James Clingman

Remember the Jena Six?  Some 15,000 to 20,000 protesters went to Jena, La., in 2006 to demonstrate against injustice.  After all the speeches, threats, marches and church rallies, the people went home and nothing really changed.  The prosecutors did their thing and the system rolled right over Mychal Bell and the other five defendants.  It was business as usual.  Did we learn anything from Jena that we can apply in Ferguson?

In 2003, Kenneth Walker was shot and killed by a police officer on Interstate 185 in Columbus, Ga.   He was in a car that was pulled over by mistake.  He was on the ground, unarmed, when a police officer shot him twice in the head.  After protesters and marchers went home, the officer was acquitted.

What has happened in Ferguson (Mo.), Sanford (Fla.), and Staten Island (N.Y.), and all the other cities since the marches began?  What will happen in Baltimore (Md.) now, site of the latest crisis du jour for Black people?

There are many instances of Black men killed by police with impunity.  So what’s my point?  Well, as I watch the church services and listen to the speeches, I eagerly await the speakers’ solutions relative to practical economic leverage.  I hear the obligatory voting solution, but an “I Voted!” sticker will not stop a policeman’s bullet, and voting alone will not change our condition in this nation.

I also hear the praying solution, and I do believe in prayer.  However, I am suggesting that the Black folks in Baltimore and all across this country not only pray but fast as well.  That combination will definitely create change.

Be clear now; I am not talking about giving up food for a period of time.  The kind of fasting I am suggesting is a “product fast,” which does require doing without and less buying; but isn’t the cause worth it?  Capitalism can tolerate marches that call for voting and prayer, but it has a great deal of angst when a decline in consumption and sales occurs.

“Black-Out” Days and other shotgun approaches are nice gestures but have no overall affect; they are simply symbolism without substance.  They make us feel good but won’t cause anyone to change.  Folks just go out the next day and buy what they want.

A product fast is quite different.  For instance, Black folks consume a lot of soft drinks, gym shoes, liquor, fast foods, and other items we don’t think we can do without.  Just stop buying some of these products until corporate CEO’s tell the politicians in Washington, who would tell the governors, who would tell the mayors and prosecutors, who would tell the police chiefs, who would tell their officers to stop violating our rights the way they did in the Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson NFL cases, as well as in Indianapolis recently.  Those CEOs’ voices and threats to withdraw their advertising dollars and move their companies were heard loudly and clearly.  More importantly, they received immediate action from the offending parties.

Money runs politics, and when campaign donors are against something they will get results from the politicians they support, especially when their bottom line is adversely affected.   For example, can you imagine Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz, Coca Cola CEO Muhtar Kent, Pepsi Cola CEO Indra Nooyi, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, Nike CEO Mark Parker, McDonald’s CEO Steve Easterbrook, Diageo Liquor’s CEO Ivan Menezes, and Anheuser Busch’s CEO Thomas Santel, standing before national media and calling for an end to injustices against Black people?  The abuse will stop when the folks who run this country speak out, but they won’t speak up for us until they lose our patronage.

We have been marching for decades, and we got Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Trayvon Martin, Sean Bell, Oscar Grant, Timothy Thomas, Nathaniel Jones, Kenneth Walker, Patrick Dorismond, Amadou Diallo, John Crawford, Ezell Ford, and now Freddie Gray.  We must adopt a sensible economic solution in addition to marching.

A great example of how to use collective purchasing leverage is the Collective Empowerment Group (CEG) formerly known as the Collective Banking Group (CBG).  Founded 20 years ago, it comprised a small group of churches whose leaders were just tired of being mistreated by banks.  Led by Jonathan Weaver, pastor of Greater Mt. Nebo A.M.E. Church in Upper Marlboro, Md., the CEG has leveraged reciprocity in the marketplace to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars for its members—without calling for one march or demonstration.  They simply threatened to and followed through on a product and/or service fasting program.

Stop the insanity of doing the same thing and hoping for different results.  We need leaders who are unafraid to call for economic solutions, not leaders who will hurt you if you get between them and a news camera or microphone.  Get the folks who are really in charge of Baltimore and this country to speak out, and we will see a positive change.  Start your local prayer and fasting campaign now; and use the money saved to build businesses, create jobs and recreate real Black communities.