A few weeks ago, an online summit took place to explore answers to the question What If? What if we generated more food and energy locally? What if artists and activists learned from each other’s strengths? What if our creativity could be a force for good in the world, rather than just being co-opted to help companies make more money? What if we identified more as citizens than as consumers? Lots of juicy provocative questions, being answered by small groups around the world.
This was one of the sessions that inspired me the most.
Jay Jordan and Isa Fremeaux formed the Laboratory of Insurrectionary Imagination to bring together the courage of activists with the creativity of artists. The result? Experiments in creative resistance which surprise both the public imagination and authorities managing protest.
Here are a few things they said:
First off, if you have ever taken a weekend off work, worn trousers (if you identify as female), used contraception, been on strike, read or consulted an independent newspaper, or been a member of the union, do you realize that you have done something that was once illegal…
(For First Nations, there is an additional list of these things that were forbidden – to speak your language, to hire a lawyer, to leave the reserve without a pass… that it adds a whole other layer to this conversation that isn’t covered by this video, but that speaks to the fact that anyone studying social heroes, civil rights, need to realize that things like the Constitution Express (which several Lil’wat Nation community members were part of), or the Melvin Creek/Sutikalh blockade that kept one of the only unlogged valleys in St’át’imc Territory from becoming a ski resort, should be as widely renowned for its game-changing advocacy as the Montgomery Bus Boycott.)
All these rights that now seem banal were gained through civil disobedience.
Disobedience is at the root of work of the Laboratory of Insurrectionary Imagination – and they say that in this time, like no other time, disobedience and desertion is the work that we have to do, to stop feeding the capitalist death machine.
And every form of disobedience, they share, has emerged from the imagination of people, and taken form in human bodies.
The Lab was established because activists often reproduce the same old forms of resistance – the blockade the march, the vigil, the boycott and we need new forms of resistance to surprise ourselves and the authorities, who learn to repress resistance faster than creative instigators can come up with them. So, they want to bring together artists and activists to co-design and deploy creative forms of resistance. Because, artists bring creativity, lateral thinking, and big egos and a lack of courage. Activists bring ease with collective processes, and courage, but a tendency to repeat the same old forms. The synthesis between the imagination of the artist and the courage of the activists is the place to explore, with participatory processes and experiments, ideally anchored with movements or places.
Recorded at the Together We Can Summit, taking place 11-21 May 2022, they presented from a yurt erected where an airport duty free shop was planned at a proposed airport outside Nantes, France. Instead farmers allowed protesters onto the land and a settlement grow up over 40 years, known as ZAD, including a medieval barn, a lighthouse, new farms and fields of crops.
“Imagine winning” Jay urged, and by acting as if you will win, you change the story of your resistance.
What I appreciated about their insights is the reminder that we need to build the alternative ways of being… so even those of us who don’t love conflict, who don’t thrive in adversarial settings, who don’t see ourselves as protestors, can be active. We can actively withdraw our complicity and pour our energy into more beautiful visions. We can actively build a stronger and more resilient community. We can actively listen to each other. We can actively explore the edges of possibility.