Visions of the Future

Can the genre of visionary fiction be a conduit for organizing and radically re-envisioning a just future?

| Spring 2017

  • Visionary fiction could be our path to creating a radically better future.
    Photo by Flickr/Damescalito

When we emblazon a banner with the slogan “another world is possible,” how much have we imagined about what that other world is? Movement work involves envisioning and building worlds with new relationships of power and intersections of identity and collective change. We can get to this new world if we spend some creative time there — through writing and reading — and envisioning how it looks, feels, and functions.  

Visionary fiction, a term coined by writer, poet, and organizer Walidah Imarisha, is a genre that spans science fiction, fantasy, speculative fiction, and comics. It uses the lens of science fiction to explore world building by addressing current social issues in ways that are conscious of power inequalities, intersecting identities, and collective change. The genre, like social justice work, is not neutral, nor is it reformist: it’s political, realistic, and challenging, but also hopeful. It relies not on what we have, but on visualizing what we want.

The stalwarts of visionary fiction — Ursula K. Le Guin, Octavia E. Butler, Marge Piercy, Starhawk, Samuel R. Delany, W.E.B. Du Bois — imagine away oppression, develop radically transformed systems of governance, and explore new paradigms of sexuality, relationships, and gender. Le Guin’s novel The Dispossessed, for instance, explores what happens in a post-revolutionary world when those oppressive constructs we sought to dismantle begin to re-emerge in a new society. Le Guin teases out the challenges of existing in a world that is not as perfect as the revolution had hoped, and is more susceptible to replicating oppressive structures than most people had thought. While Le Guin gives us a vision of what an anarchist society could truly look like, she also gives us a tale about how revolution is not a fixed point but something that needs to remain in motion, with critical reflection as a part of the process.

What is a world without prisons, police brutality, sexual violence, poverty, oppression? We don’t know. But we work for one, building as we go. Visionary fiction lets us explore and construct answers to these questions in worlds free of the constraints that bind our work in our current real world. We can test ideas, trying out new paradigms of relationships and constructs of social order that not only push forward ideas of new societies, but also challenge our own emotions and assumptions.

In these imagined worlds, we get to release the hopes and desires we carry with us in our organizing work. Taking the time to explore the future through imagined worlds flexes our imaginations and offers a balance to the day-to-day practical work of organizing for social change.

The U.S.-based LGBTQ prisoner support organization Black and Pink recently embarked on a collective visionary fiction-writing project with its incarcerated members and free-world allies, including members who were formerly incarcerated and their supporters. Through its monthly newsletter, which is sent to 8,200 prisoners, Black and Pink is writing a world without prisons by collecting and publishing the stories of its incarcerated members. This abolition work envisions collective change for millions of incarcerated people, mostly people of colour.

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