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Practicing Futures

A Civic Imagination Action Handbook


Gabriel Peters-Lazaro and Sangita Shresthova

The real world is full of challenges and the sheer weight of problems facing us can stifle the genius of our collective human creativity at exactly the time when we desperately need imaginative and innovative solutions. Responding to this, Practicing Futures: A Civic Imagination Action Handbook harnesses our connections to popular culture and taps the boundless potential of human imagination to break free of assumptions that might otherwise trap us in repetitive cycles of alienation. Utopias and dystopias have long been used to pose questions, provoke discussions, and inspire next steps and are helpful because they encourage long view perspectives. Building on the work of the Civic Imagination Project at the University of Southern California, the Handbook is a practical guide for community leaders, educators, creative professionals, and change-makers who want to encourage creative, participatory, and playful approaches to thinking about the future. This book shares examples and models from the authors’ work in diverse communities. It also provides a step-by-step guide to their workshops with the objective of making their approach accessible to all interested practitioners. The tools are adaptable to a variety of local contexts and can serve multiple purposes from community and network building to idea generation and media campaign design by harnessing the expansive capacity for imagination within all of us.

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Chapter Three Bringing Imagination to Activism—Freedom School, Los Angeles


Bringing Imagination to Activism—Freedom School, Los Angeles

In the summers of 2013 and 2014, we worked with a Los Angeles site of the California Children’s Defense Fund Freedom Schools program to run a week-long workshop on civic imagination, worldbuilding, and video making. Though they were congenial, our initial conversations with the organizers at the Freedom School involved a certain tension around our participation as outsiders. It soon became clear our creative interventions needed to complement community building and activist training taking place. Building trust over time, we created opportunities for young people to flex their creative muscles in playful ways that did not trivialize the importance of their activism. Working with these activists in training helped us articulate how the imagination can help issue-based struggles, strengthen group solidarity, and encourage future alliances.

“Is bringing the imagination to activism really a priority?” Over the course of our work on the civic imagination, we encountered this question often. Usually, it was asked by seasoned activists and social justice advocates committed to mobilizing ←33 | 34→around key social issues that confronted them and their communities; these issues were often directly connected with addressing basic needs and protecting lives. Their initial hesitation arose from an anxiety about “diverting” any energy and resources away from tackling those immediate problems and threats, and was, therefore, eminently understandable. These concerns mirrored many of our own initial thoughts when collaborating with the Muslim Youth Group and our original idea that imagination and creative...

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