“Rioting continues for third day, black residents with rioters, mostly young, directing fury at government and vehicles. The injury toll continues to mount as several hundred policemen moved to control riots. Only a small number of injured are white. There is widespread feeling that repercussions could be great. Police comdr, sees no end – i.e., the battle between police and rioters. As activists were repressed or saw friends beaten or killed, some took up arms and became insurgents.”
The diary entry noted is decades old and obviously not about Ferguson, Missouri.
What I witnessed decades ago is about the social history of how people built homes, education systems and a country. The streets upon which I walked are not unlike Ferguson, Missouri. Similarly, citizens believed in a fight for freedom. As such, newspaper articles will be written and awards won. But is that where all this ends?
Most Ferguson, MO rioters believe the establishment is maintaining control via “at all costs” mentality. In maintaining that form of social control, it’s necessary to arrest, even shoot, those who refuse the dictates of old white men. Thus, the resistance welling up from a lifetime of oppressive conditions is demonized.
In truth, my diary note was written in a hotel room near Soweto, South Africa, not Ferguson, MO. But what lessons can Ferguson learn from Soweto?
First, if the eradication of economic injustices is not achieved within the lifetime of those that experienced it, Ferguson, MO as well as other cities will continue to be plagued by racial tensions. Second, African Americans must somehow learn to respond as an organized political movement, not a mob. Third, if there remains few improvements for the lives of millions of the poorest, racial tension and violence will provide yet another example of a failed revolution. Fourth, American public does not adjust to rapid changes, whether it be in accusation or outrage.
There’s a strange quote Al Sharpton said after returning from South Africa decades earlier.
“Because ultimately history is going to judge you by what you achieve. That’s what stimulated me there (South Africa): that it’s more important to affect the lives of people and their agendas than to be caught up with sound bites or style or any of that.”
Today, many, myself included, consider Sharpton nothing more than an agitator.
As a Buddhist, the challenge is to tell a story that produces results. It’s about goals, not about the loudest way to vent. The worst error is talking about nonviolence while being violent, for violence surrounds us every day; the very violence in which I, you, we, are complicit.
Life is not a sound bite. Unfortunately, almost everything coming from Ferguson and Clayton are sound bites.