A Call for Dreams


This is a follow-up to my post on love & rage in a time of injustice.

Lately I’ve been thinking about dreams. I think we need to get better at dreams. I think we are impoverished when it comes to dreams.

We are rich in nightmares. I bet most people reading this could tell me who Ted Bundy was, or their theories on COVID-19, or which family member of theirs is an asshole.

Likewise I think everyone could come up with a good 10 minutes on what is wrong with this country, or town, or world. You know, like a TEDx talk on why everything is shit.

I’m beginning to wonder if this is part of why everything is shit.

I’m looking for instance at the concept of abolishing the police.

I am fully on board with abolishing the police. I also have very little idea what that would look like. To put it another way, it is a not something I have dreamed about. It is not a dream of mine.

I’ve seen that in the news coverage too. People calling for abolishing the police. A common reply: What does that even mean?

For what that means, please see below for some resources on the subject of abolishing police and prisons.

What if every one of us could talk for 10 minutes about what a society without police would look like? What if our Netflix queues were full of documentaries and sci-fi shows about the peaceful future where there are no cops or prisons?

A couple months ago I heard a fascinating interview with Rutger Bregman, a Dutch historian who studies utopias. Maybe it seems silly to talk about utopias amidst chronic injustice and a pandemic. But he had a striking point: We cannot go to a place we have not yet imagined. We must imagine it first, and then go there.

Otherwise we are sleepwalking in a nightmare.

To be clear: Coming up with a negative is a critical step. When someone is hitting you on the hand with a hammer, it’s reasonable to first tell them what you would NOT like them to do. I’m not writing this to minimize those conversations.

It is clear to me that we do not even have consensus on what we need to stop doing. There’s a lot of gaslighting and nonsense out there about truths that strike me as self-evident: We need to stop killing each other. We need to stop immiserating and dominating and destroying each other. We need to stop polluting and degrading our home.

But these aren’t dreams, they’re an absence of something. They’re an absence of a nightmare. Dreaming requires additional work: Imagination, creativity, audacity. We must stretch into uncomfortable new lands.

Where is the loud public discourse on what we WOULD like? The sketching out of those dreams?

I find myself digging for conversations and articles on where we would like to go. They do exist, but they cannot compete with the mainstream idiot roar of the nightmare. They are candle flames in a hurricane.

Maybe it’s because I follow the wrong Twitter accounts, or don’t hear the still small voice of those who dream. That’s undoubtedly true. I’ve inhabited a nightmare for many years, and I can say that when I’m deep in the darkness, all I can see is more nightmares. The last thing a broken heart wants to hear is someone else’s dream about unicorns.

But let’s talk about unicorns. Abolishing the police is part of a big dream that I have rarely seen articulated. It’s a brick in a house that is a nonviolent society, a society concerned first and foremost with the thriving of its people. Imagine a justice system that heals both victims and wrongdoers. Imagine an economic system that provides the basic needs of all community members. Imagine the best of human ingenuity and compassion invested into a free healthcare wellbeing system. Imagine a society that plays steward and gardener to its natural home and to all life.

I speak as someone who is a lifelong day-dreamer. I dream up things for fun, and yet I still find myself grasping to describe this dream in detail. In the past four years or so I have been homing in on it from a personal wellbeing lens, which has grown to become a societal wellbeing lens. Now I find myself refocusing on a black and brown neighbor lens.

Let’s be real though, dreaming is hard. And it’s a lot to ask of people who are living in critical scarcity or physical danger.

I recall laments of protest movements in the past 20 years or so along the lines of: We know what they’re against, but what do they want?

Maybe that’s asking too much of people who are already in a daily fight for survival: Hey, while you’re trying not to get shot, while you’re battling an all-powerful state, can you sketch out an alternative universe in which all beings thrive?

Though I’d like to expand that notion. I’d even venture to say it’s difficult to dream when you are not thriving: When your essential emotional and spiritual needs are not being met, when you feel hopeless, when each moment is stolen from you by an economic system that wants to keep you consuming or working 24 hours a day. I believe that describes virtually everyone in my society. It certainly described me for the first part of my life.

I suspect that is a huge part of our dream poverty.

So I’d like to add that to your to-do list, and to mine: Dream. How would you like to live? How would you like your grandchildren to live? Talk about those dreams, share those dreams.

Maybe stop binge-watching that murder documentary and read up on people and ideas that inspire you.

Maybe log off Facebook and think about who and what really matters to you.

Sometimes dreaming is an action verb, in the form of writing, prayer, meditation, martial art, music, community action, a kind word to a neighbor, loving parenting, whatever it may be.

Nightmare-ing is an action verb too. That’s our day-to-day, if you hadn’t noticed. That’s crime and punishment, that’s winner-takes-all capitalism, that’s hating another human being, that’s hating yourself.

I believe that part of the solution to today’s nightmare is a cultural fluency in tomorrow’s dream. Everyone should be able to articulate this. Everyone should be able to hold neighbors, leaders, cops, everyone accountable to this dream. This is where I want to go. This is where I want us to go.

is what we are
fighting against loving for.


Dreams of a world without prisons and police

Abolishing Prisons with Mariame Kaba

The transformative power of restorative justice with sujatha baliga

Ta’Nehisi Coates on George Floyd, racism, violence, nonviolence, BLM. Ezra Klein Show.

On Prison Abolition/New Yorker podcast

Imagining the Nonviolent State/Ezra Klein/Vox

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