I propose that our movements adopt bold and imaginative statements of vision and values, and hold those visions at the center of both their internal processes and their public work.
Because I believe that revolutionary imagination is such a unique, compelling asset for radical social movements, I think it is vital that we are inviting more people to participate in our imaginative world views at every appropriate opportunity. Yet, because revolutionary imagination has proven easy to try on—especially for young people—but harder to maintain as a lifelong fit, it is equally vital that committed radicals understand our responsibility to accompany people as they consider the possibilities of social transformation, that we consistently model a grounded and gritty hope, and that we relentlessly seek out creative possibilities even in harsh and desperate circumstances.
I believe the easiest and quickest way to model visionary thinking and to invite people to join in is to incorporate it at a base level of our groups’ work, no matter what that work is. Whether our groups are fighting to halt construction of a youth jail, or working with tenants against a negligent landlord, or organizing a food drive for newly arrived refugees in the neighborhood, I believe there is a place for stating—in writing and face-to-face, at least when welcoming participants—how our work fits into the bigger picture, and what our groups’ ideal systemic solutions or outcomes would be beyond the boundaries of present-day realities.
These statements could start out as simple as a sentence like, “we consider our group to be one small part of a larger movement for a more just and equal society,” but it’s better if they point more specifically to what the group actually envisions at the “end of the rainbow” of their chosen issues—how tomorrow’s youth might learn from their mistakes in a world without prisons; what it could be like to live without any landlords and bosses; or how a non-capitalist society could build robust mechanisms for community solidarity that make door-to-door food donations unnecessary.
To avoid the cheapening of these written statements—after all, the corporate and non-profit worlds have already deadened many of our senses with all their framed plaques of “mission and vision” statements—I think they must have some space to breathe and live within the democratic cultures of our groups. This could mean invoking different pieces of our visions and sharing personal reflections during meetings or when morale is low, or maybe holding ourselves accountable to our visions with data-driven evaluations during strategic debriefs, or regularly refining our vision by making a habit of comparing and contrasting with the visions of other groups. The specifics of what these statements dream up and how our groups might keep them at the center is up for experimentation—for me, the point is that they should exist across as many groups as possible, they should inform both the inner and public work of our groups, and they should be continuously refreshed and sharpened as our groups evolve and connect to each other.