Imagine 2200: transforming hope from feeling to collective praxis
by Tory Stephens
After stepping through the solarpunk looking glass, my personal goal is to assist in building spaces, moments, platforms, and retreats that help people reclaim hope as a collective practice of liberation.
As each year passes in this time warp we’re living in, I find myself talking about hope more than ever. I can practically see you shaking your head where you sit and I’ll admit it: the past few years have been a strange endeavor. Look at all that has happened and continues to happen.
2019 saw the implosion of the Trump Presidency and further fragmentation of public discourse, culminating in 2020 with the triple whammy of pandemic, systemic racism, and the ongoing climate crisis to mark the beginning of our new “abnormal.”
We all entered an alternate reality at the beginning of 2020. My own journey has taken me in unexpected directions. Since I founded the Imagine 2200: Climate Fiction for Future Ancestors story contest, I’ve spent my days exploring worlds full of sentient bees and coral humanoids, of spirit trees and cloud shepherds.
But as fantastical as it might sound, these adventures have inspired me to dedicate myself to the here and now. My feet are in the soil, my hands are at the shovel, and my heart is wild with possibilities of what it actually might look like to save this world. Our place in this universe. This, I have discovered, is the promise and power of solarpunk.
Let me now turn the tables and tell you a story about how I stepped through our genre’s looking glass, and what it taught me about the transformative power of hope as a collective act.
In April of 2020, Fix, the organization I work for, convened a gathering unlike any others we had previously held. We invited thirty Fixers: our network of leaders bringing about a just transition to a carbon-free world. The goal was twofold: for our small group to tell the story of how we might reach a clean, green, and just world by 2200, and in doing so, create the foundation for a new first at Grist: a climate fiction initiative inviting a global community to imagine such a future.
Over the course of two and half days on Zoom (in those good ol’ days, before the Zoom fatigue had set in) the group mapped out the next 180 years of progress in our fight against and adaptation to climate change, and visualized a complete societal transformation: Food sovereignty and heirloom seeds triumphing over monoculture farming; a dissolution of political parties and borders; reparations; the return of land to Indigenous and Black stewardship; restorative justice replacing prisons; granting rights to the Earth and our nonhuman kin. An economy built on ecological restoration, mutual aid, and care work. The pursuit of reciprocal relationships in all our systems and designs.
This visioning session changed me on a personal level and changed the trajectory of what would later be dubbed Imagine 2200: Climate Fiction for Future Ancestors. I had an epiphany around what it means to hope. I set about redefining the term for myself.
I started by voraciously consuming multi-disciplinary texts serving to widen and deepen my understanding of the word “hope”. In the years that had transpired since the conclusion of my studies, I had forgotten this sacred practice. I remembered my professor Pepi Leistyna. Pepi and his teacher Paulo Freire schooled me in the power of critical inspection and it has been fundamental to me ever since.
As I went through my inquiry, I watched the meaning of hope shift before my eyes. I had previously believed hope to be a personal attitude, a feeling that stemmed from an individual’s optimistic personality. But as I read, I saw hope’s shadow side emerge. I learned about hope as a cultural construct, one that arose in Western societies whose legacies of brutal exploitation demanded that the 99% remain dependent upon hope as a kind of escapist dream. Hope was an opiate to numb the pain and keep folks from acting to counter the injustice inflicted upon them by systems of oppression.
But I knew that couldn’t be the end. Pepi taught me that having agency means reclaiming language. As I kept going, I wanted to reckon with, and decolonize, hope. I realized that hope can certainly mean more than prioritizing profit in one’s own life, while avoiding discomfort and the suffering of others. Hope as a praxis can mean fighting courageously for joy, abundance, solidarity, and freedom for the Earth, for Black, Brown, and Indigenous people, and for LGBTQ+ and disabled people, and their loved ones and allies. I now see hope, and dreaming of the future we want and deserve, as a collective liberatory praxis.
Right now a sizable chunk of us are addicted to the end of the world in every medium, from video games to what we’re streaming on our smart TV. “Black Mirror,” “The Walking Dead,” “Love, Death and Robots,” and “Squid Game” reign supreme. We’re collectively investing in dystopian futures with every stream, click, and view. We’ve monetized our peril.
In order to break our apocalypse addiction, we need to invest in a praxis of hope that does not erase the insanely difficult challenges we are facing as a global community nor the multiple oppressions and traumas many of us have had to and continue to endure. In short, we need to tell stories that contain both the poison and the antidote.
This is what solarpunk does, and the genre is venturing beyond the page into the space where creative work and activism meet, becoming a social movement that can spark societal transformation. Solarpunk scholar Joan Haran defines this process as Imaginactivism, “a positive and effective relationship between creating and sharing visions of a better world that is possible and being moved by those visions to take practical action. It also suggests that we value imagining and imagination as an active process of crafting a vision that is a necessary precursor to worldly action, and sharing it with and in a community of ideas … the important point is that we don’t regard the practice of imagining as simply escape or retreat from the world.”
After stepping through the solarpunk looking glass, my personal goal is to assist in building spaces, moments, platforms, and retreats that help people reclaim hope as a collective practice of liberation. Hope, to me, is an individual and social practice. One must deconstruct and confront hope head on and unpack what hope means on an individual level, and then talk about the meaning of hope collectively. Through this engagement and struggle with the meaning of hope, we will uncover a new path. I found a bit of it sitting with my community around a big dinner under grape vines. I then found some more on a midnight swim with some friends. And a little more discovery came on a walk through a small forest that opened into a field. My point: to understand hope you need to dedicate time to trying to understand it. I implore you to invest in hope.
Tory is the Creative Manager for Imagine 2200, a climate fiction contest by Fix, Grist’s solutions lab, which is focused on hope, decolonization, the future of climate justice and solutions.
Go to https://grist.org/fix/climate-fiction-writing-contest-imagine-2200-prizes/ to learn more and submit a story—for publication and prize money!
Interested in reading last year’s winning stories? Read them here.
Tory Stephens (he/him) lives in a small railroad town in Massachusetts. He is a resource generator and community builder for social justice people, movements and infrastructure projects. He has worked in individual giving campaigns and major donor relationship management for 13 years before joining Fix, Grist’s solutions lab, as their network weaver and climate fiction creative manager. Tory has used storytelling in the past to raise awareness around HIV/AIDS, to defend Medicaid and Medicare, and to protect the Affordable Care Act. Now, as the creative manager of Imagine 2200, Fix’s climate-fiction initiative, he uses storytelling to champion climate justice, and imagine green, clean and just futures. Tory also owned a kick-butt streetwear company in another life and he would have gotten away with eating the last cookie too, if it weren’t for his three meddling kids.