Following the brave coordinated action of the Sunrise Movement at Minority Leader Pelosi’s office to push for a Green New Deal on November 13, I have been inspired to write. Those of us currently without the guts to be activists need to embrace radical reimagination as a first step in reorienting our lives. Radical reimagination involves interrogating the foundations of societal injustice from multiple perspectives and generating potential solutions. I see radical reimagination as a necessary starting point for change, because I think systems cannot change without collective visions of something better,
A natural place to start practicing with radical reimagination is reexamining our history as a nation. Two major injustices were sown into the fabric of this settler-colonial nation. Both the genocidal project of systematically erasing indigenous peoples and the horrors of chattel slavery are inseparable from United States history. It is up to us, then, to work to rectify the injustices this nation was founded on. We must work to return the land back to the indigenous peoples of this country and provide reparations for slavery. While the bloody injustices of the past and present will never fade, without acknowledging whose land and labor built the United States, we cannot move forward.
Similarly, the process of radical reimagination must be applied to other foundational elements of the United States. These include institutionalized racism, which is currently most salient in the U.S.’s system of mass incarceration, and capitalism, which is currently based on fossil fuels. As with many unjust systems, institutionalized racism and fossil fuel capitalism are complexly intertwined. The developmental history of the United States would be fundamentally different without them. We can use radical reimagination to develop positive visions for the future that would begin to address both fossil fuel capitalism and institutionalized racism. A highly incomplete sketch of a resolution to mass incarceration might look like reversing the odious court decisions that enabled it, ending the drug war, rectifying the waves of injustices committed during it, and taking steps to work toward abolishing prisons altogether. Another positive vision of the future is that of a Green New Deal, especially one that is aware of the racist history of the original New Deal, and the need to address capitalism’s role in climate change. In the face of entangled systems of injustice, we must generate comprehensive solutions that match the scale and complexity of the problems they intend to address.
We must not forget the immense educational privilege that we have as Swarthmore students. We cannot allow that privilege to render us apathetic or cynical. Instead, we must participate in the call for radical reimagination, even if we do not currently possess the ability or the means to be on the front lines for change. When we allow our view of the world to ossify into apathy or cynicism, injustice wins. By supporting those organizing on the ground in any way we can, we can combat the hopelessness that lurks within ourselves and the world around us. The realm of what is possible is born through collective struggle. It is up to us to use our immense privilege to fight to make justice possible.
The lottery of birth is all that separates us from those with less privilege. We would do well to remember that. To this end, we need to back movements that aim to bring justice to marginalized communities. We cannot become so comfortable in our privilege that we forget that other people live lives as complex as one’s own. This realization, known in the “Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows” as “sonder,” is essential to the project of radical reimagination. In my view, sonder is what grounds our compassion for one another and our outrage at injustice. It is up to us to turn our feelings into actions that support these communities of people.
Radical reimagination can help challenge the narratives that maintain injustice and write new ones that help us fight against it. Whether it is settler-colonialism, institutionalized racism, fossil fuel based capitalism, or any of the other complex entangled systems that perpetuate injustice, it is up to us to create hope for a better world. By embracing radical reimagination, we can fight the apathy and cynicism that lurk in the shadows of privilege and become able to do what we can to fight for justice. While enacting the positive visions of the future that we generate through radical reimagination will be a difficult ongoing process, it is one that we must stay with. Armed with radical reimagination, we will be better prepared to engage with reactionary agendas that seek to cause harm to marginalized communities.