The People Must Be Heard

Topos Partnership
4 min readJun 3, 2020


The uprising has been building for some time. To reclaim our democracy, the people must be heard.


“A riot is the language of the unheard.” Martin Luther King, The Other America

The unconscionable murder of George Floyd, quick on the heels of the vigilante murder of Ahmaud Arbery and the police killing of a sleeping Breonna Taylor, are creating an uprising of Americans seeking to be heard.

The people must be heard.

This uprising has been building for some time. In 2015, our hundreds of conversations with Americans pointed to a deep and troubling dynamic in the American culture, which we described as Americans feeling more like subjects of an elite ruling class than citizens of a true democracy. Across race, political party, socioeconomic status and so on, people shared with us their frustrations about political, corporate and media elites who serve their own interests, not the common good. Fully 82% told us they think of government as THE government, while just 18% think of it as OUR government. (Topos survey, Feb. 20-Mar. 2, 2015, n=825)

Imagine how much more desperate, frustrated and unheard Americans feel today, especially communities of color that have experienced generations of hostility and neglect?

The people must be heard.

In just the last few months, the country has been reeling from chaos, and instead of empathy, people are faced with a president who is more focused on his twitter account than their lives, and a Republican Party that has no solutions to offer other than cutting taxes on those who can afford them, and cutting services to those who cannot afford to go without them.

The events of recent months have made it crystal clear that people are not being heard:

A pandemic has killed over 100,000 Americans, with the elderly and communities of color disproportionately affected, and yet there is no sense that the President hears people’s cries or has any compassion for the fear and loss people are experiencing.

Unemployment is at Great Depression era levels, and instead of a serious national effort to take on the challenge of testing and tracing the virus so the economy can reopen safely, the Administration ignores its responsibility, leaving states handicapped to implement their own programs. Instead of providing adequate direct funding to allow people to survive, the Administration turns a deaf ear to people’s economic suffering, while funneling money to profitable corporations. Instead of valuing and protecting essential workers, health care workers go without protective gear, meat processing plant workers are exposed to dangerous conditions, grocery workers are forced to work or lose their job, and so on. These “essential” workers’ lives are treated as expendable.

The one way people typically feel they can be heard, voting, is increasingly suppressed, and rather than listen to people’s concerns, the Trump Administration is actively undermining vote by mail, openly saying it will hurt Republican chances at re-election.

And then, a population already struggling, scared, angry, and feeling unheard, sees a Black man having his voice, his breath, stolen from him. A uniformed public employee, in a perfect encapsulation of government oppression, ignores the pleas of bystanders and the desperate appeal of George Floyd begging for air.

Again and again, the pain is not acknowledged. The people must be heard.

So the people, led by Black Americans, are taking a step beyond voting, taking to the streets in protest to speak out about police violence and demand the people be heard.

Some are trying to change the narrative to focus on Law and Order and distract from listening to the people. The President even took the reprehensible step of using tear gas to clear a protest so he could walk from the White House for a photo op to hold a Bible aloft at St John’s Episcopal Church. He’s trying to silence the people.

NOW is the time to rise above these distractions and envision the country we want and need. Now is the time to demand a conversation on inequality, injustice, and brutality. Polls show that all Americans, including White Americans, understand that law enforcement treats Black people unfairly. Police brutality, especially against Black people, is widely understood as a serious problem. And yet, average Americans struggle to reimagine what is possible, which results at best in small, inadequate reforms that don’t challenge the underlying system — and just set the stage for the next outburst of outrage and frustration.

NOW is the time for deeper questions:

  • What will it take to create an inclusive America?
  • How can we-the-people reclaim our government and ensure our voices are heard?
  • How do we ensure every community thrives?
  • What role should policing have? Should it be a militaristic force as it has increasingly become, or should it “serve and protect”? How do we completely redesign it?
  • And so on.

We face headwinds in getting attention for these questions. The White House will clearly use the looters as an excuse for dominating militaristic intervention and to position Donald Trump as a “wartime President.” Unless we demand otherwise, the media will pounce on every hint of violence like catnip. Social media will seek to divide America further. Those who deploy the Law and Order frame will do their best to convince otherwise sympathetic Americans that society needs police violence and brutality to keep the agents of chaos and breakdown at bay.

We need to keep our narrative focused on one simple, organizing idea: The People Must Be Heard.



Topos Partnership

Founded in 2007, our mission is to explore the landscape of public understanding where social issues play out.