Notes on Blocks
On Abolitionist Teaching Dreamscapes
This piece came out of one of our “Are.na Walkthroughs” in which we ask people to take us through a particular channel, the blocks and ideas held within, and the ways those ideas may have evolved as the channel has grown and accumulated. Here, Sienna Kwami shares some of what they talked about while walking us through and around their channel “abolitionist teaching dreamscape.
I started my channel “abolitionist teaching dreamscape” as a way to piece together a toolbox that would be able to piece together a world. Any time I read something or saw something that radically shifted my view of what society can look like, I added it to this channel. Then, the pandemic. Then, George Floyd was brutally murdered. And for the first time, I was learning about abolition under the pressure of not only police brutality, which was not new to me as a Black person in America, but also the pressure of a deadly virus completely shifting the priorities of all people—a forced reckoning with what was and what no longer could be. During this time, I was an undergraduate art student, so a lot of my channel asked: What is an artist’s role in building a world that does not necessitate prisons, a world where we are all supported in our right to live joyously? This question led me to investigate play, communal thinking, and learning from non-human teachers alongside art making.
I’d say the book The Mushroom at the End of the World is at the core of what “abolitionist teaching dreamscape” is about. Anna Tsing looks to matsutake mushrooms to explore what survival may look like as we delve deeper into ecological ruin at the hands of capitalist-driven destruction. She was the first writer to really help me understand the detriment of the word “progress” in a capitalist context. “Progress,” in this context, is a justification for destruction to achieve a powerful upper echelon’s ideal profit margins at the expense of all other life (which is seen as a resource to be exhausted and replaced, in an endless cycle). I also appreciate her attention to non-human worldmaking and all that we can learn when we remember that we are a part of nature, not above it.
Jamie Tyberg is a prolific organizer who has taught me what it actually looks like to organize to achieve a concrete goal. She was the first person I ever heard the term “degrowth” from, and that concept reminded me of many of the lessons Anna Tsing notes in the opening chapters of Mushroom at the End of the World. One helpful teaching from this interview with Jamie is her outline on how strategy and tactic are defined and what their role is in achieving a goal. I think organizing can be daunting to many, myself included, yet Jamie is so clear in her explanations, and that dispels a lot of misconceptions (join an organization!). There’s many more important lessons contained in this piece, but I think this is a good excerpt that shows the essence of the concept of degrowth: “So really, when we’re talking about degrowth and what we have to degrow, it’s the people that invented growth. It’s the people and the institutions and the schools of thought that sell this idea that we must keep consuming, that we must keep producing. That we must measure growth by how things are destroyed versus how things are nourished. Like, why does the GDP increase when a river is polluted, because some nearby factory is increasing its quarterly earnings, versus when that river stays clean and provides clean drinking water for its nearby residents?”
Along similar lines, I think one of the ways we move towards the conditions necessary for all life to thrive is to reorient our relationship to time. Ron Purser, author of Mcmindfulness, notes this on the podcast Upstream: “In the last 5-10 years we’ve experienced a rapid acceleration of time through time-space compression through digital technologies. Our whole way of knowing—the medium we use shapes our thinking and changes neural circuits in our brain. Our shift from oral culture to written culture, when it comes to the temporal dimension, our sense of anxiety, the sense of always feeling we never have enough time, that we’re being controlled, that there’s some inexorable force that’s alien to us is a kind of distraction—the temporalities of distraction that are now dominating us. We have to look more critically at these dimensions of our human experience because that’s where freedom can open up. That’s the key to greater knowledge and expanded consciousness which goes beyond even the sense of death. The whole framework of birth and death is also a set up of time. These are very deep existential questions which have remarkable and tremendous potential for the next wave of humanity.” 
I think starting with moving at the speed of trust is grounding and can begin helping us answer these existential questions.
I Am Because We Are is an amazing anthology of Black philosophy and political thought across the world and is central to any movement forward. It’s where I first read Walter Rodney, Pat Parker, and Amilcar Cabral, among others. I Am Because We Are is a fundamental throughline of this channel.
I love the simple graphics that appear throughout are.na that remind us that it’s really an investment in all life that will sustain us. This is the essential shift.
Sienna Kwami is a cancer sun, leo moon, taurus rising in love with the little things. maryland institute college of art fiber grad. haitian-ghanian-american diaspora mutt. twenty-two.
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