Ferguson, Missouri: An Organizing Perspective

 A message from MPA Organizing Director Kevin Simowitz:

Election season for an organization like ours is a time when we often focus exclusively on plans to knock doors and make calls, minimizing other issues and opportunities that might distract us from those goals. Still, some instances are so deeply felt, and so important to our lives and the world we talk about building as organizers, that we necessarily pause to reflect and remember. The killing of Mike Brown in Ferguson, Missouri is one of those moments.

There’s a tendency as misplaced as it is well-intentioned to move beyond catastrophe in operational mode, to reduce an event into component parts and ask ourselves how to deal with the manageable pieces on their own. In Ferguson, this means asking questions about a police force armed like an invading army and reliant upon oppressive fines on its most impoverished citizens to fund its operations.

Those questions are important, and they often reveal simply the surface layer of the deeply-rooted systems of oppression present since the nation’s founding. We suspect, and often we know, that further inquiry in any authentic manner is more layered than we feel we have the time for, too entrenched than we believe we have the energy to dislodge.

Watching the news unfold from Ferguson, the part of my brain that’s worked as a community organizer for a decade immediately begins to list issues to tackle and conversations to start, ways to build power with local communities, hold hearings on the Department of Defense selling weapons to municipal police officers and to institute a legal system where an armed officer of the law is held to a higher standard for firing a weapon with the intent of ending a life than anyone else.

I don’t think any of those endeavors are without merit, and I’m proud to stand in solidarity with organizers registering voters in Ferguson to elect a new city council and fighting back against police brutality, just as I’m proud to work towards racial justice here in Maine. But I also can’t stop thinking that what happened in Ferguson happens far, far too often across the country, and it never happens in my community. In a world of unknowns, I couldn’t feel more certain that if I’d been standing where Mike Brown was standing, with my hands up, begging a police officer not to shoot, I’d still be alive.
Our world and our movement continue to grow both deeper and wider, and our willingness at MPA to challenge and uproot fundamental injustice wherever it exists must do so as well. To settle for a simple next step might be to miss the point entirely, and as we continue our difficult work, we do it in memory of the lives lost, in community with our sisters and brothers, and in the hope that the long walk from where we are to where we hope to go is shortened by our work together.