We are shocked. Not by the destruction of property that has accompanied the urban uprisings in dozens of cities across the United States, although it is shocking. Not by police attacks on nonviolent protesters, because sadly, we had seen that before (a police horse almost trampled one of us at an anti-war protest in 2002, so we are fully aware of what the NYPD is capable of.) And we are not shocked by Donald Trump’s desire to mobilize troops to beat and gas demonstrators who stood between him and a photo op with an upside-down Bible outside a church he doesn’t attend.
Instead, we are shocked by how quickly the protest networks that have mobilized in response to George Floyd’s murder have won our hearts, and how completely they have compelled us to act.
It caused us to pull together a second special issue in a row quickly.
We begin with an address by Atlanta rapper Killer Mike, the son of a police officer who had to dress for work in a nearby YMCA because white police refused to share a locker room with him. Urging the people of Atlanta to “plot, plan, strategize, organize, and mobilize,” Killer Mike gave Public Seminar a charge too. We assembled some of the best minds at The New School who would help our readers think deeply about the challenges of white supremacy and anti-Black racism. How do we plot? How are our brothers and sisters in the street planning, strategizing, and mobilizing?
We now present our second special issue, a series of responses to the current crisis. Dwight A. McBride, the president of The New School, reminds us that the history of a Black scholar’s life is also the history of anti-Black racism. But he also reiterates his belief “in the power of education to change lives—and in the power of collective action to change history.” Political scientist Deva Woodly shows us in detail why seven years of protesting police violence may be producing a turning point in defense of Black lives.
Journalist Natasha Lennard reports from the streets of Brooklyn, where the Covid-19 crisis has morphed into a crisis of police violence. Jeremy Varon sees promise in this uprising, one that could “push America into new and uncomfortable places.” Co-executive editor Claire Potter discusses the social media tactics that drive contemporary protests — why they are effective, and why they also make movement politics vulnerable. Although some observers have compared today’s urban rebellions to those of the 1960s, co-executive editor James Miller sees sharp distinctions between the two.
We follow with three short reflections by colleagues who have devoted their lives to democratic struggle: Eli Zaretsky, Public Seminar founder Jeffrey Goldfarb, and Elzbieta Matynia. And in a coda to this special issue, we sent anthropologist Janet Roitman into the side streets around The New School to do a photo essay on what a city in struggle — with a virus, with racism — looks like.
We cut much of what we hoped to publish this week so that we could respond to the crisis with the immediacy, wisdom, and passion it deserved. But we kept a few pieces. The first, by Columbia sociologist Musa al-Gharbi, examines an event that set the stage in New York for the protests over George Floyd’s murder, and asks: is it possible that liberal anti-racism is actually—racist? Those of you who watched this essay go viral know that the answer is yes. Jonathan Beale explains why, in a health crisis, political misinformation can be lethal. And finally, we put a wrap on a terrific series edited by Jonathan Catlin and Benjamin Davis, part five of Sentencing the Present.
Claire Potter is co-executive editor of Public Seminar, Professor of History at The New School for Social Research, and author of Political Junkies: From Talk Radio to Twitter, How Alternative Media Hooked us on Politics and Broke Our Democracy (Basic Books, 2020). You can tweet with her @TenuredRadical.