Activists on Saturday called for mass civil disobedience on the highways in and around this Saint Louis to protest the killing of an unarmed black teenager Michael Brown. Organizers called upon demonstrators to drive on area highways at 4:30 pm Monday, turn their hazard lights on and stop their vehicles for 4 1/2 minutes, symbolizing the 4 1/2 hours Brown’s body lay in the street.
Lead organizer Anthony Shahid told supporters, “I want the highways shut down. I know it’s a holiday, but it won’t be no good holiday.” If protesters effectively implement the plan, the action would actually mirror Ferguson’s police officer meeting with Michael Brown, who was walking in the middle of street.
Toeing with the ‘do no harm thingy’ of Buddhism, blocking traffic presents serious consequences, with the main being injury. Stopping traffic on I270 is no easy task. Traffic cruising from sixty-miles per hour to zero could cause multiple vehicle crashes, especially since Saint Louis driver education courses teach little, if any, about the brake pedal. In fact, most St. Louisans are instructed that STOP signs are only suggestions. So word to the wise, should 89 year-old Ms. Netzincrass, get caught in traffic, whether black or white, she’s going get out of her black 1978 Oldsmobile and bop someone’s arse’ with her cane. Repeatedly.
Of course if one wanted to make a statement, there are beneficial motives in hindering some traffic. For instance, will someone please stop the cargo of crap following Keeping Up with The Kardashians? Someone block San Francisco 49’er Ray McDonald or Baltimore Raven Ray Rice from leaving their respective practice facility and beating the crap out of a loved one? Will someone stop and block Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay from driving?
Though mentioned in parody, the above represent a better use of time and energy. But many get lost when symbolism and action mix. For instance, Shahid can be found calling for direct action that was both funeral procession and a slowdown – a warning showing the movement’s power to slow down traffic and business. Thus is the nature for The Disciplines of Justice envoy, a group which emerged during the Ferguson riot.
There is problem with youth-led, grassroots social movements advocating for democratic culture across multicultural societies. For people like Shahid, there is no justice without an associated level of terrorism. There are no ideas and narratives and leaders and symbols advocating the democratic culture on the ground. They desire justice yet produce division and destruction.
As a Buddhist, we must start building equality on a civilizational level, rather than merely on a political level. This movement creates civilized demand for democratic culture. There is a chance that some form of democratic culture can start and spread across to the remaining communities. But that will require all of us helping in the transition, from having merely political coalitions to building genuinely grassroots-based social movements advocating for the democratic culture.
That my friends is very Buddhist, very Christ like.