I’m willing to bet that at least a few of you have yelled nasty words at me while wagging your clinched fists, and damning me to hell for making you late for work.
No? Don’t remember me? I can’t say that I blame you. At the moment where we locked eyes, I was probably just another link in a human chain or another hastily drawn sign held high above a crowd of surly rabble-rousers.
Yup, that’s me. I’m a protestor.
While I’ve always been “aware” of social issues, it wasn’t until 2014 that I truly began my relationship with social justice. Mike Brown’s death wasn’t the first of its kind, but it was the first to happen so close to my home. It was the first time that I looked at pictures and video of the victim and saw someone that reminded me so much of myself at that age. It was the first time that I found myself standing just a few feet from where a young man’s body lay only a few hours earlier. In that moment, I knew that I had to do something. I was a long way from knowing exactly what to do, so I decided to do everything that I could.
Physical actions like marching came easiest. Like most people, I was full of righteous anger and outraged at what I consider to be the loss of a life that had just started. Taking to the streets provided me an outlet for that anger. It gave me a place where I could yell, and scream, and stomp, and cry as loudly as I wanted to. I need that. We all needed that.
But it wasn’t long before I began to feel like I had more to give. While I am perfectly fine being a rather large body in a crowd, or a rather loud voice in a chant, I also discovered a knack for putting my thoughts—our thoughts—about what was happening into words. Because of this, I made it my personal mission to be one of many unofficial voices of our cause. So from that point forward, when I wasn’t physically in Ferguson, I was writing about Ferguson.
I wanted people to understand our rage. I wanted people to understand why we chose to spend days away from our families in the sweltering August heat, and what we hoped to accomplish by doing so.
Those explanations are simple, really. We wanted justice and we were willing to fight for it. We were tired of watching as our men, women, and children were stripped of the rights owed to us as human beings. Michael Brown’s death didn’t happen in a context-free bubble. As reported by the U.S. Department of Justice, Ferguson is a city where black people are 26% less likely to have contraband on them than their white neighbors, but twice as likely to have their vehicles searched during a traffic stop. It’s a city where African Americans are 68% less likely than others to have their cases dismissed by a judge. It’s a city where African Americans account for 95 percent of Manner of Walking charges; 94 percent of all Fail to Comply charges; 92 percent of all Resisting Arrest charges; 92 percent of all Peace Disturbance charges; and 89 percent of all Failure to Obey charges.
The tension between Ferguson’s African American residents and the police didn’t start with Michael Brown’s death, it was just the event that caused an already-strained bubble to burst.
As the days turned to weeks, I began to seek out other ways to contribute to the movement that had become the centerpiece of my life, and the opportunities were there. Organizations needed donations. Other protesters needed water as temperatures crept from the high-90s to the low-100s, and ponchos when it rained. The streets of Ferguson needed to be cleared of trash and emptied teargas canisters when the proverbial “smoke” cleared. So I did all of that too.
If I learned anything from my experience in Ferguson, it’s this: If social justice is important to you, there’s always a job to be done. Not everybody has the willpower for a hunger strike or the necessary eloquence to pen a blistering open letter to whom it may concern—whether you can do neither or both, there’s always a way for you to contribute. And when it comes to ensuring that people regardless of race, class, or gender have access to a good and equitable quality of life, the stakes are too high to sit on the sidelines.
This post reflects the views of the author, and is intended to start a conversation. Please share your thoughts in the comments below!
Or, if you’d like to hear some overall thoughts on social justice and activism from Christians at THRED, you can find those over here.