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As the protests spread to every state and were met with violent police aggression, mass arrests, beatings, attacks with rubber bullets and truncheons, the sympathy for protest also spread. (Photo: DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS/AFP via Getty Images)

As the protests spread to every state and were met with violent police aggression, mass arrests, beatings, attacks with rubber bullets and truncheons, the sympathy for protest also spread. (Photo: DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS/AFP via Getty Images)

Some Lessons of the American Uprising 2020

America has sunk into a crisis for which Trump and his party have no answers.

Joel Wendland-Liu

What lessons have we learned from the American Uprising of 2020? First, we now know Trump's America is no longer governable. It is unled; its people are angry. They are fed up with business as usual. The Trump administration must end. If Congress refuses to stop his fascist moves, the American people will vote in November, barring more fascist attempts to undermine democracy, to end his administration.

Either way, the end of Trump's misrule will be a major victory for the American people, for its working class, for communities of color. We have learned that we could deliver a decisive blow against white supremacy. The protests have opened the door for needed civil society reforms: the elimination of racist and brutal policing and organized and powerful white supremacist influence within law enforcement. We may even witness the creation of radical, democratic alternatives to coercive and unjust forms of delivering law enforcement, such as community public safety and reparative forms of justice. Proposals for the latter are already under study in Minneapolis in response to the protests.

Radically changing the justice system is but one pillar of a progressive process for ending the racist brutality that created the conditions for the American Spring.

Radically changing the justice system is but one pillar of a progressive process for ending the racist brutality that created the conditions for the American Spring. Racist disparities in health care, food systems, and environmental conditions combine to foster the massive health crises that working-class and poor communities of color face. The uneven exposure to toxins and pollutants harm communities of color more disproportionately than predominantly white neighborhoods. Persistence of food deserts in urban communities and the unequal treatment of Black and Latinx people in hospitals and doctor's offices undermine the well-being of communities of color.

With more than 40 million Americans unemployed due to the pandemic, African Americans still face unemployment rates double that of whites. High rates of poverty, unemployment, and under-resourced schools combine with vengeful, violent police forces to create a mass of tens of millions of people in America's cities who are denied full citizenship or to what this culture calls "the American Dream."

We have learned that when George Floyd's murder was broadcast onto people's television screens, computers, phones, and tablets, the mass of Americans of all backgrounds grew sympathetic with Floyd, his family, and the community targeted by that murder.

In the past, systematic campaigns by media, politicians, and police officials to criminalize the victim of police brutality promoted sympathy for the killer. They failed to work this time. People could see with their own eyes a policeman callously and deliberately act to extinguish the life of yet another Black man. This time, people also realized that the act would have gone unpunished if it had not been recorded, and if the people had demanded justice.

This Uprising has also shown us that the white supremacists who control armed militias are deceitful liars. Many incidents recorded and distributed on social media showed members of militias deliberately destroying property to draw unfavorable attention on protesters or to provoke more dangerous confrontations.

As the protests spread to every state and were met with violent police aggression, mass arrests, beatings, attacks with rubber bullets and truncheons, the sympathy for protest also spread. We learned that the masses of American people would be courageous in the face of this overwhelming police force. They stood up to the police. They stood up to inattentive or hostile political leaders. They stood up and have demanded an end to systemic white supremacy.

The American Uprising of 2020 also taught us about Trump's cowardice. When protesters gathered at the White House to express their anger and to demand change, Trump hid in a bunker. Ironically, just weeks prior, he had told governors to meet and negotiate with the armed militias whom he called "good people," and whose protests against public health "stay home" orders were funded by Republican Party megadonors. But on Friday night and Saturday night, May 29 and May 30, Trump hid. 

Fearing lousy publicity for hiding, he ordered the police to gas a crowd of protesters on Sunday, May 31, so that he could make his strange and fateful photo opportunity at a nearby church. He also threatened to order military attacks on American cities, if local leaders refused to impose even more brutal police attacks on protesters. A broad spectrum of Americans has rightfully denounced his actions.

We have learned, from the Uprising of 2020, that America has sunk into a crisis for which Trump and his party have no answers. We will see him posture and bluster. We expect him to threaten other countries to deflect blame onto everyone but himself for the social problems that caused this Uprising.


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.
Joel Wendland-Liu

Joel Wendland-Liu

Joel Wendland-Liu is an associate professor in the Integrative, Religious, and Intercultural Studies Department at Grand Valley State University in Michigan.

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