(Photo credit: Oluwafemi Agbabiaka; The sit-in took place at a Quik Trip in south St. Louis on October 13th, 2014).
By Femi Ogbabiaka,
Anyone who has participated in direct action can tell you that your first time is going to be scary, but it comes more naturally after that. When I went to Ferguson, MO along with some students from the University of Missouri-Columbia, I imagined that my past experience could help prepare me for any difficulties I might face there while protesting in the days leading up to the grand jury decision. I was completely wrong. The brutality and oppression that I witnessed and experienced there was far beyond anything that I had seen in other protests, and had a profound radicalizing effect on me. I’ve always had a relatively antagonistic view of police, but seeing officers beat protesters who were already handcuffed, use tear gas on peaceful protestors, and use riot gear against unarmed citizens changed that.
The definition of a reactionary is one who is opposed to political or social liberalization or reform. Any time oppressed peoples choose to rise up in defiance of the stranglehold that elites have on them and their communities, reactionaries come out in force. This has been true from the beginning of the labor movement, through the civil rights movement, and it will not change until true liberation has been achieved.
The winter has made it harder to maintain the mass numbers of protesters that we all witnessed in the fall, and reactionaries have responded with massive campaigns to attempt to sway public opinion. From New York to Oakland, police departments are cracking down and working hard to maintain their level of brutal force in communities of color. The only solution is to continue fighting back. I don’t mean this in an abstract sense, because as I write this, there are working class people who have died and will die by the hand of those who the capitalist class has led them to believe should protect them. Silence and inaction on this issue is complicity. If you have ever wondered what you would’ve done during the civil rights movement, now is your chance. If you deny the brutality of our police departments, go to a protest, they will prove how destructive they can be.
The final day we protested in St. Louis, the group I was with participated at a sit-in at a local gas station, where naturally, the St. Louis police showed up in riot gear, falsely accused a group of people with their hands in the air of throwing rocks, kettled, and then finally tear gassed us until we had to leave the premises, all the while being followed by more police banging on their riot shields. The atmosphere as we left under those circumstances was one of fear, but also of newfound awareness. Police response to peaceful protests is a microcosm of the everyday occupation of neighborhoods of color, and the fact that they’re cracking down as hard as they can means the protests are working. Bit by bit, the contradictions of these intertwined systems of white supremacy and capitalism rear their head, forcing elites to take notice, and as they do, the people grow stronger.
Femi Agbabiaka is a Young Democratic Socialists Coordinating Committee member who founded a YDS chapter at the University of Missouri-Columbia and is currently an active member with Chicago DSA.
A Black History Month reflection.
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