Freedom Dreams

Is there nowhere that is kind?
—Angelina Weld Grimké

There are very few contemporary political spaces where the energies of love and imagination are understood and respected as powerful social forces.
—Robin D. G. Kelley

Freedom dreams are sticky investments, promiscuous attachments, Velcro projectiles. We invest in those fighting injustice hopes that we often dare not express, anticipating that their successes will re-shape our worlds, chart different (dissident) possibilities for being, and being together. Freedom dreams rupture inevitable quotidians, irritating the certainties of slow violence and arbitrary execution. Each new victory seeds another future, an alternate trajectory. If nothing else, each new victory whispers, “it need not be like this.” We hold on to these whispers, gather them, chant them: “it need not be like this.”


After Christopher Dorner’s death, I started thinking with Essex Hemphill about memory work. Hemphill writes, “It is not enough to tell us that one was a brilliant poet, scientist, educator, or rebel. Whom did he love? It makes a difference.” I turned to bell hooks to learn about world-re-envisioning love, world-sustaining love, world-making love. I learned from James Baldwin—I’m still learning—the difficult labor of surviving because of love, and to love.


Resistance is an act of love. Protest is an act of love. Survival is an act of love. Yet, I find myself wondering at how many other ways there might be to love. About how to multiply these other ways of loving, to fill them not with the uncertainty of arbitrary violence, the always-available potential for death, the injunction to love fiercely because life can be so rudely truncated, but with differently paced forms of loving filled with richness and variety, with the slow unfolding that lasts all night and beyond.


Done took my livin’ as it came
     Done grabbed my joy, done risked my life
–Sterling A. Brown

We gather around Ferguson, Missouri, from around the world to mourn Mike Brown’s truncated life. We assemble with familiar phrases—“gone too soon,” “untimely death,” “tragic loss”—phrases that too many of us have uttered too often, phrases that we would prefer not to utter. Phrases that store still-unfolding histories of disposability. We gather in global moments of silence and global articulations of rage. We gather with the hope that Mike Brown had “grabbed” his “joy” when he could. We gather with the residents of Ferguson as they try to imagine a livable beyond, to build from this moment a more shareable world. And amidst the noise, we try to listen for their freedom dreams, to dream with them.


It might be impossible for those of us outside Ferguson not to try to pursue our own freedom dreams through Ferguson. We want to see our hopes realized: hopes that a racist police system will be indicted and undone; hopes that Mike Brown’s family will receive justice and compassion; hopes that fragile coalitions formed around Ferguson will continue to grow and to forge even more powerful alliances; hopes that those freedom dreams emerging from Ferguson will transform other spaces; hopes that the attention paid to Mike Brown’s killing will give pause should a similar situation occur and that lives will be saved; hopes that this moment will not simply be another place and date to add to an already too-long list, but will undo the very logics and practices that make such geographies:geo-histories possible. This is already too much to ask of and from Ferguson. We can hope that our freedom dreams help to nurture those of Mike Brown’s family. We can hope that we learn from Ferguson how to shape and inhabit freedom dreams. We can hope that we learn to listen to Ferguson’s freedom dreams.

*with many thanks to Robin Kelley for the phrase “freedom dreams”

2 thoughts on “Freedom Dreams

  1. Thanks for so deftly interweaving the significance of “love” in such a politically charged debate where HATE becomes the order of the day. It is so easy to HATE in broad strokes when it comes to the primal fears of OTHER. I think we really need to get at the roots of WHY racism exists. Simplistically it is based upon the primordial fear of the OTHER, ( A human being that for one reason or another we feel psychologically disconnected from and lose a connective compassion for) whom we do not understand, and with the lack of understanding, comes distrust and defensive or offensive aggression. This fear of OTHER is something ALL humans have, but very few are aware of why we feel this fear so intensely. But we need to understand that we as human beings have a choice to evolve beyond our irrational fears of people who are not part of a group we identify with – because for the most part – most people are just out in the world trying to get by as best they can. But once fears are triggered, everyone is in survival mode.

    What amazes me, is how so many people that have been oppressed by race, gender, religion, what have you … have often been the one’s LEAST fearful and the most compassionate to others, even in the most hostile environments … It was South Africa that created Nelson Mandela and Bishop Desmond Tutu; It was the segregated South that created Martin Luther King Jr.; It was colonial India that created Mahatma Ghandi … and all of these leaders and the people who supported their socio-political movements used in one way or another the political strategy of “love” because that was the ONLY strategy that could effectively deactivate the primordial FEAR OF OTHER that was fueling the racist systems that oppressed them.

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