Ferguson's Resistance Continues to Echo
OVER 350 people marched in Boston on October 25 in solidarity with Mike Brown, the unarmed teen murdered by police in Ferguson, Mo., in August. Part of a national week of action called by activists in Brown's hometown, the march revealed how the events of Ferguson continue to light a fire among young people on campuses and in communities across the country.
Simmons College student LaShawn Holloway, attending her first protest and handing out chant sheets as the crowd assembled on Boston Public Garden, talked about what brought her to the action. "As a Black woman, I've experienced racism," she said. "I have many other family members and friends who have experienced racism, and something needs to be done."
Rose Levy said that her motivations for coming were that "you're here because it's life or death, and it's death for some people because of the color of their skin and being in public."
People's lived experiences with racism and police violence and their outrage at these ongoing injustices haven't always been enough in the past to sustain a movement. The continuing protests and resistance in Ferguson have given many people at Saturday's action the growing confidence to organize and protest here in Boston.
Rebecca Hornstean grew up in the Twin Cities and is familiar with police violence. Her friend's cousin was shot seven times in the back of the head by police: "He was chased into a basement, and he was unarmed," she said. "You know, it was the same story, 'he was grabbing at their gun'--well, why did they shoot him from behind?"
Horstean and her friends had tried to organize and force an investigation, "but it eventually petered out...So to see something else happen and the momentum sustain from it and see people asking bigger questions--seeing this whole movement kind of forming around it, I just think is really incredible."
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
THE CROWD'S chants of "No justice, no peace" and "Hands up, don't shoot" boomed down Newbury Street as the two lines of marchers snaked between shocked shoppers and tourists. Every so often an onlooker gave a thumbs-up or nodded in support as the protest passed. The high-end shopping district became, for an afternoon, the incubator for a new generation of anti-racist activists.
Students made up a good chunk of the demonstrators, mobilizing from the dozens of colleges and universities in the area. In some cases, it was their colleges' inaction dealing with the concerns of students of color that drew them to the afternoon's action.
"I think the fact that [Simmons College] hasn't made it a point to raise awareness about this issue [in Ferguson] is an issue in itself," Holloway said. "A few other students and myself think it's very important and this is why I'm here today."
Alecia Brown, a student at the Massachusetts College of Art and Design and member of the campus Artists of Color Union (ACU), said that "institutional racism is definitely happening" within her school. A few months ago, a white student created a piece with garden gnomes dressed in white blankets titled KKK Gnomes without any kind of accompanying statement to explain the piece.
"As Black students around the school, we were blatantly offended by the piece and how we took it in," she said. "Her reaction to [our outrage] was just 'freedom of speech' and ignoring how we felt towards the piece. And she felt attacked. It was just crazy."
In response, some students of color attempted to bring the incident to light in the Huffington Post, "as an example of what we [as students of color] are going through, and how people are colorblind to situations like this." She described that for the ACU, "just trying to raise awareness [about racism and colorblindness] is our main perspective."
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
AS THE march peeled off Newbury Street, the crowd briefly occupied Massachusetts Avenue. Buses and cars stopped in front of the protesters as chants of "Black lives matter" spread across the busy thoroughfare.
Black Lives Matter-Boston (BLM-B), the ad hoc organization that organized the day's action, in many ways expresses the leading edge of the growing confidence amongst anti-racist activists in Boston. Formed out of the Black Lives Matter mobilizations to Ferguson at the height of the protests there, BLM-B has drawn in emerging leaders like Daunasia Yancey, who explained how she got involved:
I spent lots of nights up on Twitter until 3 a.m., watching police teargas and arrest and assault peaceful protesters, and I was sitting here [in Boston] wondering what I could do. And so when the Black Lives Matter Ride call went out, there was no reason why I shouldn't have gone.
So I put the call out on my personal networks and folks came through, and folks messaged me and said, "Hey there are lots of us who were up until 3 a.m. on Twitter, trying to find out what to do." So we really just got a group of folks together, we raised the money really fast, and we went down there. We came back, and then we went again.
The group is already developing a strong organization and tactics. To mobilize for Saturday's action, they ran a social media campaign "inviting people to think about how, if the police are not serving and protecting our communities, what are ways we can move beyond them," Yancey explained.
They also have begun making connections to struggles against racism beyond Ferguson. For Saturday's action, they designed and printed placards for other victims of police violence--Rekia Boyd in Chicago and Burrell "Bo" Ramsey-White in Boston.
Moving forward, Yancey said that BLM-B plans "to get more into community and building healing" for victims of police brutality. But in the wake of the American Civil Liberties Union's report on Stop & Frisk in Boston, they are also participating in the recently formed Boston Coalition for Police Accountability.
"I think this could really be the powerful roots of a movement," said Levy. "In the sense of people recognizing this as not only symptomatic but structural."
"And something we have to fight collectively," Hornstean added. "Instead of just trying to take whatever we can get. There's some kind of realization of that happening, more on a mass level."
This developing confidence and sense of solidarity was clear throughout the crowd. As the march ended near Symphony Hall, the organizers asked everyone to join hands and raise their voices. People of all races united for an afternoon, and in one voice we echoed one final chant across Christian Science Plaza: "It is our duty to fight for our freedom, it is our duty to win. We must love and support each other, we have nothing to lose but our chains."
Chris Morale is a socialist activist and writer based in Boston.
This article also ran in Socialist Worker.
Open Media Boston photos from the march can be found here.