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‘Hands Up Don’t Spend’: Ferguson Protesters Take on Black Friday in Nationwide Boycott

Ferguson protesters are calling for a Black Friday boycott, using the weight of their collective spending power to demand justice for Mike Brown and victims of structural racism.

by Alice Speri
Nov 27 2014, 5:45pm

Photo by Alice Speri

As protesters rallied in the weeks leading up to a grand jury decision on the indictment of Darren Wilson, the Ferguson officer who shot and killed unarmed 18-year-old Michael Brown, a favorite slogan heard among the throngs in the streets was: "If we don't get it, shut it down!"

When the grand jury's decison was announced on Monday, Brown's supporters did not get the indictment they had been rallying for. But since the August 9 killing of Brown, they've been plenty busy "shutting things down."

Roads were blocked as protesters in Ferguson and across the country took to the streets the day after the jury's verdict came in. Stores were closed down and boarded up. Some were smashed into or looted, and even set ablaze on Monday.

During an October day of action, which protesters named "moral Monday" as a tribute to the civil rights movement tradition, protests were staged at three St. Louis area Walmart stores, forcing them to close. The retail chain was targeted on that occasion because of the police killing of John Crawford, an Ohio man who was shot while he was checking out a BB gun at a local Walmart.

(Photos by Alice Speri/VICE News)

'Moral Monday' protests flare up across St. Louis on final day of Ferguson weekend of action. Read more here.

Now, as retailers and shoppers prepare for one of the year's busiest spending days, Ferguson protesters are putting their money behind their anger by encouraging a nationwide boycott of Black Friday. 

The call has spread fast on social media, eliciting such hashtags as "#BlackOutFriday," "#HandsUpDontSpend" and "#BrownFriday" in memory of the slain teen.

The Justice for Michael Brown Leadership Coalition, one of several groups born out of the Ferguson protests, are at the forefront of calls for a national boycott.

"Until this nation begins to place value on black lives, there will be no value placed on this business because black lives matter," Dacia Polk, one of the campaign organizers, told local reporters.

But the coalition didn't stop at demands for a Black Friday boycott. They also encouraged people to empower the black community by shopping at black-owned businesses on Friday and the rest of the year. Organizers have also said they plan to march into malls and shopping centers and interrupt holiday shopping, like they did in St. Louis during the "Ferguson October" weekend of action.

Racial justice advocates in Ferguson and elsewhere have long said that "money talks," and have called on the black community to harness their purchasing power — up to a trillion dollars, by some estimates — to put pressure on businesses and the society that structurally discriminates against African-Americans. Boycotts were a hallmark of the civil rights movement as an alternative to street protests, and Ferguson activists are looking to launch boycotts of their own as they explore multiple avenues in which to channel their activism, including voter registration drives and campaigns for political empowerment.

Ferguson businesses have suffered economically and endured severe hardship over the months of unrest. After the first incidences of looting back in August, wooden boards were immediately erected to protect windows and merchandise. Some business owners also started putting "black-owned" signs outside of their stores in an attempt to protect them from the anger raging on the streets.

A big hit was also taken by retail workers who saw their shifts canceled, usually with no compensation, as stores closed up early or didn't open at all.

"They're hurting us, and we live here," Bria Watkins, a young mother from Ferguson, told VICE News earlier this week. Watkins, who works at a local Taco Bell, was told to stay home this week while the store closed for the protests, leaving her scrambling for cash as the holidays approached. 

"They got their message out, we all agree, but they're hurting us who have to live in this community," she said of the protesters. 

Walmart workers arrested at DC and NYC protests for a $15 minimum wage. Read more here.

The Black Friday boycotts coincide with strikes and rallies planned by Walmart workers at more than 1,600 stores across the country. The Walmart protests are now in their third year, and form part of a larger movement calling for better work conditions and higher minimum wages for retail and fast food workers. Earlier this month, protest organizers promised that this year would see "the biggest" demonstrations to date. 

Many at the Ferguson protests have sported "Fight for 15" T-shirts and signs, referring to demands among fast food workers for a wage of $15 an hour. Protesters against police brutality have also repeatedly noted that they are rallying against a structurally unjust system in which poverty breeds criminalization, and not just against Wilson's shooting of Brown. 

"We believe the police and mass incarceration is a way of reinforcing social problems rather than solving them," Eugene Puryear, a DC activist who helped rally Ferguson protesters at a Walmart store this week, told Slate. "We wanted to point out that the low-wage workforce is a big piece of that. And we want to support our brothers and sisters who are working hard every day and just want to make a living for their families."

Ferguson protesters have pledged to pursue their campaign beyond the Black Friday boycott, promising "no business as usual until we get justice."

In an email to supporters, members of the Ferguson Action Team, another coalition that sprung from the protests, outlined a list of future actions that included among them a mass walkout from schools and workplaces across the country on Monday at 12:01 PM — the time of day that Brown was killed. The organizers are encouraging people to walk off their jobs and out of classes with their hands up. 

"It is our intention that this marks an end to business as usual in this county," organizers wrote in the email. "As the protesters here in Ferguson and across the country have reminded us; 'If we don't get it. Shut it down!' "

Follow Alice Speri on Twitter: @AliceSperi