Carissa Lee attends the first session of Assembly for the Future for BLEED 2020 and leaves with a sense of hope
Reimagining our future comes at an interesting time for those of us in Victoria, where the word “future” mostly comes out of the mouths of government people during press conferences; and it’s pretty dark. The participatory Zoom event Assembly for the Future was a very welcome exploration of how our future could be different, and how these tumultuous times might be a catalyst for positive change.
Beyond Whiteness The Rise of New Power is the first of three participatory events for BLEED 2020, co-created by Alex Kelly and David Pledger and co-produced by Not Yet It’s Difficult and Something Somewhere INC. Each session promises to explore aspects of what the world might look like in 10 years, with a series of digital gatherings in which participants create new visions that may be “realistic, idealistic or utterly fanciful”. An accompanying essay to this session by Anne Manne paints a promising future in the context of caregiving.
Facilitator Robbie McEwan is a wonderful concierge, complete with bellhop attire. He gently welcomes us into the Zoom space and keeps us updated on progress before handing us over to the lovely Keeper of Time, Alex K, who introduces mob writer and activist Claire Coleman.
Coleman was tasked with imagining a new future for Australia between 2020 to 2029. In Coleman’s future, these years bring about the end of white supremacy.
Although 2020 is the year that racism collapsed, it’s met with resistance from the far right white community, because, as Coleman says, they had spent their whole lives benefiting from white supremacy. Black Lives Matter protests continue over the year 2020, and more lives are lost. It becomes clear that police and human rights protesters are on opposing sides of a civil rights war. This is the year that First Nations deaths in custody become an issue that matters beyond the First Nations community.
Coleman speaks of a future of hipsters, hippies and People of Colour fighting the police in Australia. First Nations communities expand because First Nations people from around the world seek refuge here as they’re driven out of their own countries. The United Nations intervenes to stop ethnic violence in Australia, and this finally ends the war. By 2026, armed forces are training activists. By 2028 white supremacy becomes a fringe belief, and by 2029 we can’t even imagine the racism we once accepted as central part of a human experience.
We continue to remain vigilant against the return of fascism and racism. Coleman reminds us too that it’s important to bear witness to what is happening around us, and to speak for the resistance. Our lives matter, and we can’t let them forget it.
After Coleman lays out her imagined future, Alex K conducts a brief interview, exploring this future further. Coleman talks of continuing her role as writer, activist and fighter on the front lines in the battle for First Nations peoples’ right to survive. When asked how the movement might maintain its strength and resolve during this uphill battle, Coleman cites the journalist who lost an eye during the George Floyd rallies in the US, speaking of how important it is to hold the grief and to acknowledge lost lives. If you lose track of the people who have died, she says, you lose what you’re fighting for.
After Alex and Coleman’s yarn, two more participants – PhD nurse Dr Ruth De Souza and writer Anne Manne – respond to this future history. Manne says that white people need to interrogate their whiteness and complicities in the great silences around the Stolen Generation and historical massacres, and understand the true history of First Nations people in Australia. She says that the economy of white supremacy can’t exist without the exploitation and dispossession of stolen wages and slavery. However, this needs to be acknowledged at a governmental level – “a slow process, as demonstrated by Prime Minister”.
De Souza looks at racism through the eyes of health care workers, asking what does it mean to care about the “other”. She says that moments such as ours throw into relief how deeply racialised a pandemic can be, with People of Colour becoming perceived as vectors of disease. Massive events such as the COVID-19 pandemic and the Black Lives Matter movement remind us of the importance of caring. Why do we have to experience something before we understand it or care about it? What are our responsibilities as human beings? Why is it that people tasked with caring care so selectively?
This session was exciting because it became a collaboration between three amazing humans speaking of the present and the future, and how we can fix both. It was great fuel for the participatory session that followed. We were divided into groups of four – three participants, and a host – with the purpose of workshopping an imagined future between the years 2020-29. Our group was lucky enough to be hosted by Worimi woman Dr Genevieve Grieves. Once we had all finished our respective sessions, we reconvened in the main Zoom room, and hosts from each group shared the conclusions we’d all come to.
Together we had painted a future where the effects of the pandemic and the preceding bushfires lead to First Nations land preservation practices being interwoven into how Australia manages landcare. I also loved that 2022 sees a baby boom because of lockdown, and with it a reimagining of education, with classes on empathy, for example, becoming available from birth. There’s also an erasure of binaries, gender, race, class and privilege, and an increased practice of truth-telling in all that we do.
The question of care was a recurring theme throughout. Listening deeply as a form of caring: listening to neighbours, Elders and First Nations people. Through social change a significant transformation takes place, as community perceptions shift from a self created from commerce into a devolved, politically participative community of mutual care. It’s about thinking beyond optical allyship and actually trying to be the change you post about on Instagram. As someone who is pretty damn tired of online slacktivism, this thought gives me hope.
The event ended with Alex K conducting a short outro, reminding us that “how we imagine futures will shape how we go and why”. I finished feeling lot of hope for positive social change: although the world is kind of awful right now, we can learn from this horrible time.
The Assembly for the Future was a really great event, a shot in the arm for those of us trying to imagine a future beyond lockdown, death tolls and reusable face masks. It reminded me that there is in fact a future, and also that we need to hold the world accountable for the past that made our present. Because we all deserve so much better than what we used to consider “normal”.
Assembly for the Future: Beyond Whiteness The Rise of New Power. Keeper of Time and coCurator for the Future: Alex Kelly. Dramaturg and coCurator for the Future: David Pledger. Producer for the Future: Sophia Marinos. First Speaker: Claire G. Coleman. Respondents: Anne Manne, Dr Ruth DeSouza. Moderators: Genevieve Grieves, Jen Rae, Jennifer Mills, Zena Cumpston, Lawrence Harvey, Debris Facility, Tim Hollo, Eleanor Jackson, Jordan Lacey, El Gibbs. Assembly Artists in Residence: Sam Wallman, Amanda Anastasi. Usher: Robbie McEwan. Composer: Aaron Cupples. Visual Design: Elliat Rich. Co-created by Alex Kelly and David Pledger. Co-produced by Not Yet It’s Difficult and Something Somewhere INC for BLEED 2020. New works and content will be going live until August 30