Illustration by Dakarai Akil. Photographs by Gina Ferazzi/Los Angeles Times, David Paul Morris/Bloomberg, Andri Tambunan/AFP, George Rose, and Lokman Vural Elibol/Anadolu Agency, via Getty Images.
How do we put back together a society that has broken apart? How do we build solidarity within a culture of individualism, punishment, and accumulation when we are constantly repairing ourselves in the face of various forms of daily heartbreak?
If we lend ourselves to the emergent struggles of our times — against Cop City; for Black history, abortion rights, trans liberation, widespread debt cancellation, climate justice, access to land, and alternative food systems; in solidarity with actors and writers on strike and so many others — drawing connections and showing up is where we should start and return to again and again. Now is a time for experimentation and discipline alike. We need to accept what an activist involved in the fight to Stop Cop City in Atlanta calls “multiple grammars of struggle” rather than demand political, strategic, or tactical purism. We have to allow for different people to show up in various ways in terms of ideology and struggle; in our protests and movements, we need the widest participation possible to win.
The uprisings of 2020 showed serious cracks in the system’s legitimacy. By some estimates as much as 10 percent of the U.S. population participated in the protests in some form, a figure without precedent in U.S. history. Around the world, people held protests in at least 40 countries, embodying the globalized nature of our emerging struggles. Mass social upheavals unsettle the status quo; disruption proves to everyone that “normal” is a product of circumstance and not inevitability, that things might not have to stay the same after all. That revolt sent a flare into the sky: Don’t mistake the status quo for daily acquiescence. We are not what we seem. We’re neither happy nor content with things as they are.
But we need more than protests and temporary uprisings. We must further develop our organizations into social institutions capable of creating new relations in every domain of our lives here and now. Previous generations of struggle led to the abolition of slavery and the destruction of Jim Crow, and galvanized effective responses to one of the worst epidemics in modern history. This fact is not lost on today’s ruling class, which is hard at work making sure today’s young students don’t know how or even whether these past victories happened — part of their long-term strategy for fending off future ones.
At work, let’s fight for strong workers’ movements — not only unions — that recognize and build upon the shared interests of a multiracial working class. At schools, let’s struggle against censorship like the opposition to critical race studies and Black history in the state of Florida while also fighting for food justice curriculums like Planting Justice’s in California, and for expanding access to and resources for public schools the way the Landless Workers’ Movement (MST) of Brazil does. Let’s push for state accountability by planning and constructing the missing infrastructure of our neighborhoods like the socialist shack dwellers movement Abahlali baseMjondolo in South Africa. Their struggle shows how the democratic input of everyday people shapes the built environment of their community, while also recalling the mutual-aid efforts of organizations like the Black Panthers and the Young Lords.
In Atlanta, several formations came together to build independent grassroots power to fight Cop City. They have targeted formal legal and political processes but also organized protests, occupied the forest where the city intends to build the police training facility, held a week of actions, and put on music festivals. In response, they have been targeted with sustained and virulent police violence and repression, tarred as terrorists by the state government.
These examples reveal the strategic importance of stable organizations pursuing long-term projects and programs. Uprisings are not enough — constructing an equal and democratic society requires the sustained participation of the people. They are the legitimate creators of the institutions and defenders of rights central to communal life. Beyond the prefigurative politics of direct democracy in protests, assemblies, and occupations, we need people power in practice and not just in slogans.