finding liberation in radical fiction

Liberation – an existence outside oppressive ideologies designed to contain and exploit us – is only fiction.

It is the stuff of fairy tales, or magical fantasies, maybe science fiction.
It is wishful thinking, daydreaming.
It is a fabricated concept.
It is an invented premise.
It is an imaginary future
It is a land of make-believe.

Liberation does not exist.


Sure – there are many happy, safe people, animals, places on our Earth. Even as I write these words, there are 3 content animals sleeping beside me.
But none of this translates to “liberation” – at least in the grander scheme of a sustained lived reality – which is what I think many of us dream about when we talk and campaign for a future beyond oppression like racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism, classism, colonialism, speciesism, ageism and more.

To me, “liberation” on a broader, collective level would be a future where all can live communally in ways that our differences are not apologized for, ignored or repressed, but recognized as empowering symbols of character that help us all relate and grow.


And to grow outside systems of domination and exploitation that threaten to abuse and create fear.
So whether we focus our efforts on cultivating a liberated existence first from within us, or instead in our environments through socially-engaging community organizing, both paths lead us into the wild unknown, to a reality of life outside domination, hierarchies, and exploitation.

Thus, this wild unknown of “liberation” means looking for something never, ever seen. even rarer than Bigfoot, if that helps drive my point home…

Perhaps we all don’t know where liberation is hiding, or when we will come upon it, or who will find it first, but we trust that we will know it when we see it, right?

Or maybe we have already passed it by, and in our hurry to find the obvious solutions to our familiar problems of suffering, we have neglected the simple, basic answers.
Answers that require no special gifts or talents to receive and put into practice?

world without capitalism

Either way, the point remains that we all share the burden of having absolutely no template of experience, of memory, or of historical knowledge to draw upon when we advocate for the “liberation” of ourselves, of others, non-human animals and the wider ecology that makes up our planet.

All speculation of liberation revolves around imagining:
a) what liberation might look like, and
b) the ways in which we might manifest that vision.


What does the world look like without zoos, rodeos, and marine parks?
Or without wars, street violence, and intergenerational harm?
How about a world without prisons and immigration detention centers?
Or corporate fraud, government bailouts, worker slavery, environmental catastrophes?

Liberation is fiction because imagining a world without the above is as fantastical as anything you might read in science fiction & fantasy.

not too distant future.jpg

And what I mean by this is to say that both fiction and anti-oppressive activism rely upon our capacities to imagine, to speculate, about things not (yet) here, not already existing, not a “fact” that can be proven.
Both follow the simple formula of sampling from existing situations & familiar struggles, but then taking that sample and rebooting it under a new lens of perspective. And that perspective can be anything from magical realism or be as simple as hope itself.

Science fiction projects a potential future available given current technology and research – and then it weaves together a story from there, like explaining how the exponential growth of artificial intelligence suggests a near future where sentient super-intelligence revolts against humyn civilization.

Fantasy fiction is a broader projection of the things we assume cannot ever happen – and then it weaves together a story from there, like explaining how the core of the planet is so terribly hot because there are fire-breathing dragons hibernating inside and whom may wake up tomorrow.

Activism is a lived fiction, projecting a possible way for our community to exist in the future beyond certain social ills that currently that is no proper accountability.
It is about weaving 
together stories of yourself, myself and “the Other”, about finding identity, community, purpose, love and trust outside oppressive, elitist, exclusive relationships that value some over others.

And what that all means is that all liberation looks like fiction.
It looks like science fiction.
It looks like fantasy.

The very act of speculating, of using imagination, thinking up radical ideas is liberating.

So it follows: speculative fiction can look like liberation.


In all I write, I employ the practice the visionary fiction to imagine a liberated future.

To write and read radical fiction is to manifest visions of liberation because whether we are author or reader, we are asking the same questions:
“What if…?”
“What if… there was a town without poverty?”
“What if… a future existed without hate crimes?”
“What if… we made a land where species overcame differences without war?”
“What if… we created the world to be something we all wanted to actually live within?”

Illustration by Michelle Leigh.jpg

And when we campaign in the streets, create content to share, when we organize online, we are making efforts towards a version of reality that we deem more accountable, loving and anti-oppressive. All of which are efforts to manifest something not yet existing, something speculative, something fictional.

Walidah Imarisha, the educator, writer, organizer and spoken word artist who coined the term visionary fiction (to describe how we can use science fiction, horror, and fantasy genres to envision alternatives to unjust and oppressive systems), explained how:

“All organizing is science fiction.
When organizers imagine a world without poverty, without war, without borders or prisons—that’s science fiction.
They’re moving beyond the boundaries of what is possible or realistic, into the realm of what we are told is impossible.”

Walidah, along with adrienne maree brown, collected and edited a radical anthology of short stories that explore the connections between speculative fiction and movements for social change. Tthey called it Octavia’s Brood, in commemoration of the incredible wisdom and talents and love that was Octavia Butler, and the book is available now for purchase through the rad folks at AK Press.


Both Walidah and adrienne have emphasized, in writings and spoken word, that
“there are as many ways to exist as we can imagine”.
In using speculative fiction to reach and inspire wider audiences, we can nurture our collective imagination to make the stories of radical fiction more alive, more feasible and more real.
imagining rad futures.jpg
From left to right, co-editors Walidah Imarisha and adrienne maree brown with Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha at the 2015 INCITE! Color of Violence conference

adrienne explained how visionary fiction is:

“A perfect testing ground to explore the countless alternatives that could exist to policing and institutions like prisons.

It’s incredibly important that we begin to shift our thinking away from the state keeping us safe, given that that has never been the purpose of the state—it’s never been the purpose of the police or the prison system—and instead begin to ask, how do we keep each other safe?

How do we prevent harm from happening?

How do we address harm when it does happen in our communities in ways that are about healing, and about wholeness, rather than about punishment and retribution?”

And further, adrienne says how visionary fiction is political because:

“Being able to create and imagine bigger is a process of decolonization of our dreams.
Our dreams have gotten smaller and smaller, but as we engage sci-fi in reading and in dreams, our imaginations can grow and decolonize.”

visionary fiction

So my intention here is to apply their emotional labour and wisdoms to the issue of liberating ourselves, to imagine and re-imagine what liberation of all could look like.


“We’ll need writers who can remember freedom – poets, visionaries – realists of a larger reality”.
– Ursula Le Guin

Radical fiction is a tool, an art form, available to all of us wishing to explore social political issues through a new lens of perspective. If you feel inspired to write radical fiction, or at least inclined to try reading some of it, then remember that the intention of this art is to communicate deep themes outside the narratives of the mainstream.

This means fiction that focuses attention on marginalized identities, and not the typical cis-hetero white able-minded-bodied male.

to readThis means fiction that focuses on relevant problems in all its varied complexities, and not the trope of evil faceless tyrants wishing to conquer all that is “white and pure and free”.
This means fiction that is both realistic and honest but remains empowering and hopeful.
And so not stories about collective change coming from the top of the political hierarchies, nor stories about token heroes & animal characters used as anthropomorphic instruments to validate our ego.

So, think about how stories can be told in ways that center the outsider’s experience (and that identity varies depending on the story), validating their own existence for reasons outside that of being the proverbial “Other”.

Instead, by weaving the struggles and limitations towards liberation into an engaging story, and by creating characters who are not victims of the system but survivors and grounded leaders, all of this can become real lessons for us to learn and inspire towards.

Whether you are writing and/or reading it for expanding your imagination personally or for the sake of anti-oppressive community organizing, remember that the core of the story always needs to be about hope.
A new hope for things to come in what we choose to do today, choose to do now, for choosing to not relent but to endure.

“In April we cannot see sunflowers in France, so we say the sunflowers do not exist.

But the local farmers have already planted thousands of seeds and when they look at the bare hills they may be able to see the sunflowers already.

The sunflowers are there.

They lack only the conditions of sun, heat, rain, and July. Just because we cannot see them does not mean they do not exist.”

– Thich Nhat Hanh

By using fiction as a platform for exploring new alternatives to anti-oppression strategies, perhaps we can discover answers that have been hidden by systems of oppression, perhaps the system depends on us continuing to feel trapped, lost and hopeless?

Perhaps even the smallest hints of hope, of hoping for hope, to find meaning and purpose to exist however we dare to imagine?

Perhaps that is where we will find liberation waiting?

Keep reading…

“Remember this: We be many and they be few.
They need us more than we need them.

Another world is not only possible, she is on her way.
On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing.”

– Arundhati Roy


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