The movements that have shaken America in recent years–the Tea Party, Occupy Wall Street, Fight for $15, Black Lives Matter–are often assumed to be discrete, separate phenomena. But in fact they have fed one another and overlapped, as more people rediscover the fine art of direct action.
This new wave of activism began in 2008. Although Americans have long experienced inequality, the financial crisis–which caused people to lose their jobs, evaporated retirement savings and evicted families from their homes–raised its profile. Faith in elites, particularly politicians, fell, and cynicism about our economic and political systems hardened. This anger and sense that the system is rigged primed people to notice other injustices. Among them: the police killings of black men, low minimum wages, the role of money in elections.
These are issues that don’t get fixed at the voting booth, at least not without a fight. So more and more, people are taking to the streets and raising their voices to pressure politicians to act–in Manhattan, where they occupied City Hall Park for fairer policing practices; in North Carolina, where they challenged attacks on voting rights; and in Chicago, where teachers went on strike for better labor conditions. These activists may have different causes. But in a sense, they’re acting together, honoring America’s long history of making trouble to make change.
Jaffe is the author of Necessary Trouble: Americans in Revolt
This appears in the August 29, 2016 issue of TIME.
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