Thursday, December 3, 2015

Public accountability and power sharing, By Eric E. Vickers

    "Why are you here,” I inquisitively asked the woman who had sat down beside me at the church located two blocks north of the city’s racial dividing line – the boulevard name Delmar.  She was white, slightly middle-aged, and one of the many whites who predominated the packed meeting called by a coalition of organizations for the purpose of holding elected officials accountable for the recommendations of the Ferguson Commission. 

     The meeting, which began at 6:00 p.m. and concluded at almost exactly its schedule ending time of 7:00 p.m., was called a “Public Accountability” meeting.  The highlight was to be public commitments made by the Missouri Attorney General, the Mayor of St. Louis, and the St. Louis Police Chief to the agenda prescribed in the Ferguson Commission report.  These three – all of whom are white - had been publicly shamed by the coalition for failing to show up at the first Public Accountability meeting held several weeks earlier, and on this occasion the Attorney General and the Mayor showed and pledged their support for the report’s recommendations.

     “My minister is the reason why I am here,” she pleasantly responded, smiling and pointing to her pastor, who was also a woman - and also white – while mentioning that her church was located in the suburban city that happens to be the County’s wealthiest.    Although I wanted to probe more into her possible motives and motivation for caring about an issue that clearly affects blacks more than a white woman from the suburbs, the program commenced, saving me from the discomfort I felt in even calling her involvement into question.

     I freely admit to my bias of being instinctively initially suspicious of whites who involve themselves in the black cause, despite having personally experienced and interacted with many who were unequivocally committed to this cause - often times even more so than blacks - and despite knowing from history that whites have participated in the freedom struggle of African-Americans since at least the abolitionist movement.  Moreover, I know that they have throughout history played a vital role in the black struggle, and have even made the ultimate sacrifice, as illustrated by those slain during the civil rights movement.

     Still, in gazing out over the audience and thinking of the woman next to me, I wondered:  what inspired and vested them in the movement ignited by the Ferguson uprising?  Many were either middle-aged or senior citizens, and I could easily picture them as college campus activists during the sixties and seventies.  It was as though they were returning to finish the movement they had departed from to join the status quo following college.   I could sense their sincerity and their feeling re-energized.  Others were young, untainted by racial history, and refreshingly idealistic about fighting a just cause.

     I wondered, however, whether their involvement, despite being critical to creating the change called for by the Ferguson movement, could substitute for a movement predominated by blacks and led by blacks.  I found myself juxtaposing the quietly assertive spirit that permeated the church that evening with the brazenly audacious spirit evident when blacks packed a church in north St. Louis some sixteen years ago to rally to shut down a highway.  The latter invoked a feeling of black pride and self-empowerment, while the former, though arguably a more potent force for change, invoked a feeling of black dependency.

     Ideally, the two should co-exist.  That is, the movement to make black lives matter should be led by blacks and predominated by blacks because blacks’ feeling and realizing they have the power to change their condition has lasting value.  And conscientious whites should be involved not so much because of the impact their presence automatically brings to the table.  Rather, because their involvement gets us to the ultimate objective of power being shared." Courtesy of St. Louis American.

Eric E. Vickers is an attorney, activist and former chief of staff for state Senator Jamilah Nasheed.

No comments:

Post a Comment