The last nearly two weeks have been interesting for the United States, and not for very good reasons. A man died at the hands of a public servant, in the midst of muddied and unclear circumstances. Demands for immediate justice, and wishy washy response to said demands, have led to civil unrest the likes of which we have not seen in recent memory. (On the one hand, the Occupy Wall Street movement was not so long ago, but the protests in Ferguson, MO seem more directed, more personal, and, to me, more important. Also, our collective cultural memory seems pretty short-sighted sometimes.)
Whether we care to view the ongoing protests as a reasonable demand for justice or as a pointless exercise in demonstration and antagonism, the last two weeks are important. Occupy Wall Street (henceforth OWS) inconvenienced some people. The protest over the death of Michael Brown (henceforth the Ferguson protest) has brought a city to a near-halt. OWS made the news by nature of its spread across several cities. The Ferguson protest is making news based on the apparent passion of the protesters, and the intensity of the police response.
This may just be my ignorance, but it felt like the police response to OWS was not so intense. Perhaps this is because of its widespread nature, but I think it is more than that. The protesters in Ferguson have tangible grievances — the death of an unarmed man shot by a police officer the most apparent — while OWS’s protesters were antagonistic toward a principle. This is just a theory I am tossing around, and I welcome any constructive feedback on that topic.
My point here is that what is happening in Ferguson, MO matters. It matters because the status quo is so unsettled that it seems unlikely to settle into the exact same position again. I grant that it is possible that everything will return to ‘how it was,’ but I think not. Had the protesters not gathered day after day after day, had the police handled the situation differently (though I claim no expertise in saying how they might have done differently), had the news media not made the protests the center of national attention…
A lot goes into this recipe for unavoidable change. Doubtless, sociologists in the next century will debate its causes and its true aftermath. College students will write poorly formatted five paragraph essays on the events and impacts. Textbooks will print, with their trademark sterility, the photos of locals pouring milk over the eyes of protesters suffering from the effects of tear gas.
The Ferguson protest has carried on too long for it to disappear without notice.
I have watched all of this from the comfort of my apartment, around 280 miles away from Ferguson. Here in my town, things are about the same as they always have been, and, to be frank, things would have to change quite a lot for me to notice. The direct impact on me, personally, is essentially nil. I do not know anyone in the area, nor even anywhere near there, save for one friend and his wife who live in the Kansas City area. My direct stakes in this, therefore, are relatively low.
It still matters.
Believe it or not, what happens in Ferguson in the coming weeks matters to basically everyone in the modern world. There is no denying that the United States of America has a hand in nearly every international pie it can reach (that’s a lot of hands! that’s a lot of pie!). The way the U.S. handles its business at home will impact the way it handles its business abroad. That’s just common sense, folks.
Because it matters, I watch it. When I can, when I will not be neglecting my other responsibilities, I tune into the various sources of information about what is happening. Over the last few nights, I regularly tapped into the live stream from VICE NEWS. This is not the same as Being There, but it brings me closer than I would be able to get otherwise.
(One of the only opinions I feel comfortable sharing on this matter is that the media presence seems to be exacerbating the situation. It is still important to have this accountability.)
Because this is my country, for better or worse, it feels like it is my responsibility to watch what happens. I am not worried that I will miss anything terribly important, for the news media will highlight all of the important happenings, but the highlights reel serves only to capture the most sensational bits. The real time feed offers a small slice of the real deal, of what is really happening.
As with all things, I will also connect this to my efforts as a writer. I do not necessarily believe that there is some moral obligation for writers to try and deliver profound, universal truths in their works. I do believe, however, that everyone should be conscious of what effect they have on the world. Artists, writers, film makers, street performers, musicians, chefs, pastors, etc., all have some impact on the world, whether good or bad, large or small. The responsible thing to do is to be mindful of what that impact could be.
Anything I experience is fair game for my writing. In fact, drawing from one’s emotions and experiences is the best way to write genuine fiction. I am not saying that I will find myself writing some sort of direct space opera interpretation of what is happening now, but I also will not deny that current events will impact my work.
By and large, I remain a silent observer on the occurrences in Ferguson, MO. As an outsider, it seems to not be my place to comment. What could I add that others have not already, and done better than I could? I am not a journalist, nor a trained activist, nor a community leader. No one needs me adding to the noise right now,
What I am is a writer, and I take the job pretty seriously. On one level, I hope to entertain, for that is the general calling of the fiction writer, but I also hope to inform, to slip little bits of my opinions into my works to spark rational thought and discussion. That is my place in the world, self-selected, and I will do my best to change the world from that position.
Do not take my current silence as assent to the status quo but rather a calculated biding of my time.
This is a difficult subject to approach, because it is so very volatile. I welcome discussion so long as it is constructive, helpful, insightful, and I reserve the right to decide what does and does not meet these criteria.