Mike Brown should be alive today. He should be home from his first year at college, visiting friends and enjoying summer as he prepares to return to campus.
The movement began one year ago as Brown’s body lay in the street of Canfield Drive here in Ferguson, Missouri, for four and a half hours. It began as the people of St Louis came out of their homes to mourn and to question, as the people were greeted by armed and aggressive officers. And the movement was sustained by a spirit of resistance that refused to be silent, that refused to cower, that refused to bow to continued hostility from the state.
We did not know each other’s names last August, but we knew each other’s hearts.
I will always remember that the call to action initiating the movement was organic – that there was no organizing committee, no charismatic leader, no church group or school club that led us to the streets. It is powerful to remember that the movement began as everyday people came out of their homes and refused to be scared into silence by the police. It is powerful, too, to remember the many people who came to stand with us in Ferguson, the many people who were radicalized in the streets of St Louis and then took that deep spirit of resistance to their own cities and towns, leading to sustained unrest across the United States.
In those early days, we were united by #Ferguson on Twitter – it was both our digital rallying cry and our communication hub. Back then, we were on the cusp of learning how to use Twitter as an organizing tool in protest. And once the protests began to spread, we became aware of something compelling and concise, something that provided common language to describe the protests: the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter.
As marginalized people, we have always faced erasure: either our story is never told, or it is told by everyone but us.
If not for Twitter and Instagram, Missouri officials would have convinced you, one year ago, that we simply did not exist. Or that we were the aggressors, rather than the victims. That we, and not they, were the violent ones.
But social media was our weapon against erasure. It is how many of us first became aware of the protests and how we learned where to go, or what to do when teargassed, or who to trust. We were able to both counter the narrative being spun by officials while connecting with each other in unprecedented ways. Many of us became friends digitally, first. And then we, the protestors, met in person.