This summer, Marquis Palmer ’18 is exploring conceptual frameworks with the potential to contribute to the recent #BlackLivesMatter movement, focusing primarily on an unexpected and popularly misunderstood school of thought —anarchism.
Palmer’s research consists of a preliminary critical study of anarchist theories and philosophy, followed by a comparative analysis of several anarchist-oriented movements and the #BlackLivesMatter movement aimed at finding parallels in organizational structure and social action methodology.
“I’m also looking at the role that anarchist organizations have played within the (#BlackLivesMatter) movement,” he said, adding that he wishes to discover the implications of anarchist models of justice on the 21st century’s struggle for racial justice more broadly.
Palmer, a philosophy major with a minor in English, says that his interest in anarchist movements began in the wake of the controversial 2013 ruling regarding the shooting of Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman.
A rising senior in high school at the time, Palmer claims that he was profoundly disturbed by verdict, which absolved Zimmerman of culpability in the killing. “This unjust ruling shook me up,” he said. “So I organized a protest for those who felt similarly, those who knew that Trayvon’s innocent life was unjustly robbed by a vicious system of hatred.”
A week before the event, several local anarchists — though not known to Palmer as such at the time — lent their support by donating picket signs and sharpies to the soon-to-be demonstrators.
“When they delivered the supplies, I asked them why they wanted to help me,” explained Palmer. “And they nonchalantly replied, ‘Because we’re anarchists. This is what we do.’ Ever since, I’ve been interested in studying anarchism.”
To Palmer, this initial exposure to anarchist philosophies shattered what he believes to be an all-too-common misperception that anarchism is defined by traits of chaos, violence and destruction.
In fact, he claims that further research has taught him that anarchism at its philosophical core fundamentally rejects both chaos and violence, and that a more accurate popular understanding of the school of thought might benefit society greatly.
This interest is not merely academic. Palmer says that this project was born out of a very real societal need for alternative solutions and ways of thinking.
“Being a black male,” he said, “especially during a time at which the deaths of innocent black people and violence inflicted on our bodies seems insurmountable, I’m forced to engage this pressing issue in a very serious way.”
However, the avenue by which to effect change was not immediately apparent to Palmer. After considering the past successes of anarchist models of justice, he decided to explore the intersection and interactions between anarchist movements and the #BlackLivesMatter movement, hoping to contribute his thoughts on unorthodox organizational forms and theories that may help forward the current debate.
With its mixture of philosophy and social justice this project falls in line with Palmer’s professional aspirations of a career in law or community organizing.
“I like to do as much social justice work as I possibly can,” he said, adding that though the future direction of this research is unsure, he is confident that it will prove profitable. “I’m not sure what I will find... As I continue in my research, prospects seem more obscure. No matter how this project ends up, I think it’ll definitely show me, and hopefully other people, different ways in which we can positively contribute to the #BlackLivesMatter movement.”