After Ferguson Then What


The rioting in Missouri will either be the fulcrum in the struggle against injustice in America or it will be a dusty footnote in the tomes of history.


To figure it out, let’s revisit 1970.


The Kent State shootings happened May 4, 1970. The Ohio National Guard fired on student protesters for 13 seconds. During those volleys, four students were killed and nine more wounded. The resulting shock mobilized a national demonstration of 4 million students that shut down over 450 campuses. 


Five days later, more than 100,000 protestors gathered in Washington. The youth of the country mobilized to end the Vietnam War, racism, sexism and the blind trust in the American political establishment.


About Ferguson


By focusing only on the racial aspect, the discussion zeroes in on the question of whether Michael Brown’s death is about discrimination or about police justification and militarization. 


The fist-shaking going on in Missouri and America distracts from the larger issue of police overreaction which is based not on the color of a person’s skin, but rather the depth of their pockets. To the police, too often, being poor is synonymous with being a criminal.


That’s how the 1% wants to keep it.


The latest US Census Report reveals that 50 million Americans are poor. 50 million voters is a pretty strong voting block if they ever got organized in an effort to pursue some common goals — mainly economic goals. It’s critical that the 1 percent keep the poor broken and fractured by a magician’s skill in distraction over emotionally laden issues like immigration and abortion so they never stop to wonder how they were screwed over for so long.


One way the 1 percent uses to keep the 50 million fractured is through the passing along of bogus information. PunditFact’s recent survey of network news found that at Fox and Fox New Channel, over 60 percent of claims are false. NBC and MSNBC didn’t do much better where 46 percent of the claims were false.


How can viewers make smart choices in a democracy if their sources of information are corrupted? They can’t. That’s exactly how the one percent controls the fate of the 99 percent.


The Hunger Games has been a popular movie for the past couple of years. Filmed in North Carolina, with some arena shots made in Asheville, the film expresses frustration at authority figures. 


The reason people flocked to see Donald Sutherland’s portrayal in Hunger Games? He played a cold, ruthless president dedicated to preserving the rich while smashing the skulls of the poor. It’s a story line that rings true in a society where the 1 percent get richer while the middle class is collapsing in on itself.


Instead of coming together, united, to face the real foe — do-nothing politicians, legislators and the other parasites in power — we slide into the trap of turning against each other. We use up our energy and resources battling our friends and allies instead of our common enemies. 


Of course it’s unfair to broad-brush the wealthiest as being the bad guy. There are several super-rich people who are also super-supportive of their community. Grateful and humbled, they reach out a hand to help others. But that’s the exception. There are a multitude of millionaires and billionaires who fight to reduce Food Stamps, don’t worry about relieving the burden of student debt and work to kill extensions of unemployment benefits.


With the police shootings, chokehold deaths and the stand-your-ground mentality, the police and the judicial system are now seen as enforcers of an unjust status quo meant to protect the 1 percent. Anger rises and riots demanding justice follow.


Now what?


To keep the protests in Ferguson relevant in American history, we need more protests across the country. Where’s this generation’s Kent State? What will have to happen to mobilize 4 million students?  


That’s what it will take to bring about real, meaningful change. The middle class needs to step-up and join the poor in the struggle. Whites will have to join blacks in mass demonstrations to boot out corrupt politicians, boycott exploitative businesses and get legislation passed that promotes economic equality and opportunity. That’s what it will take to punish those who gamble with our financial future.


If the 99 percent doesn’t come together now, then all America is going to get out of Ferguson is a bunch of politicians and celebrities expressing sympathy. If the 99 percent doesn’t come together with a specific plan — an agenda of exactly what we want changed and how — the country will be gathering again around the dead bodies of our neighbors who have been murdered by the police.


I want to believe John Steinbeck is right when he wrote in Grapes of Wrath,

“Repression works only to strengthen and knit the oppressed.” 


I’m leaning though more to Marvin Gay’s “Inner City Blues.”


Jerry Nelson


Jerry Nelson is an America freelance photojournalist and documentary photographer. Now on assignment in South America, Jerry covers social justice issues globally. Although busy now, Jerry is always interested in discussing future assignments. Contact him today.