Good Trouble and school openings

John Lewis always encouraged young activists. He routinely recounted his parents warning him to stay out of trouble when he left home for Imagecollege and a leading role in the civil rights movement. Explaining the protests, the beatings he endured, the arrests and time in jail, he offered that he only got into “good trouble.”

He was a teen when he got involved in the civil rights movement, and the youngest speaker at the March on Washington at 23. The Parkland kids were even younger when they launched a new campaign within the gun safety movement. Although they avoided arrest and imprisonment, they suffered fierce harassment and threats. Good trouble.

Georgia opened public schools this week, despite a surge in Covid-19 infections (running about 3,000 infections and roughly 50 deaths each day last week). Donald Trump and Governor Brian Kemp are enthusiastic about returning to normal, and suggest that young people aren’t really threatened by the novel coronavirus.

When high schools opened, a few photos and videos appeared on social media showing teens bustling in crowded hallways, with only a smattering of masks visible. It looked like a normal suburban high school–a ripe site for spreading infections.

At least two students were suspended for posting the pictures and violating school policy about using phones in the hallways and posting on social media during school hours. The kids who posted were classic whistleblowers, bringing public attention to otherwise neglected threats.

The principal explained that the school was still figuring out how to manage passing between classes. It looks bad, he said, but masks are optional–and how could teachers police a mandatory mask policy anyway?

It’s hard to believe that policing social media is easier, or that high school students nation-wide really adhere to a very sensible policy about staying offline during school hours.

Fifteen year old Hannah Watters, suspended for five days for her violation of school rules, went public. Apparently, she hadn’t been in trouble before. In a charming interview on CNN, she explained that she was okay with this, because it was “good trouble.”

Maybe the best part is watching Laura Coates smile at Hannah’s hat-tip to John Lewis.

After the interview, Hannah announced on Twitter that the suspension had been lifted.

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March for Our Lives (rightly!) claims credit for NY’s lawsuit against NRA

Political activists don’t get credit unless they claim it.

Minutes after New York Attorney General Letitia James announced that she was filing a lawsuit calling for the National Rifle Association to be disbanded, March for Our Lives sent out an announcement applauding the decision, and noting that it had called for such action even before it was founded.

One of the very smart and strategic decisions the Parkland kids made was to target the NRA as the chief obstacle to meaningful reform of gun laws, deploring its money and its corrupt political influence.

Students Are Wearing $1.05 Price Tags at the March for Our Lives ...

Sarah Chadwick displays the price tag depicting NRA’s campaign contributions to Marco Rubio, divided by every high school student in Florida.

More than any specific reform proposals, at the first rallies in Florida, the lobbying trips to Tallahassee and Washington, DC, the national demonstration, the CNN town hall, the pre-election bus tour, and the recurrent attacks on Marco Rubio, March for Our Lives would not let the NRA escape attention or responsibility. Not the first to take on the gun lobby group, they were certainly the most visible and persistent, charming and annoying critics.

“Why do you take so much money from the NRA?” they asked every Republican legislator within earshot.

Of course, they didn’t decide to spend charitable donations on trips to Bermuda, yacht and plane rentals, lavish parties, or shady business deals. The NRA did that on its own.

March for Our Lives made it harder for the NRA to avoid scrutiny and responsibility, working to hang every mass shooting death and every politician resistant to reform on the group and its leader, Wayne LaPierre.

There was plenty of good reporting on the NRA’s corrupt spending before and after the first March for Our Lives; the audience helped create an audience for it. See, for example (a very partial list):

Mike Spies, at The Trace, The New Yorker, and everywhere,

Frank Smyth‘s unauthorized history,

Beth Reinhard, Katie Zezima, Tom Hamburger, and Carol D. Leonnig at The Washington Post, 

Jane Coaston at Vox,

Gangster Capitalism‘s season 2 podcast series,

and all over The Trace

Because the NRA was chartered in New York as a non-profit nearly 150 years ago, the state retained responsibility for regulating it. Its job was to make sure the money went to the purposes donors intended and the organization promised. When Letitia James first ran for Attorney General in 2018, while the Parkland kids were touring America, she promised to investigate the NRA. It was good politics; it also turned out to be a very attractive target.

Donors who made contributions to promote gun rights and firearm safety should be angry that their money paid for hotel suites and private jets. Remember, conservative activists, including NRA board members and one-time NRA President Oliver North, had tried to launch an investigation of the group’s spending from the inside, but they were outmaneuvered and ousted by LaPierre.

Young activists, working in a growing gun safety movement, put the pressure on the NRA, making it harder for the group to raise money or to avoid scrutiny. They made it good politics for AG James to launch the investigation, and they’ve made it harder for the NRA to dig its way out.

Parkland activists David Hogg and Lauren Hogg posted a video of themselves celebrating:

The action now will be in the courts, and you could tell a story that edits out the activism. That’s why it’s important and appropriate that the young activists remind themselves and the rest of us that they helped make it happen.

It’s hardly surprising, by the way, that Representative John Lewis (below) marched at the March for Our Lives in Washington, DC in 2018, or that he was a strong supporter of the cause and the kids. Please read the remembrance by Nurah Abdulhaqq and Jaclyn Corin in Teen Vogue.

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Wall of Moms; Lawn of Dads

Protest polarizes.Fifty fourth day of protest in Portland, Oregon

So does repression.

The battle in the streets at a demonstration is far less important than the battle in the stands, as those watching decide who to root for and, sometimes, to try to help. This means that even as protesters and authorities strategize for tactical advantage in a confrontation, they should also be thinking about how those watching are likely to respond.

Remember, police in Selma in 1965 were able to turn back peaceful civil rights marchers using tear gas, dogs, and clubs. It didn’t look like a win. Local authorities decisively cleared the bridge, but–because lots of other people saw it–lost the larger struggle for public opinion.

Onto Portland:

The Trump administration’s decision to send federal forces to police the streets at night, purportedly to protect federal property, has turned out–as anyone could have predicted–to be a strategic disaster. It’s not going so well for the feds in the streets either.

When young unidentifiable heavily armed men in camouflage, sporting helmets and masks, violently repress mostly peaceful protesters against police violence, other Portlanders are likely to take sides.

They chose the protesters. Every night, there are more protesters out in the streets, and the feds are working more aggressively to contain them, with gas, pepper spray, rubber bullets, and sticks.

But the protesters are developing their own innovations to try to stay in the streets.

Bev Barnum, a Portland mom who saw videos of confrontations in the streets, posted about her frustration on Facebook:

As most of you have read and seen on the news,protesters are being hurt (without cause). And as of late, protesters are being stripped of their rights by being placed in unmarked cars by unidentifiable law enforcement. We moms are often underestimated. But we’re stronger than we’re given credit for.

She called for other moms to turn out in the streets to stand between the mostly young protesters and the police. Maybe it would deter the feds. If not, it would send a message to the rest of the world about what was going on.

The Wall of Moms didn’t stop federal law enforcement at all; the women in the protective wall were gassed and beaten too. But the pictures were powerful.

Norma Lewis holds a flower while forming a "wall of moms" during a Black Lives Matter protest on Monday, July 20, 2020, in Portland, Ore. (Noah Berger/AP)Each night, more Moms have been turning out, generally wearing yellow, with goggles, masks, and bicycle helmets. They chanted:

Feds stay clear. Moms are here.

Hands up. Don’t shoot.

Social media made it easier to get the word out and turn the moms out. In the following days, protesters have formed new Wall of Moms groups in at least a half-dozen other American cities. They make it harder for the police to clear the streets, and much harder for Trump to dismiss the protesters as anarchists, antifa, or other sorts of radicals.

It’s not just moms. Dads have also turned up in Portland, organizing online and wearing orange. So far, they’re called PDX Dad Pod or DadBloc, and they’ve been brandishing the suburban terror device, a Imageleaf blower. Reports on social media suggest the blowers provide some defense against tear gas, allowing the protesters to stay in the streets a little longer. They’re also wearing masks and googles and bicycle helmets.

I think everyone in Portland wears a bicycle helmet.

By sending federal police into Portland, Trump has raised the stakes and brought passive supporters off the sidelines. He’s made it harder Imagefor authorities to control the streets, and provided larger audiences to his opponents. And the harsher treatment the decidedly non-militia Portland parents in the streets receive, the more public support they’ll gain.

Meanwhile, the almost spontaneous strategic action of the Moms and then the dads has created a seed for new organizations and new commitments. Take a look at a brand new website, in which the activists commit to the cause and to Black leadership.

Civil rights strategists in the 1960s actively sought out sites for protests where local police were likely to overreact, where police chiefs and commissioners of public safety were not necessarily so smart or strategic.

The Trump response has imposed its own poor political judgment on local authorities everywhere.

Someone in the White House should be thinking about this.

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Trump and the battle of Portland

The president of the United States is ready to sacrifice Portland, Oregon–to say nothing of the US Constitution–to buy into a longshot strategy for winning reelection.

Portland, like virtually every city in the United States, has seen large and somewhat Federal law enforcement officers have been deployed under the Trump administration's new executive order to protect federal monuments and buildings.disruptive protests for racial justice and against police violence over the past seven weeks, but Mayor Ted Wheeler was confident that they were fading and would shortly end.

Donald Trump, facing bad poll numbers and worse news (increasing infections and deaths from COVID-19; no administration reaction to Russia’s offer of bounties for the lives of American military personnel in Afghanistan–for starters), would not wait.

Trump ordered the deployment of federal police forces.  [Note: It’s likely–and very important–that the military has been rightly resistant to deploy against American citizens, leaving Trump to look elsewhere for men with guns to fight for him.]

Dressed in camouflage, with no Protesters at the Multnomah County Justice Center on Friday night.name tags visible, it’s hard to see just who they are and where they’re from. Some are from the Department of Homeland Security and from Customs and Border Patrol, but there’s dispute about whether the units are trained for the jobs they’re performing: riot control.

In Portland, however, there’s little doubt that the overwhelming majority of the protests are peaceful. In Portland, and in at least many parts of the United States, people remember that the first amendment to the Constitution guarantees a right to protest. Here’s the text:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

But forget the Constitution for a little bit–the White House certainly has–and just consider whether deploying well-armed militia to an American city is an effective way to deal with a protest movement.

It’s not.

The federal forces have been recorded beating protesters, using tear gas, and firing flash bangs and rubber bullets. They’ve also pulled people off the streets and into unmarked rental vans for questioning. They’ve not coordinated with local police–another problem.

So, state and local officials have complained, demanding answers–and the withdrawal of the militia. The State of Oregon filed a lawsuit. So did the American Civil Liberties Union. There will be more.

Trump and the Department of Homeland Security have refused to consult, much less to leave.

The protesters also refused to leave. Instead, their numbers are growing, their tactics diversifying, and their anger growing. The nightly confrontations have made for powerful and disturbing images:

ImageChris David, a 53 year old Navy veteran, showed up one night after the feds arrived, to ask the men in camouflage what they were doing and why?

He stood through repeated baton blows, but turned away and retreated when he was pepper-sprayed.

A “Wall of Moms” took to the streets, standing between the feds and the protesters, hoping to prevent violence–or, failing that, to generate powerful pictures to spread across the country.

They couldn’t stop the tear gas or the charges, but they inspired many others to join them. Now, each night, there are more moms, many  wearing yellow t-shirts, and often bicycle helmets, and sometimes gas masks, are taking to the streets.

The  Portland  Wall  of Moms inspired other women to organize groups in a few other cities–so far. There will be more.

And more protesters are turning out, and they’re trying to come prepared to claim their space from the feds. And they’re coming with makeshift protection and provocation: helmets, football pads, masks, pool noodles, umbrellas, and makeshift shields made from plywood or sleds.

Protesters gathered by the hundreds late Friday and into Saturday morning — the largest crowd in weeks.Some of the protesters are committed to nonviolence, but not all, and there have been attacks on the feds.

There is no question that the immediate reaction to uninvited federalized policing has been more disruption, more property damage, more grafitti, more danger, and far more local support for the protests. The cause of Black Lives Matter was now grafted onto rights for free assembly and local government control.

This was all predictable.

It’s possible that no one in the Trump White House was clever or curious enough to realize that harsh policing of the protests was likely to generate exactly this response.

It’s also possible that the Trump advisers just wanted to produce the pictures of confrontation and violence, creating the American carnage Trump predicted, and offering a distraction from worse news (COVID-19; economic decline; Russian bounties; corruption corruption corruption) to show the president as some kind of fighter to the credulous. Republicans were never going to carry Oregon anyway, and the pictures of federal forces confronting citizens–even white ones–might inspire Trump’s base.

In short: Trump is willing to destroy Portland to save himself.

In the slightly longer run, I can’t imagine that well-armed federal police won’t be able, finally, to inflict enough damage to send the protesters home. The horrible question is how many casualties this will take.

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Mourning heroes

John Lewis, lion of civil rights and Congress, dies at 80 ...

John Lewis and Mayor Muriel Bowser at Black Lives Matter Plaza

John Lewis is dead.

So is C. T. Vivian.

Our heroes are mortal, and their passing hurts, particularly now when moral courage and civic action seem more important than ever.

There is some consolation in knowing that Rep. Lewis and Rev. Vivian got to live full rich lives, maintaining their engagement, raising families, and seeing some progress on the issues they pressed.

C.T. Vivian, integration leader, left, leads a prayer on the courthouse steps in Selma, Ala., February 5, 1965, after Sheriff James Clark, background with helmet, stopped him at the door with a court order. Vivian led hundreds of demonstrators armed with petitions asking longer voter registration hours. Clark arrested them when they refused to disperse. (AP Photo/Horace Cort)

C.T. Vivian confronts Sheriff Jim Clark.

More than a few of the many heroes of the Civil Rights movement were not so fortunate.

We must remember that the movement was far bigger than the famous few names that students commit to memory.

There were many heroes, and they’re not otherworldly, magical, or even saintly. They were people, like the rest of us, who had a clear moral vision and the willingness to take risks and even to suffer for it…at least for a moment.

In recognizing their humanity, we can strip the mystical element out of our stories of social change, and realize that the rest of us can step into history as well.

Rep. Lewis and Rev. Vivian stood out for their moral commitments and for their bravery. Both suffered violence in the service of their goals, and1965 photo of marchers on the Edmund-Pettus bridge during the Selma to Montgomery voting rights march refused even to try to respond in kind. Both held onto their courage and their commitments.

I don’t think moral clarity or bravery come easily to most of us, and I don’t assume they came easily to Rep. Lewis or Rev. Vivian. They were willing to work at it. Through prayer or study or meditation and civic engagement, we can too.

In the next days, people will talk about statues, monuments, and renaming things, like the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma. This is all well and good. We commemorate people and moments from the past to help guide our future.

But their lives are best honored by keeping our heroes out of the glass case, memorialized by trapped in history. Rather, their examples should help us remember to look for our own moments of moral clarity and courage, and to develop the temerity to try to make the world better.

 

Note: I’ve written about John Lewis here before. Below are links to some of the appearances he’s made here.

Donald Trump tangles with John Lewis

John Lewis is a comic book hero

lunch counter sit-ins

A sit-in on the House floor for gun regulation

#Selma at 50 years

Bloody Sunday and the uses of history.

Activists become politicians.

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Who organized the racial justice demonstrations?

I want to know who’s put together these demonstrations against racialized police violence all across the United States.  The  police  killing  of  George  Floyd  was  a provocation,  but  protests  don’t  automatically  follow  from  injustice.In Camden, police and protesters take a different path after George Floyd’s killing

Organizers make demonstrations happen.

Those large events that dot our memories are usually put together by coalitions of established groups who argue about slogans and speakers, cooperate on outreach and publicity, and divide up the routine work of raising money, getting permits, and renting portapotties. The people and groups doing have done it before.

The ongoing Black Lives Matter demonstrations across the country, striking in the speed of emergence and historic in their scope and spread, are different. Rather than a single national site, they’ve been popping up around the country in smaller cities and neighborhoods.

They’re united by some common causes, but the focus is often much closer, with remembered names of local victims of police violence prominently featured, and announcing specific grievances with their own police and political leaders.

Early reporting suggests that it’s new activists, sometimes just freed from daily routines by the COVID-19 crisis, who’ve been organizing. They don’t need portapotties, and often skip permits. Sound systems are often just what you can get at a discount store. But they do have to set a time and a place and get people to show up.

So, a demonstration in Camden, New Jersey, was initiated by Yolanda Deaver, whose beauty shop was shut down by the virus. She put the word out on Instagram with a post, “the racist Police are killing our Black men.” The Camden police reached out and asked if they could participate in support.

There’s a great story on This American Life about the organization of a demonstration in Red Hook, Brooklyn, reported by Dana Chivvis. 
Protesters gathered at a rally for George Floyd in Houston. Floyd, a former Houston resident, was killed by a white police...
According to Chivvis (transcript), the prime mover was 22-year old Na Dortch, who’d never done anything like it before:

“He’d been to a few protests over the years. When he was 17, he joined a Black Lives Matter group for a few days. But he felt like he was too young to make a difference, to be heard. Everyone else in the group was ancient, in their 30s.

“He texted his friend Crystal. She agreed to be his secretary. Made a flyer with the date and time for the protest. Na pulled in his friends, Mo Pringle– like the chimp, she told me– Naseem Stevenson, who plans to go to law school, and a few others. They came up with a name– the New BLQK Leaders, black spelled BLQK, because the other version was taken.”

Novice organizers put together the marches across Texas and in towns throughout New Jersey, and in neighborhoods all through New York City.

Partly, it’s the work that organizers had done over the past years in making the issue of police violence broadly salient, and in publicizing organizing efforts, suggesting a sense of possibility. Partly, it’s COVID-19, which gave people the space to see those horrific videos and the freedom from daily responsibilities to think about how to fight injustice. Partly, it’s the sophistication that younger people constantly demonstrate in getting the word out on social media–although all of the reports include a large component of old-fashioned person-to-person recruiting.

Unlike say the 1960s civil rights movement, there are no older guys in suits who can be called into the president’s office to negotiate goals, tactics, and strategies. This is good and bad. More like Occupy or the first rounds of Black Lives Matter protests, lots of people are responsible for what’s happening, but no one is in position to direct large factions to intensify or moderate their efforts.

The upside of this decentralized model is that many people learn the issues and take Image: Black Lives Matter demonstrationcharge in starting things; the downside is that no one can really speak for the broader movement, or agree on pieces of an agenda, rather than only a grievance.

Remember, President Barack Obama, who expressed broad sympathy with the aims and actions of Black Lives Matter, organized a summit meeting with young leaders; some activists refused to attend on principle. Days later, still supportive, Obama issued a sort of challenge:

Once you’ve highlighted an issue and brought it to people’s attention and shined a spotlight, and elected officials or people who are in a position to start bringing about change are ready to sit down with you, then you can’t just keep on yelling at them.

And you can’t refuse to meet because that might compromise the purity of your position. The value of social movements and activism is to get you at the table, get you in the room, and then to start trying to figure out how is this problem going to be solved.

Thus far, the decentralized approach has produced a tremendous outpouring of activism, drawing attention to the issue. The question is about how to continue when the new organizers go back to work or school, and it’s a little harder to get people out in the streets.

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Social change at Princeton (and everywhere): slowly, then suddenly

Princeton University is renaming some buildings, awards, and programs, striking Woodrow Wilson’s name from its School of Public dsc2929and International Affairs, a response to the heightened awareness of structural racism in the United States, demonstrated most literally by hundreds of thousands of people in the streets.

Before two terms as president of the United States, Wilson had been governor of New Jersey, and before that a professor and a president of Princeton University, where he had studied as an undergraduate; sometime in there, he also served as president of the American Political Science Association.

Wilson could claim credit for a lot, including: reducing tariffs; instituting an income tax; establishing federal institutions to regulate trade and labor; appointing the first Jewish Supreme Court justice, Louis Brandeis; promising to stay out of foreign wars; getting the United States into World War I; successfully supporting woman suffrage; and unsuccessfully supporting the League of Nations. (The record continues to provoke critics from across the political spectrum; Glenn Beck blames Wilson for beginning the end of the American ideal.)

Wilson also instituted reforms in the curriculum and social life of Princeton University; Princeton credits him with establishing a departmental structure for its faculty, whose numbers he increased dramatically, instituting a more dynamic approach to education, and diversifying the faculty by hiring the first Catholic and Jewish professors.

Wilson was also a committed white supremacist, as Princeton President Christopher L. Eisgruber notes:

Wilson’s racism was significant and consequential even by the standards of his own time. He segregated the federal civil service after it had been racially integrated for decades, thereby taking America backward in its pursuit of justice. He not only acquiesced in but added to the persistent practice of racism in this country, a practice that continues to do harm today.

You can read about Wilson’s substantial and decidedly mixed legacy in a special report commissioned by Princeton’s Board of Trustees in November of 2015, a response to the occupation of President Eisgruber’s office.

Students then were protesting institutional racism at Princeton, as at scores of other campuses, focusing on curricula, student and faculty diversity, and monuments of all sorts. The students–everywhere–walked out of classes, staged large demonstrations, and made demands.

At Princeton, the special committee to consider Wilson’s legacy was Eisgruber’s first response to the 2015 protests. The committee did not call for striking the name, but instead recommended providing a fuller accounting of the Wilson legacy, and diversifying the “iconography” of Princeton’s history on campus. It also recommended adopting reforms that would diversify the campusscreen-shot-2020-06-03-at-2-09-02-am by recruiting and cultivating a wider range of students into a wider range of programs. And Princetonians didn’t stop protesting.

Even relatively modest institutional reforms can have longer term effects. When a series of well-publicized racist killings provoked national concern and widespread protests, students no longer had to push all that hard in Princeton to change the names so vigorously defended not that long ago.

The effects of recruiting and curricular reforms were barely visible outside the campus, but they changed the conversation inside. Wilson’s record didn’t change in the last five years, but the balance of  concerns when considering what was worth commemorating did.

So, social progress takes place slowly–then suddenly, because it’s too easy to ignore the less dramatic, slow stuff. The students who occupied the president’s office in 2015 won–but only after they graduated.

Note: I wish I were the first to coin the phrase, slowly, then suddenly, but lots of authors have experimented with a similar construction. In The Sun Also Rises (1926), Ernest Hemmingway allows a character to explain how he went bankrupt: “Two ways. Gradually and then suddenly.”

More recently, in The Fault in Our Stars (2012), John Green has a character describe his romance, “I fell in love the way you fall asleep; slowly, and then all at once.”

I guess waking up is like that too.

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Statue, of limitations

Just because someone once thought a statue was a good idea doesn’t The statue of Theodore Roosevelt outside the Museum of Natural History, under police watch, will be coming down. It has drawn many protests in recent years.mean the rest of us have to live with it forever.

The American Museum of Natural History is removing the statue of Theodore Roosevelt that guards its entrance, and it’s way past time. The bronze monument shows Roosevelt on horseback, flanked by an African on one side and an indigenous American on the other; they’re on foot.

The removal is political, to be sure, but it’s personal too.

I grew up outside New York City, and visited the museum often, with school and with family; I later lived a few blocks away as an adult, and later, I made sure to bring my children to the museum when we visited New York. By the way, I also visited TR’s home at Sagamore Hill, a national historic site, more than a few times.

I don’t think I noticed anything odd about the Roosevelt statue as a child–I was more interested in the dinosaur bones inside. As a grown-up, however, I started to wonder how long New Yorkers would tolerate the monument, which exudes a celebration of racism and imperialism. Second thoughts and debate about the siting of the statue go back at least a couple of  decades.File:AMNH Apatosaurus.jpg

AMNH doesn’t view its exhibitions as sacrosanct, and reconfigures displays to reflect contemporary science and current aims.  [Note: Commemoration of the past is always about the future.] The big draw for me as a kid wasn’t the Roosevelt statue anyway, it was the gargantuan “brontosaurus” in the entry hall, an exhibit mounted in 1905.

Except it wasn’t a brontosaurus, but a composite of four distinct sets of Dino from "The Flintstones".giffossilized remains, plus a head reconstructed from a different sort of dinosaur. In the 1990s, after nearly a century on display, the AMNH reconfigured and relabeled its signature exhibition, considering new information, better paleontology, and its longterm mission of promoting science. The improved exhibit displays an apatosaurus, with a few more vertabrae, and a longer tail that didn’t drag in the sand. Alas, it wasn’t the dinosaur of my childhood memories.

It was more important to get it right than to defer to a tradition that was wrong.

Certainly, Theodore Roosevelt, who was–among many other things–a scientist–would agree.

Roosevelt’s contributions certainly merit commemoration at the AMNH. His father was an initial supporter of the museum, whose charter was signed in his home. Roosevelt himself was a published naturalist, the architect of the national park system, and a committed conservationist. A great-grandson now serves as a museum trustee.

It’s important to remember all of TR’s contributions: as president, he invited Booker T. Washington to dine with him in the White House, a occasion that sparked controversy in an America racially segregated by law, but he was also a racist, imperialist, and a supporter of eugenics. He was a strong supporter of scholarship, sports, and war; he won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1906 for helping to negotiate an end to the Russo-Japan War. A sickly child, he leaned into physical vigor and became a promoter of what would now be termed “toxic masculinity.” He once delivered a speech of more than a hour just after being shot in the chest. He supported public housing, regulation of business, and sterilization of the “feeble-minded.”

It’s all worth remembering. It’s not all worth celebrating.

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Tactical innovation, COVID, K-Pop, and cars.

I learned of the Tik-Tok K-Pop Trump ticket troll from my teen Trump rally attendees wait for the President to arrive at the BOK Center in Tulsa, Oklahoma on June 20, 2020. | Peter van Agtmael—Magnum Photos for TIMEdaughter, when the large crowds the Trump campaign didn’t quite turn up in Tulsa. She told me that many of her friends, high school students in Southern California, had requested tickets–even though they didn’t support Trump and had no way of getting to Tulsa.

Trump’s campaign manager, Brad Parscale, had been bragging that more than one million people had requested tickets for the event, and Trump himself always bragged about the crowds. There was no way that they could all be accommodated, of course, but Parscale was pleased to announce that he was harvesting data. Tickets would be first-come, first-serve, with arena seating; the campaign planned an overflow outside the BOK arena, which could hold somewhere near 20,000 people.

Although die-hards had started lining up outside the arena days in advance, giving interviews testifying to their commitment, plus an obliviousness to the ongoing global pandemic (>120,000 deaths in America at this writing), there was no overflow event because there was no overflow. Fire officials estimated the arena was a little under 1/3 full. Enough space to socially distance, but the pictures look like everyone was trying to get up close.

Too bad.

There was no way the teen trolls could have cut into the turnout–the campaign kept announcing a welcome until the rally started, and took requests up until the last minute. But they surely could have tricked Trump’s staff into massively inflating expectations for everyone–especially Trump’s.

That was the plan. Media accounts credit K-Pop and Tik-Tok fans, but Demonstrators march near the BOK Center where President Trump is holding a campaign rally in Tulsa, Okla., Saturday, June 20, 2020. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)my daughter says she saw the action on Instagram. The point is that it was a low-cost, low-risk effort by (mostly) young people to dip into a political protest. They trolled Trump, got into the news, and occasioned the chance for all of us to talk about Trump’s very weak support among young people, underscored by the demonstrators outside in Tulsa. Anyway, the kids got to laugh or smirk or smile knowingly.

They had to give some contact information to the Trump campaign, which may mean some annoying email appeals. It’s pretty unlikely that they’ll offer much in the way of campaign contributions.

The ticket trolling requests represent a tactical innovation, one of many responses to the challenges of the #coronacrisis. Quarantines and caution have imposed new strictures on political protesters. Initially, I thought most activism would move online, and organizers would struggle to find ways to get attention and exercise influence.

Early on, we saw driving protests by immigrant rights activists, and then by the open-up protesters. But people were quick to get out of their cars and assemble at State Houses–and elsewhere, deploying familiar forms of demonstrations, sometimes armed, sometimes costumed.

The racial justice protests were larger and more extensive, and it looks like a greater share of the protesters wore masks. But large assemblies, even outdoors, represent risk in the pandemic, and organizers will keep trying to find new ways to protest and build a future.

Less amusing is a smaller contagion of car attacks launched by right-wing extremists on protesting crowds. You’ll remember that in Charlottesville, a frustrated white nationalist demonstrator drove his car into a crowd, killing a young woman, Heather Heyer.

It doesn’t take a lot of organization or coordination, and it seems to be spreading. There have been at least 50 vehicle ramming incidents at demonstrations in the past couple of months, more than a third linked to deliberate right-wing efforts, with another two dozen under active police investigation. Unlike the teen ticket trolls, this is criminal and punishable.

In America, people will find a way to protest, even in pandemic, and there will be more coming.

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Putting activists and authorities on alert and cultivating allies

One round of activism can clear the way for the next one–even by other people–to make larger gains.

The wave of protests against racialized police violence has already effectively promoted changes. It started with the arrests and indictments of the officers For the third day in a row the Black Lives Matter movement took the streets of New York to protest police brutality in the aftermath of the release of the security camera video capturing the death of Delrawn Small contradicting the NYPD story spread on the media, July 9, 2016.responsible for George Floyd’s death, and has extended to changes in policy in America’s cities. Shifts in what seems possible have been even more dramatic, with calls to defund the police winning some mainstream support, and efforts at better regulation and training winning support everywhere.

This round, however, took advantage of a world that earlier rounds of activism had created. The massive shift in public support for the cause (see  Michael Tesler’s overview, which features many more graphs that I could not copy) and even for #BlackLivesMatter seemed to happen overnight, but you have to remember that dramatic, sometimes disruptive, protests speckled the first Black president’s second term and the 2016 presidential campaign.

Civiqs surveys, reprinted in The Christian Science Monitor

The protests increasingly put Americans, Black then others, on higher alert to a recurrent injustice. Local activists paid even more attention; scholars conducted studies; newspapers published statistics; students worked on campus inequality, and Confederate monuments came under attack–all before the demonstrations and even the horrific killings. And everyone’s taking videos and putting them online.

Today’s activists are pushing on a row of dominoes that so many committed activists lined up over the past few years. Progress that seemed stalled or even invisible was progress nonetheless, opening doors, minds, opportunities for this moment. And today’s offenses are far less likely to pass unnoticed than those even a few months ago.

Donald Trump helped too, but not on purpose. It’s not just that he’s constantly displayed an almost wistful attachment to violence, encouraging people–including police–to beat up anyone he defined as a miscreant. It’s not just that Trump’s political strategy has been based on announcing that he’s not a racist while still signaling that he is.

It’s also that his generally polarizing approach to politics has unleashed a massive resistance movement that started even before he became president. The Women's Marchextraordinary Women’s March just after the Trump inaugural marked the beginning of a loose amalgam of diverse campaigns–for immigrants, reproductive rights, tax justice, truth, science, action on climate change, and much more–united, more than anything else, by their opposition to this president. The issues were distinct, but lots of people showed up for many causes. Protest was everywhere.

The presidential campaign sucked some energy, people, and money out of the resistance, and then COVID-19 flattened more of them into quarantine. But, when the racial justice protests emerged, these activists, now experienced and schooled in organizing, were available for coalition. The resistance was a resource; a common antagonist provided unity.

An initial commitment to change the world can take surprising turns, because protest is about learning as well as teaching. And the ultimate outcomes of protest campaigns are never known in advance.

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