What to Do Next?

Peter Ammirati '82


Hey all,

I wanted to reach out and address the wave of protests resulting from the killings of George Floyd...and the killings of Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Freddie Grey, Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, and so many more. I have been heartsick, emptied out, angry, and so, like many Americans, I have attended public events. In Lambertville, NJ, where I expected something small and polite, there had to be 1,000? 2,000? people. And the mood as we wound around Lambertville and New Hope was as electric as any march I have ever been part of. I know that is hard to believe. (A brief note on safety—because C-19 does not care who it infects, it remains a threat in these situations. I found that people were very good about social distancing during pre-march speeches, but discipline waned as the march began, so be aware. However, people have expressed concern about violence at these marches. That was not an issue at all. The entire surrounding community came out—children, grandparents—a coalition of all kinds of people.) There are even safer ways to protest—like the car caravans that are cropping up. 

What is the point of these events? For me, this event allowed me to register dissent publicly—to feel less alone—to be reaffirmed in my desire to see my world change. It was an inspiring moment.

The list of organizations that Casey sent around is also useful. Going to protests, posting on social media, giving money to organizations, becoming educated (as Paola so rightly encouraged us to do)—these are real actions. They mean something.

The next step is much more daunting. Meaningful change is going to require sustained public action—politics—taking actions with others in a thoughtful and sustained way. And, of course, voting is part of it.  But I am talking about sustained public action that moves beyond voting. And the vast majority of us were not raised in a culture that trained us or encouraged us to do such things. We were raised in a consumer culture, and in that culture “sustained public action” or “politics” is pictured as something that interferes with what we really want to do, which is to consume products, images, film, social media, and so on. So we don’t know what to do next. And that is why our outrage rarely gets translated beyond the moment of crisis. And there is no easy answer to that question, but don't feel bad if you don’t know what to do next (me too, it is normal in America at this time) but a few thoughts about it:

  • In the social movements of the 1960s, students were at the forefront of so much of the activism. Because we are not good at telling complicated history, we tend to imagine the civil rights movement as led by Martin Luther King, Jr. and Rosa Parks. But the story is really about lots and lots and lots of people around the country taking action.
  • At your school, many of you have started groups or joined groups or been in leadership roles. You already have more experience with taking “sustained public action” than most people aged 20-100.
  • A good place to start: go to the “Candid Conversations” on June 17 which was advertised by Jen Perez and LatinX & Biracial Buddies.
  • Of course, it is not on students—it is on all of us.

Is this a tipping point? Maybe. I guess it depends on how much we all push in the future.

Thanks for reading this and for encouraging me and all of us to find a way to take sustained public action to address racism in America and to address the economic inequality that plagues so many people and that is at the heart of so much hopelessness and hatred.