January 14 – May 31, 2019
My experience in Ferguson was life-changing. In my local Indianapolis community, we were doing work around Black Lives Matter for a few months, usually centered on protests, vigils, and conversations taking place in a very conservative city and state. I did not have to think too long about the opportunity to be around a group of like-minded people who had been doing the work for black liberation for over a year now. Not that I didn’t consider the risks – I knew that these same people had been facing fully armed police officers, tear gas, mace, and other psychological trauma that still effects them today. What I believe sums up my decision is a quote I recently read, spoken by Aboriginal activist Lilla Watson. The quote reads, “If you are come here to help me, you are wasting your time. If you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.” I felt, and still feel, that my liberation is bound up with theirs.
However, I have also grown to realize that while we are fighting for black liberation, we are not the only ones who will be liberated. Paulo Freire puts it this way in Pedagogy of the Oppressed: “In order for this struggle to have meaning, the oppressed must not, in seeking to regain their humanity (which is a way to create it), become in turn oppressors of the oppressors, but rather restorers of the humanity of both. This, then, is the great humanistic and historical task of the oppressed: to liberate themselves and their oppressors as well. The oppressors, who oppress, exploit, and rape by virtue of their power, cannot find in this power the strength to liberate either the oppressed or themselves. Only power that springs from the weakness of the oppressed will be sufficiently strong to free both.”
While we are fighting for black liberation, we are also fighting to free the oppressors. The same oppressors who defend and sustain the system through violence and dehumanization, who believe they are defending “freedom” when actually sustaining the status quo. We are working to create a community, a world, which is revolutionarily different than the one we live in. After being arrested in the Moral Monday action, I had a small taste of being literally confronted by a system and physically being put in jail. I was in a jail cell with about 14 other women, among them Lisa Fithian, Rahiel Tesfamariam, and clergywoman, and all of them incredible people who have been a part of this movement. While waiting in the cell, we reflected on the tragedy of what happened to Sandra Bland, as well as many others who get lost in the system and are never heard from again. We also talked about the evils of solitary confinement, after reflecting on the blessing that none of us were in a jail cell alone.
When people ask about my experience in Ferguson, I tell them it was the holiest experience of my life, and it was. I felt like I was putting feet on my faith, doing what Jesus has long commanded us to do. To fight with and for the oppressed. What I have carried with me every day since are the people that I met in St. Louis and Ferguson. Anything dealing with people and relationships is going to be messy – it is going to be a community of strong, hurting, in conflict, determined, and wary people with their own set of issues and baggage. But above all, I experienced a beloved community that I have not experienced anywhere else.