Imagining Justice: Politics, Love, and Dissent

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John Lennon understood deeply the power of imagination.
He seemed to recognize imagination as that wondrous
human force that enables us to break free of the stagnant,
one-dimensional perceptions that perpetuate oppression,
suffering, and injustice.
In so many ways, the wealthy and elite in U.S. culture
seems primed to disrupt our ability to imagine a different
world—a world in which our shared humanity and material
wealth are central to our politics. The neoliberal culture
of terror of today seems steeped in the shadows of paranoid
delusions that ravenously feed on our fears, insecurities,
and despair. It is no wonder that we often feel so paralyzed
in the face of injustice?
And, since it is precisely the ability to imagine beyond
the status quo that promotes our creative action and opens
the door to a new vision of politics and the world, neoliberalism
violently pathologizes imagination that is not in its
own image. Perhaps this is why activists and young people
are often viewed as suspect and so easily criminalized.
We exist, today, in a world that attempts to squelch the voices
of difference and stifle the historical participation of those that
refuse to consent to the tyranny of injustice. Thus, a crack
down on civil liberties, including the right to information,
movement, and dissent has intensified, over the last decade.
Since the late 1980’s, an increasing number of men and
women from working class and racialized communities have
lost their civil rights, as a consequence of felony convictions
and massive rates of incarceration. The level of surveillance
within many public schools, including armed personnel, has
made them paragons of the Security State. While a militarizing
wave hungrily seeks to absorb poor and working class
youth, through unchecked high school military recruitment.
Increasing actions have been taken against protestors
and dissenters. In 2005 a Flag Amendment was passed
that made burning the American flag a felony. In 2002,
Joseph Frederick unveiled a 14-foot paper sign declaring
“Bong Hits 4 Jesus.” Although he was on a public sidewalk
outside his Juneau, Alaska high school, he was suspended.
The case was to reach the Supreme Court, where the
court’s decision drew a murky line between advocacy of
illegal conduct and political dissent.
The Democracy Now! archive is replete with news stories
of peace and anti-war activists who have been spied
on, jailed, or fired from their workplaces, including longtime
progressive columnist Robert Scheer who was fired
by the L.A. Times in 2005. Many of these violent actions
were intensified by signing into law The Uniting and
Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools
Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act of 2001,
better known as the Patriot Act. In response, Michael
Steinberg of the American Civil Liberties Union encouraged
political dissent saying, “in times of crises, it is even
more important for citizens to dissent when the government
is doing wrong…Dissent is not antipatriotic.”
Given this repressive moment in history, it is so important
that we, as world citizens, take on issues of social justice in
a serious, forthright, and sustained manner. Emancipatory
principles of life make it impossible to deny that dissent is
an essential political ingredient for the evolution of a just
democratic society. This is particularly so when we must
contend with institutional conditions that marginalize,
exclude, and repress our existence.
Dissent is, in fact, absolutely necessary to the enactment
of democratic principles, particularly within a nation so
diverse as the United States. A politics stripped of the creative
and transformative fuel of dissent leaves the powerful
unaccountable, to run roughshod over the interests, needs,
and aspirations of the majority of the world’s population,
irrespective of what is said in the public arena.
A revolutionary love compels us to dissent, to become
part of a decolonizing culture that cultivates human connection,
intimacy, trust, and honesty, from our bodies out
into the world. Hence, the moral and the material are inextricably
linked. And as such, our politics integrates love as
an essential ingredient of a just society.
Love, as a political principle, inspires and motivates us
to create mutually life-enhancing opportunities for all people.
It is a love grounded in the interdependence of our
human existence. As philosopher Terry Eagleton reminds
us, such an emancipatory love allows us to realize our
nature, in a way that allows others to do so as well. Inherent
in such a love is the understanding that we are never at
liberty to be violent, authoritarian, or exploitive.
It is precisely a commitment to such a political principle,
fueled by our imagination, which has been the anchor
for generations of students, workers, women, and other
oppressed communities around the world. Many of whom
have dissented under the most dangerous and cruel conditions,
armed principally with a revolutionary love and a
burning desire to create a world where social justice and
human rights are the impetus for our labor and relationships,
rather than the bloody profits that insure exploitation,
powerlessness, and human suffering.
Yet, no form of political dissent or emancipatory struggle
can exist in a vacuum, for it requires connection, dialogue,
and solidarity. It is precisely for this reason that we can safely
say that the struggle for justice or a politics of dissent
constitutes one of the most powerful pedagogical dynamics
in the history of humankind. At each stage of our collective
political engagement, knowledge, power, and difference
challenge us to grow, demanding from us respect, humility,
and faith in our capacity, as individuals and social beings.
Truly, examples of political dissent exist everywhere,
including right here in the Champaign Urbana community.
We live in a community rich in a legacy of progressive collective
struggles and a will to persevere, despite what may
seem the worst odds. Many of these examples are found in
the political efforts of students, workers, parents, and others
who embody the passion of justice, clear-sighted and unambiguous
in their political intent. We are fortunate to struggle
in solidarity and are ever fortunate to discover, through our
labor and unity, the collective power of our humanity.

About Antonia Darder

Antonia Darder is a professor at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. She is a longtime Puerto Rican activist-scholar involved in issue's relating to education, language, immigrant workers, and women's rights.
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