‘What can I do?’ Five actions to take next with the Ferguson Commission Report | St. Louis Public Radio

‘What can I do?’ Five actions to take next with the Ferguson Commission Report

Sep 23, 2015

After the Ferguson Commission's report was released last week, St. Louisans across the region seemed to be echoing a common refrain: “But what can I do with it?” That was a question that “St. Louis on the Air” host Don Marsh tried to answer at Monday night’s public town hall “Ferguson Commission:  Where Do We Go From Here?”

While members of the panel remained reservedly optimistic about the report’s utility, a deadlocked Missouri legislature and questions about the ability of individuals to change themselves, let alone collaborate between protester, business owner, and community resident, were a recurring point of concern.

“The legislature is not going to fix this intra-community kind of issue,” said Willis Johnson, panelist and pastor of Wellspring Church in Ferguson. “We need to understand how our protest and our enterprise intersect. How do we agitate but also empower, or not take away from our brothers and sisters? We need to be coming up with these strategies for our own survival.

“[Protesters] are not going to going to stop protesting and it’s not fair for [the business owner] to alter your business. I want us all to sit down together so we come up with a strategy so we all get fed and we all get free.”

Terry Jones, a panelist and a professor of political science and public policy administration at UMSL, said that it would be wise to look at Ferguson Commission recommendations that could get bipartisan support, such as the much-lauded example of Missouri Senate Bill No. 5 from the last legislative session, and work on those initially, leaving more contentious recommendations such as Medicaid Expansion for a time when it is likely to pass.

“If you looked at the 189 recommendations and tried to craft a legislative agenda for the next Missouri general assembly, you could identify at least 10, maybe as many as 20, that could get through,” Jones said.

Did you miss Part One of the "Ferguson Commission: Where Do We Go From Here" panel? You can find it here.

But how can the individuals take the Ferguson Commission report and run with it? “St. Louis on the Air” host Don Marsh asked our panelists and here is what each said:

Read the Ferguson Commission Report and attend a meeting
Ferguson Commission members Byron Watson and Rasheen Aldridge.
Credit Robert Peterson | St. Louis Public Radio

 “Copy down this website, stlpostivechange.org. That’s the commissioners’ website that will be up for the next three months. All of our meetings, all of our events, all that we’re doing, now through sunset on December 31. You can get a link to the Ferguson Report. Look at this report. We didn’t do it just to have it sit there. I want the citizens to see the work we did. We used taxpayers’ money to do this and I want the taxpayers to see it. I think we did some things in there that are going to make positive changes to St. Louis.” ­–Byron Watson, Ferguson Commission member and a police officer with more than 30 years of experience in the St. Louis area

Watson had also commented that what makes this report different is that each recommendation is attached to an “accountable party.” That is a party that an individual can follow up with to make sure the recommendations are followed through.

Pick a handful of recommendations and advocate for them

“Read the report, particularly the signature items. Pick out no more than three items that you think are, A, 

  very beneficial and, B, politically feasible. Work with your state representative or senator or whoever the accountable parties are.” –Terry Jones, professor of political science and public policy administration at UMSL

Reach out to the appropriate champion

Ferguson Mayor James Knowles
Credit Kelly Moffitt, St. Louis Public Radio

“Really focus on items that you think you can make effective change on. Go out and find whoever it is, whatever accountable party, and take a moment to sit down and talk to them. It doesn’t have to be your legislator, in some ways it shouldn’t be your legislator. Go out to Jefferson City, start knocking on doors, and find that champion to you and your group that will be helpful in getting something through the legislature.

“We’re not going to get anything done sitting in silos. We’re not going to get anything done sitting with people who agree with us. You’re going to have to talk to the people who don’t agree with you and engage them. Sit down with them. Start with the low-hanging fruit.” –James Knowles, Mayor of Ferguson

Knowles, who spent eight years as a lobbyist in Jefferson City, said that he had talked with protesters early on who were protesting in Ferguson about Bob McCulloch. “’Why are you outside the Ferguson Police Department ranting about getting McCulloch to do something,’ I asked. You’ve got to know who your audience is and the change agent you’re trying to influence,” said Knowles. 

Learn about your neighbor, continue to fight, exercise your vote

“Go to forwardthroughferguson.org, which actually puts some life into these recommendations and understand why it is important for some of these things to get passed and acted on. If it’s not the commission, and you don’t feel like that is where your line of work is, once again, there are 189 recommendations. I know there are one or two, continue to fight. Everyone has a role in this movement. Everyone has a role in making our region a better place. Don’t just sit back and be asleep. It is time to wake up.” –Rasheen Aldridge, community organizer and activist, he is a member of the Ferguson Commission and the director of Young Activist United St. Louis

Aldridge had also advocated for people to exercise their vote and community organizing skills. “The ones in power don’t care about the change we desperately need and want,” Aldridge said. “Going back you said, ‘Oh, the mayor [Knowles] said the commission is nothing, Maria [Chappelle-Nadal] said nothing’s going to get done, Antonio [French] said people are just coming up with ideas.’ Three people in positions of power saying nothing’s going to happen. That’s not the mind frame we need, that’s not the mind frame people on ground have…we need to start thinking about getting these old-minded people out of office.”

Dare to be the change, visit the Center for Social Empowerment and Justice
Willis Johnson, pastor of Wellspring Church.
Credit Kelly Moffitt, St. Louis Public Radio

“Dare to be the change. Justice is love in public and loving out loud. It is loving hard and it is loving everyone.”

–Willis Johnson, pastor of Wellspring Church in Ferguson

Johnson said it was essential for people within Ferguson to talk to one another and see each other’s point of view. He recommended that people visit the Center for Social Empowerment and Justice, which is housed in Wellspring Church’s education annex, and offers a study of “urban context issues” and an “exploration of ethical faith formation and practice.”

“The folks that are most vulnerable and the ones who are being victimized are being left to reconcile and recover amongst themselves,” Johnson said. “At the end of the day, we’re here in front of everyone else having a family conversation. We’re forced to have to deal with each other, when at the end of the day we’re all being done wrong.”

And...why should we work for change?

“I have a son that is one and half years old and, while I’m a reporter and the people on this stage are going to make the change that is issued in the report, I just have to think to myself, when my son is 10, 15, 20 years old, do I want him to be in the community that we’re in right now? If the answer is ‘yes,’ then we keep everything the same and nothing that we talked about will change. If the answer is ‘no,’ then each and every one of us will be incentivized to make change within their own spheres and communities ourselves. It’s incentive.” –Jason Rosenbaum, St. Louis Public Radio reporter

"St. Louis on the Air" discusses issues and concerns facing the St. Louis area. The show is produced by Mary EdwardsAlex Heuer and Kelly Moffitt and hosted by veteran journalist Don Marsh. Follow us on Twitter and join the conversation at @STLonAir.