August 18, 2014 5:18 PM   Subscribe

At what point do I fly to Ferguson, MO and who do I work with?

I'm a well-off white man with growing discontent with the St Louis County police's actions after the murder of Michael Brown and an interest in participating in non-violent action in Ferguson. I have the means and the time to join but want to do that without causing more harm by coming.

What organizations would I be wise to join up with there? Who can I give my time to? When is the right time to go where I won't just be a body getting in the way of people who need to get things done?
posted by anonymous to Society & Culture (19 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
Well, what do you personally bring aside from being another body getting in the way? Because if it's just passion and not, say, experience organizing field teams or setting up phone lists or doing crisis reporting or providing legal aid… chances are you're better off at home, agitating the fuck out of your local electeds (state, federal) to get them to jump on Ferguson with both feet. People who are already in Ferguson need the money that you'd spend on a plane ticket to bail people out, provide funds for people who aren't working, pay organizers, deal with media, etc. NAACP and ACLU would be great places to start looking to give.

You might also be in one of the many places in America where police too regularly murder unarmed black men. If you're in, say, LA, you can go to a local rally against police brutality. If you're luckily in a place without that kind of record, organize a sympathy protest and get some local media involved. Come up with an action plan for other people who are in a similar situation and start to organize them.

There's a lot you can do no matter where you are, and likely a lot of it will be more productive in terms of ending the police murder of black men and the militarization of the police if you do it in your backyard, where you have established networks of people to call upon.

Maybe someone else can give you more direct info, and maybe there's been a call put out for people to head to Ferguson, but in general you'll have more power closer to where you live.
posted by klangklangston at 5:31 PM on August 18, 2014 [51 favorites]

posted by beefetish at 5:35 PM on August 18, 2014

I think you don't. You work with your own community to set standards and establish models. You push for police wearing cameras and for demilitarization, and for drug law reform, and for community design which means people walking are a norm.
posted by idb at 5:36 PM on August 18, 2014 [26 favorites]

If you are going to go at all -- and I will not comment upon whether I think that is a wise course of action -- then you should go with a modern Verizon LTE smartphone* with an app that uploads video in real-time to an Internet service (e.g. "the cloud").

* One that supports both LTE frequency bands 4 and 13

Why Verizon Wireless? Because, without knowledge of the local network situation, they are the most likely to have high speed data coverage in a given place. Why with an app that uploads video in real-time? Because if you are targeted by the police, they are likely enough to destroy, steal, or confiscate your phone. You want anything you have recorded to have already been transmitted to an off-site location to be used in future legal action.
posted by Juffo-Wup at 5:44 PM on August 18, 2014 [8 favorites]

Here's a list of places where you can send your money.

Sending the people on the ground supplies and money for legal help will be far more helpful than going down there yourself.
posted by quince at 5:47 PM on August 18, 2014 [7 favorites]

Leave giving time for people who don't have money. Give money. Organizations that can do good are almost always swimming with people willing to give time and struggling to pay for anything they want to do. Volunteers are largely useless without a budget.
posted by Sequence at 6:03 PM on August 18, 2014 [6 favorites]

Anarchist Black Cross Federation has a Warchest Program that you could support if you were into that sort of thing.
posted by oceanjesse at 6:31 PM on August 18, 2014 [6 favorites]

Donate to their public library.
posted by michaelh at 7:25 PM on August 18, 2014 [13 favorites]

Send money; stay at home. I'm pretty sure the last thing Ferguson needs is another "well-off white man" trying to fix things there.
posted by toomuchpete at 9:15 PM on August 18, 2014 [6 favorites]

I been watching livestreams from Ferguson every night since this all started. Trust me, you will not help. You will make it worse.

The amount of journalists and outsiders there has exploded and it's just making things worse. The police are struggling to figure out who is media, who is protesting and who is causing trouble. I think the police there have acted like total assholes (arresting journalists will never be OK for me, and the tear gas/rubber bullets in the early days of everything was a shocking overreaction) but this also is sort of an impossible situation for them. When they went the opposite direction of not having a police presence, things were calm for one day before a few bad apples started causing problems and looting began. Someone was shot tonight. It's a mess.

The demonstrations, in my opinion, have successfully done the best they could reasonably hope for -- the Department of Justice and the FBI are investigating the shooting separately so there will be a fair, neutral investigation that will keep things in check. I'm not sure what else you hope to accomplish by going out there and protesting? And even if there's more to gain, I'm not sure what you think you would add to the protests that are already happening?

As someone who felt outraged for a week that Michael Brown was murdered, I've realized the simple truth is we don't know all the facts. We don't actually know what happened. In one of the cell phone videos taken mere moments after he was killed, you can hear background chatter from the neighbors, people asking other bystanders what happened. One a guy in the background explained what he saw, and he clearly witnessed the entire encounter, and he said that Michael was inside the cop's SUV, a shot went off and he ran, he stopped, turned around, and then started charging back towards the police officer. How can I believe Michael's friend's account more than that guy? Why would that guy lie when he had no idea he was being recorded? After a week of truly believing Michael was murdered in cold blood, when I heard that bystander, that was the first time I had actually considered the possibility that what Michael's friend said wasn't what happened, and it was the first time I considered that maybe I don't actually know what did happen.

I'm not telling you what to believe about the shooting. But I would urge you to focus on the clear things we know and the things that will actually help. Work on getting legislation passed to require police cameras. Maybe if there were police cameras instead of opposing eyewitness claims, there wouldn't be the civil unrest there that there is. Work on scaling back the militarization of police so journalists and peaceful protesters don't feel threatened. Going to Ferguson won't help -- I think the last thing those people actually want is more outsiders coming in.
posted by AppleTurnover at 9:24 PM on August 18, 2014 [6 favorites]

I think you should go; if I were able, I'd go, and I'll tell you why:

Ferguson MO needs to stay right on top of the news. It needs to be in your face every single day for months - it must not be relegated to the "old news" bin or be shoved aside by some new horror story - it's a story that must not die, for the simple reason that it's more than a story about Ferguson, it's a story that's being repeated and embellished and duplicated and has simply become a way of life in cities and towns all over this country. It's an outrage, it's not what this country is about, and that's why people all over the country, people of color and white people, are protesting - because we want this whole idea that racism is acceptable and justifies verbal and physical abuse up to and including murder if you're wearing a badge (the next step, coming right around the corner, is that you won't need the badge).

I don't want Ferguson to calm down and go back to sleep. I want it to take over the news and keep every cop in the country on his toes, because one thing's for sure - the day the story dies is the day every police officer in every little burg or city in the country sighs a big sigh of relief and then gets back to doing things the way he was doing them before all the ruckus - before "all those black people made all that trouble."

And I want every white American standing up and yelling their lungs out that this is NOT acceptable, period. I'd give anything if I had enough strength to get involved in this. You say it's just chaos there already and it would only make it worse if people came from all over and raised more ruckus? Good!
posted by aryma at 9:45 PM on August 18, 2014 [5 favorites]

I can imagine you doing some good if you can show up with a load of gas masks. Also, hooking up with an organization that's providing food for the kids who aren't getting school lunches while everything's closed down seems like a good use of time, too, especially if you have the means to buy food.

Other than that, I agree that you should look around to see if the root causes of poverty, corrupt police, and racial profiling are in your area. It might be the most useful for you to put pressure on your own community and make sure that the effects of these events are felt nationally.
posted by ohisee at 11:08 PM on August 18, 2014 [3 favorites]

I donno if you should go, but maybe try to establish communications with locals first. There were folks all over the country sending OWS not only food deliveries, but ordering them stuff like camping gear online. You could maybe establish communication with some locals via mefi mail, twitter, facebook, etc., learn what they need, how fast, and where to send it, and place the order with Amazon, etc.

Real gas masks are usually stupidly expensive, but not the IDF ones. And swimming goggles would protect the eyes if you cannot get those.

If you go, I heard good about UbnAppd for uploading video in real time.

You should obviously support both the ACLU and the ACLU on MO as well as any other civil rights groups you like like the NAACP, even tech ones like the EFF, etc.

Also, an easy step is to follow, and frequently retweet, groups like Cop Block (twitter, facebook, previously), FilmingCops (twitter), or Police the Police (twitter, facebook), Police State USA (facebook, twitter), the Free Thought Project, etc.  We win only by convincing the country that we all have a problem, not just Ferguson.
posted by jeffburdges at 4:23 AM on August 19, 2014 [5 favorites]

I think you go when people there invite you. (That is, when they issue a call for volunteers, etc)
posted by empath at 7:25 AM on August 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

I worked with FEMA and OEM during Hurricane Sandy. I learned some incredibly valuable lessons that boil down to: Don't go; send money; spread awareness at home. This is harsh but trust me, you will not be an agent of change, you will be a burden on an already overburdened community.
posted by Polyhymnia at 8:59 AM on August 19, 2014 [4 favorites]

I'd be wary of donating to the ABC over Ferguson - community leaders have said they wish the anarchists there would go home and stay away from the protests as they are not helping particularly.
posted by corb at 12:02 PM on August 19, 2014 [2 favorites]

12 Things White People Can Do Now -- though I wish it included more specific suggestions for getting involved with activist organizations, coalitions, etc.
posted by scody at 12:27 PM on August 19, 2014

I'm a white(ish) person and I live in North STL County not far from where this has been happening. I have friends who have been at the protests and I went myself on Saturday morning. I delivered water bottles for protesters and cleaning supplies for the volunteers among the protesters who have been helping the shopkeepers who've been hit by looters clean up. I stood with a mothers' group on West Florissant, and participated in a march and a peace vigil.

I can tell you that people are welcoming PEACEFUL protesters of all colors and creeds, even from out of town. People were very pleased for example to see some Tibetan monks arrive and show support. People welcomed the arrival of some out-of-town ministers and they were happy to see Amnesty International observers there as well. But it's really important that people who come from outside follow the lead of local community leaders and the original protest organizers, and listen more than talk. If you have your own separate agenda to promote that you personally feel is more important than what the community leaders are currently trying to do (like the anarchists and the revolutionary communists) then you really DO NOT need to be there.

I can also tell you that the people of Ferguson have been EXTREMELY HEARTENED by the sight of solidarity protests elsewhere and it would probably be more helpful and more effective for you to organize a peaceful protest in your own community than it would be for you spend time and money traveling here.

If you would like to send supplies for the people on the ground, what is currently most needed as I understand it is water bottles and nonperishable food for the protesters who often stay out for several hours. But I'm sure gas masks would also be welcome.

There are also ongoing voter registration efforts in the area and if anyone can think of a way to support those I personally think that would be one of the most effective things you could possibly do toward long-term change.
posted by BlueJae at 2:51 PM on August 19, 2014 [6 favorites]

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