WHY FERGUSON FAILS

I am fed up with the simplistic analysis, and concomitant disparagement of my people by commentators from afar peering in on Ferguson, MO. It is my great wish that this post will dispel misinformation about what is going on here, and that it becomes the definitive narrative of where we are now, and where we can go.

 

In 1970, Ferguson was 97% white. Since then, African-Americans on the North Side of St. Louis began to move west to the suburbs, to enjoy a slightly slower pace, just as whites have done since about the 1950’s. Moving west meant Ferguson. Ferguson is directly to the west of the North Side of St. Louis.

 

As the pace of blacks moving into Ferguson picked up, the pace of whites moving out of Ferguson accelerated. Where did they go? West, across the Missouri River, into St. Charles County. One of the most notable demographic changes in the last generation or so in St. Louis history was the exodus of whites from North St. Louis County to St. Charles County in the 1980’s and 1990’s. This is a commonly known fact here.

 

Today, Ferguson is 70% black. That is an almost complete turnover of the white/black populations of the City, and it took place over the course of 47 years. (That is an arbitrary marker).

 

Ferguson was incorporated in 1894, as an all-white town. Blacks were not allowed to live here. There were racial covenants in place in Ward 2 Ferguson (my ward), as late as 1979. They broke those up, and where the covenants were in place, those neighborhoods are now mostly comprised of black folks.

 

The town, which was founded by whites, for whites, and with its government emanating from whites, was fundamentally unprepared institutionally to address this turnover of its population when it happened. It had no framework on hand to deal with these changes. It had no way to conceive of how to integrate African-Americans into the mainstream of the life of Ferguson.

 

This is generally where things stood when Darren Wilson shot Michael Brown to death in Canfield in the late summer of 2014. The city council had one African-American, of six seats. The police chief, and much of his force, were white. The city manager was white. There had never been a black mayor. Not even a woman mayor. White men ran the town from time immemorial.

 

The whites who are left in Ferguson have deep roots here. They have a history of having, and knowing how to use, the levers of power. They have stayed here, and persisted in the face of the changes. There are some racists, and reactionaries, but they are few, mostly impoverished, and disconnected from the mainstream of public life. The majority of whites remaining in Ferguson are moderate, center- to center-right Democrats, who like diversity, but are unprepared, or not committed, to examining and adjusting how they conduct politics in this new context.

 

Most of the whites want to make it work with their black neighbors, but they don’t know how. They won’t commit to learning about the realities of black life in North County in the 21st century.

 

This is due to what I now call “white primacy”. I don’t call it “white supremacy”. I think of white supremacy as the KKK in the 1920’s. White racial domination–its expression–morphs over time. It evolves to suit new circumstances. What white primacy involves in Ferguson today is white privilege. White moderates in Ferguson do not understand their privilege. Despite everything that has happened since 2014, they have yet to interrogate this privilege.

 

Who can blame them, when you look at how things have gone economically since black folks started moving in in sizable numbers? Most of us here are downwardly mobile–we have lost ground since I was a child. Ferguson is a lower middle-class town. Most of us are far from wealthy, though we do have a small number of rich people.

 

Look at the Republican and Democratic parties in America. The Republican Party today is a white nationalist party. It is the home for whites. On the ground, it is an unchanging monolith, where race is concerned.

 

The Democratic Party is a loose coalition of all of the groups and forces that are trying to figure out how to work together in the larger society. What I am saying is, is that the Democratic Party embodies and symbolizes society at large. On the ground, it is very representative of America, and represents this rest of America.

 

Locally, that means blacks, whites, Latinos, Asians, gays, transgenders, upper middle-class, middle class, and poor. Some want pro soccer. Others don’t want pro soccer. We didn’t vote on that in Ferguson. (Again, the racial story here has blacks and whites at its center).

 

You get the idea. If we are having difficulties in the larger society, those competing interests will be represented within the local, on-the-ground, Democratic Party.

 

But this is a “non-partisan” election. We, literally, are not supposed to know, or care, what party our prospective politicians belong to. That muddies the waters.

 

Further, holding elections in April was a conscious, deliberate impediment to participation in the electoral process. Ferguson was founded by those who held the “stake in society” theory, which states that only those with property, and the proper knowledge, should be active in the public life of the City.

 

America today has two viable political parties: Republican and Democrat. Elections are conducted through these conduits. We may be non-partisan, but everyone knows that sides are picked, and they are funneled into one party or the other.

 

James Knowles is a Republican. He is one of few Republicans here. He is not a right-wing politician. He is not a social conservative. I suspect that he voted for Trump, but that he is not pleased with what our new president has done so far. That is my best hunch. Recently, he has complimented the protesters on what they have forced him to do, basically.

 

Ella Jones is what we call “bourgie”. She is from New Orleans. She is 62. She was a Mary Kay cosmetics rep. She has deep ties in the church. She is a centrist Democrat who threw her campaign manager overboard (that manager detailed it yesterday on Twitter), because Ella thought Patricia Bynes was too closely associated with the protesting, and protesters. She told Patricia she didn’t need her help, and that she was going it alone, in 2015. I was sitting right there. I saw, and heard, her say it at a meeting.

 

Ella won her contest that year. She learned the wrong lesson from it. I don’t see how she could have fixed it for this race.

 

My sister is a Democrat. She lives down the street from me. She considers herself to be a compassionate person, and she is, to an extent. We are not very close. She was perfectly uninvolved in the events of #Ferguson. Zero participation. I guarantee you that she did not vote for Ella Jones. I have not confirmed it, but my best friend, my campaign consigliere, Tony Rice, saw her at the polls on Tuesday.

 

We vote at the same place, First Baptist Church, on Florissant Road. It is a historically white congregation. I lived with Chrissy, my sister, for a few years. I now live in my own apartment, three blocks north of her. Our lives could not be more different.

 

I am a unique duck around here. I was raised in an upper middle-class, all-white, neighborhood 12 miles or so southwest of Ferguson in the 1970’s. The racial makeup of that neighborhood, Berkeley Manor, in Des Peres, has not changed a bit since my parents built their house and moved us in in 1969.

 

I identify with black people for my own personal reasons, and I have been representing them here for two years. I am their avatar. When I discuss black people I say “us”, and “we”; I do not say “them”, or “they”. I am not black. I do not tell people that I am black. The way I move in the world is my own conception of hybridity. I am a hybrid.

 

I am also highly privileged, highly educated, and came up in a family culture that emphasized voting, and discussed the issues of the day at the dinner table every night. I took to the family culture. My parents were liberal Democrats. I am to the left of them.

 

In the aftermath of #Ferguson, it held its first municipal elections in April of 2015. Brian Fletcher was the former two-time mayor, and head of “I Love Ferguson”, the philanthropic organization that became known around the world for passing out yard signs. He wished to win a city council seat representing Ward 2. Brian Fletcher was a white, moderate Democrat with deep roots in the City.

 

Brian Fletcher was the mayor who instituted the biased, illegal, unconstitutional fines and fees revenue scheme called out in the Department of Justice Report on Ferguson in 2015. He was days away from running unopposed in this ward. He would have run unopposed, if not for me. Patricia Bynes, the Ferguson Township Democratic Committeewoman, through Tony Rice, asked me to run. I said, Let’s do it.

 

This was a big election. This was the first one after Mike Brown. Ferment was high. Media coverage saturated our little town. Tensions here bubbled over in any public space during this time.

 

The mayor is a symbol, as Ella liked to say a lot recently, and so is the city council. To us– the protesters, the activists, the rebels–local public officials represented an obsolete, irredeemable, reactionary lot. We must sweep them all away, now, we thought.

 

Locals got my message, and knew I meant business. The idea of their leaders being swept away was wrenching, and symbolic of what they had maintained for so long. Their symbols would not go down without a fight.

 

I was new. Nobody knew me. I do not have deep roots in the community. Some even caricatured me as a carpetbagger, horning in where I didn’t need to stick my nose.

 

I don’t have connections. I don’t have money. But, I have always voted. Most of the people I have voted for in my life have lost. It is very frustrating. Still, I look at voting as the most noble way to express my citizenship, and I consider it a solemn duty. It is important to vote, that’s how I look at it.

 

I know how the system works. It’s a rotten one, but I understand how local, state, and national systems mesh and interact. I would know how to use the levers of power available to me, were I to win office. So did Patricia Bynes, my campaign manager, who Ella Jones had dismissed.

 

How’s this election gonna be run? Through the parties. BUT. BUT. BUT. We are talking about City Council, and Brian Fletcher, and Bob Hudgins, and #Ferguson. MAJOR SYMBOLISM, for both sides. MAJOR CHANGES loomed if I won, because two black men with similar positions were running in Ward 3. We would automatically get the change we needed out of Ward 3. (Mostly. Wesley Bell beat my slate mate Lee Smith, and he can be hard to figure).

 

So, what do we have? On one side is the mayor, the incumbent moderate Republican James Knowles, who puts his imprimatur on Brian Fletcher in Ward 2. He is backing Brian Fletcher, the moderate Democrat, who represents the status quo, and a bulwark against the hordes–us.

 

In this environment of extreme–even for the United States–racial tension, and with the unknown on the horizon, the whites, regardless of party, and most of whom were Democrats, rushed to support the upholder of the status quo. That was the Democrat Brian Fletcher.

 

Who was I? A disconnected, inexperienced novice with no organic connections in the community. A rabble rouser. A traitor. A loser.

 

Remember, I am a Democrat. Most people in Ferguson are Democrats. But what was left to run this election was the rump of the local Democratic Party. We were the leftists, the blacks, the outcasts that were left after most conventional Democrats flooded to Fletcher.

 

We were ragtag newbies who didn’t know what we were doing, and we wound up getting very little institutional support from the Democratic Party. I will give an example of what I am talking about. I will break it down on the granular level.

 

We got union money. The union was most interested in blacks winning their elections in Ferguson. To them, I was a good guy, but I was white. When it doled out money for our campaigns, they gave $7,000 to Ella Jones, who was running in a four-way race in Ward 1 against two white men, and another black woman. They handed a check for $5,000 to Lee Smith. (I don’t know why. Again, a black was going to win that seat. Further, Wesley had a serious operation. It was not like money alone would get it done for Lee Smith, who ran a poor campaign). I got $1,000, in late March. It was almost too late anyway. It was worthless.

 

Mine was the marquee match-up. If I could win, there was a chance that we could have voted on, and enacted, a strict consent decree quickly. It would tip the ideological scales on the council. This contest in Ward 2 really was the whole ball of wax. Nobody was putting this all together like we were, when we sat around and discussed it at the end of each day. This would be me, Tony, and Alicia Street.

 

I worked my ass off to win that race. I knocked on every door more than once. I reshaped my body, and have kept it that way. I got a reputation for beating the bushes.

 

Mr. Fletcher did not campaign. He sat at the Corner Coffee House, which he part-owned, kibitzing with friends. He had heart problems. He depended on his good standing in the community to win. He died last year.

 

I sat at the nexus of all this during this time. After everything that has gone on, I have had a succession of light bulb moments, where all these memories, forces, events, and stages have coalesced in my mind in a way that I could grasp what has happened here.

 

I lost in 2015, and I lost again in 2016. We were in disarray, in comparison with what we were up against. We had no institutional base. Patricia was gone.

 

I’m not going to go into what happened in 2016, other than to say that was when I finished canvassing to get signatures on a petition to get a proposition on the ballot in this year’s municipal election. The proposition put before the people last Tuesday was that police must wear body cameras at all times, and that the video would be reviewable by the public. That proposition passed, by a margin of 71 to 29. It took me six months of going to every door in Ferguson, by myself, to get the required names, in order that we could place the proposition on the ballot.

 

I hope it is clear now, the political dynamics of Ferguson. Most of the politicians, black or white, Democrat or Republican, are centrists under the sway of white primacy, or pay obeisance to it. The people in charge do not address the needs of its mostly black population. The people who run the town are not organically in touch with its residents, even when they are black.

 

We have a poor, black town, that needs progressive representation. We, the people, need someone to stick up for us. We look around and see that we are Democrats, and we can’t make any progress. We have a new, conservative governor, Eric Greitens. He is joined by a movement right-winger in the attorney general’s office, Josh Hawley. Missouri is already backward. And then there’s Donald Trump. Who is sticking up for us? Who?

 

Our people are stressed by racism and discrimination. They feel under siege. They are operating under Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs: This theory, well-known and validated in the field of education, says that immediate needs of food and shelter, along with ancillary needs such as health care and jobs, take priority over things like math homework, city council meetings, and even elections.

 

Need I describe what it is like for black folks in Ferguson these days? Do I really have to go any further in this vein? My people can be desperate. They may be food insecure. They may not know where the rent money is coming from. They have a busted up car that is unreliable. They don’t have the money to fix it, or get a new one. Work is 20 miles away. Bus routes are not good. A child may be sick. Someone they know got shot, or killed. Their hours were cut at work. A mother needs more help in the house.

 

I forget this sometimes, because of my own privilege. I forget that folks are moving in and out all the time.

 

I am aware of it. I told somebody on Facebook yesterday that if you go over on Dade Avenue, three blocks from here, to the west, you will find 100 different living arrangements. They jus’ tryna hold it down, knowhumsayin’? They jus’ tryna hold it down.

 

Who is sticking up for us? Some folks say it wasn’t Obama. We know it’s not Trump. We know it’s not Greitens. We knew it wasn’t Francis Slay, the outgoing mayor of St. Louis. It won’t be Lyda Krewson, his replacement. (The last two are Democrats). It hasn’t been James Knowles. And we weren’t sold on Ella Jones.

 

If I have to hold my nose to vote for Ella Jones, you know that we are doomed.

 

The lesser of two evils will not get it done anymore. We need politicians who come from us, are of us, and their campaigns are run by us. We need politicians who are committed to progressive politics that addresses the needs of the people, and they can see what they can actually get. What we see around here–everywhere, for that matter–is that the people who already have, get the stuff.

 

There was an enthusiasm gap here. People didn’t see a difference between Knowles and Jones. Sure, there is a symbolic difference, but black folks look around at the world in the context of white primacy. All they see is that white folks get what they want.

 

We, ourselves, are working with an outdated mindset. We see white primacy when we could focus on black power. It’s sitting right there waiting for us to take it. Black folks in Ferguson, at the local level–which is where the opposition has been racking it up for 35 years–could have it anyway “they” want it. (You get where I’m going :)).

 

Blacks know they comprise most of the town, but they have not enjoyed a history of getting what they want out of politics. History is active in people’s lives. My life especially. It affects my relationships or lack thereof. (Some folks might know what I’m talking about!)

 

We need to inculcate our kids in deep citizenship, so that they know that April 4 is more important in their lives than November 8. I’m serious. We need to flip the script. It must be understood that Ferguson municipal elections are right there with the quadrennial vote for President of the United States. That should be manifest by now.

 

What will it take to get over the top? What would it take to get a good, black mayor in Ferguson?

 

It would take a Bobby Rush from the 1970’s. Someone with deep roots in the black working class. A history of fighting for civil rights. Fiery, combative, knowledgeable, and connected. A real liberal. A real Democrat. Someone built for the age we are in. That’s who, and what, we need in Ferguson.

 

Whoever that is, we haven’t found them, and they haven’t stepped forward. It has certainly been the right time. Perhaps he, or she, is not here. Likely, we will have to make do, with who is here.

 

Look what we have already achieved. We have a black police chief with a history of being a conciliator. We have a black city manager who knows the area well. We have body cameras. We still have a consent decree. And voting participation is up, a little.

 

You know who got that done? Massive, prolonged, sustained protesting by mostly young black folks. Our leaders were often gay women of color. Think of that. My sistas–Ashley, and Brittany, and Alexis, and Alicia Garza and Patrisse Khan-Cullors, from the west, who helped us out. Protesting, by my friends Jamell, and Dhoruba, and Phil, and on and on.

 

When that settled down into something else, what was left was me, Tony, Alicia, Emily Davis, and Mildred Clines. There are so many others, all over the place, but down here, on the ground, that is as close to the truth as I can force on you in this moment. Those five people–one white man, one black man, one white woman, one black woman, and one black woman who’s mother is white. We are the point of the spear, and we are INTEGRATED. We all happen to be liberal Democrats, too. We do our best work together. We are most effective when we blacks and whites work together.

 

A hybrid machine.

 

That’s how to get it done. That’s who will get it done. We can do it.

It Was Not Meant To Be

When Darren Wilson shot Michael Brown to death on August 9, 2014 I had no idea how my life would be changed. I was living in western Ferguson, MO at the time trying to figure out how to get a job in the baseball industry. I was divorced and living with my sister.

 

When the protests began I started showing up in front of the Ferguson police station to commiserate with a group that had begun a vigil of sorts. We talked about the public relations group that was all-white the City hired to do damage control on its reputation. The crowds and the pressure and the tension built over time to where they all crested and we decided we needed to be a family and take it all on ourselves to push for change in Ferguson.

 

Six months later I found myself running for city council in Ward 2. My opponent was Brian Fletcher, a former two-time mayor and head of I Love Ferguson. I was explicitly a protest candidate—idealistic, fiery, and convinced of my righteousness taking on a local philanthropic legend.

 

Turnout soared (from terribly low levels) and more votes were cast than in years. Fletcher won, but I got the third-highest vote total ever, more than many persons who won office in Ferguson, including most of the people on the Council now.

 

Since that time I spent last spring and early summer working on the campaign to recall Mayor James Knowles. I was the plaintiff in the lawsuit against him. Our task was to get enough signatures to force a recall election. We believe we did, but some signatures were invalidated and we lost the case.

 

After that I spent six months going to every street in Ferguson collecting signatures to get body cameras for police on the local ballot. I learned very recently (before the election) that despite getting the required signatures the proposition would not be on the ballot because the Department of Justice mandated body cameras for police in the consent decree.

 

I was outdoors through the winter and became a fan of the practice. I got into great condition. I learned how to dress perfectly for every different kind of day. I went straight into another campaign for Ward 2 City Council.

 

Here’s what happened: Dwayne James is a Ward 2 councilman. He must leave due to term limits. That was the seat I was running for this year. In the interim, Mr. Fletcher died of a heart attack in January. I asked for the position. After a lot of rigmarole, interviews, intrigue, and poker faces I got no support for the job from the people on the Council. They were never going to appoint me to the seat. Ultimately, they selected Laverne Mitchom, an African-American woman.

 

I was campaigning already, so it was back to it. I loved campaigning, and the ability to do it two years in a row was so gratifying. I didn’t need Google Maps much anymore. I knew who to avoid. I was in better shape and could be more productive. I relished the routine. I told people I was able to get my Vitamin D and tell folks I was the shit all day, who wouldn’t like that?!

 

My election last week fell apart. It was worse than the worst-case scenario about which I worried. My base, the black community, did not turn out as I had hoped. Four out of five voters stayed home. Two hundred fewer African-Americans voted this year than last. And I could make no inroads with whites, garnering just 33 votes from them out of a possible 1,300.

 

In this election I got the most black votes in a ward that is predominantly black. For two years in a row I got the most black votes in this election, but considering that blacks are voting at a twenty percent rate they can’t make a dent in the decision when whites are voting at sixty-five percent. If my base had turned out in force I would have won, and of course that was the plan.

 

I have been lamenting my fate, doing endless postmortems, re-checking the numbers, and making recriminations, but the fact is that there was no path to victory in the present environment.

 

People here know what I stand for and I am a polarizing figure. This wasn’t Wesley Bell versus Lee Smith in Ward 3 last year, for instance. They are both African-Americans, and both were viewed as change candidates. We liked Lee Smith, and it’s clear he would have been the better choice. Wesley wants to fit in with the white power structure. His voters don’t know he’s a Republican (these are non-partisan races). He is an achiever who represents a liberal Democratic constituency that is almost one hundred percent black.

 

Wesley authored the “Yes, but…” stipulations to the consent decree that initially got us sued by the United States of America. The Council felt it couldn’t turn in its homework without fiddling in the margins. It appeared to be a disastrous gambit when the Council unanimously—essentially—said No to the decree.

 

Ward 2 Ferguson is the seat of white power in this town. Whites still care about Ferguson and will fightfor their version of it. Ward 2 is where they can do so with the most vigor.

 

In the fall I learned that I would be running against Heather Robinett, a white woman who lives a block away from me. Later, Annette Jenkins got into the race. She is an older black woman who lives around the corner. Mayor Knowles asked Ms. Jenkins to enter the race to take votes away from me…so they had a triangulation strategy in store for the dangerous radical.

 

It worked, but not the way anyone had foreseen. It was not a contest. The black vote was one hundred percent inconsequential; it was not a factor in determining the winner. Here’s the vote from April 5, 2016:

 

The Black Vote in Ward 2 Ferguson:

 

Hudgins-235; Jenkins-155; Robinett-155

 

The White Vote in Ward 2 Ferguson:

 

Robinett-670; Hudgins-33; Jenkins-15

 

Robinett Total: 825

 

Hudgins Total: 268

 

Jenkins Total: 170

 

Two out of three white voters went to the polls and gave Mrs. Robinett almost nine out of ten of their votes. One out of five black voters turned out and split their votes three ways. Even though black voters in Ferguson outnumber white voters 2,700 to 1,300, it is the white voters who are the 800-pound gorilla in the room in municipal elections held in April.

 

I won’t go over the history of African-Americans and voting in this country, and I don’t particularly want to revisit what happened to me, again, but here are the outlines: In 2013, the last time we had city council elections prior to Mike Brown, voting rates for blacks and whites were six percent and seventeen percent, respectively. Since last year voting by both groups is up approximately 350 percent. That’s great, but my folks started from nothing. We are basically playing catch-up, but at least we are doing it at the same rate. Unfortunately, it did fall a bit in 2016.

 

Energy, motivation, and interest in voting are way up, but they are not up enough among my potential voters to be able to get anything done. We don’t throw our weight around. That WAS NOT a part of the plan.

 

Heather Robinett didn’t win Ward 2; we gave it to her. It was all in our hands, but there are so many factors conspiring against us that it can’t be done, barring a few things I’m about to discuss.

 

I am poison to Fletcher/Robinett voters. They caricatured me as a dangerous radical who would destroy the town. There’s a whiff of race traitor to the discourse; whites feel free to grind their teeth when they think of a white man doing and saying things they thought could only come from an African-American who is bitter about his experiences. They have taken relish in pounding me metaphorically at the ballot box.

 

I’m disappointed that I didn’t do even better than I did with black voters, who gave both Jenkins and Robinett over 150 votes. Neither of them campaigned in any significant, traditional sense of the word. They did it differently, however: Robinett had built-in white support; she essentially inherited all of the Fletcher vote from 2015. Jenkins didn’t work at all. She is physically incapable of canvassing. She took votes away from me, but it still didn’t even matter.

 

840 black voters may vote at First Baptist Church, where I vote. 360 white voters are assigned to that polling place. The whites outvoted blacks three to one last Tuesday. One hundred black voters turned out there. I needed at least 200 votes out of First Baptist and got about 40. It was one of several killers for me. I did poorly at First Presbyterian Church, an all-wards station, (meaning there are fewer Ward 2 voters there), and at Lee Hamilton Elementary School, which hosts Wards 1 and 2.

 

I did very well at the place I chose to spend most of Election Day—Johnson-Wabash Elementary School. I was there for a good chunk of Election Day 2015, and I seemed to do well there that day. It seemed even better this time. The Robinett’s gave up on the station at 3 pm. The others thought they were losing.

 

We knew that Johnson-Wabash gave a skewed view of things, a too-rosy picture of the unfoldingelection from our perspective. So we tempered our expectations, knowing other places would be different, and also noticing that turnout did not look good. My emotions were in check, but I found myself praying for the first time since I don’t know when. I would say, “Please God, let me win. Please.”

 

I got the lion’s share of my votes right where I stood that day. It was a good way to go out.

 

They placed these elections in April a long time ago to suppress voter turnout, and it really works. Many of my potential universe of voters vote only in November, if they vote at all. The first change we need to make is to move these things to November; that’s the first reform I will propose to the Ferguson City Council.

 

Do you realize that if I had gotten just four out of ten black voters to vote for me I would have won by 300 votes? I couldn’t lose! I would think about four out of ten on my morning walks.

 

I champion the interests of the oppressed in Ferguson. The white power structure can turn to a deep bench of milquetoast Fletcher replacements who can turn back anyone without extraordinary financial resources, organization, and talent. In the present environment, I would need $250,000 a year ahead of time to win as a protest candidate in Ward 2. I would need a salaried staff to do research, outreach, education, seminars, etc. We would need money for city-wide events. It would require the greatest get-out-the-vote effort you have ever seen. I’m talking a fleet of shuttle buses running regularly through the day on Election Day. We would need to plan a miniature national holiday of sorts, getting everyone to agree to skip work on this day, and do it months ahead of time. This occurred to me today, and I think it’s a very interesting idea.

 

This kind of campaign would be super-outsized and controversial. It also would be unprecedented, and extremely unlikely. Where am I going to get that kind of money, and why wouldn’t I run for a higher office if I could? I have done this twice now, and I’m telling you that’s the way it is.

 

I would need this team of pros, successful technicians who understand the task and can execute their plan. The goal would be to turn out at least three of five black voters. If you did that here, and focused the votes on one candidate, you would have an impregnable position in the election; whites could vote for one person at one hundred percent and they could not win. That’s what we want to be able to do to them: we want to make it impossible for a Heather Robinett to win Ward 2 in the 21st century.

 

Voting is way up in Ward 2 Ferguson, among blacks and whites, at about the same rate. For two cycles in a row I got the most black votes. Those are facts of which I can be proud. However, we have seen how important the City is in our lives. I would have thought that a year and a half after Mike Brown, the DOJ Report, and two proposed tax increases on the ballot, folks would come out in force. In fact, more whites turned out this year than last. There was a property tax increase and a sales tax increase on the ballot. I asked my friend Tony, What if they come out to vote against the property tax increase but don’t vote for me? Tony replied, “Any ‘No’ vote is a vote for you.” Tony was wrong. The well-off passed off new funding for the town to the poor by saying no to the property tax increase but approving the sales tax increase. Ironically, Mrs. Robinett was for both increases.

 

I had a year to work on this and I had better name recognition. I provided a level of constituent service that will probably be unmatched. I worked harder than ever. I got to know Ferguson so well I can tell how housing segregation was planned and managed. It appears that our wards are gerrymandered, and that certain addresses have been kept white for political purposes.

 

None of what I did was nearly enough to reverse history.

 

My first inclination was to throw in the towel. I said I would never go to City Hall again. I have reconsidered. We have a democracy gap between blacks and whites that is a crisis. When the descendants of enslaved peoples comprise most of your town and they can’t access the levers of power;they can’t get what they want and need from their government, something is wrong, something is off, and it’s not just one thing, it’s a whole host of dilemmas. I will be talking to the Council about this democracy gap.

 

I have received many kind and thoughtful messages from around the country. They have encouraged me to continue to fight for what is right. Maybe things weren’t closed off on Tuesday.

 

I can hold my head high. Most people here like me and my program, they just don’t act on it. Chris King of the St. Louis American reminded today that if the voters didn’t come out and come out for you, they weren’t your voters. I get it, but I’m into extrapolation fantasies and self-delusion. Allow me this for a bit, if you will.

 

A lone insurgent calling for major change cannot beat a status quo candidate in this ward barring massive infusions of money, or compulsory voting.

 

I want to tell you about my friend, Tony. We have had our ups and downs, but we tight. He is a master of logistics, planning, and getting along with people. He inspires people to go above and beyond. He is the ultimate pragmatist—whatever works is what we’ll do. I say examine the process. He just wants results, now.

 

Near the end of the day Tuesday, our trio of me, Tony, and Alicia came together at Johnson-Wabash. Tony would buttonhole a voter, take my flier, and say to him or her. “This guy’s for US. See this man? He’s for US. I wouldn’t be out here if he wasn’t a good man.” It was very effective. I will cherish such memories, and I am so grateful to be his friend.

 

I asked him last night what was going on and he said, “Everyone is tired and war torn.” It stuck with me. The adrenaline has worn off and we have come down precipitously. I regret not being able to help these wonderful folks in Ferguson. Perhaps I can do that some other way.

 

I was a very good candidate for this particular job, if I do say so myself. I keep waiting for the world to settle up with me and become fair. I’m going to keep waiting, but, while I do, I won’t sulk and I will be busy.

Crucial Race Theory

The title of my post, Crucial Race Theory, is a play on critical race theory, which, according to Wikipedia, is “an academic discipline focused upon a critical examination of society and culture, to the intersection of race, law, and power”. Critical race theory holds that white supremacy is maintained over time and that the law has something to do with it, and works at achieving racial equity and anti-subordination.

 

What happened on Saturday, January 24, 2015 at Forsyth and Central in Clayton, MO must be seen through the lens of racial, social, and cultural history. Our actions, behaviors and thoughts are shaped by our past and our environment, and this is the context we must bring in order to understand what we see, and often do.

 

There are people who insist we are all the same. Then why do some have such a different experience of the world, and they happen to be black? So the inferiority and pathology explanations fill the void, in their understanding of the world.

 

Two friends of mine, using their right to free speech, attempted to unfurl a “Ferguson Is Everywhere” banner at the pro-police rally at St. Louis County Police Headquarters. One, Misty, is dark and heavy. The other, Elizabeth, is petite and may be seen as “white”.

 

As they tried to keep the banner unfurled, a tussle ensued. I was standing right there. I did not see any punching, or kicking, or spitting, anything like that. Here’s the video of that portion of the incident:

 



 

Between being egged on by the crowd, and trying to decide between physically abusing a small white woman or the larger black woman, the police appeared to tire of the scene, and grabbed Misty. They sort of trip-dumped her to the ground, and then marched her away by neck-hold. The neck-hold appeared to be quite painful and unwarranted. (The whole “arrest” seemed unwarranted.)

 

After they got past the kiosk and at the car, I was able to get more video. Here’s that one:

 



 

So, to be didactic about it, we have a rally in which 100% of the people roaring for the police on scene are white. Most of the law enforcement officers are white. By putting their hands on Misty, the police relied on past custom and historic power relations among ethnic groups. By inflicting pain on her, they make her anonymous and singled out, simultaneously. She is hurt. She is in trouble. And the voices bay even louder.

 

This is why we hammer “Black Lives Matter” and bat down “All Lives Matter”. This is one incident of degradation that can be analyzed and understood through “crucial” race theory. This involves empathy, the ability to see something from the viewpoint of another, writ larger.

 

People are treated differently, in part of a hierarchy of privilege that, admittedly, is in flux, waxing and waning and intersecting according to context and milieu. However, white supremacy still generally rules the day. Though socially complex, a pro-police rally such as this one is pretty easy to understand ON THE GROUND. It’s one of the ironies of street showdowns involving generations of history and cultural practice. No one is in favor of chaos and disorder.

 

Would the crowd have cheered so lustily if the police had treated any of the pro-police folks that way? Would the struggle with police have been as violent had they chosen to drag off Elizabeth? If you don’t know the answers, you don’t get it. Do get it. Black lives matter.

#MikeBrownNotes :: The Believing Community of 2014

When I worked at World News in Clayton I heard horror stories for years from customers just out of the St. Louis County Jail, which was two blocks south of the store. Upon their release, many would find their way to the convenience store on the corner where they would get candy and cigarettes. Someone was jailed for weeks for parking tickets. An ill woman spent three days in jail because nobody had $200. Things like that. These two persons were black.

 

Was it really true? Could these things happen to Americans in the 21st century? Certainly, they’re leaving something out, I thought. We are notified almost daily that these things and worse do happen.
I had protested only once before, in early 2003, in the run-up to the (predicted) disastrous Iraq War. It lasted one day, a Sunday. I asked my then-wife if she would gather our five-year-old boy and come with me. She declined, so I went alone. I remember liking being part of a multiracial crowd, and that people wearing strange costumes disturbed me.

 

I’m a good deal older than the persons who spurred the rebellion against police brutality and racism in St. Louis in 2014. I had consciously given up on fighting the world as I found it, and retreated into a world of watching, listening to, and writing about Major League Baseball, specifically the hometown St. Louis Cardinals.

 

My conscience prodded me to protest, however. The militarized response to unrest on W. Florissant Avenue was not a good introduction to its practice. That scared me. The sight of MRAP’s and snipers was a major deterrent. I couldn’t fathom it going well over there, but the mere notion of police pointing guns at citizens in the street simultaneously enraged me.

 

I went to a gym populated mostly by blacks and got a lot of bad looks one day. I was already in a mood. CNN was on in the locker room. I said something against cops, loudly. I received quizzical looks from the men around me. I became hyperaware of my own whiteness and my apparent “cop-ness” and left.
It was at that time I determined I had to get down to W. Florissant. I never would have been out there had the young adults not withstood the test; had not defied the state’s attempt to bully protesters into submission.

 

I wondered, how are they different from me? What are their lives like? Some lives are, at times, harrowing. A young man was threatened where he stayed by a baseball bat-wielding homeowner. Another woman stays with friends or at hotels for short durations. I know a pregnant woman who sometimes goes hungry.

 

You listen more than you might be used to doing. You make some mistakes, which surprise you, because you think you are down. Even if you think you know everything there is to know about race, you don’t.

 

These are the connections I wish to make here. The woman in the hotel? She would excel in college. I think of the education she has given herself this year and believe it would hold up to any other. This woman has flexed her imagination, tested her endurance, traveled, met many people, and expresses a creativity and drive that others notice. She is kind to all. She sets a great example.

 

The people I have met are often very resourceful, ambitious, evince a powerful sense of self, and extremely hard-working. “I need money to do this service.” She finds a way to get it. “I have to get to two meetings tonight.” He stays up ‘til 3 am planning an action.

 

It manifests as indomitable will, but it is augmented by confidence in the future. The young leaders of #Ferguson exhibit a confidence in their own futures that belies the objective data, which is what young people do, in all spheres! They inspire those around them with their energy and their belief in the cause. The young leaders constantly drag the rest of us along with them.

 

I had forgotten how it felt to believe I could get what I want. These folks, many of whom have had fewer opportunities than me, generally don’t give up. “I believe that we will win” is infectious, in a crowd, at night.

 

We’ve struggled with the course of events. We didn’t get an indictment of Darren Wilson for the shooting death of Mike Brown.

 

Brittany and Alexis often say “Let’s get free, y’all.” None of us is free when a policeman shoots an unarmed teenager to death because he is afraid; because his mentality is warped.

 

So I see connections—to our past, in our circumstances—and to our future, through the lives of these people who are supposed to outlive me. Many Americans fret and just wish to be unyoked from this country’s racial legacy. Time is neutral, Martin Luther King reminded us, in his Letter From Birmingham Jail. The young grasped this, and presently attempt to wrest a city toward the future.

 

We’re on a different footing now. We’re at a higher base camp. The summit is not in sight, yet it exists as a vision in the minds of the believing community—the community we made in the summer and fall of 2014.