Monday, December 8, 2014

It Only Takes a Spark- A Dallas Teacher's Response to Events In Ferguson

I went to Ferguson for the Weekend of Resistance in October of this year. While there I became entranced by the organizers. They were young, vibrant, charismatic, whip-smart, passionate, technologically savvy, fiercely determined, and incredibly organized. And I do mean organized. They linked everyone together through websites and text messages. There are many websites they have formed, but the main one is a person registers here, they will receive DAILY newsletters with updates. Additionally, everyone was told to text “hands up” to 90975. Through text messaging, individuals are updated with Breaking News or any changes in plans.
As someone who has spent their life studying racial justice, I started a Facebook group called Racial Unity which was to act as a forum for discussing race and racism. Because of this and a propensity to do so, I remained very in tune with current events. I also joined SURJ, Standing Up for Racial Justice, and was on an initial conference call with them. After indicating that I wanted to organize, I had plans to have a conference call with them to discuss how to begin organizing.
I had not yet been on my “organizing” conference call with SURJ, but, after the Eric Garner non-indictment announcement (the second in a couple of weeks), I was angry but felt resolved. Resolved in my knowledge that it was time to put my lifetime of racial justice study into action.
Knowing that the Ferguson organizers wanted people to gather at their local Department of Justice on the Friday following this announcement, I knew people needed to gather if for no other reason than to commiserate. I figured that other people, too, would be aware of the Ferguson organizers’ wishes and would probably automatically gather at the DOJ on Friday night, but I wanted to set it in stone and inform people of the exact plans.
That night I created a Facebook Event setting the rally for that Friday at 8:00 p.m. at the Dallas Department of Justice. I didn’t have any corporate sponsors or organizers to back me up, but I guess I didn’t realize I needed them. “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world,” right? I knew I was ready and equipped and that it would work out. Immediately, people started messaging me making suggestions and asking if I needed help or if I had considered this or that. It was magical.
I posted the event on Facebook, Twitter, Ferguson Action, and the Ferguson tumblr. Other people volunteered to help me post it and share it everywhere, which they did. When the first person messaged me and asked me who I was going to have as speakers, my first thought was “speakers?” I’ve attended many rallies, but not all have had speakers; however, due to the occasion I determined that speakers were probably necessary. I said I didn’t know but that my partner, who is an expert on black history and was also a DJ in the past, could probably help. This was Tuesday night.
By Wednesday morning, a local pastor messaged me on Facebook and asked if he could speak. I asked him what he wanted to say, and he sent me some articles he had written. After reading them, I decided he would be a good fit for what I wanted the rally to look like.
Shortly after that, someone else messaged me with recommendations for speakers. He had three local pastors in mind, including the one I had already approved. Although I had no idea what the message SHOULD BE, I knew that I didn’t want to have speakers blaming the black community for these injustices through any “pull your pants up” speeches. I’m also agnostic so I really wasn’t sure about having three pastors as speakers.
During this time, I emailed SURJ SEVERAL times asking legal questions about where we would be allowed to stand, whether we needed permits, etc. They were very helpful and encouraging. Through them, I was able to talk to an experienced organizer in New York. I also drove by the DOJ to scope out the scene. Almost on cue, I saw that a small park was right across the street from the DOJ. I determined that, if it was a public park, we would gather there. It seemed ideal. I also made sure there was plenty of parking. In addition to metered parking, there was a paid parking lot on the other side of the Justice Center.
When I got home, I researched the park, found out that it was public, and edited my events to indicate that we would be gathering at the park. I also told them to bring signs and dress warmly as it was cold for Texas early in the week.
I initially said no to the other two pastors because I just didn’t want the rally to be a sermon, and I didn’t know what else to expect of pastors. This was my background with churches. However, the person who had initially recommended them just didn’t give up. He sent me some articles that each one had written and convinced me that they would be great fits as well. I gave him my approval and gave out my phone number to him and the pastors.
During this time, several different people asked me whether we would be marching. I initially said no because I didn’t want to run into complications with the police. Then people started suggesting small marches to me. I finally gave in to a small march to the City Hall and back. I again updated the events pages.
On the Friday morning of the march, another person I didn’t know contacted me and asked me to call him. He said he was an organizer who had been planning an event at the Dallas Police Department but that he wanted to combine events and be united. I agreed with him. Unity is essential to this movement. He also said that he wanted to take a long march to a large local interstate. I told him that wasn’t really what I had in mind, but he said he had regular rallies against violence and that he had marshals he would be bringing with him. He told me that he wanted to march TO the interstate but not ON the interstate. We agreed upon that. I told him the police needed to know about the march, and he said that the police were well aware of the event and that some police officers would accompany us on the march.
The day of the march I purchased a megaphone that was supposed to carry sound for ½ of a mile. I had called around about renting out a sound system the day before, but the cost and the timing were prohibitive.
When we arrived at the park on that Friday night, something else magical happened. The park had been decorated for a Christmas parade the next day so there were Christmas decorations and lights, and it looked beautiful! They also had stages out for, I assume, speakers for the upcoming parade; however, it seemed like divine intervention to me as it made an ideal place for speakers to stand. Police cars and police officers were aplenty, but they sat down and didn’t interfere during the rally.
The program ran for about an hour. People trickled in throughout the rally so the crowd just kept getting bigger. The speakers were vibrant and powerful. The audience was respectful and receptive. Several times during the rally, different speakers told the audience that we were going to be peaceful, we were not going to confront the police officers, and we were not going to get arrested. Members of the crowd murmured their approval.
After the rally we marched. The marshals and three police officers peacefully marched alongside us. An (over)abundance of police cars drove next to us the entire way. Throughout the march, we chanted. Many of the people knew the chants from previous marches, and those that didn’t either figured them out and joined in or marched along in silent solidarity. Altogether we had three or four megaphones which made the chanting easier and louder.
The most valuable rule about organizing that I learned is to be flexible and to listen to requests from other people. Really listen and consider their suggestions and requests. What I need to stress to you is that it all starts with an idea. Things have a way of falling into place after that.
I truly believe that the way this event seemed to organize itself was due to the power of the people. People are aching for something different. They’re yearning to fight against this unjust system. And they’re willing to do whatever it takes to change it. I hope the powers that be are listening because we’re ready and we’re coming.