“DON’T YOU KNEEL”
TESTIMONIES FROM A SUMMER OF PROTEST W
hen the editors of this magazine began to talk about how to address this summer’s uprisings—hundreds of thousands taking to the streets in hundreds of American cities and towns—we initially assumed we would commission someone to write an article with a thought-provoking analysis of what the protests meant, or revealed. And yet, in deliberating over who this person might be, we noted that, already by early June, we felt inundated by analysis and interpretation. Every magazine and newspaper, every journalist, every politician, podcaster and activist organization, seemed to have their own “line” on what the protests meant. What seemed to be missing, oddly enough, were the voices of the protesters themselves. How could we know what the protests meant until we found out what they meant to the different people who participated in them?
With that question in mind, and inspired by some of the famous oral histories of the civil rights movement, like Howell Raines’s My Soul Is Rested, we embarked on a project early this summer to interview as many protesters as we could about their experiences, their motivations and their hopes and fears. As the protests continued into late summer and fall, the project grew to encompass unfolding events like Jacob Blake’s shooting and its aftermath in Kenosha, and the response to the handling of Breonna Taylor’s case in Louisville. The process has not been scientific, or systematic; often we had to start with personal acquaintances, and some areas or groups are undoubtedly overrepresented. But it was not random, either. In line with our magazine’s commitment to exploring the full range of ideas and values that animate American experience, we sought out a wide diversity of perspectives both political and personal: in what follows, you will hear from experienced organizers in Minneapolis and first-time marchers in Maine; lawyers in Baltimore and youth dance instructors in Chicago, civil rights leaders in Alabama and