While waiting for the grand jury decision regarding Darren Wilson, protesters from around the United States and abroad met in Ferguson and the surrounding area to start training in peaceful demonstration tactics. Groups gather in churches and other public spaces in regularly scheduled meetings.
While training a group of 100 people who met in a hall in St. Louis, Michael McPhearson, co-chair of the Don’t Shoot Coalition, explained, “We as a community of people, we aren’t going to use violent power. We’re going to use people power, to change things.”
Strategies taught include how to protest peacefully while maintaining safety for all involved. McPhearson aligned with Julia Ho, a community organizer for Missourians Organizing for Reform and Empowerment, to hold other meetings around the area. In addition to the St. Louis gathering, another meeting occurs on Saturdays at Greater St. Mark Missionary Baptist Church in Ferguson.
Activists learn how to counteract pepper spray and receive instruction in dressing for the cold weather, as protests are expected to continue into the night. Gas masks and goggles are also recommended by organizers and they provide online instructions on making temporary gas masks. The American Civil Liberties Union submitted an application to allow Ferguson protesters trained in peaceful demonstration techniques to record behavior of police and citizens in case of future lawsuits.
Meetings attract potential protesters not only from the St. Louis area but also from Boston, Arizona, California, and even Canada. Organizers notice diverse backgrounds and each meeting starts with participants introducing themselves.
Activists involved in previous movements find the training sessions helpful and encouraging. Jane Archey, a 60-year-old community activist involved in the training, teaches the history of protests. She also enjoys learning the new angles of protesting including the use of technology and reporting police misconduct. A younger protester, Lauren Ratcliff, participated in earlier Ferguson protests and finds the meeting attendance refreshing.
“This is legitimately the start of a larger movement, and everyone feels that,” stated Ratcliff. “And the world is watching.”
Government officials feel the tension of the impending grand jury decision, which may be released as soon as Monday. Governor Jay Nixon proclaims support for law enforcement and the willingness to activate the National Guard, if necessary.
Police, in response to the governor’s proclamation that violence will not be tolerated, invested in their own training. More than 5,000 specialized hours emphasize instruction in protesters’ constitutional rights, civil disobedience, unlawful assembly, failure to disburse, and riot training. Each officer will be required to carry a laminated card stating the first, fourth, and 14th amendments of the Constitution.
Ferguson protesters are encouraged not to forget their humanity. Regarding the police, one instructor stated, “The number one weapon of the police is fear.” She continued by offering tips to keep activists feeling strong. Using the acronym HALTS, she advises: H for hunger so do not forget to eat, A for anger and how to manage it, L for loneliness so make connections, and T for tired and remembering to rest. Taking these steps is necessary, she explained, to stay mentally and physically strong throughout the demonstrations.
As court developments continue and protesters train in demonstrating peacefully, one participants reminds others what will get the Ferguson community through this difficult time. An unidentified woman who declined wearing a gas mask during the expected demonstrations explained, “We really want to invite the police to be at their best. The end game isn’t to make relationships worse, but to build relationships.”
By Jocelyn S. Mackie
Photo by SocialJusticeSeeker812 – Flickr License