The shadows of a collection of people are projected onto the front of Oakland City Hall as we march and wave flags for our liberation from prison into paradise. This is a place that I have gathered to rally for Black Lives, to rally against Trump, to rally for Oakland Teachers, for DACA, for MLK, for the Women’s March, and against police brutality. Each time that I have gathered in this place, I have felt a deep surge of emotional collective power. Each cause, each injustice, each march is connected both by the network of oppressive systems of power, and also by the simple gesture of walking together through our streets.
Walking is a movement. We may walk in protests, we may walk in parades. There are processions and pilgrimages. There are migrations and border crossings. There are peaceful hikes and there is running toward safety. Straight and meandering lines, circles, mountains and valleys that rise and dip. Marching Toward Paradise calls upon all these and more as the guiding movements to imagine the passage from prison into paradise.
In this project, people reflect on their personal paradise and their personal prison. As I talked with people about their paradise, I heard so many call it a state of mind or a process or a community. I heard a call for the richness of chaos. Upon consideration, everyone cast away their edenic ideas of paradise to conceive of generative, rich, humble, and informed paradises. There is no arriving at paradise, but there is paradise that lives in the work that we do towards justice, art, happiness, compassion, and love. I could not have conceived of the extent to which this collection of paradises surprised and inspired me. Paradise is a framework for imagining what is possible on earth.
Prison is a confinement or a restraint, it is oppression, shame, and ignorance, as well as a brutality. The prison industrial system in the United States is a racist, for-profit, punitive system that destroys lives for capital gain. But the prisons beyond those barred walls are abstract and multidimensional; they are enforced by fear, they are embedded into systems of power and shame and despair. From within these prisons not everyone has the privilege of imagining paradise. To know paradise is to dream, to see and acknowledge your desire, to let down your guard and to trust your vision. For many, their work is urgent and focused on creating just a moment of ease or a moment of value. These moments are the glimmers of paradise shining through.
On whatever scale, with whichever resources, and from any perspective, this project honors each step that we take in the march toward paradise. When we gather with our flags and banners outside of City Hall, we acknowledge that we have all come from different places with different experiences, but that as a collective body, we can claim new futures.