Boston Imagining: Cultural Agent Chrislene DeJean and Sci-Fi Social Justice

“We believe it is our right and responsibility to write ourselves into the future.”

With these words, visionary art-activists Walidah Imarisha and Adrienne Maree Brown introduce readers to one of the nation’s most talked-about anthologies of 2015.

Like the USDAC’s Imaginings, Octavia’s Brood: Science Fiction Stories from Social Justice Movements is a people-powered clarion bell for social justice, rooted not in what we oppose but in the world we want to build. Imarisha and Brown write, “The stories in Octavia’s Brood…represent a global quest for social transformation, for justice. They are about people from different backgrounds and worlds, expanding the notions of solidarity and community, redefining service, and exploring and rediscovering the human spirit in baffling times, under challenging circumstances.”

Imarisha continues, “Whenever we try to envision a world without war, without violence, without prisons, without capitalism, we are engaging in speculative fiction. All organizing is science fiction….We want organizers and movement builders to be able to claim the vast space of possibility, to be birthing visionary stories. Using their everyday realities and experiences of changing the world, they can form the foundation for the fantastic and, we hope, build a future where the fantastic liberates the mundane.”

                     Cultural Agent Chrislene DeJean

                     Cultural Agent Chrislene DeJean

USDAC Cultural Agent Chrislene DeJean, inspired by the vision of Octavia’s Brood (which was sparked by the work of Black feminist sci-fi writer Octavia E. Butler), is using the book’s wisdom to shape the USDAC’s upcoming Boston Imagining on June 6th.

 In this interview, DeJean talks about Octavia’s Brood, the upcoming Imagining, and the power to dream.

You hack social justice issues at Intelligent Mischief. You’re involved with Boston’s Mattapan United Steering Committee, Mattapan Cultural Arts Development, African Repertory Theater, and you’re a dancer and community organizer…whew! Why get involved with USDAC?

 I first heard about it through Jax Gil, who was doing the Sparkitect role at USDAC. They said it was grassroots and people-led. That got me excited, that it was for the people, by the people. I got excited because it’s not a real U.S. government department. It’s really pretentious to work for the State; it’s bureaucratic and not fun to be a part of, and I’m in huge disagreement with the government because they’re killing Black people. So at USDAC, we’re imagining a future where we can be participatory, democratic, and not abide by white  supremacy. That vision can actually be built collectively. That’s exciting.

How did the Boston Imagining come about?

 At our first meeting, we dived right in with brainstorming. I was hoping to set ground rules, ways of being, how we work together…but we all got excited about the idea of us teleporting to 2034 and experimenting with a lot of tech and art. We wanted to geek out with sci-fi.

Next week, Intelligent Mischief is bringing the Octavia’s Brood tour. So it would be dope to keep that theme going. The tour can introduce it; the Imagining can keep it going.

Boston is rapidly gentrifyingas in a new building every week kind of thing. So our Imagining is held in Dorchester, the largest neighborhood in Boston and a mostly Black neighborhood, with a new incoming white population. We’re imagining that this base will be a secret spot where we can stay in Boston and not be displaced.

One of the people in my team is a space design expert. The way she’s seeing the space is: the outside greeters are playing the role of asking questions to give a speakeasy feel but a playful vibe, not an exclusionary vibe. But once folks enter the space, they feel like they entered 2034. There are dividers in the room, so we’re using those to play with colors and make it look futuristic. We have a call for artists who have artwork about what they envision the future to be. We also thought about having projections of sci-fi films. We’re bringing in Sweetyie’s Radio, an artist collective that has a monthly radio show. They’re bringing their radio show to the Imagining and featuring an artist there. The USDAC Imagining template is very broad, so we’re using our sci-fi hack. A person in our group works with folks to build a sci-fi workshop, so we’re working with them on the Imagining. We’re working with folks to imagine future food and drink. We’re asking folks to dress up like the future.

Why Octavia’s Brood?

 The co-editors believe social justice is sci-fi; that the work is to build the visionary future. They call the writings visionary fiction. They ask things like “What would things look like if we removed all prisons? That doesn’t eradicate racism, so how do we hold accountability in another way?” It helps people go to an imaginary space, to dream it. Octavia Butler wrote Black women as main characters, as leaders.

[Butler’s series] Lilith’s Brood began with Lilith waking up 200 years after aliens came, “after the war.” These are benevolent colonizers who needed to come to Earth because they needed to trade. For them to survive as a species, they needed to genetically code with another species. So it poses the question, “How do you hold the fact that your species will never be the same? What would you do if you woke up 200 years later, the Earth as you knew it is gone, and you don’t know what to expect?” She picks up where Lilith left off: with white men sabotaging relationships and undermining Lilith’s leadership role, etc.

I wanted to be conscious about that in the Imagining. This city is known to be racially segregated. They’re doing a lot of talks about city planningImagine Bostonbut it makes me wary because the last city plan was redlining. Is it a great thing when cities plan? Not so much. They’re planning for the white people who hold capital. This Imagining is about something different.

 Anything else?

Octavia Butler said, “There’s nothing new under the sun, but there are new suns.” Intelligent Mischief is launching New Suns Summer. It’s part of #BlackSpring, to go with building Black radical imagination. This Imagining is part of the new suns.

 By Manish Vaidya, USDAC Social Justice ArtReach Coordinator

Poster for upcoming  Boston Imagining .

Poster for upcoming Boston Imagining.