Illustration by Jon Key, photographs from Dream Defenders
We live in a time of catastrophe. Tyre Nichols screamed for his mother as cops in Memphis beat him to death. Parents in the world’s richest country must drive for hours to find formula to feed their babies. Lawmakers are banning books and censoring knowledge in schools about race, gender, and sexuality. Around the world, millions of bereaved children have lost a parent or caregiver to the coronavirus, while capitalism accelerates the climate crisis — as flash floods wash away towns, and the elderly and disabled people die first during otherworldly heat waves.
But we also live in a time when there is enormous potential for change. Millions of people rebelled after the murder of George Floyd in 2020, demanding a new kind of politics, one that attends to people’s basic needs and establishes a sense of common purpose. They risked their lives during a deadly pandemic to call for collective care, for an end to evictions, for reinvesting police budgets into housing for all — demands situated in a critique of capitalism. Mainstream media and the political class shrugged off the rebellion, and multinational corporations tried to co-opt it, but the conditions that propelled millions into the streets are still with us. People still yearn for a radical new future.
We created Hammer & Hope out of the urgency to make a practical contribution toward those efforts, from Brooklyn to Bahia to Botswana. “If there’s a book that you really want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it,” Toni Morrison counseled in 1981.
We are inspired by the Black women and men who made up the Communist Party in Alabama. Their lives and struggles to organize against capitalism and white supremacist terror in the 1930s and ’40s are memorialized in Robin D. G. Kelley’s book “Hammer and Hoe,” from which we take our name. Those Communists came up with shrewd methods to spread radical ideas in a hostile environment; they hid stacks of literature in hollow trees, circulated leaflets in baskets of laundry, and one even dropped papers into the breeze for passersby to come along and pick up.
Ours is a magazine of Black politics and culture with roots in radical political traditions. We will invite people engaged in local struggles to share knowledge with one another. People like the workers in low-wage retail, call-center, and fast-food jobs who have inspired one another to strike for decent wages; like the public bus drivers who refused to let police commandeer their vehicles to transport people arrested at demonstrations; like the thousands of people held in Alabama prisons who withheld their labor in protest of deadly and exploitative conditions; and like the teachers who are resisting censorship as an act of solidarity with their students. People who are connected to one another possess the strategic brilliance and authentic urgency needed to take control of their own futures.
We are also indebted to the Black Panthers, whose newspaper promoted their free breakfast program, raged against police violence, and connected liberation struggles at home to those abroad. “We feel that information is the raw material for new ideas,” their de facto archivist Billy X Jennings told a reporter in 2019, adding, “We sought to find solutions to problems instead of just reporting the news.” Information begets ideas. Ideas expand imaginations. Imaginations fuel social change. The best ideas are rooted in action and practice.
We exist to publish deep reporting and to amplify the first-person stories of activists like those in Atlanta who have engaged in a range of tactics, from tree sits to carefully targeted property destruction, to stave off the destruction of the Weelaunee Forest. Political elites plan to build a $90 million complex there so that cops from around the country can sharpen their urban warfare techniques to kill more people like Tortuguita, Breonna Taylor, and Atatiana Jefferson. We want to host boundary-pushing debates between organizers working to close local jails and stop the construction of new ones and anti-pipeline activists, so that people can learn from their insights to strengthen their own efforts. By publishing stories from movements around the world, we hope to provide a platform for a politics of struggle that is built from the bottom up.
In fighting for an alternative political future, we also turn to the creative visions of artists and culture makers to help us conceive of a new world — from FESTAC ‘77, one of the largest cultural events ever held on the African continent; to Afrofuturist literature; to the toppled, graffitied monuments to colonialism and the Confederacy; to the women, queers, femmes dominating rap today — with the knowledge that shifts in culture often precede shifts in politics. As Claudia Jones wrote, “a people’s art is the genesis of their freedom.” We want to hear from and publish reviews of the work of artists who push the culture rather than just reflect it.
We believe in the hammer of struggle and in the power of hope. Hope is a discipline, as Mariame Kaba reminds us, not unfounded faith. It is the deeply held belief that a better world is possible if we fight for it. This magazine is an attempt to create what we desire to see in the world: a radical and evolving vision we can collectively work toward. There is no barrier to entry. A desire to change the world is all that you need to participate. Let’s build together.
Jennifer Parker is the editor and co-founder of Hammer & Hope, a former New York Times opinion editor and a recipient of Columbia University’s Marnie Phipps Clark and Kenneth B. Clark Distinguished Lecture Award.
Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor is a co-founder of Hammer & Hope and the Leon Forrest Professor of African American Studies at Northwestern University. She is the author of “Race for Profit: How Banks and the Real Estate Industry Undermined Black Homeownership” and “From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation” and the editor of “How We Get Free: Black Feminism and the Combahee River Collective.” She is a recipient of a MacArthur Foundation “Genius Grant” and a Guggenheim fellowship.