Protesters anxiously awaiting the St. Louis grand jury decision relating to the shooting death of 18-year-old Mike Brown have been training activists all weekend in preparation for the day the grand jury makes an announcement about whether to indict Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson for Brown’s death.
In a small room located on South Jefferson Avenue in a building used by IUOE Local 148, organizers like Rev. Osagyefo Sekou are instructing groups of individuals about tactics relating to resisting police commands during demonstrations. Sekou is a St. Louis native who grew up in the area but now lives in Massachusetts.
Topics covered by organizers like Sekou as well as Deray McKesson and others included decentralized protest actions, jail support, first aid, legal issues, as well as staying safe on the streets during demonstrations.
McKesson explains, “Today we’ll talk about what it means about decentralized actions. So one of the four parts of what we’re doing is we are not actually telling you where to go or what to do or anything to do with most of your actions. We have some central things planned, but the power of this movement has been with really strong decentralized actions.”
Sekou however, kicks off the training with audience responses to questions he asks.
Sekou says to the group, “Our task in part is, in addition to all the information is get a sense as to why we are here. We are part of the guiding principles for this movement. It’s militant non-violent civil disobedience. Can you please say that?”
Attendees respond, “militant non-violent civil disobedience.”
Sekou continues, “And we use the word ‘militant’ as opposed to the word ‘passive’ non-violent civil disobedience, because we are about a direct encounter with the state to create drama to show that we are willing to take a risk in confronting the state because of injustice. Right?”
Attendees reply, “Right.”
“We break unjust laws, because it’s the morally right thing to do. That’s why we do it. And there’s a tradition of that,” Sekou says to the group of mainly white attendees–many who are at least 50 years old.
“And militant non-violent civil disobedience gave us the 8 hour work day It gave us women’s right to vote It gave us the possibility of me standing here in this room with you without the relative fear of arbitrary violent because this meeting would have been historically illegal 50 years ago. That’s what militant non-violent civil disobedience gave us. We are angry, but we will not allow the anger to have the last word,” says Sekou as the protesters-in-training answered him positively with rousing congregational “yeahs” after each sentence.
“So what militant non-violent civil disobedience allows us to do is to create a container that we can channel it directly at the state, because this is not about bad apples. This is about a rotten system,” Sekou tells the trainees.
“Because you can be a good cop who doesn’t shoot black people but if you give out more tickets in Ferguson than there are actually people in Ferguson, that’s an evil system.”
Sekou then starts, “So we are confronting an…”
The audience finishes his sentence stating back to him, “evil system.”
He continues, “[This is] not about an individual police or about individuals. This is about confronting an evil system. And the thing that guides us is love—not the kind of love that you see somebody and you think they’re cute—not that—deep abiding love. Say that.”
Attendees responded, “deep abiding love.”
“That’s what guides us, because deep abiding love says you’re willing to go to jail for what you believe in. Deep abiding love says you’re willing to risk your life for what you believe in,” Sekou says. “That’s what deep abiding love does. Deep abiding love in the front of tanks and tear gas and pepper spray says you will not bow down.”
Sekou tells the trainees again, “So we are guided by…”
“Deep abiding love” they say back to him. He says, “We are not confronting bad individuals but…” They respond, “an evil system.”
At this point some attendees are asked to participate in an exercise involving locking arms while others play the police vociferously demanding they leave the area.
Sekou asks those who are locking arms how they felt after that experience.
“Did you tense up? In those instances what’s the guiding principles?”
They reply, “Deep abiding love.”
“So when you feel the person next to you, you hold the line. You hold the line. One of the toughest things to do is if you are being advanced upon, if you sit, it’s harder for you to be broken up, right? So as they come for you this time, I want you to sit and lock,” he says.
The topic of race came up briefly as Sekou points out, “Look at all these white folks putting their bodies on the line for black people, because this is not a separate struggle. It is one struggle.”
Another organizer, later in the training, tells the group there is indeed “mostly white folks here.”
“For most white people we leave our houses everyday and we don’t have to worry about getting shot. We don’t have to worry about being assaulted. We don’t have to worry about being arrested. That’s not true for everybody in this country and that’s one of the reasons why we’re out here on the streets,” he says, adding:
I think there is going be a risk for white folks out there too. People are going to be angry about the power structure and white people are part of that power structure, so there is that certain risk attached to that. But I think it’s important to keep in mind that there’s gong to be more risk for black and brown folks out in the protest because there’s more risk for them every day of their lives walking through the streets. And I also think we’re not going to get change in this society unless white people are just a little bit afraid. Again, it’s okay to be a little bit afraid but just don’t be paralyzed in that fear.
Sekou, an African American adds that he wants to “dispel the myth of marauding groups—of black angry youths beating up white people.”
“That has not been the case. There have been some selective instances of violence against individuals. We have to understand that some of these individuals are state agents. So some of the people that are doing this are explicitly or implicitly trying to make us look like we bad—violent people, but keep in mind 99 percent of these protests have been non-violent,” he says.
Other locations were used as training spaces as well over the weekend. KTVI reported that organizers trained attendees to “shutdown” the town of Clayton if the grand jury does not indict Darren Wilson.