Where Do We Go From Here?
Statement by the SNCC Legacy Project, Fall 2014

We make this statement as Movement activists in the 1960s southern Civil Rights movement. As young people, through our organization the Student Noviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) we organized around political and economic empowerment in Mississippi, Alabama, Southwest Georgia and Arkansas. We are conscious of the bloody price paid for the right to vote by Black communities across the South. Some of our friends and fellow activists also lost their lives in that struggle.

Our humanity as well as our history compels us to respond to events in Ferguson, Missouri. We have been enraged by both the murder of young, unarmed Michael Brown and by the biased process that followed. Now that the grand jury has refused to indict Officer Darren Wilson, the man who killed Brown, the African American residents of Ferguson and Black communities across America are confronted with the question, "Where do we go from here?"

Black America and many others rightly consider the killing of Michael Brown as reflecting a systemic problem that affects all Black youth, particularly males, in this country. For many Black people, Michael Brown or Trayvon Martin — or Emmett Till — could have been their son, their grandson, their nephew. For many in the White community, the killing of Michael Brown is a police matter limited to Ferguson that does not go beyond the two individuals involved: the police officer and the victim, Michael Brown.

Black and Brown communities experience a set of problems that are neither seen nor understood by those in power. Therefore, it is important that we re- energize our organizing to put an end to police violence against our youth, put an end to inequities in education, address the cradle-to-prison pipeline, and put an end to the harsh and unfair prison sentences given to Black and Brown people, as compared to Whites charged with the same criminal offenses.

As we've seen throughout our history, Black and Brown communities have gained most by moving toward organizing for the power to control or influence the political process that controls their lives. While protest often speaks truth to power it is of little effect when those in power intentionally maintain the inequities of opportunity that exist in powerless communities.

What we see as the problem, those in power, in many cases, see as the solution. When, for example, a racial incident like Ferguson occurs, those in power, suggest we have a conversation. But the proposed conversation is almost always an effort aimed at restoring the current order, the status quo. However, what is considered order and the solution in one community is seen as the problem in the other. It is past time, we are certain, for community leaders to define for themselves what the problem is and to empower community actions that lead to meaningful solutions. Take the lead, we say. We cannot ask those who are responsible for our oppression to provide solutions.

In Ferguson, where the population is 67% Black, there are solutions that are much more effective than protesting alone While violent protests are often the focus of media, they do nothing to help to end the daily violence that will return to Black communities after the throwing of bricks, shooting of guns, or the setting of fires. In fact, the explosive reactions to the unjust treatment of Black youth will only create a justification by those in power to engage in a greater use of force in the future.

It should be obvious that the leadership of the Black community must use every tool available — both inside and outside the traditional political arena — to end the violence against our youth. The leadership cannot limit themselves to reacting with protest to high profile acts of violence or to provocative racial statements. They must organize on the ground every day with the aim of empowering the Black community to become the mayors, police chiefs, the sheriff, the governors, the school board members and superintendents, the prosecutors, the business leaders, tax assessors, and any other positions that will enable our communities to make the decisions that govern our lives.

This may not sound "revolutionary." But it is critical and doable. It is possible right now to announce in Ferguson that after the next municipal election that the current mayor and current city council will no longer hold their offices. The numbers are there, but if the reported 6 percent turnout in the last municipal elections is true, the organization is not there. It needs to be and we think that this is a grassroots organizing mission that needs to be taken on right away.

The responsibility to change the government in Ferguson, or course, resides with the residents of Ferguson. They have that power, as many there already understand. We, drawing on our own experiences however, suggest the following:

FIRST, the Black leadership and their allies should have as a goal "regime change" in Ferguson. Every elected official now in office should be turned out of office when the next municipal election is held.

SECOND, the Black leadership of Ferguson should undertake an intense leadership development program with the goal of replacing all those public officials who are responsible for the town's governance and administration. An essential part of this program would emphasize the continuing role of citizens to monitor and influence those politicians after they are elected, to insure that they remain accountable to the communities that elected them.

THIRD, after the new administration assumes office, it should do whatever is legally possible to structure a police force that is responsive to the needs and concerns of Black and Brown communities. And lest we been accused of suggesting some sort of black-only approach to government, let us be clear that we think that a government responsive to those who have not been represented benefits everyone. Every police officer on the present force would be fired and they would have to reapply for their previous position. This process would open up at least 30 to 35 positions on the police force.

FOURTH, the state or federal governments should immediately develop a special police training course over the next six months for those who are allowed to remain on the force and for new recruits.

FIFTH, the new mayor should make the hiring and training of Black youth, for a variety of positions, a priority. As we know, when you control political power, the private sector is more willing to listen.

As activists who worked in the southern Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, we understand that ultimately responsibility for organizing to end the inequities in Ferguson is in the hands of those who are most brutalized by the present elected officials.

The vote, it is worth repeatingand in more places than this statementis potentially our most effective political weapon. But we have to use it effectively, strategically. The African American community, with communities who have the same interests, must vote in a consistent block to support politicians who will develop policies to end police violence, school-to-prison pipeline, and unequal and unfair treatment in the justice system. The building of a voting power block is tedious and time-consuming work. However, here in the United States, it is the only instrument that those who hold political power fear and respect for people they prefer to ignore.

Education, too, must be our passion. In order for African American youth to succeed in the new information economy, the community must fight for a quality education focused on STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math). Going forward, the African American community must focus more on day-to-day actions to develop political and economic power.

Not every problem in Ferguson or the United States will be solved by taking these steps. But organizing at this level puts us on the path to gaining the power to seriously challenge and demolish the inequities that today affect the lives of so many.

Copyright © SLP 2014


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