Ferguson has endured days of protests followed by nights of civil unrest following the shooting death of 18-year-old Michael Brown by a police officer. These events have focused the nation’s attention not only on what has been happening in this small mostly African-American community, but also on tensions between police and communities of color and the militarization of police departments across the country. Is protesting the best strategy in 2014?
Let’s face it, this is not the 1960s when marching or protesting actually evoked change. During that time many Americans had come to the conclusion that the government had the power and the responsibility to protect them from unjust social forces. They used protests to pressure the courts, congress and the president to provide a solution to the injustices that plagued the nation.
The protesters of the 50s and 60s did not employ traditional methods of political activity. They did not vote for a political candidate and sit back hoping the person they elected would make good policies. Instead, they were more direct and opted for nonviolent civil tactics like public marches, rallies, petition drives, sit-ins and educating “coverts” on the cause at hand. They contributed their time, energy and passion towards a better society for everyone. In lieu of a different time people must ask themselves if a march of protesters is the best strategy to employ today.
This is in no way designed to negate the efforts of the angry residents and onlookers of the city of Ferguson. The anger and unrest surrounding the safety and future of young black men is quite understandable. St. Louis has long been one of the nation’s most segregated metropolitan areas where there remains an obvious division between black and white. Two-thirds of the citizens of Ferguson are African-American while 50 of the city’s 53 police officers are Caucasian. There exists a history of racial segregation and domineering law enforcement which has culminated in much of the tension which has recently spilled over into the streets.
It is more important than ever that the focus these efforts are shifted in the right direction and at the right time. When the protesting has concluded many will go back to their “regularly scheduled” lives only to resurface when the next tragedy hits. However, the process of invoking change must begin at the polls of a non-presidential election.
The African-American community showed up and showed off for the election of our first black president, but was nowhere to be found during local elections. Most have no idea of the community-based organizations that exists in their localities and have never been to a town hall meeting. This is where real change begins.
Too often within the African-American communities emotional moments like these fail to transition to actual movements. Such moments as the Sean Bell, Jena 6, Troy Davis and Trayvon Martin cases have now faded for many of the protestors because those who were moved by the tragedy did not have the tenacity of the protesters from the Civil Rights Movement.
The refusal to develop strategies lays the foundation for a hope based life and creates an incubator for excuses. Perhaps, the question of whether protesting is the right strategy in 2014 can only be answered in the weeks and months following the Ferguson outrage. The real challenge begins after the protests have ended. “Will protesters return to normalcy and await the next injustice or will they exert greater effort to be involved when decisions that affect the African-American community are being made?”
Opinion by: Cherese Jackson (Virginia)