This topic was originally meant to be our Action Project last semester, before the coronavirus pandemic shuttered our campus and newsroom. Lockdown forced us away from each other and put the election on the backburner, momentarily forcing our attention and anxieties away from the collective acts of politics and community. For a time, at least a short one, we were removed from the public sphere.
And then, an earthquake. The killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officers in late May sent thousands out of isolation and into the streets. It was a reminder that our structures of power and democracy can’t be escaped or put on pause — and so neither can the fight to change them. Those systems, and the people they are meant to represent, are forces that must be reckoned with.
Floyd’s death sparked massive uprising and demands for justice that spread from sea to shining sea, redoubling again and again throughout the summer as more and more names were added to the list of Americans killed by police. People of every demographic - age, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, political party- joined in the Black Lives Matter movement. Others roamed the streets, aiming to protect their homes and businesses from what they viewed as an assault on law and order.
All this occurred amid a global pandemic and the constant political fight over a government response to COVID-19. In addition to demonstrations against racial injustice, the United States saw people marching into state Capitol buildings and demanding that the government stop the mask mandates and lockdown. We saw customers screaming at workers when they were chastised for not wearing a mask, and ultimately, we have seen public health mandates ignored, denounced or struck down by the courts in partisan legal challenges. Instead of worrying about what public health officials recommend, political party lines have divided Americans across the United States and forced them into factions.
This sweeping upheaval has left few places untouched, and the UW-Madison campus is no exception. As we try to find normalcy in this strange semester, we know that a return to the way things were may not be good enough. We are forced to ask many of the same questions of our administration and fellow students that protesters and voters across the country have put to their elected officials. What is the role of the police in our community? Who gets to decide how we respond to the coronavirus pandemic? Do those in power take our calls for action seriously? Are they even listening?
Over the summer, we saw people from Madison, Wis., to San Diego, Calif., wearing masks and protesting their government-- whether it be over mask mandates or systemic racial discrimation and bias. As an American people, we constantly exercise our First Amendment rights. A pandemic has not stopped us from doing what the founders set out for us to do.
And with all that in mind, dive into our rolling Politics & Protest coverage, where new stories will be released every Friday from Oct. 23 to Nov. 20, aiming to illuminate how recent months and oncoming weeks will impact our politics, both nationally and locally.