Dialogue focuses on accountability


Saint Louis University’s Busch Student Center played host to a meeting of about 1,000 activists, organizers, teachers, clergy, lawyers and students on Sunday, Nov. 1, during the Public Accountability Meeting, emceed by Rev. Starsky Wilson of St. John’s Church and Jamala Rogers of the Coalition Against Police Crimes and Repression. The meeting was called to order by a pair of drummers who brought those in attendance to their feet – repeating the phrases, “It is our duty to fight for our freedom / It is our duty to win / We must love and support each other / We have nothing to lose but our chains.”

Before he even introduced the first featured speaker, Wilson reminded those in attendance that what really mattered was what each person in attendance did after the meeting. After a chant of “This is what democracy looks like,” Rogers referenced a book published in 2010 called “Flak Catchers,” by Lindsey Lupo, which explores the idea that public commissions are little more than tools used by those in power to calm the public and maintain the status quo. Wilson then reminded the crowd that, unlike the public comission reports of 1968, those in attendance were not prepared to give up power, nor demand that all results be achieved within three or four months. Instead, the public meetings would be sharing public testimony, he stressed; the people are in the driver’s seat.

Rogers described those gathered for the day’s meeting as an “army for social and racial justice” that would be sharing momentum and strategies to work together. The first speaker invited to the stage was Derek Laney of Missourians Organizing for Reform and Empowerment. Laney called Tom Irwin, of Civic Progress, a network of the region’s top CEOs, and Joe Reagan, President and CEO of the St. Louis Regional Chamber, to the stage for verbal commitments to work towards racial equity, specifically through the framework of a 25-year managed fund for that purpose. As Laney described it, he wanted to “hear what they have to offer to the pot.”

Alisha Sonnier, SLU sophomore, MLK Scholar, and president of Tribe X, then took the stage. Sonnier first spoke to the clergy present, reminding them that their job was to go to the people. Sonnier also provided some context to the clock tower accords as well as the SLU mission of forming “men and women for others.” Rev. Tracy Black and another pastor were then called to the stage.

Black reminded those gathered that Christ was a not a temple dweller, but a street walker, and encouraged the clergy present to be the same.

Rev. Melanie Smith of Metropolitan Congregations United next took the stage, speaking on white privilege and the need for a new lens from which to look at social problems. Smith repeated the phrase, as did the crowd, that “It’s time to turn.”

One by one, Smith asked teachers, lawyers, cops, clergy, community organizers and members of activist groups, as well as all others in attendance, to stand and promise not to look away, to stay engaged, and to remain committed to the causes at hand. Again, clergy were urged not just to preach boldly, but to live boldly.

A pair of representatives from Missouri Jobs with Justice next explained how raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour was not a handout, but a moral thing to do.

Fr. John Stratton of Trinity Episcopal Church, and Rasheen Aldridge, a minimum wage worker of more than two years, then invited five representatives to the stage, including State Representatives Jake Hummel, Kim Gardner and Tracy McCreery.

It was suggested that the language be changed from ‘a minimum wage fight’ to ‘a livable wage fight,’ since the issue at hand is, in fact, a human rights issue. Hummel shared how House Bill 722 recently banned Missouri municipalities from raising the minimum wage. In response, legislation is being proposed to raise the minimum statewide wage to $15 an hour. Aldridge invited all in attendance to support a protest at City Hall on Tuesday, Nov. 10 at 4 p.m.

A short video then prompted viewers to reflect on the following questions: How will you respond to the people? Will you walk with them or stand in the way? What are you going to do?

Educator Sir Ervin James III then took the stage and recited a poem he wrote in response to the question of, “What does being black stand for?” Tiffany Robertson of Metropolitan Congregations United next took the stage and offered a no less passionate story of the night the grand jury verdict on the Michael Brown case was released. Hearing her teenage daughter scream in frustration from another room of the house, Robertson knew that her daughter’s optimism was lost. She began praying with her husband to restore her daughter’s hope.

Wilson next brought attention to those who were absent at the day’s meeting. Of the civic leaders, police chiefs, country executives and mayors that were invited, empty chairs were then placed on the stage, next to Wilson, to signify their absence.

Wilson made the point that, “When you do this to citizens, you damage relationships.”

Blake Strode of ArchCity Defenders next exposed what he termed the for-profit policing and for-profit courts that plague the area. He mentioned that the great majority of warrants in the area are for money, namely traffic tickets that many people simply cannot afford to pay.

The movement has been coordinated on social media under the hastags of #SJBCC15 and #AccountabilitySunday

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