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Ferguson October: Young Protesters Reject Message Delivered By Older Religious Leaders

Ferguson October, a series of events in St. Louis focused on discussing police violence and racial disparity, hit something of a crescendo on Sunday evening after an interfaith gathering at Saint Louis University’s Chaifetz Arena. The mass meeting, which was headlined by Dr. Cornel West, featured a number of religious and civil  leaders making speeches. As the gathering wore on, younger activists, who have been on the ground in Ferguson since an unarmed Michael Brown was shot by Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson over two months ago, started growing restless.

The feeling among many in the crowd was that many of these older speakers were spouting the same lines that they’ve heard hundreds of times before. Another issue that made some angry is that those on the stage had really not been in Ferguson or St. Louis over the past two+ months, while younger activists had been doing all the work and keeping the pressure on the government systems in the area. Eventually, Tef Poe, a local musician and activist, got on stage and took those who had been speaking to task for not showing up until now. At that point, others began yelling from the crowd, demanding answers from those on stage. Essentially, they wanted to know if the older ‘leaders’ had any plans for action, or if they were just there to be heard.



The one person most in the crowd did want to hear from, though, was West. After the program’s schedule had fallen apart, West was given the microphone and he delivered a searing speech that energized the crowd. Many of the activists in Ferguson have drawn inspiration from West’s writing and speeches and really wanted to hear what he had to say. While West is from an ‘older’ generation, he’s also seen as someone who isn’t afraid to buck trends and speak truth to power. West acknowledged that the older generations had failed the black youth of today when it comes to racial justice.

“The older generation has been too well adjusted to injustice to listen to the younger generation. The older generation has been too obsessed with being successful rather than being faithful to a cause that was zeroing in on the plight of the poor and working people. Thank God the awakening is setting in. And any time the awakening sets in it gets a little messy.”

West also spoke about access versus true participation and ownership within society. He claimed that many middle- and upper-class African-Americans have been subjugated with money and status. Therefore, they are intimidated and will not speak out about the injustices they and others of their race face on a daily basis, fearing that they will lose what they have achieved. West’s speech gave inspiration to the activists in the crowd and helped give them a little boost before the activities that followed.

After West was done speaking, people from the crowd headed out and most gathered in one of two places. Some joined other protesters at 4200 Shaw, which is where 18-year-old VonDerrit Myers, Jr. was shot and killed last Wednesday by an off-duty St. Louis police officer. Eventually, over 500 people showed up at the demonstration. Another group of protesters headed towards The Grove, a business and entertainment district in St. Louis. The demonstrators at The Grove marched through the street. Many decided to play games like jump rope and patty cake in the street, which was their statement on the seriousness of the protests, as they wanted to show what games really look like.

By 2 AM, the two separate groups marched and joined up at Saint Louis University. Both groups picked up additional demonstrators along the way. By the time they gathered at SLU, the crowd was well over one thousand and perhaps as large as two thousand. The protesters staged a sit-in on the campus and were joined by students who left their dormitories. While the mood was jubilant and passions were high, exhaustion finally started setting in for a large number of the protesters. After marching for miles and being up until the wee hours of the morning, many demonstrators began sleeping on the ground. By 4 AM, the crowd dwindled considerably, but there were still a handful of die-hards going. No arrests were made.

Monday is the last planned day of Ferguson October. Unlike the previous three days, Monday’s activities have been kept secret until just before they occur. They are calling it Moral Monday, linking it to the protests that have been held in North Carolina in response to voter discrimination laws and cuts in social programs. Instructions for the day will be sent via text message, email and social media shortly before they begin.


Image: St. Louis Public Radio

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