Viewpoint: The Joy of Protest—Chicago Protests: A Joyful Revolution by Vashon Jordan Jr.

Chicago Protests: A Joyful Revolution by Vashon Jordan Jr. Self-published Joy is being free to say: “Look at me! Listen to me!” Joy is being free to join with others to say: “Look at me! Listen to me!” Joy is rejecting invisibility in American society, rejecting violence and racism and injustice. It’s joining together with many others on many days in the summer of 2020 to demonstrate for full citizenship for all people of all kinds. Joy is the subject of Vashon Jordan Jr.’s ebullient and vibrant book of photographs Chicago Protests: A Joyful Revolution. Look at Jordan’s photo of demonstrators in the Loop on June 19, raising a sign that says “I’M HERE SO MY KIDS WONT HAVE TO BE—Juneteenth, 2020,” and raising their fists—and smiling. Look at those smiles. There is joy in being an activist, in taking action against what is wrong in the U.S. culture, in standing up for what is right. Throughout the summer of 2020, right-wing commentators on television and radio vented bile-filled rage on the demonstrations in Chicago and other American cities, characterizing them as wild, violent, destructive affairs. So much so that many a Chicagoan got a call from an out-of-town friend asking, “Are you safe?” As if an invading army had arrived. Chicago Protests is a tonic to such bitter rancor. Between May and September, Jordan, a 21-year-old Columbia College student, took more than 17,000 photographs at dozens of demonstrations against the deaths of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd and other Black people killed by police. He gives a nod to the violence that, at times, occurred in Chicago with images of boarded-up businesses and this evocative shot of the aftermath of looting: Much more though, he writes in a short preface that his aim is to recount “this revolution…built on peace, love, joy, led by youth,” and to proclaim, “Black Joy is Revolutionary!” Two of the dozens of shots in Jordan’s self-published 100-page book, available at, show middle-class white people dining in fashionable restaurants while protests occur a few feet away in the streets, such as this one in Logan Square on August 4. These shots are matter-of-fact, not leveling judgments or expressing antagonism toward those not participating in the protests. Similarly, Jordan’s images of police officers stress their humanity as opposed to demonizing them. I was particularly struck by a photo of two bicycle officers sitting slumped, seemingly exhausted, on the short wall of a play lot, sheathed in shadows, while a young Black person swings in the sunlight. And another of the masked Police Superintendent David Brown and a visibly weary officer Sergio Corona. Perhaps my favorite Jordan photo in the book is a quintessentially Chicago image, taken at a demonstration in Noble Square on June 6. The racially and ethnically diverse crowd, overwhelmingly masked, fills two pages. Two signs are prominent: one reads, “NO ONE SHOULD HAVE TO TEACH THEIR KIDS HOW TO NOT GET MURDERED” and the other, “BLACK LIVES MATTER.” And there in the middle of everything is a tall, white dude, raising his fist—and wearing a Cubs hat. Demonstrations are serious business. Trying to right the wrongs of society is difficult work. That’s always been true. Also true is that idealism breeds happiness. It’s a jubilant experience to find an outlet for all the many emotions that injustice breeds—and to find a community of many others who share your ideals and willingness to take to the streets. At the root of Chicago Protests is a euphoria, best expressed in Jordan’s image of 19-year-old Jermaine Wright dancing during a rally in the Homan Square neighborhood on July 24. It is a revolutionary image—an image of joyful revolution.
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Patrick T. Reardon

Patrick T. Reardon is a Chicago historian, essayist, poet and writer who was a Chicago Tribune reporter for 32 years. He is the author of nine books including the forthcoming The Loop: The ‘L’ Tracks That Shaped and Saved Chicago (SIU Press).