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Our Roddenberry Moment

The day after the election, I received a message from a frenemy I’ve known since junior high. He has kept close tabs on me and my career, always presenting himself as “devil’s advocate” or “the rational voice of the other side of the argument.” Basically, he’s a book smart troll I didn’t block because of the insidious effects of nostalgia. His message was one line:

“What good is all that science fiction stuff, now that we’ve won?”

“We’ve won.” Wow. All of these little historical puzzle pieces fell into place and created a contemporary picture of the man — and my role in his development. He was a racist knife and I was the whetstone he used to sharpen his beliefs. In hindsight, I knew our values were in opposition. I knew he was bigot-esque. Also, I think I was under the profoundly false notion that I could have stopped him from slipping into where he inevitably ended up. His question really shook me.

His question was valid. A demonstrated racist, xenophobic, misogynist with zero government experience was going to be our president. All three branches of government were in unholy alignment. Race and culture-based hate crimes not only became more prevalent — just one day after the election — but were validated by how the electoral college voted. It was a damn good question — a question that sank me into a very deep sadness for a good twenty minutes.

I collected my thoughts and replied with:

“It is everything. It will be how we resist. Our world is in a Roddenberry Moment and you’ve already lost.”

At the time, I had no idea what the hell I meant. It just sounded badass. I knew the answer was in me, or else I wouldn’t have typed those words. After four coffees and a good cry, it came.

We are in our collective Roddenberry Moment.

1966, the year Gene Roddenberry’s Star Trek debuted, was a very tumultuous year. People were protesting the Vietnam War, a war that was unpopular and years away from ending. The KKK burned NAACP leader Vernon Dahmer’s home killing him and injuring his wife. The Black Panther Party for Self Defense was founded. On the second day of the March Against Fear, James Aubrey Norvell shot James Meredith. The only reason Meredith survived was because the 16-gauge shotgun was loaded with birdshot. It is also important to remind you of Malcolm X’s assassination the previous year. This is only a very minute snapshot of what was happening at the time. But on September 8 of that year, Gene Roddenberry, The Great Bird of the Galaxy, asked some questions:

What if race and species became, mostly, irrelevant and we formed coalitions to explore the stars? What if an entire organization was formed that didn’t celebrate diversity as some kind of holiday, but accepted the reality of it and made it the societal default? What if art and science and culture were given equal weight in this society? What if exploration replaced colonization?

And his influence has been felt for fifty years.

Roddenberry gave us aspirational science fiction on television. We had visual representation of functional diversity. We also had those words that resonated with so many people, despite the split infinitive and its dubious origin:

“To Boldly Go…” This is precisely where we are. Will we succumb to the very real hate and despair coupled with the manufactured hate and despair the media is feeding us? Or do we boldly go? Do we sit back and react, or do we respond with art, with inter and intra-cultural/religious/gender/sexuality/political dialogue?

Science- and speculative fiction are made for moments like this. Whether it is the visionary fiction inspired Octavia E. Butler, the multiple forms of resistance presented in Nalo Hopkinson’s Midnight Robber, the contortions immigrants must perform laid out in Susan Palwick’s The Necessary Beggar, or Andrew Vachss directing Batman to confront child sex trafficking in the novel, Batman: The Ultimate Evil — what makes all of this vital is that we get off the computer, out of our heads, and we take real world action. While we are all parts of various fandoms, we use fiction to enact real world change.

But change is a tough slog. Resistance to oppression is exhausting and dangerous. It is safer to just keep our heads down and not become a target of people or institutions. But on the other side of the hate and fear and uncertainty lies something glorious. Even in the Trek universe, humanity almost wiped itself out before becoming more enlightened.

A note: In all iterations of Star Trek, the missions were about exploration or peacekeeping. But all Starfleet ships had weaponry; every away team brought phasers, Voyager was as much a ship of exploration as it was a combat vessel. TNG, DS9, and Voyager all had a Klingon or half-Klingon on staff, just in case things got hairy. We can all be great and well-meaning people, but we also have to keep ourselves, and others, safe.

We may be too immature a species for space to be our final frontier. But we are facing a new frontier, a frontier that is as frightening as it is laden with hopeful possibility. We just have to act. And the first action any one of us can take is to ask questions.

Ask yourself, and those around you, these simple questions: Does our world have to be like this? If so, why? If not, how do I (we) make change? What is the future I want for me and mine? How can I help to make it happen?

Roddenberry asked similar question. In fact, he provided the blueprint for the questions. That impulse is just as relevant today as it was on September 8, 1966.

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