At 4 a.m. on Saturday, a group of about 20 local residents gathered in a North St. Louis City house. Some were already ragged from consecutive sleepless nights of protesting and preparing for actions planned for the Weekend of Resistance, also called Ferguson October.
Yet the group – equal parts black and white, women and men – were still joking and revved up. Expecting to draw up 10,000 out of towners, the weekend is packed with events to demand justice for Michael Brown, the unarmed teen who was shot and killed by Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson on Aug. 9.
However, this group’s task was not on the main agenda. They were about to hang more than 40 banners from overpasses on five major highways – Interstates 70, 170, 64, 44 and 55.
“Everyone mark the number for legal services on your arm,” one woman yelled out, adding that everyone should try not to get arrested. Hanging signs from a highway overpass is a misdemeanor offense.
The banners read, “Racism lives here,” “Hands up don’t shoot,” “Arrest Darren Wilson,” “Black youth are targeted” and other messages.
The group broke up into five groups, and each was handed a map of overpasses they needed to hit. It was clear that most of them had never done this before, so there was a quick tutorial on “how to tie a banner to a fence” before the cars took off in different directions.
“We’re just trying to bring people into the broader struggle for racial justice,” said the group leader, a young African-American man in his 20s.
He hoped that people would see the messages repeated overpass after overpass. However, soon after the groups were finished hanging them at 6 a.m., the police had already started taking them down.
The spray-painted banners were created with the help of about five children, ages 9 to 14, who live in North St. Louis City. About 15 people helped make the signs, but an almost completely different group went out and hung them. The 4 a.m. crew included a white mother with her two teenage children. And many of the people in the group did not know each other before the Ferguson protests began, he said.
“We did this to bring folks into the movement, but that’s not the end,” said the group leader.
“Protest is a tactic, but self-reliance is the solution. What we really need to do is look inward and invest our time and efforts into the community. Pulling resources together into the community and collective.”
The movement needs long-term strategy, he said. For example, he said this year the Organization for Black Struggle started a campaign called “Renew 22” to knock on doors and encourage people to get involved in the 22nd Ward, located in North St. Louis City. However, the plan was all put on hold after the shooting of Mike Brown.
In the streets, a lot of young people are angry and looking for some way to express it, he said.
“They are not looking into the future,” he said. “They want Darren Wilson indicted, but that’s not winning the war. There’s a million more Darren Wilsons out there, who continue to be protected by system. It takes the entire community to get involved for any real change.”