Illustration by Amir Khadar
A vision of where the Black freedom movement could take us.
James Baldwin once urged activists and revolutionaries to demand the impossible. We must not only demand the impossible — we must fight to make it real.
The following letter is written as if from the future, addressed to ourselves — the ancestors we will one day become. It is grounded in the goals of Black liberation, which we view as a quest for human liberation, and it dares to imagine a world beyond racial monopoly capitalism, heteropatriarchy, war and colonialism.
This letter is not intended as a manifesto or a pie in the sky, but as a small glimpse of impossible possibility.
We write to you from the east coast of Turtle Island. The landscape and built environment look different now. You would not even recognize it. There are accessibility paths and green areas everywhere. The earth can breathe and everyone can move freely, no matter how they move.
We want you to know first and foremost that you are with us every day. Your presence permeates the new history books we have written, but more importantly, we pay tribute to you in the ways in which we are repairing and acting as stewards of the land, the rivers, the birds and the wildlife. Your beauty flows through the clean skies and waterways— luxuries you were denied in your time. We have many holidays and celebrations where we remember and honor you. August 10 is Pueblo Revolt Day. December 13 is Ella Baker Day. (Just two examples.)
After discussion, debate, reflection and compromise, we have begun to develop new systems and ways of being together that reflect our shared goals and values.
The challenge we tackled, which so many of our ancestors fought for, is education. For our new society, education goes beyond the “schoolhouse” and the “campus.” And there are no barriers that exclude anyone from learning. Teaching and learning go on everywhere, with billboards, songs and television commercials that teach, rather than sell. And rather than excluding anyone from education, or labeling some of our precious children “smart” and others “not smart,” we recognize all are geniuses. It is the job of learning coaches and co-learners to help them find that genius — and to apply it to the needs of the community and society.
And guess what? We no longer work 10 or 12 hours a day. So many of you worked day and night just to survive. We know about struggles like the “Fight for 15” and the fight for the eight-hour day. But now we work less and live more. The technology that was previously deployed in service of profit, creating obscene amounts of individual wealth, now saves us time that we invest in ourselves and one another and the planet.
Plumbers are dancers. Transport workers are poets. Doctors are potters.
We have also begun to rethink work in other ways. Arduous but necessary work is made more enjoyable with extra time off, community appreciation and the knowledge that the burden is shared.
Today, we celebrate love in all of its forms and expressions. Our queer and trans family have taught us to let go of rigid gender roles, narrow-minded and patriarchal notions of family, and beauty and pleasure. We are happier as a people. And freedom is not simply freedom to do as we please, but freedom to serve, help, contribute, build and dance together.
With all that we have improved, we don’t want to give the false impression that we live in some kind of la-la land. There are still struggles to be waged. Human beings still hurt each other and succumb to their less beautiful selves.
But we don’t have wannabe tough guys running around in uniforms waving guns and shooting people. As sites of conflict resolution, we have built freedom squares in every city and town. When problems do arise, we go to the freedom squares; people can be safe there. They can get comfort and support. Trouble-busting teams are ready to strategize to de-escalate or resolve a grievance. Decisions are collectively made — but according to a set of principles, values and priorities we have all set together.
And we have settled on the notion that freedom is not primarily individual freedom. Sometimes we have to sacrifice some of our wants as individuals so that others can have what they need. This was a big hurdle, but we argued, debated, sang, shouted, meditated and negotiated our way to consensus.
We hope this short letter, filled with love and an ever-expanding set of dreams, gives you, our beloved ancestors, a glimpse into the future we are creating — in your honor, on ground you plotted and plowed. We hope you can visualize this future, in its fabulousness and its flaws.
Know that it is not perfect. It is not a utopia. Revolutions are not events, but processes.
We are honored to have come this far, through hard struggle and determined dreaming, and we know we have much farther to go, each generation doing its part. For now, and for the fifty years to follow, you will be with us.
To build a new future is as much about memory as imagination. Day by day, we are making the impossible possible. Then daring to dream even bigger.
Barbara Ransby is a professor of history at the University of Illinois-Chicago and the author of Ella Baker and the Black Freedom Movement: A Radical Democratic Vision. She is a longtime activist and a founder of the group Ella’s Daughters. Most recently she works with the growing Movement for Black Lives and The Rising Majority