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The Narrative: Fannie Lou Hamer and Ferguson, Missouri

Last night I told myself to stay away from the news and yet my father picked up the remote control and changed it from the Little League World Series to MSNBC. There's something about talking to our parents, especially if they're Black and lived through the Civil Rights Movement in this nation, about seeing patterns repeated. While it was more of the same I went to bed consciously thinking of other things.

Yet, I woke up with a name in my brain as if I dreamt about her. I cannot remember all my dreams so if she was there I don't know. But Fannie Lou Hamer repeated over and over until I said her name aloud.

"Fannie Lou Hamer. That's what this is." 


In the last couple of years I have paid attention to manifestos and storytelling and the narrative. What is most powerful to me, then, is that whoever controls the narrative controls the story and in the case of Michael Brown and the disastrous reaction of the Ferguson police and the Missouri governor sending in the National Guard to protect the police and not the people, their narrative is full of character assassination, non-transparent information, and straight up bullying.

Which is probably how Fannie Lou Hamer's name came into my head. Her famous words rang all throughout my brain: I'm sick and tired of being sick and tired.

Not long ago, PBS showed this on American Experience. This is just a clip of it.

Fannie Lou Hamer was an evicted sharecopper removed from her plantation when she was a part of a group of people who tried to register at her county courthouse. Fannie was to be taped on live television to give her testimony about those events and President Johnson, that weasely terrorist betrayer of his own country, did the unthinkable: he came up with a bogus excuse to have a press conference to make sure the cameras weren't on Mrs. Hamer and her testimony. 

Last Friday's press conference in which police chief Thomas Jackson began with him detailing a robbery. Think about how that narrative has altered for just a moment. First, the story began with Michael Brown fighting with an attacking an officer, then it was that he reached for the gun (from 35 feet away?) and then it was that he was blocking traffic. IT TOOK POLICE SIX DAYS FOR THEM TO COME UP WITH A STORY. 

Listening to that police chief felt like watching President Lyndon Johnson work up his own narrative about what was important. 

No wonder people are confused. But, let's not sugar coat the fact that race and racism are factors here, too. (If you don't think this has to do with race I'd like to ask how you feel about a Black actor playing Johnny Storm in the Fantastic Four because IT SEEMED TO MATTER AN AWFUL LOT THEN.)

As an activist, Mrs. Hamer was arrested on false charges. She was beaten, threatened, and those in power and office worked to cover it up and silence her.

The owner of the plantation where she worked got angry at her for trying to register to vote. He threatened her to withdraw her registration. To vote. In America. As a citizen.

In 2007, Naomi Wolf wrote Ten Steps to Close Down an Open Society and it is eerily coming to fruition right now. I urge you to read it and align it with the events of the last 11 days. Wolf writes:

Because Americans like me were born in freedom, we have a hard time even considering that it is possible for us to become as unfree - domestically - as many other nations. Because we no longer learn much about our rights or our system of government - the task of being aware of the constitution has been outsourced from citizens' ownership to being the domain of professionals such as lawyers and professors - we scarcely recognise the checks and balances that the founders put in place, even as they are being systematically dismantled. Because we don't learn much about European history, the setting up of a department of "homeland" security - remember who else was keen on the word "homeland" - didn't raise the alarm bells it might have.

It is my argument that, beneath our very noses, George Bush and his administration are using time-tested tactics to close down an open society. It is time for us to be willing to think the unthinkable - as the author and political journalist Joe Conason, has put it, that it can happen here. And that we are further along than we realise.

Conason eloquently warned of the danger of American authoritarianism. I am arguing that we need also to look at the lessons of European and other kinds of fascism to understand the potential seriousness of the events we see unfolding in the US.

There are a lot of things happening in Ferguson, Missouri right now that are too close to our Civil Rights history in America and many words are rolling over and over in my head.

Sick and tired. False narratives. Police brutality. 

Of course, I also hear this, loudly: 

Stay woke.

Fannie Lou Hamer's words ring too true in 2014.

I question America. Is this America? The land of the free and the home of the brave? Where we have to sleep with our telephones off the hook because our lives be threatened daily because we want to live as decent human beings in America. 

via Wikimedia Commons

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Reader Comments (6)

So dangerous. So close to fascism and theocracy that sometimes I swear I don't recognize my own country. Thanks for another history lesson. Stay. Woke.

August 20, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterAliza Worthington

Kelly, great post. As for history, I'm positive Mayor Knowles of Ferguson, the police chief, and McCulloch, the prosecutor, don't know any, certainly little about the Civil Rights movement. When they talk, especially Knowles and McCulloch, they sound just like some of the white leaders in the South did during the 1960s. Their attitudes and perceptions tell me they live in a very wide, very thick bubble.

August 20, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterNordette

The irony of some of this is that people have wasted so much time and breath accusing our current president of being a socialist, and yet it was the actions of his predecessor that has brought about more loss of personal freedom than anything done in recent history. Thank you for being a voice of awareness, of consciousness.

August 21, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterMichele

Why won't anyone else really mention that it took days to get a story together? It was so obvious. And yet, we gloss over it. The robbery video release coming shortly after just fuels the blatant lies and coverups and continued abuse. Abuse of Michael, his rights, his body. Abuse of our judicial system. Abuse of our intelligence. Abuse of our freedom. Abuse of motherfucking power, knowing they have the power and fuck your protests.

August 21, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterArnebya

It is 1963 outside, and we'd better figure out how to fix the calendar quickly. When I heard the Lt. Gov. say he wanted a return to Anglo-American justice, I actually felt a headache begin as my stomach contracted. NO NO NO NO NO

August 21, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterRita Arens

Thanks as usual for using your voice.
Struggling with all of the news lately. Not because this was a surprise, but I felt like how much more can we stand? I can't stand it. I don't want another young man dead. It's kept me up at night. And I know it isn't the same for me as it is for the black community. Because I could ignore if I wanted to, I have that privilege. And that makes me more upset. It got me calling my local spiritual assembly to organize a community prayer session.

But I get really disheartened by people I know. People whose children I have babysat. People who I have eaten dinner with and people who I consider friends. I got angry at a friend who told me seeing #whiteprivelige was offensive and racist. I gave her such an earful. Probably wasn't helpful because she will probably just avoid that topic (as if it's just a topic!) in the future. I don't know how to change people, especially when they don't want to see it. If you can see white privilege, you might have to give it up right? Either that or live with the fact that your part in the problem.

Sorry for the rant on your blog. Just trying to keep an eye out for the positive change I can make. And you often make me believe that there is one.

August 29, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterLisa

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