REFLECTION: There is a Ferguson near you

Tom Cordaroby Tom Cordaro
Pax Christi USA Ambassador of Peace

I had the privilege of participating in the “Weekend of Resistance” called by the Organization for Black Struggle (OBS) as part of their on-going two month public protest of the police killing of the unarmed African-American high school graduate, Michael Brown.  I joined with nearly a thousand other people from all over the Midwest on a march and rally in downtown St. Louis on Saturday, October 11th.

The Organization for Black Struggle (http://obs-onthemove.org/ ) was founded in 1980 by activists, students, union organizers and other community members in order to fill a vacuum left by the assaults on the Black Power Movement. THEIR VISION: To contribute to the creation of a society free of all forms of exploitation and oppression. THEIR MISSION: To build a movement that fights for political empowerment, economic justice and the cultural dignity of the African-American community, especially the Black working class. THEIR PROGRAM: is based upon the Black Freedom Agenda that was introduced at the founding of the Black Radical Congress in 1998 and ratified in 1999.

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Included in their freedom agenda is a commitment to fight for the human rights of Black people and all people; to fight against state terrorism, to abolish police brutality, unwarranted incarceration and the death penalty; to fight for political democracy, gender equality and to insure that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people are recognized and respected as full and equal members of society, and of our communities. They are committed to the struggle for a clean and healthy environment; to building multi-cultural solidarity and alliances among all people of color and to support the liberation struggles of all oppressed peoples.

Many participants expressed their distrust of the legal proceedings in the Michael Brown case because of the lack of transparency; the perceived bias of the prosecutor in this case; and the racial make-up of the grand jury deciding if charges should be brought against the police officer that shot Michael (9 whites and 3 blacks).

Beyond the particulars of this case the OBS and their supporters point to the institutional and systemic forces that have kept people of color in Ferguson and communities of color across the country in a constant state of siege by a criminal justice system that treats them all as criminals; in a perpetual state of disenfranchisement by a political establishment that treats them as second class citizens; and in a permanent state of poverty by an economic system that has designated them as an expendable underclass.

This gathering was one the most racially diverse events I have ever participated in. Two-thirds of the participants were people of color; Black, Latino, Asian, Arab and South Asian. One-third of the participants were white. This was also one of the most youthful demonstrations I have ever attended (I estimate that over 60% of participants were under 35). The march was led by young people and most of the speakers were young people – including teens.

There was a strong showing from labor organizations, student groups, community organizing groups and faith communities. (However, there was no organized Catholic presence at the march.) I did find a few Pax Christi members; John Powell, a member from Ferguson and Heather Brouillet Navarro, a Pax Christi National Council member from St. Louis. I also had the great pleasure of meeting with members of the Kabat House St. Louis Catholic Worker Community who were planning to take part in the direction action the following Monday.

There was an amazing energy during the event. People were determined, focused and committed. People were militant yet joyful; they were disciplined yet spontaneous. Everyone understood what was at stake. This was no extra-circular activity. The people gathered at this event were not there merely to support a cause or to draw attention to an “issue.” They were not interested in building their activist resume. The people at this gathering understood that their survival was at stake; as individuals and as a people.

The situation in Ferguson is not unique to St. Louis County. It is a predominant feature of our entire society. Black and brown skin have been criminalized in our culture, within our criminal justice system, our educational system, our political system, our economic system and in the hearts and minds most people across the country. Whether white people realize it or not, there is a “Ferguson” near us. It is an invisible and unaccountable system of racial control that is every bit as deadly and disenfranchising as Jim Crow.

As a young man familiar with the history of the civil rights movement I used to imagine that if I had been older I would have answered Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s call to religious leaders to come to Selma in 1965 to join in the great struggle. Now at 60-years-old I see that 1965 invitation from Dr. King just as relevant today in the call to come to Ferguson. And more importantly I see the importance of joining in the struggle for human liberation in the “Ferguson” outside my door.

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