Think another world is possible? Create temporary utopias. The experience leaves us wanting more—and ready to work hard to get it.
We can’t create a better world if we haven’t yet imagined it. How much better then, if we are able to touch such a world, experience it directly, even live in it—if only to a partial degree and for a brief moment. This is the idea behind “prefigurative interventions,” actions that not only work to stop the next dumb thing the bad guys are up to, but also enact in the here and now the world we actually want to live in.
These kinds of interventions come in all shapes and sizes, from modest artistic gestures like John and Yoko’s 1969 “WAR IS OVER! (If You Want It)” Times Square billboard, to utopian-flavored mass movements like Occupy Wall Street with its free libraries, communitarian ethic, and experiments in direct democracy.
“You never change things by fighting the existing reality,” Buckminster Fuller advised. “To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.” A brilliant insight, but he’s only half right, because the best direct actions—and social movements—actually do both.
Consider the lunch counter sit-ins of the 1960s. They were not only brave acts of resistance against the racism of the Jim Crow South, but they also beautifully and dramatically prefigured the world the civil rights movement was trying to bring into being: blacks and whites sitting together as equals in public spaces. The young students didn’t ask anyone’s permission; they didn’t wait for society to evolve or for bad laws to change. In the best spirit of direct action, they walked in there and simply changed the world. At least for a few moments, in one place, they were living in an integrated South. They painted a picture of how the world could be, and the vicious response from white bystanders and police only proved how important it was to make it so.