There is a shift occurring, and it is not a passing of the torch. Rather, it is a struggle between our mothers generation of civil rights activists, which posits that federal legislation is the answer to the problem of institutional racism, and a younger generation, which believes that the end of racism will only occur through consistent uprisings paired with direct actions and radical demands.
This tension was particularly clear at the Washington D.C. National March Against Police Violence.
Recent news that grand juries in Missouri and New York would not indict Ferguson and Staten Island police officers for their use of fatal violence against unarmed black Americans has been met with a flurry of reactions and actions by both groups.
The National Action Network and the family members of Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, John Crawford, Akai Gurley and Amadou Diallo, drummed up the ‘Justice for All’ rally on the morning of December 13, where high-profile champions of Rev. Al Sharpton’s agenda warmed the vocal cords of over 10,000 protesters at Freedom Plaza.
Around 12:30pm, “Hands Up, Don’t shoot!” and “I Can’t Breath!” rattled Pennsylvania Avenue as the crowed set forth, connecting the White House and Congress with a diverse stream of marching bodies. When the protest arrived in front of the Department of Justice, Rev. Sharpton imparted an all too familiar message.
“We’ve seen in Ferguson Missouri, we’ve seen in Staten Island, state grand juries which have suspended the right of due process. And we’ve come to Washington to call on this Congress and national government to do what was done before. We need national legislation and intervention to save us from state grand juries.”
However, community organizers in D.C. and Ferguson have had their boots on the ground for nearly 100 days in response to the shooting of Mike Brown. In response to both grand juries’ decision, and several community groups have staged consistent direct actions across Washington.
Between November 29 and December 1, protesters halted traffic in key downtown corridors and bridges. On December 2, a four and a half hour ‘die-in’ — the same length of time that Mike Brown was neglected after being shot — was staged at Kogan Plaza.
Civil and human rights organization, Hip Hop Caucus, organized ‘Voices of Grief and Struggle’ which provided a space for grieving mothers to share what actions they would like the D.C. community to take in response to police brutality. This public forum was followed by other grassroots talks at Shaw Library amongst activists on new agitation strategies.
On December 11, members of the Congressional Black Associates, Congressional Hispanic Staff Association and the Congressional Asian Pacific American Staff Association walked off the job and collected on the steps of Capitol with their hands raised in the air.
A Vigil for Justice took place on the cold evening of December 12. Staring at the White House, white bags illuminated with candles flanked the east side of 16th street for 10km as part of another demonstration for justice.
These local initiatives, among others, contributed to the massive mobilization of diverse DCer’s which attended the national march. However, the event intentionally excluded Ferguson and D.C. agitators from organizing and speaking at the event because of their ‘alternative’ approach and response to racist police violence.
“The Obama Administration has used a surrogate,” D.C. Hands-Up Coalition coordinator, Marsha Coleman-Adebayo, explains, “and the surrogate is obviously Reverend Al Sharpton, to help corral that kind of energy and those kinds of issues back into the political system, where those kinds of passions can die an unnatural death.”
Activist Johnetta Elzie from Ferguson, who has been steadfast in bolstering a revolutionary movement since the summer, attended the march to see who’s voices the National Action Network would elevate. When she tried to sit on the ledge of the stage where pre-rally speeches were taking place, she was prohibited on the grounds that she did not have a VIP pass.
“If this is a protest, why do you need to have a VIP pass?”
In anger over the National March’s exclusion of grassroots organizers, abolitionist Erika Totten confronted speakers at the rally and voiced the concerns of D.C. and Ferguson activists. Their efforts resulted in a handful of air-time minutes, however, these minutes could not deviate away from Sharpton’s liberal agenda.
A boycott of the December 13 event resulted, and the ‘HandsUpCoalitionDC’ spearheaded their own rally at the Department of Justice on December 15. The organization called for the demilitarization of local law enforcement and the reallocation of funds away from incarceration and towards community-based accountability alternatives.
Today, on December 18, local organizers will hold a National March Against Police Violence Post-Mortem and plan future agitations. Let’s hope their voices will be heard.
Tiffany is a PhD candidate at Carleton University. Although not a community organizer, Tiffany practices a critical and focused every-day resistance approach as part of larger struggles against oppression(s).