Rosemary Rivera’s Messages from Ferguson, MO – Day 2

Day 2 – What do we want?

There are two groups that are doing some of the real organizing in Ferguson, Missouri.  Organizing for Black Struggle and Lost Voices.

This morning, I went to meet the Lost Voices.  They have been camping out since the shooting, Occupy style.  They have continued to protest and march daily when others have gone home  The group is comprised of all black youth ranging in ages from maybe 17 to young adults.  This is the story of how they formed from a young girl in the group when I asked how they came together:

We were marching almost daily when we found ourselves connecting to each other and looking for one another whenever there was a march.  When they had a general assembly, we decided to just stay long after everyone was gone.  That night we spent the entire night just talking.  Getting to know each other and just talking about how messed up this was.  At the end of the night we decided to put together a group and do something about the situation.  That’s when Lost Voices was formed.

These youth are the real deal.  They are street, they are raw and they aren’t conforming to mainstream society’s ideal of how a black youth should come across.  These are the youth who would be dismissed by most adults, and the beauty is to know that they have begun a metamorphosis that is transforming them as they become politicized by the moment they are living in.

But, their challenges are significant.  Resources, need for organizational development, and the need to create a structure while figuring out who they can trust is huge.  One of the group leaders pulled no punches when he said to me, “I think we just got played”  Basically, someone raised money on behalf of Lost Voices, but they are unclear as to where that money went, and if they are Lost Voices, why they don’t have a seat at the decision making table about how to spend the money.  The young man let me know in no uncertain terms that they need help to figure out what they are building.

Now, let’s turn to OBS (Organizing for Black Struggle).  This is a really great group of phenomenal young leaders.  This is definitely a more experienced group who thinks strategically and understand the need to build organizational power.  We held a meeting tonight to decide on an action and did a somewhat abbreviated strategy chart on the tactic.  This group is also struggling with what they are building with the impatience of youth coming through.  Their biggest complaint is that the more time they spend holed up in these meetings, the less time they are with the people themselves.  If you ask me, they make a really good point with that.

The two groups have something in common though: each group is faced with the challenge of articulating to the world what they want.  If we think back to the Occupy movement, this seemed to be their challenge as well.  Although the Occupy movement was able to coin the 99% phrase and change the frame of the debate at the time, the reality was that every person in the Occupy movement would describe what they wanted to achieve differently.  The same is true in Ferguson.

They want the District Attorney, McCullough to step down, they want to end bench warrants for non-violent offenses, they want…what exactly do they want?  Each person is on a different page.  Oh, yes, in general they all want racial equity and justice for Mike Brown, but what each short term step is to get to those broader goals is laced with uncertainty, cynicism, and fear.  If these groups can’t deliver a victory, no matter how small, there is a real threat that the next time someone comes knocking on the door and says, “Together we can change x, y, z, “ they may very well get the door slammed in their face.

Rosemary Rivera
Citizen Action of New York &
Public Policy and Education Fund of New York
Organizing Director

2 thoughts on “Rosemary Rivera’s Messages from Ferguson, MO – Day 2

  1. Great report back. Thanks so much for going. Your writing makes me hear and feel what this community is going through as they struggle to move ahead, but how and according to what people? So much has not happened in fifty years.

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