Social media conjures activists for the American Spring

On Tuesday, Mikki Kendall was in her Chicago home, watching live streams on her laptop as protesters and the police played out a 10th straight day of confrontation in the streets of Ferguson, Mo. On Wednesday, she was on the road, headed 300 miles to offer demonstrators her services as a former Army medic.
“I don’t want to take up space or be in the way,” she said. “It’s about making sure people have a steady supply of what they need. I can’t watch this happen night after night and not want to help.”
Ms. Kendall, 37, a writer, a blogger and an activist, is one of the less visible participants in what could be the transformation of a purely local protest into a center of national activism. Driven in part by posts on Twitter and other social media outlets, a phalanx of protesters from across the nation has descended on Ferguson, from rap and hip-hop stars to veterans of the Occupy Wall Street movement to more ordinary people like Ms. Kendall.
They bring food and medical supplies and toys to entertain babies while their parents march in the streets. They make up a significant portion of those protesters who confront the police aggressively enough to be arrested: Of the 103 people taken into custody during overnight protests on Monday and Tuesday, 23 were out-of-staters, from Alabama, California, the District of Columbia and Texas, among other places, according to the St. Louis County Police Department. One demonstrator from Austin, Tex., has been arrested three times, according to the Missouri State Highway Patrol.
In truth, the drop-in protesters are a motley bunch, with a patchwork of agendas. There are Amnesty International observers in yellow T-shirts and Tibetan monks in red robes, their hands raised in the air in the demonstrations’ signature gesture. There is a billionaire co-founder of Twitter — the St. Louis native Jack Dorsey — and representatives of the hacker group Anonymous, who have posted live video and protest updates online. The outsiders are welcomed by some Fergusonians as new troops in a wearing battle for justice. But they are deeply resented by others who suspect their motives and question their behavior.
On the street where Michael Brown, an African-American teenager, was shot by a white police officer on Aug. 9, two women who said they were from a neighboring city staged their own protest Tuesday, a high-decibel, roughly hourlong speech about police injustice and Jesus Christ.
“You don’t belong around here!” a longtime resident, Angela Shaver, finally shouted back. “I have been here 20 years and we don’t need all you people here! I don’t believe in this! This is not keeping the peace!”
Ms. Shaver said she worried that too many of the outsiders were coming to Ferguson to cause trouble, not to protest peacefully. “If you got an angry person like her out here and she meets up with another angry person, that just provokes more anger,” she said of the two women protesting. “I pray it goes away. This is a mess.”
A Democratic state senator from Missouri, Maria Chappelle-Nadal, said Monday in an interview with Fox News that anarchists were among the Ferguson protesters. Others have claimed, so far without proof, that some demonstrators hail from an anarchist group in Oakland, Calif., blamed for vandalism and looting in 2009, when demonstrators there protested the shooting death of an unarmed black man by a white transit police officer.
On Wednesday, Antonio French, a St. Louis alderman whose Twitter reports on the demonstration have gained him some measure of fame, posted online a photograph of a St. Louis police car, its right door and hood spray-painted with the words “Victory” and “Revolt.”
“I could be wrong,” he posted, “but this doesn’t look like the work of locals.”
While some celebrity activists like the Rev. Jesse L. Jackson Sr. and the Rev. Al Sharpton gravitated to television cameras and regaled crowds with speeches, others — like the hip-hop artists J. Cole and Nelly, another St. Louis native — appeared at the protests with little flourish.
Another hip-hop artist, Talib Kweli, arrived in Ferguson on Tuesday “as a member of the community, not as a rapper or celebrity,” according to his Twitter feed.
“People need to see that our elders are more than Al and Jesse,” he wrote. “Al and Jesse cannot control the narrative for us.”
A website purporting to represent Anonymous struck a chord reminiscent of the antiwar protests of the 1960s, posting a timetable of “Days of Rage” protests scheduled on Thursday in 37 cities. “If your city is not listed,” the post said, “make a Facebook event for it now.”
Organizers affiliated with the Occupy movement staged a nationwide teleconference Tuesday evening, discussing how to link the Ferguson protests with other protest movements like that of Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank. They solicited donations for Mr. Brown’s family and for bail for arrested protesters. And they asked lawyers, photographers, health care workers, computer programmers and youth organizers to come to Ferguson and lend their skills.
Everyone else, they said, should stay home and organize protests in their own towns. In Ferguson, one organizer said, “there are more than enough bodies.”

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