Assembly for the Future is a series of participatory gatherings in which the public create new visions for futures that may be realistic, idealistic or utterly fanciful.
If you’re overwhelmed by the present because you feel the future is already here and you can’t imagine what’s next, then we invite you to assemble with us to collectively imagine better worlds. Working within an assembly of thinkers, artists and provocateurs, you are invited to become protagonists, to put your imagination at the service of creating other, better, futures.
Our next Assembly for the Future has been commissioned by Uncharted Territory, Canberra’s new arts and innovation festival celebrating creativity, experimentation and ground-breaking ideas.
The world is changing at an accelerating rate; in some fields, change is exponential. We face multiple existential threats, of which climate change and AI currently demand our everyday attention. Transporting us to 2029 is First Speaker Bhiamie Williamson, a Euahlayi man from north-west New South Wales with family ties to north-west Queensland. He will map how we have faced the threats of climate change through Indigenous land justice and embedding caring-for-country within the national psyche while drawing from Indigenous masculinities to reshape social attitudes more broadly. Find out more here.
Below you will find broadcasts from our previous Assemblies, at ANAT Spectra 2022: Multiplicity and BLEED 2020.
How might diverse societies accommodate ten billion humans in one city so that Earth might begin to heal? How would we behave as a collective in a single hyper-dense city? Australian-born / Los Angeles-based speculative architect and filmmaker Liam Young explores these question with eminent respondents, Nyikina Warrwa Custodian, AP1957 (Professor Anne Poelina) a Guardian of Martuwarra, and Nobel Prize Laureate, Professor Peter Doherty.
Assembly for the Future @ SPECTRAlive from BLAKFULLAS University
Professor Zena Cumpston delivers The 2029 Moreton-Robinson annual address, celebrating the first five years of the BLAKFULLAS University and reflecting on the past decade and the incredible transformations taking place as First Nations leadership and Country are given overdue authority and resources.
Welcome to Assembly for the Future, with our host Alex K and First Speaker Claire G Coleman. After rapid demographic shifts worldwide and the global uprisings in the early 2020s, the world began to spin on a different axis. Claire G Coleman’s address from 2029, shows us the power of revealing the truth and remembers how we won the battles against colonial injustice and white supremacy in the 2020s.
READ CLAIRE G COLEMAN'S ADDRESS
Assembly for the Future: Beyond Whiteness – The Rise of New Power
By Claire G. Coleman
I would like to acknowledge I am speaking to you remotely from the hills near Naarm in the lands of the sovereign Wurundjeri people of the Kulin nation. The Kulin nation has been good enough to welcome me here, their council of Elders, in the Kulin parliament are keeping their stories and wisdom alive for the future of this country and the continent as a whole. I am visiting here, from the distant Noongar nation, my homeland, the people of Kulin are our allies and friends.
Knowledge sharing between the many nations of this continent keeps us strong.
I am going to tell you how white supremacy, systemic racism and the hegemony those failings of society supported came to an end; how humanity finally realised that white supremacy was real and how it ended. I was there, and this is how I remember it.
People had been attempting to unpack, question and dismantle white supremacy in the Anglosphere for generations; since the days of European empires, colonisation and the racism created to uphold it. 2020 was when it began to unravel, when people who had never been the victim of racism started to understand that it is real, that true privilege is having the opportunity to learn about racism rather than living it.
The problem was, often, that people who had never experienced systemic racism did not believe in it; or could not see it. They had to learn about racism, and sometimes refused to learn; while the victims of racism never had to learn.
But here’s when we back up a bit.
Racism in its current form, a belief in inherent difference between people of different skin colours, did not always exist. It was after the beginning of colonisation, when the colonial powers needed a way to determine who deserved power and money and who deserved, in their minds, to be enslaved, that superficial differences between people took on a greater importance. The concept of race, as we know it, did not exist until the late 17th century.
Race, as we knew it, and racism, which needed the concept of race to even work, were always about power and money, about land and jobs and money, about slavery and colonisation and money and, when we thought clearly and honestly, about white supremacy. This is perhaps why the countries in the world with the worst race problems, with the highest tendency to white supremacy, the countries where white supremacists seem to lack the understanding of what a homeland is, were all colonisers or colonised nations.
It was a feature of 2020 racial discourse that people called for white homelands on land stolen from people of colour.
Racism was used to uphold the power of the wealthy and powerful; racism was a tool of white supremacy.
An analogy was provided by the BBC TV show the Goodies, in the episode first aired in the UK on my first birthday on the 21st of April 1975 called “South Africa” the black South Africans leave the country and apartheid falls. Having no simple way to decide who gets power and who does not the government institutes “apart height” where position in society is decided by one’s height.
Just like in the real world where status was once decided by class, and then by race, in that Goodies episode it was decided by physicality. It could be said that the powerful find it easier to determine class using a physical shorthand; rather than a system where the powerless can masquerade as powerful.
Race used to operate that way, it existed to give a simple way to decide who is the owner and who is the slave.
The People of Colour of the world – the descendants of slaves, the children of those whose lands had been colonised – had been aware of white supremacy for a long time; for centuries even… even if there was not yet a word for it, while the white people; supported, protected and privileged by the hegemony refused to believe or understand that it even existed.
The people who denied systemic racism and white supremacy had a desire to do so. They had too much to gain, they benefitted too much from a system that defined their successes as merit despite the leg up the system gave them.
2020 was when it all started to fall down, when centuries of racism and white supremacy started its long slow march to collapse. At the end what changed everything was understanding; was the privileged asking as William Foster (Played by Michael Douglas) did the end of the movie falling down “I’m the bad guy”?
Like many cultural changes a lot of people were harmed in the process; many lives were lost before society found a new equilibrium. The times from 2020 were terrible; we must not forget the people endangered by the war and unrest that led to the end of white supremacy.
It started in the USA, the cradle of the worst of white nationalism; although it might be argued that the worst place was Australia, where people could not even understand that white supremacy existed; where people were as aware of white supremacy as a fish is of water.
It was impossible to be certain which police shooting, which iPhone video of a police officer killing a black man was the last straw in the USA but Black Lives Matter protests exploded onto the streets in fire and anger; the police, fearing the loss of power, perhaps fearing suffering the consequences of their actions, fought back.
The police were not keeping the peace, they became the counter-protestors, it was not long before the police and human rights protestors were on opposite sides of an undeclared civil war.
Australia, whose racism was unique and home grown, borrowed their white nationalist rhetoric from the darkest places in the internet, from Americans who evangelised their form of white supremacy. With the far right racists having assimilated American white supremacy, with some of them showing signs of having difficulty understanding what country they lived in, the need for a responsive Black Lives Matter movement in Australia was strong; in Australia however, with the most endangered group being Aboriginal people you will remember the movement morphed in to Aboriginal Lives Matter over time.
I was there, in the front lines. I was a witness.
It was impossible to determine which was the last straw Aboriginal death in custody; at which point the dam broke and the wailing of the Aboriginal people became the horror of everybody. The protests, particularly in Melbourne, grew into the hundreds of thousands, uncountable numbers overwhelming the streets.
In the end the Cities fell; the Black Lives Matter and Aboriginal Lives Matter protestors fought the fascists, the police stood between them when they could and business in the inner city stopped.
The United States of America descended into civil war, police and much of the Federal government against a loose alliance of private citizens and the state governments of some states; who had decided that police powers had gone too far. Cities fell under control of the BLM protestors and other cities became fortified enclaves with police arresting everybody they saw. The Black Lives Matter cities at first struggled to restructure without police and control, but in the end they developed a path of peace, where communities protected and aided each other; where consensus and egalitarian decision making kept the peace.
The far-right militias however continued to shoot Black Lives Matter protestors in the street. The boogaloo boys shot both sides.
Hang on, I need to back up and explain the boogaloo boys.
In the USA there were actually people trying to foment a civil war, particularly a race war. They formed a movement called the boogaloo bois after the joke title “civil war two electric boogaloo”, referencing the idea of naming a terrible sequel to anything after “Breakin 2, Electric Boogaloo”, known as Breakdance 2 in Australia.
History is not sure what they were trying to achieve; what a race war or a civil war would bring them; what they thought to gain. Perhaps they assumed they would come out on top; perhaps they just wanted an excuse to shoot people.
During the 2020 Black Lives Matter protests boogaloo boys attacked both sides in a form of false flag attack; shooting police so they will blame the attacks on Black Lives Matter protestors, shooting Black Lives Matter activists in the hope they will blame the police. Torching police cars and building to blame rioters.
To an extent they succeeded, despite some members of the Boogaloo movement being arrested they managed to hammer the wedge between BLM and the police deeper.
By 2022, the USA was embroiled in a vicious war. Australia’s government, being the only government who shared much ideology with the government of the United States, offered police and military forces to help the US federal government to regain control.
By the middle of 2023 the violence came close to open urban war in the USA, becoming an embarrassment for the USA and her only staunch ally, Australia.
At the beginning of 2024 the European Union had no choice but to enforce economic sanctions on the USA citing their human rights abuses. Demands by the United Nations that the US accept peacekeepers from Europe were met with disdain by a government more interested in law and order and control than peace. What was left of the US economy was threatened with collapse; the money that had helped maintain power began to disappear.
People already threatened by war started to starve.
Thousands of refugees flooded into Canada, a country that has always kept its borders open for refugees.
Only the United Kingdom, of all the countries in Europe, traded with the USA.
By 2024 it was only the USA’s veto within the UN security council that put them in a position to avoid censure by the UN. The USA, from it’s grandfathered position of strength as a permanent member of the UN security council threatened Europe with war.
The US government, under president for life Ivanka Trump, was a war zone. The war between Black Lives Matter and heavily armed police and government forces, aided by far right militias, was bloody and personal with families split along ideological lines. Most cities were divided street by street, house by house; although some states were “white states” and others were “BLM states” it was not always that simple. Deaths from sniper fire, knifings in the street, riots, lynchings, bombings and running gun battles in the streets were common.
Running battles were in fact constant and sporadic.
Eventually US democracy collapsed completely, rampaging gangs of what once were members of the police and military fought each other for supremacy and warlords took control of streets, blocks or cities.
In Australia there was nowhere free of racial violence. In the inner cities, hipsters, hippies and people of colour fought the police in the streets. Some small towns quickly became fortified enclaves, as the people tried desperately to keep the “wrong people” out. The populations of small remote Aboriginal communities exploded as the residents received firstly Aboriginal refugees from other regions and then later refugees from the wider community.
Roaming armed patrols from those communities were needed to keep the white supremacists out.
Melbourne, the most population dense city in Australia became the largest by population by 2025 as projected. The people in the city, vastly overpopulating the people in the state outside of the city, horrified by the race hate elsewhere voted in an anti-racist, socialist government.
I was there, in Melbourne, speaking and writing for the resistance, defying the death threats from the racist and fascist terrorists. I came close to death multiple times, but I thought it important, I think it’s important now, to bear witness, to speak for the resistance.
The Australian civil war disrupted what was left of Australia’s democracy; the toll on lives was unimaginable; thousands of refugees fled into Victoria and particularly; mostly people of colour who believed they were endangered by the racist policies in other states, cities and towns.
I was there, bearing witness, when the troops rolled over the Murray and down the Hume highway into Melbourne; when countless members of the resistance died. It was those deaths that ended the war, the United Nations would no longer sit back and watch.
In 2027 the peacekeepers arrived; soldiers from Europe, Asia and Africa arrived in Australia to stop the ethnic violence. The governments of Australia fell, the warlords were besieged and bloody running battles between UN peacekeepers and far-right, identarian, white nationalist militias continued for many months.
Eventually cracks began to form in the forces themselves, police and army foot soldiers despaired at fighting their own friends and family. The Police Union had been evicted from the union movement after their heavy-handed handling of the 2021 Flemington riots and were left with no support when they claimed that the police were “just doing their job”. In 2026 hundreds of members of the police and army changed sides and the violence continued with armed, force trained activists on both sides.
Understanding dawned soon after in the minds of the police forces that they had been used to oppress the people and uphold white supremacy. Teary confessions were televised and social media exploded with admissions of culpability. In the end it was those expressions, of the understanding that people had not before seen their white supremacy; that taught us that white supremacy was real and dangerous.
Meanwhile the USA fell completely into chaos, a new civil war, encouraged by police gangs and boogaloo militants who were causing a war because they thought it would be fun to fight in one. The war reached that feverish place where even war-mongers thought things were going too far.
In the end peacekeepers took and held the USA until elections could be held; elections won by an anti-racist coalition.
Racism and white supremacy had become too obvious, nobody could hide from it, nobody could pretend it didn’t exist anymore. Like at the end of world war 2, where the anti-Semitism that had existed for countless years became associated with evil and could no longer be tolerated; after the US and Australian civil wars racism became intolerable.
It was at the end, when the world watched the USA and Australia being torn apart by racism, when Australia watched the damage racism was doing to USA that everybody discovered, ignoring or denying the existence of systemic racism is itself racism.
By 2028 white supremacy had become a fringe belief, the world could finally heal from the ideologies that had ruined so many lives. We owe a debt to the Black Lives Matter and Aboriginal Lives Matter protestors who held the ground, found for their ideology no matter how much danger they were in.
Now in 2029 we can no longer even imagine the racism we once accepted as a fundamental part of the human experience. Racism was a disease, hate was viral. What we discovered after the pain, violence and despair of the twenty twenties, with twenty-twenty hindsight (sorry bad pun) is that love and anti-racism too can be viral.
The racists and fascists, the white supremacists are still out there although now they are quiet. They went quiet after World War II as well, and they came back. We must remain vigilant lest they return to power once again.
Welcome to Assembly for the Future, with our host Alex K and First Speaker Scott Ludlam. Scott Ludlam traverses the processes that transformed the previous decade. When the old world began to splinter and smash in 2020, what grew in the open ground was genuinely new: with boldness and care, insight and compassion, we found a way home by 2029.
a love letter to 2020
Thank you for joining us for this one-of a kind event.
I know you’ve travelled a long, strange way to be here and you must be so ready for a break from 2020.
I’m speaking to you from the Sovereign Yuin nation on the south coast of what you’d have called New South Wales. Since the treaty handbacks started we don’t use that name much anymore, and I can’t say anyone misses it.
So, you’ve been shifted nine years forward; it’s July 2029; which is not such a huge traverse when you think about it; 3285 days and nights. And the reason each of you have been brought here will become clearer as we go, but for me it’s really simple: it’s so I can say thank you, deeply, for all of the things you did during those three thousand days and nights.
Because we’re not so far down the timeline, a lot about 2029 will seem very familiar to you. The NBN is still absolutely shit, Fremantle still haven’t won a flag and the weather is a real mess. But you already know that the 2020s are going to be an impossibly turbulent decade so there’s a lot for us to cover.
To get the big picture stuff out of the way early, I want you to know; we did it.
It looks like we turned the ship. I know it’s hard to believe. But here we are: the last coal-burner got turned off three years ago; this is a renewable continent now; we’re even exporting clean energy to the north.
Emissions are back to where they were in about 1994 and trending slowly down thanks to a global replanting programme that I believe some people here today had a bit to do with.
So, the collapse scenarios that the doomers insisted were inevitable; turns out they weren’t, because nothing is. We’re not living in some rosy utopia here obviously, but something much more messy, and interesting, between these imaginary extremes.
Now in the time-zone you’ve just arrived from, I know it feels like you have more urgent problems than gas balances in the atmosphere. A world in the grip of the most dangerous pandemic in a century, the United States descending into fascism, and a locust economy going into cardiac arrest. In our own colonial corner of the world the white supremacist mask is slipping. It’s a big time. What I want to say is: hold on to each other. It gets weirder and harder yet, but you have to hold on; on the other side of the white water there’s the possibility of a more even flow.
That thing of history coming in lurches and lulls and stops and starts; that’s an old pattern, maybe one of the oldest there is. It never repeats, because nothing is ever the same, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t rhythms and symmetries that show up over and over. That’s one of the things the pandemic taught us; tiny causes can have massive consequences if they line up with stress fractures and larger weaknesses in structures that seem outwardly solid.
So how’s this for a tiny cause: a virus particle 0.1 micron in diameter is about to wipe $25 trillion off the expected profits of the most powerful fossil fuel companies in the world; they’re going to fall like dominos, taking down exposed banks and insurance companies until finally the whole structure caves in. The corona depression breaks the spine of capitalism and opens a fleeting moment of space for something new.
A friend of mine used to say that in a crisis the first person with a plan on the table wins. For the first time in memory, the first people with a plan didn’t look or sound anything like the people whose plans we’d been following since colonisation.
This was something different; a post-capitalist uprising, leaderless and somehow everywhere, bigger and richer than our brittle nationalisms could contain. A global grassroots network called the Progressive International serving as a mediator, clearinghouse and organising lattice for social movements all over the world to link arms in common cause. This new freedom is not given willingly, it is ceded reluctantly, with spite and violence, and because we are organised for the first time, we are equal to it.
Try and imagine what happens when the media oligarchs that drenched us in race hate, disinformation and division for our whole lives hit the wall and are placed in the hands of receivers, some of them in the hands of prosecutors. You don’t realise how loud the consumerist shriek is inside your head until it’s suddenly gone, and now we can hear ourselves think for the first time. The quiet is delicious. We can hear each other’s common humanity. We can hear music and voices raised from parts of the world we’d been drowning out.
I know it sounds like a small thing but when it happens it changes everything: seamless online translation of voice and text between the world’s languages. One of the most enduring barriers to the arising of a truly global civil society is gracefully transformed into a strength almost overnight; the mass extinction of language and song is brought back from the brink at the same time as our hands in the soil are holding back the other mass extinction. Finally, we can hear each other, and that, in combination with the sudden absence of amplified hate speech swamping the airwaves, breaks the white supremacist spell.
We close the internment camps. Not by asking nicely; in a few places we show up and physically push the fences down with borrowed earthmoving equipment, but they are closed and staying closed.
It’s kind of weird that this is all unfolding almost exactly a hundred years after the 20th century Great Depression, but some form of deeply embedded collective memory held us back from making the same mistakes twice. Instead of using the tools of central planning and socialism to save capitalism and unleash it in an even stronger form, we’re using them to dismantle its predatory architectures and provide a dignified life for everyone. All the ideas that had been subsisting at the margins – universal income support alongside universal healthcare, education and housing – those were the first plans on the table in a crisis, and so they prevailed. Not by asking nicely; this takes hundreds of millions of us; by far the largest civil society mobilisations in history, globally networked and with a blissful absence of white saviour leader figures to attack and co-opt, it’s unstoppable.
I don’t know if anything I’m telling you sounds implausible or unlikely; but if you don’t believe me there are a couple of things I’d ask you to look for when you get home to 2020.
First thing is, notice emboldened voices from the margins; people the mainstream has been stepping on and silencing since forever; notice how they’ve been finding their voices and linking arms and not taking shit; it’s not that they haven’t been doing that all along, but that widening cracks in the neoliberal armour mean others can hear them more clearly. These voices are in the process of moving from the periphery to the centre, needing only that moment of historical slippage.
Second – this one’s an easy one – a mass movement of children organising their way toward a global strike. I mean it’s kind of obvious when you think about it; the movement leaders of the 2020s and 2030s had already brought six million people out onto the streets before they’d left high school. They weren’t on holiday during the pandemic, it turns out they were studying movement theory, strategy and history. They have learned a thing or two from organised labour about the power of the strike, and my favourite thing is what happens when organised labour learns it back from these kids, and rolls it out in every time-zone at once.
Third thing is, try to imagine the power you get when the world’s largest, youngest and newest social movement joins its strength with some of the world’s oldest and most storied; the original rebels against extinction who have been resisting dispossession and genocide in some places for five hundred years. Look for signs that middle class environmental and social justice organisers are hearing the Sovereignty message clearly for the first time. That’s a clue that what’s about to unfold is going to be deeper and more enduring than what’s come before it, because it’s going to be carrying the generational memory of our whole species with it this time.
When it starts to unfold that’s how you’ll know it’s the real thing; because it will wear this lineage so proudly. A movement for justice and peace, ecology and democracy, grounded in the oldest living cultures on earth. Hundreds of years in the making, carried forward now by a generation of children determined to seize their own century.
My time with you is nearly done. The reason I feel so honoured to be able to speak with you today is to be able to say to each of you, thank you, for everything you’ve done, and everything you’re about to do, to make this sliver of possibility a reality.
Whatever it is, whatever crazy project or collaboration, whatever is that thing that scares you in just the right way, when you get home, do it. You have to do it.
You’ll find the others making their own way, make common cause with them. It’s 2029. Our human family is eight decades into the anthropocene. It feels like the centre is holding.
Because of you, and what you’re about to do, it finally feels like we’re home.
Welcome to Assembly for the Future, with our host Alex K and First Speaker Alice Wong. Disabled oracles have existed throughout time. What will they say in 2029, when some disabilities have disappeared due to technology and cures? Listen to the tale from Alice Wong, the Last Disabled Oracle, and the wisdom she shares from her ancestors.
The Last Disabled Oracle
Welcome everyone! It’s 4:15 pm Pacific time in California and I’d like to call to order the December meeting of the Disabled Oracles Society, North American chapter.
While people are joining both online and in person, please help yourselves to some drinks and snacks in the back. Louise brought some Tim Tams back from her visit to Melbourne attending the Australian chapter’s annual meeting last month. Please remember we have people participating online, on the phone, and through an all new platform, beep boop beep. Be sure to follow the various streams from your device throughout our meeting today.
Since it’s December and we’re about to embark upon another decade in the 21st century, let’s take some time to review the major issues and challenges we faced as disabled oracles. Established in December 2020, these nine years have been difficult with the coronavirus, the phage in 2024, and the increasing changes in weather patterns and global migration in the last five years. All of these crises have disproportionately impacted marginalized people, especially communities of color and indigenous, poor, older, and disabled people.
The planet is literally more hostile to people like us and yet the greatest existential threat we face is from other humans who believe congenital disabilities are something to be fixed and eliminated through gene therapy and human gene editing, also known as HGE.
Eugenics has always been with us but in the next 10-15 years we know HGE will be commercially available since the press conference this past August by McEdit, a multinational corporation planning to provide high-end boutique services for people who want to give their future generations the best chance at life. They didn’t announce the date of their launch but reports say it’s likely to take place 2030 or 2031 at the very latest. The fact that there was such fanfare and little opposition to McEdit means we have a lot of work ahead of us as disabled oracles.
What does the advent of McEdit mean for us? How do we, imperfectly perfect creatures, argue against these seductive narratives about being better, stronger, healthier? How do we address the very real ethical implications behind this technology?
Before we have a discussion on what to do next, let’s go back and review some basics. This may be useful for some of the newer members.
Many years ago the Center for Genetics and Society described human genetic modification as “…the direct manipulation of the genome using molecular engineering techniques.” This is often referred to as human gene editing, or HGE.
There are two types of modification: somatic and germline. We are focused on germline modification because it would change the genes in eggs, sperm, or early embryos. This means subsequent generations would also carry those changes.
CRISPR-Cas9 is one gene editing tool that became popular because it’s fast, cheap, and accurate. CRISPR was used in 2018 by He Jiankui, a researcher who announced at an international conference that he produced genetically edited babies in an attempt to make them resistant to HIV. He was sentenced to 3 years in prison for illegal medical practices in 2019.
At that time germline modification was a red flag for ethical reasons but it wasn’t banned or regulated in every country. Over the years tools such as CRISPR became more sophisticated, and slowly opposition to the unknown consequences died down. Excitement around the science and possibilities of eliminating disease outweighed any questions about the underlying assumptions about health, disability, and difference. The idea of giving babies an advantage, whether it’s less likelihood of developing a disease or enhancing other traits, was irresistible to people with the means to give their kids, ‘the best’. The best, meaning a life without a disability. And this is why McEdit and its other competitors are on the horizon for commercial and undoubtedly militaristic purposes.
The Disabled Oracle Society began in 2020 in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic when sick and disabled people sounded the alarm about the importance of wearing masks, the value of accessibility, and the interdependence of all communities. It became very clear who was considered disposable and who was not as institutions and governments developed medical triage guidelines. The casual ableism, racism, and ageism went unchecked in debates around restarting the economy with the terms such as ‘acceptable losses’ and ‘high risk’ as if those lives weren’t worth living or saving.
I know Twitter doesn’t exist anymore, but here’s an antique Tweet from March 18, 2020 where I said disabled people are modern day oracles in response to a Tweet by Emily Johnson, who wrote, “We need to talk about how US states have legalized murdering disabled and chronically ill people by taking them off critical equipment they already had or denying care should they be moved outside their home or facility care situations. And how providers justify this.”
The actual catalyst to the formation of the Disabled Oracle Society came from an article in July of that year from the New York Times as part of a series of stories marking the 30th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, a civil rights law for disabled people. An article by Katie Hafner titled, “Once Science Fiction, Gene Editing Is Now a Looming Reality”, featured several parents of disabled children, scientists, and bioethicists. And only ONE person with a disability.
My friend and fellow oracle Rebecca Cokely Tweeted: “Hey ?@nytimes? how DARE you have a writer who doesn’t identify as DISABLED write about what CRISPR means for OUR community as part of your #ADA30 spread?!?! Your ableism really knows NO bounds.”
When I saw that, something in me snapped. Here we are, disabled oracles since the beginning of time warning society and telling our truths, and being completely sidelined once again. This is nothing new or unique. Throughout history marginalized, troublesome, undesirable people have not been believed or taken seriously. We elicit discomfort and disrupt people’s binary ideas of normalcy. Our warnings have been silenced in order to uphold the status quo. Even when we make persuasive arguments, we are not at the center, despite our extensive scholarship and wisdom. For instance, I interviewed Dr. Jaipreet Virdi in August 2020 about her book, Hearing Happiness: Deafness Cures in History, and she said this about the future of cures such as human gene editing.
“There is no guarantee that genetic engineering will eradicate hereditary deafness nor any certainty that it will not cause any further complications. Moreover, this is essentially at the core, a form of cultural genocide… to argue that this needs to be ‘avoided’ at the level of genetics is an affront to generations of Deaf people who do not perceive themselves to be genetic defects.”
That was a brief overview of our origins and I share this because the mission remains constant:
We tell our stories and truths in our own words. We define who we are and our place in the world. We fight to be seen and heard. We live in defiance with joy and radical acceptance.
You voted me as the President of the Disabled Oracle Society this year and I take this responsibility seriously. Friends, I too am tired of defending my worth everyday to people obsessed with having everything faster, shinier, newer. We try to reach people where they are, engaging in a number of creative ways. We assert the danger and uncertainty to future generations with altered genomes and how it will impact the entire human race. We repeat our main talking points all the time – that all people have worth, that no person should be left behind, that technology is never neutral. We also try to point out how technology reinforces white supremacy, ableism, and all forms of structural inequality. This is not new with too many tragic examples to list.
What else can we do? How do we love and hold each other up so we keep on going as a community? How can we harness our imagination to create the world we want to live in right now and in the future?
At this time, I’d like to open it up for discussion and questions. Let me see, [Alice plays audio] “Hi, I’m Emily from New York City. What is the role of a disabled oracle?
Thanks, Emily. It’s totally up to you. What are you comfortable talking about? Just living your best life is a form of resistance. As I mentioned earlier, I don’t have the answers or even a strategy yet on how to engage with McEdit and the millions who will become their customers. But I’m good at asking questions. I’m good at telling my personal story within a larger political context. In asking questions, I want people to consider other perspectives and why germline human gene editing is incredibly troubling and problematic for so many communities, not just disabled people.
Since we’re almost out of time, here’s one final question: [Alice plays audio] “Hi, I’m Grace from Tempe, Arizona, longtime disabled oracle. I’m scared. What is the point of doing all of this if we’re going to become extinct?
Thanks, Grace. I’m really scared too. Things feel overwhelming and impossible everyday. Just know that you have a choice on how much you want to do. I believe everyone has the capacity to change the world while we are still alive in big and small ways.
I’m reminded of this Tweet from 2017 by Dr. Ruha Benjamin, a sociologist and author of Race After Technology: Abolitionist Tools for the New Jim Code, “remember to imagine and craft the worlds you cannot live without, just as you dismantle the ones you cannot live within.”
As disabled oracles, we continue to build and create on the knowledge and dreams of our ancestors. They left their mark on the planet as will we. After we’re long gone, we will show up in other ways. Someone will see and discover us and we’ll be speaking with them from the past.
I don’t know if this helps, but think about the ancestors that mean something to you. Connect with the people close to you right now and the stories passed down by your elders. Know that we are in this together collectively and that our brilliance as oracles will not be denied. I call upon the power and wisdom of my disabled ancestors such as Stella Young, Carrie Ann Lucas, Ki‘tay Davidson, Ing Wong-Ward, Harriet McBryde Johnson and Stacey Park Milbern. I have my memories and their words to guide me. And I hope this bit of advice brings you comfort because we should embrace every single moment while we can.
In closing, let’s read the motto of the Disabled Oracle Society: We are the past. We are the present. We are the future. We are forever.
See you all in 2030, meeting adjourned.
Assembly for the Future had its World Premiere at BLEED Festival 2020, involving over 250 future-building participants, and 40 artists, thinkers, provocateurs and cultural operators who generated a body of work from 2029 as Dispatches from the Future, Future Archive, and First Speaker’s provocations here above.
Assembly for the Future was developed in response to the material conditions of the Covid-19 pandemic, and draws upon a presentation mode and sensibility embedded in 2970° Practising Democracy, the signature event dramaturgy developed by not yet it’s difficult.
The first edition of Assembly for the Future was commissioned, developed and supported by the City of Melbourne through Arts House as part of BLEED 2020.
The second edition was supported by the Lord Mayor’s Charitable Foundation and the Australian Network for Art & Technology (ANAT), as part of ANAT SPECTRA 2022 : Multiplicity, an artistic and discursive platform inspired by the intersection of art, science and technology, presented in partnership with the Science Gallery Melbourne, University of Melbourne.
Wukan dhelkek Dja Dja Wurrung djayi ba marti guli ba duroyi.
I give my respect to Dja Dja Wurrung Country and their Ancestors.
– Alex K, Keeper of Time