I met Erika Totten last week at the second DC town hall for Ferguson in as many days. Slightly star-struck, but not wanting to gush in my clumsy way, I simply confessed to her that I’d seen her just about everywhere these last few weeks, working to raise visibility and further organize for Ferguson.
She told me she’s a stay-at-home mom with past lives in marketing and advertising. I asked her how she came to be so involved. She’s been on the ground in Ferguson. She was front and center at the National Moment of Silence. She was on the microphone pleading for support at the town hall the evening before. This night, she was leading a breakout session about facilitating organizational involvement in local efforts to support Ferguson.
Then, she told me, with expression that exceeded her words: this just got to her. And I believe I know exactly what she means.
Her response matched the breadth of my fears and the depth of my rage over Ferguson. Fear, because I’ve had “the talk” with my young adult brother about how he and his friends should police themselves in public, so maybe law enforcement won’t. Fear, because my youngest cousins are “getting shapely,” and I know full well that street harassment isn’t restricted to civilian ranks. Then rage, because this kind of violence is so particularly directed, overwhelmingly ignored, and addressing it invites a peculiar brand of raced victim-blaming.
I have no connection to Ferguson, Missouri beyond my identity. It’s hard to put words to how and why this situation creates such palpable psychic trauma for all who bear witness of the American black experience. Nevertheless, it does. There is nothing anyone can do to bring Michael Brown – or any other victim of police brutality – back from the dead.
But the emotional energy bursting from this moment is exactly why I’m so inspired by Erika Totten.
She’s one of the dedicated and legion activists that are turning this tragedy into an opportunity for strategic and focused movement. Not because of organizational leadership, but simply because inaction and hesitation aren’t options she’s willing to settle for.
While media coverage begins to fizzle, the city of Ferguson, the people of Ferguson, and the people who support them are moving on–but not from this moment.
On the contrary, the people are meeting material and emotional needs created in the aftermath of Michael Brown’s death, but sustained and exacerbated by a perpetually tenuous relationship with the state. That relationship between the governed and the seat of government is not unique to Ferguson, Missouri. This is how and why a leaderless mass is emerging to fill in the gaps, and it’s a movement anyone can join.
This is what anyone can do right now:
- Sign the White House petition to support the Mike Brown Law. This law would mandate forward-facing body cameras be worn by every police officer at the state, county, and municipal level. The White House must respond at 100,000 signatures.
- Be a part of the Sept. 6th Call to Action against police brutality. Find your city or become a virtual volunteer here. Search #Sept6CTA.
- If you are able, provide financial support that directly impacts Ferguson, and supports the family of Michael Brown.
- Answer the call for assistance for professionals in specialized fields like law, mental health, and IT. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org to find out how.
If there is any good that can come from such heart-wringing pain as what has happened in Ferguson, it’s this: the people are paying attention. Let’s make sure we’re all taking action, too.