Thursday, January 8, 2009

Evan Shamar: Organizer of the Oakland BART Protests

Generally, protests don't just spring up by themselves. Community organizers or activists usually pull protests together. Community organizers and activists are those people the RNC laughed at during its convention while ridiculing Barack Obama's resume. So as I wrote about the BART shooting protest in Oakland and subsequent violence, I wondered, "Who organized this protest?"

He may not have been the only one to step up and call for a halt to police brutality, and I doubt he wanted the protest to turn into a mini-riot, but Evan Shamar of CAPE (Coalition Against Police Executions) organized the BART shooting protest rally, according to The San Francisco Chronicle. Its photographer, Michale Macor took the picture below.

The call for protesters to show up at Fruitvale BART Station appeared at Oakland Cop Watch and elsewhere online the day before the protest. So, it seems social media helped spread the invitation. It's the tool of modern social activists.

I don't find much about Shamar online prior to the BART shooting protest and haven't seen interviews with him in mainstream media or blogs, ordinary or otherwise. (Since I first posted on Shamar, he's been interviewed. See update.) From the picture and the fact that people showed up to protest, I'll guess that he's an ambitious young man who can motivate others and is angry and frustrated at what he sees in his world, our world.

I hope he understands that while America is built on freedom of speech and the right to dissent, the government is not above spying on activists to discredit them. As recently illuminated again by a co-founder of Common Ground Relief outing himself as an FBI mole, sometimes even people who claim they're down for a cause may be in reality down on you.

Community organizers can look like saviors or anarchists, depending on where you're standing, and if they're really good at what they do, their lives may be in danger. Recall that Martin Luther King, Jr., was at heart a community organizer and activist. Yet, here we are about to inaugurate America's first African-American president, and he too was once a community organizer and activist. As a young man he wanted change and apparently that desire has not departed.

It's possible Shamar could care less about the dangers of being a social activists. For many of our young black men constant danger is a fact of life. Organizing protest against injustice is a more productive route to facing that danger than common paths of apathy and criminal action.

Perhaps, since Obama himself began his political work as a community organizer, his administration won't indulge knee-jerk responses to social protests. Perhaps on his watch we won't have to watch so diligently for violations of protesters' rights and privacy. Given his knowledge of Constitutional Law, it's unlikely he'll go for trampling the people's rights.

Obama, however, was fortunate enough as a community organizer not to become entangled in any protest that ended in violence. He worked more with workers' rights and voting rights. But he still wants to promote positive change. He called his transition website Furthermore, he encourages citizens to embrace volunteerism and service. Some people are answering that call.

I hope young people like Shamar who have the courage to protest won't lose that fire in the belly. But I also hope they will learn to use more wisdom when organizing dissent, study how to avoid violent outcomes. A cattle call fueled by anger, even righteous anger, is a Molotov cocktail looking for match.

UPDATE, 11:59, CST: A few hours ago, well after I blogged about Evan Shamar, The San Francisco Chronicle published an interview with the young activist and other organizers:
(01-08) 20:41 PST -- The man who organized Wednesday's BART police protest said he broke down in tears when he saw his peaceful march turn violent as some participants began throwing bottles, spitting on police cars and setting small fires.

Evan Shamar said he left the demonstration and saw the mayhem get worse on television.

"I was devastated by it," said Shamar, 24, the organizer and a photographer who lives in Oakland. "I worked diligently for the past 72 hours, and for it to be destroyed by a group of anarchists was extremely upsetting. I felt like my integrity had been compromised."

... Organizers say Wednesday night's chaos revealed some of the limitations of community organizing, as opportunists can quickly co-opt a loosely organized group. But they added that it also shows promise. Oakland Mayor Ron Dellums made a personal attempt to quell the crowds, empathizing with the people's anger but urging calm. (Read full story)
The article covers how the rally regressed from peaceful to violent.

Previous posts on BART shooting


Mike said...

Evan Shamar is the biggest bigot in this scenerio. Do you think this guy would have cared for a second if Oscar Grant was white? People like that only see the world in terms of skin color.

Brian said...

To Mike: Those are big words to say about someone you know little about. I'm a good personal friend of Evan, a white guy once described by a co-worker as "as white as they come". I can assure you he is no bigot. He was also at my house when we first saw the videos of the shooting, and I know he would have cared for a lot more than a second if the guy had been white. I've gotta stand up for my friend here.

- Brian

Anonymous said...

Unfortunately I do not believe that Shamar would have taken any action had the individual been white, or if the officer that shot him had been black. It would have been casually been written off as a tragic accident, which i believe it was. There is this ignorance that looms over many people like a poisonous cloud leading them to think that only white people are capable of being prejudice...