My latest book, Demand the Impossible! A Radical Manifesto, will be released this month from Haymarket Books in Chicago (www.haymarketbooks.org), and I will post a paragraph (or more) from the book at the start of each week for the next few months. Please read along and spread the word, and order a book (or two!) from Haymarket if at all possible.
Here is the second brief excerpt from Demand the Impossible!
What if? That simple, humble question might be the single spark that can ignite a massive prairie fire, provoking us to leap beyond personal speculation and into the vortex of political struggle and social action. This is how it’s always been; this is the world as we’ve always known it. But why is it so? Who benefits and who suffers? How did we get here and where do we want to go? What if we took a radically different angle of regard and questioned the insistent dogma of common sense? What if we unleashed our wildest imaginations? The “what if” question might then blow open the spectrum of acceptable possibilities and take us down a rabbit hole or up into orbit—onto one of life’s restless and relentless journeys, exploring and experimenting, orbiting and spinning, inventing and adapting, struggling toward knowledge and enlightenment, freedom and liberation, fighting to know more in order to do more…
“All’s well,” says the town crier making rounds through the village and lighting lamps for the night. Perhaps it’s simply a reassuring thought for the townspeople, or perhaps there’s a more malevolent message, the toxic propaganda that the status quo is inevitable and that there is no alternative to the way things are. The dissident, the artist, the agitator, the dreamer, and the activist respond, “No, all is not well.” The current moment is neither immutable nor inescapable, and its imperfections are cause for general alarm—for the exploited and the oppressed the status quo is itself an ongoing act of violence.
Activists announce through their lives and their work that a new world is in the making. We can create a community of agitators and transform this corner of the world into a place that we want to inhabit. We can identify ourselves as citizens of a country that does not yet exist and has no map, and become that new nation’s pioneers and cartographers—and through our common actions bring a more assertive and vibrant public into being.
Each of us is immersed in what is, the world as such. In order to link arms and rise up we need a combination of somethings: seeds, surely; desire, perhaps; a vision of community and possibility; necessity and even, at times, desperation; willful enthusiasm and an acceptance that there are no guarantees whatsoever.
Imagination is indispensable in these efforts and pursuits be- cause it “ignites the slow fuse of possibility,” as Emily Dickinson wrote. More process than product, more stance than conclusion, engaging the imagination involves the dynamic work of igniting that fuse, mapping the world as it really is, and then purposely stepping outside and leaning toward a possible world.