As I look at the events playing out in Ferguson, Missouri I appreciate the wisdom of Rev Dr Martin Luther King Jr. From his first leadership of a Civil/Human Rights demonstration, the Montgomery, Alabama bus boycott, he coordinated non-violence training sessions for protesters to assure that the focus would remain on the issue at hand.
These sessions were required for all protesters prior to their participation in the demonstrations. The sessions allowed protesters the opportunity to learn how to properly demonstrate using non-violence. Protesters were placed in staged situations similar to what they would experience in performing acts of civil disobedience.
Training sessions and rally’s crucial to success
They literally were instructed how to act and respond with non-violence to any scenario that might occur during the demonstration. This accomplished the goal of weeding out those that were not temperamentally best to non-violently protest. It not only served as an opportunity to educate people about the practices of non-violent resistance, but also about the principles of non-violence.
Aside from teaching people the proper way to protest there was another crucial element of the process that served as a pressure reliever. That pressure reliever were the nightly rallies held between the actual demonstrations. These rally’s were a time when information about strategy and tactics were discussed. They also served as a vehicle for people to vent their frustrations. Venting their frustrations assured that by the time demonstrations occurred protesters were able to stay focused on conducting demonstrations in the spirit of non-violence.
Instead of Ferguson protesters gathering loosely in the streets at night, they would be in a church or meeting hall preparing for non-violent demonstrations the next day. The Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee embraced the practice of training students how to non-violently protest. They successfully carried out non-violent sit-ins at department store lunch counters and their infamous bus rides throughout the segregated south.
All protest demonstrations were planned, no impromptu marches
These training sessions and rally’s worked hand in hand with another crucial element of the process and that was the PLANNING and LOGISTICS infrastructure that was in place for all demonstrations.
This infrastructure brought order to the process and opened a line of communication between the protester and the protestee. For instance Dr. King never just showed up on a whim and decided to hold a demonstration. He always applied for a permit to the appropriate government authority.
This allowed the rules of conduct when to march, where to march and where to assemble to be established beforehand. Avoiding the daily confusion between the police and peaceful protesters we see playing out in Ferguson. The infrastructure had a self policing element which did not allow violent thugs to infiltrate demonstrations and co-op it for their own destructive gains.
Communication dialogue necessary
For Dr King it was enforced by the imposing 6`4 300 plus pound Rev James Orange, who made sure if you marched you did so peacefully. Fortunately we are seeing volunteer peacekeepers emerging in Ferguson. They would be much more effective if there was a central infrastructure in place organizing their efforts.
One advantage that Ferguson protesters have is the support of the chief law enforcement official on the ground Captain Ron Johnson. Unfortunately for Capt Johnson and the citizens of Ferguson he has no organized effort to interact with.
Protesters complain that he changes the rules daily and they show up not knowing day to day the rules of conduct. The reason the rules have to change every day is because there is no organized infrastructure to establish protesters rules of conduct. He has to make rules according to the current chaos happening in the streets.
He can’t speak to each protester individually and since there is no infrastructure to disseminate information he is left with only press briefings to communicate the daily rules.
All protesters of goodwill should remember that it takes more than just showing up mad and speechifying. The whole methodology of Kingian Non-Violence must be applied for a successful NON-VIOLENT outcome.