Friday May 13, 2016 •
Social justice campaigns are battles of the imagination, says writer and activist adrienne maree brown.
adrienne is the co-editor, with Walidah Imarisha, of Octavia’s Brood octaviasbrood.com. Inspired by the work of writer Octavia E. Butler, Octavia’s Brood is a collection of science fiction and fantasy that came into being when adrienne and Walidah asked social change campaigners to write stories exploring their own activism. I interviewed adrienne in April 2016 about her work connecting social justice and science fiction, what she calls the game of imagination.
Many of the activists adrienne worked with had never written fiction before and they resisted the idea, at first. But once they started writing they, “came back with worlds” and “were ecstatic about what they were creating.” adrienne, Walidah, and other Octavia’s Brood writers saw the same resistance and then exhilaration at workshops where activists, as well as sci-fi fans and scholars, explored oppression and activist work through the world of Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, or new stories the participants create together.
adrienne and Walidah see their own lives as the result of the futuristic thinking of others. In the introduction to Octavia’s Brood, Walidah writes,
“Our ancestors dreamed us up and then bent reality to create us. For adrienne and myself, as two Black women, we think of our ancestors in chains dreaming about a day when their children’s children’s children would be free.”
adrienne spoke about why this imaginative work against oppression is just as necessary going forward. “Walidah and I say it’s our right and responsibility to write ourselves into the future… and to write ourselves into futures we want to be a part of.”
adrienne believes that when activists talk about the changes they want to see in the world they are “telling stories about a future we’ve never seen... where there’s no homelessness and everyone has jobs and access to an education and health care—that’s science fiction.”
She also says that the very oppression social change activists are fighting was also dreamed into being.
“We’re living inside the imagination of someone else… Someone imagined that this is how police would function. Recently it’s like someone imagined that Trayvon Martin was dangerous, or that Mike Brown was dangerous, that Renisha McBride was dangerous. And so those people lost their lives to someone else’s imagination.”
That means it’s imperative that activists consciously envision a better world and a path to get there.
“We have to get into the game of imagination… We have to shift how we think of ourselves, how others think of us, how we think of conflict mediation and resolution, how we think of guns, how we think of safety. We have to imagine new contexts for all of these things if we hope to have a future in which we survive with each other.”
Our interview happened the week two pieces of news had broken about African Americans who very successfully played that game of imagination: Prince passed away and the Treasury Department proposed Harriet Tubman for the twenty dollar bill. When we spoke adrienne cited Tubman’s insistence that “my people are free” even when slavery was still legal.
adrienne cited Prince as a powerful example of an artist using his imagination to make the world a freer place around art, race, and gender.
“Through his art, through the way he lived his life, through the way he conducted his business [Prince] just kept carving out all this other space for people that wasn’t the status quo, that wasn’t just supporting corporations, and that really was about his artistic freedom, his black freedom, his ability to draw outside the lines. I feel like Octavia’s Brood is a place where we’re doing that all the time. I feel very grateful to be a part of that project.”
Anne Pernick is the Stand Campaigner Education and Resources Director and runs the BEN network of activists. Email her at email@example.com