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Issue 132

On Writing: 2025: Light Black Years From Now
by Syrus Marcus Ware

“The dominance of language and writing has come to stand for meaning itself. Live, embodied practices not based in linguistic or literary codes, we must assume, have no claims on meaning…It’s imperative now, however overdue, to pay attention to the repertoire.” – Diana Taylor1

It’s 2025.

I’m running, as usual. The time it takes to get to the water station leaves me with little time to get back to the group before our nightly gathering. I really don’t need to sign up for the water shift as often as I do – there are enough people in our pod to share all the tasks. But I love the journey the time alone to think, to be, to be solo. One of the hardest things about the Changes is the lack of alone time, the lack of individual moments of quiet to think and to feel free. I mean, we have a bigger Freedom – one that makes the lack of personal space and alone time feel relatively manageable – but I still miss the general “aloneness” of life before the revolution.

I slow my pace and adjust the water carrier on my back. I feel the weight of it, the heaviness of the water, but also of what it represents. We fought with our people at Standing Rock and in New Orleans and on Haida Gwaii and in Attawapiskat to protect this water, which has come to mean everything in life after the Changes. I should have brought something to read. I can remember before the Changes; I’m old enough to remember details that many in our pod can’t imagine in their wildest dreams. I recall travelling far to go to school, to go to work…trying to read to make the time go faster. I used to walk home from the 52 Lawrence bus in Weston, carefully planning my route to allow me to read and walk. I’d hold my paperback book and try to focus on the words swimming around on the page, moving with each of my steps. Now, we have the retinal share-a-book implants that were from an earlier time in the Movement when we had to share information quickly. Somehow it just doesn’t feel the same.

I used to love reading about art, about creative practice. We were making so many things back then: objects, paintings and interactions. More and more artists were creating within activist contexts. Yet, I rarely saw writing about our art-based movements. This was back when those in power still thought art was something that needed to be put inside elaborately air-conditioned buildings. Back when they thought that art was something to be seen by a select few – so few that they made sure that admission to their buildings was prohibitively expensive. Back when they knew that this act would keep the creative brilliance inside their walls and away from those who needed its beauty to ignite something in their souls.

I remember this time. I remember when those who wrote about art wrote about the things hanging and stacked inside the air-conditioned buildings, wilfully ignoring everything else happening on every single inch of the walls, ground, space outside of these walls.

Back in 2016, when the fires that would bring in the Big Change were just beginning, we made an art gallery on the street in front of the police station in Toronto. We held a 15-day occupation that saw the creation of 20-foot textile installations, countless works on paper, paintings, performance art showcases and dances. We called for an end to anti-Blackness, an end to targeted policing – we called for change through our songs, our drawings, our bodies moving in rhythm. It was nine years ago, but I remember it like it was happening right now – as if we were still there, singing, dancing and singing: “I believe that we will win.” Smoke from traditional medicines being kissed by the fire of elders, syncopated chants fading in and out of my perception. Dancers practising their routines for the rally later that night, curators moving the art that Lido Pimienta, Amber Williams-King and others around on the walls of the public gallery. Large-scale paper ephemera from the earlier performance action at city hall: the Special Investigations Unit (SIU) report in Andrew Loku’s [2] case wheatpasted to the entrance of police headquarters.

In these old memories, everything feels timeless – perhaps what Michelle M. Wright [3] wrote about the physics of Blackness has been laced through my thoughts. We exist inside and outside of time and timelines. It is as if today it is nine years ago and we are waking up at the Black Lives Matter #tentcity to the smell of communal pancakes being cooked as if part of some magically useful social practice art project. But it is also nighttime, and there are ciphers made up of hundreds of dancers moving in ecstatic rebellion to the DJs’ beats and the MCs’ rhymes. Mustafa the Poet [4] is there, on a flatbed truck, his face lit up by the glorious sunset, telling us that “as long as the sun rises, so shall I.”

But this isn’t now; it was then. Back when we stood in the middle of the largest Pride march in the country, dropped rainbow smoke bombs with dramatic flair to begin our performance and held an audience of millions in a moment of rebellion, freedom and calls for large-scale change. We set up an arts education hub in front of the SIU, delivering 12 hours of free community arts workshops about prison-industrial complex in Canada. We held a concert that night and rallied for the end of policing, and for the start of community accountability. Artists. Activists. Performers. Political movements moving through elaborate choreography. These memories come flooding back through my cells, an embodied repertoire inside a human machine.

Maybe it was just what Diana Taylor wrote about the archive and the repertoire: how do you archive the unarchivable? Can you ever capture in writing, memory or archive, the lived experience of a performance, really? Could we ever have captured these moments of activism blurred with art?

There was no writing about the art of this movement. There was no writing about the artists who were activists who were artists. So we kept making our own writing. We wrote with fabric, scissors, gold threads pulled tight, “Which side of history are you on?” Because we knew which side we were on.

Funny that this is all now history. That we are here, now. In the Changes. In this time when we write our truths on the backs of maple leaves, spraying every surface with graffiti, spending entire days singing and dancing in hypnotic trances.

The dust picks up as I turn the bend in the road. From within swirls of dry clay dust I emerge and see my Black family celebrating in our field, singing, dancing, gathering. I pick up the pace of my run, bringing water with which to caress and bathe each other, to drink until we are never thirsty, to celebrate with our bodies, to create new life.

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