Prof. Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, African American studies, Princeton University, joined Prof. Edward E. Baptist, history, in a panel to examine the state of protest politics in the 21st century as a mode of enacting social change.
“I think  is an important moment in history,” Taylor said, “Where there [have] not been enough opportunities to discuss what the problems are and what we can do about them.”
Taylor argued that activists emerge from different backgrounds, circumstances and positions, while discussing her article on popular participation in the Women’s March on Washington.
“People may start out at a certain level of political participation or understanding, but those things evolve over time through their own involvement with activism and through the obstacles that they endure,” she said. “No one is born with everything figured out.”
Taylor encouraged audience members to think about the importance of social movements, elected representatives and public’s opinion “to see change.”
She put forth the airport protests after President Trump’s travel ban as an example of “the dynamic way that public protest and mass gatherings … impose the will of the public onto the institutions that govern our society and make plain the public’s will.”
Both panelists emphasized the need for change, with Baptist arguing that, if today’s economic and political inequality continues, the future will be “something out of an Octavia Butler novel: everything’s sort of chaotic in the vision.”
Baptist also remarked that today’s activists should learn from the failures of past movements by being “bolder and dream[ing] bigger.”
“I think it’s impossible to predict the future. We live in such a volatile society that it doesn’t make sense to predict [it],” Taylor added.
When asked whether “it’s possible for marginalized and repressed people within America to actually become free,” Taylor responded in the affirmative. However, she also cautioned that inequality and racism is “baked in” the U.S. system.
“The manifestations of problems are so deep and profound that I can’t figure out any way to make this work within the framework of American capitalism,” Taylor said. “I mean, this is a system that is based upon the exploitation of the many by the few and so that means we have to figure out a different way to live.”
She ended the panel by saying, “A combination of political activism, organization, and radical politics is what is necessary to transform the society that we live in.”
In putting the panel together, Director of American Studies Prof. Noliwe Rooks, Africana studies and feminist, gender and sexuality studies, said she wanted students and the public to understand what “conversation as a form of activism looks like.”
With an audience composed of “community groups, high school students, undergraduates and graduate students,” Rooks felt that there was a diverse representation of Ithaca’s academic community.
“I was particularly happy to see the number of students who were here and asked questions. I thought it was a great turnout,” she said.