Activists Write: Writing for a Reason

Right now, Baltimore is all over the news. Pains and fears that it’s been struggling with for decades are now finally being discussed at the national level. This is in part due to the many protests (peaceful and otherwise) that are currently taking place here, but also because of the many brilliant, activist voices speaking out today.

Inspired by this, I’d like to share here a few of my favorite pieces of modern activist writing:

Nonviolence as Compliance,” Ta-Nehisi Coates, The Atlantic

Rioting broke out on Monday in Baltimore—an angry response to the death of Freddie Gray, a death my native city seems powerless to explain. Gray did not die mysteriously in some back alley but in the custody of the city’s publicly appointed guardians of order. And yet the mayor of that city and the commissioner of that city’s police still have no idea what happened. I suspect this is not because the mayor and police commissioner are bad people, but because the state of Maryland prioritizes the protection of police officers charged with abuse over the citizens who fall under its purview. …

In Defense of Looting,” Willie Osterwell, The New Inquiry

For most of America’s history, one of the most righteous anti-white supremacist tactics available was looting.

As protests in Ferguson continued unabated one week after the police killing of Michael Brown, Jr., zones of Twitter and the left media predominantly sympathetic to the protesters began angrily criticizing looters. Some claimed that white protesters were the ones doing all of the looting and property destruction, while others worried about the stereotypical and damaging media representation that would emerge. …

$pread: The Best of the Magazine that Illuminated the Sex Industry and Started a Media Revolution

Edited by Audacia Ray, Eliyanna Kaiser, and Rachel Aimee


Like any movement for social change, the sex worker rights movement has gone through many phases and been challenged both internally and externally by people, ideas, and events beyond its control. It has experienced wins and losses, and it has reimagined its goals and values with each successive generation of leaders and activists who have taken up its banner. …

“Defending Darwin,” James Krupa (painting by Alexis Rockman), Orion Magazine

I’m often asked what I do for a living. My answer, that I am a professor at the University of Kentucky, inevitably prompts a second question: “What do you teach?” Responding to such a question should be easy and invite polite conversation, but I usually brace for a negative reaction. At least half the time the person flinches with disapproval when I answer “evolution,” and often the conversation simply terminates once the “e-word” has been spoken. Occasionally, someone will retort: “But there is no evidence for evolution.” Or insist: “It’s just a theory, so why teach it?” …

“On Climate Change: To Save the Future, Live in the Present,” Wendell Berry, Yes! Magazine

So far as I am concerned, the future has no narrative. The future does not exist until it has become the past. To a very limited extent, prediction has worked. The sun, so far, has set and risen as we have expected it to do. And the world, I suppose, will predictably end, but all of its predicted deadlines, so far, have been wrong. …

“The Case for Reparations,” Ta-Nehisi Coates, The Atlantic

I. “So That’s Just One Of My Losses”

Clyde Ross was born in 1923, the seventh of 13 children, near Clarksdale, Mississippi, the home of the blues. Ross’s parents owned and farmed a 40-acre tract of land, flush with cows, hogs, and mules. Ross’s mother would drive to Clarksdale to do her shopping in a horse and buggy, in which she invested all the pride one might place in a Cadillac. The family owned another horse, with a red coat, which they gave to Clyde. The Ross family wanted for little, save that which all black families in the Deep South then desperately desired—the protection of the law. …

“Rewriting the Future: Using Science Fiction to Re-envision Justice,” Walidah Imarisha, bitch

When I tell people I am a prison abolitionist and that I believe in ending all prisons, they often look at me like I rode in on a unicorn sliding down a rainbow. Even people engaged in social movements, people who concede that the current prison system is flawed, voice their critiques but always seem to add, “But it’s all we have.”

For all of our ability to analyze and critique, the left has become rooted in what is. We often forget to envision what could be. We forget to mine the past for solutions that show us how we can exist in other forms in the future.  …

“Nobody Passes: Attached to Machines,” Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore, make/shift

Jessica says the worst part is the preparation. The drugs they give you. Diarrhea all day long, and then you get the chills so you’re lying in bed but you never know when you’re going to need to rush to the bathroom–eventually there’s nothing but clear liquid coming out, and that’s when they say you’re ready for the colonoscopy. So you wake up super early the next day, totally wrecked because …

(This is one of my favorite, favorites!)


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