On the Other Side of Freedom: The Case for Hope

On the Other Side of Freedom: The Case for Hope

by DeRay Mckesson


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From the internationally recognized civil rights activist/organizer and host of the podcast Pod Save the People, a meditation on resistance, justice, and freedom, and an intimate portrait of a movement from the front lines.

In August 2014, twenty-nine-year-old activist DeRay Mckesson stood with hundreds of others on the streets of Ferguson, Missouri, to push a message of justice and accountability. These protests, and others like them in cities across the country, resulted in the birth of the Black Lives Matter movement. Now, in his first book, Mckesson lays down the intellectual, pragmatic, and political framework for a new liberation movement. Continuing a conversation about activism, resistance, and justice that embraces our nation's complex history, he dissects how deliberate oppression persists, how racial injustice strips our lives of promise, and how technology has added a new dimension to mass action and social change. He argues that our best efforts to combat injustice have been stunted by the belief that racism's wounds are history, and suggests that intellectual purity has curtailed optimistic realism. The book offers a new framework and language for understanding the nature of oppression. With it, we can begin charting a course to dismantle the obvious and subtle structures that limit freedom.

Honest, courageous, and imaginative, On the Other Side of Freedom is a work brimming with hope. Drawing from his own experiences as an activist, organizer, educator, and public official, Mckesson exhorts all Americans to work to dismantle the legacy of racism and to imagine the best of what is possible. Honoring the voices of a new generation of activists, On the Other Side of Freedom is a visionary's call to take responsibility for imagining, and then building, the world we want to live in.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780525560326
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 09/04/2018
Pages: 240
Sales rank: 111,786
Product dimensions: 5.40(w) x 8.60(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

DeRay Mckesson is a civil rights activist, community organizer, and the host of Crooked Media's award-winning podcast, Pod Save the People. He started his career as an educator and came to prominence for his participation in, and documentation of, the Ferguson protests and the movement they birthed, and for publicly advocating for victims of police violence and to end mass incarceration. He's spoken at venues from the White House to the Oxford Union, at universities, and on TV. Named one of Time's 30 Most Influential People on the Internet and #11 on Fortune's World's Greatest Leaders list, he has received honorary doctorates from The New School and the Maryland Institute College of Art. A leading voice in the Black Lives Matter movement and the co-founder of Campaign Zero, a policy platform to end police violence, Mckesson lives in Baltimore, Maryland.

Read an Excerpt

The impossible is the least that

one can demand.

-james baldwin

I learned hope the hard way.

It was a hot day in St. Louis County in September 2014, and I'd spent the majority of the afternoon sitting on the floor of the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department headquarters. At nine o'clock in the morning, twenty of us had filed in and plopped down in four rows in the center of the station. The police began to gather around us as hundreds of our fellow protesters turned the corner and were now standing outside the building demanding to get in. When it looked like the officers might forcibly remove us, everyone began to link arms-everyone but me. It was my role to record and interpret as much as possible everywhere we protested so that we could consistently tell the truth to the outside world. So I sat in the front of our stacked rows, unlinked.

I was trying to capture as much as I could on my phone and tweet about it in real time. I wanted to be able to tell the story of the only successful sit-in of a police department since the protests began. We were repeatedly told to move, and we refused. It wasn't long before the officers' growing impatience turned to action. I heard the screaming before I realized that we'd been completely surrounded. It all happened so fast. I looked over and saw a mother trying to stop an officer from driving his thumb into the pressure point behind her daughter's ear. And when I looked up, there was an officer standing directly over me. She told us that we needed to leave immediately. Again, we refused to move. And then she rested her hand on her Taser. I'll never forget how time stopped as I watched her move her hand from her waist to her Taser to her gun, almost like it happened in slow motion.

Suddenly, I was on my back, gliding across the industrial floor as an officer dragged me to the entrance of the building by my ankles. "Why are you doing this?" I asked, as a second officer twisted my arm behind my back. His face fell flat, like he snapped out of the hostility, and instead of a verbal reply, he just let my arm go, picked me up, and pushed me out the door.

It was one of two moments of late when death has felt near. And when death is near, so too is the question of how: How did I get myself into this situation? Should I have made a different choice?

I live off the beaten path in Baltimore City in a house that people donÕt wander to. If you come to the house, you have made a decision to be at the house. IÕve been using ride-sharing apps since I totaled my car in the protests in October 2014, and I was using one on this day in 2017. I saw the car in the driveway, and I paused. But I was already home, so I felt like I had to get out of the car. And when I got out, the driver in the other car got out too. And in that moment, the calmness came over me, like it did in the St. Louis Metro Police Department.

I've received many death threats over the years, the FBI has visited my house, my phone has been hacked, cities have hired surveillance companies that have deemed me a serious threat, and a movie theater was evacuated because I received a threat that I'd be shot during a screening. But none of those things shook me like that day when the car was in front of the house after work.

The driver walked toward me, and I just stood still. I can't even say that I was afraid in that moment. I was still and focused, a stillness and focus that I've known only a few times. I followed his hands and body with my eyes, waiting. Ready. Anxious. He reached out his hand and gave me a packet of papers. I looked down and realized that I'd just been served with a lawsuit. I was sued personally by five police officers: three in Dallas and two from Baton Rouge. I hadn't been physically served in any of the lawsuits except this one, on the day the guy showed up in my driveway. After he handed me the papers he asked to take a photo, and with that, he was on his way.

These moments forced me to think about the "why" of this work, the fundamental question of whether it is worth the costs. But we all know the risks of protesting, and we choose to meet them head-on. There were so many times in the early months that I was met with an almost paralyzing fear, but as I watched the officer in the police station, I realized that, for what felt like the first time, I wasn't afraid.

It was in losing the fear of death that I began to understand faith and hope.

Faith is the belief that certain outcomes will happen and hope the belief that certain outcomes can happen. So when Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. says, ÒThe arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice,Ó he is speaking from a place of faith. He is confident that justice is inevitable even if it may come in another lifetime. Faith is often rooted in the belief in a higher power, in God. Hope, on the other hand, would mean reframing this statement to say, ÒThe arc of the moral universe is long, and it will bend toward justice if we bend it.Ó Faith is rooted in certainty; hope is rooted in possibility-and they both require their own different kinds of work.

The work of faith is to actively surrender to forces unseen, to acknowledge that what is desired will come about, but by means that you may never know, and this is difficult. That faith is rooted in certainty does not mean that it never wavers. Indeed, it is not a static belief but one based on trust. And one's trust is not easily conferred.

Hope is the belief that our tomorrows can be better than our todays. Hope is not magic; hope is work. I am not certain that a new world, one of equity and justice, will emerge, but I am certain that it can emerge. I have heard people speak of hope in rather different ways. The first is with statements like, "I hope that we win," or "I hope my loved one, diagnosed with incurable cancer, will somehow make it." When we hope in this way, we choose optimism. We believe that perhaps the seemingly extraordinary miracle is within our reach, that it is yet possible. At times, though, when we hope in this manner, we surrender our agency to luck or divine intervention. We acknowledge our limitations in impacting the eventual outcome and rest on optimism as our key act, the primary tool in our toolkit.

When we talk about being hopeful for a future in which black bodies are not considered weapons, it's so easy to deride hope as a platitude, or a nice thought, or even as an enemy of progress. Yet there's another side to hope. Hope can be a driving force. Consider the notion of hope in relation to the way that we use "dream"-a word with a similar dual use. On the one hand, a dream can be the fanciful whimsy of a child, free to explore any one of countless possible realities, completely unmoored from present-day circumstance. But dreams have another, more actionable meaning. Indeed, they can be a firm, dynamic vision of where you want to go. I think this is why we still celebrate the dream of Dr. King, and why parents urge their kids to dream.

Hope is the precursor to strategy. It powers our vision of what roles we must play in bringing about a desired goal, and it amplifies our efforts. I am not surrendering to luck. I am not surrendering to a blind faith that things will just get better. I am reminded that to have faith that a world of equity and justice will emerge does not relinquish one's role in helping it emerge. This is the way to use hope: as faith's companion (and vice versa). When my faith is challenged, it is the belief that things can change that keeps me moving forward. And when hope feels futile, I rely on faith to push forward and help reclaim that certainty.

I have heard critiques of the current wave of activism that are fundamentally critiques of faith-there are people deriding this notion that the world will be more just and that we will end white supremacy. It is those people who look back on the legacy of resistance that we have inherited and challenge its outcomes. The police are still killing people, the argument goes, and the racial wealth gap is as big as it has been since the 1920s. Furthermore, the public education systems have failed black and brown kids throughout the country. Thus the danger in believing in the inevitability of change cannot be overstated. The faith they critique-the belief in unnamed forces that will bring about change-is blind faith, and they are right to be critical. But that is not what animates our striving. Protest is the work of hope. Protest, at its core, is telling the truth in public. It is confrontation and disruption rooted in the acknowledgment of a future that has not yet come, but that is possible. The work at hand is hope-work.

I do not blame anyone who refuses to hold hope in their hands when justice has slipped through our fingers too many times. Many black and other marginalized people have expressed the unfairness of being asked to carry the "burden" of hope, that it's come to feel compulsory for these groups to do so. To this I say that the absence of hope, not its presence, is a burden for people of color. If anything, blackness is a testament of hope: a people born in and of resistance, pushing against a tide meant to destroy, resting in a belief that this world is not the only one that can be.

I think that faith is actually the burden that people have misnamed as the burden of hope. It is not our task to carry the burden of faith, but it is often our choice. My faith wavers often. I and others have fought and lost. I have seen people crushed by the weight of the opposition. I have seen the best of intentions transformed into self-interest or terror. And I have seen optimism blind people and keep them from addressing the realities of the horror they face. But when my faith wavers, my hope carries me through.

I think that in some ways the hope of black people is the fuel for this nation; that it is the creativity and ingenuity of a people who have had every reason to choose resignation but have not that fuels both the culture and cadence of this American life.

Freedom is not only the absence of oppression, but is also the presence of justice and joy. We are fighting to bring about a world that we have not seen before. ÒMake America Great AgainÓ is a familiar evocation of a mythical time of human flourishing in our nationÕs history. What is posited as a time of ÒgreatnessÓ was, for many, a time of rampant racism, xenophobia, misogyny, and sexism. We have never seen a world of equity, justice, and joy. We are trying to create something altogether new. And it is impossible to create something new in the absence of hope.

I would even go so far as to say that many who decry hope the loudest could eventually be the most hopeful among us. They are doing the pre-work of hope, deconstructing our current realities. But they are afraid that they may fail, so they hesitate to build. Or they fear that the work will be so long-term that it will result in disappointment-and they are trying to guard against disappointment-so they challenge. They explore and unpack but are slow to create. And they publicly decry any efforts to bring forth a better world, because of the possibility and weight of disappointment. To them it sounds fluffy and hollow.

But belief in tomorrow has never been hollow. It wasn't hollow to those who fought before us. We do not stand in the shadows of those who came before us, but in their glow. And that glow exists because they put forth a vision of the future and they fought for it. We did not invent resistance or discover injustice in August 2014. We exist in a legacy of struggle, a legacy rooted in hope.

We have a hope rooted in a belief that as sure as hands have made the buildings that dominate the skylines of our cities, hands have made the institutions, practices, and customs that perpetuate racism and injustice that permeate those same cities. What is made by human hands requires maintenance. Buildings can be torn down and built over. Parking lots can become parks and vice versa. Institutions can evolve, change, or be dismantled.

We can win. And if we do, it will be because more of us understood that this is a system of choices, and we have learned how to build power to make new choices. When they say that power concedes nothing without a demand, they are reminding us that the demand has to create something new-a new power dynamic, a new reality. And hope is the fuel of this demand.

Hope is not magic. Hope is work. Let's get to the work.


Excerpted from "On the Other Side of Freedom"
by .
Copyright © 2018 DeRay Mckesson.
Excerpted by permission of Penguin Publishing Group.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Author's Note xi

1 On Hope 1

2 How Am I Supposed to Respond to Murder? 13

3 The Problem of the Police 39

4 Bully and the Pulpit 69

5 The Choreography of Whiteness 81

6 I Was Raised By Magic 103

7 Taking the Truth Everywhere 119

8 I Can Remember Her Now Without Sadness 135

9 The Friend That's Always Awake 149

10 Out of the Quiet 177

11 On Organizing 197

12 Letter to an Activist 205

Acknowledgments 213

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