Either we fight for our lives, Ferguson, and the future of the United States ... or we all die

protester throws a live canister of tear gas that had been fired by police during demonstration. Photo: ABC.

Stephanie Llanes and Jamal Ubuntu argue there are three fights we must win in Ferguson and the United States: taking money out of politics; ending racial and economic segregation; and ending violence against all people, especially the oppressed. Otherwise, we will all die.

“We who believe in freedom cannot rest until it comes.”

Sweet Honey in the Rock    

Ella’s Song

When will all of this end? When will human beings stop being the targets of cold bullets? We must somehow give our generation an answer to these questions.  For much of Ferguson’s and this country’s history, local, state, and national officials have mostly given us more reasons to feel unprotected. More harassment. More killing machines. More funerals. More half-hearted investigations. More autopsy reports. More excuses. More empty promises. More this-is-a-time-to-heal pleas. More shortsighted solutions.

We cannot continue to say, “I can’t believe this is happening in America.” This is America. We are at war. People are being murdered. Many more are enslaved to fear, anxiety, hatred, and apathy. And, once again, our children are pouring their hearts out screaming, “Our lives matter!” and “All we want to do is be free.”

For many, the stakes have never been higher: We must somehow give our generation an answer.  

In this article, we do our best to briefly describe what must happen for the killings, oppression, and subjugation to end. Maybe an impossible task. We know. We also know that much can and must be done, and that many are working tirelessly to save Black and Brown families, this country, and this world.

Ferguson and America are faced with complex, structural, and deep-rooted crises. We do not, however, believe that the challenges that surround Ferguson and America are disconnected from moral considerations. Accordingly, proposed solutions should attempt to match the scope, depth, and spirit of America’s problems.

We’ve identified three macro-level strategies to “fight back in a coherent and sustained way against the racial injustice that still permeates this society.”

Other strategies exist and are needed. Some strategies, including the ones we’ve highlighted, cannot be achieved without: local leadership, participation, expertise, and coordination; specific and tailored methods of action to implement macro-level strategies for varying communities and campaigns; and a whole host of skills and knowledge that we do not possess. This article is far from perfect.

However, we believe the following three fights must be prioritized and won for our lives, Ferguson, and for the future of the United States. Freedom, full citizenship, justice, and peace will continue to evade us if we don’t win these battles. Now, we don’t use the word “fights” lightly. Our suggestions, which have been pursued in other contexts, have always been vehemently resisted. Power and people—here and abroad—will resist the following transformative proposals with everything that they have. Everything.

“In the U.S. blacks remain a source of spectacle, contempt, fascination & pity. That won’t change absent a structural & conceptual revolution.”

Dr. Greg Carr


The Fights We Must Win:

(1) We must somehow take money out of politics and must make elections and politics about people, not money.

(2) We must somehow end racial and economic residential segregation because segregation aids all forms of oppression, and destroys freedom and opportunity.

(3) We must somehow make State-violence and all violence morally indefensible if people, especially oppressed people, are to have freedom, justice, and peace.

We must somehow make elections and politics about people, not money.

We must stop pretending that our elected officials aren’t bought and that money doesn’t control elections and politics. We can’t merely or primarily tell people—and certainly not Black women—to vote or to vote more often. Governments do not serve people when corporations and moneyed interests have a stranglehold over elections, elected officials, and public policy. For most U.S. citizens, their well-being, freedom, and life outcomes are regulated by a small percentage of people and corporations who don’t want a government that is for the people. This happens year after year after year—here and abroad.

The signs are visible all throughout Ferguson and around this country. Black and Brown folks are grossly and largely unrepresented. Surely, Black and Brown people aren’t simply unlucky year after year, election after election. Right? For a country that massacred Native Americans and enslaved Africans, the types of representation in this country for non-Whites are perverse. Something, to this day, continues to convince Whites all over this country that they are the best to lead and protect non-Whites. Think about that. How many majority White communities are led or policed by a majority of non-Whites? And, how many majority non-White communities are led or policed by a majority of Whites? Perverse is an understatement.

On this issue, we are not suggesting that that the well-being of Blacks and Latinos will automatically improve if they simply have Black and Latino representatives. On the contrary, examples all throughout the country, including the handling of the bankruptcy crisis in Detroit, remind us that Blacks and Latinos need representatives. The well-being of people, and certainly not Blacks and Latinos, will not be protected or improved if representatives are unwilling or ill-prepared to fight for people and public institutions. Race matters, but the reality is that people from various backgrounds do not feel represented because they aren’t.

Beyond race, the same groups win and get richer and more powerful, almost regardless of who’s in power or the state of the U.S. or global economy. The elites—the wealthy, whatever you want to call them—aren’t simply lucky. In almost any other context, we would be raising hell. Consider any game where the rules rarely change and the same players keep winning. We would be saying the deck is stacked. The game is fixed. People are CHEATING. When it comes to politics in the United States, the same players keep winning. The system isn’t just broken or designed to slow down change. It’s rigged. It’s corrupt. We can’t be indifferent or moral cowards on the issue. Our democracy has been hijacked. Election terrorism is real.

“Economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy, while average citizens and mass-based interest groups have little or no independent influence.”

Martin Gilens and Benjamin Page

Testing Theories of American Politics: Elites, Interest Groups, and Average Citizens

A campaign financing revolution—that serves people—is desperately needed. Ferguson needs it. This country and our increasingly poisoned earth needs it. We must stop the absurd practice of allowing candidates to run for elected office without having a plan to reform campaign financing. Is reforming campaign financing challenging? Yes. But, so is stopping “global terrorism.”

Undoubtedly, there are few systems that are more central to a functioning and fair democracy. Let’s force every candidate to decide if they’re going to stand with people or our current system. If a candidate or politician remains silent on the issue of campaign financing, that official must go. No exceptions. No giving anyone the benefit of the doubt—not even for candidates of color, or candidates who grew up in poverty. If you have a mother from Kansas and a father from Kenya, or you have immigrant grandparents, or speak another language. Great. What’s your plan to reform our toxic campaign financing system?  

Elections must be about people, not money. Let’s fight for it!


We must somehow end racial and economic residential segregation because segregation destroys freedom and opportunity, and aids all forms of oppression.

Freedom does not exist where state-created and state-sanctioned racial and economic segregation is the law, structure, or practice of the land. Segregation inherently separates and stigmatizes human beings as inferior. It leads others to believe they are superior. Segregation causes human beings to perceive and treat others as less than human or worse, not human at all. The harms are not limited to people’s intent. Segregation inherently and automatically creates enemies between groups. State sanctioned segregation is an act of war.

“We are segregated; we are a caste…Our problem is: How far and in what way can we consciously and scientifically guide our future so as to ensure our physical survival, our spiritual freedom, and our social growth? Either we do this or we die. There is no alternative.”

W.E.B. Du Bois

  the education of black people

In the United States, racial residential segregation—along with stratification—is one of the primary mechanisms that causes groups to be separated, stigmatized, and dehumanized. If a marginalized group or identity (for example, race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, religion, ability, citizenship, political affiliation, convicted persons) is concentrated and isolated in segregated spaces (for instance, neighborhoods, prisons, detention centers) the segregated group is likely to be subjected to violence, exploitation, political powerlessness, marginalization, and durable inequality.

The risks and reality of oppression continues even if persons from the segregated and stigmatized group has access to or lives in spaces that are considered “desegregated.” Stigmas don’t necessarily have geographic boundaries. In other words, subconscious biases and discrimination can and often do follow persons, regardless of where those persons may reside. We observe this phenomenon frequently with “felons,” “criminals,” “immigrants,” “disabled” persons, Black and Brown folks, and so on. For example, even if Ferguson is less segregated than St. Louis, Ferguson residents still suffer from the racialized stigmas and biases that largely stem from St. Louis’s segregation, and U.S. segregation more broadly.

This linkage between segregation and oppression exists in the United States and all throughout the world. Separate but equal does not work in a profoundly structural environment. We know this. And yet, too many of us continue to lie to ourselves and hold on to contradictions. On one hand, we’ve been saying, “They don’t think we’re human. They don’t think our lives matter. They don’t care about our pain.” And on the other hand, we’ve stopped saying, “The United States is still deeply segregated. The United States has a caste system. The United States has multiple classes of citizenship: Super-citizenship for corporations and wealthy persons; full rights for most Whites; and some to no rights for Black and Brown folks, poor people, and everybody else.”

We can’t have it both ways. We’ve never had it both ways. And we can’t stop talking about segregation. In other words, why would we ever expect marginalized and segregated groups to have full citizenship and human rights?

Humanity and citizenship do not flow to those who are believed to be less human or worse, not human at all. As john a. powell, Director of the UC Berkeley Haas Institute for a Fair Inclusive Society (HIFIS), has said, people don’t create policies for groups they don’t think are human. Increasingly, cognitive science research indicates that human brains can learn to NOT see persons who belong to stigmatized or marginalized groups as human beings. This should frighten us all and is worth repeating: At the subconscious level, good-hearted people who do not have any cognitive disabilities, often lose the ability to perceive other humans as fully human. For inadequate reasons, too many continue to ignore the relationship between segregation and dehumanization.   

Let’s look at it another way. Segregation, like housing, creates and distributes identity. This is to say that segregation helps construct meanings and perceptions, such as race and other indicators of social location. For example, when people say, “he dresses or talks ‘Black,’” they’re usually describing ways of being that are closely related to particular residential and social environments. If we accept that segregation helps create people’s identity, perceptions, and stereotypes, then we can recognize that segregation doesn’t just harm non-elites or the oppressed. Segregation also harms the oppressor.

“I believe that racism exists in the inexplicable sense of fear, unsafety and gnawing anxiety that white people, be they officers with guns or just general folks moving about their lives, have when they encounter black people.”

Dr. Brittney Cooper

In defense of black rage: Michael Brown, police and the American dream

People whose identity and status are maintained through segregation and oppression, and the borders that make it possible, are not free. The borders themselves are an act of violence against one’s soul. For example, even when Whites have done their best to put the racial “other” out of sight, the racial “other” has never been out of the minds of Whites. This remains true today and where segregation continues under seemingly race-neutral policies or practices.

The result is always the same: the borders, whether physical or psychological, will eventually make people slaves to fear, anxiety, hatred, or apathy.

The results are painfully obvious: How many hate groups have we had and do we have? How many hate crimes? How many guns? How many gated homes and communities? How many foreclosures? How many detention centers? How many ‘criminals?’ How many humans in metal cages? How many in solitary confinement? How many riots? How many wars? How many deportations? How many sterilizations? How many humans trafficked? How many stops and frisks? How many separate schools and institutions for people with different abilities or mental illnesses? How many premature births and deaths? How many homeless children? How many murders? How many officers who have taken Black and Brown souls?

Segregation destroys freedom and opportunity. Segregation obliterates our humanity. Segregation must die.

There is an alternative. The alternative is not desegregation but rather integration. As Reverend Dr. King, Jr. explained:

“Although the terms desegregation and integration are often used interchangeably, there is a great deal of difference between the two…Desegregation is eliminative and negative…Integration is the positive acceptance of desegregation and the welcomed participation of [nonwhites] into the total range of human activities. Integration is genuine intergroup, interpersonal doing. Desegregation…is only a short term goal. Integration is the ultimate goal of our national community.”

Even in communities that have been described as racially diverse, such as Ferguson, MO or Sanford, FL, few U.S. communities are integrated. The difference is a matter of life and death. The murders of Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin, and Tarika Wilson, to name a few, make this clear. In other ways, segregated and desegregated neighborhoods—where racism and cumulative disadvantages can flourish—continue to harm and kill Blacks, Latinos, and Native Americas.

If our goal is to eliminate all forms of oppression, we must also eliminate racial and economic segregation.

“The fear that we cannot grow beyond whatever distortions we may find within ourselves keeps us docile and loyal and obedient, externally defined, and leads us to accept many facets of our oppression….”

Audre Lorde

The Uses of the Erotic: The Erotic as Power


We must somehow make State violence and all violence morally indefensible, and we must use nonviolent resistance as a weapon.

Dr. Brittney Cooper and others are right. People—our people—have a right to cry out, be angry, and to take their rage to their oppressors or the streets. Inseparable from those expressions, is the question, “What do we ultimately want for ourselves, each other, and our children?” We think our hearts, our minds, our bodies, and our spirits want peace. We think we want children—ours and others—to have peace and dignity.

First and foremost, this means that we have to rebel against our Federal and State governments’ preference for and reliance on violent forms of social control.

For much of human history and all throughout the world, governments and military forces have tried to establish or sustain peace with violence. The outcome? Violence always leads to more violence. Always. Violence isn’t the answer. Violence won’t convince others our lives matter and it won’t save our children. We must find another way.

We believe the answer to our generation’s most pressing issues must both preserve and transform hearts, minds, bodies, and souls. We believe the answer must transform our homes, communities, country, and world. We believe the answer must not choose violence, “the very type of struggle with which the oppressors nearly always have superiority…in military hardware, ammunition, transportation, and the size of military forces.”

“The future world, will in all reasonable probability, be what colored [people] make it. In order for this colored world to come into its heritage, must the earth again be drenched in the blood of fighting, snarling human beasts, or will Reason and Good Will prevail?”

W.E.B. Du Bois

The Negro

We believe an unshakeable and strategic commitment to nonviolent resistance is the answer our generation needs. (We use nonviolent resistance, nonviolent confrontation, nonviolent coercion, and nonviolent struggle interchangeably.)

Yeah. We know. We know this answer troubles, upsets, and confuses many. We know people don’t want to hear, “Alright everybody let’s be civil. Let’s be nonviolent.”

We know this is especially the case when violence makes us or our loved ones victims.  

We know this is especially the case when the violence is systemic, targeted, reckless, or intentional.

We know this is especially the case when the violence comes from “law enforcement” agents or government agents.

As an Afro-Latina and an African-American man, we know. My people in Puerto Rico were slaughtered. My people here in the United States were slaughtered. Our people throughout the African diaspora have been and continue to be slaughtered. Moreover, our connection to this issue isn’t just about ancestors or others’ recent experiences. Though neither of us are physically threatened with violence on a daily occurrence, our emphasis on nonviolent resistance is not an academic exercise.

This is especially true for us because we’ve personally had guns pointed at us; been shot at; had loved ones killed while in police custody; had loved ones deported to countries they have no connection to; and observed the consequences of domestic and sexual abuse, as well as harassment from police and immigration customs enforcement agents. In our own personal lives, we often don’t want to hear, “Blacks and Latinos are the ones who need to be nonviolent.” Blacks and Latinos aren’t the problem. We’ve never been the problem.

"Black rage is founded on two-thirds a person/ Rapings and beatings and suffering that worsens./ Black human packages tied up in strings/ Black Rage can come from these kinds of things/ Black Rage is founded on blatant denial/ Squeezed economics, subsistence survival/ Deafening silence and social control/ Black Rage is founded on wounds in the soul"

Lauryn Hill

“Black Rage”

In other words, we too were once un-convinced that nonviolence could ever be more than a moral plea. We’ve come to believe that position is wrong and that it guarantees oppression and death for people and victims of monetary, military, and White Supremacy.

Better yet, we’ve come to believe oppressed people can win the war—any war.  

We’ve come to believe that one of the main reasons many assume nonviolence struggle is little more than nonviolence submission, is because most of us have spent our entire lives in oppressive environments that would rather maintain the status quo than to see people liberate and govern themselves. The U.S. government does not spend $700 billion in any year on peace and nonviolence. In fact, government and corporate entities have yet to see the value in institutionalizing and teaching nonviolence, let alone the 198-plus nonviolent confrontation tactics (listed at the end of this article) that would empower and unify people. In other words, there are realistic alternatives to violence and weapons of mass destruction.  

Nonviolent confrontation has transformed people and societies before, including Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, Poland, East Germany, Czechoslovakia and Slovenia, Madagascar, Mali, Bolivia, the Philippines, Nepal, Zambia, South Korea, Chile, Argentina, Haiti, Brazil, Uruguay, Malawi, Thailand, Bulgaria, Hungary, Nigeria, and various parts of the former Soviet Union. Unlike violence, nonviolent resistance, massive non-cooperation, and creative protests are sustainable paths to peace.

These practical and ethical nonviolent transformations are not confined to other countries. Past U.S. movements have occurred and can occur again.

To be clear, nonviolent resistance does resist. It is not passive nonresistance. It is not quiet, passive acceptance of evil, as Rev. Dr. King once explained. First, nonviolent struggle requires people to be strong, courageous, and aggressive soldiers for peace. Sit with that for a second, or two, or more. Imagine a world full of soldiers for peace and nonviolence.

Second, morality is central to the moral and spiritual force of nonviolent resistance. We must not lose sight that morality matters—always.  The argument that “our killings were more justified than theirs,” is similar to the argument, “they deserved it.” These are moral arguments. What may be less obvious is that our intuitions around violence aren’t as natural as society leads us to believe. Trillions of dollars and an infinite amount of stories and images are used to make people accept, prefer, and expect violence. Many are working around the clock to normalize violence.

This reality fueled the late Bob Marley. It should fuel us as well. We can’t afford to take a day off. And, our efforts to end violence, no different than others’ efforts to justify violence, must also put morality front and center. Our efforts must also organize people to accept, prefer, and expect nonviolence.

Moreover, we must somehow stop the bitterness and hatred that pours through the streets along with our blood. With grace and radical love as their weapons, soldiers for peace can stop the flood of spiritual and physical death that have risen to catastrophic levels.  We do not mean that we have to or should love our oppressor in an affectionate sense. Even the great Rev. Dr. King thought such a thing would be wildly absurd. Practicing radical love, however, does mean that we can and will refuse to destroy others’ bodies. It means we can and will refuse to destroy others’ souls. It also means that we can and will refuse to be accomplices in the destruction of our own souls.

Third, nonviolent coercion focuses on evil systems and structures, not just individuals and interpersonal interactions. Systems must be challenged and transformed. In this country and all throughout the world, governments and people justify the slaughtering and bombing of human beings by arguing that the killings were justified. This death spiral is predictable and never-ending: Mothers are killed. Fathers are killed. Sisters are killed. Brothers are killed. Children are killed. What follows, always? Lies, disseminated misinformation, and misunderstandings. Neither side ever concedes 100% that the other side’s killings were more justified. What follows, always? People are fueled to retaliate or kill some more. Bitterness and resentment abounds. In the United States and all around the world, this cycle continues on and on.  

“There’s a need for an alternative vision, a beloved community where being connected to the other is seen as the foundation of a healthy self, not its destruction, and where the racial other is seen not as the infinite other, but rather as the other that is always and already a part of us.”

john a. powell

Racing to Justice: Transforming Our Conceptions of Self and Other to Build an Inclusive Society

Until violence is widely considered impractical and immoral, U.S. and foreign terrorism, rape culture, domestic abuse, extrajudicial killings, genocide, police brutality, the military complex, deportations, mass incarceration, and organized crime will continue to encourage, guarantee, and multiply death, oppression, fear, and hatred.

Until violence becomes morally unjustifiable, soldiers for violence will continue to shamelessly accumulate wealth and power from our pain, blood, and spiritual separateness.

Until violence becomes morally unjustifiable, too many will continue to commit acts of violence over race, gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, ability, mental illness, political affiliation, religion, and nationality.

Reverend Dr. King and Gandhi were right. Nonviolent resistance is a threat to existing and oppressive power structures and ways of being. They were killed because they were right. Nonviolent resistance, creative protests, and massive non-cooperation are the most practical and effective weapons to dismantle evil and nondemocratic systems. No charismatic leader is needed. No billion dollar budget is needed. No nuclear scientists are needed. No political machine is needed. Oppressed people, like soldiers for peace, can win with nonviolent resistance and radical love.

“The history of social mobilization shows that organized, active, resourceful and creative movements have been able to challenge all kinds of oppressive structures.”

Eduardo Bonilla-Silva

Racism Without Racists: Color-Blind Racism & Racial Inequality in Contemporary America

If We’re Going to Fight, Let’s Fight to Win.

There is much that can and must be done. Ferguson reminds us that the United States never stopped being a war zone. At stake is the well-being of the country, the world, and especially Black and Brown lives. Let’s fight to win!

We can win—oppressed people can win. How? We must connect our goals to local, national, and global interests. We must seek transformative goals. And, we must distinguish goals and strategies from methods.

Implicit bias training, cameras on uniforms, demilitarizing police departments, and reforming investigation procedures are all appropriate methods. These efforts and many more are needed. But, will the country and world rally around implicit bias training? Or cameras on police uniforms? Do we believe any of these methods will truly transform ourselves and our society? Do we believe those methods will lead to freedom, justice, and peace?

Our strategies must empower oppressed and unrepresented groups to liberate themselves, their communities, and our country.

Our strategies must strengthen oppressed and unrepresented groups in their determination, self-confidence, and resistance skills.

Our strategies must transform how we see ourselves and each other.

Ultimately, and regardless of the specific methods deployed, our strategies must make politics about people, not money; end racial and economic residential segregation; and establish nonviolent resistance as the force that makes State violence and all violence morally unacceptable.

These are three fights that we must win for our lives, Ferguson, and the future of the United States.

We cannot rest until we do.  

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The ideas expressed on the Haas Institute blog are not necessarily those of UC Berkeley or the Division of Equity & Inclusion, where the Haas Institute website is hosted. They are not official and not of one mind. Thoughts here are those of individual authors. We are committed to academic freedom, free speech and civil liberties.