Sunday, May 10, 2015

Sunday Long Read: Black And White, Ones And Zeroes

Your Sunday long read is the NY Times Magazine profile of activists DeRay Mckesson and Johnetta "Netta" Elzie, two of the leading lights behind the Black Lives Matter movement that has sprung up in the wake of the deaths of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri last year.  Since then they have harnessed the power of black anger and channeled it into social media, making millions around the world aware often for the first time.

Mckesson and Elzie focused much of their attention on criticizing the mainstream media, who devoted too much airtime, they felt, to violence and discord among the protest community. As a corrective, in mid-September, they teamed up with Brittany Packnett, the executive director of St. Louis’s Teach for America program, and Justin Hansford, a law professor at St. Louis University, to publish the This Is the Movement newsletter, which scrutinized and curated the daily news out of Ferguson. A wide range of readers, from reporters to protesters to officials within the Department of Justice, subscribed. Pretty soon, Mckesson and Elzie were appearing regularly on TV and radio. The two cultivated appealing personas, becoming easily recognizable to their many followers. Mckesson had begun wearing red shoes and a red shirt to protests. Later, he replaced this outfit with a bright blue Patagonia vest, which he now wears everywhere he goes. (Someone created a DeRay’s vest Twitter account.) Elzie often wore dark lipstick, a pair of oversize sunglasses and a leather jacket: the beautician’s daughter channeling a Black Panther. 
Mckesson and Elzie have always insisted that the movement is leaderless, that it is a communal expression of pent-up anguish spilling onto the streets, but over the fall, they were frequently called upon to serve as its spokespeople. Elzie was invited to conferences and panels, and talked with established social-justice activists around the country about the actions in Ferguson. Mckesson, who was dutifully putting out the newsletter during this time while still working at his job in Minneapolis, began using Twitter to announce actions throughout St. Louis. He and Elzie would tweet a time and location and then wait for the people to show up. By October, they were also being followed by the police, who would sometimes arrive at the scene of the action before the protesters themselves. 
Together, Mckesson and Elzie were developing a model of the modern protester: part organizer, part citizen journalist who marches through American cities while texting, as charging cords and battery packs fall out of his pockets. By Nov. 24, when Robert McCulloch, the St. Louis County prosecutor, announced that Darren Wilson would not be indicted on murder charges, a network of hundreds of organizers was already in place, ready to bring thousands of people into the streets with a tweet.

This is the power of social media and what it can really do in the real world, folks.  These two are putting these pictures and words out there for the whole world to see, not just a tiny corner of a broken city to morn for a day and then see it swept under by police that treat them as vermin to be controlled by any means necessary.

They are the new war correspondents in the occupation of black America.

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