the Ferguson Uprising was unfolding, just about two years ago, I sent
out a plea through social media and allies for people across the
country NOT to come to town. This was done for a host of reasons from
trying to give our community space to heal from a traumatic murder to
the need to build infrastructure to sustain the righteous protests
and to work on strategy. I urged people to stay home and build
organization in their respective communities because a similar
incident of police violence was coming to a neighborhood near them,
to start the necessary preparations.
every time a black body is mowed down by a police, and an ensuing
groundswell of protest happens, someone reminds me of my words.
There’s an unfortunate tendency that has developed where we
spent a lot of time and resources running from city to city. Protests
have become the strategy and not a tactic; they have become the
destination and not the vehicle to the destination. I think this is a
dangerous precedent for the movement to protect and respect Black
New York Times recently published an article on responses to the
latest police shootings with a headline of “At Least 88 Cities
Have Had Protests in the Past 13 Days Over Killings of Blacks.”
The article goes on to say that there have been about 112 reported
protests since July 5. Tens of thousands of people have been in the
streets—to what end?
also hearing rumblings about power struggles on the ground over media
attention and money. People are parachuting into these cities and
becoming media spokespersons instead of deferring to the folks who
live in the community. There’s still resentment in Ferguson/St.
Louis about opportunists who dropped in, bringing little to the table
but who took away a whole lot (for themselves).
are we doing with the widespread outrage to the assault on black
bodies? How can we turn the energy from protests into organizing
potential that brings some real relief to our people and
transformational change to our communities?
1857, Frederick Douglass attempted to give some sound advice to Black
people during the Abolitionist Movement. We all probably know the one
famous sentence “Power concedes nothing without a demand.”
that famous speech in Canandaiqua, New York, covered a number of
contradictions in the movement at that time. There are some nuggets
of wisdom that our contemporary movement can learn from.
talked about the struggle being “exciting, agitating,
all-absorbing” but warned that we had to take that struggle
further. He said that we “want crops without plowing up the
ground.” Fast forward—we want protests without organizing
to actualize our demands.
Missouri at the Moral Monday action in the State Capitol, one of the
speakers put forward a challenge: No more vigils without action. I
agree. Holding “exciting, agitating, all-absorbing”
protests without moving people to build power and develop leaders
will undermine our movement over time. People with busy lives aren’t
going to keep responding to protest without seeing how those actions
will ultimately lead to changing their material conditions.
masses of our people are hurting, they’re suffering but they’re
ready to fight back. They are looking for guidance and direction from
seasoned organizers in this period full of organizing opportunities.
It’s time for our movement to step up with a heap more of
sophistication based upon organizing lesson learned from the past.
concedes nothing without a demand. And a demand is lifeless without
an organizing strategy to bring it alive.