In early 2011, in response to austerity measures, protesters occupied the capitol building in Madison, Wisconsin. It was a localized struggle, but it gained traction on the popular imagination out of all proportion to its size. This clearly indicated that something big was coming, and some of us even brainstormed about how to prepare for it—but all the same, the nationwide wave of Occupy a few months later caught us flat-footed.
In August 2014, after white police officer Darren Wilson killed unarmed black teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, a week and a half of pitched protests shook the town. Once again, these were localized, but they loomed big in the popular imagination. Police kill something like three people a day in the United States; over the past few years, we’ve seen a pattern of increasing outrage against these murders, but until that August it hadn’t gained much leverage on the public consciousness. What was new about the Ferguson protests was not just that people refused to cede the streets to the police for days on end, nor that they openly defied the “community leadership” that usually pacifies such revolts. It was also that all around the country, people were finally paying attention and expressing approval.
Like the occupation of the capitol building in Madison, this may portend things to come. Ferguson is a microcosm of the United States. Could we see an uprising like this spread nationwide? It seems almost possible, right now, as the governor of Missouri has declared a preemptive state of emergency and people all over the US are preparing demonstrations for the day that the grand jury refuses to indict Darren Wilson.