"Imagination is the first thing to go under oppression..." a guy (who shall remain nameless) stated with such confidence and conviction at a recent art as activism event in Los Angeles, California. The room full of artists collectively nodded and audibly gasped in agreement. I, in turn, sat on my hands, bit my lip and consoled myself with thoughts I knew were equally as false, "he meant well."
But, boy was he wrong!
My mind flooded with proof and my fingers feverishly typed points in my Notes app with plans to expound on them in prose. How I wish I could regather that group, read this post, and invite everyone to imagine a nation that uses the power of imagination for good, meaning "better" and "forever" equally.
Follow the Drinking Gourd. Between 1800 and 1865 it's estimated that nearly 100,000 enslaved African (Americans) escaped in the dark of night through the Underground Railroad by not-so-simply imagining that the Big Dipper constellation, due north, was their glowing guide to freedom...more than one thousand miles away at times.
Long Walk to Freedom. Nelson Mandela, South Africa's first black president, endured 27 years in labor-intensive prisons for his efforts to bring racial harmony and equality to his country. With signs of freedom out of sight, "Madiba" used his imagination alone to envision a democratic future. That plan, cultivated safely in his mind for nearly three decades, began being brought to fruition upon his release in 1990. "The power of imagination created the illusion that my vision went much farther than the naked eye could actually see," he said.
Solidarity at Sea. Migrants cram hundreds at a time into poor quality vessels, like flimsy inflatable rafts, that vow to reach foreign land and refuge worth the risk. More people have been forced to flee their homes due to conflict and crisis than ever before and many, if you can imagine, leave with nothing but the clothes they are wearing and the belief (or imagination) that a better life is within reach. “I still think I have a chance to make a difference in the world. I have several inventions that I’m hoping to patent once I get to America. I don’t want the world to think I’m over. I’m still here.”- Mr. Hamo aka The Scientist, a Syrian refugee
And then there are those who spend 40+ hours working in oppressive jobs, from arduous to demeaning and everything in between. Those of us who "pimp talk" and "guilt-trip" our way out of bed and into work for people and companies who don't value our investment...and don't pretend to try. We rack up vacation time promising to take weeklong trips with our families (one day), but really today we're just too afraid to ask for what we've already earned. We multi-task our way through the madness, eating AND working, talking AND listening, doing AND defending, surviving AND dreaming.
The truth of the matter is, when people feel oppressed in any situation, country or crisis, that is when we (history has proven) use our imaginations to foster freedom. So let's prove that panelist wrong (again) and put our imaginations to work, starting right now, especially right now!