Whenever I'm at a crossroads in my life, I go back and read something from history: a documentary, a biographer, some sort of historical document, source material. The reason is why should I reinvent the wheel instead of building upon what's already been done. I'm nothing if not time-effective in my musings. The next thing I do is read or watch something about an imagined past. Here's where the real dreaming out loud and movement happens.
For example, I wanted to create social change, so I interned for a social change non-profit. While I there I was introduced to the Eyes on the Prize series, the writings of Ella Baker and Bayard Rustin and I read. I read til my eyes popped out. I learned that the movement wasn't a good idea somebody just came up with one day when they were tired. It was a set of strategies that were slowly implemented since reconstruction when black people held more seats in congress than we have in recent history. I learned how labor movements, Ida B. Wells anti-lynching movement, Ghandi's non-violent movement, socialist and communist movements in the US, Saul Alinsky and Augusto Boal. I learned what they did right, what they go wrong and how civil rights workers implemented it, mobilized churches and decided that choosing a charismatic leader was important to helping the grassroots work that had been happening for decades come to a head. I learned that the politics were based on emotions, but the strategies had very little to do with somebody getting mad. They began with anger, but required serious strategy to make them real and to last for years at a time. Organizing a million people to go without paychecks and face burned down houses, and lynched children needs something much greater than just anger. It required a life and death set of steps that helped people stand still even in the face of fear daily for years at a time.
Then after I did all this research, implemented some of it in my community organizing work...then I read Sci/Fy. Go ahead laugh, but I did. And here's why: in contemporary American movies, plays, TV, we're super hung up on people being their worst selves. We're wrapped up in doom, gloom and forecasts of zombie apocalypses. As if the only thing human beings are capable of is self-destructive shitty behavior. If that's the case, why bother being here? I don't buy that. But really good fantasy/sci-fi imagines a world where we're trying to win. Where we haven't given up. I read Ursula K. Le Guin, Octavia Butler and Steven Barnes. Steven Barnes' Lion's Blood paints a picture of what the world would have looked like had Constantinople not made Christianity institutionalized Christianity into a legal system to create an all powerful Western Civilization. He used Christianity to do nation building and destroy anything, anybody, any country that did not accept the set of rules he established as the things Christ would have done to create civilization.
Mind you, no where did Christ say kill people who don't believe what you believe, and join the Roman Catholic Church or die. No where did he say that, but that is essentially how his teachings were used to create Western civilization into what later became the Roman Catholic church. The Roman Catholic Church which then ran amok over every country on the planet that wasn't white and Christian. In Barnes' world, Africa is the conquering continent and Europeans are chattel. It's very interesting to imagine if the tables were turned, would the story be any different or would it be the same, with different colored leading men and women.
It was reading his stories that it occurred to me to treat the place in time we're in as just that: a place in time where money is still at play and most of the things we're fighting for are not real, but they are driven by money. Racism, sexism, poverty, religion, ethnicity, genderism. All this stuff has always been there...how personally we take it and how much we work to better the human condition as opposed to just our own is what's different. After all my historical research, it took the imaginings of a black writer who imagined who would we be if we had everything...would any of us be better off?
The answers I found in my research, but then most importantly in my imagination helped me create a way of moving through this life and setting goals. It made me focus on forging alliances with people based on their set of humanistic principles. Were they on a mission human beings on a mission similar to my own or just trying to flip the tables which is certainly a valid goal, it's just not my goal. It caused me to re-imagine new ways to deal with age old problems. Who would I be without my " isms" ? Who would I be without the color of my skin, the economics of where I'm from, the gender I was born into?
And if that the answer to that is different from who I am now, then what's stopping me from becoming my full self right now in spite of the isms. Because those states are there everyday, but I'm not battling them every day...and even if I were, if I allow myself to be defined so completely by them, I will only be repeating history instead of making a new one...
Who would I be without my stuff? What's stopping me from being that person?