It’s hard to sum this past week up. We are living through overwhelming times. There have been waves of beauty and joy followed by waves of horror. It is chaotic and confusing and nobody has a clue what is going to happen.
At the start of this week, I wrote that there are really only two sides in our current situation: the people and the cops. Now that the week is drawing to a close, I believe that more than ever. And what’s more, I can’t shake the feeling that, right now, the people are winning.
Thinking that way can seem naive or blinkered. The police have been rabid and bloodthirsty. Our social media feeds and our screens are filled night after night with images of protesters being brutally thrown under the weight of the racist police state. Our political leaders are mostly choosing to back the cops to the hilt. It is appalling and depressing and terrifying. There is profound injustice taking place. And we can never lose sight of the fact that this moment is rooted in the grief of the families of George Floyd, and Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery, and Tony McDade, and the countless other victims of America’s racism and violent cruelty.
Yet I still think that this is a moment for real hope.
Governments across America have been trying very, very hard to clamp down on protests. They’ve put draconian curfews into place. The cops are gassing people and firing rubber bullets at them and beating them in the streets. The message, over and over again, is the same: Go home. Give in, or face the consequences.
But guess what? It isn’t working. The protesters aren’t going away. They keep coming back, night after night. According to USA Today, which is tracking the numbers, there have been protests in at least 584 American localities, in all 50 states. People are protesting in huge metropolises and small towns, in suburbs and villages, in rural and urban America, in the deepest red states and the deepest blue states, in historic numbers. This thing is everywhere. It’s even all over the world. And it isn’t stopping.
Everyone who has been out protesting can feel what’s happening. People are leaning out of their windows and cars to cheer protesters on. Here in New York City, chants of “fuck your curfew” ring out every night. The mood is defiant and unafraid and filled with solidarity and the right sort of anger, the kind that change is made of. At least until the cops move in.
This isn’t just some hazy vibe, though. There are real and tangible things that are taking place. Poll after poll shows a radical, unprecedented shift in the way that the country is thinking about the protests, and about racism and policing in America. Bail funds are raking in more money than they know what to do with. Talk of police abolition is on everyone’s lips. Politicians are scrambling to donate their campaign contributions from cops to better causes. Schools are cutting their ties with police. City councils are suddenly threatening to bring the cops in line. There is real revulsion towards what police are doing. Something is happening. It should have happened far sooner. Black people have been getting murdered by cops year after year after year, and those crimes have not sparked anything like what the country is seeing right now. But millions of people are, without question, seeing it now.
That’s part of the reason the cops and their elected puppets are fighting so hard. They can sense something shifting. They can feel that this is a challenge to their legitimacy and authority like they’ve never seen before. They literally see this as a war, and their way of handling it is to ramp up the pain and terror. On a basic level, they’re freaking out. They’re afraid, and their fear is more than justified.
I’m sure many people will see my optimism as short-sighted. It’s barely been a week. This level of intensity will fade away. The cops have so much power.
Yes, yes, yes, it’s all true. Things are not going to change overnight. They never do. People are going through hell for the crime of rising up. They always have. Battling the demons in front of us—white supremacy, capitalism, the militarization of our society, our entire criminal justice system—is like battling the air we breathe. A lot of well-meaning white people who poured into the streets will pat themselves on the back and go back to their lives. This could all be a blip.
Or it could be the start of something real. People are being radicalized. They are being activated. Seeds are being planted. There are periods in history when masses of people look up and something clicks, and they throw themselves into the fight. We won’t know until we know.
For the moment—for right now, this month, this week, this second—we can either choose to despair at the forces arrayed against us, or we can feel hopeful about the rebellion against those forces. I choose to be hopeful. We’re winning. Don’t let up.
Photo: Jack Crosbie