Derecka Purnell Examines Organizing Then and Now in the Movement for Black Lives

Derecka Purnell (’17), Scholar-in-Residence at Columbia Law School and Guardian U.S. columnist, contributed to a dialogue in the inaugural issue of Hammer & Hope, for which she serves as editorial advisor, discussing the future of organizing following the 2020 protests, the role of lawyers in movement building, and the mandate for everyday participation (“After the Uprising, What Is to Be Done?” Winter ’23). “Do we need a legal strategy? Of course. But we need mass resistance by everyday people. We need to go to the libraries where people are banning books to say, ‘Absolutely not. We’re not going to allow this.’ We need strategic, disruptive, direct action. We need protests to push back and to show in numbers that this is wrong. . . . [W]e also need to … project — and then build — the alternate vision of the society that we want.”

Derecka called for activism beyond voting, citing silence from Democratic party leaders in opposing critical race theory bans. “What resolutions are being passed to highlight the importance of Black study? . . . Where’s the resolution at least acknowledging ‘diversity’ in educational thought? . . . [W]hen the masses are being told that the right way to approach this is to ‘go vote’ or ‘go sue,’ they are implicitly being told not to ‘go resist,’ ‘go fight.’ But that’s what we all need to do — go fight.”

In an opinion for The Guardian, Derecka further examined how current book bans represent a broader backlash to the Black liberation movement. “This is not the first time that politicians have tried to ban Black studies curriculum and social movements education from schools and campuses. These bans have historically come on the heels of Black and multiracial uprisings in the streets. . . . Just as students, teachers and community members rose up against repression in the past, students, teachers and the rest of us must continue the political organizing to keep education radical, free and accessible to all.” (“America Has a History of Banning Black Studies. We Can Learn from That Past.” Feb. 14).