After Ferguson: the moment and the movement

Posted by: Olivia Schiller on 9/3/2014
 “We must no longer have short-term demands without long-term strategies,” Rev. Dietra Wise-Baker of Liberation Christian Church, told a reporter for the St. Louis American, St. Louis’ African-American newspaper, at the group’s public meeting last week. “They don’t mind us protesting as long as we’re not organizing.”

She was speaking at the Metropolitan Congregations United public meeting where officials committed to work with MCU on an agenda that includes advancing education reform and expanding Medicaid in Missouri as well as nonpartisan voter registration. Leaders of MCU set the agenda of their long-planned public meeting to address the issues raised by the recent violence in Ferguson, where a number of members, leaders and staff live and worship.

More than 650 attended the meeting, which was widely covered by news media. The following document reflects where they see their future work moving and how what happened in north county, where Ferguson is located, has already had an impact on their organization and its strategy.
Gamaliel’s Fire of Faith campaign has called for Rekindling Our Congregations (ROC) , Our Economy and Our Democracy. Now, we are launching phase 2, informed by experience and the urgency of this moment. ROC 2.0 is a 24-month initial response to Ferguson, grounded in local communities and stretching across the country. It includes a “deep dive” into race in America with the power to transform ourselves and our organizations. It also will rebuild our part of the Civil Rights infrastructure which fueled the last great shift in American culture.
While reflecting on Ferguson, Rev. Dr. Dietra Baker has pointed to Exodus 15. The Hebrew people, wandering in the wilderness discover an oasis at Marah, but the water is too bitter to drink. God reveals to them a technique for sweetening the water. For people fleeing captivity, even the oasis is a struggle. But the oasis is not the destination. Moses reminds his people that they are headed for a promised land. Thank God for oases!  Thank God for the long journey beyond the life-sustaining rest stops!
The Moment
The shooting of Michael Brown on August 9 laid bare many painful truths about race in St. Louis. Some focused on Mr. Brown or Officer Wilson, some on police brutality or the behavior of looters, some on getting back to normal or the new reality. These experiences appeared across racial differences but also within them. In this moment, many have responded with protests and calls for redress for the injustices experienced by individuals and communities. In the bitterness of this moment, some are finding God-blessed ways of sweetening the water. Some is still bitter. In the moment, we are struggling amid blessing.
The Movement
During the Civil Rights era of the 50’s and 60’s, the Malcolms and Martins relied on an army of “workers in the vineyard.”  Countless unnamed leaders had built infrastructure in their churches, schools, neighborhoods, and social groups. The time has come to rebuild a modern network of relationships for this journey. MCU is launching two movement-building efforts. Both are developing on a track record of success using the tools we are adapting to this movement:

   1. Community Power Organizations. Congregations, schools, and neighborhoods will visit with their neighbors and listen. They will identify issues to address- for example: safe routes to schools, policing policies and practices, economic reinvestment – the specifics will depend on the location and the passions of the people there. The point is to address real issues and build confidence among people not being heard by people in power. In the process, community leaders will rebuild the civil rights infrastructure required to confront and dismantle the systemic racism behind what we have experienced in Ferguson.
   2. Courageous Sacred Conversations About Race (+Action). Over the past year, Gamaliel has been developing our own way to returning to deep, relevant conversations about race and racism. We are now offering 3, 4, and 9-month modules for congregations and communities to reflect deeply on our individual experiences of race and how they relate to the systems of control and oppression which exploit race as a tool of social control.

Part of the action will also include 100% Voting Holy Ground: Gamaliel will build on its voter registration work to get congregations 100% Registered, 100% Educated, and 100% to the Polls.
The Spirit
Speedboats are fast and agile. The first two weeks after Mike Brown’s death have been led by speedboat leaders and groups. Some will be around for the long term. Most congregations are more like oil tankers. They are slow to get away from the dock and may need tug boats to get them started. However, once moving, they tend to keep moving and move a lot of cargo-.
God’s spirit is troubling the waters of American lif. Congregations must enter these troubled waters, frightening as it will be. This is where faith comes in. We cannot know where the journey will take us-any more than Moses knew what to expect on the other side of the Red Sea. ROC 2.0 requires faith.

The one who promised freedom to the Hebrew people, who brought the exiles home, longs for us to be restored and renewed. If we will make the first move away from the dock, God will guide us and journey with us.
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