I’m Gonna Make A Change,
For Once In My Life
It’s Gonna Feel Real Good,
Gonna Make A Difference Gonna Make It Right…
I’m Starting With The Man
In The Mirror
I’m Asking Him To Change
And No Message Could Have
Been Any Clearer
If You Wanna Make The World
A Better Place
Take A Look At Yourself, And
Then Make A Change
(from Michael Jackson’s hit song “Man in the Mirror”)
This song is very appropriate for the situation going on in Ferguson, Mo. Regardless of what happens during all the legal wrangling, one thing is certain: the residents of Ferguson have had all the power they ever needed to make the change they have been seeking. And they haven’t used it.
Some have argued that Ferguson is symbolic of “inner city America.” They argue that Ferguson is about racism, hopelessness, structural and systemic discrimination, and Blacks who feel helpless.
Well, it’s kind of hard to make these arguments when Blacks are almost 70 percent of Ferguson’s population. According to the 2010 U.S. Census, there are 14,297 Blacks and 6,206 Whites; 22 percent live in poverty; the mayor is White; there is only one Black on a 6-member city council (.096 percent); three Blacks out of 53 policemen (5.6 percent); and the St. Louis suburb is the sixth most segregated city in the U.S.
As a native of St. Louis, I worked closely with my friend, Freeman R. Bosley, Jr. in his successful efforts to become the first Black Circuit Clerk for the 22nd Judicial Circuit in 1983 and the first Black mayor in 1993 (with 66 percent of the vote). Blacks were a majority of the city; so I thoroughly understand the power of the vote.
Juxtapose this with the voting history of Ferguson. In this year’s elections, only 12.3 percent of eligible voters actually voted (17 percent White, 6 percent Black); 11.7 percent in 2013; and 8.9 percent in 2012.
How can one argue that Blacks have no power?
A more accurate statement is that Blacks have refused to exercise their power. You can’t blame that on the “White man” or “racism” or the “system.” In the Wizard of Oz, the Lion already had courage; the Tin man already had a heart, and the Scarecrow already had a brain; but they had all been so psychologically abused that they couldn’t see the power they already had. The Wizard just simply reminded them of what they already had. Upon the prompting from the Wizard, they then began to actually believe again in themselves and the power lying dormant inside of them.
Many across the country are asking: What do the residents of Ferguson want? Thus far, their response has been “justice;” meaning they want the White policeman who killed Michael Brown, Darren Wilson, indicted, convicted, and sent to jail. Well, that is out the control of any one person. The facts of what happened must be established and then let the justice system function.
The fact that Blacks have the power of the vote is undeniable. They have the power to control the political climate in Ferguson – that is no fairytale. The question is do they have the courage to look at the man in the mirror and make that change? Do they have the heart to change their apathetic approach to voting as a perpetual tribute to Michael Brown? Do they have the brains to understand the power dynamics of voting?
Just like the Wizard did nothing to change the conditions of Dorothy and her friends, there is nothing America needs to do for Ferguson that they can’t do for themselves. They have everything they need. Maybe the death of Brown will be the reminder of what has been lying dormant in the residents of Ferguson all along.
Maybe after all of the marches are over, they will be, as Fannie Lou Hamer put it, “sick and tired of being sick and tired.”
Ferguson has non-partisan elections, meaning no votes are cast based on party affiliation, but vote for the individual. The residents of Ferguson need to begin to run – and vote for – candidates who can best represent their interests. The government can provide tax credits and other tax incentives for businesses to locate to Ferguson. Social service agencies can provide job training programs. And the federal government will even help provide much needed training of their police force.
But in the end, Ferguson will have to look at the man – and the woman – in the mirror and make that change.