The national protests sparked by the murder of George Floyd in the summer of 2020, made clear what many already knew to be true: policing—in all its iterations—must be abolished. The nationwide uprisings saw the burning of the third precinct in Minneapolis, the creation of autonomous zones in Seattle, and the toppling of statues and memorials to white supremacists, colonizers, and confederates. How We Stay Free chronicles the protests in the city of Philadelphia and the Black organizers that led, sustained, and nurtured the movement for abolition.
In the midst of a global pandemic, Philadelphians took to the streets establishing mutual aid campaigns, jail support networks, bail funds, and housing encampments for their community, removing the statue of Frank Rizzo, the former mayor and face of racist policing, called for the release of all political prisoners including Mumia Abu-Jamal, and protested, marched, and agitated in all corners of the city. From Philadelphia, which dating back at least to W.E.B. DuBois has served as a vista to understand Black life in the US, How We Stay Free collects and presents reflections and testimonies, prose and poetry from those on the frontlines to take stock of where the movement started, where it stands, and where we go from here.
How We Stay Free is both a celebration of the organizing that sustained the uprising and a powerful call-to-action—demanding all of us to take to the streets, organize our communities, and revolt for the creation of new, better, and freer worlds.
"This powerful volume provides a maroon archive of Black resistance, historical memory, and survival work during the 2020 uprisings in Philadelphia. From the founding of the Philadelphia Black Radical Collective to the emergence of the Black Students Alliance in July 2020, the writings and spoken word in How We Stay Free remind us that, “Freedom is not a destination. It’s a process.” By documenting Black Philadelphia’s activist praxis during the United States’ largest popular mobilization in history, this edited collection unearths the precious artifacts of local struggle through voice, material culture, poetry and prose. It connects past, present, and future by interweaving the histories of the Paul Robeson House and Museum and Hakim’s Bookstore in West Philadelphia to the contemporary practices of mutual aid and survival developed by the Black and Brown Workers Cooperative to ensure that Black Trans Lives Matter. How We Stay Free is a rich tapestry of political work and freedom dreams that is essential reading for understanding our city and the larger world beyond as we reckon with the COVID-19 pandemic, the scale of state violence at home and abroad, and unprecedented ecological crisis. Underneath all we do, Mike Africa, Jr.’s reminds us that “the overall mission, the grand mission itself” must be to “protect life.”—Donna Murch, author of Living for the City: Migration, Education, and the Rise of the Black Panther Party in Oakland, California and Assata Taught Me: State Violence, Racial Capitalism and the Movement for Black Lives
“As a loud and proud West Philadelphian, I found this volume to be a visionary and genuinely inspiring approach to chronicling the momentous events of 2020. How We Stay Free, with its offering of poetry, history, context, and practical organizing strategies is a book that so many of us didn't even know that we needed. I am persuaded that the spirit of onetime West Philadelphia resident Paul Robeson moves through pages, which attest to Black identity as an infinite plurality and Black love as Black collective action.”—Asali Solomon, author of The Days of Afrekete
“How We Stay Free is a foundational text and map that builds on the legacy of the Black Radical Tradition as localized in Black Philadelphia. Through this eloquent mix of poetry, prose, interviews, and archives of Philly’s Black Uprising, this text places our fight for justice that year within a much longer history and future of radical revolt. This is must read for community residents, activists, organizers to model ways that Philly has paired arts-based resistance work with organized protests and mobilization to build sustainable radical coalitions for freedom."—Dr. Christina Jackson, Scholar-Activist, Community Facilitator, Associate Professor of Sociology at Stockton University
“How We Stay Free is a living archive built by a community of freedom fighters. In its pages, readers walk the streets of West Philadelphia, stepping into Hakim’s Bookstore, marching up Broad St. with the Philly Black Student Alliance, sharing food at the Bunny Hop in Malcolm X Park, or sitting in the parlor at 4951 Walnut where Paul Robeson’s voice still thunders in the walls. This is poetic record of resistance from the 2020 uprisings. From the ashes of the MOVE bombing to the surviving nail where Frank Rizzo’s statue once stood, these are blueprints for a future being made in the present. A beautiful compendium of struggle.”—Christina Heatherton, coeditor of Policing the Planet: Why the Policing Crisis Led to Black Lives Matter
“Christopher Rogers and Fajr Muhammad have curated an urgent and timely collection. How We Stay Free documents how the 2020 Black uprising in Philadelphia sparked the political imagination. Produced in collaboration with the Paul Robeson House and Museum, it illuminates how Paul and Eslanda Robeson remain inspiring symbols of the radical social change so urgently needed today.”—Jordan T. Camp, author of Incarcerating the Crisis: Freedom Struggles and the Rise of the Neoliberal State