“It’s our duty to really take a stand”
Webster University student Henrietta Campbell didn’t get involved in protests surrounding the events in Ferguson, Missouri and the death of Michael Brown until a few weeks ago. She kept a close eye on the news to see what was happening, but felt like it would not be safe to take part in protests.
This changed during the weekend of Oct. 10 to 13, when activists around St. Louis organized Ferguson October, a four-day series of marches, public talks and protests meant to continue awareness for the movement against police brutality.
With actions happening closer to Webster Groves, Webster student Hattie Svoboda-Stel said it is crucial for students to support these protesters in any way they can.
“It’s our duty — especially as students — to really take a stand, and stand in solidarity with Ferguson and the wider community of St. Louis,” Svoboda-Stel said. “We (students) have access to a lot of resources and we already have a structure we are within that’s really supportive, so I think it’s our duty to get involved.”
Campbell attended the Justice For All March on Saturday, Oct. 11, which partnered Ferguson October organizers with members of the LGBTQ community who were celebrating National Coming Out Day.
“It was an experience finding out for myself that the protesters aren’t what has been wrong,” Campbell said. “It has been people’s reactions to the protesters, and specifically the police reaction to them.”
Campbell also participated in a protest at Saint Louis University on Monday, Oct. 13, the same day Ferguson October activists organized a protest outside of a fundraiser for St. Louis County executive Steve Stenger in Webster Groves.
Ferguson October named Oct. 13 “Moral Monday,” which was one of the most active days of protesting since Michael Brown’s death, according to Svoboda-Stel.
Supporting the Protesters
Svoboda-Stel has dedicated much of her free time since returning to Webster in August for the fall semester to working with Missourians Organizing for Reform and Empowerment (MORE). MORE provided its office as a jail support hotline that gives legal information to protesters and activists when they are arrested.
“If protesters get arrested or see someone get arrested, they call us and give us their information. Then we contact the jail, get the bond amount, help pay some of their bail and get them into contact with a free lawyer through Arch City Defenders,” Svoboda-Stel said.
MORE also works with legal observers, who document protest situations in order to keep both the police and the protesters accountable for their actions. She said things like jail support and legal observers are necessary so people can interact with the police without the fear of being lost in the criminal justice system.
Svoboda-Stel said students can make a big difference in the protests, which is why she has encouraged many of her friends to get involved. For her, taking part in support roles and giving activists of color the space to organize and lead the movement is what is important now.
“For white activists in this movement, it’s really important for us to be doing support work and giving organizers of color the room to strategize,” Svoboda-Stel said. “It’s people of color who have been facing immense amounts of police brutality, and have been on the streets fighting every night so they don’t get killed on their way to the store.”
Campbell said getting involved in Ferguson October taught her how many people are truly needed to make a change, and it really brought out the activist side of her. She plans to continue protesting, and said the experience has taught her that she wants to be heard, because her presence matters.