Tuesday, December 16, 2014

On Why I March and #FTP

Our country’s Founders had the revolutionary idea that everyday citizens would be more capable and effective than a monarch or elite class at creating a just and egalitarian society. One of the requirements of this vision is that everyday citizens take an active role in governance.

As an elected official, it is clear that I am interested in participating in this grand experiment we call democracy. From my work as a community leader I have demonstrated my commitment to motivating people to get involved in governance- whether by encouraging people to run for office, working with youth to develop their civic skills, training young leaders to organize campaigns, or by creating CRUSH- a social network where people could exchange ideas and develop new projects that could contribute to our community.

I want my son to know human beings have the ability to affect extraordinary changes- not only in our own lives, but also in the lives of others and in society. That when injustices are exposed, we have the capacity to not only recognize them, but to rectify them as well. It is for this reason that he and I took a bus down to NY this past September to participate in the “People’s Climate March” (to protest overreliance on a fossil fuel economy and support a transition to renewable energies) and it’s why I marched with him through the streets of downtown Holyoke last Friday in “From Ferguson to NYC to Holyoke” (to protest the recent shootings of unarmed black men, women, and youth and support the call for reforming problematic police practices).

As an elected representative of the community it was important for me to demonstrate to both the protestors and the police force that I expected the march to proceed peacefully, so much so that I was willing to be present at the march with my 14-month old baby strapped to my back. I joined the group as the moment of silence concluded outside of the Holyoke Police Department.

Several messages were chanted as the group made their way through the streets and it has come to my attention that some people are accusing me of chanting “FTP” (f@$% the police). I want to make sure that there is no mistake here- I did NOT have any interactions with police officers that day nor did I chant “FTP” at any point and I would not ever give my voice to support such a sentiment- I find it to be degrading and that it doesn’t reach the people who we need to include as we grow the movement- namely police officers and white, middle-class citizens. It was also my experience that this particular chant was not sustained by the group marching for very long- it came up, but died quickly unlike some of the other chants like “This is what democracy looks like.” Here again is why participation is so vital- it shapes the movement and the discourse; your voice can energize those aspects that you’d like to support and the absence of your voice can also rob less desirable aspects of the lifeblood they need to continue.

My father and grandfather as well as my mother’s brother are all retired NYPD. I have a deep appreciation for the hard work and risks that police officers take on every day in the field. I also believe that many police practices are in need of reform.

Since the Ferguson issue first came up I have seen it as an opportunity to explore what we are doing locally and only recently wrapped up a Public Safety Committee discussion with Chief Neiswanger about the level of militarization within the Holyoke Police force. I was very pleased to hear that the HPD had not acquired any military surplus items and that the Chief’s Community Policing efforts are the centerpiece of his law enforcement philosophy. To this end, the HPD has made significant investments in its human (as opposed to weapons) resources with skills and tactical training, so that our force is better equipped to make faster, smarter decisions in the field, under pressure and deescalate potentially violent situations. While I do not believe that any police force has got it down perfectly, I think that the Chief’s efforts are steering the Holyoke Police Department in a productive direction that more troubled departments may wish to emulate.

In closing, I think it’s important to remember that social movements not monolithic- they are conglomerations of multiple forces and groups that have different motivations for coming together to be heard and seen. I’m participating in these movement protests because I believe that we can successfully address the problematic police practices that are causing divisions within police forces and communities across our country. I have full confidence that through more engaged community dialogue and participation our country will be able to heal from these wounds.


Rebecca Lisi
City Councilor at-Large


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