “To be visionary fiction, this piece has to be addressed. If you don’t want to do that we actually think this is a great story in and of itself that you could get published other places but for it to be part of this, it needs to include this element. It needs to embody this principle.” And the writers were all very, they were so generous. It was an incredibly collaborative process creating Octavia’s Brood. Some folks went back and forth with us for years editing these pieces through multiple rounds and were incredibly generous. And what Adrienne and I would always do when giving feedback is to point out areas that we felt like needed attention and then offer at least one solution just so folks could see concretely what we were thinking, rather than being like “hey, fix this” And people are like “what does that mean?” What does ‘fix this’ mean? Right? Cuz I feel like we’ve all gotten that feedback. Even in papers in school where they’re like ‘VAGUE’ and you’re like “That comment is vague!”
Walidah: So, you know, we try to be concrete. And I would say 95% of the time, the writers did not take the solution that we offered. Which was great because they came up with things that were so much more amazing and ingenious. It was really just about saying hey, like look here. This place needs more attention. And they were like Oh, here’s my brilliance let me just BOOM fix that. Right? And there were just things where, you know, in one story there were, you know, there was something where I was like this story is going to have to be restructured like this is going to be massive amounts of work. There’s going to have to be paragraphs and paragraphs Added throughout. And so, you know, Adrienne was just like- Lets just give the feedback, you know, and see what comes up. And I was like okay, but this is going to be a lot of work. So the writer returned the story and had added four lines and it solved everything. And I was like: That’s amazing. You know, I think again the reason why we wanted to choose organisers, activists and change makers is because these principles are the principles they’re working to move in the world every single day. After, you know, we finalise this list (and actually the list of visionary fiction principles continues to grow so it’s not finalised) but after we got, sort of, a working version of it, we were all like oh. These are the principles of good organising. Which was amazing, we were also like we could have saved us a lot of time if we had realised that from the beginning but, you know, it was great to go through that process because it reaffirmed for us: this is why we get organisers, activists and change makers because this is the work that they’re trying to move in the world in general and so this is…when we pointed out to folks- this story doesn’t have collective change- folks were like YES of course, obviously! Every campaign has collective change. BOOM let me fix that. Rather than being like I don’t know what that means, what are you talking about like why does the change have to be collective? Right? Folks were working to embody those values and principles every single day so they very much work to put it in their writing. And so, you know, I think again these are principles and values that, you know, can be, you know, can be and I think should be manifested in different degrees in writing. Again they don’t, you know, every story doesn’t have to be visionary fiction but I do think that these ideas of identity and the idea of power are things that are being addressed in every single story. And again if folks aren’t thoughtful about how they’re addressing it, they’re most likely reproducing the dominant paradigms.
So you know, there’s a great book called ‘writing the other’ that was edited by Nisi Shawl but she, you know, really talks about what does it mean to write folks who are not like you in ways that are authentic, realistic, meaningful. There was actually a great conversation- It’s a YouTube video of Nisi Shawl and Daniel Jose Alder talking, I think it’s called ‘writing the other’ and they’re being interviewed about it and they both just have, it’s like an hour and some change, it just like so much brilliance about, you know, how do you re imagine your writing in ways that are more just and more authentic. I definitely encourage folks to watch that and to read that, I think there are a lot of resources about that but I do think it’s important to note that everything in those principles are things that folks are dealing with in every single story, and for us, it’s more just being conscious of what you’re writing and what you’re putting out and what you want to replicate, what you want to subvert, what you want to re-envision.
Audience member: Thank you. Hi, um…my question is about engaging critics who are predominantly white, let’s face it, with Black, Asian, ethnic minority, kind of, publications or theatre works or films or whatever that are works of, kind of, visionary fiction of sci fi but, you know, within that, kind of, ethnic minority gaze. Cuz I took a show to the fringe last year, to Edenborough Fringe, and it was a piece of sci fi, it was about, kind of, climate change but we were an almost entirely BAME cast and we struggled to get critics to come and see the show and, you know, a couple of those that did come and see the show just didn’t quite get why we, as BAME people, were talking about what, you know, are traditionally considered white narratives in that we’re talking about sci fi. Perhaps because of what you’ve illustrated, quite beautifully before, in as much as it’s easy to kind of think “OH, I don’t care what the critics think, I’m writing for the audiences.” You know, sometimes you need those critics to engage in order to get the audiences. So what has been the critical response to Octavia’s Brood and how do you, kind of, recommend working to get more critics to engage.
Walidah Imarisha: Um, That’s a great Question. I mean I do think, um, again that that’s not been a big area of focus for us. I think Octavia’s Brood very much embodied the principles of being grass roots and at some points dirt roots that it’s something that’s very much spread by word of mouth, um, you know, we were promoting the book before we had a book. We had like four stories and we were like “you guys! There’s like this book that’s gunna happen soon” and then 5 years later there was a book. We were like “well, soon is relative, time is a construct….” But, you know, I do think, you know, it rooting in, um, and connecting with, you know, communities on the ground builds a ground swell that can shift focuses. Right? and can shift critics. I think in some ways it may be useful to think of critics, you know, as a power hierarchy, right? And I think my conception of power is that institutional power doesn’t choose to change, it changes because there is a critical mass of people that make that change inevitable and undeniable. And I think that can be true with the changing of culture and the changing of aesthetics, right? And so, you know, I think I look at, you know, these block buster films like, you know, like Black Panther which is a global phenomenon and, you know, folks beforehand critics were like “Will people even go to see this film?” You know. “It’s an all Black cast, there’s only one sad little white man in the film!” “WILL PEOPLE GO SEE IT?” Right? And the world was like…uuuuh, yes. Yes. Right? You know, or Jordan Peele’s ‘Get out’ I feel like the, you know, the critical response to that film was mixed. Um, and there were a lot of white folks like critics who hated that film or who were, I feel, terrified of that film, and yet it was a huge success because folks on the ground pushed it and said “this is important and we will push so that you see it’s importance” and so then critics, even when they were writing, had to contend with that. Right? They couldn’t just write in a vacuum and be like: “Well I didn’t like it… because it made me scared” Right? Or (they wouldn’t say that) but you know, whatever. But they had to contend with the fact that this movement on the ground had said this is an important film and you have to deal with that in some way. Right? Um, are y’all still there? Ok. Everyone’s, ok. Alright. Everyone was frozen so I was like are people just being really still? OR- Alright. So, you know or I think of a film like ‘Girls Trip’ with an all Black woman cast and it was just Black women just going to have fun with other Black women, being Black, right? There wasn’t, you know, horrific brutality. It’s just like Black women are just like: “Wooooooo! Being Black women is kind of amazing!” And like people are like: “who is gunna go see that movie, right?” and it was, you know, it was a block buster. And people don’t talk about that film. Like, critics didn’t even really talk about that film and it’s kind of, in terms of like the conversations, you know, globally it’s kind of disappeared, and yet, clearly folks wanted that film, pushed that film and made that film a blockbuster.
And so, you know I think, again I think there are a multiplicity of ways to engage with critics and I think, you know, any of those ways that keep your principles and integrity- you should do those. You should think about first you always maintain your principles and values, you think about where you wanna go, right? You’ve got your goal. And then you choose whatever path and tactics get you towards that. But for me, given visionary fiction, given the way that I engage with it, I have seen that mainstream culture changes based on where we push and where we say- you cannot ignore this. You cannot deny this. And so you would normally just look the other way, we’re gunna shove it in your face because we love this so much. And so I think, I think that is one of a multiplicity of tactics that I’ve seen be successful and I think that’s what happened with Octavia’s Brood. I mean, we were looking for publishers for Octavia’s Brood for 2 years and the majority of publishers were like: “who would we sell this to? We don’t know who to sell this to! Like, what is this? Like, it’s science fiction but it’s not, there’s some fantasy stories, there’s some essays in here, these people aren’t even big names in sci- Like what are we gunna d-” And we’re like: “It’s good though!” Right? *Audience laughter* Which is not, apparently not a convincing argument to publishers. Um, but, so then we were like- Well then we’ll do it ourselves? And so we were pushing and we did a crowd funding campaign and just promoting- because the other thing, you know I was like I think that’s a ridiculous excuse cuz if your goal is to make money, you’ve got 22 organisers, 24 organisers including me and Adrienne associated with this project, like if there’s one thing you do it’s we know how to mobilise and move things so like even if it’s crap, it’s gunna make money so that was just…. But obviously that, that also is not necessarily convincing to publishers. But um, you know, obviously I did not think it was crap. I thought, I thought it was important and worthy, and I think that that has held out because of the work we did on the grass roots, we actually ended up getting a publisher who was interested and our publisher was amazing and being able to put that out. And because of, you know, touring and doing the workshops and, kind of, constantly working to say: “How can we engage with these ideas in ways that are meaningful?” I think that it has helped to build that ground swell that has kept Octavia’s Brood moving in the world in ways that Adrienne and I never imagined it would, you know, years after it came out and it’s been amazing and humbling and inspiring to see and to know that, you know, I think that Octavia’s Brood is an incredibly quality and amazing collection and I know that’s not necessarily why things move in the world, right? There are, there are countless incredible pieces of art that never move in the world. But the reason it’s moved so much in the world is because people. It’s because of people. Because people found something of value in it and pushed it. And so that’s, to me that’s been the, the method that has been effective for our work.
Facilitator: Um Jacob yep, and then maybe if we have a couple questions we can do them at the same time.
Jacob: Um hi, um, I wanted to um first of all say thank you. Like everything you’re saying is like really inspiring and amazing and secondly, um so many questions I wanted to ask but I wanted to ask this one because it’s the one that comes to my mind, um so, um my names Jacob V Joyce and I make comics and use Afrofuturism a lot in my work and I also work closely with another artist who’s also a Black, British, queer, non-binary artist called Rudy Loewe. We both make comics and we both do workshops with young people, with elderly people, in Universities, and I feel like the work that we’re doing is very connected to the work you’re doing. We do kind of decolonising drawing workshops, we kind of offer different techniques to kind of think about drawing, in a very broad sense drawing to kind of, you know, to undo or to challenge white supremacy or capitalism, the prison, the industrial prison complex. These kind of things, um and we both use Afrofuturism a lot in our work and I wanted to ask, like, I feel like the work that you’re doing is more focused towards- like I think, I’m an artist but I don’t really think of my work as something that’s like moving towards the art world. I feel like it’s moving outwards in more of a kind of collective community organising kind of way. I guess what I’m asking is like how can myself and other artists who are doing work which is in conversation, in dialogue with your work even though we don’t know each other. How’s… are there opportunities for us to kind of like, yeah work together and we work with Black Lives Matter, like UK Black Lives Matter like Nottingham Black Lives Matter, UK. And I know that there’s lots of interconnections when it feels like I just did a workshop last month which was a speculative science fiction workshop that was, kind of talking about so many if the things you’re talking about now and it just feels like there, there should be dialogue and it shouldn’t be a kind of a thing of like this cluster of people in this country doing this thing and this cluster of people in this country- There’s like, yeah, how can people like myself connect to the work that you’re doing? Like how do you feel about people taking the kind of, um, tenants of your organising and like applying them to other workshops and, and also sending you resources in terms of like workshops that we’ve found to be useful. There’s so many little tiny things that in terms of specifically running workshops that I can think of that are not really appropriate to ask you about now because it’s like very specific things and it’s a big group of people so, yeah, how can I connect to you and also like tell other people to connect to the work that you’re doing? Is the question.
Walidah: Yeah, yeah yeah. No, I think those connections are critical and key and it sounds like, I mean the work- I was like ‘decolonising drawing’ That’s amazing! So, um, yeah I would love to be, personally I would love to be connected to you and the work that you’re doing. Um, and, you know I think for us, we’re happy to see this work move out in the world and for, if it’s useful for folks, for folks to you now, use it as it is useful. Um, you know, just making sure that it kind of embodies the principles and values of the work. Because there has been some, some, you know. I think issues around folks calling things Visionary Fiction and I’m like: “So the main character of that is this white dude, like I’m not quite sure you understood what I said” Right? So, um, and I’m not saying that you’re doing that but that’s the only thing we, you know, so we’re like as long as it’s embodying the principles of, the principles and values, we’re happy for it to go out there. We love to connect with folks, um, and see how that we can move that work. I feel like we, Adrienne and I have been very lucky to be able to engage internationally, whether it was meeting at the other futures festival.
Jacob V Joyce: I was there as well but I missed your talk!
Waldah: Haha, I know there was so much, it was so amazing there was so much happening.
Jacob: That was kind of gunna be the second part of the question though, I guess, which is like I feel like so much science fiction that takes the narrative of like an oppressed marginalised person and turns it into a story about a white character. Like what if these able bodied white blue-eyed teenagers, were oppressed but they also have super powers, you know, but they’re different, they have to come out to their parents and are hunted by the police, they can fly. Um, shoot lasers from their eyes. Like so many narratives from oppressed people just get coopted and turned into white, middle-class people. Exactly, so yeah that was going to be my second question I guess, like how do you, kind of like, how does that interact with the work that you’re doing? I mean even Black Panther I feel like as much as I loved it and thought it was such an important film, there was some weird undertones about what that film was saying about how Africa should engage with the West and like how do we, kind of like- I feel like this is too much of a big question to put on one person. I’d be interested to know how the collective, the people that you’re working with kind of like deal with cooption of narratives um, I’m gunna sit down now.
Walidah: Haha. No, thank you so much and yeah we definitely should connect um, so and I love to connect with folks doing work so feel free to reach out. Um, so I mean I think that I think, you know the reality is that that’s always going to happen and it happens for art, it happens for, you know social movements. You know, whether it’s, you know I mean the United States government put Malcolm X on a stamp, you know. Where I’m like somehow Malcolm X has become an image of, you know the United States government. So, you know, I think that co-optation is, you know, is a mechanism of control by oppressive systems and I think that, you know, the sort of current white supremacist, heteropatriarchal capitalism that is very much embodied in the United States is incredibly adept at co-optation, you know I often, I think of sort of, you know the neoliberalism of the United States, this idea of like we espouse all these values but, not actually. Right? We don’t do that. But we’re calling it democracy while we’re spreading imperialism versus calling it imperialism while we’re spreading imperialism. Right? That’s a brick wall. Right? Of like, you will bow to our control. That’s a brick wall. I think that neoliberalism is a chain link fence and I think it can become very deceptive because when you’re rattling a chain link fence it’s giving, right? It’s moving so you actually think like maybe I can just rattle this enough to like tear it down. Versus a brick wall, you’re like I’m not gunna smash my head against that over and over agai- like you’re very clear about what a, you know, what your power base with a brick wall is so you’re like I know I can’t just hit my head against this, I gotta get a sledgehammer, I gotta get a wrecking ball I gotta get a bunch of people, right? I gotta get the appropriate tactics for this. I think with neoliberalism it fools you into thinking it is flexible enough that you can do it by yourself, right? That this will bring it down. Rather than saying like well I gotta get my friends with some wire cutters! right? We gotta handle this. So I think that we have to acknowledge that, that co-optation is going to happen and I think that to me, it’s again always about a yes, and. So what can we take from these kind of mainstream images and how can we use them in ways that further our goals while always making sure that we are creating spaces where we control the narrative completely. So I’m like Black Panther yes! Thank God it exists and we need spaces to dream Black futures that are not rooted in, you know, the most adept corporate capitalist machine the world has ever known: AKA Disney. Right? So, to me it’s a yes, and- and it’s important to acknowledge those limitations and to raise those critiques while not falling into that, you know…I feel like, you know, folks on the left often fall into the, you know, I just call it the yuk face. Where we just hate everything. Right? But like nobody wants to see that face all the time, like 24/7. Like “Oh my gosh you guys I just read this book!” “Did you? It’s awful” Right? “I just saw this movie!” “Did you? It’s awful.” And you’re like that’s not fun. And also we all like things that are awful. Every single person, no matter how revolutionary and on point their political analysis, loves something that is terrible, right? We all, we live in pop culture, we engage with popular culture and it, you know, I don’t think that it’s something to pretend we don’t do and I don’t think it’s something to hide. I think it’s something to engage with and say what can we take from this first to say what do we love about this. Which is part of why Morgan developed the sci fi and direct-action workshop, right? Like what do we love about Star Wars, right? There are huge critiques to be made about Star Wars. But some of us love us some Star Wars to our core, why? Right like rather than saying like that is problematic so you should like, I just. If we could kill the word problematic. I’m like just say what the problem is! Problematic? Like now I just know that it’s jacked up but now you’re making me feel bad that I like it, right? Like tell me what the problem is. Rather than saying like this is problematic so we shouldn’t engage with it, we should I feel like start with the question: What about this is speaking to us? What about this is moving us? What about this is inspiring us? How can we engage with those aspects while never, you know, losing our larger analysis and saying, like, the Jedi are an elitist organisation which finally Luke admitted, though, oh my God. The last one y’all Luke was such a hot mess.
Audience member: I was just laughing at his character the whole way through.
Walidah: Yeah no no, I loved hot mess Luke! Honestly. I was like this is my favourite Luke, hot mess Luke is my favourite Luke. But, you know anyway, so I’m getting off track. But, you know, I think that we can critique, you know, the politics that are, you know, embedded in it that are not our’s but I think that we can engage with it and subvert it as much as possible and we have to be creating spaces where we can dream our futures and our realities from scratch, by ourselves. Right? Without corporate intervention. I mean part of the problems with Black Panther is that Black Panther is a story written by white men about Black people in the US’ ideas about Africa like 50 years ago, right? There’s a lot happening there that’s a mess. And so I think that Black Panther, you know, I think that folks work to create and utilise Black Panther as best as they could, given the limitations of Hollywood. But that is the foundation of it. We have to create spaces where we can create our own foundations, so we can create our own images and characters and situations from scratch that allow us to start with that question again: what is the world that we want rather than starting with how do we adapt this thing that was given to us to make it work as well as possible for us.
Facilitator: We have time for two more questions.
Persephone: So in terms of those spaces then, have you got other examples of, I know that perhaps you could talk a little bit about the emergent strategy workshops or how potentially Octavia’s Brood inspires spaces to emerge and also how the authors in Octavia’s Brood have carried on and been influenced by being part of that project. I’m interested in online spaces and this invitation which I think we all sort of feel tantalised by to try it. Are there places online where people are sharing their ideas, their offerings?
Walidah: Um, Yeah. So I think that, you know, somehow the workshops that we do, we did trainings for any of the writers that were interested to be able to facilitate those workshops themselves. Because again we chose folks that were organisers, activists and visionaries who a lot of them had experience with facilitation before so a lot of the folks are doing it so in a couple weeks they’re gunna be doing it on the East Coast and Adrienne and I won’t be there so and then one of our folks was just in Arizona doing a sci fi visioning workshop there so part of it was about we wanna develop those tools but then make sure there are folks who, you know, as many folks as possible trained being able to move that work. Folks have also used it and engaged with it in a lot of different ways that have been amazing artistically as well as in organising and in community and so Adrienne actually did a year long process where she was doing visionary fiction and emergent strategy with like 8 and 9 year olds in Detroit which was amazing and they created their own like short films which is perhaps the most adorable thing I’ve every seen y’all. Like a visionary fiction sci fi short film by 8 year olds. But you know, so folks have been moving that work in different ways, artistically and like that’s been part of the amazing thing of choosing folks who were not necessarily writers but were artists as well so Gabriel Teodros who is one of our contributors- he is a hip hop MC so he actually formed a group called copper wire which is an amazing like Ethiopian sci fi space opera hip hop group and they created an album and apps and videos, he actually did all of that before he finished his story for Octavia’s Brood. I was like: “You should join Octavia’s Brood!” He was like: “YESS” and then he did all that and then I was like this is so good! You still have to finish your story though. Which he did and it’s amazing. But Vagabond who’s in Octavia’s Brood is a film maker, he just created a short science fiction film so it’s been really amazing to see folks, you know, taking this and moving it artistically in different ways.
But there are also a lot of examples of folks engaging with this work politically and I can just share a couple of those. Hopefully I can make that work on PowerPoint. So this, yes share, um, this Black Lives Matter actually put out a call a few years ago to ask folks to respond to the prompt ‘in a world where Black lives matter I imagine…” and, you know, that’s- this is a visionary fiction process that this organisation offered and this movement offered to Black folks worldwide. Is, you know, saying Black lives matter and then saying concretely what does that mean, what does that look like, what does that smell like, what does that taste like so that we can actually, you know, tangibly engage with that future that we want um, and you know I think even- I’m so thankful to Black Lives Matter even just saying, calling themselves Black Lives Matter, right? Because they could’ve said “Stop killing us” That could’ve been the hash tag and the name of the movement and it would have been accurate and completely necessary and important but I think creating this space of saying Black Lives Matter is a visionary statement and it’s a visionary science fiction statement because black lives don’t matter, now, to the mainstream, internationally and they have never mattered. And so a worlds where Black lives matter across the board is science fiction and conversely in that context of non-linear Black Lives have always mattered obviously to Black people and Black people have always worked to create spaces where Black lives matter and so I’m incredibly thankful to Black Lives Matter for creating this prompt and creating a space internationally for Black folks to engage with that, those images and those ideas of the future but also just creating this
Morrigan Phillips and I actually facilitated a process for Black and pink which is a national LGBTQ um, prison abolition organisation that works a lot with LGBTQ prisoners in prison and so through their newsletter they actually did a collective storytelling sci fi project. So the, a group of folks on the outside who are in Black and Pink sort of we did the science fiction workshop with them. So they created a world and then they printed that in the newsletter and then it basically became a choose your own adventure where they asked people to write the next chapter and mail it in and then they’d print two of those versions in the next newsletter and then people would choose one of those to respond to and mail it in and they would write that way so that the story continued to grow and develop in community with folks who are physically separated from each other and, you know, incredibly psychologically separated from each other by prisons and so I think that that creation of that visionary space where folks who are incarcerated can dream together. It was really amazing and the world that they created on the outside, also the other thing that I think was really ingenious is because it was folks who were incarcerated who, you know, were the outside group. They understood the regulations of prison and so the story was actually about this other, kind of, fantasy world where when someone had done wrong they were swallowed by this creature and they stayed inside the creature for whatever the length of time their time period was and then the creature vomited them out and then they reentered society so, I mean, literally in the belly of the beast. I was like y’all oh my God. But that, and so the stories were all basically about how do you change that, right? How do you change that system, you know, and some of the folks were like we don’t wanna kill the animals, because they’re not the problem, the problem is the system. Right? They’re talking about prison abolition in the story but it’s not something that was getting flagged by the guards or the administration because it didn’t say prisons, it didn’t say bars, it didn’t, it said, you know, monster creature belly. They were like whatever some weird sci fi story. And instead prisoners were getting to talk to each other and brainstorm about how prison abolition might happen. And I thought it was just an incredibly ingenious foundation that the folks on the outside set so that folks could have really real deep conversations about prison abolition in a way that made sure that it didn’t get rejected by the administration for being a threat to the institution because they just saw it as some story about a monster that eats people. So they were like whatever, that’s cool.
And then the last example I wanna give is from here in where I live in Portland, Oregon. So the Portland African American Leadership Forum put out this plan called the Peoples Plan it’s Portland African American Leadership Forum is called POAAF so that’s what I mean when I say that. So it’s a plan for basically how can Portland, which is the whitest major city in America, like redevelop itself, you know, in a way that centres racial justice. But the process for getting there was a visionary process. It was very much an emergent strategy process. So POAAF held visioning sessions in the Black community for years, dozens of sessions where folks would come together, they’d ask a list of questions and then they would record the information that came out of that. Two questions that they included were these on the side- if Portland was a utopia, what would the African and African American community look like and how do we get to utopia? Like, what is the first stap to get to utopia here? And I think, for me, including those questions created a space for the people’s plan to be much more visionary and futuristic and widespread than other plans that have come out of similar processes that are only focused on the now and the real. I think that POAAF was incredibly visionary by including these questions because then people were able to dream and they were able to dream: alright well a hundred years in the future what could happen and what would be the first step to making that happen rather than, you know, I mean the Black population in Portland is 6% and shrinking, it’s very, very small. And so I think if you’re just dealing with the realities of living here it can be very hard to think of real substantive change happening. You’re like well, I guess maybe if this just stopped happening it would be okay, or better, right? Cuz you’re like I dunno things are so jacked up, what are you gunna do? But I think that moving it in the realm of the future and the visionary allowed folks to really, again, centre the question: what is the world that we want? Rather than what is the little reform that we can possibly eek out of this system. So those are just a couple examples of ways that folks have been, sort of, using the principles, the values of emergent strategy or visionary fiction. The ways that that work has been happening out in the world. And I’m not saying that I’m involved with all of those processes, these are just examples that I have found incredibly inspiring so.
Persephone: You’ve given us, you’ve given us so much food for thought and for nourishment and inspiration and I think that we will, I think that we need to close the talk with you now but it’s been so wonderful to have you here.
Walidah: Yeah! thank you so much for having me.
Audience: *Applause* *Cheering*
Walidah: Thank you, Haha. Awesome thank you, yeah and I definitely I would love to stay connected with folks so please do feel free to reach out and share what’s going on and, you know, I love to connect people with other folks too so let me know what folks are working on and how we can, we can build together. Thank y’all again.
Audience: Thank you! *Applause*
Posted on July 30, 2018
Categories: Art for Social Change