Seeing the resistance and the outcry in Ferguson after the murder of Mike Brown by police state was overwhelming for me. I made the decision to support Ferguson from Chicago in every possible way until we received the call to travel there as part of a nationwide mass mobilization called Ferguson October.
I made my trip to Ferguson on the weekend of October 11th to meet fellow Chicago organizers. Most of the events were scheduled in St. Louis. I arrived at an event called “Hip Hop Summit and Justice,” attended by socially conscious hip-hop artists such as the legendary Talib Kweli, Dead Prez, Jasiri X, Rebel Diaz and many more. They rallied the crowd through music, demanding justice for Mike Brown and for other black lives who have been taken by the system. Powerful activist and writer Cornel West made a brief guest appearance during the show.
Later that evening, we joined the masses for an event at St. Louis University with faith leaders, community organizers, Palestine solidarity activists, and West himself.
The program was going according to plan until NAACP President Cornell William Brooks took the podium. The crowd was not happy with his presence and his speech. They interrupted him pretty quickly; some were yelling and saying that they did not need “Uncle Tom`s organization.” He was booed for the entire time duration of his speech. They were upset because Brooks once called Ferguson protesters thugs. It was clear what NAACP stands for — not just with Ferguson — but overall with the new black movement.
As I watched this interesting evening, things were getting even stranger but in a positive way. There were numerous youth members who wanted to speak rather than listen to the same old routine talk by veteran organizers. They were yelling vehemently and asking where Brooks was while they were tear gassed by the Ferguson police. The crowd exploded from that moment on, and they were cheering and demanding that the youth be heard.
Youth organizers took the main stage and they spoke the truth without holding back. Their message was very clear: this was their movement and they were leading that movement. Others can support but not dictate or and trying to take control. It turned out to be a powerful event and they let Cornel West talk. He kept his talk very brief and his message was in line with the youths, and he got accolades after saying that he came to Ferguson not just to give speech only but also to get arrested in order to support the movement and the people.
Tef Poe summed it up perfectly when he told the crowd, that he did not care how it looked. He said, “This ain’t made for TV. This ain’t your daddy’s Civil Rights Movement.”
After a short break, we gathered at Vonderrit Myers’ memorial late Sunday night. It was filled with stuffed animals and dedications for Myers written by many people. Being there was a very emotional experience. I couldn’t help thinking this young man was alive not too long ago and taken away from his family by the same structure that took away Mike Brown. His mother was also there and gave a heart wrenching speech.
After that, we followed the organizers and their plans for the evening with a late march to the St. Louis University campus with 1000 participants. However, we got blocked by the riot police on the bridge for half an hour. They tried some intimidation tactics such as hitting their batons on the ground and spraying some sort of chemical into the air (possibly pepper spray).
After the police decided to let people go, a large group of students from Saint Louis University joined the march. Cornel West made a brief appearance as well. We ended up occupying the Grove at the heart of Saint Louis University till late morning with multiple speak out sessions and, luckily, no arrests.
The next day, I headed back to Ferguson to document the planned civil disobedience in front of Ferguson police station as part of a #FergusonOctober and Moral Monday demonstration. Multiple faith leaders from various religious organizsations including Cornel West got arrested for demanding justice under a sobering, heavy rain.
There was so much to take from this weekend of action in honor of Mike Brown and Vonderrit Myers. All #BlackLivesMatter. A movement was born and these powerful youths are about to change history by demanding much needed justice.
So which side are you on?
Union Station, Chicago
Once I heard that there would be another #BlackLivesMatter protest on December 6, I was excited to join and help document the messages of the organizers. This action was organized by youth of color and they chose the Union Station’s main lobby as the location. I personally think they picked a great spot and their timing was impeccable with the approach of the holiday season. I knew in my heart this was going to be another creative and edgy direct action.
The action kicked off at 4:30 and, of course, Union Station was full of holiday travelers and commuters on their way to home from work. It was beautiful: the youth organizers did an incredible job of amplifying their message and keeping the upbeat atmosphere. I saw so many travelers who were impressed and they were taking pictures and showing their support.
Their chants were powerful and to, name a few, they read lines by revolutionary activist Assata Shakur. They did a speak out and shared powerful views about what should be done to move forward.
One of the lines which got my attention was from a youth speaker: “If you’re truly good a cop, you have to show it with your actions.”
Another quote that caught my attention was, “Everyone’s lives matter but look at the scorecard.”
Protesters did a 4.5 minute die in to honor Mike Brown and all the other black lives taken away by the police.
Before closing the action, one of the speakers urged everyone to continue to organize and participate. Then another youth activist named Ethos led us in chanting “I believe that we can win” in a truly energizing style.
Last thing I would like to report was the heavy police presence and how they continued to monitor us with their oppressive tactics. They stopped a reporter who happened to interview a demonstrator by forcing him into a designated press area for the interview. They also tried to agitate those citizen journalists like myself who were reporting on the action.
Another thing caught my attention was how CPD started to ask for tickets before anyone even approached the gates. They wanted to avoid any possible shutdown of anything in the station so they sent out an enormous number of officers. It’s unusual and they clearly wanted to make travel difficult for the passengers while putting blame on the protesters.
It’s clear, these actions are working. Let’s continue to organize.
Beyond Ferguson: A growing movement
It’s no longer just Ferguson and Mike Brown. We run into the same systematic police brutality and genocide of POC (People Of Color) throughout the United States. It shivers me to name just a few police murders like Tamir Rice in Cleveland and Eric Garner in NYC.
Unfortunately, I don’t have to go that far: we have seen the same epidemic in Chicago from Roshad McIntosh to Ronnie Johnson and many more. They were innocent, unarmed black youth who were taken away by CPD.
It’s not all dark and hopeless. We also have seen amazing organizing by the youth. Groups like We Charge Genocide who went to Geneva, Switzerland in order to charge the Chicago Police Department with torture and human rights violations at the United Nations.
They weren’t alone. Mike Brown’s family and trans-woman Monica James were also there to address the same violence in the United States. The WCG delegation was made up of 8 youth of color. WCG is a grassroots, intergenerational effort to center the voices and experience of the young people most targeted by police violence in Chicago. In the end, the United Nations agreed with the delegation about police violence especially towards people of color.
It’s critical to continue organizing within our communities. We have seen amazing nonviolent direct actions which are very creative and have forced many folks to open a dialog about issues of systemic racism. Youth-organized nonviolent actions turned Black Friday into Brown Friday and put a small dent in the capitalist system. More importantly, it changed the narrative. We have seen highways, major streets, and bridges shut down in order to show the world that there can be no more business as usual.
While these powerful actions are being organized, non-black allies and those with privilege must take a back seat. If you truly want justice and solidarity, then follow the lead of those most oppressed.
We are not about the indictment of a guilty cop; we are here to indict a system that lives on greed and destroys POC and other oppressed people. This is a unique time for all of us to unite. We can unite against the same forces and the diabolical system.
We have a great chance to beat them once for all, for a better future for our children.
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