Behind the Don't Shoot Coalition in Ferguson

A core of community organizers is behind the 45 organizations placing demands on the policing agencies in St. Louis County.

As the Grand Jury’s decision concerning Officer Darren Wilson is awaited, Don’t Shoot Coalition (DSC) is preparing its role in street demonstrations likely to come in the wake of an anticipated No True Bill.

The sub-culture of progressive social activism is organic. Its alliances evolve and dissolve, only to reconstitute under changed names, but with unchanged ideologies.

The internet facilitates the proliferation of evolving variations of front groups. Many of their websites have on-line donation solicitation capability. The larger, more permanent organizations have 501(c)(3) status, and some have millions of dollars to share with cash-poor community activism enterprises. Those money transfers are often hard to track.

It is not just a challenge to keep track of who’s who without a scorecard – it’s a struggle to even define the scorecard. Persons and groups shift, adjust to circumstances, and are quick to take advantage of a crisis. They are, in short, agile as well as committed.

With that in mind, these questions are among those that merit consideration:

  • Who is on the Don’t Shoot Coalition (DSC) membership list?
  • Who are among the DSC’s leading operatives and organizations?
  • What key support groups are not on the DSC list?

Who is on the DSC membership list?

The publicized list of the 45 DSC group names breaks down into these categorizes: (1) Labor Unions; (2) African-American Organizations; (3) Other Ethnic Groups; (4) Faith-based Organizations: (5) Anti-War Activists; (6) Defined Causes; (7) All-purpose Progressive Activists; (8) Unidentified; and (9) Outlier. Several select organizations on the list will be further explored later, along with a few from outside Missouri that are unlisted.

(1) Labor Unions: American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) Local 3354; International Association of Machinists & Aerospace Workers (IAMAW Local 1345); Service Employees International Union Healthcare Missouri (SEIUMO); Communication Workers of America, Local 6355.

(2) African-American Organizations:  Coalition of Black Trade Unionists; New Black Panther Party; Organization for Black Struggle (OBS); Sistahs Talkin’ Back (OBS affiliate); Coalition Against Police Crimes & Repression (A precursor of OBS); Urban League of Metropolitan St. Louis; UAPO (Universal African Peoples Organization);

(3) Other Ethnic Groups: Latinos En Axion STL; Sabayet;

(4) Faith-based Organizations: St. Louis Catholic Worker Community; St. Louis Chapter of the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR St. Louis); St. Louis Jewish Voice for Peace; St. Louis Palestine Solidarity Committee (a project of the Instead of War Coalition, also among the 46 DSC members); Inter-faith Committee on Latin America; Coalition to Abolish the Prison Industrial Complex (CAPIC) (“A Catholic voice for peace and justice; mobilizing faith into action”).

(5) Anti-War Activists:  Instead of War Coalition; Veterans for Peace;  

(6) Defined Causes: Drone Free St. Louis (anti-police drone use); Show Me $15 (St. Louis fast food workers pro-$15 per hr. minimum wage); Show Me No Hate (pro-same sex marriage); Jobs With Justice, St. Louis Chapter (pro-economic base “that benefits more than just corporations”); Missouri Immigrant and Refugee Advocates (MIRA); Faith Aloud (pregnancy and abortion): Southside STL Supports (local community group – no apparent fixed agenda); Missouri GSA Network (Gay, Straight Alliances); Missouri NOW (National Organization for Women); Justice Institute/Anti-Racism Committee; Coalition Against Police Crimes & Repression (CAPCR) (Apparent sub-set of OBS: “The goals of CAPCR are to end police brutality; to stop the criminalization of a generation; and to establish a civilian review board that provides effective oversight of the St. Louis Police Department.”

(7) All-purpose Progressive Activists: Missouri Progressive Vote Coalition (Pro Vote) (“Missouri Progressive Vote Coalition is a statewide coalition of labor unions and community groups that work to promote progressive policies through electoral engagement.”); Missourians organizing for Reform and Empowerment; Young Activist United – St Louis (“Young Activists United St. Louis serves as a link between students and young activists across campuses, social justice organizations, and causes in the St. Louis area.” Funded by the Peace Economy Project – an identified DSC member.); People Involving Communities Through (PICO) Network (“A Pluralism Project at Harvard University”); Amnesty International; Advancement Project (“Advancement Project is a next generation, multi-racial civil rights organization.”).

(8) Unidentified: #WeThePeople (hashtag); Second Chance Freedom Foundation (perhaps associated with this group); TEACH; JCS – St. Louis; Future Fighters; Antiracism Collective/Justice Institute (Perhaps referring to the Justice Institute: “The MISSION of the Justice Institute is to build a network of leaders, teachers, and students, in St. Louis to motivate and empower grassroots activists through political education and training.”).

(9)Outlier: ThoughtWorks, Inc. (Chicago-based software company: “A community of passionate individuals whose purpose is to revolutionize software design, creation and delivery, while advocating for positive social change...We are strong believers in the power of software and technology as tools for social change. Through our Social Impact Program, we collaborate with organizations with a humanitarian mission and broad reach, helping them use technology to make an impact.”) An inquiry to a company representative did not yield an answer as to how their name came to be on the list.

Despite diverse agendas, the list, generally, has one thing in common: Some grievance against an authority – police, corporations, or otherwise – that they feel has abused their rights, or the rights of others. The protest movement that emerged after the death of Michael Brown now offers each a platform to air their particular grievance before a wider audience.

The eclectic composition of the DSC suggests that it assembled, not as a coalition of persons who see themselves as long standing victims of police brutality, but as collegial progressive activists who, when summoned to align behind the meme of police brutality against young black males, signed-up in a shared spirit of victimhood.  

Who are among DSC’s leading operatives and organizations?

Co-chairs for the DSC are Denise Lieberman, Senior Attorney with the Advancement Project and Michael McPherson, of Veterans for Peace.

Montague Simmons has emerged as the most public spokesperson for DSC.  He is the leader of the Organization for Black Struggle (OBS), “founded in 1980 by activists, students, union organizers and other community members in order to fill a vacuum left by the assaults on the Black Power Movement.”

The OBS, along with Hands Up United, Missourians Organizing for Reform and Empowerment (MORE), and “the Family of Michael Brown,” submitted a 13-page, single-spaced document to the 53rd Session of the United Nations Committee Against Torture, dated November 3-28, 2014, with the heading “United States’ Compliance with the convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment,” subtitled as “Written Statement on the Police Shooting of Michael Brown and Ensuring Police Violence Against Protesters in Ferguson, Missouri.”  

The OBS mission statement is: “To build a movement that fights for political empowerment, economic justice and the cultural dignity of the African-American community, especially the Black working class.”

The OBS “Freedom Agenda” states “We will…”: “fight for the human rights of Black people and all people; fight for political democracy; fight to advance beyond capitalism, which has demonstrated its structural incapacity to address basic human needs worldwide and, in particular, for the needs of Black people; fight to end the super-exploitation of Southern workers; struggle to ensure that all people in society receive free public education; struggle against state terrorism; struggle for a clean and healthy environment; fight to abolish police brutality, unwarranted incarceration and the death penalty; fight for gender equality, for women’s liberation, and for women’s rights to be recognized as human rights in all areas of personal, social, economic and political life; fight to ensure that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people are recognized and respected as full and equal members of society, and of our communities; support affirmative action; fight for reparations; struggle to build multicultural solidarity and alliances among all people of color; uphold the right of the African American people to self-determination; support the liberation struggles of all oppressed people.”

The OBS lists “Nguzo Saba as [the seven principles of] our Black Value System.” Those principles are:

(1) Unity – “That Africans in America should be unified or act in concert to confront the State of Emergency should be self evident.”

(2) Self-Determination – “We have a right to define who we are and determine our own destiny as people!”

(3) Collective Work and Responsibility – “We certainly will not permit class or status to divide us if we see ourselves as one people committed to promoting the common good of the race.”

(4) Cooperative Economics – “In the spirit of Booker T. Washington, Marcus Garvey, W.E.B. Du Bois and the Honorable Elijah Muhammad, it is imperative that people of African descent persistently work to build an economic infrastructure to undergird our social and political institutions.”

(5) Purpose – “…a commitment to reclaim and rebuild our communities, a fervent determination that America’s desolate dark ghettos will become new communities that are bright beacons of hope and possibility.”

(6) Creativity – “…we should act with the absolute confidence that we possess the creativity, the knowledge, skill and will to meet the challenge [to rebuild families and communities].”

(7) Faith – “In this current crisis, we too must have faith, a belief that enables us to scale heights, not normally possible, because we believe and act on our beliefs.”

On September 26, 2014, Montague (pronounced Mon-tay-ga) Simmons was interviewed on a St. Louis radio station (12-minutesYouTube video) concerning Ferguson. Accompanying photos show Montague at various venues.

Next:  More on “Who are among DSC’s leading operatives and organizations?” and other supporting organizations and foundations.

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