On Saturday night, a beautifully diverse group of women and men came together to stage a protest inside of the St. Louis Symphony that they are calling, "Requiem for Mike Brown." Not only was it perfectly executed, the reactions it elicited from attendees and members of the symphony, ranging the spectrum from utter disgust to total support, created something of a microcosm of America.
(Photo and video courtesy of Rebecca Rivas of the St. Louis American
Follow below the fold for more.
At 0:36 seconds into the video, a symphony attendee can be overheard calling Mike Brown "a thug" and "a criminal" as the protestors peacefully proceeded with their singing. At 0:57 in the video, when he was asked to say it again for the camera, he smiles awkwardly (see below) and refuses to do so.
The woman he was with was heard by Rebecca Rivas uttering profanity throughout the protest as well:
@NaYaKnoMi @colleenkelly @organizemo Not sure. I asked him to repeat it and he just gave me that grin. His lady was cussing up a storm too
While this response is revealing, others, including actual members of the symphony, strongly disagreed.
Adam McCrane, vice president of the St. Louis Symphony said:
"That was some real music we heard from passionate people in the audience." - @adamcrane of @slso on #Ferguson -> http://t.co/...
Melissa Brooks, one of the musicians in the symphony, tweeted her support as well:
Five of the main organizers for the protest, representing a variety of charities and backgrounds, were Derek Laney, Elizabeth Vega, Sarah Greisbach, Jelani Brown, and Annjie Scheifelbein.
In an insightful interview I conducted with three of the organizers, they detailed the genesis and execution of the idea for "Requiem for Mike Brown."
Can you tell me about how the idea for the protest came about?
Sarah: The symphony has held benefit concerts for Ferguson. These are artists. Artists have responded to this movement from the beginning. I went to Elizabeth Vega with the idea and we found that Brahms Requiem would play in mere weeks. We melted in our chairs at the sheer beauty of that connection. She said, "Requiem for Mike Brown!" She immediately contacted Derek Laney and then artist Jelani Brown (who designed the banners) and we began bouncing ideas around. We wanted to try something that might possibly be persuasive. That's when the idea for the rain of confetti heart invitations was hatched. And then we came to the realization that we could disrupt without interrupting if we tuned things well.
Elizabeth: Two weeks ago, Sarah and I participated in a direct action at Cardinal Stadium. We did a series of banner drops at a baseball game with folks. We are both middle aged (I am a grandmother) and I am brown and Sarah is white. People were incredibly rude and racist to us at the game. They booed us. Told us "Pants up don't loot" etc.. They clearly saw what they wanted to see. We were escorted out in handcuffs and chanted "No justice! No Peace!" It was a rough night where we didn't feel any love. Sarah suggested that night, jokingly, that perhaps we needed another venue. The next day she said she wanted to do an action at the symphony. I was on board and immediately brought on Derek. When we found out the next performance was a requiem we had to do it. It took us about two weeks among planning other actions and events for the national mobilization. We are all very busy but carved out about five hours total to recruit, plan and organize.
What did you hope the protest would accomplish?
Elizabeth: We wanted to make the comfortable uncomfortable. We wanted to speak to the fence straddlers and perhaps persuade them to become involved. We wanted people to feel the impact of Mike Brown's life and death.
Derek: I agree with Elizabeth that we aimed to make the comfortable uncomfortable and to offer an opportunity for those who might want to get involved the chance. It was more an invitation to raise their level of consciousness of the suffering and the grief and anger of Black and Brown peoples and white allies, than it was about accusing anyone of anything. We also wanted that crowd to see that grace and poise and civility can come in many forms.
How did you determine who would join the protest?
Derek: At this stage of organizing for justice for Mike Brown, and with the crunch of putting on the #FergusonOctober National Mobilization, we were willing to take anyone we could get. We at least wanted some people who could carry a tune, but we weren't expecting that we'd be able to cherry-pick great singers. Being down with the cause was the main criteria.
Elizabeth: To find out who could join us, we just invited folks we knew who were allies. It was mostly done through Facebook or face to face. The numbers fluctuated up and down when some folks got arrested on Thursday night and dropped out. Incredibly we had 20 tickets and used every one of them. We bought the tickets in advance a day after we discussed doing the action. We then worked for about 10 days to fill those seats. We were cognizant of diversity in terms of race, age and gender.
Were you or others nervous before you took your seats in the symphony?
Sarah: The real magic wasn't in the planning though. It was in the people who all came together, slightly terrified, after a long work week and many other protest events. Some had only recently been arrested and several participants needed coffee just to get started. But the adrenaline of doing something that right kicked in and our voices came together and somehow we pulled it off.
Elizabeth: Personally I did a shot of whiskey. Haha. I think we leaned on each other for courage. Moreover the songs were perfect -- seriously grab the program from the night and see the translation it is about justice and standing up to the mighty and those in power. I cried through the first song and that is where I got my courage. That said my legs were shaking and my heart was pounding.
Derek: We mostly acted as if we didn't know each other after we arrived.
Did you see or hear anyone join in on the singing?
Elizabeth: Nobody joined in on our singing, but we did get some folks clapping, including members of the orchestra. We also got a couple boos. And then there was the couple caught on the footage. The guy we caught on video called Brown a thug and a criminal.
Would you like to see more protests like this happen all over the country?
Derek: If you are about justice, do what you are moved to do. If folks in other cities want to emulate what we did, more power to them. I have to say that we were extremely pleased with its success here in St. Louis.
Elizabeth: Yes -- we want people to bring to the forefront all those killed by police violence. This is not just a Ferguson issue. What happened here is that when Mike Brown was killed many of us heard the collective snap of a last straw. One that is now echoing through the country. There are Mike Browns everywhere!!