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Activist Forum: Weaving Imagination and Creation

Date Published: 
July 14, 2002
    This section of Left Turn has been used to reflect on various discussions and debates taking place within the Global Justice Movement. The intention is to reflect the views and perspectives of those in the movement through our voices, as opposed to academics and writers analyzing what we do and why.

    A phrase, and now slogan, of the Global Justice Movement in various parts of the world is “Another World is Possible.” This selection of interviews begins to address what we mean when we say another world is possible, and why we believe it to be possible. What would a more just society look like and what does it mean to speak in these terms? I hope this piece contributes to the conscious placement of vision and imagination at the center of all our activities.

    Most people want to live in a different, more just society, and though many understand intellectually that it could and should happen, something holds them back from activity. One of the reasons for this is we do not look enough at our human potential and possibility, and instead respond to what we are taught, which is to be alienated from each other and see solidarity as an anomaly. Understanding a need for change and seeing objective possibilities are not sufficient. What we also need to motivate us to work for change is inspiration and creative vision.

    We are taught to ignore the everyday signs of human solidarity and aid. The media, for example, reported on all of the acts of solidarity and self-sacrifice after 9-11 as an anomaly. What we need to collectively internalize is that such acts are what humans do for each other and are not anomalies. The only anomaly is our humanity being taken from us and from our interactions with each other. Part of visioning another world is retaking our humanity in our relationships with each other as we create that new world.

    The world we live in is so wrought with problems, we often get caught up in only resisting and hoping our efforts will lead to a better future. I believe we need to not only study history to see alternatives, but to vision and imagine more. We need to place the future visions we share into all of the work we do. If we are not imagining and creating, we can get trapped in the historical error of resistance without vision. Resistance is key to change, but it will only be momentary if there is not also a discussion and vision of total transformation, of getting at the roots of the problem while simultaneously creating the solutions.

    For some people, visioning a better, more equitable society means looking at the past and finding those things that inspire us and transposing them onto the present. For others, visioning begins in the present with the inspiration drawn from current human interactions, seeing how we relate now as the creation of the future. Yet for others, the beginning point is the future place we know we can create, a place that is not rigid or based only on past examples, or in the little things we do in our daily lives to support and love one another, but on a combination of all past, present and future interactions.

    Of course there are the tremendous events in history that also inspire, from the neighborhood assemblies in Agentina, the Zapatistas in Chiapas to the Paris Commune, the FAI, CNT and POUM in Spain, the Diggers in England, to the structures and support that emerge in different revolutionary epochs. History is important for us not only to learn from, but it also provides a place from which to draw inspiration.

    In the late sixties and seventies there were countless cities all over the globe that were taken over by workers and students and run in common from Paris to Portugal to Iran and Chile. History is an inspiration and a place to draw lessons from, but not a place from which to create boilerplate models. We need to be learning and creating simultaneously.

    What we, as revolutionaries, must do is to create a space where humanity can flourish and at the same time imagine how much further we can go. We create spaces where we are able to be the people we are, where we can begin to touch our own humanity through making decisions that affect our lives. We begin to vision collectively and creatively and act on those visions. We do not just organize a demonstration against something bad, but create a process in which everyone can have a voice. We create something good in and through our resistance.

    When we stop creating and visioning the movement can die. When we are not allowed to be individuals acting as a part of a group, the group cannot live for long. Another world, one that has been articulated so eloquently by so many of those interviewed, one that is in the imagination of each of us, is not only possible but achievable.

Leslie Wood
Coalition for the Human Rights of Immigrants
Direct Action Network NYC

What does it mean to you to say another world is possible? Is another world really possible, and if so, why do you believe this?

Of course it’s possible and necessary to say it, because it triggers our thinking and imagination. I’ve always believed another world is possible, partially as a negative response—that this can’t be as good as it gets: war, pollution etc. You see it all the time—the possibility—in the relationships between people, the relationship and process in the creation of community gardens and other spaces where people can create these visions and use imagination. Where people are free to create and change and free to dissent.

Sometimes I get worried that vision is seen as static—it should not be—it is an organizing process. I’ve never been one to think the revolution will come someday, but is always happening.

Now so many people are becoming more and more creative with their vision, especially internationally. I don’t want to put Porto Alegre on a pedestal, but it is important, as well as solid movements like in Palestine and Ottawa. In Ottawa there is the upcoming protests against the G8 which has involved a great deal of community organizations and organizing, as well as teach-ins and a focus on local struggles, particularly around immigration.

How are immigration and movement across borders linked to the process of creating another world?

It’s not hard to imagine a situation where not only the rich can travel the world, but that anybody could travel to where they wanted or needed to go. On the negative side we have the fortification of borders, on the positive we imagine a world without borders. In Europe there has been new organizing of the No Border Network. I have been reading lately about the organizing going on along and across the borders, including raves that allow people to cross freely. Borders are the edges of nation-states and are militarized and working for some and not others. I cannot accept that is the way that life must be.

When I used to work on bicycle issues, we used to do visioning and looking at physical spaces and what they could be like, it was easier than global transformation. In Toronto I remember thinking, we don’t need this huge highway going into the city, we could turn this into a huge garden, and housing underneath, or art galleries or schools. It can be easier to vision when looking at concrete space. What do we have, what do we want, and then the strategy questions. Strategy is a part of visioning, this part of the visioning is emphasized in anarchist thought.

What in your day-to-day experience shows you that it can happen, that we will and are creating another society?

Sitting on the subway the other day there was a woman who began to read the New York Times. She said she did not want the sports or business sections and someone else then took them. Being open to recognize there is an incredible amount of goodwill out there and take the time to look after those around us. Take the time for food and dancing and reading. This allows spaces to not get burnt out—it is frightening how few older activists there are.

Anything else on vision?

We need to not just look for spaces where we feel comfortable, though we need them, but also we need to find spaces where we are learning and are challenged and might fuck up, which is ok as long as we are trying to figure it out. It is amazing to go into a new space, one you were nervous to enter, and find you can do it. People feel that dealing with issues of power, race, gender, and class are issues that stop us from visioning, but no—it is a part of visioning to wrestle with it. Not to figure it out, but the process of wrestling, however scary that is.

Chuck Morse
Board Member, Institute for Anarchist Studies
Mexico City

What does it mean to say another world is possible?

I use the slogan “another world is possible” to affirm a utopian perspective. It is a critical assertion against the neo-liberals who say that there are no alternatives to the present social structure: their world is neither necessary nor desirable, and the slogan helps me point that out. But the phrase is also a critique of leftists who argue that the “imperatives of struggle”—hierarchy, party building, deal making, etc—must be our point of departure. I think we should begin from our most hopeful convictions—the other world that we envision—not from the demands imposed upon us by the existing society. Personally, I find more in freedom than necessity, more in desire than need, more in Fourier than Lenin.

I believe another world is possible simply because different historical epochs have existed and, in these epochs, people have related to each other and the natural world very differently than they do at present. It is a fact that there have been and will be other worlds, the question is, what are we going to do about it? Although past historical epochs have emerged unconsciously, due to forces outside of people’s control, I believe that we now have the capacity to shape our destiny. I also think it is my responsibility as an activist to try to envision and foster such historical changes.

What potential and problems do you see ahead?

I am heartened by the expansion of dialogue about political and economic alternatives that has occurred since the 1994 Zapatista uprising and the 1999 eruption of the anti-globalization movement. A new political space has emerged in which people are imagining very different social relationships and building alternatives on that basis. I find this very exciting and think activists have a great opportunity to nurture and expand this opening. However, I am also cognizant of some very negative potentials on the horizon—presently embodied by Bush’s “War on Terror”—although great risks always appear during times of great social polarization.

I do think our methods and styles of organizing are very important, and I am enthusiastic about the renewed interest in democratic strategies. This is a great corrective to the Leninist and social democratic tendency to prioritize ends over means (and create parties and states designed to *impose* freedom upon the world). However, I am concerned about the tendency in the anti-globalization movement to reverse the equation and emphasize means over ends, tactics over politics. Instead of focusing on means or ends, I think we must focus on the relationship between two: like all anarchists, I believe that ends and means must be consistent.

Amanda Hickman
Reclaim the Streets NYC
Times Up!

What does it mean to you to say another world is possible?

That the inequity that exists in our society is not actually inevitable, that it is possible to correct some of those inequities. I think that a lot of people look at injustice, and as much as they believe it is wrong, they do not believe it could be any other way.

Why do you believe it could be another way?

It’s really clear, especially in the US. We have set up these legal structures and frameworks that facilitate the inequities that exist. They don’t just organically and irrevocably evolve. No matter how often you look you can trace almost anything back to somebody’s self interest.

When schools are putting all their energy into training kids to pass tests at the expense of any real learning, everyone acts like the tests themselves are inevitable. In fact, the entire system of reliance on manufactured tests to measure achievement is the result of some very thoughtful planning on the part of a company that makes tests. People just eat it up because we have to have standards and someone has made a very articulate argument for them and by now there are fifteen layers to dismantle before we can raise children with respect and dignity, for the children and for the world they grow into.

But once you start scratching at the first layer, you start to dismantle the very idea that things just sort of have to be a certain way. That is one tiny, tiny example, but it is true almost everywhere, in relationships between tobacco producers, arms manufacturers and Plan Colombia, between the FDA, pharmaceutical companies, patent law, health insurers and the narrow choice of healthcare options and information that people have at their disposal.

Name an issue, it is never just a matter of policy priorities, it is a web of self-serving legislation and regulation. Once you can see it, it seems so clear that of course we can dismantle it or at least peel away at the layers.

Why is another world not just possible, but achievable? What inspires you?

I can see what happens with community gardens and small projects with people who don’t come to the garden with a vision of a different world and who maybe believe another world is possible, but not achievable. The experience turns out to be empowering and gives them the garden they can’t afford to rent with their apartment. It gives them some space and control in their community.

People then begin to be interested in their community and once you feel invested, you move on to other questions. If I did not think it was possible I would not be able to go on. It is so clear that it is possible. It’s so clear that most people think it is possible, yet not achievable, that means that all it will take is momentum.

David Solnit
Freedom Rising
Art and Revolution.

When we say another world is possible what do we mean, what do you mean?

For me the point is to try and get people to stop being just oppositional and start imagining what our lives and the world could be. Using the concept “Another World is Possible” or “A Better World is Possible” is a way to provoke us to start thinking constructively about the world around us and at the possibilities. One way I have personally done this is through art workshops.

In Los Angeles leading up to the Democratic Convention protests in 2000, I facilitated art workshops at the Convergence Center focusing on wildly diverse struggles people were engaged in. We asked people to create ugly puppets to represent the problems they were fighting against, then to make an image in the shape of a giant puzzle piece of the positive solution to the problem. When discussing the solutions, no one said the government or corporations should solve this, but they themselves created the solutions for their community. People saw themselves as those who could fix or replace the problems with alternatives.

It got people to define their struggles positively and also created a visual unity of disparate struggles.

The most significant threat and hopeful prospect is not our most militant opposition, but our positive alternatives—both in practice and in our vision, whether a neighborhood organization that encompasses the community or an autonomous community in Chiapas, or the relationships within our movement.

Unlike in society generally, we get a taste of what it would be like to participate democratically in decisions. This was seen quite powerfully in Seattle in the organization of the direct action—thousands of us got to taste thousands of people making decisions in an openly democratic way. Those experiences then translated into liberating the streets of a major US city for a day.

There have been some pretty remarkable experiences around the world, like the social centers in Europe. Half a million people marched in Barcelona in the spring against a Europe of Capital. There was a meeting of people before the protests who are involved in creating radical alternative structures (independent radical unions, social centers, squats, etc.) and called it Another World is Under Construction. This was not just about what is possible, but about a reality many are creating with a vision of what is possible.

These experiences and visions, are they part of what inspires you day to day?

Many things inspire me, massive things like Argentina and Chiapas, as well as collectives in the Bay area. Each gives me a taste of what the world can be. Every movement needs a vision of what is possible. This is another historical lesson of the massive oppositional movements—if they do not have visionary alternative models, they fall back into hierarchical organizational structures.

Do you think we can get “there” if it is a “place” one can get to?

One thing we have to do is shatter the notion that radical transformation is an event, but rather see it as a process. It is a sort of tug of war towards the world we desire. The reward is more power and control over our own lives, more egalitarian relationships. Hopefully through this we are creating repeatable models, as in the neighborhood assemblies in Argentina, or in the affinity group model here in the US.

I think for me doing strictly oppositional work is not sustainable for activists. One thing I do is make art with different communities as a way of creating a new vision of a new world with lots of creativity and art in the rusty old tin can of the old.