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17

Sep

When the “Freedom Riders Came to town by Dr Reynaldo Anderson

  • By Hands Up Dont Shoot

How did we get here? Dr Reynaldo Anderson breaks down Labor Day weekend 2014.

3 years ago going into Labor Day weekend, a group of black activists came to town to support the people in the Ferguson Movement that had popularizted the term “Hands Up Don’t Shoot” and introduced themselves as the new “Freedom Riders” on my campus Harris-Stowe State University. Someone had put them in contact with me as a reliable progressive/ radical scholar, Vice President of the faculty Union (NEA) at the time, and sympathetic to what the Ferguson Movement was evolving into, a potentially anti-systemic model that could inform other largely ostensibly Black Communities and enclaves across the country around the issue of police brutality and social inequality.

The young people on my campus who had been participating in the protests under student leaders, predominantly Black women from the campus, had been on the streets for over 3 weeks on a daily basis and were tired. Going into the weekend, one of the primary youth leaders checked with me and told me some new group was coming into town to help out while they would rest a couple of days. The “New Freedom Riders” were riding into Saint Louis, for about 3 days to work primarily with the Organization of Black Struggle O.B.S. and M.O.R.E., under the leadership of Patrice Cullors from the West Coast and Darnell Moore leading the “East Coast” meeting up at Saint John’s United Church of Christ.

After a brief communication, another university administrator and I met with Patrice Cullors, a representative of Amnesty International, and a couple of other people in the campus cafeteria. I told them the university would be unable to accommodate their request for free housing, however, I agreed to refer them to other progressive entities and organizations that could help build a mass sustained local protest. Needless to say, I was surprised when Patrice mentioned O.B.S. as the lead element in the local protest. I understood O.B.S. (Historically affiliated to the Black Radical Congress (BRC) years ago) to one of several factions participating in the protest movement, and that to anoint them as the voice of the local movement would create a sectarian problem due to their historical inability to work effectively with other sections of the black community over ideological arguments, despite the work they had accomplished regarding criminal justice abuse. See https://s-usih.org/2016/01/remembering-the-black-radical-congress/.

I also mentioned while it would be fine to work with the United Church of Christ due to their progressive history. I pointed out to her they would need to identify the large progressive Black congregations that had large numbers to support them due to the fact that while Saint John’s had a predominant Black congregation, that was connected to the black community, it was part of a larger White entity that would be unable to move large numbers of black folk for a sustained grassroots campaign. The failure of organizations like OBS to connect to the broader Black faith community where the masses are connected to the lessons identified years ago by Bill Fletcher and Jamala Rodgers http://www.blackcommentator.com/511/511_cover_brc_fletcher_rogers_share.html.

However, it was the later stuff that weekend that gave me pause, and a hinted this was going to go downhill swiftly.
That weekend some of us were invited to a dinner not far from Tower Grove on Manchester. There, after a few pleasantries were exchanged the actions of Saint Louis protestors were trashed over dinner by an out of town author attached to the “Freedom Riders” that had just arrived. Essentially, the “local” activists were F***ing up, and incarcerated prisoners like Mutulu Shakur were trash, and we did not know what the F***k we were doing. I’ll never forget the look on the young brother’s face (a prominent local artist) who sat across the table from me, when he had to get up and walk away with his fists clenched. I just kept calmly sipping and taking mental notes. I think that stage of the movement was over for me when I gave the “Freedom Riders” (Black Lives Matter) organization a final chance by visiting their HQ set up for the weekend at St. John’s. A lot of young brilliant people were there engaged in thoughtful discussion. A great performance by the Afrofuturist artist King Britt closed out the evening. However, for me it ended on an ugly note when the Pastor of St. John’s attempted to explain to the “Freedom Riders” that all of the Ferguson protesters were gone from the site and they would have no back up. They wanted to go anyway, even though they did not know how to get there or where it was. While the pastor was talking a cluster of “The Freedom Riders” began to say disrespectful things behind the pastors back the entire time he was talking. I was standing by them thinking *WOW*…this guy is taking a risk with his building and his ministry helping YOU…and you respond like this???***…I decided, although I would support the movement for Black Lives and would write checks…I would never support the organization. This was before the influence of money on the movement became a problem. I think time has born out that decision to be wise in the long term.

It was Labor Day weekend 2014.

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