Activists in Ferguson took their conversation beyond St. Louis Wednesday night, with a nationwide conference call. The call featured a panel made up of teachers, youth leaders, parents and "citizen journalists," who have all been active during the protest in Ferguson.
Organizers labeled the event Ferguson Fireside, saying Wednesday’s call was the first of a series of "conversations with America.” People across the nation were able to ask panelists questions using the twitter hashtag #FergusonFireside. They could call in and hear the comments.
Brittany Packnett, who facilitated the call, said the discussion was a way for activists to share their stories beyond the limits of social media.
“This idea from DeRay (McKesson, one of the panelists) was really an opportunity to get the story of what is happening on the ground out there in the fullness of its truth, and making sure that we reclaim the narrative and clarify the work for everyone who is not able to attend a panel or a conversation in person,” she said.
The narrative many of the speakers shared focused on their own personal experiences of the past three months and why they became involved.
After seeing events in Ferguson unfold on Twitter, panelist McKesson told listeners he drove nine hours to Missouri to join demonstrations.
“And then I got tear gassed three nights in a row; and it was, like, this is actually crazy,” he said. “Like this is not the America I know; this is not the democracy I know. ... This can’t be OK for what black lives mean in America, which is why I continue to fight and continue to stay. And it is this idea of, like, if we allow Ferguson to do this to black lives then this will be OK in other places and that just cannot be OK.”
The panelist also shared their experience on the ground in Ferguson. Some suggested that twitter and Facebook cannot begin to portray the reality of what happens during protests. One of the panelists whose twitter handle is @Re_Invent_ED said the most terrifying moments in her life have happened in the last 82 days.
“I thought that I would lose my life in the last 82 days. I thought that I would be arrested, that I would lose my job and the consequence of me fighting for black lives matter would result in me not being able to be a black life anymore,” she said.
While offering their own personal testimonies about Ferguson was a major part of the conversation, speakers also addressed human rights issues and discussing Ferguson with children. In addition, many of the speakers took time to offer advice to allies.
Panelist, Johnetta Elize wanted to remind allies that the focus of this activism is black lives.
“So even when we say black lives matter, and allies might say ‘Well, all lives matter, that’s true. But at this point all lives do matter but black lives are the ones that are being ended by all this quote, unqoute fear and prejudices and all of this systematic racism that making you believe that if he’s 6’4" and black and big and taller than you that he is a walking threat; he’s a terror; he’s frightening; and you have to end his life to be totally safe,” she said.
McKesson said white allies must acknowledge their privilege to commit to the cause. He adds that people need to be willing to “sit in the discomfort of race talk” to have transformative change.
“I need you to defend for my life,” he said addressing allies on the call. “I need you to see my life as black man as valuable and I need you to fight for it. And I need you to fight for it when it’s not fun, when it’s not sexy, when CNN is not there .... I need you to fight for it at every chance you can because if you think that fight is hard imagine living in the work and living in the movement.”
Packnett ended the panel by reminding the audience that there is still work to be done. The daughter of a pastor, she paralleled tonight's conversation with a testifying service.
“The thing about testifying service is that it’s powerful for a couple of reasons,” she said. “One because it allows you to bear witness to your life in its excellence and its struggle … but the other important piece about testifying service is that at the end of that testimony there is always triumph because you are getting up to tell people how good god has been to you.”
Packnett said tonight's conversation was not testifying in its fullness, because they have not yet reached their triumph as a movement. There is still a lot of work to do.