When unarmed and nonviolent 46-year-old George Floyd ended up dead due to the restraining actions of several white Minneapolis police officers on May 25, 2020, a wave of protests and riots spread around the United States (and eventually many other countries as well). This level of resistance–both peaceful and violent– hasn’t been seen in the U.S. since 1968. It has been a long time coming, with recent violent acts perpetrated by “peace officers” on innocent Black citizens. Breonna Taylor, Freddie Gray, Philando Castile, Eric Garner: The list goes on and on, a litany of proof that racial bias is just as strong in certain parts of our society today as it was fifty years ago.
Acts of resistance and protest have been an engine driving change throughout US history. Understanding those of the past will help us understand those of the present, and empathize with our fellow humans. We at Vurbl have found a number of protest podcasts to enlighten and inspire us all at this time.
1. Heat and Light
Heat and Light is a 6-episode podcast hosted by Phillip Martin and published by The Conversation US dives deep into several lesser-known stories from the year 1968. That year was a time of civil unrest against fascist powers and pro-socialist that spanned much of the globe. In the United States, protests were driven by the ongoing horrors of the Vietnam War as well as the civil rights movement. It marked a turning point in civil rights in many ways, including the expansion of focus from primarily the South to the huge urban environs of northern states, where poverty took the form of being swallowed up in the shadows of skyscrapers, surrounded by wealth.
The title, Heat and Light, refers to the protests and rebellions (heat) that drove the change and progress (light) which served to make the latter half of the 20th century so much different, and better, than its first half, in many ways. From student uprisings to the feminist protest of the Miss America pageant and the arrival of the Black Panther Party and “Black Power”, Martin introduces a person who was directly affected by various pivotal events of 1968 in each episode, and these first-person POVs add much to this powerful show.
This NPR history podcast, Throughline, hosted by Rund Abdelfatah and Ramtin Arablouei, takes an interesting approach to its subject matter. Every big current event has some kind of direct path that can be drawn back to a previous event– a throughline. By examining the causes and effects of what happened in the past, we can learn more about what is happening now, and perhaps try to find a better way to handle crises and other problems along the way.
In recent episodes Hong Kong and On Borrowed Time, our hosts look at what has driven the ongoing strife between China and the city known as the “Pearl of the Orient”. They have also highlighted the sports protests, past and present, from Wilma Rudolph to Colin Kaepernick, in On the Shoulders of Giants. And in Before Stonewall, the Throughline team takes us through the years leading up to one of the major turning points in the gay rights movement.
It is Vurbl’s opinion that this podcast should be required listening for everyone. We can all benefit from learning from the mistakes, and victories, of the past.
Chicago’s WBEZ created a radio play (available as a podcast), hosted and narrated by Natalie Moore, that dramatized the transformative Chicago race riot of 1919. With the talented efforts of dozens of performers, powerful music, and sound design, this production City on Fire: Chicago Race Riot 1919 takes listeners to a time and place a century removed from today. Though so much time has passed, it would be hard for an alien visiting Earth to see much difference: The divide between the poor, people of color, and the police charged with “protecting and serving” seems to be as wide as ever in light of our current protests.
The voice cast, a mix of blacks, whites, and other POC, does an amazing job of inhabiting their roles. Their words are raw with emotion. This is a podcast and audio production not to be missed.
iHeartRadio’s Stuff You Missed in History Class is an excellent podcast for students of all ages. Every episode covers a “diamond in the rough” when it comes to historical happenings that rarely see the light of day in most public school settings. That is the case with The Tulsa Race Riot and Black Wall Street. Tracy Wilson and Holly Frey have co-hosted this podcast since 2013.
Greenwood was a suburb of Tulsa, OK, nicknamed “Black Wall Street” due to its relative wealth for a predominately Black neighborhood. In 1921, a Black man was accused of attacking a white teenager, and local whites gathered in protest outside the courthouse where he was being held. Violence erupted as local Black citizens arrived, armed, knowing that a mob had formed and hoping only to protect someone from being lynched. This turned into an outright massacre, with white militants mobilizing against the people of Greenwood, killing dozens. Frey and Wilson cover this terrible event respectfully, supplying the facts and allowing listeners to draw their own conclusions.
5. The Thread Season Three: A History of Nonviolence
OZY’s The Thread podcast is a real audio treasure. Hosted by Sean Braswell, this show’s third season is a bracing work of research and presentation. Much like NPR’s Throughline, The Thread takes a long view of history. In The Thread Season Three: A History of Nonviolence the OZY team tracks the evolution of nonviolent protest in the United States from the civil rights movement and Martin Luther King, Jr., back to the years surrounding the War for Independence.
Braswell is a capable narrator whose compassionate voice leads us through the winding paths of historical protests, beginning in the 1960s. Weaving recordings of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s stirring voice with interviews involving scholarly journalists like Mark Kurlansky, author of Nonviolence: The History of a Dangerous Idea, and many others, this season of The Thread is unforgettable listening.
Hosted by Kim Schneider, I Doth Protest is a podcast that is 6-part series published in 2017 that explores some of the root causes and astounding effects that resistance and protest have had in the United States. Schneider does an admirable job of coaxing autobiographical tales full of pure honesty, angst, anger, and hope from regular, everyday people whose race, ethnicity, belief system, or sexuality put them at odds with a controlling system that is set against them.
We meet Alia Jeraj, who chose to be arrested at a Black Lives Matter rally, and Cindy Killion, a Native American and LGBTQ activist. We are also taken into a solidarity rally in Minneapolis held in response to the horrible white supremacist demonstration in Charlottesville that led to the death of protester Heather Heyer. We then join some of the scientists that partook in the March for Science as they talk about how the politicization of their work does far more harm than good.
7. History Talk
Produced by The Ohio State University, History Talk takes perhaps the widest-angle view of protest out of all the other podcasts in this list. Lauren Henry and Eric Michael Rhodes host, a tag-team of European and United States history experts. The brave act of protest made the United States, quite literally, and has continued to shape this nation through the centuries. But so does protest shape the rest of the planet’s countries, and in History Talk, we are taken on a world tour of this never-ending evolutionary (and revolutionary) process.
In the capable hands of Henry and Rhodes, listeners discover the struggles of Yemeni and Sudanese citizens; the rise of Brazil’s “Trump of the Tropics” Jair Bolsonaro as their president, and the “politics of nostalgia” that got him there; and learn about the predecessors of the modern #TimesUp and #MeToo movements.
Through these explorations, we come to realize that protests and other acts of defiance against seemingly overwhelming odds are always happening, somewhere–and that if they are not, that is cause perhaps to be even more worried about the fate of our humanity.
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