Defending the Dream in Ferguson: Vest or Vote dream vest

In 1964, Malcolm X announced it was the year of The Ballot or the Bullet. Fifty years later, today’s youth resurrect his movement from Ferguson to Florida.

“The Dream Vest provides safety for children with high productions of melanin in protection from unwarranted state violence on civilians!”

The Dream Defenders, a social justice organization founded in Florida, posted this ad to promote their #VestOrVote initiative, which targets police violence while driving voter registration in underrepresented communities. There can never be enough emphasis on civic engagement during a time when so many states are instituting voting rights restrictions that effectively disenfranchises thousands.

The ad speaks to a sobering reality: Black lives are so cut down by state sanctioned violence so frequently that the idea of wearing a bulletproof vest isn’t as crazy as it may seem.



This weekend, thousands of people took to the streets Greater St. Louis as part of the highly organized Ferguson October mobilization. It has been over two months since 18-year-old Mike Brown was killed by a White police officer and his death has since been a catalyst for change across the nation in the face of unchecked police brutality. Ferguson and surrounding areas have remained in a consistent state of unrest as community members commit to “no peace” until their demands are met.

Grey’s Anatomy actor and former public high school teacher, Jesse Williams visited #FergusonOctober to engage the community in solutions. Williams was recently named “this generation’s Harry Belafonte” by the Washington Post for being eloquently outspoken on the criminalization of black bodies and such victims as Mike Brown, Jordan Davis, and Trayvon Martin.

 

 

Civil Rights activist, philosopher, and academic Cornel West was also in St. Louis this weekend, delivering a powerful message at an interfaith service held on Sunday, October 12. Dr. West and 49 others were arrested in Ferguson the following day during a clergy-led protest at the Ferguson Police Department’s headquarters.  He kept a promise made while speaking at the service, “I didn’t come here to give this speech,” he said, “I came here to go to jail.”

This Instagram video was taken moments before Dr. West was arrested.

 

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The moment @cornelwest got arrested… ##FergusonPd

View on Instagram

 

The convergence of “New school” and “old school” activists in St. Louis speaks to an interesting dynamic that is illuminated in the Dream Defenders’ campaign. #VestorVote seemingly draws inspiration from Malcolm X’s 1964 speech “The Ballot or the Bullet,” in which Malcolm delivers potent rhetoric calling for Blacks to utilize their democratic power and cast votes for politicians who are commit to social change in their communities.

“This is why I say it’s the ballot or the bullet. It’s liberty or it’s death. It’s freedom for everybody or freedom for nobody. America today finds herself in a unique situation. Historically, revolutions are bloody. Oh, yes, they are. They haven’t never had a blood-less revolution, or a non-violent revolution. That doesn’t happen even in Hollywood. You don’t have a revolution in which you love your enemy, and you don’t have a revolution in which you are begging the system of exploitation to integrate you into it. Revolutions overturn systems. Revolutions destroy systems. A revolution is bloody, but America is in a unique position. She’s the only country in history in a position actually to become involved in a blood-less revolution.”

Though others have mischaracterized Malcolm X as hateful, most of our people understand that he simply believed that Black communities should have control over their own political fate. He was uncompromising in the face of injustice and literally laid his livelihood on the line for change. Today’s youth-led social change organizations such as the Ferguson-spawned Hands Up United and Millennial Activists United, as well as the Dream Defenders, Black Youth Project 100, and Million Hoodies stand on the shoulders of Malcolm’s leadership, employing social media and viral online campaigns to instantaneously and overwhelmingly illustrate injustices and demonstrations.

There was staged protest at the St. Louis Rams game on Monday evening, where young leaders from the St. Louis-based movement held up large banners during the second quarter, chanted, marched through the stadium, and eventually protested outside the game for hours:

 

 

Although de jure discrimination was mitigated with the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, we now experience de facto discrimination through stop and frisk polices, civil asset forfeiture, racial profiling, mass incarceration, and disenfranchisement. Today’s youth calls for a revolution as unjustifiable fear is ascribed to Black bodies to rationalize the lethal denial of our humanity.

 



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