Presidential Medals of Freedom, Bullets, and Fires from Ferguson: A Window Seat in Chile


Talk about a moment of feeling surreal. I arrived to my office in Chile, the next day after the devastating Monday, November 24th announcement that a convened grand jury panel decided that Officer Darren Wilson would face no charges relative to the brutal shooting death of an unarmed black teenager (Michael Brown), in Ferguson, MO.  The night before, I remained glued to online stream of news reports (as I am not in the United States) surrounding the decision.

On that same evening, I learned that another young black 12 year old male child (Tamir Rice) was shot to death only two days before the announcement in Ferguson. That event occurred in my home state of Ohio in the city of Cleveland, were the child was again killed by a police officer.  Reports are that it took under “two seconds” for officers to arrive to the scene at the park where the child was and gunned him down as he was in possession of what was ultimately a “toy gun”.  This is particularly remarkable because firstly, Ohio is a state that has authorized conceal and carry laws permitting citizens to keep a firearm on their person, and secondly, released 911 operator recordings indicated that the weapon in question was likely a toy and not a real firearm. Nevertheless, today, that child is dead.

But that’s not even the part that was most surreal for me on that Tuesday afternoon.  As I am trying to process the context of my reality as a Black North American woman, living in Chile, I walk into our offices to see on the conference room television my President, he is smiling and handing out Presidential Medals of Freedom to who I could identify as Stevie Wonder and for purposes relevant to Chile, Chilean-American writer Isabel Allende. Allende’s father was the first cousin to former President Salvador Allende who was ousted from his democratically elected post by a military coup under command of his successor Augusto Pinochet. You can search the history of that dark period in the life of many Chileans to understand how I draw analogies to the uproar expressed by protesters following last Monday’s perceived injustices regarding the Brown shooting.

As a scholar and researcher trained in Spiral Dynamics, I am so grateful for social media. Without that medium one would never be able to fully grasp the breath of the alternative realities people live in the United States and abroad as members of the African American and other race-based minority communities.  I spent the good part of the evening on Tuesday attempting to explain to some of my white friends on Facebook why the protesters had legitimate grievances that included those who may have resorted to what they described as looting and violence. I believe my attempts to draw comparisons for them with the American Revolution and the Boston Tea Party made some inroads for understanding. However, the reality is, some people simply cannot see the worldviews of those trapped in cycles of poverty, police brutality, and socioeconomic/political disenfranchisement. It is an incredible leap for them to go for I and me to us and we when it comes to people who are from cultural realities often very different from their own.

Seeing my President and Stevie Wonder–who has always be a very vocal celebrity icon in the civic rights struggle–standing together in our Nation’s White House sharing smiles, metals, and laughs with the daughter of a Chilean revolutionary who lost his life in pursuit of a vision for his country was almost too much for me to process on a day were emotions for blacks and African Americans were exploiting in urban centers all over the United States.

Notwithstanding, Chile is a much different place from that day back in 1973 when the coup d´etat occured.  An effort lead by a grass roots marketing campaign, affectionately known here in Chile as No (and depicted in a 2012 film starring Gael García Bernal), pushed back against Pinochet in 1990, and engaged the people of the country to exercise their democratic power to remove a sitting Pinochet and encourage a better vision of change for the county. But of course, the work here is not complete either as students and educators are protesting for changes to the educational systems (also the focus of my research) here in Chile, in order to make them more fair leading to expanded opportunities for increased social mobility for more Chilenos.

I remember having that same type of vision and energy of the Chilean and Ferguson protesters in 2008. I “Campaigned for Change” as a field organizer in the Obama campaign on what was said to have been one of the best political campaigning teams of the 21st century. I was excited, I knocked on doors, and I registered voters, talked face-to-face in peoples’ homes and places of business telling them it was our time, the working-class folks; I did the whole 9 yards and I ran it hard.  When we won, I wept. I thought to myself finally, this energy was going to translate into a better day for black people, heck all people! We had high hopes. Never did I image that I would one day be blogging from another country and crying as I watched twitter feeds where a young man tweets:

deray mckesson retweeted
Lankers @MrLankee 2h2 hours ago
Mike Brown probably watched the Trayvon Martin murder like this could’ve been me. Then it was him. Who’s next?

That was not the change that I campaigned to “believe in”, and will not remain quiet about my disappointment. One of my Chilean friends gave me the most sympathetic look today and said to me with a timid smile, “Chile es más tranquilo Lisa.” And she is right, and I knew exactly what she meant and appreciated her empathy. However, I’m cool with things not being tranquilo (quiet/calm) for me personally; because in the United States for many black people who fall victim to police brutality, their lives are anything but tranquil and quiet. So, yes, let tranquilo be our ultimate goal for everyone.  However, in the interim let civic engagement be exercised by American citizens holding that #BlackLivesMatter2 and let that thought and action ring loud and clear from my temporary position in South America all the way across the oceans to North America.  There is much work to be done, so let’s get to work. What’s our next move?!