Ferguson whispering

Holding still in a place of unknowing and inadequacy

The author is director of the Chico Peace and Justice Center and producer of the radio documentary series Bringing Down the New Jim Crow.

The phone rang. The emails came. The question was appropriate, understandable and predictable. What is the Chico Peace and Justice Center doing in response to the “verdict” in Ferguson? When is the rally, the demonstration, the action? CPJC Coordinator Olivia Schmidt and I sat together, in the midst of our grief and outrage, and quietly, seriously considered the moment.

A familiar moment.

To whom exactly would we address our complaint? To which head of the hydra would we register our disgust?

The prospect of traditional protest rang more and more hollow to me. To what extent, I asked myself, are my peace and justice cohort and I unwitting but loyal subjects of empire? Was it not on our watch, our terribly recent watch, for example, that the prison-industrial complex was constructed? That the racially defined human-rights catastrophe known as mass incarceration came into being? Let’s be honest, I said to myself: These are, as much as I might wish they weren’t, inextricably tethered to Darren Wilson’s trigger finger.

The impulse to respond hovered there, but it floated above a persistent, quiet doubt. What public action would suffice to signal the true need? The true wound to be healed? The true work to be undertaken?

I listened for an answer over the next few days. I followed the news. I read the best analysts. I discussed with friends. I thought. I digested. I reflected. I felt.

In answer?

Unknowing. Inadequacy.

So again, the self-inquiry: Keeping distant company with Ferguson (how many Fergusons have we had?), what would happen if I held still in this space of unknowing? What if I gave myself over to an experience of the full measure of my inadequacy? And what if, collectively, we who seek justice in our broken and vicious society and world waited here within the pain? Nothing like the waiting for “a more convenient season” that Martin Luther King Jr. ruthlessly and rightly decried. A waiting on our own untapped courage. Enough of it to swallow whole, and finally, the deepest meaning of our dilemma—and the strictest acceptance of our long-unfinished assignment.

What cry, I contemplated, would our collective heart give voice to from such a place?

Beneath moving pictures of fires and media glare, I heard Ferguson whispering: Something else. Something else. It’s something you can’t see from inside that box you’ve come to depend on. It’s something else.