January 26, 2015
On Saturday a couple of weeks back, I went to see the movie Selma. It told me only one thing I had forgotten, that Malcolm X had visited Selma, and talked with Coretta, but did not talk directly to Martin King, Junior. On the Monday after I saw the movie, Malcolm and Martin showed up at the “4 Mile March 4 Justice.”
In front of the Ferguson Police Station, the group paused to hear a speech, a poem and a song. One young black man spoke about many things. He said he was a father who did not want to raise his daughter in a world where she was 80% more likely to be shot during an encounter with the police than the average white American. I understood that completely.
He then testified to learning of King’s non-violence approach. He said that maybe this was the right way, and sometimes maybe not.
From my point of view this means this Saint Louis youth did not yet understand King’s approach. Even Gandhi said that if the choice was quiescence in the face of evil, or taking up violence to stop evil, violence was the better path. But non-violence is an absolute way of rejecting and countering the violence of oppressors with the power and courage and clarity of the ultimate truth. It is backed with what King called God. Non-violence depends upon a faith stance, that Love is the greatest power, and it bends the universe toward Justice. This abiding in Truth, gives the non-violent protestor strength and courage, and it leaves no room for maybe.
But this young man did not have that kind of faith, (I don’t know for sure if I do either) at least not yet. After this brief mention of King, the speaker said, “I have also studied the ideas of Malcolm X and Elijah Mohammed.” He said something positive about their ideas on black self-determination and self-defense. He spoke of standing against oppressors. I could not tell if he was promoting violence.
Then, his voice rose a little, insistent, addressing directly his black brothers and sisters. His exact words are lost to me now, but he said something like this: “If we are killing each other we are only helping our oppressors.” I understood that completely, even though it was a bit simplistic.
I can’t remember his exact words. Someone recorded them, but I can’t find that recording online. Perhaps I mis-understood, perhaps I got the flow of his ideas wrong. They did get my attention and got me thinking, even if I did not understand him completely.
That afternoon, as the air cooled and the sun slid low in the sky, I was happy to hear that Malcolm were carrying on the dialogue they never really had when they were alive. There they were, in the minds of those who follow after them.
January 22, 2015
I took a walk with a couple of hundred people on Monday (including a few members of my congregation and Unitarian Universalists from other parts of Saint Louis). There were other marches that day in other parts of the city, but I chose to go back to Ferguson proper. I had not seen the streets of that town for well over two months.
After an opening speech and prayer we walked the 4 and 1/2 miles from the Canfield apartments to the Ferguson Police station. We listened to a poet and a speech and sang a song, then walked back, chanting all the way.
I smile whenever someone sings out “Show me what democracy looks like” and the people respond with “This is what democracy looks like.” Democracy is messy and can entail some yelling and protesting. Marches alone are not democracy, but they can be part of the processes we value so dearly.
Of the new chants my favorite chant was this one:
“It is our duty to fight for our freedom.
It is our duty to win.
We must love each other
and protect each other.
We have nothing to lose but our chains.”
Some people had this on the back of T-shirts with “I learned this from Assata” on the front. But when we asked one woman about that she did not seem to know what it meant. So I did a little internet research. I discovered that these words are from a radical American activist, now exiled in Cuba – Assata Shakur. She says she was shot, unarmed, by the police and framed for the murder of an officer. They say she killed the officer in a shoot-out. She escaped from jail and fled to Cuba, and thinks of herself as an escaped slave.
I still like the words, but with some ambivalence about agenda, or agendas, that they may, or not, hide. Victory against spiritual powers, and principalities in the name of inclusive worth and justice is not the same as victory over persons of flesh and blood. But, ambivalence is not a bad thing. Clarity is not always possible. The whole Civil Rights movement is often like that: excellent, and edgy, importantly good and the cause of suffering, all together.
All-in-all, this walk was a meaningful way to spend a warm afternoon.