Today marks 75 days since the death of Mike Brown. 75 Days of protest. 75 days of freedom for Darren Wilson. 75 days that justice has been blind to Blackness. 75 days of pain.
As we near a decision from the Grand Jury, all indications lead to a non-indictment. There have been several leaks that have made this apparent– first, Darren Wilson’s account of the killing and then, just last night, reporter Christine Byers was able to secure a copy of an official police report detailing information from the first autopsy. Remember, she is the same reporter that once said that more than a dozen witnesses corroborated Darren Wilson’s version of the story. We see through this coordinated campaign to smear Mike Brown’s name and we are prepared to soldier on, no matter what the Grand Jury comes back with.
That’s because for 75 days, the movement has matured.
The power of the movement which has largely come to be known as “Ferguson” is that it started because regular people—young people—armed with smartphones and frustration, came outside their homes and said “Enough is enough.” In those initial days, we learned about Mike Brown’s death and the police’s response to the manifestation of a community’s pain through Antonio French’s vines, Brittany Noble’s Instagram videos, and the tweets of Tef Poe and Netta Elzie.
There was a time when a movement would have required the gloss or veneer of an established activist group to gain traction. Ferguson disrupts this notion that organized struggle requires an organization. Ferguson showed us that there is a way to respect the autonomy of individual actors while maintaining a uniformity of purpose.
Over this two-and-a-half month period, the maturity of the movement can be found in the order and structure of the protest community, in the symbolism of the protest actions, and in the ability of protestors to listen and collaborate with each other in the name of the work.
In August, protesting was about using our bodies and our voices to tell the political power of Ferguson and Missouri that they cannot kill black children without consequence. We ran from tear gas, rubber bullets, LRAD, and smoke bombs. In some ways, we were even protesting for the right to protest, as we then lived under the police’s 5 second rule, which was later deemed unconstitutional.
This early version of the movement found West Florissant Avenue, the street where Mike Brown took his final walk before heading to Canfield, as the hub of our activity. By September, protest had become firmly planted across from the Ferguson Police Department. Although there had always been protestors there, in September the Department became the focus and center of resistance. The PD lot protests differ from West Florissant in that the space is narrower and the target of the protest is always present. Grounding the lot as the core protest site made a new, tighter community of protestors emerge. In addition to traditional protest activities of marching, chanting, and civil disobedience, the lot frequently has arts and crafts for kids, chess/checkers, music, and food. In many ways, the community formed at the PD lot solidified the spirit of sustained protest in the movement.
On West Florissant, we marched in circles and were technically only allowed to stand still in one isolated space. But at the PD lot, we could meet and strategize. For the first time, there existed a space that served both as protest site and communications hub.
This is organized struggle. There’s an acknowledgement that everyone has a role to play. The systems and structures created in September, fueled by the righteous indignation of August and passion of West Florrisant, laid the foundation for the power of October.
By October, the protest community became both highly organized, as actual organizations began to form and solidify, and more thoughtful and conscious about the symbolism and intent of protest actions. Whether invoking Assata Shakur’s, “We have nothing to lose but our chains,” or Dr. King’s, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,” the protest community actively began to shift to speak to larger narratives of social justice, while situating Ferguson as the site of resistance. In October, the number and visibility of live-streamers grew and became a core part of the movement. The chants became more deeply ingrained and more complex. And, importantly, the protest actions began to spread both in style and location.
The powerful clergy protest during the #FergusonOctober mobilization was but one of the weekend’s events. We sat in at a QuickTrip gas station, as a nod to the one on West Florrisant, which served as an original meet-up for protestors. The police responded quickly and violently to this protest. There was also a protest at a St. Louis Rams game, a City Hall rally, the occupation of three Walmarts and rallies at two shopping malls. We mobilized two large groups, over 1,500 in total, for #OccupySLU, where we engaged the St. Louis University community in our efforts. One group shut down an intersection while playing childhood games, chanting, “They think it’s a game, they think we playin!” Meanwhile, the other marched straight toward campus. The police didn’t know what to do with us then. #Occupy SLU serves as one of the most powerful nights of protest, both for the intense sense of community that happened that night and because protestors took the offensive, building new spaces for ourselves and occupying SLU for the following days.
For the past 75 days, we have been tracking every story, every fact, every leak. We see through the media spin, the untruths and the distractions. We stand firm in our demand for justice.
The movement has matured. The movement lives.
DeRay Mckesson is an activist, organizer and educator committed to issues related to children, youth and family work in urban America.