After Ferguson: Looking Forward and Looking Back
By Russell Maroon Shoatz
Ever since the police killed Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri – closely followed by the killing of Eric Garner in New York, as well as the killing of lesser-known individuals elsewhere – the world has witnessed a new Movement emerging against unchecked police power.
Why do I say that? Since the historic Anti-Globalization upheaval that occurred in Seattle, Washington in the late 1990s, followed by the global fight–back against the World Trade Organization and its deadly consolidation of corporate power, the youth of the North have joined hands with the ongoing revolutionary upsurge in county after country in South America. Each in their own way, they have demanded that people and the environment take center stage over corporate profits.
That spirit of resistance led to the coalition that elected Barack Obama as the first Black President of the most powerful nation on the planet. Not only did that coalition propel him into office, the hopes of billions around the world served to energize that effort. Not since the ending of apartheid in South Africa and the election of Nelson Mandela to head of that country had so many felt they were witnessing the anointing of another savior. Indeed until Ferguson many would cling desperately to that illusion.
Alas, in the in-between years, not only had not much changed at home or globally, much had gotten worse: targeted killings, drone strikes, stonewalling on climate change measures, economic suffering, and in the U.S., the “Police State” was exposed in all its horror by wikileaks, Chelsea Manning, Edward Snowden, and lesser-known whistle blowers. Much of which the Black and Brown communities were not surprised about, seeing how the militarization of the police in their areas had long ago taken place, all but crushing their spirits; or so it seemed…
After the acquittal of George Zimmerman for killing Trayvon Martin, followed by the gunning down of other Black and Brown youth before the killing of Michael Brown, and nothing being done about those crimes – closely followed by the broadly reported strangling death of Eric Garner by New York’s cops – tens of thousands across the world got out and disrupted business-as-usual, chanting “Hands up, Don’t shoot! Hands up, Don’t Shoot!” interspersed with Eric Garner’s last words: “I can’t breathe; I can’t breathe; I can’t breathe…”
No longer did these multitudes look to President Obama or any other politician to aid them. The murders of Michael Brown and Eric Garner had forced them to act on the rhetoric they had been served up by their silver-tongued “savior”; they became the change they were looking for.
How did they do it? A way to understand the immense changes since Ferguson can be seen operating in SWARM intelligence; a name given to naturally occurring phenomenon amongst insects, fish, humans, and other life forms.
Swarm intelligence is the collective behavior of decentralized, self-organized systems. Agents follow simple rules, and although there is no centralized control structure dictating how individual agents should behave, local – and to a certain degree random – interactions between such agents lead to the emergence of intelligent global behavior, unknown to the individual agents. From the perspective of the mathematical modeler, it is an emergent behavior arising from simple rules that are followed by individuals and does not involve central coordination…
- Move in the same direction as your neighbors
- Remain close to your neighbors
- Avoid collision with your neighbors
Examples of biological swarming are found in bird flocks, fish schools, insect swarms, bacteria swarms, molds, molecular motors, quadrupled herds, and people… A collection of people can also exhibit swarm behavior, such as pedestrians or soldiers swarming a par pet. – wikipedia
Looking back, swarming has long been utilized by humans to resist oppression. Through TV documentaries, most have witnessed the Berlin Wall being demolished by swarming citizens on both sides of that barrier. The racist apartheid police and armed forces of South Africa were endlessly swarmed by resisters, as were all of the regimes in the Middle East. The Palestinian uprisings and the Arab Spring are also examples of recent swarms. We should not fail to remember that in the U.S. during the 1960s and 1970s, the struggles against the war in Vietnam, and against racial, gender, and political oppression led to untold instances of swarming – often misrepresented as “riots” and “looting,” though still adding to the Movement that brought about a number of reforms.
What will allow the swarming techniques so widely adopted since Ferguson to cement themselves as part of a new Movement, and not fizzle out or easily be repressed or co-opted, are two things: Cheap, readily available, and widely utilized communications technologies, coupled with the groundbreaking adoption of that communications capability to stage actions to enforce the rejection of the oppressive status quo, by swarming streets, roadways, bridges, building, and other public facilities, thereby forcing large segments of society to also feel some of the pain that is motivating those swarming. This is a tactic that will prove extremely hard to eradicate – short of addressing some of their main concerns.
It’s ironic that since Ferguson there is still a segment of this new Movement that continues to nostalgically utilize tactics and methods from the past, in the teeth of facts that point to the reality that those tactics did not and could not prove as effective as the swarming methods already being widely used are showing, regarding a clear potential – with room for growth – for a LEAP towards a strategic breakthrough.
For one, the old charismatic leadership style has lost most of its relevancy, simply because modern communication in so many hands effects a form of mass democracy. Meaning: information, ideas, proposals, and plans can rapidly be shared – then just as quickly modified, agreed upon, adopted, and acted on – something the charismatic leaders of the past excelled at, and used to more rapidly organize people to achieve results than the slower-to-communicate masses at the time. Not anymore.
Since Ferguson the global swarming activities have been the products of too many “leaders” to know of! Nowadays if you have a good enough idea, proposal, or plan of action, through the democracy of modern communication, it can readily be accepted, modified, and implemented, leaving less of a need for the charismatic leadership style.
Then the swarming of the 1960s and 1970s in the U.S also suffered a great deal from a means of rejecting the status quo that at the same time did great harm to the oppressed’s own interests. Thus when the “Long Hot Summers” of rebellions (swarming) from that period degenerated into the wholesale torching of parts of lower class communities, “Burn Baby Burn” became the mantra and practice of those who rejected the slower and, in many, many instances, more painful and demeaning nonviolent civil disobedience campaigns led by Martin Luther King.
Since Ferguson, however, untold thinkers have devised ways to utilize modern communication to bring together masses of people to enforce a halt to business-as-usual, while still being able to avoid mass arrests, or the destruction of their communities, and being able to withdraw with their numbers having struck blows for their causes and still strong enough to continue the efforts at another time and location – something that is easily grasped by the participants, as well as many, many others who previously saw no way to accomplish such things, meaning the initiative remains in their hands, while a backlash from those who are wedded to the status quo is inevitable.
At this stage, a weakness of this new movement is its failure to formulate and push forward intermediate goals – winnable objectives that can be accomplished so that the participants acquire things to “Hang Their Hats On,” as the more deep-rooted causes of injustices will take a long time to uproot.
In the meantime, be confident that this new Movement’s ability to utilize modern communications and the democracy that affords, along with its breakthroughs in developing and utilizing brilliant new tactics that render the status quo unworkable (even temporarily), gives it “legs” that no movement of comparable bredth in a long time has enjoyed.
There is still much that needs to be done, but let’s not try to win this round by believing that certain tactics that were used in the past are superior to what we are witnessing right now. And if you don’t believe your own eyes … then I can’t help you!