I Won’t Be Going to Ferguson


The sky is grey. Cloudy. The fog has settled in over the land, like it does here every August, startling the tourists who shiver in their shorts, thinking they were coming to “sunny California!” not knowing that we get our sun at other times of year here by the bay.

My heart is simultaneously light and heavy.

The lightness comes from my shift at the soup kitchen yesterday afternoon, and from dinner with one of my beloveds. And from sitting at my desk, cup of tea easily at hand, as I work.

The heaviness comes from the events of the last two weeks. The heaviness comes from thinking about Ferguson, Missouri, but not only Ferguson... I wrote about race in America last week and hope you read that piece.

Last night, my beloved told me not to look at my Twitter feed because it causes me to lose sleep. I’ve been scanning it at night to follow events on the ground in Ferguson. So, last night, I read a book instead, and looked at the Twitter news after my morning prayers and meditation. Reports included this harrowing account by activist Rosa Clemente. And tweets by a local activist saying that police showed up at the church where they were sorting supplies and pointed a gun at her. Journalist Elon James White whom I follow is already complaining of PTSD. Not his words, but those are the symptoms he describes.

Yesterday, I got a notice from a friend. People are organizing from around the country to go to Ferguson. I paused. Should I go?

Pretty quickly I decided no. And here is why: It isn’t that the people of Ferguson don’t need and deserve our love, support, and help. They do. I’ve been doing what I can for them: sending supplies, specifically Maalox to cut the teargas, spreading the word about the need for therapists to take phone calls, doing anti-racism education on my Patheos column in the comments. Small efforts, sandwiched between the rest of my life activities, far from the center of their world.

I won’t be going to Ferguson because the people there are doing a tremendous amount on their own. I want to support their efforts. I don’t think they need me there.

Mostly, though…

I won’t be going to Ferguson because systemic racism exists where I live, too.

Young black and brown men and women are killed by police forces for no reason here, too. It is happening all around us. Unless you live in a rich, white, gated community, it is happening where you live, or at very least, one neighborhood over.

I won’t be going to Ferguson because we all need to organize in our home towns.

We need to reach out to our neighbors and say, “Isn’t it time this stops?” We need to insist, loudly, that we will no longer pay to have our friends executed for no other reason than some officer got pissed off, or has PTSD from fighting in Iraq and blacked out, or hasn’t been trained in proper interventions.

Besides sending supplies to Ferguson, here is what I intend to do:

  • This evening, I will likely take off early from work to join a march and rally. I dislike marches, but sometimes it feels important to let the community know there is support.
  • I’ll continue with the New Jim Crow Study Group so we can deepen our understanding of the ways in which these systems of stop and frisk and mass incarceration affect our country. Please join us.
  • I will check to see when the next local meeting to organize to change our sheriff department’s policies is happening. We took August off, and clearly need to get back to it.
  • I will organize a group – large or small – to meditate in front of the Urban Shield conference in Oakland on September 5th. Perhaps this year, like last year, we will read the names of those killed by police in California. Organizing info is here.
  • I will continue to examine the roots of my own fear and assumptions, and bring them to the light of consciousness. I will encourage others to do the same.

I look forward to reading your ideas on how you might be organizing locally.

I want to read how you are trying to interact in your community in ways that share greater amounts of love and solidarity.

What is your journey? What are your thoughts? What are your actions?

Please, I ask of you, don’t tell me, “Not All White People” or “Not All Cops.” This is not about individuals, this is about systems. Systems we’ve created together. Systems that are now running on their own, out of control.

I am with you, in solidarity and love. I am with you, seeking justice.

Love to you, Ferguson. Love to you, Los Angeles. Love to you, Chicago. Love to you, Baltimore. Love to you, Dallas. Love to you, Detroit. Love to you, Oakland…

Love to us all.

It is time for truth. It is time for action. Only then will come the time for reconciliation.


Ferguson Market via Antonio French

27 Responses to “I Won’t Be Going to Ferguson”

  1. Honey Anne

    Regime change begins at home.
    So does love.

    Something I do sometimes in my home community of Boston is sidewalk chalking, both to raise consciousness and to enhearten people. The last series I did was GLBTQ and sex-positive, the two before that were about being kind to yourself. I think race or the police state would be a good topic for my next series.

    I try to communicate so as to reach the highest number of minds (and so that someone angry doesn’t wash it off the same day!).

    I’d welcome chalking suggestions from those reading this post.

    • Thorn

      Honey Anne, I think that is a good idea. There is a group locally that does tremendous awareness-raising work with chalk.

  2. Rhett

    I think not going is a very fair choice. There is a part of me that thought about going, but then I thought back to Occupy Oakland and how many different outside groups came in to push their own view of the facts or their own agenda. I thought about how the Chamber of Commerce tried to claim that OO was not a local problem about local needs but was a group of out-of-towners using Oakland’s institutional issues for their own gain.

    I don’t want to be one of those people, and I probably wouldn’t encourage others to, either, unless they really knew what they were doing. This isn’t about us; it’s about people in Ferguson and what they want.

    I’ve sent money (thank you for the link) and, if the supply chain is really functioning, I’ll send supplies. People forget that battles are won and lost on funding and supply chain, and it’s easy to forget that more “front line fighters” doesn’t mean a victory; often, it can mean disorganization.

    • Thorn

      Rhett, I agree with you. Thanks for voicing this perspective. In Ferguson, there has already been back and forth about “outside agitators”. Whether this is real, or propaganda, or planted provocateurs, it all ends up the same: discrediting the people doing the hard work.

  3. Don

    You do more than most small groups. Keep up the good works!

    • Thorn

      Been doing them for 32 years. They haven’t been “effective” since 2009 WTO (though we could debate that). I don’t like shouting chants and slogans. I’d prefer to sit and meditate somewhere. Or even blockade if necessary.

      I may skip the march and head straight to the rally today, and perhaps sit in meditation with my signs.

      We need to relearn other community organizing strategies – it is why I like the soup kitchen, and why I’m working with a small group regarding local law enforcement. Folks are trying. We have to rebuild every generation because movements get squashed and the information and ability scatters.

      • Karen Wheeler

        I think they have not been effective for longer than that Thorn. Since way back to Kent State I have seen more of them taken over by people pushing their own agendas more often than not. I have always chosen to work where I am at locally. I am more likely to find others what they need to keep going than to march anyways. Does not mean my head is in the sand but I do know what is effective in my hometown of Bronson, Florida. Not the best town to raise consciousness in by far, as we have more ostriches than a lot of towns, but I can fill needs here and give a hand up to folks I find on the edge. I do what is effective for these people where they are at. It helps.

        • Thorn


          Thanks for the perspective. Agenda pushing is a perennial problem.

          I think finding ways to help those on the edges is a wonderful and effective method of healing our society. If everyone did a little bit – according to their means and abilities – we’d all be better off.

  4. Jacki

    I live here. I work here. I drive by the areas affected and one of my nieces has an apartment in Camfield that she cannot get into, and no one in the family wants her to, she has herself AND her 1 year old son to consider. I am sleeping odd hours because I stay up unable to process all the feelings before 3 new outrages are reported. Some of the things that are being done that I HOPE make a difference are voting registration at the protest sites (YES!) and I hope, hope, hope, a Civilian Review Board for all complaints of excessive use of force by police. We are a long way from that when I have observed street scenes that were MORE peaceful than fairs get exposed to tear gas 3 times in 90 minutes before the march began (Monday 9:30-11pm). There is strong educated and mindful group within the Ferguson limits but this also goes on in all the other little municipalities – and there are many. I hope and seek guidance as well as to what will make a permanent change.

    • Thorn


      My prayers and thoughts are with you all. Thank you so much for sharing your experiences with us.

      We all must seek guidance – and one another – to help make change. Let’s keep trying.

      Stay safe. Stay strong.

    • Mari Powers

      I love the idea of voter registration at rallies, marches, sit or stand-ins. I will be sharing this one. Thanks.

  5. P. Sufenas Virius Lupus

    I was very interested in knowing what you’d end up saying about Ferguson, and I am heartened by your response.

    I had an unexpected conversation with one of my bosses this morning relating to these matters (she is kind enough to give me a ride partway to work, which means my commute is slightly more convenient these days), and because her husband was not with her today, she could speak a bit more freely than usual. She told me something I had no idea about before: she had a previous marriage to a guy from Nigeria. She was telling me what being in a multiracial couple in New Jersey in the 1970s was like, and the harassment he would be subjected to, which meant that she had to go in to restaurants and ask for tables rather than him, etc. We then had a conversation about militarization of the police, and the situation in Seattle, where we had in the last few years (amongst many other incidents) police killing a Native American guy who had a carving knife (because he was a woodcarver!) and was crossing the street, when he was 30 feet away from them and not a danger. THere has also been a number of police bias incidents (some of them fatal, if I recall correctly) involving African-American men. While this individual is not conservative by any means, she does work at the Naval base, and is surrounded by veterans who are pretty conservative. It was a moment of relief for her to be able to speak about this, but even in the car, she whispered that she had been married to a Nigerian man…that speaks volumes, sadly.

  6. Cathy

    I have been most recently involved with a community group who is trying to get a comprehensive non-discrimination policy pushed through City Council. They have systematically delayed making a decision due it seems to loud voices in opposition particularly to the language calling for equal rights for the LGBTQ community. However, the ordinance covers explicit wording about equal rights for all marginalized groups. I have attended vigils and rallies and continue to speak out and try to inform the people in my life who are a bit apathetic. Currently working on a letter to the editor. I too almost went to Ferguson after a request of need for mental health professionals. But like you, I decided not to pursue it further because I have recognized this year that worrying about the world at large as I tend to do can paralyze us into inaction on any issue. It really does start in our own communities, and hopefully gains momentum like ripples in a pond. Thanks for the post.

    • Thorn

      Kathy, great to hear about the work you are doing in your local community! Way to go! Education is important and it sounds like the City Council work is worthwhile.

      If you decide you do want to help in a mental health capacity, Feminista Jones was organizing for people to have access to phone time with therapists or social workers. I can pass on her email.

      If you decide you are doing enough, I understand that as well!

  7. Cathy

    Having said that though, I am also keeping up with Ferguson where I have connected with people who’s stories I never would have heard, and I too would have been one of the silent ones hiding from the larger issue at hand there.

  8. Maggie NorthLight

    In addition to all the good things being written about this situation and this time, I want to recommend a book called The Age of Triage, by Richard L. Rubenstein, first published in 1986. He makes a case for the idea that genocides and oppressions of so-called out-groups result, fundamentally, from Malthusian pressures. Malthus pointed out that food supply increases arithmetically and population tends to increase geometrically. Rubenstein observes that plague, famine, war, and genocide have all functioned throughout history as a check on population explosions. Which leads me to look again at ‘be fruitful and multiply’ as an instruction suitable only for a tiny population in a vast and dangerous landscape. And to suppose that our only hope of stopping the cycle of racism, oppression, and violence is to dramatically curtail human reproduction.

    What would our world be like if people had to get a license to procreate? How much better would we educate and support our children if there were only a dozen children in a village of 200 adults? How much good could we do on the planet – for ourselves and for/with other species – if we were no longer concerned with ‘making a monetary profit’ and only concerned with ‘making a good life and a good livelihood’?

    • Thorn


      I think of this often. 7 billion people are way too many, in my opinion, and I’m not certain what to do about it.

      That said, overpopulation is not really the issue in the US. Overconsumption is the issue. As a country, we consume several times over our fair share, as I am sure you are aware. Also Unequal distribution is the issue. The .01 percent hoard resources. Our country is a mess, but I don’t think overpopulation is our problem.

      An aside: from what I have read, the most precarious people’s often have the most children because they are afraid of dying out. It is actually easier for the well off to have fewer children: they aren’t so worried that those children won’t survive. I’m not saying this is a conscious thing, but I do think it plays out within the nature of most species who procreate (I’m no trained social scientist, so there might be evidence that counters this information).

      I’m strangely devoid of the procreative urge, but I can comprehend Ultra Orthodox Jews, for example, wanting to have as many children as possible to counterbalance all of those slaughtered during WWII.

      But I’ll repeat: in the US specifically, overpopulation is not the issue. The issue is the hugely unequal distribution of resources because of caste and class systems.

      • Catharine Clarenbach

        The wildly inequitble distribution of wealth and resources in our country needs to continue to be front-and-center in our thinking. It affects layers and layers…intersections of identity, oppression, privilege and hyperprivilege. I realize that I am only just know coming to realize the consumption of the very, very wealthy and elite class of the US.It’s astonishing. I’m so glad you bring the soup kitchen into our consciousness. The practical gift of your body and mind to those without resources along with your work with the relatively privileged is such an important combination.

        • Thorn

          It is astonishing. Knowing all that I do, I’m still astonished. The insulation of the wealthy keeps them from directly encountering the ramifications of their consumptions – and that happens to us all, to some extent. The more comfortable we are, the less inclined or less able we are to see.

          This needs to shift.

          • Catharine Clarenbach

            That’s again why your work at the soup kitchen is so important. I’ve been thinking about my work in various “oppressed” contexts. But none confront me as much as working directly with and for people living in poverty. It’s been many years since I was working with people with HIV; that work will slam you into intersectionality–poverty, race, gender, sexuality, other body stuff–right away. And it was good work. But I’m not doing anything like that now, and I’m thinking about how to round out my practice with service.

  9. Seth

    I belong to 350.org and the spin off campaign to stop the Keystone pipeline through direct action, if necessary. Today I received an e-mail from the national 350 office. It was a statement of solidarity with the protesters in Ferguson along with a link to a donation page. This may seem paltry, but having spent so much time in ecology circles, it’s a breath of fresh air to see a national environmental organization affirm that climate justice cannot progress without racial justice. This evening I announced the statement at a meeting of climate activists. I actually have not followed the news out of Ferguson very closely, but I think I will share “Why I am not going” with some very stressed out friends who have.

    • Thorn


      I’m very glad to read this! You are right, too often environmental groups don’t deal with social justice issues at all, despite their being intertwined.

      Bless you, and bless your friends. The work is done in many ways.


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