beauty worn of promise

Consider these points, made in the last 48 hours by scholars of color:

In the last weeks, there have been unprecedentedly large protests against police violence and systemic racism. The grievances are familiar. … But this time seems different. The costs of protesting are higher, and grievances are more intense, as I’ll explain below. Partly as a result, policymakers appear to be doing more to address protesters’ concerns. …

I find that legislators are 44 percent more likely to vote in favor of black protesters’ demands than white protesters’ demands. They are 39 percent more likely to vote in support of Latino protesters’ demands than white protesters’ demands. Legislators are 32 percent more likely to vote in favor of low-income protesters than more affluent protesters. And they are 10 percent more likely to vote in support of in-person protests, like marches or rallies, versus online protests, like online petitions or social media posts.

[She explains that protest by disadvantaged people is more costly, and costly protests have more political impact.] Legislators’ greater support of costly protest exists even when evaluating protests of equal size, disruptiveness and media attention. …

To be sure, the costliness of the protests is not the only factor in these rapid actions. Black Lives Matter has been shifting public opinion for several years now, and the Floyd protests have dramatically increased that shift, so that a majority of Americans now say they support the protesters’ claims. But given the dangers — the costs — of protesting during a pandemic, massive unemployment, widely circulated stories of brutality, and an election year, officials realize that the grievances are intense — and that black people and their allies are likely to punish officials at the polls if they don’t take action now.

LaGina Gause, “Black people have protested police killings for years. Here’s why officials are finally responding

The change is coming “at a speed that I don’t think we’ve seen before in American politics,” said Dorian Warren, president of Community Change, a nonprofit that works with grassroots groups in low-income communities around the county. …

“You can’t argue with the facts that you’re seeing, or wish them away, or make up an alternative story, because it’s 8 minutes, 46 seconds.”

Moreover, the Floyd video came on the heels of years of organizing by Black Lives Matter activists, as well as movements like the Women’s March and, further back, Occupy Wall Street, Warren said. It also came after the killings of Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor, young black Americans whose deaths also sparked outrage. Activists have been drawing attention to issues of police violence and race, gender, and class inequality for years, and those issues have only grown more urgent in recent months.

“One way to think about this metaphorically is like an earthquake,” he explained. Organizing by Black Lives Matter and other groups moves slowly, like tectonic plates: “and then all of a sudden they collide.”

Warren is quoted by Anna North in “White Americans are finally talking about racism. Will it translate into action?

The massive, multiracial coalitions that have taken to the streets to raise their voices against police brutality are replenishing springs of solidarity, nourishing the roots of a future social compact that we must now all get on with the business of making. We will do that most effectively with a common purpose in mind.

A common purpose is not some airy-fairy thing. It is a practical tool that allows people to achieve something together. It is a map marked with a destination, a guide that permits collaborative navigation. A common purpose is perhaps the most powerful tool in the democratic tool kit, particularly in a crisis, because it can yield the solidarity that induces people to do hard things voluntarily rather than through authoritarian compulsion. Yet the tool has been disintegrating from disuse.

Our common purpose is liberty and justice for all. We have rediscovered it. It’s time to build on that discovery.

Danielle Allen, “We seek reforms to policing. But something even deeper needs repair

Anger, shame, and fear are appropriate emotions right now, but the emotional palette should be richer than that. And it is richer for many scholars of color (and others) who were already deeply aware of injustice, but for whom the news is the power of the popular response.

History unfolds gradually, painfully, without evident purpose–until suddenly people break it open, allowing a better future to appear like a flash of light. Many such ruptures close again, but some do not. Pessimism (a habit ingrained by ordinary history) blocks the light. An inward turn, even if it is meant to be self-critical, can turn you away from solidarity. To take advantage of an opening, you must be receptive to hope, boldness, and even joy in the opportunity for solidarity and collective purpose.

See also: the kind of sacrifice required in nonviolence; taking satisfaction from politics in the face of injustice; notes on Hannah Arendt’s On Revolution; the prophetic mode in the Civil Rights Movement and in everyday politics; on the phrase: Abolish the police!; Martin Luther King as a philosopher.

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About Peter

Associate Dean for Research and the Lincoln Filene Professor of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Tufts University's Tisch College of Civic Life. Concerned about civic education, civic engagement, and democratic reform in the United States and elsewhere.