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Rise up: the best books about the power of protest


July. 11, 2020

T he same day that the youth of Bristol tore down the statue of Edward Colston , a crowd of 10,000 surrounded the statue of the barbaric King Léopold II in Brussels and raised the flag of the Democratic Republic of the Congo above it.
Since the killing of George Floyd, Black Lives Matter has evolved into a truly global struggle, as protesters emphasise the intimate connections between racism and colonialism the world over and espouse a solidarity that cares for no borders. But the fight for justice has always been internationalist. Elaine Mokhtefi’s extraordinary memoir, Algiers, Third World Capital , takes us back to the 1960s, when the city was known as the “Mecca of revolution”. Here we find the vibrant legacies of liberation struggles and a vision for remaking the world, following groups such as the Black Panthers and South African freedom fighters through Algiers and beyond.
Angela Davis’s Freedom Is a Constant Struggle: Ferguson, Palestine and the Foundations of a Movement challenges us to engage with this tradition and join the struggle for liberation from oppression in all its forms. This series of essays, interviews and speeches weaves together the internationalist principles of the anticolonial movements with a sharp analysis of state violence in America, the prison industrial complex and the formative years of Black Lives Matter . Key to Davis’s analysis is the understanding that colonial oppression takes the same basic form across the world, whether in Minneapolis, Jerusalem or the Amazon rainforest.
Nick Estes gives voice to the new wave of indigenous environmental mobilisation in Our History Is the Future . He masterfully charts the resistance to the Dakota Access pipeline at Standing Rock that began in 2016, when a project that threatened to pollute the Missouri river and encroach on Native lands received approval. Estes returns us to the movement’s roots in the long-standing history of Native American resistance to dispossession and land incursion, showing how indigenous struggles have in turn inspired the recent growth of the climate justice movement, including the protests led by children across the globe.
As a new generation becomes acquainted with the rhythms and strategies of urban protest, I turn again to Omar Robert Hamilton’s debut novel The City Always Wins . It captures at once the joy, grief and rage of the 2011 Egyptian revolution, and Hamilton’s large cast vividly reflects the powers and pitfalls of an uprising encompassing every sector of society.
The protests that have swept through Bristol, Glasgow and London draw on a long and distinguished history of migrant organising here in the UK. Ambalavaner Sivanandan’s From Resistance to Rebellion: Asian and Afro-Caribbean Struggles in Britain (first published as a pamphlet in 1981, and now available online from the Institute of Race Relations ), uncovers the dynamic campaigns for justice in the 1950s, 60s and 70s. Sivanandan traces the emergence of a “pattern of black unity and black struggle” as communities from Britain’s former colonies resisted attempts by the state to pit them against each other. For me, these histories are some of the most inspiring examples of how international struggles cohere and racial divides can be overcome.
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