"Weekend of Resistance" in Ferguson takes disturbing turn

The large scale protests in Missouri are back in force as people take to the streets in what’s being variously called the Weekend of Protest or Ferguson October, depending who you ask. And the media is once again out in droves.

Tense but peaceful protests over Michael Brown’s death and other fatal police shootings in Missouri and elsewhere stretched across the St. Louis region Friday as organizers urged hundreds of participants to avoid arrest so that they could return for a weekend of demonstrations.

The four-day event called Ferguson October began Friday afternoon with a march outside the St. Louis County prosecutor’s office in Clayton and renewed calls for prosecutor Bob McCulloch to charge Darren Wilson, a white Ferguson officer, in the Aug. 9 death of 18-year-old Brown, who was black and unarmed. A grand jury is reviewing the case.

A variety of groups, both local and imported, have shown up in the streets leading to some tense encounters. The video footage running pretty much non-stop on CNN today includes a few images which seem to indicate a not terribly subtle shift in the message. One of the ones which really stood out to me was a group of marchers holding a banner which read, “Smash Racist Cops with Communist Revolution.”

Where did that come from? I noted one protest leader interviewed by CNN which might give us a hint.

“We are here to demand the justice that our people have died for,” chanted protest organizer Montague Simmons of the local group Organization for Black Struggle. “We are here to bring peace, to bring restoration, to lift our banners in the name of those who’ve been sacrificed.”

A quick check online will show that Organization for Black Struggle (OBS) is hardly a “local group” as is being reported. They’ve been around for decades, and their web site lays out their chief goals, beliefs, objectives and methods. Among their founding documents is the Black Freedom Agenda, introduced with the Black Radical Congress in 1998. Among a litany of various objections and objectives, it includes the following principle.

3. We will fight to advance beyond capitalism, which has demonstrated its structural incapacity to address basic human needs worldwide and, in particular, the needs of Black people.

Guided by our belief that people should come before profits, we will fight to maximize economic democracy and economic justice:

a. We seek full employment at livable wages, public control of private sector financial operations, worker control of production decisions, and a guaranteed annual income for the needy;
b. we will fight to end racial discrimination by capitalist enterprises, especially banks, insurance companies and other financial institutions;
c. we seek a society in which working people enjoy safe working conditions and flexible hours to accommodate family responsibilities, leisure and vacations;
d. we seek laws mandating public ownership of utilities, and mandating federal and local budgetary emphases on programs for the general welfare– health care, education, public transportation, recreation and infrastructure;
e. we will struggle for laws that regulate private sector business practices, especially regarding prices, fees, plant shutdowns and job relocations — where shutdowns are permitted, adequate compensation to workers shall be required;
f. we support the historical mission of trade unions to represent workers’ interests and to negotiate on their behalf;
g. we seek a fair, equitable, highly progressive tax system that places the heaviest taxes on the wealthiest sector, and we seek expansion of the earned income tax credit.

At this point you may be wondering what the heck most of that has to do with Michael Brown or relations between police and the black community. The answer is pretty much nothing. But having observed numerous other protests, this shouldn’t be all that shocking. Whenever large scale social unrest breaks out and crowds gather, the two ideological groups which seem to flock to the violence – and seek to augment it – are the anarchists and the communists. (The irony of this should be lost on none of us, given that the two seek precisely opposite social reformation goals.)

But if the protesters and the OBS interlopers can each serve the purposes of the other, if only for a short period of time on completely superficial aspects of the underlying issues, then the mixing of the amassed forces is probably inevitable. Still, this is the sort of messaging we need to keep an eye on because it can swell out of control on a moment’s notice in a social tinderbox such as this.