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The Right to Protest: Ferguson and Beyond

The Right to Protest: Ferguson and Beyond

By Dennis Loo (11/21/14)

Some people find it unremarkable that Missouri Governor Jay Nixon has called out the National Guard, declaring a state of emergeny, prior to a grand jury's decision about whether or not to indict officer Darren Wilson for killing Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO. As I previously noted, this pre-emptive move by Nixon, by St. Louis Mayor James Knowles III, and by the FBI, to intimidate and suppress any prospective demonstrations, is based upon their clear expectations that the grand jury's verdict will be to exonerate Wilson's shooting Brown to death.

I find it remarkable that some people don't find the calling out of the National Guard to be outrageous. Their view points to a) an inadequate understanding of what civil liberties are, and b) a faulty understanding of what is in play in Ferguson.

The First Amendment to the Constitution, as everyone knows, is the right to freedom of speech and freedom of assembly, without having the government acting to chill, intimidate, or violently suppress the expressions of this first amendment right, either during, after, or before the expression of that freedom of speech and assembly. To have the government declaring that it constitutes a "state of emergency" because people may decide that the grand jury has failed in its duties to properly execute the laws of the land to protect people's life, limbs, and rights, and may choose to exercise their core right to express their sentiments in the streets in protest, is nothing short of the logic of fascism.

In the following excerpt from a 2009 essay of mine in response to massive demonstrations in Iran against the government, with demonstrators convinced that the government had engaged in a rigged election, I bring into focus two related aspects to this. You can also see these aspects in play in Ferguson.

[P]eople’s political outlook is stamped by their class background/position, which is why you can see if you look closely enough the different outlooks present among different class forces in the society. The coming into active political life/combat that the situation in Iran manifests right now, however, creates a hothouse for people to potentially learn a great deal in a very short period of time about how politics really operates, who are your real friends and real enemies, who are your staunchest allies and who are your wavering allies, what the roots of the problem are and what the road forward is. What people may not learn over decades (or even their entire lifetime) about politics, they can learn in hours within the cauldron of a revolutionary crisis or legitimacy crisis.

One of the extremely painful lessons that people learn comes from the ruthless violence meted out upon them by governments that, despite all of their platitudes about “the will of the people,” react with repression to the people actually trying to exercise their will in a real way. This kind of violence shatters most people’s prior beliefs that the people in charge in the government are susceptible to entreaties and to reason, and that peaceful actions like voting (and backing the “winner” who doesn’t really want what the people want) will accomplish what must be done.

There are varying class forces involved both in Ferguson and beyond Ferguson in the larger US society and in the world watching and involved in the clash underway in Ferguson. Ferguson concentrates this worldwide clash between the forces of repression and those who find the ongoing cold-blooded murder of black and brown people to be intolerable. Those who now run this society recognize the stakes involved in Ferguson: they cannot and will not tolerate due process and civil liberties trumping their cops' right to kill at will. They cannot and will not accept any abridgments to white supremacy because white supremacy is intergral to this system's existence, the social compact that supports it, and its fundamental character. They understand that Ferguson represents a beginning of a new stage of intense struggle against their system and their plans for more repression and many more deaths at their system's hands could be undone should Ferguson grow as more and more people are inspired by people standing up and more and more people learn the hard lessons that must be learned about the true nature of this racist, sexist, murderous, exploitive, and thoroughly deceitful system.

Which side are you on? You cannot sit this one out. Pre-figuring in the Ferguson struggle are the outlines of the future.


Elaine Brower 2

Elaine Brower of World Can't Wait speaking at the NYC Stop the War on Iran rally 2/4/12