Part 24 of Joy and Tranquillity digital guide

Joshua Virasami talks about joy and protest

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Suffering is perhaps the most universal of human conditions. Consequently, many stories we tell ourselves as humans circle to working through this intense state of being – suffering. Salvation, then, becomes one of the most sought-after of lifelines – deliverance from the tyrannies of loss, of sickness, of exploitation, of oppression.

Activism, for many of us, at its essence, is about imagining a place beyond suffering, a slice of heaven on earth, and fighting for it. Taking up space on a grey pavement, with hundreds of other protestors, eyes closed, singing as loud as possible, “we gon’ be alright”, one of the unofficial Black Lives Matter anthems. Activism is not just concerned with destination, it is concerned with journey, and love, joy, and solidarity on the way, is the reason we stay.

Freedom is a dream in motion.

That song, ‘Alright’, is from the seminal album ‘To Pimp a Butterfly’, where the rapper Kendrick Lamar looks again at Black America, a place, he suggests, where redemption is a rocky road. Activism offers redemption, and activists are like ancestral imaginal discs, engines of transformation in the chaotic cocoon struggling for an entirely new way of being – for metamorphosis.

Sous les pavés, la plage!” Beneath the pavement, the beach. This was one of the rallying cries of May ’68; it means many things to many people, but to me – someone whose parents migrated from the pristine reefs of Mauritius, which sink down below the Maroon mountain enclaves of escaped slaves – it means “great possibilities lie very close to us”, or, as the writer and activist Arundhati Roy so beautifully put it: “Another world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing.”

Amalia Pica’s work here for me resembles that heavily charged pause, full of possibility; blank, but with a positive vision saturating the ether.

Activism is world-bridging work, and it comes as no surprise to me that the vision of abolition and freedom which Black Lives Matter summons forth finds mass appeal in the young activists on campus, in college, or on the block. They are the dream workers, clipboards on doorsteps, podcasts on pillows, tugging at a positive vision of tomorrow, knowing – We can win.

About the speaker

Photograph of Joshua Virasami

Joshua Virasami

Joshua Virasami is a London-born artist, writer and political organiser involved in various movements including Occupy and Black Lives Matter. Joshua uses writing, film, music and direct action to educate, agitate and organise toward social change. As well as being a political activist in the UK, he has spent time studying and travelling in Balochistan, Kurdistan, Mauritius and many other countries around the world. He is the author of ‘How to Change It: your indispensable guide to activism’ (2020) with #Merky Books.