Don't Shoot Coalition in Ferguson: a facade for progressive social activists
Ferguson’s Don’t Shoot Coalition members are supplemented by professional social activists, from in, and outside, Missouri.
Two such groups are profiled below – one that is a member of the coalition, and one from outside Missouri that saw the crisis in Ferguson as an opportunity to “accelerated the quest for social justice.”
We’ll work from the inside out.
MORE, a member of the Don’t Shoot Coalition (DSC), “seeks to be a powerful organization of low- and moderate-income people building power in our communities. We strive to transcend divisions of class, age and race as we envision and build the more just, sustainable world in which we would like to live.”
A “powerful organization” in a “sustainable world.”
MORE’s leadership believes that “Missouri is positioned at a unique intersection of social, economic, climate, and environmental injustice…. We have joined the Hands Up United coalition that is led by our allies at Organization for Black Struggle and many other national groups. We are also locally part of the Don't Shoot coalition.”
As an aside, the Hands Up United’s website lists their address as a second floor suite above a short, strip-shopping center. No phone number for the organization is listed at the address. Existing second floor suites house three healthcare-related businesses and a limousine service – but no Hands Up United.
But Hands Up United has a vision that “means an end to state sponsored violence, including the excessive use of force by law enforcement. We are committed to an America that comes to terms with the trauma of its painful history and finds true reconciliation for it. Mass incarceration and the criminalization of black and brown people must forever end, leaving in its place a culture that embraces our histories and stories. This means an end to racial bias and white supremacy in all its forms.”
With that bold a mission, a phone might be useful.
MORE, on the other hand, has a substantial building at 438 N. Skinker Blvd., St. Louis. They call it the World Community Center. It’s big – but not that big.
MORE’s Form 990’s for 2010-2012 list annual gross revenues for those three years as $90,943, $127,308 and $333,896. On the 2012 Form 990, Jeffery Ordower is listed as the unpaid Executive Director and Secretary. A phone call to MORE confirms Ordower is still the group’s Executive Director.
On September 28, 2009, a 24thstate.com article, entitled “‘Show Me’ The ACORN CEO's Rolodex,” identified Ordower as the Midwest Regional Director for ACORN, based in St Louis.
“For a long time, St. Louisans have dreamed of ways to promote justice and have formed organizations to pursue peace. Usually, these efforts began in someone's living room or basement, on the street corner, or in some temporary front rental headquarters.
Then the World Community Center was founded in 1975 and quickly set up at 438 N. Skinker. At long last the dream to have a home for these various organizations crystallized. Peace, justice, and global community organizations now have a home, a prominent location from which to organize, mobilize, and move the world towards greater justice.”
And, the World Community Center has office space available.
In the last sentence, note the differentiation between “community” and “movement.” Hold that thought.
Denise Lieberman is Co-Chair of the Don’t Shoot Coalition. (The other Co-Chair is Michael McPherson of the St. Louis chapter of Veterans for Peace.) Lieberman is a Senior Attorney with the Advancement Project. Before joining the organization in 2006, she was Legal Director of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Eastern Missouri for a decade. Today, Lieberman is also an adjunct professor in the Department of Political Science and School of Law at Washington University in St. Louis.
Here is Advancement Project’s Mission Statement:
"Advancement Project is a next generation, multi-racial civil rights organization. Rooted in the great human rights struggles for equality and justice, we exist to fulfill America’s promise of a caring, inclusive and just democracy. We use innovative tools and strategies to strengthen social movements and achieve high impact policy change."
And, here’s what they aim to accomplish:
“Advancement Project is a multi-racial civil rights organization. Founded by a team of veteran civil rights lawyers in 1999, Advancement Project was created to develop and inspire community-based solutions based on the same high quality legal analysis and public education campaigns that produced the landmark civil rights victories of earlier eras. From Advancement Project's inception, we have worked ‘on-the-ground,’ helping organized communities of color dismantle and reform the unjust and inequitable policies that undermine the promise of democracy. Simultaneously, we have aggressively sought and seized opportunities to promote this approach to racial justice.”
The organization’s Form 990’s reported gross revenues for the years 2010-2012 of $35,952,389.
In 2010, Advancement Project received, among others grants, these:
- $492,400 from the Foundation to Promote Open Society
- $1,459,112 from The Atlantic Philanthropies
- $1,074,100 from The Ford Foundation
- $1,000,000 from the W.K. Kellog Foundation
Advancement Project, headquartered in Los Angeles, California, is on-the-ground in St. Louis, Missouri. Their “Theory of Change” includes this sentence: “We choose project activities, whether national or local, with the potential to build power at the grassroots level and to reframe and accelerate the quest for racial justice.”
Seems they’ve chosen Ferguson.
Unfortunately, the lives of Police Officer Darren Wilson and Michael Brown intersected on August 9, 2014. One life ended – the other irrevocable changed.
Also changed – for the better from their perspective – were the lives of a host of others. Namely, the professional community organizers who descended on Ferguson from Greater St. Louis, and beyond. The crisis ambulance chasers.
The unfortunate intersection of two lives in Ferguson presented them an opportunity to exercise their self-ordained role to bring – oh, sorry, to facilitate – social change for people they didn’t know.
The facts of the instigating event were irrelevant. It was all about Justice for Michael Brown. And who can be against justice, for anyone?
The hands-up posture didn’t take long to become a statuesque meme. The promoters didn’t know if he died with his hands up or not – it didn’t matter. What mattered was that the image stuck, memorialized on t-shirts and signage.
A group of black Harvard law students tweeted a picture with their hands up. Some will likely end up judges someday where, we can only hope, they’ll reserve judgment until all the facts are in.
Soon the professional community organizers realized the opportunity to turn a crisis into a sustained – a word one professional organizer used – effort to bring social change. A “Movement Moment” as a movement website referred to the potential.
In the coming community empowerment facilitated in and around Ferguson, there will be grant requests to foundations, protest demonstrations, more coalitions formed, breathless collaboration between eager young social activists, meetings with authorities, negotiations over demands – all sorts of opportunities for the crisis ambulance chasers to come to the rescue of oppressed peoples.