Visionary Organizing and the MLK Memorial By Grace Lee Boggs

Visionary Organizing and the MLK Memorial

By Grace Lee Boggs

Sept 3 – 10 – 2011

Last week in a public conversation at an Environmental Justice Conference in the Ren Cen, I talked about University of Michigan Professor Bunyan Bryan Bunyan’s Visionary Organizing and the important role it has played in building the environmental justice movement over the last 20 years.

I also emphasized the increasing need for Visionary Organizing at this time on the clock of the world when dictators like Mubarak and Qaddafi are being toppled like Humpty Dumpties, and democratically elected politicians like U.S. President Obama and UK Prime Minister Cameron are becoming increasingly dysfunctional.

One of the reasons why Putin’s Russia remains so chaotic is that there was no Visionary Organizing in or about the Soviet Union prior to its collapse twenty years ago.

Every crisis, actual or impending, needs to be viewed as an opportunity to bring about profound changes in our society. That means we need to go beyond Alinsky-style protest organizing and begin creating images and stories of the future that help us imagine and create alternatives to the existing system.

For example, long before the recent unveiling of the MLK Memorial in D.C. we could have been discussing the question “How do we honor dead heroes in a way that helps us build a new world?”

Nearly 20 years ago, in a Futuring workshop led by Bumyan during MLK week at the University of Michigan, I came up with an answer to this question which is worth sharing. This is what I wrote:

“Because Detroiters have developed a deep sense of moral responsibility, citizens decided in 2015 A.D. to adopt a Universal Basic Income Grant (UBIG) as an alternative to welfare.

“The UBIG is based on the idea that every citizen has a right to the basic material necessities of life, including health care and education, and every citizen also has a duty to share in the responsibilities of the community, city, nation and planet, and to contribute in some form to the overall well-being.”

“After Martin Luther King’s birthday was declared a national holiday, people all over the country wondered how to keep King celebrations from degenerating into pageantry, empty rhetoric, or shoppers’ jamborees, as had happened with other holidays.

“In 2015 A.D., Michigan residents, in the course of a debate over the UBIG, hit upon a solution. Beginning in 2017, King’s birthday became the opportunity for a collective evaluation of where they had come from and where they were going, and, if necessary, a time to redefine or re-invent where they wanted to go. Each year in the fall, four months before King’s birthday, neighborhood groups began meeting to decide on the focus of the discussion.”

This is just one example of how movement activists, consciously doing Visionary rather than Protest Organizing, can use dead heroes to help us keep building up a new world.